A Cuban Christmas Must: Turrón de Coco

Last year, I decided to host friends who were staying behind for Nochebuena, the traditional Cuban Christmas Eve dinner. Knowing a few would be missing home, I asked everyone to bring one thing that meant the holidays to them. I might have been more specific, because I ended up with no fewer than 10 boxes of Spanish turrón.

Apart from the roast pork drenched in mojo and white rice and black beans, sliced turrones served on trays at the end of the night are a requirement at every Cuban holiday. Traditionally made with marcona almonds, everyone has their favorites – whether it’s soft and fudgy Jijona, nougat-like Alicante, or egg-rich yema tostada.

Looking for my own hostess gift, I decided try my hand at turrón de coco – creamy shredded coconut cooked down with condensed milk and brightened with orange zest and a few drops of vanilla. A perfect blank slate for experimentation, it sets up quickly and can be boxed up to take.  Of course, you might want to call first, but really, you can never have too many.

Turrón de Coco

1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup coconut milk
3 cups finely shredded unsweetened coconut
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
7 ounces dark chocolate bar (at least 70% cacao), chopped
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil

Grease an 8-inch baking pan and line with parchment paper, allowing overhang on all sides.

In a medium-size heavy saucepan, combine condensed milk, coconut milk, butter, orange zest, and shredded coconut. Stir constantly over medium heat until it begins to pull away from the pan and clumps together, about 10 minutes.  Off heat, stir in the vanilla while still warm.

Pour into the prepared pan then spread evenly with an offset spatula until smooth.  Bring to room temperature then wrap and chill until firm, at least 2 hours.

Place chocolate in a heatproof mixing bowl and set over a pot of gently simmering water.  Stir constantly until the chocolate is completely melted.  Off heat, stir in the grapeseed oil.

While still in the pan, pour half of the melted chocolate over the coconut mixture and spread in an even layer.  Chill in the freezer until set, about 10 minutes.  Lift out of the pan and gently turn onto a layer of parchment or wax paper.  Pour remaining chocolate over coconut and spread in even layers so that it is coated on both sides.  Return to freezer until set, an additional 10 minutes.  Peel off of wax paper, trim on all sides, and cut into two rectangular tablets.  Cut into desired shapes.

Ana Sofia Peláez covers the spectrum of Spanish and Latin American cuisine on her blog hungrysofia.com. From the rich smells and flavors of the Cuban food she grew up with to modern Peruvian causas, hearty Brazilian feijodas and delicate Mexican flor de calabaza soup, she’s always looking for her next great meal.