Coconut milk is a pantry staple for me, and before I started making my own, I was using the Aroy-D brand 14oz canned version because its only ingredients were coconut and water, which is a pretty unbelievable find as all the other coconut milks and creams sold next to it had copius amounts of extra sugar, preservatives and flavorings added. When I made the move from New York City to Baltimore for my studies, I was no longer surrounded by mega Asian supermarkets that I could visit at any given time of the week to grab a can or two of this stuff.
In addition to just the lack of accessibility with my new location, I found that the cans also raised inconvenience issues as it was a canned product with a specific amount of product in each that had a time limit as soon as I popped one open. Since I cook just for myself the majority of the time, I often only need half or less of the can, and having the rest to finish off later that week was indeed a nice challenge to be creative, but not really economical when I find that I no longer have any left when I really do need it for a recipe later on.
Plus, I’ve started to treat the cans that I shlepped from home as luxury items, giving myself permission to use them only if I knew it wasn’t going to go to waste, and that’s really the opposite of what a pantry item is supposed to do for you. Building a relationship with a staple ingredient means dedicating yourself to understanding the ingredient’s potential in ways more than it was originally advertised for. Freely being able to experiment with your favorite ingredients, and having them educate you over and over with what it can do (in both good and bad ways) is extremely valuable in nurturing a unique and personal connection with your cooking practice.
I put the issue off until I found myself looking up online sources for coconut flakes to make into one of my favorite snacks: toasted coconut flakes with cinnamon and sea salt (yes, I eat this with a spoon). Suddenly, I put together all the things I’ve ever come across about homemade coconut products and realized that there are so many things that one can make out of just full-fat coconut flakes…making them, like, 4 ingredients in one, which is very appealing to someone on a tight budget. So I headed over to my pantry, grabbed the coconut flakes and started to make some right away. The end results were much better than expected, although it does take quite a bit of time from start to finish.
As of today, I source my coconut flakes from the bulk bins at Whole Foods. Make sure to get the full-fat version. The reduced fat version has been stripped of its flavor, scent and everything that even makes it coconut. Just goes to show how far “low-fat” propaganda has gone.
COCONUT MILK (yields 2 cups) :
Begin by soaking 2 cups of coconut flakes in 2 cups of filtered water for about 3 hours or more. This softens the coconut flakes, making it easier to blend. Once the coconut flakes have noticeably soaked up a significant amount of liquid, transfer to a high-speed blender with the final 1/2 cup of filtered water and work up to high speed. It took me at least 10 minutes toggling between different speeds and scraping down the sides to get it to be fully blended, this is completely normal. Just because it’s a fancy blender doesn’t make it a magic wand. Once finished, It should have a gritty texture and be pretty warm from the blender’s heat.
Edit: If you’re in a hurry, soak the flakes hot water. The downside to this is that it may be too hot to handle for the next step.
Transfer the mixture into a thin cloth bag to strain. Pictured above is the bag in a 1 quart jar, just to help me more easily maneuver all of the mixture into the cloth bag. I later took the bag out and squeezed the rest of the coconut milk out into a large bowl. The milk is transferred back into the quart jar for final storage.
The picture on the left shows the two products that come out of this process: The still-moist coconut pulp and 1/2 quart (2 cups) of coconut milk.
COCONUT FLOUR (yields 1 cup):
UPDATE 03/03/2014: If you have an oven that goes as low as 200 F degrees, you may completely ignore the steps below and just spread the moist coconut pulp on a baking sheet and bake for about 5 hours or until completely dry. Once dried, run it through your food processor for about 3 minutes or until it reaches the finest consistency you can get. If you don’t have 5 hours but have an oven that goes as low as 170 F degrees, you could leave it in there overnight.
Take the pulp and transfer it to a large pan and cook, stirring constantly, on the lowest heat setting until all of the moisture has evaporated and you’re left with an airy powder, with an ever so slight tint of yellow. At certain times you may want to toggle the heat up a just a bit to medium-low just to get a strong release of steam before taking it back to low. Burning is very possible if not careful at this stage. If you have a dehydrator, that’s definitely a safer route to go. I’d say anywhere between 3-5 hours in a dehydrator on a medium heat setting should do it.
Pictured above is the finished coconut flour, note that it has only the slightest yellowish tint. Coconut flour is of course a highly absorbent ingredient, and should not be used in a 1:1 ratio to replace any other type of flours. Coconut flour is one of those ingredients that takes a lot of experimentation with to understand in your own cooking, and that’s part of the reason why I love it.
If your coconut flour does accidentally turn out golden-tan (but not burnt) you can still use it. At that point it would just be toasted coconut flour, which would not make a bad addition to meatloaves, meatballs, casseroles and atop baked goods, if you ask me.
Finally, do remember that this coconut flour was made as a by-product from the homemade process of making coconut milk. Therefore, it may yield a different structural makeup than the coconut flours sold commercially in stores, and may do different things when used in a recipe that was created with commercial brands. I’ve just begun making my own coconut flour, but I am definitely working on recipes that will specifically use the flour on this page. So stay tuned!