~ Plantation Cake: A Very Southern Vintage Cake ~
I first came across this recipe in a stack of recipe cards held together with a rubber band. They were in a plastic bag full of newspaper- and magazine-clipped recipes that my late grandmother collected. I don't recall her making the cake, but, at some point in her life she must have, as she took the time to write it down in her own hand. It's an unpretentious, yellow cake made of butter or margarine, sugar, flour, eggs, vanilla, home-canned peaches or pears, pecans or walnuts and buttermilk or sour cream. It sure sounded good to me, and, its name was intriguing enough for me to give it a try. It worked great and it was easy to make -- I couldn't have been happier.
I alway say, "every recipe has a story or a history", and in the case of this one, it has what I believe to be both. It's living proof that, if you love to cook, and, even if you don't, if you find or are given a plastic bag full of old, out-dated looking recipes, that someone in your family or someone elses took the time to collect, read each one or pass them along to someone who will.
All recipes matter!
I assumed my grandmother's sister-in-law Yula, who spoke slowly, in a deep voice with a heavy Southern drawl, and hailed from somewhere in North Carolina, gave her the recipe back in the 1940's or 50's, as, Yula died when I was five or six, which was in 1960-1961. In my mind, Aunt Yula's Southern heritage + peaches, pecans and buttermilk = a Southern recipe -- and that's what I told everyone. This cake is perfect to take to picnics, potlucks, tailgates, and, funerals too.
It's so easy you don't even need an electric mixer to make it!
This makes perfect sense considering that the family bakers that came just two generations before me, especially in the rural and farm communities prior to World War II, had no electricity, and, they baked in wood- or coal-fired ovens under spartan conditions. I'd be willing to venture an educated guess that this recipe was originally baked in and served out of a cast iron skillet.
Fast forward to 1999. I was 44 and came across a recipe for Plantation Cake a second time. This one was in print on page 54 of James McNair's Cakes cookbook. This well-known Southern-heritaged cookbook author writes that a friend from New Orleans gave this "venerable favorite" recipe to him. His friend's version called for adding a can of fruit cocktail (which was popular with the World War II era generation) to the butter-cake batter, and topping the cake with a sweetened condensed milk frosting while the cake is hot. OMG!
In true James McNair-style (I have all of his books), he gave the cake "a tropical treatment by combining the best of plantation crops: pineapple, macadamia nuts, vanilla, sugar and coconut."
1 6 1/2-ounce container macadamia nuts, very coarsely chopped
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons firmly-packed light-brown sugar
1/4 cup salted butter, cut into small pieces, at room temperature (1/2 stick)
For the cake batter:
1 20-ounce can pineapple chunks packed in juice, chunks diced & juice reserved, 2 cups diced fruit & 1 cup fruit juice
3 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons butter-rum extract
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the icing:
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk, not evaporated milk
1 generous cup sweetened, flaked coconut
~ Step 1. To prepare the topping, in a small bowl, using your fingertips, combine the brown sugar, chopped macadamias and softened butter pieces. A sticky but grainy and chunky mixture will have formed. Set aside.
~ Step 2. Drain the pineapple chunks through a mesh strainer that has been placed over a small bowl to reserve the juice. Cut each chunk of pineapple into 3-4 smaller pieces, adding them to the juice as you work.
~Step 3. In a 1-cup measuring container, using a fork, lightly beat the eggs. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the pineapple and juice, beaten eggs and extracts. Using a large rubber spatula, stir until a thick cake batter forms.
~ Step 4. Transfer batter to a 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish that has been sprayed with no-stick cooking spray and give the dish a few back-and-forth shakes across the countertop to smooth the batter out. Sprinkle the nut topping evenly over the top.
~Step 5. Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven for 35-40 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean when inserted into the center. While cake is baking, place the condensed milk in a 2-cup measuring container and set aside. Place the coconut in a 10" nonstick skillet over medium heat and toast, stirring the coconut constantly, until lightly-browned, about 3-4 minutes -- watch carefully as this can and will burn quickly. Remove from heat and transfer to a plate to cool.
~ Step 6. Remove cake from oven and place on a wire rack to begin cooling. Place the condensed milk in a 2-cup measuring container and heat in the microwave until hot and bubbly. Drizzle the hot condensed milk over the hot cake and top with the toasted coconut. Allow cake to cool completely prior to slicing.
Plantation cake going into oven to bake 35-40 minutes:
Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; mesh strainer; 1-cup measuring container; fork; large rubber spatula; 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish; 10" nonstick skillet; wire cooling rack; 2-cup measuring container
Cook's Note: For another great All-American retro canned-pineapple cake from the World War II generation, try my tropical-twisted recipe for ~ Pineapple Coconut and Rum Upside Down Cake ~. It too is perfect for all sorts of occasions and you can find it by clicking into Categores 6, 9, 10, 19 or 20.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)