Coconut milk may not be the first thing that comes to mind when pastry arts students at online culinary schools consider classic baking techniques, but it is increasingly popular as both a dairy substitute and healthier ingredient. Let’s look at what coconut milk is, exactly, why it’s a versatile ingredient in a variety of pastry arts contexts, and some inspiration for chefs who want to start using it in their own recipes.
What is coconut milk?
In a casual conversation, coconut milk may refer to a few different products. And choosing the right one is vital for getting the best results with your baked goods. As Bon Appétit pointed out, coconut milk in the most traditional and technically correct sense, and the kind often used in a variety of culinary applications, is the meat of the coconut blended with water, potentially with the addition of a stabilizer. If not made fresh, coconut milk is often found canned. Coconut cream is the extra-rich liquid that is often found floating on the top of cans of coconut milk. It has additional protein and fat as compared to the rest of the can’s contents. There are often reduced-fat versions of coconut milk on sale along with the full fat version.
It’s important to remember that the coconut milk sold as a non-dairy substitute of cow’s milk, often with similar products in a grocery store or restaurant supplier’s catalog, is not the same thing as traditional coconut milk. Using it in a recipe can lead to all sorts of problems in terms of texture, taste and stability with baked goods. There’s also cream of coconut, which is a common ingredient in sweet mixed drinks like piña coladas. This is coconut meat blended with a substantial amount of sugar, and shouldn’t be confused with coconut cream when a recipe calls for it.
Why is coconut milk a good ingredient for baking?
New Food magazine pointed out a handful of reasons behind a strong projected growth rate for the coconut milk market as a whole in the context of large, industrial bakeries. Pastry arts students focused on fresh, delicious and high-quality products don’t necessarily want to embrace all of the same qualities as producers of processed, packaged foods. However, there are some relevant benefits of coconut milk that can apply to all bakers. Major advantages include a pleasing flavor that can be emphasized or downplayed based on the recipe, nutritional value, status as a vegan ingredient, lack of lactose and shelf stability for storage, particularly in powdered form.
Coconut milk can be substituted for milk and cream in a variety of recipes. A simple one-to-one substitution makes the process almost automatic. Chefs just need to make sure they use a full-fat coconut milk when substituting for heavy cream and a lighter variety when replacing milk, as Livestrong explained. There will always be a coconut flavor present when using this liquid as a substitute, so make sure the addition of that taste won’t harm the finished product.
Our review of coconut-focused desserts included a number of recipes that utilize coconut milk as a supporting or leading ingredient. Other potential options for using coconut milk in baked goods include making fillings – think chocolate or vanilla coconut custard, or a variety of mixed fruit flavors – for pastries, coconut cakes, muffins and much more. As long as the flavor of coconut won’t throw the flavor of a dish off balance, coconut milk can lead to a new twist on a variety of classics. Our online pastry arts program can develop your skills as a pastry arts chef and learn how to best incorporate ingredients like coconut milk into a variety of dishes.