Crazy Uncle Tom’s crazy birthday cake

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A couple of years ago my immediate family descended on our favorite spot in Maui to celebrate my mom’s 70th  birthday.

At the time, my nephew was two, full of energy and ready to take on the gentle surf of the Napili Bay.

One afternoon post naps and just as the sun had shifted enough to cool things down a bit, my nephew co-opted my husband into some kind of bizarre leg-race to the water’s edge.  As far as I could tell the activity consisted of one of them yelling “on your marks, get set, go” which was followed by a race to the water whereupon TD would unceremoniously belly-flop into the incoming tide.

As with most things two-year-old related, once was not enough and the two repeated this for the better part of half an hour.

Among other things, including a sand rash and sore calf muscles, this little shore activity earned TD the nickname of Crazy Uncle Tom.

Two-year-olds: they call them as they see them.

The name stuck.

I stumbled across a recipe for what claimed to be the world’s best cake.  Of course had to try it out for TD’s birthday.  It’s kind of a love child between banana cream pie and mild spice cake.  There is sponge.  There is meringue. There is toasted coconut and creamy banana.  There is vanilla bean speckled whipped cream.   It’s crazy–just like Crazy Uncle Tom.

As far as being the world’s best cake.  Well.  It’s kind of like when Buddy the Elf takes Jovie to try the World’s Best Cup of Coffee.  Enthusiasm and joie de vivre outweigh actual caliber but it doesn’t matter.

World’s Best Cake



  • 10 1/2 TBS (1 stick plus 2 1/2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 2/3 Csugar, divided
  • 1 1/3 C (170 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • pinch salt
  • large eggs, separated
  • 1/3 C whole milk
  • 1/2 C unsweetened coconut flakes (I used coconut chips on accident and things turned out just fine)
  • 1 C heavy cream
  • vanilla bean
  • 1 to 2 bananas, sliced


  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F and place a rack in the middle. Line a 9- by 13-inch baking pan with parchment paper, allowing some to drape over the sides of the pan.
  2. Whisk together flours, baking powder, salt and spices.  Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl using a handheld electric mixer, or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and 2/3 cup of the sugar until light and creamy, about 3 minutes.
  4. Working on low speed, add the flour, baking powder, spices, and salt and mix well.
  5. Mix in the egg yolks and the milk until combined, then scrape the batter into the prepared pan.
  6. Clean and thoroughly dry the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Pour in the egg whites, making sure there are no specks of yolk, and add the remaining 1 cup of sugar. Beat to soft peaks.  Spread this carefully on top of the cake layer.
  7. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the meringue is golden brown and puffed. About 15 minutes through baking, cover the meringue with coconut flakes (this way, the coconut can adhere to the still-damp meringue but it will not burn in the oven.)
  8. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack. Meanwhile, make the whipped cream: Pour the cream into a medium bowl and scrape in the vanilla seeds, discarding the pod. Beat to soft peaks with an electric mixer, about 3 minutes.
  9. Carefully transfer the cool cake to a cutting board. Cut the cake in half crosswise with a serrated knife. Place one half of the cake on your serving tray of choice and cover with the cream and banana slices. Place the other half, meringue side up, on top.
  10. Place the cake in the refrigerator to chill and soften for 1 hour before serving.

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