Coconut ice originates from post-war England.
Sugar was no longer scarce. Sweet tooths long oppressed returned with a vengeance. Housewives set to the task of lavishing sweetness upon their husbands and children. And so coconut ice was born.
Sweet, moreish morsels made creamy by the addition of coconut. They are cute as a button, don’t you think? How joyous it must have been to see a plate heaped with these pink and white slices after the years of rations during the war.
It would be rare for an Australian child to be unfamiliar with coconut ice. But unfortunately, the youngest generation have been regaled with supermarket versions of the sweet. Anaemic, uniform rectangles that fit into their rectangle plastic cubicles and further wrapped with hospital-issue-esque plastic sleeves. If there is any romance in such sweets, it is a mundane and bland romance indeed.
So, in the spirit of recreating Jean’s menu, I donned one of my aprons (floral) and set to work on her recipe.
I have read that there are two versions of coconut ice. The more mainstream version calls for condensed milk and icing sugar. It is a simple mix and set method. The less well-known version requires the cook to create a sugar syrup of sorts, blended in with the coconut and then press the pillowy mixture into a pan to set. It is the latter version that Jean documented.
Given the success of the cream puffs the other day, I had high hopes for this coconut ice recipe. I mean, it truly rejoices in the human desire for sweet, toothsome treats. And what joyless soul could say that is a bad thing?
I made two batches as my first batch turned to ashy coconut dust after I duly boiled the mixture for 15 minutes. The second batch I boiled for only 5 minutes. This yielded a more pleasing texture. However, I was a little heavy-handed with the food colouring. Instead of a pale blush pink, my confections are a lush, jewel-like magenta.
And as for the taste? Well I have to admit that I do not have the kind of palate that craves intense sweetness. Chocolate? Sure. Cakes? Certainly. But I can give or take lollies. And when I tasted these cute little rectangles when they were just set, they were like an edible sugar injection. For kids, a fast train to candy-licious heaven. That said, after a night mellowing in the fridge the coconut flavour has really intensified. So the key here is a generous resting time in the fridge.
So would I recommend the recipe? Yes, if you love sweets. Or, like me, you fell in love with the romantic history of coconut ice.
PS. Oh, and I meant to mention Podkins’ board on pinterest of old books. I’m a little bit in love.
1 cup sugar
¼ cup milk
½ cup desiccated coconut
Red (or pink) food colouring
Line a loaf tin with baking paper. It does not need to be oven-proof. Even a rectangular lunch box tub will do.
Add the sugar, milk and coconut to a saucepan. Bring to the boil and stir continuously for 5 minutes. This ensures the sugar dissolves, softens the coconut and infuses the mixture with a divine fragrance.
Take the saucepan off the heat. Spoon half of the mixture into the lined tin. Press the soft mixture down, making sure there are no gaps. Add about 3 drops of food colouring into the remaining coconut mixture. If using pink colouring you will need to add more to get a flushed rosy hue. Mix well before spooning over the white layer in the baking tray. Press down.
Allow to set in the refrigerator or, alternatively, sit the dish on the bench to glisten and tease your family until it has cooled completely. Cut into rectangles and serve with a nice cup of tea.