Simple assembly: Heath Bar cake continues to please

My mother’s relationship with food and cooking has gone from a committed marriage to a casual dating scene. The kitchen was once her home within her home — a comfortable work area where she spent hours of the day. Now she breezes in and out of there like it’s the guest bedroom.

For many years, weeknight dinners would be creative, colorful spreads: seafood lasagna, roast lamb with mint jelly, king ranch chicken. Holiday meal preparation began weeks before the holiday. She made her own cranberries with orange zest and sugar and froze them in big batches for Thanksgiving and Christmas. For our birthdays she would make luscious, layered cakes and did crafty maneuvers like hide a quarter inside for the lucky winner to find in their mouth. Mom rarely took store-bought shortcuts and her recipes often took hours to prepare.

Mom always tried to pull me into her world of complex aromas, flour-dusted aprons, rouxs and stews. I resisted, reasoning with lazy satisfaction, “Why mess with the best?” I was happy to set the table and fill water glasses, rather than have a lengthy lesson on making your own chicken stock.

One year, Mom broke her foot a week before Thanksgiving. She could not be on her feet to fix the feast, so I was nominated to take over as head cook. As I breezed in on Thanksgiving morning, Mother was sitting on the couch with her crutches next to her and a wrapped present in her lap. She handed me the gift and I sat down next to her to open it. It was a copy of “Joy of Cooking,” the 900-plus page cookbook and Mom’s food bible for years. Inside the front cover was an inscription: “Passing on the torch on Thanksgiving Day 2002.” I decided at that point it was best not to mention my great idea of ordering one of those packaged Thanksgiving dinner meals from the grocery store.

That Thanksgiving meal was not a disaster. But it’s safe to say that the torch she passed on to me dimmed and sputtered a bit. That day Mom realized something: Even with lumpy mashed potatoes, cold corn casserole and an overcooked turkey, everyone still ate and had a great time. And her cranberries were a huge hit.

After that Thanksgiving, Mom relaxed her commitment to culinary excellence. She ordered take out. She started using shortcuts. She hosted potlucks. And she came up with some delicious, easy recipes. The Heath Bar cake is one of them. It is simple yet elegant with a light, fluffy texture. It can be made a day ahead of time if necessary.

Mom’s Heath

Bar Cake

Serves 8

One prepared angel food cake (found in bakery section of grocery store)

2 1/2 cups whipping cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

5 chocolate-covered toffee candy bars like Heath Bar or Skor, crushed

Cut prepared cake horizontally through the middle, so you have a top and bottom half. Set top half aside. Beat the whipping cream on high until stiff peaks appear. Stir in vanilla. Gently fold the crushed candy bars into the whipped cream until evenly dispersed. Frost the entire bottom half; sides and top. Carefully set the top half on to the bottom half, frost completely. Set in refrigerator for at least two hours or overnight.

• Lois Ann Ell is a Kaua‘i-based freelance writer and mother of three. Her copy of “Joy of Cooking” if for sale on E-bay.

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