A few months ago, I spent three amazing days on the island of Maui. I was there to participate in a cocktail competition, so that left only a day and a half to explore the rest of the island. Thanks to my obsessive planning tendencies, I had made a loooong list of places to see, food to eat, and anything else interesting that I had read/heard about. Coconut candy was one of the things on that list: hand-cut slices of fresh coconut tossed with sugar and slow roasted for hours until they became crunchy bits of heaven – how could you go wrong?
Well, as it turns out, I didn’t try any coconut candy while on Maui (you can’t do / eat everything, you know)… but it remained in the back of my mind as something that I wanted to try to make at home. Last week, I bought a coconut and searched the web for tips and found that the sugar:coconut ratio and preparation varied greatly from one recipe to another. Since I hadn’t tried the original and therefore didn’t have a point of reference, I decided to make two different versions to see which one I preferred:
For version A (on the left in the above photo), the coconut meat is thinly sliced with a vegetable peeler, then boiled in a sugar syrup before being slowly baked in a very low oven. After cooling, the strips were still a bit tacky, as the excess syrup on the baking sheet had thickened and coated some of the slices. I improvised my way out of a sticky situation by grabbing a jar of vanilla sugar* (plain granulated sugar would work just as well) from my cabinet and rolling the coconut candy strips in it, in the same way that I would roll candied orange peel (which also has a sticky texture after being boiled in syrup; after being rolled in sugar, the sugar crystallizes with the residual syrup and creates a crunchy coating). Once they have dried on racks overnight, the coconut candy strips have a delicious crunch and awesome toasted coconut flavor.
*To make vanilla sugar: Slice a vanilla bean in half lengthwise, then scrape the seeds and add to 2 cups of granulated sugar. With your fingers, rub the vanilla seeds into the sugar until they are thoroughly distributed. Pour into a glass jar, along with the scraped vanilla bean pod, and seal tightly before storing in a cool, dry place. Whenever you use a vanilla bean for a recipe, put the rinsed & thoroughly dried pod into the jar. You can keep the same jar of vanilla sugar almost indefinitely, and simple continue adding more sugar and seed pods as needed.
Version B (on the right in the above photo), the coconut meat is cut by hand to twice the thickness of the slices made with the vegetable peeler. After the slices are coated in brown sugar, they are sprinkled with turbinado sugar and slowly baked. In my opinion, B is the better of the two. There is less added sugar overall (and some of it ends up caramelizing on the baking sheet anyway), so the coconut itself is the dominant flavor. The thicker slices take on a robust, smoky taste unlike any coconut treat that I’ve ever had before.
Coconut Candy, Two Ways
Note: These recipes each use 1/2 of a fresh coconut, so I’d recommend dividing your coconut and making both versions at the same time – then you can sample some of each variety! If you only want to make one version, use the whole coconut and double the other ingredients.
(above: before going into the oven) (below: after baking for four hours)
Version A Yield: approximately 60 strips of candy / 3 oz total weight
coconut meat from 1/2 of a fresh coconut
1 1/2 cups / 12 fl oz water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/8 of a vanilla bean
2/3 – 1 cup vanilla sugar (or granulated sugar), for rolling
Preheat your oven to 200F. Using a sharp vegetable peeler, cut the coconut meat into strips, approximately 1/16″ thick (make them as long as possible). Add the coconut strips to a heavy-bottomed pot along with the water and sugars. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add both the seeds and pod to the pot. Bring the mixture to a boil, then continue to cook for 25-30 minutes, stirring every five minutes, until the syrup has reduced to 1/3 of its original volume and the coconut strips are translucent. Remove the vanilla bean pod.
Transfer the strips to a rimmed, very lightly greased baking sheet, being careful not to add too much excess syrup from the pot. Spread in a single layer and bake for 4 hours in a 200F oven, rotating the tray and gently stirring the coconut strips every hour.
As soon as the coconut strips are cool enough to handle, roll them in the vanilla / granulated sugar, then place on a cooling rack. Set in a cool, low-humidity area for 12-24 hours, until sugar has crystallized and formed a crunchy outer coating on the coconut candy strips. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 months at room temperature.
Version B Yield: approximately 30 strips of candy / 3 oz total weight
coconut meat from 1/2 of a fresh coconut
3 Tablespoons brown sugar
1 Tablespoon turbinado sugar (approximately 3 single-serve packets)
Preheat your oven to 200F. Using a sharp knife, cut the coconut meat into 1/8″ thick strips (make them as long as possible). Toss the coconut strips with the brown sugar in a small bowl, then place in the refrigerator for 25 minutes, until the brown sugar has melted slightly from the humidity. Toss again, making sure that the sugar is coating each strip of coconut.
Transfer the strips to a rimmed, very lightly greased baking sheet, in a single layer. Sprinkle with the turbinado sugar and bake for 4 hours in a 200F oven, rotating the tray and gently stirring the coconut strips every hour.
As soon as the coconut strips are completely cool, transfer to an airtight container. Store for up to 2 months at room temperature.