When Jennifer proposed the theme of this month's Sugar High my thoughts, as one who knows me at all would surely assume, turned to yearnings for chocolate.

But, though happy in those thoughts, I began to consider that which I most longed for as of late. Not a food or flavour specifically, but more of a mood or moment - I'd been pining for the arrival of summertime.

Sure, the mercury has been on the rise and the trees are well dressed in their abundant leaves, but somehow it still has not felt summer enough. It was not those broad shouldered, blue-eyed lazy days of August, where the sun smiles so brightly that the world seems lit from within.

So how could I evoke this feeling through food?

In southern Ontario, the warming months bring bustle back to farmers markets. Roadside fruit stands seem to multiply exponentially overnight. Punnets, pints and bushels make their way back into our weekend lexicon as the harvests roll in.

And the harvest inextricably tied to the season? Berries. Luscious and bursting with a sweetness born of sunshine, the ripening of Ontario strawberries coincides perfectly with the official start of summer.

Classic in every way, this strawberry swirl ice cream embodies nostalgic thoughts of childhood holidays. This is the taste of evenings on the swingset at my favourite ice cream stand; white stripes of cream coating our arms to our elbows as we sat, sucking the icy bits of strawberry until they turned supple and soft again.

Here, I wanted a taste that was purely luxurious berries and cream, and so chose to go with a dense, velvety rich vanilla custard base punctuated with tart strawberries. The psychedelic tie dye effect of broad ribbons of reddest red against the creamy whiteness was the look I had wanted, but feel free to blend the strawberries further for a more feminine hue.

Strawberry swirl ice cream
My interpretation of a variety of sources, with thanks.

Ingredients
2 cups half and half (10%) cream
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
A pinch of salt
5 egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream (35%, whipping)
2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar, divided
2 cups fresh strawberries
1/8 -1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Prepare an ice bath using a large bowl full of ice and water. Have another bowl, one that will fit inside the first without becoming fully submerged, set aside.

In a heavy-based saucepan pour in the half and half. Using the back of a knife, scrape the seeds out of the bean and into the saucepan, add the pod as well. Season with salt. Over medium heat, bring this mixture to a simmer. Turn off the heat and allow the vanilla to infuse into the liquid for 30 minutes.

Turn the burner back on and bring the mixture back to a gentle simmer over medium-low.

In a bowl that can withstand heat, whisk together the egg yolks and 2/3 cup of sugar until it becomes pale yellow and fluffy. Whisking constantly, pour a thin, steady stream of the half and half into the yolk mixture. Once combined, pour the mixture back into the same saucepan and return to the heat. Using a wooden spoon, stir the custard constantly until thickened and coats the back of the spoon, anywhere from 6 to 10 minutes.

Using a medium-fine mesh sieve, strain the custard into the clean bowl set aside earlier. Immediately place this bowl into the ice bath. Stir occasionally until the custard comes to room temperature. The vanilla bean can be taken at this point, rinsed and set aside to dry on a kitchen towel. Once dry, it can be used to make vanilla sugar.

Once the custard has cooled, stir in the the heavy cream. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled (I like a good couple of hours).

Meanwhile, mash the strawberries with the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar and lemon juice. Set aside at room temperature to macerate.

When the custard is chilled, follow the manufacturer's instructions to churn the ice cream. Once the ice cream is ready, remove the machine's dasher and gently fold in the strawberries and their juices. Do not overmix. Transfer to a food storage container then tightly seal and freeze for at least 2 hours.

Makes 1 quart.

Notes:

• Decadent as this version is, richer versions feature as many as 6 egg yolks for the same amount of liquid and a higher ratio of heavy cream to half and half (or milk). Choose the one that best suits your taste.
• If there seems to be too much accumulated strawberry juice, hold some back to maintain the texture of the ice cream - you do not want it to become waterlogged (well, juicelogged).
• For a pink version, rather than the marbled result here, strain the accumulated juices from the strawberries into the cooled custard before pouring into the machine. Add the strawberries through the feed tube during the last 5 minutes of churning.

Whew. When I was first approached by Jennifer to host this month’s Sugar High Friday, I approached it with nervous optimism. Everyone’s had that feeling, that illogical fear of “what would happen if I threw a party, and nobody came?”

Thank goodness for food bloggers. I did not expect, and could not have hoped for, a more enthusiastic and supportive group of contributors to this month’s event. From the dramatic to the sublime, these desserts celebrating the shades of white run the spectrum. 45 entries from around the world, are all delicious variations on the theme. What a party!

Again, my gratitude to those who participated, and those of you who have come by to see the results of our little event. Cheers to Jennifer, once again of the Domestic Goddess, who will be the host of next month’s SHF installment. It will be a confectionery celebration of Canada’s 140th birthday on July 1st - look out for the announcement and details on her site.

And with that, on to the desserts; click the photos to link to the author's site ...

It is always difficult when one is faced with the dilemma of following ambition or sentiment. Do you go with your aspirations, or do you follow your heart?

When considering my entry for this month’s Sugar High Friday, I ran into that exact puzzle.

On the one hand, I was inspired to try something challenging - something a bit avant garde and terribly, terribly chic. I envisioned a multi-component dessert, gorgeous and elegant, along the lines of the creations of Pierre Hermé or Thomas Keller.

Reining in my enthusiasm, I stopped to focus my thoughts. When thinking of white, what was my first impulse? Without question, the answer was clear - coconut. And whenever I think coconut, thoughts of my dear Mum are never far behind.

For as long as I can remember, my Mum has loved coconut. Even though she’s not known for indulgence, I automatically associate her with those coconut-filled bonbons that are part of any box of assorted chocolates. Coconut macaroons, there's another favourite.

The more I thought, the more I realized my Mother’s coincidental fondness for pale-coloured ingredients. Meringues, pavlovas, custards ... all are sweets high on her list. In fact, whenever she comes across any dessert involving meringue or coconut in my cookbooks, the recipe is usually met with a sigh of appreciation.

With that in mind, I decided that for my entry I would make something for my Mum.

And so my conundrum. My Mother is direct in her likes. She is one that favours a laden table with family and friends over a plated meal any day. She hosts with thoughts of bounty and abundance, of making sure that everyone is fully taken care of. Between her and my Father, I would be hard-pressed to think of an occasion when I have left their house hungry.

A dessert that was twee or over-styled seemed inappropriate for her. Something simple, but pretty, and utterly delicious; that was surely the route to choose. Heart won out over headstrong ideas of culinary feats, and a coconut cake was where I settled.

Buttery, tender and (somewhat suprisingly) not too sweet, this cake is traditional home baking at its best. Far from the cellular sponginess of a boxed cake, the texture is toothsome with shredded coconut. The filling, not called for in the original recipe, is from Martha Stewart. It is a thick but not a cloying curd, studded with even more coconut strands and adding a welcome custard blanket over the layers. I chose a Swiss meringue buttercream for its marshmallow richness that is dense, but still light to the tongue.

This entry truly became a family affair. Many thanks to my nephews, one who particularly loves coconut, for gobbling up the result of my work. And my gratitude goes to my brother for taking two of the photographs featured.

Old-fashioned coconut layer cake
Ina Garten's variation on the famous coconut cupcakes from her Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. I've added a coconut cream filling and chosen a Swiss meringue buttercream for the frosting.

Recipe
Coconut cream filling
1/2 batch Swiss meringue buttercream
150 grams flaked coconut

Notes:
• I split the cake into four layers. This cake is rather delicate and crumbly with all the shredded coconut; take particular care when cutting and assembling the layers.
• For the cake, I substituted 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk and 1/2 cup sour cream for the regular milk called for. I also substituted 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons of cake flour, for 1 cup of the all-purpose flour, for added whiteness of the final crumb.
• I cut down the almond extract, as I felt it overshadowed the more delicate vanilla and coconut.
• For the cream filling, I substituted 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk for the regular milk called for.

Ahh, the changing personality of white.

The milkiest tones are soothing and fresh, while the chalkiest are stark and dramatic. The slightest shades of suggested colour bring moodiness and depth. It can be the quality of light on a blisteringly hot summer’s day, or the muffled whiteness of a snow-covered landscape. Almond, cream, malt, vanilla, buttercream; all not only evocative colours, but flavours as well.

With this tempting palette in mind, I am happy to announce Shades of White as the theme for this month’s Sugar High Friday, the dessert-based food blogging event created by Jennifer of Domestic Goddess fame.

Participation is simple; make a dessert featuring your chosen hue of white. Anything from the palest of champagne ices to frothy zabaglione to the barest tan of hazelnut cookies. Or let the character of form inspire; are you drawn to the simple elegance of blancmange, or the childhood taste of marshmallow, or the towering excess of a meringue crowned pie? The possibilities are endless.

Then, let us know about your culinary artistry, maybe explaining why you chose this dessert or what you liked about its particular shade. I will post a roundup here, so we can compare notes.

Here’s how it goes.

1. Sugar High Friday #31 roundup will be posted on Friday, May 25, 2007.

2. Please post your recipe on your site on Monday, May 21st, then email me by Noon EST Wednesday, May 23, 2007. Be sure to include your name, your blog name, your location, the recipe name and a permalink URL to the story. If possible, please provide a 100 x 100 pixel photo of your masterpiece, so I can include it in the gallery for the roundup. For ease of organization, please label the image file the same as the name of the dessert.

3. If you do not have a blog, please feel free to post your thoughts, ideas or feedback in the comments section of the Sugar High Friday posts. If you have a longer comment, you can also email me, and I will include your entry in the roundup.

One last thing, a plea - this is my first time hosting a food-blogging event. So be nice to the newbie! I hope you find the theme inspiring; I invite everyone to join.