Chocolate Coconut Cakes for Mother’s Day


So it’s Mother’s Day tomorrow—well, it is in Britain and much of Europe. To be more accurate, though, tomorrow is Mothering Sunday—a Christian celebration that is always on the fourth Sunday of Lent; the date changes every year according to when Easter falls. Churches hold special services on the theme of maternal love and the reading for the day is often from Galatians: “Jerusalem which is above is free; which is the Mother of us all.” The name dates back to times when people, often domestic servants, were given a day off to return to their “Mother”, or home church. As the workers walked along the country lanes from the big house to their village, they would pick flowers for their mothers—hence the later custom of giving presents.
I confess that I always assumed American Mother’s Day, which is celebrated in May, was devised purely as a way of boosting the profits of gift galleries Hallmark and Archies. How wrong I was. It actually appeared in the early 1900s when a woman named Anna Jarvis set up the day in memory of her own mother, Ann Jarvis, the founder of the “Mother’s Friendship Day” which aimed to reunite families that had been divided during the Civil War.
Anna Jarvis, though, deplored what Mother’s Day became even during her lifetime and in 1948 was arrested for disturbing the peace while protesting its commercialization. “A printed card means nothing,” she once said, “except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world.” Before she died she said she wished she “had never started the day because it became so out of control”. She must be turning in her grave at the 21st century Mother’s Day. In the US alone, around $2.6 billion (around Rs.15,860 crore) is usually spent on flowers, $1.5 billion on gifts, $68 million on greeting cards.
Mother’s Day was also once known as Refreshment Sunday because Christians were allowed a break from the 40-day Lenten fast and baking has always been part of that tradition. Young servant girls often made a simnel cake to take home to their mothers and some English bakeries still sell mothering buns—a sweet yeasted cake covered in icing and coloured sprinkles. Whenever you celebrate Mother’s Day or Mothering Sunday, you can’t go wrong with the gift of a home-made cake, surely one of the greatest expressions of love and appreciation.
My recipes today honour the two best mothers who ever lived, my husband’s and mine. My mother and mother-in-law never met. Oddly, the two recipes I often associate with them involve more or less the same ingredients but produce very different cakes. My mother Margaret’s is a simple traybake which we loved as children, an intense hit of chocolate and coconut. Brenda’s is a much-loved family cake that she always made for birthdays, and my husband thinks it was probably the first cake she ever learnt to make. I hadn’t made either for years and I have tweaked them slightly to take out some of the worst of the 1970s (margarine!).
For the cake I used fresh coconut instead of dried, but I think Brenda would have approved. The cakes brought back many fond memories for us all. As my son said, “that cake is fantastic. Just one mouthful is instant nostalgia.” I think Margaret, Brenda and Anna would all have been happy with that.
Margaret’s Chocolate Coconut Squares
Makes 12 squares
100g plain chocolate
50g soft butter
100g caster sugar
1 egg, beaten
113g desiccated coconut
Line a tin—about 17cm square—with foil. Bring a pan quarter-full of water to a gentle simmer. Break the chocolate into a glass bowl and sit this over the pan (but not touching the water) until it melts. Spread the melted chocolate evenly over the foil-lined tin and place in the fridge to set.
Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius. Beat together the butter and sugar until soft and fluffy, then beat in the egg. Stir in the coconut and spread this mixture over the set chocolate. Bake for about 15 minutes until the surface is golden brown. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely before slicing into squares.
Brenda’s Chocolate Coconut Cake
Serves 8
175g caster sugar
175g soft unsalted butter (Brenda, and most bakers of the day, of course, used margarine)
3 eggs, lightly beaten
175g plain flour, sieved with
1 tsp baking powder
100g fresh, grated coconut (Brenda used desiccated but the fresh does make the cake more moist)
2 tbsp coconut milk (my addition, again in the interests of moistness)
150-200g milk chocolate (depending on how chocolatey you want the cake)
2 tbsp of coconut, lightly toasted
Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius. Grease a ring tin (Brenda used a loaf tin, but the ring version gives you a bit more chocolate per mouthful).
In a large bowl beat together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the eggs. Gently fold in the flour, add the coconut milk and fresh coconut and mix well. Spoon the mixture into the tin and even out the surface a little. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Leave the cake to cool slightly, then turn out on to a rack to cool completely.
Melt the chocolate in a glass bowl over a pan of water as above, then spread evenly over the surface of the cake. Sprinkle with a little toasted coconut.


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