Thursday, January 20, 2011

Coconut macadamia nut cookies

It's a funny thing -- social etiquette, that is.  Since I was a kid, I've kept a mental list of topics not to discuss at dinners, parties, and work events.  At first, it's things like, "It's not nice to ask why [random male family friend] doesn't have much hair left on his head."  Sure, that's a simple request for an ignorant child and most will heed the instruction without much protest.  Instead, I stuck to asking my dad such questions, to which he'd frequently answer, "Because of you and your sister."  Sweet guy, no? :)

As you get older, you learn there are many more sensitive topics that aren't considered polite social conversation and will even stir up some unwanted conflict, even among the closest of friends: politics, religion, and money are the big three that come to mind.  But as I've recently discovered, there might be a new one to add to that list -- food!

Yes, laugh a little, but it's true!  People are crazy passionate about their food loves and hates.  And I'm not just talking terms like organic, vegan, free range, etc.  I'm talking about specific foods.  I'll go first and give you some examples.  While it's painfully obvious that I love food, there are some that I absolutely cannot stand and wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole.  For me, it's peaches (ew, that way-too-ripe-fruit smell), black olives, cucumbers, and super soft overcooked asparagus... makes me shiver just thinking about it!

So, as a food lover who is still human, I acknowledge and try to be sensitive to the food dislikes of family and friends.  I also occasionally make dishes that feature the item anyway and let them try said food before telling them what's in it.  Bwahahahaha!  Woops.  Perfect example -- my all-time favorite oatmeal raisin cookies.  The secret ingredient?  Shredded coconut!  And I think just about every guy who has ever tried and loved them has said he hates coconut.  "There is coconut in the cookies."  "Oh, uh, I can't taste it."  "Ha!  See?  You do like it.  I knew it!"  Gosh, I can be obnoxious.

This is another example of how coconut, even to your neighborhood coconut hater, will blow taste buds away.  There's no need to be scared of coconut!  Especially when it's paired with the tropical macadamia nut.  The love affair between coconut and macadamia nuts is well-documented, but it always seems to come with the addition of white chocolate.  Don't get me wrong -- I love white chocolate, but it's so sweet that it tends to overpower more subtle flavors and turn the cookie into just another (white) chocolate chip number.

Anyway, I digress.  This cookie bakes up to a delicate and crisp round with golden edges.  The coconut and the toasted macadamia nuts make for such a sweet treat that's light as air.  I mean, good luck having just one. Not only are they buttery and slightly snappy, but they are also worthy of a much better camera than I currently have.  The barely toasted coconut and ever-so-carefully-placed macadamia nut give the casual observer a preview of what's inside... oh give me more!  (This is the problem with baking, eating, and delaying a few days before writing.  I have to relive the glorious experience with food long after it's gone from my possession.  Sad face.)

So, let yourself live a little and make this coconut cookie this weekend, when you're looking for something a little more luxurious than chips and dip during the game.  And, being a slice cookie, you can make the dough ahead and bake just before serving.  Easy!  I don't know anyone who turned this cookie aside, coconut haters included.  I sent cookies to my parents and my skeptical dad almost tried to convince my mom they were terrible so he could have them all to himself.  Tragic!  These are meant to share, because, hey, if coconut can change one person, it might just have the ability to change the world.  :)

One Year Ago: Chewy chocolate chip cookies

Coconut and Macadamia Nut Cookies
(adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook)
-makes roughly 36

A few notes: Don't worry if the dough is sticky... really sticky.  Just wrap it up and chill as directed, and you'll have no problem slicing the firm dough log later.  

1/2 cup + 2 Tablespoons salted macadamia nuts
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup shredded coconut, plus more for sprinkling

In a dry skillet over low heat, toast the macadamia nuts until fragrant and just beginning to turn golden, about 4 to 5 minutes, tossing frequently.  Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.  Reserve 40 "pretty" halves or pieces of the nuts for topping cookies.  Finely chop the rest.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.  Reserve 40 

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter, shortening, and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.  Add two eggs and vanilla, beating on low until thoroughly combined.  With beater on low, carefully add flour mixture and beat until no white streaks remain.  Stir in ground nuts and coconut until just mixed.

On a large piece of parchment, turn out the dough and shape into a 12-inch long log, about 2 1/2 inches in diameter.  Pinch and twist ends shut, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill in freezer for two hours or up to overnight.

Preheat oven to 350, with racks in upper and lower thirds.  Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.  Remove log from freezer.  Using a sharp (serrated is even better) knife, cut into 1/3-inch-thick slices.  Place slices about 1 1/2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets.

In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining egg with 1 Tablespoon water.  Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the top of each cookie with egg wash.  Sprinkle with coconut and press a macadamia nut piece into the center.

Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until the edges are golden and the coconut on top is lightly toasted, 14 to 16 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Cookies can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 7 days.

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