It’s taken me a long time to get around to writing this how-to post on baking with coconut flour, in part because these non-recipes posts are an exceptional amount of work and in part because baking with coconut flour isn’t quite as much my expertise as baking with almond flour is. There is also a great deal to be said about coconut flour, and I wanted to be as thorough as possible. It’s a very useful low carb and gluten-free ingredient, but it’s a strange beast that behaves in strange ways. I once said that if you attempt to treat it like wheat flour, it will taunt you out of pure spite. Let it be said that I the answers here are from my own experiences working with coconut flour. There are many other talented recipe writers who have made some amazing coconut flour creations and you should certainly seek out their advice where you can. The more the merrier when it comes to coconut flour baking tips, I say! Enjoy!
What is Coconut Flour and why should I care?
Coconut flour is actually the by-product of coconut milk production. After the coconut milk has been extracted, the leftover coconut meat is dried at low temps for a long period of time and then finely ground. It is a very fine, powdery that resembles wheat flour in appearance, although it smells distinctly of coconut. Perhaps its most distinctive characteristic is the rather astonishing way it soaks up moisture and liquids, and in this it differs from most other flours, gluten-free or otherwise. It’s like a sponge in powder form, taking in a remarkable amount of eggs, oil and other wet ingredients, and still staying as thick as porridge until it finally reaches saturation. On the other hand, too much liquid, and you’ll end up with a soggy baked good that won’t cook through. It’s a fine balance.
Baking with coconut flour isn’t quite as unforgiving as it sounds, though. It does take some getting used to and a willingness to experiment a little. As always, begin with tried and true recipes from people with experience, and then as you get a feel for it, you can begin to branch out on your own.
What ratio can I use to replace regular flour with coconut flour?
I wish there was a simple answer here, but there is no strict ratio for taking a conventional recipe and recreating it with coconut flour. For example, a typical quick bread recipe takes 2 cups of flour, 1 or 2 eggs, 1/4 to 1/2 cup oil or butter, and anywhere between 1/4 to 1 cup of other liquids like milk or juice. Depending on the recipe writer, I’ve seen coconut flour breads take anywhere from 3/4 to 1 & 1/2 cups coconut flour, 6 eggs to 12 eggs, 1/3 to 1 cup of oil and no other liquids at all. And when I create a coconut flour recipe, I almost always try to add in some sort of additional protein (usually whey, but you could use hemp, soy or egg powder protein) to make up for the lack of gluten. I find this helps make a lighter, less dense end product. Confused yet? Yeah, me too.
But don’t despair. I’ve found that one of the best ways to create a coconut flour recipe that embodies the characteristics of a beloved family favourite without the gluten is to actually search for a similar coconut flour recipe and then make changes to the flavourings, spices and seasonings to suit your needs. There are a lot of talented people out there doing some innovative things with coconut flour, and it’s a trend that I think is going to continue. You can likely find what you need somewhere on the vast internet.
How about subbing coconut flour into almond flour or other nut flour recipes?
Again, I’d say that there’s no simple ratio, but it is a little easier since they are both gluten free to start with and thus need some of the same considerations when baking. If I were to rework one of my own almond flour recipes, I would do about 1/3 cup coconut flour for every cup of almond flour. Then I’d probably triple the eggs, and keep the liquids and additional protein about the same. If my batter seemed too thick, I’d add some additional liquid, one tablespoon at a time until the consistency seemed right. If my batter was too thin, I’d add more coconut flour, one tablespoon at a time.
But here’s where experience and gut instinct come into play. The “right” consistency for any gluten-free batter is very different than that of conventional recipes. It is typically much thicker and needs to be spread into the pan, not poured. Once again, the more you bake with these low carb, gluten-free ingredients, the more you will get used to this and be able to tell what the right consistency is.
Gettin’ Eggy With It – do coconut flour recipes REALLY need all those eggs?
The most common complaint about coconut flour recipes are that they take a great many eggs. And they really do. I know I was startled when I first started to bake with it, and wondered if all the eggs were really necessary. But eggs, or egg replacers, really are important in coconut flour baking. This is due in part to the remarkable absorbancy of coconut flour, but eggs also give it structure in the absence of gluten. It seems to require more structure than other low carb or gluten-free flours, so foregoing the eggs or egg replacers, or significantly cutting back on them, is not recommended.
I personally do not find the end product to be either eggy-tasting or rubbery in texture, although I know some people object to them on these grounds. If you are vegan or allergic to eggs, you should be able to use things like flax seed meal and water to replace the eggs.
As a little experiment, I tried making some coconut flour bread by significantly cutting back on the eggs. I put in only 4 where the original recipe took 12. I made up the liquid and protein by adding Greek yogurt and some additional liquids. The end result was very tasty, but really really soft. Even after being toasted, trying to spread it with butter was virtually impossible. It was not a recipe I could share here on All Day I Dream About Food.
I don’t like the taste of coconut…can I still use coconut flour?
Coconut flour has a strong coconut scent and some baked goods can taste very coconutty, if they don’t have other strong flavours to compete with it. I find that chocolate and cocoa powder are good additions to help mask the coconut taste for cakes and cupcakes. And a little garlic or onion powder does a great job for savoury items, making the coconut virtually indistinguishable. Play up certain other flavours with herbs, spices and flavourings, and I think you will find you can still enjoy the end result.
Alternatively, if you do like the taste of coconut, you can play that up as well and have some great fun by adding coconut oil and/or coconut milk to the recipe.
Do different brands vary in terms of weight and how absorbent they are?
I have used three brands of coconut flour, Aloha Nu, Tropical Traditions and Bob’s Red Mill and I have liked them all equally well. But I suspect that yes, different brands may vary some in overall density and absorption. I doubt very much, however, that they will differ so much that you can’t correct the batter of the recipe to accommodate these differences. Again, if it’s too thin, you thicken it slightly with more coconut flour. If it’s too thick, you thin it out a bit.
What is the best use of coconut flour?
I am sure that this differs very much person to person, baker to baker. I personally love coconut flour for things like pancakes and waffles. If you are new to coconut flour baking, that’s a good place to start because the batters can easily be corrected if that first pancake doesn’t turn out very well. From there, once you have a feel for coconut flour, I think you can graduate to muffins, quick breads and cakes. And one of the most famous coconut flour recipes out there are the cheesy drop biscuits (google them, you will find a zillion recipes). They’re easy and quick too!
I also really like using coconut flour for the filler in meatloaf and meat balls. But you need to be sure to increase the liquids (broth) by about double, to make the coconut flour swell and help bind the finished product. I’ve never used coconut flour as a thickener for soups or sauces, but I know other people have had success with it.
The one area where I haven’t had any success is using it as a breading for chicken or fish. It’s so absorbent, it clumps up like crazy and won’t fry properly.
When should I combine it with other gluten-free flours, like nut flour?
The answer to this really should be…whenever you feel like it! You will have to adjust the recipe accordingly, if you’re going to try take an almond flour recipe and replace some of it with coconut flour. But I find that a bit of coconut flour is also useful in some almond flour recipes. I often use a few tablespoons to 1/4 cup of coconut flour for bread recipes, as it seems to make them stiffer and slightly drier, and so more bread-like. I also use a few tablespoons when making a crumb-type crust, as it helps absorb the oils and the end result is more crumbly.
Where is the best place to purchase coconut flour?
Like most of my low carb specialty ingredients, I find it cheapest and easiest to buy coconut flour online at sites like Amazon or Netrition. But more and more grocery stores are starting to carry it in their gluten-free section, so be on the lookout. I think as gluten-free gains in popularity, you will see it in more and more stores.
How do I store my opened bag of coconut flour?
Because it likes to absorb moisture like crazy, I like to keep my coconut flour at room temperature, wrapped tightly to keep any moisture out. I don’t keep it in the fridge or the freezer because these environments tend to have even more moisture than regular air. Wherever you choose to store yours, make sure it’s airtight.
I hope that helps to answer some of your most basic questions about baking with coconut flour. It may seem daunting at first, but after working with it, I think you will find that it’s not as tricky or as unforgiving as it sounds. Coconut flour is definitely an ingredient worth adding to your repertoire. If you have a question you don’t see answered here, don’t hesitate to let me know. I can’t say I will know the answer myself, but I may be able to suggest some resources to help you.