Saturday, March 29, 2008

Homemade Girl Scout Cookies

About a month ago, I found a great recipe for homemade Samoas (aka Caramel De-Lites, the best Girl Scout cookie ever) on Baking Bites. I filed it away as one to make eventually, then promptly forgot about it and went up to the Bay Area to visit my family. On that visit, my mom presented me with a box of these cookies to bring back to Jason, because they are his favorite. Never one to avoid jumping to conclusions, I decided that fate wanted me to make these cookies. To add to the serendipity, I made caramels this week for the candy website, and had about two pounds of amazingly soft, creamy caramels left over. Usually we give the extra candy away (or throw it out) but fortunately, I had the perfect use for the extra caramels this time.

So how did they turn out? They're fantastic! A rich, crisp butter cookie topped with chewy caramel and toasted coconut, dunked in chocolate and drizzled with more semi-sweet chocolate. But can they match up to the original? I'll let this picture do the talking...original Girl Scout cookie on the right, *cough*muchimproved*cough* homemade version on the left.

Here is the recipe I used, adapted from Nic at Baking Bites. I would say my biggest suggestion would be to NOT put holes in the cookies. Yes, it makes them look like the originals, but it's a big pain to cut the holes and then spread the coconut-caramel frosting over the top and maintain the hole. Unless you're wedded to the idea of making identical cookies, save your time and sanity and just make plain circles. Also, as you can see, my cookie is quite a bit larger. My cutter was a bit too large and the dough spread more than I thought it would, so I have jumbo Girl Scout cookies. That's not a bad thing, but they are pretty substantial, so I'll try and make them smaller next time. I also tweaked the original recipe a bit, so this recipe reflects my changes.

2 sticks room temperature butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
up to 2 tbsp milk (I used 1 tbsp)

Preheat oven to 350F. In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar. When light and fluffy, add the salt and vanilla extract. Turn off the mixer and add the flour and baking powder, then turn it on to low speed and mix until the flour is incorporated. Add 1 tbsp of milk and mix. If the dough is still too dry, add an additional spoonful of milk. It should come together but not be sticky.

Roll the dough (working in two or three batches) out between pieces of wax paper to about 1/4-inch thickness (or slightly less) and use a 1 1/2-inch cookie cutter to make rounds. (My cutter was about 2 inches and the cookies turned out quite large). If you like, use a smaller cutter or a knife to cut out a center hole--I recommend omitting this step for convenience. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough.

Bake cookies for 10-12 minutes, until bottoms are lightly browned and cookies are set. Cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

3 cups coconut, toasted golden brown*
1 pound soft caramels, homemade or store-bought (like Werther's chewy caramels)
1/4 tsp salt
3-4 tbsp milk or cream
12 oz. semisweet chocolate chips

*To toast coconut, place it in an even layer on a cookie sheet and bake it for about 20 minutes, stirring every 4-5 minutes until it achieves a beautiful dark golden brown color. Allow it to cool before you use it.

Unwrap the caramels and place in a large microwave-safe bowl with milk or cream and salt. Cook on high for 2-3 minutes, stopping to stir a few times to help the caramel melt. If it is still very stiff, add another spoonful or two of milk or cream. When smooth, fold in toasted coconut with a spatula.

Place a heaping spoonful of the caramel mixture on top of each cookie. Spray your hands with cooking spray and mold it into a flat, even layer that covers the whole top of the cookie. Repeat with remaining cookies and caramel.

Microwave the chips in a bowl until melted, stirring every 45 seconds to prevent overheating. If the chocolate is quite stiff once melted, add a spoonful or two of vegetable oil or shortening to thin it out and make it easy to dip the cookies. Dip the base of each cookie in the chocolate, covering the base completely, and place on a baking sheet covered with waxed paper. Repeat with remaining cookies. Place the extra chocolate in a Ziploc bag and snip off a tiny bit of one corner. Squeeze the chocolate out through the hole, drizzling stripes over the cookies. Refrigerate the cookies until the chocolate is set, about 30 minutes.
I got about 3 dozen cookies out of this recipe.

We give it two chocolate-covered thumbs up!


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Pudding with your cake?

I was creating a tutorial on using chocolate transfer sheets for the website yesterday, so I made a little cake to demonstrate on. Since it was only for show I didn't want to spend much time making it, so I used a cake mix and a new easy frosting recipe.

(Side note: not to be a snob, but this cake mix was so gross. I don't know if it was old or if it's just been a really long time since I had a cake mix, but this one was terrible. It didn't even taste like chocolate, just chemicals. That was actually a blessing, since I didn't want to eat any of the cake!)

Ahem. This post is actually about the frosting recipe, which was weird and kind of terrible but also so easy I thought I should share. I got it from a cake decorator I know from a livejournal baking group. She went on and on about how great it is, how it stands up in any heat, smooths out perfectly, pipes well, etc. So of course I had to try it, right? Here's the half batch recipe I used:

1 regular-sized tub of Cool-Whip (any variety, not generic)
1 3.5-oz instant pudding mix (any flavor)
1/2 cup ice cold water

Mix the Cool-Whip and instant pudding in the bowl of a stand mixer. (I used the paddle attachment and it worked fine, I don't know if the whisk is better or not). Once combined, add half of the water and mix it, stopping often to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the other half of the water and continue to mix until it is glossy and fluffy.

Okay, so looking at the ingredients, I don't know exactly what I expected, but in retrospect, it's easy to predict what I got: frosting with the flavor and texture of fakey instant pudding. (Duh). Pros: super simple, comes together in about 2 minutes, absolutely no cooking skills required, stays set in the heat and firms up at room temperature, but never gets "hard." Cons: chock-full of chemicals and gross things like hydrogenated oils, waxy mouth-feel, very artificial taste. I might use this recipe again if I needed something for looks but not taste, but I wouldn't use it for any desserts I actually wanted to, you know, eat.

The bright side is that I didn't binge on chocolate cake, and all the baked goods turned out pretty adorable anyhow.


Monday, March 10, 2008

Hazelnut Gelato: The Cure for A Hot Day

Chewy chocolate cookies sandwich homemade hazelnut gelato, topped with chocolate-hazelnut sauce (like homemade Nutella). We had the Nutella left over from our annual Valentine's Day crepefest; it had been languishing in the refrigerator ever since. I used my own chocolate cookie recipe and this gelato recipe. The whole package tasted great, but I wasn't too impressed with the gelato by itself. Although I liked that it didn't call for two cups of whole cream the way most ice cream recipes do, the truth is that all of the fat in the cream produces a great texture that can't be equaled by less fatty half and half. It wasn't bad, and the hazelnut flavor was great, but the texture was a bit too thin for my taste.

We don't make ice cream too frequently around here, since there's just the two of us to eat it, but I've already picked the ice cream flavor to be made next time the urge strikes. David Lebovitz shared this recipe for Salted Butter Caramel ice cream that sounds amazing. We need to have a dinner party to give me an excuse to make it.