I spent all week at home with a feverish kid, and while it was sweet to slow down, to lie on the couch reading picture books and drifting into short naps, after a while the confinement began to wear on me. When he finally got better, I was out-of-proportion grateful, and excited to resume our regular life which included, this weekend, an invitation to a potluck. I knew exactly what to make for my week’s first trip out of the house: a coconut cake from Emily Dickinson.
I’d first read about the recipe this fall, in contributor Jeff Gordinier’s piece for The New York Times. A recent exhibit of Emily Dickinson’s manuscripts, letters, and other papers from her daily life, included, perhaps surprisingly, her recipe for coconut cake. As Gordinier writes, “Somehow it’s hard to envision her even eating a meal, let alone taking delectable pleasure from it.” And yet, here is the recipe, in her beautiful, slant handwriting, and I knew I had to make it. The fact that it’s just a list of ingredients didn’t put me off; it read like pound cake to me, and so that’s how I approached it. I took it to Saturday’s potluck, where it was a hit. It’s not too sweet and just subtly coconut-y; it’d be a great vehicle for a fruit compote or a drizzle of chocolate sauce, but I like it best just plain.
Here’s how I did it:
Preheat the oven to 350. Line a standard loaf pan with parchment.
Whisk together in a medium bowl:
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
In a large bowl, beat together
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
Continue beating until light. Add, one at a time and beating after each addition:
1/2 cup milk
Stir the flour mixture into the butter and then add
1 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
Spoon the batter into the loaf pan and bake until golden brown and a tester comes out clean, 50-60 minutes. Remove the cake from the pan and let cool on a rack.