Over the holidays, my brother gave me a box of family photo albums he's had since our maternal grandmother passed away in the summer of 2012. Between pages sticky with scratchy lines of yellowed glue and crackling sheets of protective plastic was a photo of grandma, younger than I can remember her, cooking with Aunty Surinder. Aunty was a close family friend, if not an actual relation.

How good it is | Tara O'Brady

The shot belongs with a few others in sequence. My grandfather, dressed in a pale yellow golf shirt with the collar neat, sitting with his elbows on a table, talking to a man whose back is to the camera. Another with grandma and aunty outside a small cottage, wearing sunglasses and smiling broadly at the photographer. My mother thinks the cottage must have been a rental of some sort, a forgotten holiday somewhere. Wherever it was, it looks green and temperate. And they look happy. 

That one photo has stood out to me for the last two weeks, how the highest points of their smiles are just visible, the way their attention is on the stove and to each other. The particular blue on the carton and the eggs in the pan. Friends are going to India in a few weeks, and talk of their trip has had me thinking about my childhood visits there. I've been missing my grandmother in that hollow, aching way that comes with time, especially the feel of the skin on the back of her hands, her laugh, and her way with a good scramble. That photo, among all the others, even the ones where she's fully facing the camera, shook any dust off her memory.  

WINTER SQUASH SOUP WITH CURRY AND COCONUT MILK from Lisa Moussali and Molly Wizenberg | Seven Spoons

Benjamin and William know of our friends travel plans, and that some others are newly engaged, and that another couple just bought a house. While the boys don't call Sean and my friends aunties and uncles, they do call them mister and miss. So it's Mister Jason, for example — I can't get past my upbringing of children not calling adults by their first names alone. What's more, in the naming of their misters and misses in the world, I hope the boys feel they've claimed the adults that are theirs, besides just Sean and I, our parents, and their aunts and uncles by blood. 

WINTER SQUASH SOUP WITH CURRY AND COCONUT MILK from Lisa Moussali and Molly Wizenberg | Seven Spoons

For the last little while, William has held the firm belief that yellow soups are his favourite. I often make ones with squash or carrots, garlic, ginger, and cilantro, then chilies and coconut to take us somewhere in the area of Thailand, if not quite there. After last week's successful khao soi/squash experiment, I continued the streak with this Indian curried one.

Molly wrote about this soup more than two years ago; it is as simple as you'd want yet so bang-on exactly what it needs to be. The oomph comes from curry powder (honestly, I keep curry powder in the house for the aforementioned khao soi, mum's dry fried noodles, and this soup), but then its made all the  more interesting by a partnership with maple syrup (!) and fish sauce. The maple syrup, and grade B is really the way to go here, has a darkness that is brought out by the savouriness of the fish sauce, so its sweetness melts into the background. Lime juice and Sriracha further sharpens the focus right at the front. It is the type of soup you make with such regularity that you take for granted how good it is. Which I totally did, until I was texting about it Sunday night. I'm glad I remembered. I won't soon forget. 

 

(ROASTED) WINTER SQUASH SOUP WITH CURRY AND COCONUT MILK

I like this soup with accompanied by a little bulk — a rag of griddled naan, a mound of brown rice or crisped quinoa in the bottom of the bowl. Or, as shown, with chubby cubes of firm tofu slathered in the same flavours as the soup (maple, Sriracha, fish sauce) then bronzed in a hot skillet until leathery-edged. I had the last of some cooked lentils knocking about, so stirred them through with yogurt, cilantro, mustard sprouts and a pinch of Kashmiri chile powder, then spooned them over the tofu for another collection of textures. Cashews worked over in a mortar and pestle would also be nice. 

The method for the soup was barely changed by me in roasting the squash first, but everything else is an adaption by Molly Wizenberg from a recipe in Better Homes and Gardens via Lisa Moussalli's own adaptation. I agree with Molly in that butternut is the best squash for the task, but red hubbard and butterkin aren't bad. Acorn makes the soup a bit more khaki and it somehow tastes it, too. The ace method for roasting squash entirely from Molly Hays at Remedial Eating. The squash is roasted whole — no peeling! No hacking! No scraping of seeds still stubborn! Wins all around! — then split once soft enough to do so without resistance. It is brilliant.

INGREDIENTS

  •  1 winter squash (about 2 pounds / 500 g)
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
  •  1 medium or large yellow onion, chopped
  •  3 or 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  •  1 tablespoon curry powder
  •  1 (14-ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk
  •  2 cups (475 ml) chicken or vegetable broth
  •  1 tablespoon maple syrup
  •  1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
  •  1 teaspoon Sriracha or other Asian chile sauce
  •  Juicy wedges of lime, for serving

METHOD

Preheat an oven to 400°F. Place a whole winter squash on a rimmed, parchment-lined baking sheet (see note, below). Bake the squash until tender enough to be pierced deeply with the tip of a knife with only modest resistance, about 30 minutes. Carefully split the squash down its length, being careful of the steam. Flip the squash facedown on the pan and pop back into the oven for 15 to 20 minutes more until squash tender but still firm. Turn the squash so their faces are now upturned, and roast for 10 minutes more. Set aside until the squash are cool enough to handle. 

Meanwhile, warm the olive oil in a 4 to 6-quart Dutch oven set over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until they are softened, about 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for a minute or 2 more. Sprinkle in the curry powder, and stir around for 1 minute. Pour in the coconut milk and scrape any stuck bits from the bottom of the pan. If using an upright blender, transfer onions and coconut milk to its carafe, along with the broth. Scrape the seeds out of the squash and discard, then spoon the flesh into the blender as well. Purée until smooth and velvety (alternatively, do all of this in the pot with an immersion blender). Pour the soup back into the pot, stir in the maple syrup, fish sauce, and Sriracha, and check for seasoning. Bring the soup back up to a simmer, then serve with fresh lime wedges alongside for squeezing on top. 

NOTES:

  • When I roast winter squash this way I tend to do a whole bunch all at once — basically however much my oven can hold. This way it justifies turning the oven on, and then I'm set for soup (or whatever use you might have for roasted squash) for the week. 
toasted confetti

How many times, do you think, does it take for something to become a tradition? We're at year three of making icebox cakes every third week in April, and it's starting to feel like it's been our way since forever.

I'm liking it. A whole lot.

After the cakes of everyone else's days of revelry, when we end up on my birthday, this is what we do.

It requires a box of graham crackers, a carton of cream, and this year, a half dozen eggs. A whole half carton, yes, I mean it, because we made coconut pastry cream and it's what took our usual and made it the all-time favourite. The cake is, to all intents, coconut cream pie without the bother of crust and turning on the oven. And despite those subtractions the sum we are left with is the whole shebang of all the its best parts.

It's a step added to past versions, but the pastry cream is a breeze to manage I promise. It's custard that's thickened with a starch in addition to the egg's yolks. It is thick and glossy, and here coconut milk brings flavour and fragrance. Coconut milk has a clean sweetness to its scent, and since there's not too much sugar to muck it up, that elusive essence remains.

Still, I wanted to up the coconut ante so to speak, and my hand settled upon the lid of our jar of shredded coconut. My thought was to not only to further infuse the cream, but I was also thinking of its texture, because I find it difficult to conjure the flavour of coconut without a thought of its chew; most specifically, most ideally, the damp, toothsome centre of a coconut macaroon. And we've got it here in spades.

I had planned on chocolate to pair with the coconut, however a long story, a confusing grocery list, an impending holiday weekend following a weekend of possibly too much of good things, meant I was without the chocolate I wanted, but stumbled upon something even better instead.

Blackberry jam.

A few weeks ago, in a fit of unseasonality, I made blackberry jam in the midst of March. We had frozen berries stocked in our freezer from last season, and in a burst of positive thinking that if I used the icy berries then fresh ones would soon follow at our market, I set about using them up. The jam had sugar, lemon and nothing else besides the fruit.

Now my hand set upon the lid to that jar. I heated a few spoonfuls, added a teacup's worth of fresh (frozen) ones to the thickly bubbling jam, and stirred it all through. Once the fruit squished and softened, barely cooked, I pressed it all through a sieve. Seedless, smooth and glistening, the sauce had body with the direct brightness of fresh fruit. It was the match we needed for our coconut cream - without it the cake would have been too much of the same, all cream and sweet; the jam's the standout, more than chocolate could have been.

It's not often I'll say fruit over chocolate, for the record.

Essential variables sorted, the remaining preparation was as per well-tread habit. Benjamin dealt out graham crackers, our card sharp's getting quite good at Crazy Eights and happy put his skills to culinary use; he lined each up neatly to make a layer in the bottom of the pan. With William's assitance we spread on cream, then jam, and repeated the routine until everything was used up. Overnight, in the cold of the fridge, the crackers turned to cake - puffing up, leveling out, absorbing some of the moisture from the cream so that the filling goes that much more sumptuous. The cake got turned out, slipped into a coat of whipped vanilla cream, and it was ready for the party.

Hooray.

COCONUT CREAM ICEBOX CAKE

The instructions are for a square cake, which is easier and neater than our attempt at a round. But, if you decide to aim for circular, these amounts will be about right. The cake can also be served, trifle style, in the dish it was made. In that case, you'll only need about 1/2 cup of cream, whipped, to cover the top.

FOR THE COCONUT PASTRY CREAM

  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 vanilla bean, split
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut, see note

FOR THE BLACKBERRY SAUCE (makes approximately 1 cup)

  • 1 pound blackberries, hulled and roughly chopped
  • 1/3 cup caster sugar, or thereabouts
  • 1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice
  • A pinch of salt

FOR THE CAKE

  • 2 cups whipping cream, divided
  • Coconut pastry cream
  • 1/4 cup confectioner's sugar or thereabouts
  • A pinch of salt
  • 45 honey graham crackers, the single kind
  • One recipe blackberry sauce, divided

METHOD

Make the pastry cream. In a medium saucepan heat the coconut milk and milk. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod, stir those into the milks, then pop the pod in too. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then set aside to steep for a few minutes. Remove the vanilla bean.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch until smooth, pale and fluffy. Slowly and in a thin stream, pour the hot milks into the egg yolks while whisking constantly. Continue whisking until completely combined. Add in the salt and whisk again.

Strain the mixture back into the saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly. Cook until thickened and the custard boils at its centre. Continue to cook, still whisking well, for another minute.

Off the heat, stir in the shredded coconut. Transfer to a bowl, pressing a piece of clingfilm directly onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming as the pastry cools. Refrigerate until well chilled and firm, around 2 hours.

To make the sauce, put three-quarters of the berries in medium saucepan with 2 tablespoons of the sugar, the salt and 2 teaspoons of the lemon juice. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to a simmer. Cook, stirring, until the fruit becomes soft and the juices begin to thicken, around 7-10 minutes.

Carefully remove the blackberries to a blender (or use an immersion style), and process until smooth. Push the puréed sauce through a sieve, back into the saucepan. Return to the heat and bring again to a simmer, stirring often. Cook the sauce until it becomes truly thick, with a clear, glossy look, around 10 minutes. At this point you want it on the verge of jammy-ness, close to the texture of hot fudge sauce.

Tumble in the reserved berries, give them a few turns in the pan and cook for another minute or so.

Again with care, remove the blackberries to that blender of yours and whirr them around. Sieve again, this time to a clean container, and set the sauce aside to cool. It should be about the consistency of chocolate syrup, rather than fudge, and will coat the back of a spoon thickly, but not heavily. Once it has cooled to a non-molten level, taste for balance and stir in the rest of the sugar and lemon if need be.

To assemble the cake. Line an 8-by-8-inch metal cake pan with a cross of clingfilm, leaving an overhang on all sides. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, or in a medium bowl with a hand blender or whisk, begin to whip 3/4 cup of well-chilled heavy cream until the cream begins to hold soft peaks. Take the coconut pastry cream, give it a stir or two to make sure it's smooth, then fold the whipped cream into the pastry cream.

Spread a small amount of the coconut cream on the bottom of the prepared cake pan. Lay 9 crackers, in a 3-by-3 grid, on top of the cream. Spoon one-quarter of the cream on top of the crackers. Then, using an offset spatula, gently spread the cream to cover the crackers entirely. Drizzle a few tablespoons of the blackberry sauce over the cream, spreading to form an even layer if desired. (You will use a generous 1/2 cup of the sauce for the entire cake.)

Top with another layer of graham crackers, continuing the layering until you have 5 layers of crackers and 4 of the pastry cream and blackberry. Make sure to reserve a small amount of cream to cover the last layer of crackers (no sauce on this one).

Cover loosely with a piece of clingfilm, then draw the overhanging clingfilm from the sides up to cover the edges. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours and up to 2 days.

About 1 hour before serving, remove the cake from the fridge and peel back the clingfilm. Invert the cake onto a serving plate, removing the remaining clingfilm from the top and sides. Smooth out the sides with an offset spatula if needed. Place the cake in the freezer, uncovered, to chill for 30 minutes.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, or in a medium bowl with a hand blender or whisk, begin to whip the remaining 1 1/4 cup of well-chilled heavy cream. When the cream begins to thicken, sift in the 1/4 cup confectioner's sugar. With the machine set to medium-high, whip the cream until holds a firm peak, but being careful not to over beat.

Take the cake out of the refrigerator and gently spread a thin layer of the whipped cream to cover. Chill the finished cake in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, then serve with the remaining blackberry sauce passed alongside.

Makes one 8-inch square cake.

Notes:

  • Sweetened or unsweetened shredded coconut can be used, depending on your taste. The granulated sugar may need to be adjusted accordingly.
  • In the case you do not have both jam and fresh fruit on hand, this recipe was written with a from-scratch berry sauce. If you do, then simply heat around a 1/4 cup of blackberry jam in a saucepan over medium heat. When it at a simmer, add 1/2 cup fresh blackberries to the pot. Stir, cooking the fruit briefly, then proceed with the blending and straining of the sauce as detailed above. 
  • The thing about fruit sauces is that so much will depend on the fruit itself. You might need more or less sugar than I've suggested. This recipe will make around 1 cup, but it might be more or less depending on the juiciness of the fruit and how thick your final sauce ends up. Any leftover sauce can be used over to drizzle over ice cream or stirred into yogurt. It's also rather good as the base of a berried champagne cocktail (which gets my vote).
  • Previous icebox cakes can be seen here and here
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Authortara
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In many ways, my world is a small one. It isn't broad or grand or glamorous, really.

Most days I wear a familiar routine, worn in places from use, and I think it suits me well. I have an affection for that sameness; I am loyal to it and and it is reliable in its service. There is a luxury in contentedness that I have come to appreciate.

Fo us, that contentment with the regular is what prepares us for the extraordinary - good or bad. The security in knowing that the familiar will always be around gives us firm footing for standing up to hold close or defend against the happenings of the world beyond.

This undemanding coconut bread from Bill Granger is as trusty as trusted can be. We've been making this recipe for years, a recipe famous already and without need of my seal of approval as it has already been decorated by far grander folk. Nonetheless, I thought I'd bring it out in the chance that you might not have heard of it before, and for those who have, to remind you of its strong points.

If you have ever wanted to eat macaroons for breakfast, but felt the need for an excuse to do so. Here's you go, here it is. This bread is coconut through and through, a buttery base barely holds together that coconut in a texture that is moist and toothsome, like the centre of a Bounty bar in bread form.

Even better, this is a useful bread to have around. For the earlier-mentioned breakfast, toast it until crisp at the edges and serve with butter and marmalades, or save it for afternoon tea and serve it with a veil of confectioner's sugar sifted over its crust, or pack away blocky slices in the freezer where they won't mind the cold one bit.

It's also a bread that welcomes variation, one takes citrus beautifully (into the wet ingredients whisk in the zest of your choice, lime or grapefruit is especially nice). Or, if citrus isn't your thing, finely-chopped candied ginger or chocolate chips folded into the batter with the butter also make a top-notch additions.

There is nothing difficult about the recipe itself; in the matter of the ingredients or the method. It's made up of baking staples, simply stirred together wet into dry, in the muffin method - meaning just barely, so that all the liquid is absorbed and the flour is dampened and incorporated, but no more than that. No whipping or creaming required. In truth, anything that athletic is frowned upon, since overworking the batter will result in a firmer bread than is our aim. Lethargy wins the day. As it should.

So go forth, with sturdy slices tucked into your pockets or squirreled away for when they're needed. Come rain or shine, regular or remarkable, whatever the day brings you can be happy in the knowledge that there's coconut bread waiting for you.

It's good like that.

BILL GRANGER'S COCONUT BREAD

Adapted slightly from the original.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • Seeds scraped from half a vanilla bean
  • 2 1/2 cups flour, more for dusting pan
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup superfine sugar
  • 5 ounces flaked coconut (around 1 1/2 cups)
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • Soft butter for greasing the pan

METHOD

Preheat an oven to 350°F (175°C).

In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and vanilla seeds. Set aside.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Stir in the sugar and coconut. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, and slowly add the egg mixture, stirring until just combined. Fold in the melted butter, being careful not to overmix.

Grease and flour a 8-by-4-inch loaf pan. Pour in the batter and bake in the preheated oven until the loaf is golden and a cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean, around 1 hour. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in its tin for 5 minutes, then turn it out onto a wire rack. Position it again side up to cool a bit more.

Slice thickly and toast, or serve as is. A smear of butter or a dusting of confectioner's sugar is optional, but either would be a really good idea. Grapefruit marmalade would be exceptional.

Makes 1 loaf.

Notes:

• I had the urge to make this one day, and found that I only had a few ounces of each sweetened, flaked coconut and unsweetened, finely shredded coconut. I tossed them together equal parts of the two to get my full amount and haven't looked back since. It's not a necessary change, but worthy of note.

• If you do not have fresh vanilla beans on hand, 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract can be substituted.

• The crust on this bread is something special; it has the crunch and lacy feel of the golden edge of a macaroon. To encourage a higher crust-to-middle ratio, I bake mine in a long and narrow loaf pan, it is 10-by-3 1/2-inches - in that case, I use a sling of parchment paper to make it easier to remove. This batter also makes pleasantly-dense cakelets when baked in a muffin tin.

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Authortara
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Whew. I know it is just Monday, but I already feel as though I have had a marathon week. These last few weekends have flown by, more hectic than relaxed, and I am feeling the effect.

The busyness of it all is mostly with happy tasks, thank goodness; the sort of work that is wholly gratifying, but not always easy. Renovations, projects, an almost-four-month-old delight who believes that he is grown up enough to debut his first two teeth, a most wonderfully-mischievous toddler, friends, baking, cooking, planning, organizing, birthdays ... I'll say it again. Whew.

Tomorrow a dear, dear loved one will jet off for a faraway land for an extended trip. As exciting as that is, the last few days have been abuzz with expectant, frenetic energy as we all aid in preparations for departure and simultaneously prepare ourselves for three weeks of missing someone terribly.

I am looking ahead though; this weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving, and there is cooking to be done. Although this year we are not hosting the festivities, we are contributing to the celebration. I am thinking of doing David Lebovitz's showstopping Spiced Pumpkin Cheesecake with Caramel Bourbon Sauce. Jim Lahey's No Knead Bread has been requested, and I might pack a tin of Pecorino Crackers from Giada De Laurentiis (these are featured in De Laurentiis' new book; look out for my review next week). My only decision left is to settle on a cranberry sauce to make.

With all of this going on, I want something quick I can nibble while doing any number of other things through my day. And so, with a bit of time to throw together something, I turned to my favourite snack for these sort of days - granola bars.

Far from the overly-cloying packaged versions that verge on candy bar status, these little offer a bit of salty and sweet; as well-suited for breakfast with coffee as they are as a mid-afternoon bite all on their own. Delicious and portable, a balance of nutrition with a bit of treat, multitasking has never been as appealing than this.

Endnote: I feel compelled to mention that Thanksgiving is my favourite holiday; in fact, this time of year is my absolute, preferred season. All of this is a wonderful sort of busy, and though I might wish for more hours in the day sometimes, I would not wish away a second of it.

APPLE CRANBERRY GRANOLA BARS

My version of a base recipe from Alton Brown. By adding the cashews at the end their salt does not get fully mixed into the bars, resulting in little pockets of salty goodness.

INGREDIENTS

  • 8 ounces old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 2 ounces wheat germ
  • 1 1/2 ounce flax seed
  • 2 ounces raw pumpkin seeds
  • 3 ounces sliced almonds
  • 1 1/2 ounces shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
  • 4 ounces honey
  • 2 ounces golden syrup
  • 1 3/4 ounces light brown sugar (sometimes called yellow or golden)
  • 1 ounce unsalted butter, plus extra for pan
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 ounces dried apples, chopped
  • 2 1/2 ounces dried cranberries, chopped
  • 1 1/2 ounces salted cashews, roughly chopped

METHOD

Butter a 9 by 9-inch baking dish and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

Spread the oats, wheat germ, flax seed, pumpkin seeds, almonds, and coconut onto a baking sheet. Place in the oven and toast for 15 minutes, tossing to toast evenly.

Meanwhile, combine the honey, golden syrup, brown sugar, and butter in a large, microwave-safe bowl. Heat, on a low setting, stirring occasionally. Once the sugar is completely dissolved, stir in the salt and vanilla extract.

When the oat mixture is lightly toasted, remove it from the oven and reduce the heat to 300°F (150°C). Quickly add the oat mixture to the sugars, then the dried fruit and nuts, stirring to fully combine and coat. Pour mixture into the prepared baking dish.

Using the back of a greased spatula, press and flatten the mixture until evenly distributed. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes, rotating once during baking. Remove from the oven to a rack and allow to cool completely. Turn out onto a cutting board and slice into desired squares or bars. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.

Makes one 9x9 inch pan.

Notes:

  • I put a second baking dish of the same size on top of the bars as they come out of the oven, weighted down with cans. This extra compression makes for bars that will cut easily and hold their shape. For a crisp bar, allow the pan to completely cool before removing the weights. If you prefer a softer bar, you can do this for only part of the cooling time, or skip the step entirely.
  • In my mind, the perfect portion of these is achieved by cutting the pan into 2 1/4" squares. This yields 16 small bars.
  • Obviously, this is a recipe that can easily be tailored to suit personal preferences; as long as the general ratio of liquids to solids remains, sensible substitutions are easily made.

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.