Q. In several recipes I’ve seen recently that I wanted to make, one of the ingredients is cream of coconut. I have searched in Publix, Winn-Dixie and Sedano’s supermarkets in the canned, packaged and frozen sections, and have asked employees, and nowhere have I found cream of coconut. I found shredded coconut, grated coconut, and coconut milk. Can you help?
I’m truly puzzled that you couldn’t find cream of coconut at any of those stores, but I’m more perplexed that employees didn’t help you find it. Cream of coconut comes in a can and is not an exotic hard-to-find item. It is usually found either in the Latin or Indian section of supermarkets, or sometimes in the bartending section or the baking aisle. You can also find it in many liquor stores. Brand names include Coco-Lopez, Goya and Roland.
Cream of coconut is widely used in baking and desserts and ethnic cooking. And, of course, in tropical drinks like pina coladas. It is to coconut milk what sweetened condensed milk is to plain milk. It has a thick, creamy texture and concentrated coconut flavor, made by cooking fresh coconut meat with water and then sweetening the strained reduction.
In a pinch you can substitute sweetened condensed milk for cream of coconut, but add coconut extract to taste.
Here’s one of my favorite uses of cream of coconut, a Key-lime kissed baste with a hint of curry and whisper of heat that is great for grilled fish or shrimp, chicken or vegetables. It is from The Junior League of Greater Fort Lauderdale’s cookbook, Made in the Shade.
Q. I have tried many many times to make a birthday cake frosting that will hold up the way the ones do that you buy at the supermarket bakery. I can make beautiful cakes but the frosting in the summer just seems to droop and not hold its shape, especially if you are decorating it. Do you know what they put into the frosting to make it stay so soft, yet hold its peaks and swirls and piped rosettes?
Most grocery store bakeries use a light, whipped frosting that uses vegetable shortening as a base, not butter or whipped cream or any of the perishable ingredients you no doubt have lovingly put into your frostings. I know a lot of people who grew up on supermarket cakes actually prefer this frosting, though I personally would rather just eat cake and forget that sugar/shortening mix. I think there are two types of cake eaters in this world, those who’d rather eat cake and leave the frosting behind, and those who can’t resist a finger swipe into the frosting as soon as they see it!
Anyway, for frosting – and decorating—fans, a wonderful new cookbook is Frostings by Courtney Dial Whitmore (Gibbs Smith, $19.99). It not only includes traditional frosting favorites such as American and French buttercreams, but new popular flavor combinations such as salted caramel, chai vanilla bean and Champagne buttercream. The illustrations of beautiful techniques will make even all-thumbs decorators look professional.
The supermarket frosting recipe here is from the book, and very nicely emulates that sweet, fluffy yet sturdy frosting. It is great for kids’ birthday cakes or anyone with a big sweet tooth. It’s made with shortening so it produces a pure white frosting that holds its shape well when piped.
Q. I am a big fan of brunch at The Cheesecake Factory and especially enjoy the lemon-ricotta pancakes. I would love to make these for a breakfast I am hosting during a family reunion weekend. Can you get me the recipe or do you have one that is similar?
Linda Hunter, Wilmington, N.C.
These would make a lovely breakfast no matter the occasion. The recipe is from The Cheesecake Factory, which, by the way, offers other recipes on its website at www.thecheesecakefactory.com .