Just a few years ago, coconut oil was shunned by the medical establishment because it is high in saturated fat. But after reviewing the data, researchers are now conceding that saturated fat is not the artery-clogging supervillain it was thought to be.
Additionally, most tests on coconut oil used the partially hydrogenated stuff, an industrial product that is chemically treated, destroying the oil's healthful nutrients while creating trans fats where they didn't exist before.
Unrefined, or virgin coconut oil, in contrast, has been gently processed using minimal heat to retain nutrients, and it has no trans fats. This kind of coconut oil, beloved by vegan cooks and bakers, has become a nutritional darling of the natural foods set because it contains fatty acids that have been linked with a rise in "good" HDL cholesterol. Whether coconut oil actually helps prevent heart disease has yet to be proven in the lab. But the latest scientific thinking says that a few tablespoons won't kill you, either. Virgin coconut oil, sold in natural foods stores, is bright white with a creamy texture. Because it is solid, it is more versatile than vegetable oil. It works well as a substitute for solid butter, shortening or lard in recipes as various as pie dough, scones and chocolate chip cookies. Or, use it in place of liquid fat. Just melt it over low heat (coconut oil becomes liquid at a mere 76 degrees) and let it cool to room temperature. Don't worry about spending $12 a jar. It will stay fresh at room temperature in a cool, dry pantry for up to 2 years.
FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE-MACADAMIA CAKE
11/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped, divided
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons coconut oil or unsalted butter, divided
8 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup finely chopped unsalted macadamia nuts
1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place a roasting pan in the oven and pour in 1/2 inch of hot water. Line the bottom of an 8-inch springform pan with parchment paper and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Place the pan on a sheet of aluminum foil to the sides, but not over the top, of the pan to prevent water from seeping in.
2. Combine 1 pound chocolate and 1 cup of the coconut oil in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high until the chocolate is about 60 percent melted. Whisk until smooth. Set aside to cool.
3. Whisk the eggs and vanilla in a large bowl. Stir in the chocolate mixture. Stir in the nuts. Scrape the batter into prepared pan.
4. Carefully place the pan into the roasting pan of hot water and bake until set around the edges but still loose in the center, about 30 minutes. Carefully lift the pan from the water and let cool on a wire rack. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or up to 3 days.
5. Remove the springform pan sides, invert the cake onto a sheet of waxed paper, peel off the parchment, and reinvert the cake onto a serving platter, discarding the waxed paper.
6. Combine the remaining 4 ounces chocolate and 2 tablespoons coconut oil in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high until the chocolate is about 60 percent melted. Whisk until smooth. Spread over the cake, letting some drip down the sides. Sprinkle the top of the cake with coconut and let stand until glaze is set, about 10 minutes. Slice and serve. Makes 10 servings.