It looks so innocent...
Fresh coconut is a tough nut to crack (I’m sorry, I had to). While the part of the coconut that we eat isn’t actually a nut—it is the seed of the fruit—it is still very difficult to open.
I am not really sure why I wanted to work with fresh coconut so much, but I do know exactly why I was afraid of it: too damn hard to get into! I remember when I was growing up hating coconut. But when I was a junior in college I went to Belize with a class and had fresh coconut for the first time. The guides leading us through the jungle got one down from a palm tree and hacked into it with a machete. From then on out I was a goner for the stuff.
My chance to finally have an excuse good enough to buy one came from a co-worker; for her birthday she requested a pineapple coconut cake [Ew ! I wish you had warned me about that part before I started editing – Court]. Once I found out she did not mean a pineapple upside down cake with coconut, I went in search of a recipe. At first I had a hard time choosing between Alton and Ina, but eventually, I settled on Alton’s recipe, specifically because of the inclusion of a fresh coconut. I also used a Gourmet recipe for the pineapple filling – not that it was really necessary, but I like the safety of a recipe to fall back on.
Often with cooking/baking/home improvement I over-estimate my skills due to how many cooking/baking/home improvement shows I watch. I remember watching the episode where Alton made this cake and he writes great directions. I didn’t think I had anything to be worried about! Alton had demystified the coconut for me!
Tools of the trade.
The first few steps were downright easy-peasy. Step 1: Preheat oven. I am an old pro at this. Step 2: Find the three “eyes” on one end of the coconut. Done and done – they are those three little indentations whenever you imagine a coconut. Step 3: Hammer into two of the eyes. See: home improvement skillz – this was no match for me! Step 4: Drain coconut water from coconut. I can invert a coconut with the best of them. Step 5: Bake on a half-sheet pan for 15 minutes. I had a preheated and was ready to bake.
Poking the eyes out.
This is where it all fell to pieces, or rather, didn’t fall to pieces, because that would have been good in this case. After baking for 15 minutes the coconut was supposed to have cracked in several places. Mine did not. But I wasn’t deterred! Maybe my oven wasn’t hot enough … I could just leave it in a little longer while I did other cake stuff.
An hour later (four times as long as was supposedly necessary) I checked the coconut again. Still, no cracks. I thought maybe I could shock some cracks into it by quickly moving it from the hot oven to the cold freezer. No dice.
By this point, it was time to bake the cake. I was lucky in that the cake didn’t need coconut water from the fresh coconut. The coconut milk and coconut cream came from cans.
After baking the cakes, I baked the coconut for another hour. Still, no cracks. At this point I was getting very annoyed. Why would Alton lead me astray? Why wouldn’t my coconut crack? How was I supposed to get in there?!
This is when I turned back to the internet. There are multiple videos and instructions out there showing you how to break a coconut. I choose the one that used a hammer (home improvement!).
I wrapped my coconut in a towel and whaled on the sucker. I even managed to rip some holes in my towel from all the banging (that’s what she said) and the fibrous outer covering of the coconut. After just a few good whacks I unwrapped it: lo and behold, there were cracks! I tried to bang it about some more to make it crack more but that was not to be. But at least I had hope that I would actually get some coconut meat.
From there on out, mostly through brute strength, I tore the coconut into pieces. I am hardcore like that.
After you get the coconut in chunks, you then have to separate the outer brown shell from the inner coconut meat with brown husk. Alton suggested an oyster knife or other dull blade. I suggest Alton’s mom use an oyster knife or other dull blade. I ended up using a butter knife, fork, paring knife, and my fingers to pry the coconut husk from shell.
I swear to God I worked on this damn coconut all day long [it’s true, I got many annoyed updates – Court].
Next, you have to remove the husk from the meat. Alton suggested using a vegetable peeler. Maybe it was because I didn’t have a serrated vegetable peeler, maybe it was because my pieces were too small, but that method did not work for me. Just cutting it off with the paring knife did though.
Now I was ready to grate the coconut for garnish on the cake. Too bad I couldn’t find the right attachment for my food processor to use the grater disk. #$%&^%*^&! I had come too far to wimp out now. I picked up my trusty micro planer (I couldn’t find my regular mini box grater) and went to work grating my pristine white coconut meat. About an hour later I had some lovely freshly grated coconut.
Almost like snow, but not as fun.
Do I think anyone knew the difference? No.
Was it all worth it? No.
Will I do it again? Not unless you paid me.
I did end up with enough left over coconut water/milk/cream/grated that I made coconut ice cream that was to die for. Seriously. This time, I toasted the grated coconut before adding it to the ice cream and I think I could taste a difference. Either that or I was far enough removed from the process to not be so bitter.