Monday, August 17, 2015

Guest Post : Baking Coco-nut Cakes with Melanie

Hi everyone! I’m Mel and Beccie has been kind enough to let me take over a post here at her blog today! Usually, I blog about cooking and baking over at, but I’ve been on a bit of a cooking hiatus lately. So I’m using this opportunity to share a nice recipe with you, and to launch a big project that will continue on over at my blog.

Firsty, a bit about me and the project! 

Among many other vintage-related hobbies, I am a collector. But the root of all my vintage obsessions is kitchenalia. While I inherited a love of antiques from my mum, I didn’t really start collecting until I stumbled across a pastel blue Sunbeam Mixmaster online somewhere, then Smeg released a blue retro reproduction fridge and I fell in love with that beautiful duck egg colour. These days, somewhat ironically, the only kitchen items I still need to consider my collection complete are the mixers and the fridge. 

But from this obsession, I acquired a lot of other kitchen-related items, developed a love for baking and cake decorating, and inherited (and bought) many, many vintage cookbooks. At the moment, they make pretty displays on the tea caddy which sits on my (antique) dining room table, form a nice display in a cube full of books and knick-knacks in my living room… and are displayed in the kitchen too.

My favourite vintage cookbook is the Good Housekeeping Cooking Compendium that I bought from Kijaro Vintage last year. But as much as I love it, the closest it’s been to being used is as a prop for a photo shoot. 

So today, in my guest post, I’m making a promise to get those cookbooks out, around once a month, and recreate something from them and blog about it. I’m also going to follow instructions and try and cook the vintage way. This means: no Thermomix, no mix master (unless it’s a book that instructs me to use it). It also means I’ll probably be cooking with more ‘vintage’ ingredients — that is, more ingredients from a can or processed, like tinned pineapple — just to keep some authenticity. 

I also want to talk a little bit about where the books came from, how they’re written compared to modern books and do a little research on vintage cooking. It’s a chance to make sure I can cook without the aid of modern appliances, but also learn about vintage cookbook publishing! 

In the next couple of days I’ll pop some more details up on my blog about how the project will work, but for now, onto the book and recipe I’m starting with…

The book I’ve chosen is one that’s much coveted in my family, The Esk Valley CWA Cookery Book.

This book comes out of the various branches of the CWA in the Esk Valley in Tasmania and I’ve seen a few different editions spread throughout my family. I tried to pinch a more modern copy off a cousin once, but it didn’t work out! Karma was good to me though and I inherited a much older, much more exciting copy from a great-aunt who was downsizing. My research tells me it’s a third edition, and while it’s not dated, I’m pretty sure this is late 50s (the fourth edition was ‘prior to 1966’).

It’s tiny, not very thick at all, but the recipes aren’t set out with really detailed instructions, so there are quite a few per page. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone who isn’t familiar and happy to find their way around the kitchen, because the directions assume you know the order to add ingredients to a cake, or make a brine or mince. For example, C. Panitzki’s recipe for Christmas Mince Mean has a list of ingredients and then says: “Mince all together, add a little brandy and put in a jar for a few weeks.”

One of the other things I really love about this book are the ads. Selling ads would have helped with printing costs back in the days where printing wasn’t as accessible as it is now. 

Now as a food blogger, I can tell you republishing recipes without the publisher’s permission is a no-no. But in this case, because these came from housewives’ kitchens with the intention they were shared, and because the way the recipes are written really provide the point of interest, I’m going to give you one. Also, copyright says that if you modify a recipe, it’s okay to share it. I’ve had to modify the measurements from imperial to metric.

I wanted to go for something small for a start, and I’m a confident cake baker, so I chose H.J. Heathcote of Campbell Town’s ‘Coco-nut Cakes (1).’ Yes, there are two hyphenated coco-nut cake recipes in the book!

141 grams self-raising flour
85 grams of sugar
70 grams of butter
1 egg
Pinch of salt
Desiccated coconut for rolling (I used around a ¼ of a cup)

The verbatim instructions say: “Mix well, roll in coco-nut, put on buttered tin and bake until light brown, about 15 minutes.”

My more modern instructions to you would be: 
  • Soften your butter slightly so it’s easy to incorporate, then mix all ingredients together.
  • Roll into small balls (around a teaspoonful of mix) and through the coconut.

  • Place on a spray-greased cooking tray (or baking paper if you prefer not to use spray oils)

  • Bake in a moderate oven (mine is electric, not fan forced and I went at about 280 degrees Celsius) until light brown, which is around 15 minutes

Be warned, they spread quite a bit!! So while I made mine quite big, you might like to reduce your mixture down for a more delicate cake.  

What they come out like is more like what my late Nanna would have described as a rock cake; something between a biscuit and a cake. They’re light and delicious, and go really well as a light morning tea.

If you’re interested in The Esk Valley CWA Cookery Book I found quite a few links to various editions on like this one on Amazon and other second hand book sellers for around $10-20 AUD.


Thank you so much for your post Melanie!  I'm off to pre-heat my oven and make a pot of tea...



  1. 280 degrees C? That isn't a moderate oven that is a very hot oven!

    I have a couple of CWA bookbooks at home, they are what I learned to bake from with my mum, but neither of mine is from The Esk Valley, I would be very curious as to the differing recipes.

    I will add that these are at least more details instructions than the medieval ones I have worked with! Cook in the usual manner is a really unhelpful term when you don't know what that would have been :)

    1. Sorry I missed your comment Anon, but it's actually a typo in 280 and is supposed to be 180 degrees C! I've found so many older books that say things like 'cook in the usual manner' and you're right, not at all helpful. It is fun to play with these recipes though. x