Friday, December 3, 2010

Coconut ~ Advent Botanicals

In the tropics, the coconut palm, Cocos nucifera, is considered the Tree of Life. It has more economic uses than almost any other plant, with every part being used for something or other.  It is drunk, eaten and used for fuel.

Fun Facts
The plant's scientific name means "little monkey-like face." Take a look at the end with the eyes and you will see it.

The coconut is one of the world's largest, heaviest seeds—probably the second largest, after this rare and unusual plant.

As early as the 1500s, sailors to America from Europe discovered they could have uncontaminated water for a very long time by taking coconuts along and drinking the water from inside them.

Coconuts can float on the ocean for many months before landing on a beach and germinating. In the photo (left), my husband is holding a sprouted coconut that we found on the side of the road in Grenada, WI.  It had been pulled and tossed as a weed!

Not Fun Fact
If you decide to bah humbug Christmas and head for Martinique, don't sit under a coconut tree no matter how inviting it looks. Falling coconuts kill a surprising number of people every year. Maybe ditching Christmas isn't a good idea after all. Hmm? I know you've never considered that! Have you? Not me!

Why we stay in town, a.k.a Christmas Tradition  
In our family, and for many southern families, the coconut cake is a beloved Christmas tradition. It is one of those desserts that is sweet, pretty, and rare. If you make a coconut cake, everyone knows they are supposed to "ooh" and "ahh" and, in the case of my father-in-law, throw in a "hot dog!" to encourage the cook. My mother, grandmother and mother-in-law have all made these.

Ambrosia at Grandma's house on Christmas Eve was a special coconut treat, too. I remember begging her to let me grate the coconut for her—for some reason it looked like so much fun. Or maybe I just wanted to eat a piece or two when she wasn't looking. I grated my knuckles on the box grater even after she warned me not to. You probably did that, too...didn't you? I liked the oranges best and couldn't resist the cherries, but picked around the marshmallows. Everyone has a different recipe for ambrosia but orange and coconut are in all of them.

I fell in love with coconut macaroons many years ago during a trip to the Canary Islands. I never found a recipe that seemed right until Ina Garten made these on her show. I think they have a shot at becoming a new coconut tradition. Martinique probably doesn't.


Traditional Holiday Coconut Cake

1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour three 9-inch cake pans. Cream butter and sugar. Add the beaten eggs. (Leave out yolks if you want a whiter cake. Sift together the rest of the dry ingredients. Add the flour mixture alternately with the milk. Pour into prepared pans and bake for 20 - 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Frost completely cooled layers with 7 minute icing.

7 - Minute Icing
3 egg whites
1 2/3 cups sugar
1/4 cup white corn syrup
1/4 cup milk from coconut
1 teaspoon vanilla
all the meat from a fresh coconut, grated

Cook the egg whites, sugar, corn syrup, coconut milk, and a pinch salt in a double boiler for 7 minutes, beating with a hand-mixer until peaks form. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Spread between the layers of cake and all sides. Sprinkle with coconut between each layer, on top and sides. Decorate with candied cherries if desired.

Coconut Macaroons (Ina Garten)

14 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Combine the coconut, condensed milk, and vanilla in a large bowl. Whip the egg whites and salt on high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until they make medium-firm peaks. Carefully fold the egg whites into the coconut mixture.

Drop the batter onto sheet pans lined with parchment paper using either a 1 3/4-inch diameter ice cream scoop, or 2 teaspoons. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown. Cool and serve.


What are your favorite Christmas coconut recipes/memories?


  1. The coconut cake sounds absolutely delicious!

    Coconut macaroons are fairly traditional as Christmas cookies in a lot of German families. My dad loves them but has to watch his coconut consumption because they are apparently not very good for one's cholesterol levels.

  2. Hi, Daricia, Your recipes sound yummy! And I love coconut! I like to put coconut oil on baked sweet potatoes, but most of all, I just like to eat coconut flakes! :)

  3. What a great post ! My grandmom made a delicious coconut frosted cake that she used to set out on the washer w/ waxed paper on top to cool. I would sneak and get under the paper for a fingerful of frosting. I want to make your cake ! i will try, thanks, Gina

  4. I am not a big coconut fan, even went so far as a kid to say I was allergic so I didn't have to eat it. Love the nut pulled as a weed.

  5. I love coconuts, coconut palms, and this post! What a great combination of facts and recipes!

  6. college gardener - i didn't know that coconut macaroons are popular in germany! coconut oil is quite saturated, unfortunately.

    ruth - coconut on sweet potatoes sounds great. is this a flavored oil you're talking about? or do you just use the actual oil from the coconut, like butter or shortening?

    steve - thanks for stopping by! i'm glad you like the post.
    gina - i remember the wax paper and cooling on the washer, too! my grandmother had an old wringer style washer in the corner of her kitchen for years. i shouldn't remember that far back! lol.

    janet - hahaha, allergic! i wish i had known about that when i was a kid. i would have definitely been allergic to parsley.

  7. Unfortunately, I live in a blended family - some who love coconut and some who hate it. Is there any "in between"? I'm in the love camp. Thanks for posting both recipes. I will try them when I can gather enough coconut lovers together. My favorite family recipe is coconut creme pie - the old timey one with meringue. Also, the People's Pharmacy suggests Archway Coconut Macaroons for a certain gastro-intestinal malady which I won't mention with all these good recipes for company. Thank you for this!