Test Kitchen intern Rachael Daylong and Chief Food Stylist Kellie Kelley had cart full of coconuts to crack today for our July beauty shoot. Opening a coconut can be an intimidating experience, to say the least. But it can be done - and without wielding a machete! Here, tips from Rachael on cracking a coconut while keeping your hands, fingers, and sanity intact.

I have vivid memories of seeing coconuts across the grocery store and unrelentingly begging my mother to buy some for us to break open at home. These exotic fruits reminded me of a jack-in-the-box, with only a few strikes to release the surprise inside. However, each and every time, it seemed that my juvenile brain could not remember the hassle and sorrow that ensued while trying to break open the hard shell. It almost always resulted in losing all the sweet coconut water and mangling the soft pulp inside.

Today Chief Food Stylist Kellie Kelley and I broke open about 15 coconuts for a photo shoot for the coconut beauty products coming out in the July 2012 issue. (And as I write this, the day and shoot are far from over! Even more coconuts may be needed to get the perfect shot.) I am sure by the end of today I will be a coconut breaking expert, and by the end of this blog you will be, too!

1. Find the Soft Spot: To do this, simply poke an ice pick into each of the three holes in the coconut. There is always one soft one. Press the ice pick into it and widen the hole as much as possible. I used an oyster knife to widen the hole, but you could also use the back of a sturdy spoon.

2. Drain the Milk: Next, you will need a pressure release. Press the ice pick into another one of the holes, and bang it into the coconut using a hammer. Remove the ice pick, and place the coconut over a small bowl or cup to drain. You may have to shake it if it stops dripping to get it going again.

3. Crack a Nut: This is the fun part because you will get to release all of your pent up frustrations from the week! Place a towel onto a hard surface (your countertop) and place another towel on top of the coconut. Use a sturdy meat mallet or a plain ol' hammer to smash the coconut along its center, following the center horizontally. (If your coconut has a line around it, follow this, and it will be much easier to crack.) Just bang away until your arm is tired and you hear the hollow ‘crack!’ that assures you of success!

4. Scoop and Rejoice: Remove the pulp using a sturdy spoon, and enjoy your new found glory!

Check out our recipe for Fresh Coconut Cake.