I don’t really need an excuse to bake a cake, but it’s always nice when I have one. And what better excuse than Mother’s Day and Birthday celebrations?

Yesterday was Victor’s mom’s birthday, today, of course, is Mother’s Day, and tomorrow is my mom’s birthday. Our mom’s were born 2 days apart in the same year on opposite coasts. They could not have been more different, yet they were both perfect examples of their place and time.

Victor’s mom was the 10th of 11 children of Italian immigrants who came through Ellis Island and settled in Philadelphia. Her parents both died within a year of one another and the youngest four kids were raised in a Sons of Italy Orphanage just outside of Philadelphia until they were old enough to live with their older married-with-children siblings. My mom’s paternal family was here in the early 1800’s in North Carolina and Tennessee, before migrating to Missouri and finally to California in the late 1800’s. The maternal side started in Ireland and made it to Galena, IL in the 1840’s and ended up in California via Pueblo, Colorado, at the turn of the 20th century. She was the second of three kids.

Different as night-and-day.

There is one trait that both shared, however – dessert. My mom was Dessert Queen. We had dessert every night growing up and her cook books prove it. The Dessert binder is twice as big as the one for entrees, appetizers, and side dishes! Victor’s mom loves her sweets, as well, and while she is diabetic, I keep her supplied in illicit goodies – in moderation, of course.

One of her favorites is coconut. She’ll turn her nose up at chocolate cake and won’t even look at a pumpkin pie, but mention coconut and she can lay skid marks with her walker heading to the kitchen. She likes her coconut.

I’ve made her a few over-the-top coconut cakes in the past. One, a couple of yeas ago, The Ultimate Coconut Cake from South Carolina, is a heart attack waiting to happen. You need a week to make it and two weeks to recover from a slice.  Last year’s Coconut Cake was a lot lighter – and actually more enjoyable.

This year, I decided to go single-layer and a little less caloric. Just because I can go multi-layered and overly-indulgent doesn’t mean that I should. Almost 61 and starting to practice restraint. Does this mean I’m finally growing up?!? I didn’t think so.

Oh well…

I picked up a bottle of key lime juice a couple of weeks ago and have been dreaming of a coconut key lime combo ever since. And today, it happened! (I used conventional limes for the zest.)

Key Lime Coconut Cake

adapted from Gourmet Magazine

  • 1 1/2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tbsp grated Key lime zest
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 3/4 cups self-rising flour
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup fresh Key lime juice, divided
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp Meyer’s rum

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Generously butter a 10″ springform pan and line bottom with a round of parchment paper.

Toast coconut in oven, stirring once or twice, until golden, 8 to 12 minutes. Cool. Leave oven on.

Beat together butter, granulated sugar, and zest with an electric mixer until fluffy. Beat in eggs 1 at a time. Stir together flour and 1/2 cup coconut (reserve remainder for topping). Stir together milk and 2 tablespoons lime juice. At low speed, mix flour and milk mixtures into egg mixture alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour.

Spoon batter into pan and smooth top. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool about 15 minutes then turn out of pan and discard parchment.

Whisk together powdered sugar, remaining 2 tablespoons lime juice, and rum and pour over cake. Sprinkle with remaining coconut.

The cake came out perfect. It had a great lime flavor, a great coconut flavor, and the little bit of rum in the icing sent it right over the top.

I had two pieces and could have gone back for another. Nonna said “This is really good” after every bite. Her plate was so clean we could have put it back in the cupboard.

Watching someone thoroughly enjoy something is the best thanks in the world. It really does make it all worthwhile. And since my mom is no longer around to spoil, I guess Nonna is gonna have to be the surrogate.

Somebody has to do it.