Chat Leftovers: Coconut oil

If you’re a doughnut fan, this is the day you’ve been waiting for: We announce the results of our 13-week rampage through the doughnut counters of Washington. We tasted hundreds of the pastries — round, square and twisted — and are totally confident that we found the area’s best doughnut. We’ve got Nevin Martell’s story about the results, an explanation of how we did it, a boatload of stats, even recipes that use up doughnut leftovers. So start reading.

Also in food, Bonnie S. Benwick rounds up 15 of the best cookbooks of summer — that’s 15 reasons to keep on cooking even through the dog days. And in her Smarter Food column, Jane Black tells us about new certification programs that aim to identify restaurants where diners can find healthful, sustainable food.

At noon, you can drop in for today’s Free Range chat, the weekly get-together where you bring us your culinary questions and we try to dispense sage advice. We can crank out more than 100 answers during our 60 minutes, but there are always some leftovers. Here’s one from last week’s chat to tide you over until the action begins:

I bought a jar of refined, solidified coconut oil to make the Coconut “Cheesefake” from the May 23 Wellness column. (It was delicious, BTW.) Now I have a whole jar of coconut oil. It was expensive, so I would like to use it. Can I substitute it in baking for butter and shortening in pie crusts? I have a cookie recipe that I’m planning to make soon that calls for margarine or shortening; would it work for that? Also, how would this be stored? The jar says “cool, dry place.” Can I freeze, store in refrigerator? For how long?

Yes, you can use coconut oil as a substitute for butter, margarine or shortening in baking. You can also saute or roast vegetables or fruit in it, make frosting with it, use it in a vinaigrette, pop corn in it — even moisturize your hair and lips with it!

Baking substitutions might entail a bit of experimentation at first — or not. Many people who use coconut oil as a stand-in for butter say that you can make the substitution one-to-one. However, the Web site Organic Authority recommends using 25 percent less of the oil because, unlike butter, it is almost pure fat. It also says you should add a tiny bit of extra liquid to your recipe to make up for what would have been in the butter. I’ve never used coconut oil as a butter substitute, so I can’t shed any light there.

As to storage — keep it out of the fridge! As I found out the hard way, it will become rocklike when chilled. Cool room temperature should be fine. My ancient house isn’t well insulated, so in summer the coconut oil in my pantry is a nice, clear liquid (it melts at around 76 degrees), and in winter it’s a solid white mass. Seems to be fine in both incarnations. You should be able to store it for two years.

I’m glad you liked the “Cheesefake” recipe, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer you a batch of additional recipes that will help you use up your jar of oil — and maybe even inspire you to buy a new one. These are from our Recipe Finder, so you know they were all tested by us, and are all delightful.

Almond Pancakes

Apple-Cranberry Crostatas

Cauliflower “Popcorn”

Chocolate Beet Mini-Cakes

Chocolate Chip-Mocha Scones With Cacao Nibs

Chocolate Milkshake Smoothie

Garnet Yam Cake With Brown Sugar Sauce and Candied Pecans

Kale Chips

Nikki’s Healthy Cookies

Orange and Dried Plum Bars With Walnut Topping

Sweet Tahinis

Thai Salmon Fishcakes With Dipping Sauce

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