I wasn’t born a fan of coconut. But, I became one, so I think there is hope for all of us, and these coconut squares (or coconut bars, if yours aren’t square) are an absolute favorite of mine now. You bite into one and you close your eyes and start seeing a beach and hearing Jimmy Buffett or Bob Marley playing, and all is well again. But back to why we might not like coconut all that well, and what we’ve done to improve it in recipes like this.
I think it’s the flavor, and the texture of all the different coconut products that used to turn me off. When you grew up with dairy, and then first encounter coconut as a “milk substitute”, and find out that it really tastes nothing like milk, but instead, like something slightly sweet, slightly creamy, and entirely unlike anything you’ve ever had before, you just kinda throw it off in its own category. Why replace something perfectly fine with something that’s just, well, not the same? Obviously, allergy and diet reasons aside, you either like it, or you don’t. All of the sudden, one day I started liking it.
See, I think my problem, and that of most former coconut-haters is that coconut is that it’s so unimpressive on its own. Like in trail mix coconut bars, where it’s mixed with other stuff in a more chewy consistency. It’s much better when paired with other flavors. Let’s take piña coladas for instance. Or really, anything tropical whatsoever. Mix it with pineapple, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, butter, or any myriad of other flavors, and it stands out, and comes across so much better. But on its own? Nah. By itself, coconut is sweet but not quite sweet enough or in the creamy way that dairy is. It’s also rich, but in an opaque fashion, lacking the richness of butter, coming across at times as oily or waxy.
This coconut squares recipe is really, nothing short of a miracle. It takes all of the good of coconut, and builds it up and really enhances it gently with cream, sweetener, and vanilla. The cream rounds out the richness, the sweetener lightly intensifies the flavors, and the vanilla gives a certain warmth to coconut’s tropical vibe. This dessert has a decidedly coconut flavor to it, but it’s the coconut I wish I’d known earlier in life, the star of the show, with all the proper backups to help it really shine.
This recipe is low-carb, keto-friendly, gluten-free, sugar-free (if you use Swerve), and insanely easy to prepare. I’m really quite serious on that last bit. This is one of those “mathematical” recipes – the kind that I love to share with avid cooks, as well as friends who just want to try something new. If you follow the instructions, it comes out flawless every time. And the instructions? There’s only five, spanning no more than 20 minutes of time til it goes in the oven. You literally just mix everything together, and then pour it in a greased baking dish and bake it.
Most of these ingredients for these coconut squares are a common part of most pantries. The shredded coconut can be found at any major grocery store in the baking aisle. Same thing with heavy whipping cream, eggs, butter, coconut extract, vanilla extract, and baking powder; all very standard stuff. Even the coconut flour, once a rarity, is in nearly every grocery store now, as gluten-free baking has gone mainstream. For a powdered sweetener, any good stevia / erythritol blend is going to work really well; I love Swerve Confectioners, because it has a super realistic sugar taste, and since it’s a powder, it dissolves very well and leaves no grainy texture. If you choose to use regular sugar or something else, go for confectioners, or some other light texture.
Super Simple Coconut Squares
- 11 x 7 inch rectangular baking dish (or 9 inch pie pan)
- stand mixer (or electric beater)
- 1 ½ cups unsweetened shredded coconut
- ⅔ cup powdered sweetener – confectioners style, Swerve is my choice
- 2 tbsp coconut flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream
- 5 eggs
- 4 tbsp salted butter – softened
- 2 tsp coconut extract
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 350 fahrenheit. Grease or spray an 11 x 7 inch pan, or alternatively a 9 inch pie pan. Even though it’s called a pie, I prefer to cut it in small squares.
- Add all dry ingredients together in mixer bowl and mix well. Add heavy cream, eggs, and butter, and mix on slow speed until well incorporated. Alternatively, if you prefer this to have a slightly smoother texture, it can be made in a blender.
- Sprinkle coconut and vanilla extract over mixture and mix until well incorporated, taking care not to whip too much air into it.
- Pour into pan, and bake on center rack for 50-55 minutes, until center is browned and begins to rise a bit.
- Remove from pan and allow to cool for an hour until things firm up. Slice gently with a warm knife into squares, or slices if baked in pie pan. Refrigerate for 3-4 hours for best results and serve chilled.