Ask Peter: Substituting dried coconut
I have a cake recipe that calls for the flesh of two grated coconuts — about 500g. I don’t have two coconuts hanging around — how much dried coconut do you think I should use, with some tinned coconut cream to make it up?
That cake sounds intriguing — it’s a lot of coconut flesh in one cake so I’m assuming it’s a very dense Southeast Asian style cake. Also, it’s slightly misleading to say the flesh of two coconuts, as a coconut can vary in size quite a lot — but at least you’ve also been given a weight, which should help.
When thinking of freshly grated coconut, just think of it as a fresh moist grating. What you have with desiccated coconut is simply dried coconut flesh.
To go from desiccated to fresh, simply pour enough warm water (not boiling) over it to cover by 1cm in a heat proof bowl. Rub it between your hands for 20 seconds to speed up the absorption, then cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave to “absorb” for an hour. Drain over a colander and squeeze out any excess moisture so it now resembles freshly grated coconut rather than very wet slop (which will affect your recipe by making it too wet) and you should be right.
For the 500g of coconut you need, I’d soak 300g and hopefully that will be enough. Of course, there are many ways to grate a coconut —from long thread to chips, or the more common smaller desiccated version. The size of the gratings will also affect your finished dish — long thread or chip will make a cake much crumblier as there is less surface area exposed in the batter which makes it harder to form a dense cake.
Imagine making pesto with whole pine nuts instead of ground ones and you’ll understand what I mean. If you can only find coarsely grated coconut and you need it smaller, then just pulse it in a food processor to get it to the size you want (do this before it’s been soaked). If you can only find finer-textured and want larger, there’s nothing you can do, I’m afraid.
There’s also some lovely coconut flour out there and some people have wondered whether they can simply use that instead of wheat or nut flours. It’s worth noting that coconut flour has no gluten so any baking you do with it will lack the robustness of a wheat or gluten containing flour.
Coconut flour does contain a decent amount of fibre and protein, so it’s not a bad flour at all, and it will absorb moisture in a cake batter or mix, so you’ll likely need adapt the recipe by making it slightly wetter to begin with.
Try making a batch of biscuits, a fish batter or a cake with a mixture of coconut and wheat flours. I’ve also had people ask whether almond flour and coconut flour can be used in place of each other and the answer is “sort of, but not quite”.
They are both quite different things and although they’re wheat-free they won’t work as a full replacement for wheat flours, or for each other. Almond flour contains more fat than coconut flour, but coconut flour contains a lot more carbohydrates, so even from a dietary perspective, they are quite different.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to [email protected] and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes here.