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Some claim the coconut treats known as cocadas are native to the small-but-scenic state of Colima, on the Pacific edge of Mexico. These desserts have actually been a staple for centuries throughout several Latin American countries like Mexico, Peru and Colombia. Though recipes may vary by chef or region, the historic recipe involves a simple mixture of sugar, water and grated coconut. More modernized versions might add flavorings like vanilla or almond extract, cloves and brown sugar, and they may swap out the water for creamier bases like coconut or condensed milk and thickeners like corn starch.
To make cocadas in the traditional fashion, the chef will dissolve sugar in just a little boiling water. One recipe calls for 1 lb. (about 450 g) of sugar for just 1 cup (about 235 ml) of water. Constantly stirring the mixture until thick, the syrup is then removed from the heat and about 1 lb. (about 450 g) of grated coconut is mixed through. This paste is then spread on an oiled or buttered surface like a baking sheet and then cooled at room temperature before cutting to serve.
Numerous variations of this simple dessert is available. One batch of cocadas might contain brown sugar instead of sugar, along with cloves and cinnamon. Another cook might have used condensed milk and corn starch instead of water as well as almond extract, vanilla extract and powdered sugar instead of just granulated sugar. One Mexican recipe beats egg yolks and butter into the water, in addition to the sugar and coconut. A dusting of cinnamon finishes off these latter cocadas as they cool.
Latin America is one of many regions around the world to embrace coconut as a dessert ingredient. In Thailand, for instance, the same type of flavor profile is achieved in a dessert known as ka nom ba bin. This is either a springy coconut gelatin or a baked coconut bar with a slightly more complex blend of ingredients, adding not just flour, coconut milk, coconut, sugar and egg but often other ingredients like cinnamon, chocolate chips, nuts and sunflower seeds.
In Colima, the region where cocadas were allegedly born, a handful of desserts are considered staples. Many of these are centered around native foods like coconut, tamarind, banana, pineapple, guava, mango, lime and coffee. One popular treat is called alfajores de piña, which is pineapple-stuffed cookies. Other staples include candied bananas and dulce de tamarindo, a toffee-like candy made primarily of tamarind paste, brown sugar and water.
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