Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Take 2: Coconut Key Lime Cookies

I love the smell of suntan lotion. It smells like summer. It smells like coconut. It smells like heaven. 

After baking my last batch of Key Lime Coconut Cookies, I happened to see a jar of coconut oil at Fairway and remembered reading an article about it in The New York Times hailing it as a great baking alternative to butter or Crisco. I thought it would make a great addition to my cookies.

When I got home, I opened the jar and was entranced by the smell. It smelled like fresh coconut. It smelled like summer. It smelled like suntan lotion (the good stuff).
Clearly, a new batch of cookies was in order. The recipe was the same, except I substituted the 3/4 cup of melted butter for 3/4 cup on melted coconut oil. I melted the oil over low heat in a sauce pan and was amazed that it turned completely clear (sorry, the pictures didn't come out).

While at Fairway, I also picked up a bag of fresh Key Limes and squeezed them to use the juice instead of the bottled kind. I was a bit disappointed to see that the Key Limes came from Mexico and not the Florida Keys.
It took about four whole limes to generate the two tablespoons of juice needed for the recipe. 

The rest of the recipe was the same (which I repost below). These cookies had a more pronounced coconut flavor, but were still just as chewy. They smell divine, as good as suntan lotion.

Coconut Key Lime Cookies

Preheat your over to 325 degrees now


  • 3/4 cup coconut oil (melted)
    2 cups bread flour
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    1/2 cup granulated sugar
    1 cup packed light brown sugar
    1 large egg (make sure it's large, not extra large or jumbo!)
    1 large egg yolk
    2 tablespoons key lime juice (bottled or fresh)
    1 tablespoon vanilla extract (use good quality, pure extract)
    1 bag white chocolate chips or chunks
    1 1/2 cups of shredded, sweetened coconut (I may have added a bit more)

  • Directions:
  1. Sift together the flour and baking soda into a bowl and set aside.
  2. Pour the butter into your stand mixer's work bowl. Add the sugar and brown sugar and beat with the paddle attachment on medium speed until well-mixed.
  3. Whisk together the whole egg, the egg yolk, lime juice, and vanilla extract in a measuring cup or separate bowl. Never crack eggs over your dough/batter in case a loose shell gets in the mix!
  4. On a low mixer speed, slowly add the egg mixture. Mix until thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds.
  5. Gradually pour in the dry ingredients, stopping a couple of times to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  6. Once the flour is worked in, drop the speed to "stir" and add the coconut and white chocolate chips.
  7. If you want larger cookies (like mine in the photo), scoop the dough using a 1/4 measuring cup. For smaller cookies, use a cookie scoop (a good rounded tablespoon).
  8. Make sure your cookie sheets are either lined with a Silpat or parchment paper. You should be able to fit about 6 cookies per sheet.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Whoopie! Chocolate Whoopie Pies

The Sur La Table store that opened in December at Columbus Circle has put a slight dent in my wallet. Instead of trekking down to NY Cake, this awesome cooking and baking superstore is within walking distance of my apartment. When I stopped in awhile ago while killing time after work, I noticed a clearance display and wandered over for a look. One can never have too many kitchen gadgets! And sitting on the display was a shiny new Wilton Whoopie Pie pan for under $5. A steal. I'd seen the pans before, but had no desire to spend $12 on one. The new pan made it back to my apartment, where, of course, I now had to bake Whoopie Pies!


Growing up in the Midwest, I experienced this comfort treat. Traditionally, Whoopie Pies are a staple in Amish areas and contain two mini cakes sandwiched together with a marshmallow frosting/filling.


The recipe I followed is from the book, Whoopie Pies. While there are many cake and filling variations, I decided to stick with the classic chocolate with marshmallow filling. 
The cake is really simple to make. I mixed all the ingredients in my Kitchen Aid and then scooped the batter into the pan. 
I realized after I scooped the batter into the pan that I forgot to grease the pan. Even though I knew the pan was non-stick, I still worried the little cakes would stick. Not to worry though, as they popped out with ease. If you don't have a Whoopie Pie pan (which honestly is probably only good for making Whoopie Pies... or maybe some other soft cookie), just drop the batter on a Silpat and bake. Ones the cakes have baked, it's time to make the filling.
Whip up the filling ingredients and then make sure your cakes are completely cooled before filling and sandwiching. 
For a truly classic look, just take a butter knife and spoon some filling on the bottom (flat side) of a cake. I decided to be a bit fancy and used a piping bag and tip.
Top the sandwich with a second cake and you're good to go!
The recipe yielded about 20 Whoopie Pies. I did try to make some of the cakes on a cookie sheet instead of the pan, and noticed that they came out a bit flatter (which I think is more authentic). Be generous with the filling, as the cakes themselves are a little dry.


Enjoy!

Chocolate Whoopie Pies with Marshmallow Filling

Adapted from Whoopie Pies by Sarah Billingsley and Amy Treadwell


1 ⅔ cups all-purpose flour
⅔ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1½ teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 tablespoons vegetable shortening
1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup milk
Classic Marshmallow Filling
1 1/2 cups Marshmallow Fluff 
1 1/4 cups vegetable shortening
1 cup confectioners sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375°. Line two baking sheets with Silpats or parchment paper.
Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt onto a sheet of wax paper. In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter, shortening and brown sugar on low speed until just combined. Increase the speed to medium and beat until fluffy and smooth, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla and beat for another 2 minutes.
Add half of the flour mixture and half of the milk to the batter and beat on low until just incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the remaining flour mixture and the remaining ½ cup milk and beat until completely combined.
Using a spoon, drop about 1-1 1/2 tablespoons of batter onto one of the prepared baking sheets; repeat, spacing the rounds at least 2 inches apart. Bake one sheet at a time for about 10 minutes each, or until the rounds spring back when pressed gently. Remove from the oven and let the cakes cool in the pan for 5 minutes before transferring them to a rack to cool completely.
Meanwhile, make the filling: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the Marshmallow Fluff and the vegetable shortening, staring on low and increasing to medium speed until the mixture is smooth and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce mixer speed to low, add the confectioners’ sugar and the vanilla, and beat until incorporated. Increase mixer speed to medium and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes more.
Using a knife , spread the filling onto the flat side of a cooled cake. Top with another cake, flat side down. Repeat with the remaining cakes.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Greek Easter Bread (Tsoureki)


My husband is of Greek descent, which I'm learning has numerous wonderful traditions. After our wedding in the beautiful Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in 2008, I've embraced the culture and traditions. One tradition at Easter is to share a delicious, sweet bread called Tsoureki. The past few years, his family purchased the bread from various Greek bakeries in the area. This year, I decided to take up the challenge of making this significant (and hard to stop eating) bread.

I consulted with my mother-in-law, who said I needed to make sure to use ground mahlepi and mastic gum to give it its distinct taste. These ingredients are not readily available at your average grocery store, so my husband and I headed to  Titan Foods in Astoria. My husband lived the first three months of his life in Astoria, so we also checked out his old neighborhood while having lunch at Bahari, which had a great Spanakopita.
Since it was a few days before Greek Easter, the store was packed, with a line of cars vying to get into the parking lot. After asking a clerk where to find my ingredients, I wandered around the store taking inventory of the shelves, trying to see if I could put my Greek alphabet skills from my sorority days to use. No such luck.
I managed to find the baking aisle, but couldn't make out which type of flour was which. Since this was my first time baking Tsoureki, I didn't want to take any risks. Maybe next time.
The two ingredients in the bread that give it its distinct taste are mastic powder and mahlepi. Mastic is the sap of the mastic tree, which grows in Greece. When the sap is dried it forms into a resin, which then is ground as used as a spice. It is quite pricey -- the container above cost about $13. Mahlepi, the item in the container to the right, is the seed kernel found in the stone of the St. Lucie cherry, which is then ground into a powder and used as a spice. The taste is similar to that of ground almonds. My mother-in-law said she used to ground the mahlepi using a mortar and pistol, but Titan Foods sold it pre-ground, saving me that step.
I searched for recipes online and selected the one that had both a good picture and easy-to-follow directions. Here is the link to the recipe I followed (the actual recipe will be included at the end of this post). Making the bread was not difficult, but it certainly was time consuming. From start to finish, it probably took at least four hours, including time for the dough to rise.

The first step is to activate the yeast in some warm milk. While that is happening (which usually takes about 10 minutes), I sifted together the flour, salt, mastic, and mahlepi. I decided to use bread flour, even though the recipe calls for all-purpose. It made the bread less dry with the added gluten. 
In a separate bowl, you then combine the melted butter, eggs, and orange zest. Once that is combined, you'll add in the yeast mixture.
The flour mixture is then added to the egg mixture and combined until a dough forms. I didn't use my Kitchen Aid, as it just seemed easier to mix by hand. Once the dough is formed, you'll kneed it for a few minutes on the counter.
After kneeding the dough, butter a cookie sheet (or a large glass bowl) and one side of a piece of plastic wrap. Set the dough on the sheet/in the bowl and cover with the plastic wrap, butter side down. The dough should rise for about two hours.
Divide the dough into three equal parts, to represent the Holy Trinity.
Using your hands, role each ball of dough into a rope. For one large loaf, role each rope to about 17 inches in length. If you're making the loaves smaller, you would have divided the  dough into six small balls and rolled each one to about 12 inches. Each rope should be about 1 1/2 inches thick.

The traditional bread usually has a red hardboiled egg added to the bread, which symbolizes the blood of Christ. The egg is not eaten and is only for decoration. I omitted the egg in my bread though.

Braid the ropes together on a cookie sheet, pinching the ends a bit to secure them. Use the same buttered plastic wrap and cover again, letting the dough rise for another hour.
Once the dough has risen, brush the top with an egg wash mixture and sprinkle slivered almonds on top (lightly pushing them into the dough).

The bread is then baked at 350 for about 30 minutes. The smell while the bread is baking will leave you intoxicated. The whole apartment smelled so good!
I made two batches of bread, one large loaf to take to my husband's family, and one batch of two smaller loaves, which I froze to eat later. I think the bread is amazing on its own, but my husband likes to put a bit of butter on it for a richer taste. The taste and texture of the bread reminds me of Challah bread, but with a tad sweeter taste from the mahlepi.
For the record, we bought a few loaves of the bread packaged at Titan Foods just in case my baking experiment didn't turn out as planned. After trying my bread and the one from Titan, my husband's family agreed mine was the better of the two. High praise coming from them! 

Here is the recipe I used, adapted from Chow.com:

Tsoureki (Greek Easter Bread)

  • 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon whole milk
  • 1 (1/4-ounce) packet active dry yeast (2 1/2 teaspoons)
  • 4 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground mahlepi
  • 1/4 teaspoon pounded mastic gum
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest (from about 1 orange)
  • red-dyed hard-boiled egg (optional)
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds


  1. In a small saucepan, heat 3/4 cup of the milk until warm to the touch but not hot. Transfer the warm milk to a large bowl and sprinkle the yeast on top. Set aside for about 10-15 minutes to activate the yeast.
  1. Sift the flour, sugar, salt, mahlepi, and mastic together into a large bowl; set aside.
  1. In a small saucepan, melt 7 tablespoons of the butter. Let the butter cool, then transfer to a medium bowl. Add the eggs and orange zest and beat together. Stir the egg mixture into the yeast mixture until combined.
  1. Using a spoon, stir the flour mixture into the yeast-egg mixture until combined. Turn the dough onto a floured work surface and knead until smooth, flouring your hands and the surface as needed, about 5-10 minutes.
  1. Coat a baking sheet and an 18-inch piece of plastic wrap with the remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Set the dough on the baking sheet (or in a buttered class bowl) and cover it with the plastic wrap, butter side down. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 2 hours.
  1. Remove the plastic wrap and set it aside. Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces (about 12 ounces each). Roll the pieces into 1-1/4-by-16-1/2-inch ropes. Pinch all 3 pieces together on one end to secure, then braid the ropes, entwining the red hard-boiled egg (if using) into the bread. Pinch the other end of the ropes together to secure the braid. Set the braided dough on the prepared baking sheet, cover with the buttered plastic wrap (butter side down), and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle.
  1. In a small bowl, beat together the egg yolk and remaining 1 tablespoon milk. With a pastry brush, evenly brush the egg mixture over the risen dough, then sprinkle the almonds over top, pressing the nuts gently into the dough. Bake until the bread is browned and the internal temperature reaches 190°F on an instant-read thermometer, about 30 minutes. Let cool before serving. (Don't remove from the cookie sheet until cooled, or the bread may break!)

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Key West Dreamin': Key Lime Coconut Cookies



I'm back! March was a brutal month, with way too much going on at school. I was just way too tired to bake or blog. But now, all that's over with and spring is here! I'm especially excited because spring break begins in four days.... can't wait!

The weather here in NYC has been warm this past month. I swear we hit 80 a few days. The warm weather gets me thinking of summer and a glorious two whole months off of school. For the past few years, my husband and I have driven down south to visit my family, making stops in Pinehurst, NC to visit my grandparents and in Miami to visit my brother. It's so much fun taking in the sites and exploring along the route. A few times, we've made the trip down to the Southernmost Point in the USA, Key West, FL. The island holds a special place in my heart... beautiful sunsets, mojitos, Key lime pie, warm weather, and the most relaxed atmosphere I've ever encountered.
So while I was dreaming of the summer and Key West, I thought I'd try and bake a cookie to capture the essence of this dream-like place. I decided to go with a Key lime, coconut and white chocolate chip combination.
I used my basic chocolate chip cookie dough recipe, but tweaked it a bit for some Key West flavor.

Key Lime Coconut Cookies

Preheat your over to 325 degrees now

  • 3/4 cup salted butter (melted)
    2 cups bread flour
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    1/2 cup granulated sugar
    1 cup packed light brown sugar
    1 large egg (make sure it's large, not extra large or jumbo!)
    1 large egg yolk
    2 tablespoons key lime juice (it's better than regular lime juice)
    1 tablespoon vanilla extract (use good quality, pure extract)
    1 bag white chocolate chips or chunks
    1 1/2 cups of shredded, sweetened coconut (I may have added a bit more)

  • Directions:
  1. Sift together the flour and baking soda into a bowl and set aside.
  2. Pour the butter into your stand mixer's work bowl. Add the sugar and brown sugar and beat with the paddle attachment on medium speed until well-mixed.
  3. Whisk together the whole egg, the egg yolk, lime juice, and vanilla extract in a measuring cup or separate bowl. Never crack eggs over your dough/batter in case a loose shell gets in the mix!
  4. On a low mixer speed, slowly add the egg mixture. Mix until thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds.
  5. Gradually pour in the dry ingredients, stopping a couple of times to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  6. Once the flour is worked in, drop the speed to "stir" and add the coconut and white chocolate chips.
If you want larger cookies (like mine in the photo), scoop the dough using a 1/4 measuring cup. For smaller cookies, use a cookie scoop (a good rounded tablespoon). Make sure your cookie sheets are either lined with a Silpat or parchment paper. You should be able to fit about 6 cookies per sheet.

Bake the cookies for 15-17 minutes. Check them at 15 minutes, but they most likely will need a few more minutes.
Hope you enjoy! Only about three more months until we'll be enjoying the Conch Republic!