Coconut Mousse with Rum-Soaked Cherries

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

“Coconut mousse is only one way of using coconut in a dessert form, and only one of the many recipes my mother made with it,” says Rita Springer. “It’s a very popular fruit.”

NotesDealing with a coconut in an American kitchen can be quite a frustrating experience—especially in an apartment kitchen, where most of the old-fashioned instructions just don’t work (“To crack the coconut, throw it repeatedly onto a hard surface, such as concrete“). Here is our method for establishing a better working relationship with your coconut:

When cracking the coconut, work over a medium bowl, so that when the coconut opens you can collect the coconut liquid (this clear liquid is not coconut milk). Cradle the coconut in the palm of one hand, and grasp a hammer with the other hand. Rotating the coconut in your hand as if it were a ball, knock firmly with the hammer around the coconut’s equator. (We learned this method from a Brazilian lady who tapped the coconut in a jaunty conga rhythm, rolling it in her hand like a star baseball player.) Eventually, depending on the age of the coconut and your aggressiveness with the hammer, the coconut will crack, and its liquid will be caught in the bowl.

An alternative method, one that skeptics or the weak-hearted may prefer, is to first pierce the soft “eyes” of the coconut with an ice pick or a hammer and nail. Then place the coconut on a baking sheet in a preheated 350° oven and bake it for 20 to 30 minutes, which shrinks the flesh slightly from the shell, making it easier to crack. Working over the bowl, hold the coconut in one hand and knock it a few times with the hammer to crack it. But learning to open the coconut dexterously, without the trip to the oven, saves you plenty of time.

To peel the coconut, pry the coconut flesh out of the shell with a small sharp knife. Using a vegetable peeler, peel the dark skin from the flesh. The peeling is an optional step, as the skin will not affect the flavor, but it is normally done for visual effect.

To shred or grate the coconut, the quickest, most efficient tool is a heavy-duty food processor fitted with the finest shredding blade available. If you are making desserts or candies, where a delicate, fluffy texture is desired, it’s best to finely shred the coconut on a hand grater’s small holes (but not the tiny ones for grating nutmeg and the like). Coarsely grated coconut will not hold together well, and its rough texture is unpleasant.

To make about 3 cups of fresh unsweetened coconut milk, break or chop the coconut flesh into 1-inch pieces. In batches in a blender or food processor (the blender works best), process the coconut pieces with the reserved clear coconut liquid and 3 cups boiling water until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl, and let it stand for 30 minutes. Then take a large piece of cheesecloth (about 16 inches square), rinse it, and squeeze it dry. Set a sieve over a medium bowl, and line it with the cheesecloth. Pour the coconut mixture into the lined sieve, gather up the ends of the cloth, and squeeze every last bit of the liquid into the bowl. This is the coconut milk.

Serves6 to 8


Total Timehalf-day

Make Ahead RecipeYes

OccasionBuffet, Casual Dinner Party, Family Get-together

Recipe Coursedessert

Dietary Considerationgluten-free, peanut free



Taste and Texturecreamy, nutty, rich, sweet, winey

Type of Dishdessert


  • 3 cups fresh coconut milk (from 1 coconut; see Notes)
  • 1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
  • ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons superfine sugar
  • ½ cup shredded fresh coconut (reserved after making coconut milk)
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract
  • 3 envelopes plain unflavored gelatin
  • ½ cup cold water
  • 2 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1½ pounds fresh cherries, pitted and coarsely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons dark rum or kirsch


  1. In a large bowl, combine the coconut milk, evaporated milk, 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of the sugar, shredded coconut, and almond extract. Mix thoroughly.

  2. Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water in a small bowl, and let it stand for 5 minutes. Then place the bowl in a small saucepan of simmering water. Stir the gelatin mixture often until the gelatin has dissolved, about 3 minutes. Stir about 1 cup of the coconut mixture into the gelatin. Then whisk the gelatin mixture into the remaining coconut mixture.

  3. Place the bowl of coconut mixture in a larger bowl filled with iced water. Let it stand, stirring often, until partially set, about 5 minutes. Remove the bowl from the iced water.

  4. In a small grease-free bowl, using a hand-held electric mixer set at low speed, beat the egg whites until foamy. Increase the speed to high, and beat just until soft peaks form. Fold the whites into the coconut mixture.

  5. Lightly oil a 1-quart fluted mold. Pour in the coconut mousse, smoothing the top with a rubber spatula, and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.

  6. In a medium bowl, combine the chopped cherries, remaining ¼ cup sugar, and rum. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

  7. To unmold the mousse, wet a clean kitchen towel with hot water and wring it out. Invert the mold onto a serving platter, and wrap the hot moist towel around the mold; let it stand for 30 seconds, and remove the towel. Hold the mold and the platter together, and shake firmly once or twice to unmold the mousse onto the platter. Remove the mold.

  8. Cut the mousse into wedges, and transfer them to dessert plates. Spoon marinated cherries and their juice over each serving.


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