From tropical coasts to our local market shelves, coconuts have been on a long and winding road through history.
The National Geographic Society in 2011 determined that the coconut originated in India and Southeast Asia. The palm trees naturally dropped coconuts along the ocean shores, using the tides to float across oceans and hemispheres and finally take root on the tropical beaches of the world.
Historians also agree that coconuts were brought by Arab traders from India to East Africa as much as 2,000 years ago. The international name came from Portuguese traders who called it “coco-nut” because it resembled a skull (“cocuru-to”) — the three dots on its side for eyes and a mouth, and the coconut fibers that resemble hair.
In 1878, a merchant vessel carrying coconuts from Trinidad ran aground off the coast of South Florida. Its cargo, including the coconuts, washed ashore. Sprouted from those shipwrecked coconuts, coconut palms changed the landscape in South Florida. Palm Beach County is named for those beautiful swaying coconut palm trees.
We use the meat of the coconut for health and beauty products and even household cleaning products. Today, we enjoy drinking coconut water for its natural electrolytic properties. Specialty foods like yogurt and ice cream that use coconut milk as an alternative to dairy milk are on the rise. And vegans often use coconut oil as an alternative to butter.
What are the differences between the types of coconut we find on our market shelves? Coconut water, which is not at all sweet, is the natural juice you’ll find inside a coconut when you split it open. Coconut milk is usually made by cooking equal parts coconut and water. It has the consistency of dairy milk with a cream that rises to the top. Coconut cream, still not very sweet, is thicker and richer than coconut milk.
Then there is the popular cream of coconut we use in our pina coladas. It is coconut cream with sugar added, thick and syrupy and perfect for baking and beverages. You can find canned cream of coconut in the cocktail aisle of your grocery store, by brands such as Coco Lopez.
The flavor and aroma of toasted coconut and cream of coconut inspire tropical vibes in my recipe for lightened-up toasted coconut muffins. Mix this muffin batter by hand with just a few bowls and a muffin pan.
This version of my Cooking Light recipe originally published in May 2005 is updated to include more spices and more coconut flavor. At just about 228 calories and 9 grams of fat per muffin, you can go “coconutty” any time you desire something sweet and tropical.
Lorraine Fina Stevenski is a self-taught baker and award-winning recipe contest addict. She has won and placed in contests across America. This column features recipes that have been entered in those contests and updated for readers who love to bake. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Toasted Coconut Muffins With a Coconutty Topping
⅔ cup sweetened coconut flakes, divided for batter and topping
For the batter:
2 cups all-purpose flour
⅓ cup granulated sugar
⅓ cup light brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest
⅔ cup 1 percent milk
¼ cup low-fat ricotta cheese
¼ cup cream of coconut
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
⅓ cup toasted coconut
For the topping:
⅓ cup toasted coconut
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cream of coconut
1 tablespoon coarsely ground almonds
2 tablespoons sliced almonds
Vanilla sugar, optional
Line a regular 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners or spray with cooking spray. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. On a half sheet pan, toast ⅔ cup sweetened coconut flakes for 10 minutes or until light brown. Cool to room temperature and then divide for the batter and topping.
Make the muffins: In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugars, baking powder, cinnamon, allspice and salt.
In another large mixing bowl, whisk together the lemon zest, milk, ricotta, cream of coconut, eggs, canola oil and vanilla, just until smooth and thick.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir just until moist and evenly combined. Fold in ⅓ cup toasted coconut.
Make the topping: In a medium mixing bowl, combine remaining ⅓ cup toasted coconut, flour, cream of coconut and coarsely ground almonds. Stir with a fork until crumbly.
Fill the muffin cups to the top and sprinkle the topping over each. Sprinkle the 2 tablespoons sliced almonds on top. Gently push the topping into the batter. Sprinkle with vanilla sugar (optional).
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown and a tester comes out clean. Cool in the pan 15 minutes and then remove to cool completely on a rack.
Makes 12 muffins.
Source: Lorraine Fina Stevenski