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Despite its name, coconut flour has a fairly mild flavor. It’s a byproduct the coconut-milk and -oil industry, so it’s what’s left behind after the most coconutty elements have been extracted. You can absolutely amp up the tropical vibe by pairing coconut flour with recipes that use coconut milk, oil or extract, but don’t banish this versatile flour to these types of desserts alone. It’s mild enough to use in fluffy white cake, and a lifesaver when it comes to thickening cookies that spread too thin.
1. Coconut flour has about one gram of fat per tablespoon, so it can subtly enrich many desserts. It soaks up excess moisture like a sponge, keeping gluten-free cookies thick and chewy; that absorbency improves the shelf life of cakes by retaining moisture. Use coconut flour to replace up to 25 percent of the flour (whether all-purpose flour or a gluten-free blend) in your favorite recipes.
2. Even if you bake with traditional wheat flours, use a portion of coconut flour to tenderize pie dough and shortbread.
3. Because coconut flour is high in fiber and low in carbohydrates, it’s a great option for diabetic and Paleo-friendly recipes, too.
4. Though richer than rice flour or cornstarch, commercial coconut flour has been defatted. Because it’s leaner than other nut flours, it can’t be used to replace almond or hazelnut flour in a one-to-one ratio. For example, French macarons cannot be made with store-bought coconut flour.
5. If you’d like to use coconut flour in French macarons, make your own! Start with unsweetened coconut flakes, lightly toasted. Cool to room temperature and pulse in a food processor until finely ground.
Stella Parks is a Food & Wine 2012 Best New Pastry Chef. Her first cookbook, with editor Maria Guarnaschelli, is due from W. W. Norton in 2015.