Sunday, 4 December 2011

History Corner - Coconut and almond cake

I am well aware of the old adage, “you can’t judge a book by its cover”, but I completely disregard it when considering the purchase of a vintage cookbook. The cover for “Home Cookery illustrated” is so fab I wouldn’t have cared if the book was just blank pages. Except for the child with the red horns at the front, this picture could be a portrait of Mr CC and me when I’m preparing dinner. I still can’t work out the husband’s expression; is it one of delight, horror or surprise at what’s in the pan?

There is no date anywhere in the book but online resources place it in the region of 1955-57. I like the subtitle of “A practical guide for the beginner and the experienced housewife” and wonder what purpose it serves, why not just “a practical guide for housewives”?

Published in the 1950s this book highlights that Britain, even post rationing, was still an austere place. The introduction to the book, which covers buying, preparing and cooking food stresses:
“Nowadays it is more a question of making the most of what is available than choosing what we prefer.” It goes on to suggest it is the housewife’s duty to ensure that shops sell all their stock: “Whenever you see a plentiful supply of any kind of perishable food, buy that in preference to goods that will keep. If the shopkeepers do not sell that food it may mean that it may have to be wasted. Help avoid that by buying.”

I chose this recipe because I am a fiend for coconut, plus I loved the inclusion of ratafia essence in the ingredients list. I’d heard of ratafia biscuits but not essence; some hunting around online told me that ratafia essence is made from peach, almond and apricot kernels and is no longer available. The closest modern substitute is good quality almond extract as that contains ground up bitter almond kernels – so that’s what I used!

This is a versatile cake – you can have it, as we did today, plain with a cup of tea, but Mr CC was mooting adding some jam to it. Tomorrow night I’m going to warm two slices and serve as dessert with custard.

Coconut and almond is a lovely combination and this flavoursome, light, cumbly sponge is a worthy teatime treat in any era – austerity or otherwise! It is a plain cake...but in a good way! The coconut is the dominant flavour with a hint of almond coming through at the end. The one aspect of austerity cooking I couldn’t let lie was the meagre quantities; my quantities below are double those of the book.


230g / 8oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
170g / 6oz caster sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon almond extract (or ratafia essence – but good luck finding it!)
340g / 12oz self raising flour
115g / 4oz desiccated coconut
6 tablespoons milk


Preheat oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C/350°F/gas mark 4

Line a 20cm round springform tin with baking paper.

Beat together the butter and sugar until you have a soft, whippy, pale cream. Don’t be tempted to skimp on this stage as this is where you get the air into the sponge.

Beat in the eggs one at a time, followed by the almond extract.

Beat in the flour.

Beat in the coconut and milk.

Spoon into the prepared baking tin and level the surface.

Bake for approximately 1 hour. It’s done when a skewer, inserted into the centre of the cake, comes out clean. Mine took 1 hour 5 minutes.

Leave to cool, still in the tin, on a wire rack.

Remove from the tin and store in an airtight container.

Bask in the glory of the wonderful thing you have created.



Kate@whatkatebaked said...

They just don't make books like that anymore do they? What a great find! I have an old book from the 1920s,a family relic, all about Sandwiches- I love noseying in it and reading all about the best way to make a cress or a cucumber sandwich.

And as for coconut and almond- a winner of a combination, delicious CC!

sensibilia said...

I love the picture on the cover! I think that husband is happy and impressed, but like many men, can't find the words, so looks a little confused. Mr CC is a very lucky husband, isn't he!

I have a number of old cook-books. It's interesting to compare them with the lavishly illustrated modern ones. Often, the oldest recipes are the best.

MissCakeBaker said...

What a great book! The cake looks lovely too.

Rolling Pin Claire said...

What a lovely post! I found a book from 1970 belonging to my mother. Haven't had a chance to post anything yet

Victory Rolls & Mixing Bowls said...

I loooove vintage cookbooks like these but have yet to lay my hands on one for myself. The cake looks stunning too!

Nom! x

Baking Addict said...

Such a great book. Love the cake too - looks really crumbly and moist. I love how you always get great height in your cakes. I've never heard of ratafia essence - learn something new everyday :)

anon said...

Ooh, your cake looks very nice indeed! It looks much like the tasty cake my mother-in-law often makes. I just love old cookbooks. I find they make very good bedtime reading. Much to my husband's bemusement, I have several on the go at the moment.

Sumaiyyah said...

I have a love-hate relationship with coconut... I used to hate that ticklish feeling you get in your throat when swallowing some sweet treats covered in dessicated coconut. I may need to give this another look...

Lisa Marie said...

Ratafia was a popular wine, wasn't it? I've never found it in the States--okay, I wasn't looking all that hard--but do you suppose apricot liqueur or brandy would add something to this luscious-looking cake?

Must try this recipe, too. My coworker bless your name, btw.

Anonymous said...

I LOVE the cover of this book...who cares what the recipes are like inside, it makes your bookshelf look so cool! But as you've proved the recipes inside are gorgeous - love the look of that crumbly coconut and almond. Yum.

Kezia said...

I love your 'history corner' posts - the cover of the book is so funny as well. And, as always, the cake looks great, you were the one that converted me to coconut so I may be trying it in the near future.

Cakelaw said...

I have never heard of ratafia before, but those flavours with almond and coconut would be devine - a bit like an apricot and almond health bar. I love old cookbooks.

Gloria Baker said...

Look amazing and delicious:))

Anonymous said...

I remember my mum having this book and making this cake .

Johanna GGG said...

I agree that cover is priceless but I would have been quite happy with this cake in austere 1950s england and indeed today as I love coconut

Annie said...

I'm not a big fan of coconut but I had half a bag left in the cupboard from making coconut macaroons for a fete. I also have a brand-new halogen oven to experiment with - so I figured if I made this cake in the new oven and ruined it I hadn't really lost anything. I read the post at 10pm and by 11.15 had the most delicious, moist cake cooling on the rack. I might even have to buy some more coconut! Thanks, CC

Unknown said...

just discovered this blog thanks to 'the last art of eating' - fabulous - i am a true cake-aholic so truly appreciate!!

Shoutforfood said...

i love your vintage style. nice cake.

Vix Johnston said...

I'm looking to use a coconut-base recipe for my first Iron Cupcake (I'm entering through a friend so it doesn't look that bad being the organiser as well) and I've tried a few coconut cupcakes, but I find that the coconut gets lost - I'm doing a Caribean Snow Angel with a hidden shot of lime curd under cream cheese frosting and white chocolate snow... wondering if this recipe would make good cupcakes?

Even with SF flour there's no baking powder in it so I'm concerned that little ones wouldn't rise as much as they should... also the addition of a little Malibu rather than almond wouldn't cause issues would it? I've got a month to play, but I would rather a little advice before I make a batch of hocky pucks!

The Caked Crusader said...

Hi Vix

This cake would definitely work as smaller cakes - just remember to reduce the cooking time.

Malibu isn't a problem at all, but maybe look at it as a replacement for some of the milk rather than almond? If you don't want the almond simply omit it, but it's such a small amount that the equivalent of malibu wouldn't really make an impact.

Hope this helps, and good luck!