Murder, Mystery and Cake

February 26, 2009 Updated: October 1, 2015
(Edward Stephen/Epoch Times)
(Edward Stephen/Epoch Times)

Names are very important in their appeal and allure. On the very virtue of its name I had to make Mrs Cob’s coconut cake. It sounded wonderfully old fashioned. And then there was the picture: a crumbling, tender crumbed cake, with a layer of snowy white icing on the top. A cut slice revealed a layer of vividly bright apricot jam sandwiched between the two layers of pale sponge.

The cake is from a rather quaint sounding cookery book called The Cat Who … Cookbook, which features delights such Polly’s Picnic Brownies and the marvellous sounding Vonda’s Chocolate Whoppers. The Cat Who … Cookbook I discovered is inspired by a somewhat trashy series of murder mysteries begun in the 60s by US author Lilian Jackson Braun.

Lilian published three books, all to critical acclaim, before disappearing from the publishing scene in 1968 for over 18 years. Her light-hearted books were beginning to fall out of favour in the emerging climate of sex, violence and rock ‘n’ roll.

Its easy to see why they would be seen as a touch naïve. The central protagonist in her books is Qwill, an ageing ex-journalist who solves mysteries with the help of his two Siamese cats Koko and Yum-Yum. His main partner in crime, Koko is possessed of a sixth sense which alerts his owner to any impending danger, of which Qwill detects, naturally, with a tingling of his moustache.

The cake? Well that’s pretty wonderful too. I was dubious at first because the American recipe seemed to be composed of peculiar proportions (too much flour, too little fat and all egg whites). But after a day maturing under my cake stand it tastes pretty fine. The icing is yummy: smooth and creamy, with a hint of crunch from the desiccated coconut. I am also particularly partial to the addition of almond essence in the sponge, an ambrosial combination with the coconut and apricot jam. Coconut essence is nowadays increasingly elusive to get hold of.

Mrs Cob’s Coconut Cake
(Adapted from The Cat Who … Cookbook by Julie Murphy and Sally Abney Stempinski).

Makes one large cake.

500g sugar
110g unsalted butter
300g plain flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
220ml full-fat milk
5 egg whites (reserving one of the yolks)
1 teaspoon almond extract
200g bag of dessicated coconut

400g tin of apricots in juice
2 tablespoons of caster sugar
2 tablespoons of cornflour

6 tablespoons soft unsalted butter
150g Philadelphia cream cheese
280g icing sugar (sifted)
Milk as needed

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease two nine-inch sandwich tins and line with baking paper. Using an electric whisk cream the sugar and butter together until light and fluffy. Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt – alternating with the milk. If the texture seems too thick add some more milk. Wash and dry the beaters of the electric whisk (to ensure they are grease free) and whisk the five egg whites in a clean, mixing bowl. Add the egg yolk, almond extract and coconut to the creamed mixture, combining well with a spatula. When the egg whites have been beaten to the soft peak stage (they should leave soft peaks in the mixture when you take the whisk out), fold the whites very gently, in addition into the creamed mixture. Pour the mixture, equally into the two sandwich tins levelling the tops with a palate knife. Bake in the centre of the oven for 27-30 minutes. Check after 25 minutes. Cool the cakes in the tins for ten minutes before removing to a rack to cool completely.

For the filling

Drain the tin of apricots, reserving a couple of tablespoons of juice. Blitz the apricots  to a puree in a food processor and heat gently with the cornflour and sugar in a saucepan until the mixture thickens. Leave to cool.

For the icing:

Beat the soften butter and cream cheese together in a mixing bowl. Add the vanilla essence and the sugar, adding a teaspoon of milk at a time until the desired consistency is reached. It should be pourable so it can gloop down the sides of the cake.
To assemble: Place one cake half on a chopping board (to catch the surplus icing) and spread with apricot filling. Sandwich with the other cake half. Spread the filling over the cake with a palate knife making sure it covers the sides. Then, confetti-like, chuck handfuls of the coconut over the top and sides of the cake.