Coconut oil can be used to replace a variety of oils used in baking. It works well for cookies, candies, cakes and seafood. Any food that would be enhanced with a hint of coconut is a good candidate for the addition of coconut oil.
Coconut oil can be found at most grocery stores. However, if virgin coconut oil is desired, it generally can be found at health food stores, the health supplement aisle of some grocery stores, and online. Virgin coconut oil is the purest form of coconut oil and the best option for baking. Coconut oil is solid in cold temperatures and liquid in warm temperatures, allowing you to replace shortening in a recipe with a cooled, solid coconut oil and liquid vegetable oils with a warmer coconut oil.
Where a solid coconut oil is needed, such as in replacing shortening (or butter), have the oil at a cool room temperature. If your oil has gone to liquid, try measuring out the needed amount, pour it into a mixing bowl and refrigerate. Every five to 10 minutes, stir up the oil for the solidification process to be even. The coconut oil should be solid enough that you can beat it to a fluffiness as you would with butter or shortening. It will look a bit different than the butter or shortening, but the coconut oil will whip up with sugar and eggs in much the same fashion you are used to. Other than trying to keep the oil solid, follow through with your recipe as you typically would to complete it.
The opposite situation can occur, which is replacing liquid oil in a recipe for the liquid form of coconut oil. If your oil is not already liquid, simply melt the measured amount over a heat source and then cool the coconut oil down. Make sure that the rest of your ingredients are about the same temperature. If they are quite cold, as in “out of the refrigerator” cold, then your liquid coconut oil will solidify as soon as it hits the cold ingredients. This will cause chunks, which can be whisked out, but will remain slightly flaky and cause a texture change in the batter.
Be careful when measuring for each of the different forms of coconut oil. Converting the original recipe to accommodate coconut oil will take careful conversion so that the recipe can still be successful. In general, if just “1/4 cup coconut oil” is listed in a recipe, it’s meant to be used as a solid. Melted coconut oil should be listed as “1/4 cup coconut oil, melted.” The wording is key, just like when measuring sifted flour versus nonsifted flour.
A few other things to keep in mind are to adjust other ingredients to suit the use of coconut oil. Substituting virgin coconut oil with just half the amount of butter in a recipe will still yield a nice product without giving a strong coconut flavor. Another occasion might be adjusting the salt in a recipe. If salted butter is originally needed, add in about half a teaspoon of salt, which makes up for approximately for one stick of butter.
Working with new products and trying to substitute a new ingredient is always a challenge and often takes more than one attempt to reach your best result, and quite possibly something that has not completely failed. However, the best part is all of the wonderful sweets that will need to be tasted over and over again!
Amber Clay is a resident of the Mechanicsburg area. After graduating with her degree from the Culinary Institute of America, her food path started at the Hotel Hershey and continued on with teaching.