Chocolate Coconut Cream: Decadent and Dairy-Free
November 12, 2013 | Food & Gardening
One of the biggest baking challenges is finding a good substitute for dairy products. It’s true that a lot of commercial bakeries use shortening and margarine in place of butter, or some chemical concoction that tries to pass for whipped cream. But such pale imitations don’t taste nearly as good as the real thing.
The “problem” with butter and heavy cream is that they’re dairy products. Vegans don’t eat them. Those who keep kosher avoid dairy when they’ve just eaten meat. So if beef or lamb was the main course dinner, dessert has to be dairy-free. And then there are folks who find that diary doesn’t agree with them, so they stay away from it altogether.
If your dinner guests happen to fall into any of these categories, then dessert can be a real challenge—especially if you like chocolate. That means eliminating entire categories of dessert heaven: cake, ice cream, buttercream icing, whipped cream, and ganache.
I don’t know about you, but after a dinner of roast chicken or braised short ribs, a “light” dessert such as sorbet and fruit seems, well, kinda wimpy—especially in cold weather. A hearty meal deserves a grand finale. Something like . . . chocolate.
Not to worry. While browsing the aisles of the Asian supermarket near my house, I discovered “coconut cream.” Basically, it’s liquified coconut in a UHT carton. My preferred brand is Kara, from Indonesia (see the photo above). Kara’s website lists stores that carry it, including Wal-Mart and Smart & Final.
Coconut cream is thick, rich, and delicious—thicker and more flavorful than coconut milk. I now use it in my coffee. It behaves a lot like heavy cream, probably because it has roughly the same percentage of fat—about 30%, compared to about 35% for heavy cream.
Don’t confuse coconut cream with cream of coconut. The latter is a heavily-sugared, cloyingly-sweet product (e.g., Coco Lopez) for making cocktails. Kara coconut cream doesn’t contain added sugar, so you can control the sweetness level to suit your taste. It also works in savory Asian dishes such as coconut soups and curries.
I’ve been experimenting with coconut cream for about a year now, and I’ve come up with a chocolate coconut cream that’s basically a dairy-free ganache. There’s no mystery in the proportions: it’s equal weights coconut cream and chocolate, with some sweetener added.
The great thing about chocolate coconut cream is that it’s versatile. It’s a fantastic icing and filling for cakes. It pipes well. It can be churned into a decadent chocolate ice cream that’s better than the cream-based version, in my opinion. You can stir spoonfuls into coffee for an instant taste sensation, or use it as a frosting for cupcakes.
Make sure the chocolate you use is actually dairy-free, otherwise it defeats the purpose. In the photo above, I used Valrhona 85% Abinao, but lots of other brands also work, including Scharffen Berger 62%, or your favorite semi-sweet or bittersweet brand.
Two things to remember. First, the higher the cacao percentage in the chocolate you use, the less sweet the final product will be, unless you add more sweetener to counteract this effect.
Second, higher-percentage cacao makes the final cream stiffer at room temperature. You can correct this by adding more coconut cream to the warm mixture until you get the consistency you want (keeping in mind that it will firm up as it cools). Another option is to gently re-heat the chocolate coconut cream over a very low flame or over a double boiler until it softens to the consistency you need for frosting or piping or pouring. (That’s what I did when I piped it for the photo above.)
Chocolate coconut cream is very rich. A little goes a long way. The dessert dish I used for the photo holds eight ounces and is for display purposes only. That size would be far too much for just one person; it could easily serve about three or four people. If you opt to serve chocolate coconut cream in individual portions, say, as pots de creme, pipe or pour no more than about 2 ounces (¼ cup) into a small serving container, such as a demi-tasse or even a tiny cocktail glass. Serve at room temperature, with fruit, shredded coconut, or nuts on the side.
If you opt to churn it into ice cream, remember to make it sweeter (freezing makes things taste less sweet), and more fluid by adding more coconut cream (or water or coconut milk) so that it churns properly when cold. Serve in small portions.
Agave is my preferred sweetener in this recipe because it incorporates easily and it is sweeter than sugar. I’ve also used honey. You can use sugar, but make sure it actually dissolves—otherwise, you’ll end up with a gritty texture. Another option is to make a highly-concentrated simple syrup and use that to sweeten the mixture.
One last thing. Because coconut cream is sold by the liter and half-liter, I’ve kept the recipe in metric measurements. Don’t panic. Just weigh out your chocolate (or eyeball it based on the metric weight specified on the package).
Chocolate Coconut Cream
500ml coconut cream, such as Kara brand
500g dark chocolate that is dairy-free—either semi-sweet or bittersweet—coarsely chopped
Sweetener such as agave nectar or honey
In a heavy saucepan on low heat, gently heat the coconut cream. Add the chocolate. Whisk frequently until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is uniform. Do not let the mixture get too hot. Keep an eye on the flame and keep scraping up the bottom so the chocolate that collects there doesn’t scorch.
Taste. If you think it’s sweet enough, leave it at that. If not, start adding agave or honey until it is the sweetness level you want. This recipe makes enough frosting for about 15 to 20 cupcakes (depending on how heavily you apply it) or a double-layer 9-inch cake not too thickly iced.
Store in a closed container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, or in the freezer for about two months.