If you are curious about cooking with coconut milk or bake with coconut milk, then you’re in the right place! This post will show you the ins and outs of using this dairy-free milk and cream alternative! From coconut milk cookie recipes to coconut milk stir-fry dishes, this post has your tastebuds covered!
When I first started using coconut milk in the Spirited kitchen, I wondered whether there was a difference between coconut milk and coconut cream. Some recipes made a distinction between the two, others didn’t specify at all, and others still, assumed I knew the difference.
But I didn’t.
So I decided to conduct research, and over time I learned the most noticeable difference between the two is their consistency. Admittedly, I discern a difference in flavor, too. And if forced to pick a favorite between the two, I choose the cream. When it comes to culinary endeavors, though, I found each one has its purpose.
COCONUT MILK VS. COCONUT CREAM:
Full-fat coconut milk includes BOTH the clear, viscous, oily liquid that, when chilled, sinks to the bottom of the can AND the white cream that often rises to the top. Both are perfectly edible. And while they often separate in a can, you can easily stir them back together and use them in recipes.
Coconut cream, on the other hand, as the term suggests, consists of the creamy, white portion in a can of full-fat coconut milk. Coconut cream does NOT include the oil. And while you can buy a can of stand-alone coconut cream (no extra liquid added), you can also “make” your own by chilling a can of full-fat coconut milk and allowing the “cream” portion to rise to the top. Skim the cream off the top and use it in countless sweet and savory recipes.
HOW TO USE CANNED FULL-FAT COCONUT MILK:
There are two typical ways to use canned full-fat coconut milk. You’ll likely be able to tell which method the recipe calls for depending on the instructions given and terms used. Words like “heavy”, “cream”, or “chilled” usually mean you are only working with the creamy portion. Words like “room temperature”, stirred together”, and “milk” typically mean you are using both the oily and creamy components in the can.
- Cream skimmed from the top. This method is great for replacing heavy creams in recipes. Chill a can of full-fat coconut milk in the refrigerator. DO NOT SHAKE THE CAN. As the milk chills, the denser oil will sink to the bottom and the lighter cream will rise to the top. Once the cream has solidified and risen, use a spoon to skim it off. Discard the oil or use it in soups and stews for added flavor. If you check the cream and it still hasn’t solidified, then let the milk chill longer and make sure not to disturb the can.
- Oil and cream stirred together. Stir the canned ingredients together. Use chilled OR at room temperature. This method is great for adding a milky consistency to recipes without watering them down.
BAKING WITH COCONUT MILK:
Gluten-free baking, paleo baking, and vegan baking were, by far and away, the hardest skills I mastered when our family changed diets. I learned the not-so-delicious way that coconut flour isn’t interchangeable with traditional flour, coconut oil isn’t a cup-for-cup match with margarine or butter, and molasses isn’t the same as granulated sugar. My recipes flopped in the early years, and I didn’t attempt to bake again for over a year.
Eventually, I trudged into the kitchen again, baking sheet in hand. And with practice, I started to have more success. Coconut milk, for example, plays a critical role in paleo baking because it prevents baked goods from being too dry. And when the coconut milk is baked, the flavor neutralizes. So, you might be surprised to learn, your coconut milk cookie recipes won’t taste like coconut. Unless you use a lot of coconut milk or add other coconut products (such as shredded coconut, unrefined coconut oil, or coconut flavoring extracts).
Typically, in canned coconut milk dessert recipes, you’ll find the recipe only calls for 2-4 tablespoons of coconut milk or cream, or 1/8-1/4 cup. That amount is usually enough to prevent the baked good from drying out, but not so much that the baked good turns soggy.
Below are canned coconut milk dessert recipes. Once you make these recipes, you’ll likely notice you don’t taste the coconut milk.
These Chocolate Chunk Crinkle Cookies are baked with full-fat coconut milk, using the cream.
Fudgy Paleo Brownies, on the other hand, are made using full-fat coconut milk that includes the cream and the oil.
COOKING WITH COCONUT MILK
When cooking with canned coconut milk, you’ll find the flavor is more obvious than it is in baking. Depending on how you feel about coconut milk, you may want to pay attention to the other flavors that are added to the recipe.
For example, in Paleo Tzatziki Sauce, the base ingredient is the cream that forms at the top of a chilled can of coconut milk. And while I don’t love coconut milk, I do like the cream. And I especially like it when it’s mixed with dill, garlic, and sea salt.
When it comes to sautéing a stir-fry recipe such as with this Spicy Chicken Stir-Fry, again, you’ll likely notice the coconut milk. But when paired with spices such as turmeric, cumin, or oregano, the coconut flavor isn’t as overpowering as you might expect.
And when preparing soups such as Creamy Roasted Garlic and Onion Soup, similar to stir-fry recipes, the coconut flavor is stronger. So, if coconut isn’t your first flavor choice, then pay attention to the other ingredients. They might offset the coconut-y flavor.
If you DO like coconut, then you’ll likely love the rich, creamy, dairy-free flavor and consistency it offers dairy-free soup recipes.
WILL I TASTE IT?
Whether or not you taste the coconut milk in the recipe will depend on how the food is prepared, how much coconut milk the recipe calls for, and the other flavors included. Typically in baking, the coconut milk is virtually undetectable. In soups, stir-fries, and other savory dishes, the flavor is more obvious.
So there you have it, Spirited friends, a 411 on coconut milk! Like learning another language, cooking and baking with coconut milk gets easier with practice!