Coconut Desserts


"He who plants a coconut tree plants food and drink, vessels and clothing, a heat source, habitation for himself and a heritage for his children."
- A South Seas saying, from Norman Van Aken's The Great Exotic Fruit Book.

Coconut has been called the most useful tree in the world. Rope, soap, wine, textiles, baskets, cups and bowls, medicines and boat building materials -- all are byproducts of the versatile coconut palm. The fruit of the coconut tree is equally versatile, producing a wide range of cooking ingredients.

The brown hairy coconuts sold in Western stores are not what you would see growing on a tree. The coconut "nut", the item we most commonly see, is actually a drupe, which is a fruit with a hard stone. Peaches and cherries are also drupes. One must go through several layers to reach the nut. The coconut palm is believed to have originated in Malaysia and now grows throughout the Pacific Rim, India, the Caribbean, parts of Africa and South America.

Be sure you know your coconut products because cooking with the wrong ingredient can result in a very surprising dish!

  • Water coconut - the white jelly-like flesh of an unripe coconut
  • Coconut juice - the liquid in the center of the nut or kernel (not the same as coconut milk)
  • Coconut leaves - used to wrap foods as they are cooking
  • Coconut meat - the firm, sweet, nutty white flesh scraped from the center of the coconut; can be chopped or grated
  • Coconut milk - the liquid squeezed and strained from the grated coconut meat after simmering in water; spoils quickly but may be frozen
  • Coconut cream - the first extraction of coconut milk, much thicker than coconut milk
  • Cream of coconut - not the same as coconut cream; sweetened liquid used for drinks and desserts
  • Copra - coconut meat
  • Coconut oil - pressed from copra and used in cooking, cosmetics, ice cream, toppings, crackers and soap
  • Coconut Palm vinegar - mildly acidic vinegar is used in Filipino dishes and made from the sap of the coconut palm
  • Coconut wine - made from fermented coconut palm sap

Now that we have covered just a very few of the basics of coconuts, lets move on to some recipes!

Coconut Ice

  • 1 ripe coconut (one with thick white flesh)
  • 2 pints of coconut juice (canned or drained from young fresh coconuts)
Extract the flesh from the ripe coconut and put it into the food processor. The amount of flesh is something you can vary depending on how intense you want the taste to be. Try 1/2 pound for 2 pints of juice. Process until fine. Add the juice to the processed flesh. Now put the mixture into an ice machine. (This can be done without a machine, but you must be able to stir the mixture while it is freezing.) Freeze until firm, but stir several times during the process so that mixture is uniformly smooth.

Coconut Dream Pie

  • 3 cups milk
  • 1 cup shredded coconut
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons confectioners sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Lightly toasted, shredded coconut
  • One standard pie shell, prebaked

Mix together sugar, cornstarch and salt in a heavy-bottom saucepan. Whisk in egg yolks until smooth. Gradually whisk in milk and bring to a boil, whisking constantly, over medium heat. Boil for one minute, whisking gently, and remove from heat. Add 1 cup shredded coconut, butter and vanilla extract, stirring until butter melts. Pour mixture into bowl, cover and cool at room temperature for 30 minutes. Pour mixture into pre-baked pie shell, and refrigerate for 3 hours.

Whip the heavy cream, confectioners sugar and teaspoon vanilla until stiff. Spread over top of pie and sprinkle with toasted coconut.


A delicacy of Hawaii, Haupia is very rich and sweet.

  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 7 tablespoons sugar
  • 7 tablespoons cornstarch
  • ¾ cup water

Pour coconut milk into saucepan. Combine sugar and cornstarch in a separate bowl and stir in water, blending well with a fork or whisk. Stir sugar mixture into coconut milk, then turn on heat. Cook and stir over low heat until thickened. Pour into 8-inch square pan and chill until firm. Cut into 2-inch squares.

The trick with this dish is to cook the mixture until it is the consistency of Elmer's Glue before pouring it into the pan it is going to be chilled in.

- Chef Farmer

Chef Jennifer Farmer is a pastry chef living in Austin, Texas.