This past week I got a chance to sit down with one of my Guyanese girlfriends from University. It is always a great pleasure to chat with the absolutely brilliant Angela. A couple of weeks ago, Angela connected with me to share something quick and easy (and downright delicious) she makes on her own. Coconut buns are a staple West Indian tea-time snack. These treats are definitely a guilty pleasure of my own mother, so it was an honour for her to share the recipe that has been in her family since they’ve immigrated from Guyana.
Q&A with Angela
What are coconut buns? If you had to describe coconut buns to someone who has never tried it, what would you say?
“Coconut buns are a classic West Indian dessert, originating from British Guyana. It is a cross between a vanilla cookie, a coconut macaroon and a tea biscuit. Because of its simplicity and light taste, it’s a common treat accompanied with a hot cup of tea in the evenings.”
When do you make them? Is there a special occasion?
Baking coconut buns are like baking cookies, you can make them as often as you like. Generally, we make them as a light dessert for a lunch event, or for an afternoon tea.
Who taught you how to make them?
My grandma is famous in our family for her coconut buns, and my earliest memories of family events feature these treats at the dinner table. We were taught how to make them around the age of thirteen and still experiment with different variations of the recipe today.
What is the earliest memory you have of making them?
Mixing the buns tends to be a bit of an art and a science. I remember the first time I mixed the batter with my grandma. I added a bit too much milk and ended up with a quarter of the buns batter stuck between my fingers.
Are there any tips that you would recommend with this recipe?
This recipe works best with the pre-shredded, sweetened coconut. Variations of this recipe also substitute milk for coconut milk, but 2% milk works just as nicely.
Best cooking tip for a novice or someone who hasn’t made West Indian food?
Don’t be shy with the spices! West Indians love their flavour, so, whether its curry powder, or custard powder, when a recipe instructs to “flavour the dish to taste…”, it means add that extra little bit of spice.
What is your ‘sales’ pitch for making them at an office ‘bake sale’?
Coconut buns are my go-to recipe for breast/prostate cancer charity bake sales at the hospital. I market them as coconut buns or coconut scones and they always sell out!
What would you like to tell someone who hasn’t tried West Indian food?
I would say to keep an open mind about dishes on a West Indian menu. The selections cannot often be distilled to either, Chinese food, or Indian food because West Indian food is as eclectic of a mix as West Indian people. You can find Chinese, Indian, African and Portuguese dishes infused into the same menu because it is a reflection of the regions demographic past.
“West Indian food is as eclectic of a mix as West Indian people.”
What is one dish that you would like to make?
Pepper pot! Pepper pot is classic Christmas dish that is both savoury and sweet, served with fresh bread. It is one of the highlights of the holiday season at our house.
Grandma’s Coconut Buns Recipe:
3 cups of flour
1.5 teaspoons of baking powder
1.25 cups of shredded coconut
1 cup of sugar
0.5 cups of margarine
1 teaspoon of vanilla essence
0.5 cups of milk
Top with candied cherries
- Mix dry ingredients together (flour, baking powder, and shredded coconut) and set aside.
- Cream together sugar and margarine in a separate bowl. Add eggs and vanilla essence.
- Add dry ingredients to the bowl of wet ingredients in parts – not all at once. At this point, use hands to slowly knead the dough. Add milk slowly to the mixture until dough sticks to the side of your hands.
- Add raisins if desired.
- Scoop an ice-cream sized worth of dough. Roll with your palms and flatten to a quarter inch. Or alternatively for a more ‘rustic’ look, skip the rolling and add straight to a baking sheet.
- Top with candied cherries.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 24 to 30 minutes.
- Eat warm and enjoy with a cup of hot tea 🙂