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Elements: Cream of Coconut

It’s hard to imagine the Piña Colada without its signature character of lusciously creamy coconut. But it wasn’t always that way; before it became a beloved frozen pineapple-coconut concoction, the tropical drink—whose name translates from Spanish to “strained pineapple”—was simply made with pineapple, rum, sugar, and ice. The crucial addition of cream of coconut to the recipe in 1954 helped launch the Piña Colada as a modern classic, the official drink of Puerto Rico, as well as the must-have sipper for vacationers. For that, we can thank University of Puerto Rico agriculture professor Ramón López Irizarry, who invented Coco López in 1949.

Nowadays, cream of coconut—not to be confused with the unsweetened coconut cream used in cooking savory dishes—has moved beyond the Piña Colada. Coco López has been joined more recently on the shelf by brands such as Coco Reàl, and bartenders are now experimenting with their own recipes for the ingredient, while capitalizing on coconut’s universal appeal to introduce new flavors, lighten a cocktail, and offer a vegan-friendly alternative to cream. “I love using coconut in cocktails that have abrasive or challenging ingredients, because it’s the bridge for comfort that gets people to try new flavors,” says Ran Duan of Blossom Bar in Boston. “It’s the gateway ingredient that everyone loves.”

Shawn Lickliter of République in LA swaps out heavy cream for the lighter cream of coconut in his version of the dessert cocktail, Brandy Alexander. “Cognac pairs especially well because it already has hints of pineapple, white grapefruit, and chocolate, so it’s delicious with coconut!” he says. In his Coco Alexander, “The Cognac stands up more and is being complemented by the other two ingredients, as opposed to being sweet and milky.”

Allan Katz, bartender and co-owner of Jammyland in Las Vegas, creates his own cream using condensed coconut milk. “It gives the vegans a win, and it’s coconut on coconut on coconut flavor.” Katz says it’s worth doing the extra work of making your own cream of coconut. The payoff is added freshness, he says, “and the stability to be a base for great frozen cocktails or a substitute for heavy cream.”

Coco Alexander

Cream of coconut lightens up this riff on the Brandy Alexander, a notoriously rich dessert cocktail.

2 oz. Cognac
1/2 oz. white crème de cacao
1/2 oz. cream of coconut

Tools: shaker, strainer
Glass: coupe
Garnish: grated nutmeg

Shake all of the ingredients with ice, then strain into a chilled glass. Garnish.
Cream of Coconut In a dry skillet over medium heat, lightly toast 200 grams of unsweetened coconut flakes. In a covered container, mix the toasted coconut with 300 grams of coconut milk (Lickliter uses Kara). Cover and let steep overnight, then strain out the solids and add the liquid to a blender along with 250 grams of granulated cane sugar and 125 grams of Kara coconut cream. Blend until sugar is dissolved. Keeps refrigerated for up to 1 month.

Shawn Lickliter, République, Los Angeles

Spirit Animal

Trader Vic’s classic Angostura Fizz gets a reboot with the richness of coconut.

1 oz. Angostura bitters 
1 oz. grenadine
1 oz. fresh cream of coconut
3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
Chilled club soda or seltzer

Tools: shaker, strainer
Glass: fizz 

Shake all of the ingredients (except club soda) with ice, then strain into a fizz glass. Top with chilled club soda. 
Fresh Cream of Coconut Scoop the flesh from 1 large, young Thai coconut (taking care to reserve the water inside). Combine the flesh in a blender with one 11.2 oz. can of sweetened condensed coconut milk (Katz uses Nature’s Charm) and the reserved coconut water. 
Blend until smooth. Keeps refrigerated for 1 week (the mixture may separate and require reblending before use). 

Allan Katz, Jammyland, Las Vegas

Rum Fizz Tropical

Puerto Rico’s classic Piña Colada gets the Ramos Gin Fizz treatment in this recipe mashup.

1 1/2 oz. aged rum
1 1/2 oz. heavy cream
1 oz. cream of coconut
1 oz. pineapple juice
3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
1 fresh egg white (pasteurized if you prefer)
2 oz. chilled soda water

Tools: shaker, strainer
Glass: Collins 
Garnish: orchid and grated nutmeg

Shake the first 6 ingredients without ice until foamy, then add ice to the shaker and shake again to chill. Strain into a glass and top with soda water, then garnish.
Cream of Coconut In a large saucepan, combine 3 1/2 oz. of creamed coconut, 1 33.8 oz. bottle of coconut water, 6 cups of granulated sugar, 4 oz. of overproof rum, 1 dash of coconut extract, and a small pinch of salt. Heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring until the 
sugar dissolves. Cool and bottle, keeping refrigerated for up to 1 month. 

Ran Duan, Blossom Bar, Boston

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