So, as I mentioned in my post about our trip to St. John, we really enjoyed the painkillers that we drank on vacation, and I was determined to try to recreate them at home. Painkillers are a relatively simple combination of pineapple juice, orange juice, rum, and cream of coconut, topped with a sprinkle of fresh nutmeg. Cream of coconut, usually sold under the brand name Coco Lopez, is a sweetened coconut product that provides the coconut flavor in pina coladas and other tropical drinks.
I had no trouble finding canned pineapple juice and Valencia oranges for juicing, and we brought back a bottle of Cruzan rum from the duty free store at the St. Thomas airport for the express purpose of making painkillers at home. But I was unable to find Coco Lopez (or an equivalent product) at our poorly stocked local Safeway, and I just did not have the energy to hit another store in search of cream of coconut. So I bought a can of coconut milk and decided to try to make my own.
Shockingly, there was very little information online about how to make your own cream of coconut. The one tutorial I was able to find involved grating fresh coconut and was totally unrealistic. Based on the discussion on that website, however, I decided to try just sweetening the rich layer that rises to the top of a can of coconut milk. I let my can sit on the table for a couple of hours before opening it to encourage separation. When I opened the can (use regular, not light coconut milk), the top third of the can was a thick layer of white coconut "cream," while the bottom of the can was a watery liquid. If I'm cooking with coconut milk I'll usually shake the can before opening or will stir it up to mix, but this time I carefully spooned off the thick layer at the top. I then mixed it with light corn syrup until it tasted pretty sweet--the nice thing about making your own is that you can adjust the sweetness to suit your preferences. I just used corn syrup because I had some handy; simple syrup or another liquid sweetener would work too. I then mixed the corn syrup and coconut cream together pretty vigorously, and added my "cream of coconut" to the other ingredients.
The results were quite good. The flavor was great--a little less sweet than the original, but that's easily fixed depending on your personal taste. The only real issue with using this homemade "cream of coconut" is the texture--it lacks the emulsifiers that commercial cream of coconut has, so getting it perfectly smooth can be a challenge. The first batch of drinks that I made I shook the cream of coconut, juices, and rum in a cocktail shaker to combine everything. This worked pretty well, but there were still a few bits of coconut cream floating about. The second time I used an immersion blender, and this resulted in a more uniform liquid.
While the painkillers we made at home were not quite as transcendent as the ones we enjoyed on St. John, I think that's attributable to the lack of ocean breezes and tropical temperatures rather than the lack of Coco Lopez. I'm planning to use my homemade substitute for all my cream of coconut needs. Also, unlike Coco Lopez, this stuff tastes delicious on its own, and I feel like it could have lots of interesting dessert applications. If you are a fan of tropical drinks or coconut generally, it's worth giving this a try!