Growing up, my mother worked as a REGISTERED (we always had to say “registered” first) Medical Technologist at a clinic in my hometown of Sapulpa, Oklahoma. For the first ten or so years of working there, it was the medical clinic of Dr’s Thomas Burnett and Walter Cale. Drs. Burnett and Cale never seemed to age! I mean to 4, 7, or 10-year-old boy they always looked like old men, with their deep smile lines and white hair, but they never seemed to get any older, the older I got… always looking the same as the years went by.
Dr. Burnett was fast in his doctorly gate walking up and down the clinic’s hallways and always seemed to have a "pep" about him. I bet as a younger man he was the guy at parties dancing the jitterbug or Lindy Hop, charming the girls with his quick wit and personality. I remember his personal office on his side of the clinic had bright blue shag carpeting and always smelled like pipe tobacco.
Dr. Cale was more reserved. Quieter, more thoughtful in processing diagnosis. He had super soft hands and loved collecting Native American art. The art hung in his examination rooms next to that long stiff examination bed thing. You know the one with the stiff yet thin paper covering that was ripped off and then fresh layer rolled out for the next patient.
Mom’s area was the “Laboratory”, and that’s what it kind of looked like inside. Beakers and test tubes, wind up timers and centrifuges, Petri dishes with auger-auger to grow bacteria, and of course, a microscope to look at slides of blood so she could count white and red blood cells. There was also this long beat up cone-shaped bunsen burner that I thought was cool…Okay now that I think about it, it was a little creepy. The Lab was the place, as a patient coming in to see the doctors, you would give up your bodily fluids. Mom was a “pro” I guess at getting those fluids from you. Whether it was with a cup and restroom visit, your arm at a forty-five-degree angle ready to have your blood drawn out, or even a cough and spit into a dish.
One of the nurses would walk in with a thick manilla folder (they called it a “chart”. It was more of an overstuffed folder, with random paperwork flowing out), holding all the handwritten notes and diagnosis from the doctor throughout your years as a patient. Plop went the chart on the table next to truncates, cotton balls, and gulp….syringes.
“Shorty…” (Mom at her tallest height was right at 5’0) The nurse would say while Mom was on her tippy toes looking down the microscope “Dr. Burnett needs blood drawn for rabies” or whatever blood was drawn for. Mom would spin around and hug or call the patient by name because she had been seeing them as patients for years…taking their fluids… and this was Sapulpa after all.
Later from my Middle School years through college, and even culinary School, both Dr, Burnett, and Cale had eventually retired and sold the clinic to the local hospital or some medical group. and Dr.s Donald Johnson and Terrell Ramsey took over.
Dr. Johnson was a tall stout red-headed man with a jolly personality and I believe was an M.E. Mom explained to me M.E. meant “medical examiner”, which translated to me as being Dr. Quincey from the TV show “Quincy”. He examined dead people and was a ladies man, so I thought Dr. Johnson was pretty cool. He also had a finger missing, the same finger most doctors needed to use for a prostate exam, and I always wondered how he got around that?
Dr. Ramsey, I did not know as well, but he seemed to have the same calm demeanor his predecessor Dr. Cale had and seemed nice.
Every other Thursday was Mom’s day off from the clinic, which meant every other Thursday my brother Ari and I could expect something delicious baked for us when we got home from school. There was either cookies or pies (Ask Ari about the chocolate Banana Pie “incident”), but typically some sort of cake awaited us. Mom was the real “Cake Boss” when it came to our home baking and it was always a surprise to see what inspiration she garnered from The Ladies Home Journal or one of the many collected fundraising cookbooks she’s purchased throughout the years. One of my favorite “mom cakes” was a chocolate bundt cake she made that had a coconut center running through it.
I’m pretty sure this cake was a boxed cake mix that had the coconut center portion included. One of those 2-part cake mixes. When I asked about this cake a few years ago, Mom’s only response was “they don’t make it anymore.” So, of course, I have been pondering on how to recreate this cake.
I set off to recreate Mom’s Chocolate and Coconut Tunnel Cake… And you know what? It turned out really well! The chocolate is super chocolatey and the coconut center had awesome flavor. The color contrast and flavor contrast are on point… and well… it was a good reminder of much simpler days: Mom and her lab, the doctors and nurses, and that old clinic with Native American art, blue shag carpet, and reasons to leave bodily fluids with my mother.
Chocolate-Coconut Tunnel Bunt Cake
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
2/3 cups (11 tablespoons) vegetable shortening
4 large eggs, room temp
2 teaspoons vanilla, divided
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
1 1/2 cup cold strong coffee
2 1/2 cups sugar and 1/3 cup sugar separate
3 cups cake flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder + extra for pan dusting
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cup sweetened coconut
2 cup confectioners sugar
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a bundt pan by greasing the inside and dusting with cocoa powder.
In a double boiler (with the water boiling) add the vegetable shortening along with the chopped chocolate and begin to melt. Remove from the heat once melted and let the mixture cool.
In a small mixing bowl add the softened cream cheese, one egg, the 1/2 cup of sugar, 1 teaspoon of vanilla and 1/2 teaspoon of coconut extract. Mix completely until smooth. Add the 1 1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut and fold in. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl combine the cake flour, 2 1/2 cups sugar, 1/2 cup cocoa powder, baking soda, and kosher salt. Mix with a spoon to combine evenly.
To the cooled chocolate and shortening mixture add the 3 remains eggs and remaining teaspoon of vanilla. Add the 1 1 /2 cups of cold coffee and mix in completely.
Pour the chocolate and coffee mixture into the dry mixture and mix to a smooth cake batter.
Pour around 3/4 of the batter into the prepared bundt pan. Add the coconut batter on the top center of the chocolate batter, a coconut ring, as evenly and centered as you can. Pour the second half of the chocolate cake batter on top. The coconut batter is heavier than the chocolate batter so it will sink while cooking. Adding a good foundation of chocolate will help ensure a middle of the ground distribution of the coconut once baked,
Place the cake in the center of the oven and bake for 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes or until your cake tester draws out clean.
Remove the cake from the oven and cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Invert the cake out onto a serving plate to cool completely.
Mix the confectioners sugar, milk, and almond extract into a thick icing. Spoon out the icing onto the top of the cake and let to flow down on the outside and inside of your bundt cake. Do this quickly because it will dry fast, and you still have shredded coconut to sprinkle on for garnish. Well, that’s the next step… sprinkle on the coconut and press into the icing gently.