The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley, as Robert Burns would say. Or, in other words, “ha ha ha, I thought I was going to have this post up ‘a couple of days’ after the one I posted two and a half weeks ago.” I did not reckon with life deciding to get in the way, and boy, did it. I’m still dealing with some Life Stuff that may slow my blogging down for a while, but I’ve at least gotten through a few of the things that were keeping me from writing. I’ve got my fingers crossed that the universe will cooperate and I’ll get back to something resembling a weekly schedule soon. In the meantime, let’s talk about Jamaica!
This week’s (well, several-weeks-ago’s at this point, but you know what I mean) country brought a problem I knew I’d have to face eventually: what to do when I hit a country whose cuisine I’m already pretty well-acquainted with. I’ve had Jamaican jerk, curries, fried plantains, patties, and so forth. I’ve been to Jamaican buffet restaurants and tried a little of everything. So, given my “nothing I’ve eaten, nothing I’ve made” rule, I had to rule out a lot of dishes right off the bat.
I also had a second problem: I was tired. I’ve been dealing with a lot of stress in my life for the past several weeks, and for all that I theoretically love making big, elaborate, ambitious recipes, there are times when, in practice, I just don’t have the energy, and this was one of those times. I wanted something simple, straightforward, tasty, and quick. Luckily, grater cakes ticked all of those boxes, plus an additional box that I didn’t know about when I chose this dish. Between the time I bought my ingredients and the time I actually made the grater cakes, I acquired a bad case of stomach flu/food poisoning (as I discussed in the last post). By pure, happy chance, grater cakes are pretty great choices for an unhappy digestive system, and they ended up being my main source of calories for a day or two when other foods didn’t want to go down or stay down.
On top of those other lovely qualities, grater cakes had one more perk. I’ve been trying, throughout this project, to vary what kinds of foods I make, both in terms of what part of a meal (or whatever) they are (some entrees, some snacks, some desserts, some breads, and so forth), and in terms of who could potentially eat them (some things that are vegetarian, some things that are gluten-free, some things that are kosher, and so forth). Despite the name, grater cakes aren’t really cakes so much as candy, which was something I hadn’t made yet, and because they involve so very few ingredients, I could serve them to nearly everyone. Nifty!
So without further ado, let’s get to:
When I say these involve very few ingredients, I mean it.
That ingredient picture actually over-represents the number of ingredients you need for this little treat, because I made my grater cakes in two flavors. When I read recipes for grater cakes, it was quickly clear that you can flavor them almost any way you want – I found plain ones, peppermint ones, vanilla ones, almond ones, ginger ones, and more. I pretty much decided what flavors I was going to make based on (a) what sounded good when my stomach was a bit upset and (b) what extracts I already had in my kitchen cabinet. That left me with peppermint and orange. Since I hadn’t actually seen any recipes for orange-flavored grater cakes, I made the vast majority of my batch peppermint for authenticity’s sake (and also because peppermint tends to be good at settling one’s stomach), but orange sounded tasty enough that I had to at least make a few that way.
So, the first step (out of a grand total of roughly four steps) was to put my coconut, sugar, and water into a big pot, stir that up, put it on the stove on medium-low heat, and bring it up to a simmer.
I let that simmer (stirring it occasionally) for a few minutes, until the sugar had thoroughly melted and turned into thick gooey syrup, and the coconut had browned just a teensy bit.
I should note that the simplicity of this recipe means it’s very forgiving – if you leave it a little too long and it gets overly dry, just add some more water. If you added too much water in the first place, just cook it a little longer. If you didn’t get the proportions of coconut and sugar just right, toss some more of one or the other in. It’ll be fine.
Once the mixture looks more like gooey coconut with relatively little liquid remaining and less like coconut soup, it’s ready for the next step.
Now, since I was making it in two different flavors, the next couple of steps were slightly more complicated for me. If you’re just making one flavor, at this point, you’d simply remove the pot from the stove and mix in your extract of choice. In my case, I scooped out roughly a fifth of the sticky coconut mixture into another pan and added my orange extract to it, and then added the peppermint extract to the big pot. I didn’t use precise measurements in either case, but rather added the extract in small splashes, stirring it in and taking little blobs of coconut to taste-test after each until I felt like the balance of coconut-to-peppermint or coconut-to-orange flavors was to my liking. I’m estimating you’d use roughly one to one and a half teaspoons of your extract of choice for a whole batch, but again, this is super forgiving, so just throw in as much as sounds tasty to you.
Next, it was time to make these nice and decorative. While the grater cake recipes I found seemed to come in all sorts of flavors, all of them agreed that proper grater cakes should be white on the bottom and red or pink on top. Since I needed a way to tell my orange and peppermint grater cakes apart, I decided the peppermint ones would be an “authentic” pink and the orange ones would be an inauthentic (but logical!) orange. So I scooped roughly a third of each of my two pots of sticky coconut into separate bowls and put a few drops of the relevant food colorings in each and mixed them in well. Then I took the un-dyed sticky coconut and spread it across the bottom of a pair of glass baking pans; the peppermint-flavored white coconut mixture took up about a pan and a half, and the orange-flavored white coconut mixture occupied about a third of a pan. I made my grater cakes fairly small and thin so that they could be little bite-sized snacks, but you could make them as thick as suits your fancy. I gave the white coconut mixture several minutes to cool and congeal in the pans, and then spread the colored coconut on top of it.
Once the colored layer had been spread on top of the white layer, I covered the pans with plastic wrap (because the weather has gotten fairly warm around here and that sometimes means flies get in the house, and I didn’t want any flies on my grater cakes) and let them sit for an hour or so to fully cool and harden. Then I took a sharp knife and sliced the sheets of congealed sugary coconut into small squares. (Again, you could make yours much bigger if you like – I wanted bite-sized treats, so my squares were about an inch and a half across.)
Once I’d made sure all of my cuts went completely through the coconut mixture, I started lifting the squares out of the pan with a spatula. Because these are fairly crumbly, the first couple of squares I removed from the full pan fell apart in the process, but once I had a clear space for the spatula to lay flat against the bottom of the pan, the rest came out very nicely. Soon I had a nice big plate of pink grater cakes, and a nice small plate of orange ones. They were ready to eat!
I mean, there’s not a lot here to not be tasty – it’s pretty much just sweet, sticky, chewy coconut in candy form. I think I liked the orange ones a little better than the peppermint ones, but both were very good, and the peppermint ones really hit the spot when I wasn’t feeling well, since peppermint is fairly good at settling one’s stomach. These aren’t anything fancy, but everyone who tried them liked them, and they’re very quick and very easy to make.
If I make these again – which I’m sure I will, because, as I said, they’re super quick and easy – I think I’d like to experiment with more flavors. Peppermint and orange were yummy, but last time I was at the grocery store, I spotted a bottle of mango extract, and I suspect that’d be scrumptious.
4 cups unsweetened grated coconut
4 cups sugar
1 cup water
roughly 1 1/2 tsp peppermint extract, orange extract, or other extract of your choice
The next country announcement will go up immediately after this, but I’ve learned my lesson when it comes to promising the next recipe post. Let’s just say it’ll be up sometime, and I hope that life cooperates so that “sometime” can be reasonably soon!