I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but my go-to dive bar drink used to be a mixture of Malibu coconut rum and pineapple juice — a sort of cheat piña colada. Those sweet, tropical flavors got me through some awful karaoke nights and terrible first dates.
So I was delighted to find a recipe for a real deal piña colada in pastry chef and food writer Ben Mims’ newest book, Coconut, out now from Short Stack Editions. Mims, an alum of Food & Wine, Saveur, and Lucky Peach, knows how to rework a classic. His first book, Sweet & Southern: Classic Desserts With a Twist, elevated iconic American desserts like hummingbird cake, cornbread pudding, and snickerdoodles with simple tricks and novel techniques. He’s applied that same formula in Coconuts, where a recipe for a classic frozen and blended piña colada is balanced and brightened by a hit of lime juice. Homemade coconut cream gives the drink its rich texture without the corn syrup-y taste of the canned stuff.
The Best Damn Piña Colada Ever
It’s unfortunate that piña coladas have such a bad rap. Admittedly, they’re usually made with too-sweet canned coconut cream and cheap rum, but the basic idea is a good one: a frothy, creamy coconut cocktail that transports you to the beach. I decided to make a fresh coconut cocktail that’s still frothy and tropical but balanced in flavor. The fresh water in a coconut, the pureed meat and homemade coconut cream boost the coconut flavor, while fresh pineapple and lime juice balance out its rich, sweet taste.
1 cup fresh coconut water
1 cup coconut rum, preferably homemade (see below), chilled in the freezer
1 cup cubed pineapple (8 ounces), frozen
1 cup pureed coconut (see Note), chilled
1 cup homemade cream of coconut (recipe follows), chilled
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Pineapple slices, lime wheels and freshly grated coconut, for garnish
Pour the coconut water into an ice cube tray and place in the freezer. Put the rum and pineapple chunks in the freezer as well and freeze the ingredients until they’re solid, about 4 hours.
In a blender, combine the coconut water, ice cubes, the rum and pineapple, the pureed coconut, cream of coconut and lime juice and blend until smooth and frothy. Immediately pour into chilled cocktail glasses and garnish with a slice of pineapple, a lime wheel and freshly grated coconut sprinkled on top.
Homemade coconut rum: Pour one 750-milliliter bottle of golden rum into a large bowl, and set the bottle aside. Stir 2 cups of shaved or grated fresh coconut into the rum, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the rum sit at room temperature for at least 1 week, or up to 1 month. Line a fine-mesh sieve with cheesecloth, hold the sieve over a funnel running into the reserved rum bottle and pour the rum back into the bottle. Discard the coconut solids in the sieve. Refrigerate for up to 1 day before using.
Note: Purred coconut is a boxed product found in grocery stores or online. I prefer the brand Let’s Do... Organic.
Cream of Coconut
Makes 2 cups
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
One 13.5-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
1⁄4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
In a small saucepan, whisk the sugar and cornstarch to combine, then stir in the coconut milk. Place the pan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Once the mixture begins boiling, continue cooking, stirring constantly, until thickened and reduced slightly, about 3 minutes.
Scrape the mixture into a bowl and stir in the lemon juice. Place a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the mixture and refrigerate until chilled and thickened, at least 4 hours. The cream of coconut will keep in a covered container in the refrigerator for 2 weeks.