Have you ever traveled to a new destination, sampled the food, and then come home with several dishes or food items that you'd really like to recreate? I have a hand full that I'm interesting in replicating from our trip to Hawaii this past summer, and one of those is Coconut Syrup. Our friends (who journeyed to Hawaii several years ago to get married) gushed about the coconut syrup, and once we tried it, we understood why. It's incredibly sweet and intensely coconut flavored. And should be pretty easy to make ... right?
I've been messing around with this recipe off and on for a little while now. After hunting around on the Internet for a “correct” recipe, and not really finding one, I started experimenting. My initial approach was to make sugar syrup and add coconut extract. After searching through several varieties of coconut extract and finding that many of them were made with anything but actual coconut, I gave up that line of thinking. That is, I gave up until my food-nerd hero, Alton Brown, showed the cable-viewing public how to make coconut extract! And his recipe came with instructions for opening up a coconut.
With coconut and vodka in hand, I set about my task (and yes, before anyone asks, the vodka is for the extract, not the cook). The coconut I purchased in my local market was much lighter in color than I had expected, but it's shell was solid (no micro-cracks to make one worry about mildew and rot) and I could hear coconut water sloshing around in there (meaning it wasn't old and dried out), so I figured I had a good specimen. AB had me creating draining holes in the coconut with a drill, which was fun, efficient, and worked like a champ. After draining the coconut water, the next step was to bake the coconut till its tough outer shell cracked. The problem was that even after considerable baking, my shell never cracked. I gave up on the elegant approach and resorted to brute force methods and eventually was rewarded with what was probably about a cup and a half of freshly shredded, sweet-smelling coconut meat. After letting my coconut-vodka mixture steep for a week, I strained out the meat and was left with a heavily coconut-infused vodka.
With glee, I attempted my first batch of coconut syrup: ½ cup water to ½ cup sugar to 1 teaspoon a extract. It tasted good, but not nearly coconutty enough. I tried this same approach again but doubled the extract – still not the amount of coconut flavor I was looking for.
After some thought, I elected to forgo the middleman and steep the coconut meat directly in the syrup. The only remaining sticking point was getting the syrup to an acceptable consistency. After a bit of trial and error that resulted in syrup that was either way too runny or that solidified in the refrigerator, I came upon at least one workable solution. Heat the sugar to a high enough temperature to achieve a good, syrupy consistency with a bit of corn syrup added to the mix to help ensure the sugar didn't try to re-crystallize. While the flavor is spot on, I can't help but feel that this may not be the way the Hawaiians do it. If anyone else has made coconut syrup, I would be very interested to hear what you've come up with.
Bring the mixture to a boil and continue to boil for about 5 minutes (or, if you have a thermometer, enough to bring the temperature up to about 220-230 degrees F, depending on how thick you like your syrup).
Remove the pot from the heat, add the coconut meat, cover the pot, and allow the mixture to steep for about 20 minutes.
Strain the coconut meat from the syrup using a mesh strainer. Transfer the syrup to an appropriate vessel and refrigerate.
Pour liberally on everything you want to have an intensely sweet coconut flavor (suggestions include pancakes, french toast, and breakfast sausage).
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