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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Coconut candy worth hard labor

By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Food Editor

On a reporting trip to Maui last week, I cheerfully agreed to meet one of my sources in Hana, though this meant a long drive. The reason it was no problem: Coconut candy.

Three years ago, my husband and I honeymooned in Hana and stopped off in Nahiku to stretch our legs. Nahiku is little more than a clearing in the rain forest where a few businesses cater to tourists — an espresso bar, a gift shop, a smokehouse operation that produces delicious fish and kalua pork sandwiches, and Coconut Willy's, a makeshift stand that, to the uninitiated, doesn't look like much.

Coconut Willy says he's a former special-operations guy who has settled in the rain forest to make candy instead of war. And, oh, this candy! It's shaved coconut toasted with sugar until sweet and crunchy and yet somehow still tender, oozing burned-cream flavors.

It comes packed in the snack-size zippered plastic bags, $5 a bag, and if you can make a bag survive all the way back to the west side, I'll personally drive back and buy you more.

Of course, you have to go to Nahiku to get Coconut Willy's candy; he isn't quite to the off-premises marketing stage. So I was delighted when he was willing to share the recipe and thrilled that it sounded so easy.

Peel and crack a coconut. This could be the work of an entire day, but you can buy a fresh-cracked coconut in Chinatown or at most farmer's markets. Pry the white meat away from the shell and shave the pieces with a sharp vegetable peeler. And don't worry about the brown rind, just leave it on. This is a tedious job, dangerous to your knuckles and other finger parts, and probably why Coconut Willy doesn't have to worry much about competition. It's certainly the reason I've only made this candy once, though I love it dearly.

Spread a shallow layer of the coconut in a rimmed baking sheet (jelly-roll pan) and generously sprinkle it with Maui turbinado sugar (Maui brand, the raw crystal sugar sold in plastic jars with the blue cap). Bake at the lowest possible temperature in your oven (200 degrees or less) for eight to 10 hours or longer, stirring occasionally to spread the sugar, which melts into a syrup and soaks into the coconut.

Willy bakes his for 18 hours — shaves the coconut in the morning, puts it in the oven in the early afternoon and keeps it on all night. He says he turns the heat up (350 or so) for a little while to make the candy really crisp and golden brown before he brings it out of the oven (watch carefully; it will burn).

This candy doesn't last long; it quickly loses its crunch. You can refresh it in a 325-degree oven, but you'll probably eat it all before you need to do that.