According to Baker Bettie, toasting your coconut — whether you’re using desiccated coconut, like Hussain does, or whether you’ve gone for larger flakes — brings out some of the nutty flavors in the ingredient. It’s the same reason you should always toast any nuts you use in a recipe, to really enhance the flavor and level up your dish (via Smitten Kitchen).
Toasting also changes the texture, making it a more pleasant addition to a variety of dishes. Baker Bettie suggests that toasted coconut could be used simply to top dishes such as cupcakes, or could be spread within cake layers for a bit of extra flavor. Hussain’s recipe uses coconut in multiple ways, both baked in with the batter as well as sprinkled over top for decoration.
If you’re committed to following Hussain’s recommendation and are set on always toasting your coconut before use, there are a few different ways to achieve that perfectly toasted finish. One of the most common is to simply heat them in a pan on the stovetop, keeping an eye on them until they turn a golden brown (via My Baking Addiction). However, it’s also possible to coax out that flavor by microwaving the desiccated coconut in 30 second increments, or by baking them for a short period of time in an oven that’s set at 325 degrees Fahrenheit (via My Baking Addiction).