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Totally tropical.

Byline: Stephen JACKSON Stephen is co-owner and chef at T&Cake Cafe, Almondbury

AS WE'RE still enjoying a spot of decent weather, I thought I'd return to the cake side of cooking but this week with the sunny influence of the Caribbean. Long-time readers will know I have a deep love for the West Indies. Beyond the almost impossibly breathtaking geography - the blindingly turquoise seas, the dazzling beaches, the deep green of the manchineel and mango trees - there is a wonderful, friendly culture, and a great love for food and the enjoyment of it. And much of what is cooked in the Caribbean is grown there; it's a surprisingly varied larder from which to pick.

The sea provides spiny lobsters, shrimps and octopus, as well as the firmfleshed game fish such as marlin, barracuda and the versatile tuna. The fertile, often volcanic soils encourage growth of wonderful vegetables.

The potatoes in the Caribbean are some of the best I've tasted - deep yellow and nutty, but most root vegetables grow well. Oversized spring onions, more like bulbous baby leeks, are popular for all uses, both raw and cooked. From the fruit trees growing almost unchecked across the islands, you can pick papaya, mangoes, avocadoes and breadfruit, perfectly ripe and still warm from the sun. Blissful!

Many islands make much of their income from the production of cane sugar, the world's largest crop.

Sugar canes grow well in these warm, humid conditions, forming impressive fields of swaying stems, as thick as your arm, and the resulting sugar is remarkable stuff.

I have long advocated the use of unrefined cane sugar, and that's simply because it tastes wonderful.

When you crunch a little unrefined sugar on the tongue, you can actually taste the sweet, almost vegetal notes that mean it's a genuine raw cane product.

A little spoonful can take me back to the moment I tasted my first raw cane sugar. We'd been on a tour of Barbados, and our friend and guide Grantley Rochester (one hell of a name!) stopped by the side of a cane field, where dozens of workers were finishing up cutting cane for the day. He knew someone there.

As the sun set over the island, we were treated to wedges of freshly-macheted pieces of raw cane, bubbling with sweet, warm juice. I'm salivating just thinking of it now.

The flavour was incredible. And ever since I have shunned the tasteless over-sweet refined white sugar unless absolutely necessary because the results in cooking with unrefined sugar are spectacular. The flavour-enhancing impurities in unrefined sugar can burn too quickly and make creme brulees a disaster, and it isn't recommended for jam-making, but otherwise you should always go unrefined.

A few spoonfuls of light muscovado rubbed into a roasting ham with perhaps a lick of English mustard - heavenly! A rich roast tomato and chili sauce can be further enlivened with a sprinkle of deep dark molasses sugar. I've even tried a dusting of dark muscovado sugar with grilled lobster and leeks to great effect.

It is incredible for baking with. Quite simply, magical stuff.

And so to our recipe. I've been planning a cake along these lines for a while; something to combine all the flavours of the islands - succulent fruit, luscious tasty coconut and that mouthwatering sugar.

Add to this a hint of clean lime and a splash of golden rum, made from that wonderful cane sugar, and you have a brilliant summery cake that will whisk you across the globe in a mouthful. Aprons on!

Coconut, Pineapple & Rum Cake For the cake: 450g unsalted butter, softened 450g unrefined golden caster sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 8 fresh, free-range eggs 400g self-raising flour 50g cornflour 1 teaspoon baking powder 100g desiccated coconut, soaked in 200ml boiling water For the coconut buttercream: 100g desiccated coconut, toasted 300g soft unsalted butter 600g icing sugar, sieved 600g unrefined light muscovado sugar, sieved 1 tablespoon Barbados rum 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice For the pineapple compote: The flesh of 1 pineapple 250g unrefined golden caster sugar Fresh lime juice A splash of Barbados rum To garnish: 100g desiccated coconut, toasted Method: First, make the compote. Peel, core and finely dice the pineapple. In a shallow pan, heat the sugar with a splash of water until it is completely dissolved, then raise the heat and bring the syrup to the caramel stage, stirring as little as possible.

Toss in the pineapple, and cook it gently until tender and falling apart.

Add the lime juice and a splash of rum, and chill until required. It should be nice and sticky, a bit like marmalade.

Now for the cakes. Preheat the oven to 170oC/Gas 3. Butter and baseline two 20cm sandwich tins.

Put the desiccated coconut into a small bowl pour over 150ml of boiling water. Allow the coconut to soak up the water and become soft.

Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then add the eggs, one by one, beating well each time.

Add the vanilla extract. Sift in the flour, cornflour and baking power, and fold carefully and quickly until all is combined.

Finally, tip the soaked coconut into the batter and pour into the prepared tins and bake for 20-25 minutes until a skewer comes out clean.

Leave to cool in their tins for ten minutes, before turning them out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

While the cakes are cooking, make the buttercream.

Bake or grill the coconut on a dry baking sheet, tossing frequently, until it is deeply golden. Cool before using.

Cream together the butter and icing sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat in the rum and the toasted coconut.

To assemble the cake, spread a little buttercream onto the lower cake, and spread out the chilled pineapple compote to the edge.

Sandwich the other cake on top, and use the remaining buttercream to cover the cake. Sprinkle the remaining coconut on top.

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| EXOTIC TASTE: Coconut, pineapple and rum cake
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Article Type:Recipe
Date:Aug 30, 2013
Words:998
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