Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Coconut Giraffes: A Lesson in Baking Experimentation

So uh...I never said I was normal. In fact, I'm an odd one according to those who surround me. Unemployment clearly hasn't helped this fact, as I have resorted to playing with my food and other inanimate objects. Just yesterday, my mom came home with a new potholder for me. It's a puppet potholder. I immediately put it on and started having it talk to my family. I even named it Tort(e) -- both a legal and baking term. My brother, of course, urged me on, suggesting that we film a video of the potholder narrating my cooking. Yeah...not going to happen. Sorry.

It is this insanity that led me to giraffe cookies. See, I'm obsessed with giraffes. I've been collecting giraffe stuff for nearly twenty years, and have giraffes made of wood, crystal, pewter, glass, ceramic, and so many other things. Some are two feet tall, and others are two inches tall. Some cost $500, others 50 cents. There are art pieces and things I picked up on my travels. I even went to East Africa for a month to stalk and play with them, allowing a certain giraffe to lick a pellet of food from between my lips. So of course I have giraffe cookie cutters. What kind of obsessive would I be if I didn't?

In a playful mood, I struck upon an idea last night. I would make giraffe cookies. So I pulled out Martha Stewart's Cookies. I looked through the book for recipes conducive to cutters and came across a cream cheese dough with coconut, cream cheese and raspberry filling. Giraffes are not meant to be filled. Instead, I had this brilliant idea that involved moving the coconut into the dough. I also decided that I would whip out my King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour.  This cookie attempt has made me reflect on some of my recent baking experiments.

I think it's important to experiment with recipes if you want to become a better baker or cook. You need to learn what flavors go well together and what proportions are necessary for the right consistency. One of the things I like to do is substitute out white flour for other flours. Recently I have been playing with healthier options in a bid to bring more fiber and protein into my baked goods. I've found that I can replace up to 1/4 of the flour  in non-yeast baked goods with almond meal. This, however is not always a good idea. It can give a slightly grainy texture to cookies and cakes, and should thus only be used when you want an item to be crispy or feel like it has pieces of oatmeal or seeds in it. And the fat in almonds makes things stick stick stick. Ugh. That was a lesson I learned the hard way.

I've been having more trouble with using whole wheat flours. WW flours absorb more liquid than white flour, meaning that substitutions require an extra dose of liquid ingredients. This has been very tough for me to gauge. With bread, I like to use an autolyse stage if possible, as allowing the flour to absorb the liquid makes it easier to gauge the texture and make any additions before kneading. With cookies and other doughs, I am at a loss. My first attempt at this recipe substituted in 1/3 cup of WWW flour. The dough seemed a little stiff, but I figured it was just because it was meant to be rolled out and cut. Most sugar cookie doughs are slightly stiff, right? When I began to roll it out after a brief stint in the fridge, I could tell that it had dried out more. And it certainly didn't help that I was instructed to roll on a floured surface.

Try using a larger cutter, as the coconut strands are not nice to delicate shapes.

I decided to bake those cookies anyway (they are what is pictured). They came out on the harder side, and also a little dry. I also thought they needed a lot more sugar and vanilla. The consensus was an overwhelming no. WW flour eluded me once again. Dramatic sigh.

Hard, but hardcore.

Determined, and a little bored, I decided to try a slightly different approach this morning. I dropped the flour substitution, increased the sugar, vanilla, and cream cheese, and added more flour to compensate.   The coconut in the dough was my doing both times. This dough was a bit more slack than the first batch, but I decided that was okay because it needed to be chilled first. I also chose to roll my dough on granulated sugar instead of flour, trying to ward off any drying out. This was a very good trick that will be used again. The recipe produced below is certainly better than the first. The cookies are a little on the softer side, meaning that they are still a work in progress. I don't think I compensated enough for the extra cream cheese, as apparently sugar doesn't work like flour in terms of liquid absorption and texture. Clearly I was lacking in logical reasoning skills this morning.

If anyone out there has any tips on how to make these substitutions jive with liquid proportions, please let me know. In fact, ever the overachiever, I implore you to share your substitution and baking experiment tips. Think of it this way: you'll be teaching me what $144k, three years, and more than twenty-four law professors couldn't. That makes you smart.

And for those who care, I seriously spent 20 minutes breaking up pecans and placing them on the giraffes before I baked them. And today? Well, I went hunting white plates for photographs and ended up at CB2, which is Ikea-style Crate & Barrel. When I got home, I decided to get creative since I wasn't making much for dinner. My beautiful design is made of mint leaves from my backyard and Hershey's chocolate syrup. The syrup also acted as a glue to keep the leaves and giraffes in place. It took me a good 45 minutes. My mother called me "insane" while my brother just shook his head and walked away.

Parchment paper is key. So is drowning your giraffe in milk.

Mint leaves are delicious.

3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup + 3 Tbsp sweetened coconut flakes
4 oz cream cheese, softened to room temperature
9 Tbsp butter, softened to room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract

1. Mix flour, sugar, coconut and baking soda together in a bowl.
2. Place cream cheese and butter in mixer and beat together. Add in egg and vanilla.
3. Slowly add in flour mixture. Dough should ball up and not stick into the sides when done.
4. Wrap in plastic or parchment and flatten into a disk. Refrigerate for 2 hours.
5. Preheat oven to 350F.
6. Roll out dough on a sugared surface to 1/4" thick.
7. Cut away! Try to use a larger, bolder cutter. The delicacy of the giraffe's legs were compromised by the strands of coconut. It was kind of obnoxious.
8. Bake for 7 minutes, and then rotate. Bake for 7 more minutes, until golden brown. Let cool & Eat.


Shree said...

HOW CUTE! They look perfect, down to the spots :) Great job. Sorry but I don't know much about baking with WW. I have just about started with it.

denise @ quickies on the dinner table said...

Never baked with WW either so can't help you there. I love what you've done! It's soooo cute and those pecans - inspired! They really look like giraffe blotches! Lifelike as they are, they sound too delicious for me to even think twice about dunking them and biting their heads off LOL

Elin said...

Hi S...this is so cute and you are so creative. Love it! Thanks for sharing the recipe :)


Hilarious! I love the photo of the giraffe bathing in milk. Good work!

Biren said...

Very cute and creative!

The Duo Dishes said...

These are super cute. Making them with kids would be a fun project.

kattyskitchen said...

Hysterical and clever and funny...I laughed out loud as I read through. No one ever said I was normal either. :)

s. said...

Thanks everyone for validating my insanity!

@A Spicy Perspective: My dad was trying out a cookie and decided they needed milk. At age 57 he started making the giraffe walk over to the cup and hop in. He then proceeded to make the giraffe scream for help. Family resemblance, indeed.

@katty: normality is overrated.

I Just Love My Apron said...

They are too cute to eat! You're so creative!


Cleo Coyle said...

These cookies are adorable -- and I agree with you on finding other flours to work with besides white. (I've been playing with finely ground oats, although it doesn't always pan out :-) Major props to you on your well-deserved Top 9!


dinnersanddreams said...

This is such a cool project to do with a child. Thank you.


Anonymous said...

how many cookies does this recipe make??? I need to make @ least 21!! PLEASE REPLY

Baking Barrister said...

Anonymous - if you do giraffes, about 18 b/c of the weird shape. if you do circles or more compact shapes, certainly more than 21.

healthy mamma said...

How cute and creative! My boys will love these! Thanks for sharing.

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