Cookie club for coconut lovers

Cynthia
Cynthia Stone
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If you belong to a cookie exchange, you'll be meeting soon because it's time to plan the big bake. One of my all-time favorite ingredients for holiday sweets is coconut, and I've pulled together a few go-to ideas that you might want to consider.

Before we start, I feel compelled to talk about the million varieties of coconut available now. When I started baking, there was only fine shredded unsweetened, at least that I can remember. Now you can buy every grind, sweetened and unsweetened, flaked and shredded. Most recipes specify what will work and you should pay heed. If you don't, the mixture may be too coarse and fall apart, too dry, too sweet or not sweet enough.

Coconut graham wafer squares

This is the recipe for first-time swappers. It is easy and forgiving, but if you use the best quality ingredients, the resulting squares are rich and satisfying. I know this because I have been making them for 30 years. In the days when my mom froze trays of mixed cookies for the holidays, this square was on every plate. It freezes well but is always better when fresh.

In the base, salted butter or margarine works, but is not quite as fabulous. In the middle, use only the best vanilla - you know the one, it makes you wince in the checkout. For the icing, again, good butter is key, and it must be soft but not oily to give the best result. One last thing: I have made these with vanilla icing and they are equally delicious, and quite attractive on a mixed cookie plate; they just aren't quite what I remember of holidays past. If you would like to give it a try, omit the chocolate, increase the vanilla to 2 tsp., and reduce the whipping cream by a little to get a perfect spreading consistency.

Base

1-7/8 cups graham wafer crumbs (that's 2 cups less 2 tbsp.)

1/2 cup melted unsalted butter

1/4 tsp. salt (omit if using salted butter)

Middle:

1 can sweetened condensed milk

2 tsp. vanilla

1-1/2 cups fine unsweetened shredded coconut

Milk Chocolate Icing:

1/2 cup soft unsalted butter

2-1/2 cups icing sugar, sifted together with 1/4 tsp. salt (omit salt if using salted butter)

1/3 cup whipping cream

1 oz. best quality unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled

1 tsp. vanilla

Combine thoroughly graham wafer crumbs and melted butter. Press into a greased 9-inch square baking pan. Bake at 350 F for 8 minutes. Combine sweetened condensed milk, vanilla and coconut and spread evenly over baked crust. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned. Cool completely on a rack. For the icing, beat butter until light and fluffy. Add half the icing sugar and salt mixture and beat until thoroughly combined. Beat in the whipping cream, then the remainder of the icing sugar. Stir in vanilla. Spread on cooled base and, using a sharp knife dipped in hot water and dried off between after each use, cut into 36 squares.

Simply delicious coconut rounds

The ingredients for these are probably already in your cupboard. You will wonder if the recipe is right when you stir in the flour, because the dough will seem heavy and dry, but all is well. The brown sugar makes these spread out a little more; use all white if you want mounded, lighter-coloured cookies. Aim for about 18 medium-large cookies - a small ice cream scoop makes for uniform results. Once again, the quality of the ingredients makes all the difference.

1/2 cup soft unsalted butter (no other)

1/2 cup white sugar

1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1 egg

2 tsp. vanilla

1/2 tsp. coconut extract

1-1/4 cups flour

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1-1/3 cups unsweetened medium-grind shredded coconut

2 oz. each good quality semi-sweet dark and white chocolate, chopped (optional but delicious)

Cream butter and sugars until fluffy. Beat in egg, vanilla and coconut extract. Whisk together flour, soda and salt and beat into creamed mixture. Stir in coconut. Using a small ice cream scoop or tablespoon, place in mounds 2 inches apart on 2 parchment paper lined baking sheets.

Bake at 350 F for 10 minutes or until light golden brown - cookies will be very soft, so don't be tempted to leave them in the oven until they are firm; that will happen as they cool.

Allow to sit on the baking sheet for five minutes then transfer to a rack to cool. Melt dark and white chocolate separately in the microwave on high for about 30 seconds. Remove and stir; return to microwave for a few seconds if not smooth. Either dip the edge of each cookie into either the light or dark chocolate, or drizzle one - or both - on top with a fork. Allow to set before serving.

Chewy coconut chocolate chip

cherry pecan bars

Doesn't the name say it all? These can be baked as drop cookies, if you prefer, but the cut squares are a little fancier.

2/3 cup soft unsalted butter (no other)

2 cups firmly packed brown sugar

3 eggs

2 tsp. vanilla

2 tsp. maraschino cherry juice

2 cups flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1-1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

1 cup unsweetened medium-grind shredded coconut

3/4 cup finely chopped pecans

1/2 cup finely chopped well-drained maraschino cherries

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Stir in vanilla and cherry juice. Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Beat into creamed mixture. Stir in chocolate chips, coconut, pecans and cherries and spread in a well-greased 9 by 13-inch baking dish. Bake at 350 F for 25 minutes, or until the top is golden brown - the centre should be soft. Cool completely in pan before cutting into 36 bars.

Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John's. Questions may be sent to her c-o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John's, NL, A1E 4N1.

Organizations: The Telegram

Geographic location: St. John's

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