When I was a kid, at around seven or eight years old, my mom brought home this vintage 1950’s Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook from a garage sale. I was instantly captivated by the vivid photographs of (what I considered at the time) all the “fancy food” and the depiction of this idealized domestic world from a bygone era, where moms laid out beautifully lavish buffets full of glorious cakes and pies. I had no idea what the heck a “Lady Baltimore Cake” was, but I wanted to bake one. While my mom only dabbled in a handful of recipes–the main one being chiffon cake, which to this day is probably the only recipe she still uses out of the book–I studied the cookbook from cover to cover, fantasizing about throwing elaborate dinner parties where I would cook all that fancy food.
When I was finally old enough to operate the mixer and oven on my own, at around ten or eleven, I tackled the baking section with gusto. I think my mom figured I’d do the least amount of damage to the kitchen if I just stuck to cookies, cakes, and pies. Besides, it got her out of buying me an Easy Bake oven! I had some epic failures–my first apple pie was a soggy mess (nowhere in the recipe was there even a mention of adding a thickener, like cornstarch!). And of course, being that it was the 70’s, my mom did not buy butter, but rather Imperial Margarine…which was called “the king of margarines.” I was a kid, so how was I suppose to know the difference!? Still, I did manage to perfect the cream puff (even if it was with Imperial and not butter). Unfortunately, I had to fill them with Cool Whip, which mom thought was the best thing since whipped cream.
Looking back on it now, I realize that what really fascinated me and captured my imagination was not so much the recipes in that cookbook–because, let’s face it some them weren’t very well written or instructive, despite the countless pictures of women in professional-looking lab coats “testing out” recipes in their pristine kitchens–but the lifestyle it presented…albeit circa 1950’s America. Betty Crocker is about as all-American as you can get and I suppose that’s why my mom chose that particular cookbook at the garage sale. As immigrants, we wanted a way to connect to a foreign culture that was far from our own. For me Betty Crocker and old Hollywood movies went hand in hand, both idealized versions of American life. It’s no wonder I longed for my mom to be more like Doris Day (the quintessential movie mom) in Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (1960) or The Thrill of It All (1963). Besides the Cool Whip, Kraft American Slices and Wonder Bread, I grew up on a steady diet of classic “afternoon matinees” in front of the television…in case you’re wondering how a ten year old from the 70’s even knew who Doris Day and David Niven were.
When I’m feeling nostalgic I like to bake something reminiscent of those cakes pictured in our vintage Betty Crocker cookbook, like an classic Angel Food. My version is flavored with coconut and is the perfect light, Springtime dessert.
Coconut Angel Food Cake
- 1/4 cup Unsweetened Shredded Coconut
- 3/4 cup Sugar
- 1-3/4 cups + 2 Tbsp. Cake Flour (sifted 3x)
- 1/2 tsp. Sea or Kosher Salt
- 1-1/2 cups Egg Whites (slightly cooler than room temperature)
- 1/2 cup + 3 Tbsp. Sugar
- 1-1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp. coconut extract
Position rack in lower 1/3 of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Process the coconut and 3/4 cup sugar until very fine, then whisk together with the sifted cake flour and salt; set aside. In a mixer fitted with a whip attachment, whip the egg whites and cream of tartar until very foamy on medium high speed. Sprinkle in 3 Tbsp. sugar and continue whipping until soft peaks form, then gradually sprinkle in the remaining 1/2 cup sugar. Whip whites until glossy firm peaks form, then whip in vanilla and coconut extracts. Remove the bowl from the mixer, sprinkle about 1/3 of the dry ingredients over the beaten egg whites and carefully fold together with a rubber spatula. Repeat the process twice, until all of the dry ingredients have been fully incorporated–be careful not to over mix or the whites will deflate.
Distribute the batter evenly into an ungreased 10″ angel food tube pan (with removable bottom), using the spatula to smooth out the surface. Bake for 35-40 mins. or until the top is golden and wooden skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and immediately invert to cool upside down (this will help the cake from deflating during the cooling process), for about an hour. Run a sharp paring around the sides to loosen the cake.
Dust the cake with powdered sugar and serve with a nice helping of fresh fruit compote…preferably strawberry-rhubarb!