When I began writing about food, I couldn’t conceive of a time where I would be able to, let alone want to, create my own recipes. I clung to cookbooks and columns: the recipes of others were more than support to me, they were the be all and end all of cooking. This shows in my first blog posts, retellings of Nigel Slater’s lemon curd and banana cake, Nigella’s clementine cake, Justin Gellatly’s biscuits. My stories framed by their food.
Once I realised that I could create my own recipes, and that – sometimes! – they would work, I became obsessive about originality, about ensuring that everything I wrote was entirely independent of what I was reading. I felt I would be a fraud to rely even slightly on another’s recipe; I panicked about inadvertently plagiarising, worried about seeming stale and derivative.
It became a source of panic: time spent following recipes was time, meals, cakes, biscuits that I didn’t feel I could write about. My cooking became harried and strained, and I briefly forgot about the joy that had brought me to this point in the first place.
So much of what I’ve learnt about cooking and writing has come from the recipes of others. All recipes are an inheritance: they are inherently informed by what you have cooked in the past, what you’ve eaten, and what you’ve read. Every recipe I write is a composite of tiny specks of my life. And I love that. Now I couldn’t be happier to spot the influences, some heavy-handed, some more subtle, over recipes I’ve written over the last four years.
But there is a distinct joy in following someone else’s recipe, and I continue to do it far more than this blog would suggest. My kitchen is rarely free of an open cookbook and Diana Henry and Meera Sodha, Fuchsia Dunlop and Anna del Conte, and still more Nigel and Nigella are frequently flung at me by Sam as I leave them, spines broken and spattered, on the worktop.
So this recipe is heavily, and unashamedly, based on Deb Perlman’s Coconut Bread from her blog, Smitten Kitchen. Deb’s blog is incredible: beautifully written, filled with faultless, failsafe recipes, and sprawling in the best possible way. I could read it for days without getting bored. Her coconut bread I made in the early days of my baking and inexplicably haven’t returned to it until very recently. It is so incredibly simple, and gives the most gorgeous results: a not-too-sweet cake, filled with coconut, and just enough spice – and, of course, because Deb is a genius and right about everything, the butter she uses is browned, which lends a toasty roundness to the whole cake. I say without an ounce of exaggeration: the smell of this cake is probably my favourite smell in the world.
I stuff the cake with raspberries and top it with icing; I’ve toasted the coconut for a deeper flavour, and have sized up the recipe for a bundt tin, but other than that, this is a celebration of Deb’s brilliant recipe, which – amongst many others – taught me how to cook.
Coconut and Raspberry Cake
Makes: 1 bundt cake
Takes: 10 minutes
Bakes: 1 hour 30 minutes
3 large eggs
400g plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
15g baking powder
3 tsp ground cinnamon
300g light brown sugar
190g desiccated coconut
A couple of drops of pink food colouring or 15g raspberry puree
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
200g icing sugar
1. First, prep your tin. Rub butter into every crevice of your bundt tin, using the butter packet or some grease proof paper. Take a tablespoon or so of plain flour and scatter it around the tin, rolling the tin until all of the butter you’ve rubbed in is coated in a fine film of flour. Tap any excess flour out of the tin.
2. Heat the oven to 180°C. Spread the coconut out on a tray and place in the oven for a few minutes, until you can smell it. Do keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn.
3. Brown your butter by melting it in a pan and continuing to heat it until it foams up, and the foam subsides leaving a nut brown liquid flecked with mahogany.
4. Whisk the eggs and milk together in a jug.
5. Sift together the flour, salt, baking powder and cinnamon. Add the sugar and the toasted coconut. Stir in the eggs and milk, and then the melted butter until just combined. Fold through the raspberries.
6. Pour carefully into your prepared bundt tin, and bake for 1 hour 30 minutes, or until a cocktail stick inserted into the sponge comes out clean. The sponge when properly cooked should bounce back when pressed gently with a ginger tip.
7. Just before you take the cake out of the oven, pour a small amount of boiling water over a clean towel (you want the tea towel steaming rather than sodden). Take the tin out of the oven, and lay the tea towel over the top of the tin for 15-30 minutes. When the tin is cool enough for you to comfortably hold, remove the tea towel, place a plate over the tin, and upend the tin in one smooth, assured movement. You’ll feel the cake drop heavily onto the plate. Remove tin and behold.
8. Sift the icing sugar into a large bowl and drop in the food colouring or puree, and the lemon juice. Stir together, and adjust with water until the icing is a droppable consistency. Drip over the cake, sprinkle with de siccated coconut and allow to set.