Toasting shredded coconut gives it a crunchy texture and caramelized, nutty taste, but you can easily substitute untoasted shredded coconut for garnishing cakes, cookies and desserts if you are running short on time. There are also ways to infuse your cooking with coconut flavor without shredded and toasted coconut or even without using coconut. Avoid imitation shredded coconut, though, because its flavor and consistency are nothing like the real thing.
Skip the Browning
Untoasted shredded coconut gives you the same sweet taste of toasted coconut but eliminates the crunch. Use it in the same proportions as you would toasted coconut for adding to baked goods or sprinkling on the top of cakes, cookies and fruit desserts. To replace the crunch that toasted coconut provides, add chopped nuts or crushed bits of candy, along with the untoasted coconut.
While coconut milk, water, oil, extracts and liqueurs won't substitute as garnishes for toasted coconut, they add the same coconut flavor to your cooking. Replace any other liquid in cookies, quick breads, cakes, rice dishes or puddings entirely or partially with coconut milk or water and replace all or some of the butter with coconut oil. Add small amounts of coconut liqueur and just a few drops of coconut extract to any food for a pronounced coconut flavor.
Sliced, Diced and Flaked
Fresh coconut meat has more coconut flavor that store-bought shredded coconut, toasted or not. You can substitute sliced, diced or grated fresh coconut for toasted coconut. Young coconuts are those harvested early in their season, and they have flesh that is soft enough to remove with a spoon -- add it directly to baked goods, puddings and ice cream. For older coconuts with a harder white shell, use a box grater for flakes or shreds.
An Unusual Choice
For coconut flavor in puddings, ice cream, and baked goods or for a garnish that gives you just as much flavor as toasted coconut, albeit without the crunch, look for Malaysian coconut jam, also called coconut kaya, in Asian food stores. Made from coconut milk cooked down for 15 hours, kaya also works as a frosting for cakes and cookies if you dilute it with coconut milk or coconut water.