Hard nut to crack

Steve Manfredi March 24, 2012

Coconut panna cotta.

Coconut panna cotta. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Amid the coconut water craze, don't overlook the fragrant flesh.

Coconut water has suddenly edged out many of the energy drinks from the refrigerated cabinet in my local supermarket. There are claims it reduces cholesterol, contains anti-cancer properties and relieves menstrual cramps as well as hangovers, and big drink companies are using endorsements from celebrities, supermodels and athletes to entice consumers to buy.

While coconut water straight from the coconut can vary from utterly delicious to fermented and acrid, the health claims remain unproven. Only a fraction of a coconut's unique perfume and flavour is contained in the water. Most resides in the mature flesh and getting it out can be tricky. Here's one way to do it without slashing a finger.

Preheat the oven to 190C. The top of the coconut has three ''eyes''. Only one of those is soft enough to pierce with a small sharp knife. Make as large a hole as possible in the soft eye and empty the water into a small container. It can keep refrigerated for a week.

Now place the coconut on an oven tray and bake for 15 minutes. The shell should crack cleanly across the middle, along the line of the equator, though you may have to help it along once it's out of the oven by wedging a cleaver or heavy knife in the crack and twisting.

The flesh will come away easily from the shell and can now be used in recipes. Keep coconut pieces in a bowl of cold water on the kitchen bench as a snack. As long as the water is changed each day, it needs no refrigeration.

COCONUT BISCUITS

250g butter
220g sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla essence
1 egg
380g plain flour
10g baking powder
170g desiccated coconut

Preheat oven to 175C. Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and egg and mix well. Sift flour and baking powder together and beat into mixture. Incorporate desiccated coconut. Rest in refrigerator for at least 1 hour. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into a sheet about 1cm thick, then cut into fingers about 8cm long and 2cm wide. Cover two oven trays with baking paper and lay biscuits on top. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on trays. Once completely cool, store in an airtight container. Should keep fresh for about 10 days. Great with black Darjeeling or milky Keemun teas.

Makes about 50 biscuits

Wine Rutherglen tokay

COCONUT PANNA COTTA

Fresh coconut can be difficult to get outside the city. You can substitute dried shredded coconut.

150g fresh coconut flesh
600ml milk
150ml pure cream
90g castor sugar
3 ''titanium'' 5g gelatine leaves or
8 ''gold'' 2g leaves

Finely grate fresh coconut flesh into a bowl. Place in a saucepan with milk, cream and sugar on a moderate heat, stirring until sugar dissolves completely. Don't boil. Remove and cool slightly. Strain all the liquid into another saucepan or bowl through a few of sheets of muslin. Squeeze coconut left in muslin well to release as much liquid as possible. Place saucepan containing liquid back on very low heat. Soak gelatine leaves in bowl of cold water until soft. Squeeze out water and whisk into hot coconut cream until completely dissolved. Strain liquid through a fine sieve into a pouring jug. Pour into eight 80ml moulds and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight. Serve with fresh berries and coconut biscuits (see below).

Serves 8 as dessert

Wine Late-picked sauvignon blanc

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