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
Posted
Authortara
Categoriesbaking, cake
31 CommentsPost a comment

When there are two birthdays in your family of four within seven days, it makes for a festive week. And, well, a lot of buttercream too.

My birthday was yesterday, at the tail end of that celebratory span. And by the time my moment to blow out the candles rolled around, the last thing I wanted was cake.

So we made this. By we I mean our Benjamin and I did, and by this I mean a Strawberry Icebox Cake. But it's not a cake, really, simply graham crackers stacked with sweet, whipped heavy cream and drizzled with a rosy strawberry sauce. After a rest in the chill chest from which its name derives, the crackers swell and the cream thickens and the strawberry sauce pretty much becomes best friends with everybody.

That sauce is the only cooking requirement; it's a stirring job for the most part as the lion's share of the berries simmer and bubble into a jammy fruit goo (I use the term lovingly), and then a buzz around the blender. What remains now is pretty much laughter and licking the spoons, because you're almost completely home free.

No baking required, no butter to cream, only 10 minutes or so of building block style assembly.

The good manners that my Grandmother taught me tell me I should be abashed at the categorical ordinariness of this cake. It's crackers and cream and fruit. Where's the flamboyance? Where's the show? Birthdays are supposed to be about razzmatazz.

But don't be fooled, it's a quiet cacophony, but this cake will knock you flat. That sauce of ours practically vibrates with each and every childlike notion of what berries should be. It's bold and tangy and reminds you that strawberries aren't just about being sweet; they're one of the first fruits of the season and in that redness they carry the jubilant acidity that comes from crisp mornings and sunshine-bathed afternoons.

Then there's the cream that brings me back to the summer when I was six years old and I thought strawberry ice cream was just about the best thing going. Once the crackers get involved, it all becomes a cloud of strawberry shortcake.

At one point yesterday, I found it hard to chew because I was smiling so big; partly because who made it with me and who was sharing it with me, and partly because was exactly what I wanted. And if smiles like that isn't what the best birthdays are about, then I don't know what is.

Happy days to you.

STRAWBERRY ICEBOX CAKE

This is berry-fied version of theMocha Icebox Cake we made last year, with little changes to the basic cake and method. I've republished the instructions for ease, but here is the original in case anyone is interested in the chocolate and coffee version. 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.

INGREDIENTS FOR THE SAUCE (makes approximately 1 cup)

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

INGREDIENTS FOR THE CAKE

  • 3 1/2 cups heavy (whipping cream), divided
  • 3/4 cup confectioner's sugar, divided, or thereabouts
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 45 honey graham crackers, the single kind
  • One recipe Strawberry sauce, divided

METHOD

To make the sauce, take three-quarters of the berries and put them in a 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 strawberries to a blender (or use an immersion blender), 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 strawberries to that blender of yours and whirr them around again. 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 2 cups of well-chilled heavy cream. Once the cream begins to thicken, sift in 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar and salt. With the mixer on medium-high, whip until the cream begins to hold soft peaks. Add the vanilla, and beat until the cream just holds a stiff peak.

Spread a small amount of the cream on the bottom of the prepared cake pan. Lay 9 crackers, in a 3-by-3 grid, on top of the cream. Spoon 1/2 cup 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 strawberry 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 cream and strawberry. 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 6 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 cup of well-chilled heavy cream. When the cream begins to thicken, sift in the reserved 1/2 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 strawberry sauce passed alongside.

Makes one 8-inch square cake.

Notes:

  • 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 ice cream or stirred into yogurt, or as the base of a strawberried champagne cocktail (which gets my vote).
Posted
Authortara
Categoriesdessert, summer
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Thanks to my sis-in-law Rene, for not only hosting the dinner tonight, but also being our photographer. She's especially snazzy.

Sorry about this. Really.

I know, we were chatting about chocolate and coffee just a few days ago. And it seems as though I have had sweets on the brain for weeks now.

But, if ever was there a day when maybe, just maybe dear reader, you could cut me some slack for my repetitive ways, I hope it will be today. Because really, who would begrudge a birthday girl her chocolate wish?

That's right, today was my birthday.

Please excuse my sweet tooth and forgive me for being a trifle scatterbrained just now, but I wanted to stop in to share with you the dessert we chose to celebrate.

Our fancy-dress festivities are not for another few days, so today is all about a night just for family. And for me, if there is one dessert that ties together my thoughts of family and nostalgia all in one ribbon-tied package, it would be my Mum's Mocha Dessert.

When I was little, this Mocha Dessert was the often-requested sweet ending to my parents' dinner parties, parties I considered the height of elegance. Silver was polished to perfection, the good china was brought out, and the menu were planned days in advance. When the night arrived, the men were dapper and the ladies were always dressed to the nines; you can surely imagine how my six-year-old self loved the glamour of dark lipstick and dangling baubles.

I remember their conversations lasting into the night. The deep murmur of their voices, often punctuated by peals of sparkling laughter, made its way through the darkness, up the stairs and to my ears as I strained to catch what was surely exceptionally witty banter. I thought it all terribly romantic.

As an adult, I can appreciate why this simple recipe was the subject of such praise. Layers of graham crackers were sandwiched with coffee cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce. After a night's rest in the icebox, the formerly-disparate components relax into each other. The graham crackers loose all their crispness, the cream turns thick and luscious. In the end, everything is mousselike, with a delicate delineation of layers that yield to the slightest pressure from a spoon. A cross between an icebox cake and a tiramisù, I strongly believe that it was this ethereal confection that started my love affair with coffee.

This cake is ridiculously easy to make and decidedly old school. It is not about bells and whistles, or technique and the latest trend. Instead, like all fond memories, it simply makes me smile.

Of course I had a little bit of business to attend to today, and that is the announcement of the winner of the giveaway. I am happy to say that Random.org has selected Angela as the recipient of a one-year subscription to the food magazine of her choice. Angela, please contact me at tara [at] sevenspoons [dot] net with your contact information.

Thank you to everyone that entered and a here's wishing a happy day to each and every one of you!

MOCHA ICEBOX CAKE

Adapted, with thanks, from my Mum. Hers was made and served like a tiramisù, with more cream and less cookie, scooped out for serving. I have turned the dessert out on its head, and added some chocolate whipped cream.

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 1/2 cups heavy (whipping cream), divided
  • 3/4 cup confectioner's sugar, divided
  • 1 tablespoon instant coffee granules
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 45 honey graham crackers, the single kind
  • 1/3 cup chocolate syrup, see note
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder, sifted

METHOD

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 2 1/2 cups of well-chilled heavy cream. Once the cream begins to thicken, sift in 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar, the coffee granules and salt. With the mixer on medium-high, whip until the cream begins to hold soft peaks. Add the vanilla, and beat until the cream just holds a stiff peak.

Spread a small amount of the cream on the bottom of the prepared cake pan. Lay 9 crackers, in a 3-by-3 grid, on top of the cream. Spoon 1/2 cup 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 chocolate syrup over the cream, spreading to form an even layer if desired.

Top with another layer of graham crackers, continuing the layering until you have 5 layers of crackers and 4 of the cream and chocolate. Make sure to reserve a small amount of cream to cover the last layer of crackers (no chocolate 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 6 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 15-30 minutes.

Prepare the cocoa cream. 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 cup of well-chilled heavy cream. When the cream begins to thicken, sift in the reserved 1/4 cup confectioner's sugar and the cocoa powder. With the machine set to medium-high, whip the cream until it holds a firm peak, but being careful not to over beat.

Take the cake out of the freezer and carefully spread a thin layer of the cocoa cream over the top and sides. Once completely covered, use any remaining cream to decorate as desired. Chill the finished cake in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, then serve.

Notes:

• If you are going for authenticity, my Mum used Hershey's Chocolate Syrup (the dessert topping in the yellow tin, not the brown squeeze bottle). But if you are feeling posh you can make your own using one of theserecipes.

• For the sake of honesty, I will say that maybe I went a little overboard and used a full 2 cups of cream for the cocoa frosting. The last 1/2 cup looked so sad in its carton, and heck, you only have one birthday a year. Totally not necessary to the cake, but enjoyably decadent. To follow suit, add a bit extra cocoa powder and confectioner's sugar, to taste.

• A pinch or two of instant coffee granules added to the cocoa cream is also a good thing.