October 18, 2012

coconuts and strawberries

The last two weekends have been pretty good.  Hard work, but good.  We've made more progress on painting the house (only one room to go!) and the weather is really quite deluxe at the moment, so we've been spending time in the garden before it gets too hot and mosquito-ey.

A particular highlight has been the barbecuing we've been doing on our makeshift coal barbecue, fashioned from some breeze blocks, 'borrowed' bricks, some disposable foil trays and the grills from our gas barbecue (pfft, who needs one of those) and actual coal.  Every since moving to Brisbane, it's been a bit disappointing that barbecuing here is about gas fired barbecues.  They're fine and all but you don't get that smokey taste of barbecue/summer on your food with a gas barbecue and frankly, I don't see the point.  You may as well stick your food in the oven and not have to clean a barbecue up afterwards.  For ages I've been going on about building our own little coal pit, one on which we can cooked spicy skewered meat, potatoes in foil straight on the coal and sweetcorn on the cob over the flames.  And then when all that's done, you take the grill off the coal, throw a few little logs on and have yourself a summer camp fire on which to toast marshmallows and get a bit tipsy next too.

We did it a lot as kids.  My parents, especially my dad and his brothers were very keen on the art of the slow, sit-around-it barbecue and most summers we'd be together with our cousins every weekend, cooking outside.  Spicy chicken, lamb kofta kebabs, potatoes in foil, big bowls of rice... the dads would drink cold beers and then whisky and the warm days seem to go on and on and on (they do in the English summer) and the vibe was great.

So a couple of weekends ago, I suggested to Will that we build a little coal pit.  We did.  Sure it took a bit of work to keep the dogs from the skewers of tandoori chicken that were at dachshund nose-height and the kids needed to understand they weren't to go anywhere near it, but it was worth it.  My waning enthusiasm for all things new in the kitchen was alight again, enough that I then made this exceptional coconut cake with strawberries and cream cheese frosting.  After searching and searching for a recipe for the aforementioned that didn't involve strawberry flavoured jelly or boxed cake mix, I found and adapted this one, though I didn't do much to the recipe as just work out the right proportions for a smaller cake than the recipe suggests, mainly because if you're going to renew your gym membership to get fit for the summer, you shouldn't eat a lot of cake.  (This is contrary to my husband's view on exercise, btw.)  So yes, this is a keeper.  We all loved it, including my children, but that's not saying much.

Try it.  You'll spend all day making it but you'll be glad you did.

270g cream cheese, at room temperature
120g unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
250g icing sugar
500g strawberries

310g plain flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
200ml unsweetened coconut milk
180g unsalted butter, at room temperature
240g granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup desiccated or shredded coconut (I used desiccated because it's what I had)

Beat cream cheese, butter and vanilla with an electric mixer until whipped and fluffy. Add confectioners' sugar and mix until fluffy again.  I would suggest that a drop of Malibu might work here instead of the vanilla.

Preheat oven to 180°c. Lightly grease and line two 8-inch round cake pans.
Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda into a large bowl. Beat butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment 5 minutes or until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, with mixer on low speed, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Add vanilla. Alternately add flour mixture and coconut milk in several additions before stirring in the coconut.
Spread batter into cake pans and bake for 35 minutes or until golden and cake tester inserted into center of cakes comes out clean. Cool completely.

Place one cake layer on a cake plate or stand. If cakes have rounded tops, gently trim with a serrated knife and present the off cuts to your children.  Spread a thin layer of frosting on cake layer and top with chopped strawberries. Place other cake layer on strawberries, with flat side up and press down gently to secure. Frost top of cake with remaining frosting and decorate with remaining strawberries.  Eat a slice immediately, and then every time you open the fridge, which is where it's intended to be kept.

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