Coconut cake and history: baking to fight racism and anxiety
By ROBIN WOODS
For Montclair Local
Many things changed at Montclair Bread Company on Label Street during the quarantine.
Instead of seeing customers come in and out to eat or pick up food, owner Rachel Wyman sold baked goods and pantry staples online and with no-contact pickup.
Wyman also began posting recipes on her website, beginning in March, even before the shutdown.
“I posted the recipes on our website, and so many people posted photos of the end result,” Wyman said. Initially, posting the recipes was something she did to ease peoples’ anxiety. It quickly became a kind of contest, as people shared photos of their results. Sometimes she received more than 100 a week.
That was the beginning of #MBCbakealong, where she would post recipes to all of the bakery’s social media and people at home would bake their own versions.
Bakers Against Racism, based in Washington, D.C., had started a global bake sale, asking professional and home bakers to donate funds to any organization that fights racism. Montclair Bread Co.’s #MBCbakealong joined in and raised $4,000, donated to the National Coalition of 100 Black Women. The nonprofit volunteer organization for African American women, based in New York, promotes gender and racial equality.
“I acknowledge that I have a large platform, and my voice carries,” Wyman said. MBC donated $2 to the organization for every cake baked; participants made 125 cakes. Pledges from the participants and others made up the remainder of the donation.
The recipe for the week was coconut cake, which was not an accident, Wyman said: “The first coconut cakes in America were made by enslaved people in the south who brought with them from Africa their knowledge of how to break down a coconut. My coconut cake recipe was easy to follow, delicious and a way for people to bake through their anxiety.”
Coconut cakes continued to be linked to southern black culture, Wyman said: The Club from Nowhere was founded in 1955 by Georgia Gilmore, an African American woman from Montgomery, Ala.
This group sold cakes, to support the Montgomery bus boycotters, out of barber shops in Montgomery. They baked the cakes in their homes, which were spread all over the city— hence the Club from Nowhere, Wyman said. The people who purchased her cakes were often the white anti-boycotters, who unknowingly were supporting the boycotts.
Montclair baker Kim Ranges learned about The Club from Nowhere from Wyman. Ranges said her coconut cake turned out “lopsided, but delicious.”
Danielle Raymond Neff also made a coconut cake, with the help of her older son, Charlie. She said, “The recipe was super-easy, and my first try making a coconut cake. We like to bake a lot in our house, but hadn’t baked in a while. Rachel helped us get the ingredients, picked up at Montclair Bread.”
Weekly contest winners received a box of assorted doughnuts delivered by Wyman if they lived in town, or she mailed a Montclair Bread Co. T-shirt to out-of-town participants. Wyman said, “The National Coalition of 100 Black Women had the most pledges for the coconut cake bake-along. We didn’t have a winner, because there was a different focus for that week.”
Home bakers are welcome to participate in the bake-along, which is continuing each Wednesday to Tuesday.
On June 19, Montclair Bread Company announced “we’re back!” in an email, and would soon be implementing new ways of doing business. Nobody is allowed into the shop, and contactless outdoor pickup remains in place, but now customers can preorder items for same-day pickup. There is seating again on the patio, although food is packed to go.
Montclair Bread Co. continues to bake for a cause. June is Pride month, and MBC is selling Pride doughnuts, commemorating the Marriage Equality Act, which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015, legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states. Wyman is donating $4 from the sale of each box of four doughnuts to the LGBTQ community.
Montclair Bread Co.
16 Label St.
Rachel Wyman’s coconut cake recipe
2 cups sugar
3¼ cups flour
2½ tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1½ sticks melted, unsalted butter
1¼ cups coconut milk
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 box (3½ cups) powdered sugar
¼ cup coconut milk
1 bag sweetened shredded coconut
Stir the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the melted butter. Stir until it looks pebble-y. Whisk eggs and coconut milk. Add one-third of the liquid to the dry ingredients. Stir until pasty. Repeat this step two more times; this avoids lumps in the batter.
Divide the batter between two greased and floured 8-inch cake pans. Bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove cake from oven and de-pan.
Make the frosting. I use a mixer with a paddle. Cream the butter. When it’s white and fluffy, add the powdered sugar. Finally, add the coconut milk. Whip for 3 to 4 minutes.
Shave the dome off the cake layers with a long, serrated knife. Spread frosting on the top of the bottom layer, sprinkle with coconut and smear some frosting on the bottom of the top layer before sandwiching together. Coat the rest of the cake with frosting and coconut.