Monday, February 23, 2009

Coconut Thins

For reasons I cannot begin to explain, I have always been an early riser. I have several memories from when I was very young of being up at 6 am, before the good cartoons were on and long before my sister (with whom I shared a room) would be active. So I would sit on the floor, reading by the scant rays cast from the nightlight, until the rest of the world came to life. And to think, I was surprised when I found I needed to get glasses!

At the time, I felt there was no reason for me to have such a natural inclination to be awake when everyone else was still pulling the covers over their heads to keep the sunlight out. Perhaps waking early as an adult had its advantages, but as a kid, it seemed mostly to be a curse. That is, until the day I was vindicated by a cold, hard truth of baking: if you want to buy the freshest, most delicious goods, you need to be the first one through the bakery door. You don't have to have ever baked in your life to know the difference between a donut bought and eaten and 8 a.m. versus one attained in the afternoon -- or worse, one bought in the morning and sitting in the open air in the pink bakery box with the lid ajar.

And suddenly, life was clear. Lucky for me, my parents are both fairly early risers (and definite breakfast enthusiasts), and soon a world of donuts, bagels, and other baked morning delights revealed itself to me. I often think that there are few greater joys than being in charge of the tongs as you load piece upon piece of fresh, fragrant pan dulce onto the metal tray being held by an accommodating parent -- or, as you get older, significant other. Or anyone willing to put up with the task.

So perhaps being up with the sun wasn't so bad after all. Nowadays, I take advantage of the time even further, and set out a few sticks of butter to rest and begin to soften as I go about my breakfasting and other chores. By late morning, my ingredients are all ready for me to begin concocting baked goods of my own, and the coconut cookies highlighted below were the product of one such recent venture. They are light and buttery, with the coconut flavor as more of a hint to your tastebuds as opposed to a frank statement. If you're a coconut fan, I would recommend remedying this subtlety by adding 1 tsp of coconut extract, and/or toasting the coconut a bit before using it. All in all though, a delicious product of an "oh-dark-thirty" investment.

But if you yourself are not an early riser, don't despair. Waking up at obscene hours every day, or even every weekend day, may not be worth it for everyone. Just once in a while, when you're really seeking something special to make leaving your bed worth it, design upon your favorite breakfast bakery and set an alarm. Because I don't care what Benjamin Franklin says -- in my book, "Early to bed and early to rise... yields both tasty donuts and bags 'neath your eyes."

Coconut Thins
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated "Cookies" Magazine (called Coconut Sables there, but I didn't think the name quite fit for what the recipe produced)
Yields about 80 2-inch cookies

2 1/2 oz (2/3 cup) finely ground almonds
2 1/2 oz (1 cup) unsweetened shredded coconut (can be found at Whole Foods and other health stores)
10 oz. (2 1/4 cups) all-purpose flour
10 oz.
(20 TBS) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

5 oz. (1 1/3 cups) confectioners' sugar

1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp table salt
1 large egg, at room temperature


1. In a medium bowl, blend the almonds, coconut, and flour; set aside.

2. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl with a hand mixer), beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add the contectioners' sugar and salt; mix on medium-low speed until thoroughly combined, about 5 minutes, scraping down the bowl as needed.

3. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the egg and the vanilla; mix until incorporated.

4. Turn off the mixer and switch to using a wooden spoon to slowly add the flour mixture (in three parts) and mix until the dough just comes together.

5. Portion the dough into three equal pieces. Roll each piece between two sheets of wax paper to about 1/8 inch think. Transfer the dough, still between the parchment, to baking sheets and chill in the freezer for about 30 minutes.

6. Heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. When the dough is quite firm, peel off the top sheet of wax paper and cut out shapes with a cookie cutter. Lay the cookies 1/2 inch apart on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Reroll the scraps, chilling first if necessary.

7. Bake the cookies, one tray at a time on a rack in the center of the oven, until light and golden around the edges (8-10 minutes), rotating the sheet halfway through. Let stand on the baking sheet until cool enough to handle (about 10 minutes) and then transfer the cookies to a rack to finish cooling.

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