Before I say anything else, I just want to thank you all so much for your kind words about my engagement! You guys are the best.
This whole ‘getting married’ thing means there’s also a whole ‘moving to Raleigh’ thing I’ve got to attend to. I’ve already been hired at a wonderful school and I know I’ll be telling you all about that before too long, but right now, I have to process leaving Woodlawn.
Woodlawn is the school where I’ve worked for the past 5 years and one of the most important places in the world to me. There are so many things I could say about this small school — things about its innovative curriculum, its beautiful historic campus, its kind-hearted students, its brilliant teachers. But all of that feels too big. I have to piece this out and say it the way I know how to say it: I’ll tell you some stories.
My first year at Woodlawn in 2008 was a crash course in doing things differently. I’m a very confident, driven, and admittedly controlling person. I know how I want to do things, I do them that way, and usually I’m proud of how they turn out. I like to sum it up by saying that I’m effective. When I got to Woodlawn, though, it was a different cup of tea than I was used to. The teachers collaborated and integrated in a way I’d never imagined was possible. They were at least as effective if not more effective than I was. They were creating projects and units that were overwhelmingly creative and brilliant.
I made one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and one that taught me a valuable life lesson: I swallowed all of my pride, sat back, and listened. I took my cues from their courage and innovation. I tossed some of my ideas that weren’t right for my new environment. I accepted some of their ideas despite my territorial urge to do things my own way. As a result, that year changed my teaching philosophy. I’ve never looked back. Indeed, I’d say one of the tenets of my philosophy these days is humility, because I realize that a fantastic teacher can always learn from other fantastic teachers.
Overhauling my teaching was only one of many adventures that first year. Another was the cranes. Each year the 7th graders hear the story of Sadako, a young girl who died from leukemia after the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima in Japan during World War II. Sadako spent her last months trying to fold 1,000 origami cranes and wishing for peace. In her honor, my students each year try to reach that ambitious goal as well. I teach them how to fold and they dutifully bring in excess paper: newspaper, old wrapping paper, origami paper.
That first year, they were so excited about the task. They folded huge cranes: one student, Morgan, folded a crane at least a foot in length out of metallic wrapping paper. They folded tiny cranes: the boys seemed to be having a contest to see who could fold the most microscopic crane out of a corner of a post-it note. They folded during any free time at school. They folded at home and came in with bags full of angular little birds. They folded with parents and siblings and friends. Surprisingly, we didn’t make it to 1,000 that year (my third year at Woodlawn, a group shot all the way to 1,300), but we made it close.
What we did accomplish, though, was threading every single crane onto strands of like colors. We hung the garlands all across the room: first the reds, then oranges, yellows, greens, blues, indigoes, violets. One corner held all the others: whites, blacks, browns. When you walked in the door, there was a gorgeous rainbow of flight. We were all a little surprised by how lovely it was.
We enjoyed it immensely until the fire marshall made us take it down. Our cranes sat in the corner for awhile before a student took them home to hang in her room (don’t tell the fire marshall.)
That first year was also the year I told the kids to get on their “ready to learn” caps (my version of the “thinking cap,” I guess? I didn’t think too much about it). I added that they might also need their “be quiet in class” caps. My 6th grader, Abigail, came in the next day with these:
I also remember my first Woodlawn students making liberal use of the cushions I’d bought for their writing workshops. I called them my “floor-sitters” because they’d never sit at a table when they could snag a space on the carpet with a cushion or two.
My first taste of Woodlawn Day was also in 2008. We teachers donned costumes and led the students through tours of the old Stinson plantation house, 19th century games, square dancing, gardening, and of course, 19th century popsicles (don’t think too hard about that one).
Like our beautiful crane rainbow, all good things must come to an end. That first year did, and I remember the odd, unexpected sadness I felt that June as I realized my time with my students was over. Now, as my time at Woodlawn draws to a close, the sadness isn’t unexpected at all. But it is laced with a lot of sweetness, and a lot of wonderful memories. I hope I gave even half as much to my students and my school as they gave to me.
* * *
There’ll be more Woodlawn stories to come this summer as I prepare for my move. There’s so much more to tell. In the meantime, here’s some cake! Mike picked out the flavors for this weekend’s dessert and, no surprise, they involved lots of chocolate and coconut. This cake is basically a Texas Sheet Cake scaled down to fit in a skillet. It’s wonderful all by itself, but topping it with a huge mountain of coconut pastry cream and fluffy whipped cream takes it right over the edge. As always, I recommend diving into this dessert straight out of the skillet!
One year ago: Crispy Baked Sweet Potato Fries with Basil Salt and Lemon Garlic Dipping Sauce
Two years ago: Blueberry Cream Cheese Almond Braid
Three years ago: Santa Fe Breakfast Bake
Gooey Chocolate Coconut Cream Skillet Cake
Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking, based on the ubiquitous and absolutely delicious Texas Sheet Cake, with coconut cream from Zoë Bakes
Yield: 4-6 servings
This cake is like you took heaven, put it in a skillet, and added coconut cream. It’s also tremendously fun to eat straight out of the cast iron. What a great treat to pull out for your family after dinner.
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
2 tablespoons cocoa
3-4 tablespoons milk (as needed for consistency)
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Coconut Cream Filling Ingredients:
1/2 of a 14-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
3/8 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch kosher salt
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon corn starch
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup sweetened coconut flakes
1/4 cup whipping cream
extra whipping cream
toasted coconut (optional)
Make coconut cream: Heat the coconut milk, sugar, salt and vanilla in a medium saucepan over medium heat. In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and corn starch. Add 1/4 cup of the hot cream slowly to the yolks, whisking as you add. Then pour the yolk mixture into the pot of hot cream and whisk. Continue to whisk with heat on medium-high for 3 more minutes. The mixture will turn thick and bubble. You need to continue to whisk for the full 3 minutes or the pastry cream will separate once it is cool. After the 3 minutes, whisk in the butter. Add the coconut flakes. Pour into a shallow dish to cool.
Cover with plastic wrap pressed right against the pastry cream. This will prevent a thick skin from forming on the surface. Refrigerate for at least an hour or freeze for 30 minutes. Once it is cold, stir the pastry cream to loosen. Whip the 1/4 cup cream to medium peaks. Stir in a third of the whipped cream to the pastry cream to lighten. Fold in the remaining cream until the pastry cream is nice and light. Chill until ready to use.
Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, sugar, and salt together and set aside.
In a 10-inch cast iron skillet, bring the butter, vegetable oil, cocoa powder, and water to a boil. Remove it from the heat and whisk in the dry ingredients well. Mix in the buttermilk, egg, and vanilla. Bake the skillet cake at 350 degrees F for about 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out with just a few moist crumbs.
Make the frosting: While the cake starts to cool, bring the butter, cocoa, and milk to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove them from heat and add the icing sugar, nuts, and vanilla. Stir to combine. Pour over the warm cake, spread with a spatula. Let the cake cool completely. While it cools, whip excess cream to stiff peaks. Toast some coconut on a sheet pan at 350 degrees F, tossing often, for about 5 minutes. Once the cake is cool, scoop out a hollow in the middle of the cake (chef gets to eat the excess cake, of course!) and pour in the coconut pastry cream. Top with whipped cream and toasted coconut. Serve immediately (as you know, I like to eat it straight from the skillet!)
P.S. You know I had to create an animated gif:
30 Comments on Gooey Chocolate Coconut Cream Skillet Cake
3Pingbacks & Trackbacks on Gooey Chocolate Coconut Cream Skillet Cake
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TieghanJune 18, 2013 at 4:38 am (10 years ago)
This is amazing!! Gooey chocolate coconut!! Oh my gosh, this sound like my new favorite food!
Belinda @themoonblushbakerJune 18, 2013 at 11:39 am (10 years ago)
The canes really speak to me, I love them as a symbol of hope and triumph. Have you heard the legend that if you make a thousand of them you get a wish? Of course this is from a book but still a wonderful symbol.
I think your pictures speak for them selves this cake is too good. Coconut and chocolate love forever
MaryJune 18, 2013 at 11:44 am (10 years ago)
I’d like to try these in my 4 individual cast iron skillets. It looks delicious!
DessertForTwoJune 18, 2013 at 12:37 pm (10 years ago)
Aww, so bittersweet. I love your teaching stories and your recipes!
Sarah @ Miss CandiquikJune 18, 2013 at 1:03 pm (10 years ago)
Aww – congratulations on your engagement! Now I have to go find your previous post ;).
And this cake….pinning!
MichaelJune 18, 2013 at 1:12 pm (10 years ago)
Dear god in heaven, this looks delicious! I must make this (after I meet with my personal trainer of course!)
daisyJune 18, 2013 at 2:23 pm (10 years ago)
You had me at “gooey!” This is definitely going on my must make list!!
Jocelyn (Grandbaby Cakes)June 19, 2013 at 1:07 am (10 years ago)
Any recipe that starts with the word gooey and follows with chocolate as the 2nd word is magical. This looks incredible!
Lori in NCJune 19, 2013 at 3:04 am (10 years ago)
Congratulations on your engagement, and best of luck with your move to Raleigh. We live near Raleigh – I know it’s unlikely, but I keep hoping you’ll end up at my son’s middle school. You sound like a great teacher!
NicoleJune 19, 2013 at 5:32 am (10 years ago)
This looks To Die For! I love my skillet, I need to try making a cake in it!
DanelleJune 19, 2013 at 2:10 pm (10 years ago)
Oh my! I can’t believe it’s another skillet cake–with coconut! I’m dying! And so exciting about your engagement! Having school age kids who love their teachers, I know your students will miss you, but the kids at your new school are going to love you–I have 3 boys and believe me, any teacher who lets them out of their desks to sit on the floor is awesome! 🙂
Nancy @ gottagetbakedJune 19, 2013 at 4:26 pm (10 years ago)
Congratulations on your engagement and on the big move. What a wonderful post about your school. The teachers and kids sound like a dream come true! I love the intention behind the 1000 cranes (boo to the fire marshall…although I guess they are a bit of a fire hazard!) Needless to say, I want to face plant into this skillet cake. Yum!
Colette @ JFF!June 19, 2013 at 6:36 pm (10 years ago)
This looks KILLER good!
MayaJune 19, 2013 at 6:49 pm (10 years ago)
Um, I just discovered your blog yesterday and am in love!!! I especially love your challenges, and your commitment to cooking really hard things. I have been in a rut lately and need some inspiration- all ready to leave work and go make croissants now! 🙂 You’ve also inspired me to mayyybe pick blogging back up again. If a teacher that is planning a wedding has a time to blog, surely an 8-5 desk job girl can!
MayaJune 19, 2013 at 6:50 pm (10 years ago)
Also, your engagement/love story is pretty much the best thing ever.
Tracy | Peanut Butter and OnionJune 21, 2013 at 11:39 am (10 years ago)
Skillet + Cake = I’m in!
Jenny @ BAKEJune 23, 2013 at 4:12 pm (10 years ago)
I want hanging cranes in my room too! they look so pretty! This cake looks absolutely amazing! I coudl easily polish the whole thing off in one go!
JayneJune 24, 2013 at 2:25 am (10 years ago)
I’ve been a teacher for about 2 years before and can really understand how you feel, even tough you’re more seasoned than I was. That strange tinge of sadness when the school term ends, with a mix of pride knowing that the kids are moving up a grade and you’ve done your best for them. I remember feeling frustrated too because I had so much I wanted to do but the system in which I worked in limited creativity and initiative. I may not remember every child’s names anymore but I remember their faces, the experience they gave me (both bitter & sweet) and sometimes wistfully long to be back in those days again. It was a strange and interesting time of my life.
Emily @ Life on FoodJune 25, 2013 at 3:33 pm (10 years ago)
You learn so much during your first job. Just think of all that you will take in during the second. This cake is too much. Heaven would be the two forks, sitting with my husband, and digging in.
careyleigh12June 25, 2013 at 8:12 pm (10 years ago)
This looks delicious! Beautiful presentation.
Check out my Texas Sheet Cake at http://www.southernsweettexasheat.wordpress.com
I am also a local teacher but originally from Texas!
MelissaJune 29, 2013 at 9:58 pm (10 years ago)
Welcome to Raleigh and I hope, Wake County Public Schools! I work at a great school in the area too. Good luck with your move. You are going to love the area!
macvJuly 11, 2013 at 10:50 pm (10 years ago)
I want the cranes and the CAKE looks great, hide the diet, scale and the blood tester, for just one day.
VeraJuly 15, 2013 at 11:02 am (10 years ago)
I came here to see the cake, and the story you shared was such a wonderful discovery. Such a great school, I wish there are more schools like that, specially here in my country.
TaylorJuly 17, 2013 at 4:33 am (10 years ago)
You were seriously one of the best teachers I ever had in middle school, and for that matter, my whole life. I still remember stories about that one author who responded to your critical post ( and that he was none too pleased), that essay you did 10 minutes before class, and the adorable puppy known as Byrd. I still remember my first day of middle school, and the blitz you had us do on what we would bring to a desert island. I am so happy that I was able to have you for those 2 wonderful years. Thank you for the laughs, lessons, and time you gave toward making me a better reader, writer, student, and person. I will never forget you.
PS: Those kids in Raleigh have no idea yet how lucky they are that they will get one of the best teachers in the world next year! Good luck!
Julie RubleJuly 17, 2013 at 4:49 am (10 years ago)
Aw, Taylor, I think my heart exploded 🙂 Thank you for your sweet note and for always being such an awesome, hard-working, enthusiastic kid — you were a privilege to teach and I will miss you! I’m so glad you remember my 10-minute essay story, especially, because I try to tell that at least a few thousand times each year — mostly out of pride. LOL. But seriously, I will never forget you, either, and I’m so proud of you! I’ll come visit!
artisanroxAugust 6, 2013 at 6:47 pm (10 years ago)
I’m letting the skillet cool off from the cake as I type.
This cake, I think, is going to be my new most favoritest thing!!!! I can’t wait to eat it!! Thank you so much for this recipe!
dhiaMay 25, 2015 at 3:47 pm (8 years ago)
I tried to share your recipe and site link on Facebook. Instead of showing a cake picture, it shows the picture of the kiddos. I did not post to share after all. I would not feel comfortable if a stranger posted a pic of my kids and I didn’t want to do that to someone else. I appreciate the recipe. Thanks for sharing.