Coconut Bars (Version One)

I’ve had many a coconut bar over the years, but never made them until yesterday. This version from the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion is billed as a less-sweet version of a more classic coconut bar, and it offers delicious flavor and great texture.

I’ve listed these as “version one” because there are several other recipes that I’d like to try, and I imagine some are much sweeter than this one. The subtle flavor profile of the topping – a delightful blend of toasted pecans, coconut, and dark brown sugar – is a nice balance to the shortbread-like crust. It’s definitely a good option if you’re looking for something with great flavor that’s not too sweet.

Ingredients

For the crust

  • 8 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups flour

For the topping

  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded sweetened coconut
  • 1 cup chopped pecans, toasted

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 baking pan.

Make the crust: in a mixing bowl, combine butter, brown sugar, and salt; cream together until light and fluffy. Add flour and beat until just combined; the texture will look like coarse crumbs. Press into the bottom of the baking pan; bake for 15 minutes, until edges are light golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly while you make the topping.

To make the topping, in a medium bowl, whisk flour, salt, and baking powder; set aside. In a mixer, beat eggs until they’re light and lemon-colored. Add brown sugar and vanilla and beat until smooth. Add flour mixture, coconut, and pecans; stir to combine.

Pour topping onto crust and spread evenly with a small offset spatula. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the top is lightly browned. Remove from oven and cool completely in the pan before cutting.

Makes 24 bars.

Advertisements

Sweetheart Shortbread Cookies

Shortbread, like the sugar cookie, is incredibly versatile. A classic shortbread recipe can be baked in many ways, easily adapted for different holidays and celebrations. This recipe, based on King Arthur Flour’s Essential Shortbread, is one I’ve adapted many times, always with great results.

Today’s adaptation involves both vanilla and almond extracts, as well as valentine sprinkles. They’re on their way to North Carolina for my nephew Roman, as part of his Valentine’s Day gift.

Ingredients

  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 6 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 5 ounces flour (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons)
  • Wilton Micro Hearts Sprinkles

Preparation

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar, salt, vanilla extract, and almond extract. Add flour and beat to combine; the dough will pull away from the sides of the bowl when it’s ready.

Using a one-inch cookie scoop, scoop generous portions and roll into balls. Place on baking sheets about 2 inches apart and flatten with the bottom of a drinking glass.

Place sprinkles in a shallow bowl and press the tops of each cookie into the sprinkles to coat. Return to baking sheets, placed about 2 inches apart, and bake for 25 minutes, until edges and bottoms are firm and just starting to turn golden.

Cool on baking sheets for about 10 minutes, then remove to wire racks to cool completely. If shipping, pack between layers of waxed paper.

Strawberry Valentine Cookies

Do experienced bakers bake with cake mix? Sometimes, yes. Especially when they want to create pink Valentine’s Day-themed treats for their favorite little girls in Maryland and are running short on time during a busy weekend.

Baking with cake mix cuts down on prep time, and can also be a nice way to introduce baking to beginners. Just add a few ingredients, follow a few simple steps, and you’ll have fun, tasty treats. These strawberry valentine cookies are on their way to my goddaughter Maureen and her little sister Margo, complete with two kinds of valentine sprinkles.

Ingredients

  • 1 box strawberry cake mix*
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Valentine sprinkles

*I used Pillsbury Moist Supreme Strawberry cake mix.

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine cake mix, oil, eggs, and vanilla and stir to completely combine.

Using a 1-inch cookie scoop, drop scoops of dough onto cookie sheets. Top with sprinkles.

Bake for 10 minutes; do not let cookies brown. Remove from oven and cool on baking sheets for 3 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Poppy Seed Babka

Earlier today I undertook my first quilted sewing project, a patchwork table runner. I’m a total amateur when it comes to sewing, and both patchwork and quilting are challenges on their own, let alone together. While my project turned out just fine (with a few minor mistakes, but it’s all part of the learning process), I wanted to get into the kitchen to remind myself that there once was a time when I was an amateur baker, and now I can make really awesome stuff like poppy seed babka.

My love for poppy seed treats knows no bounds, and this poppy seed babka is a delicious twist (ha! See what I did there?) on traditional poppy seed roll. While babka definitely takes patience, what with rising and resting time, it’s absolutely worth it.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups bread flour (or all-purpose flour)
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast* (or 1 package active dry yeast)
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 8 tablespoons butter, cut into slices
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 10 ounces poppy seed filling
  • Juice from 1/2 lemon
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon milk

*I’ve started using SAF Red Instant Yeast, available at King Arthur Flour. 

Preparation

Place 2 cups flour and yeast into the bowl of a mixer and stir together. Fit the dough hook onto your mixer.

In a medium saucepan, combine milk, sugar, salt, and butter, heating to 120 degrees (the butter will almost melt completely). Pour milk mixture into flour/yeast mixture along with egg and mix until combined, scraping the sides of your bowl to combine. Add remaining 1 cup flour and mix on low speed for 3 minutes, until dough becomes smooth – it will gather itself around the dough hook.

Turn dough onto a very lightly floured surface and knead it for 20-30 seconds by hand, then shape it into a ball.

Place dough in a large, greased bowl; turn the dough once to grease it. Cover and let rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

Gently deflate your dough by pressing it to release some of the air; turn onto a very lightly floured surface and let rest for 10 minutes.

While the dough is resting, in a small bowl, combine poppy seed filling and lemon juice, stirring to combine.

Lightly grease a 9 x 5 loaf pan.

Roll dough into a 16 x 12 rectangle. Spread filling evenly over dough. From the long side, roll dough into a log and cut in half to make two shorter logs.

Place one log on top of the other to form an X, then twist ends together. Place in the loaf pan, cover, and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Combine egg and milk to make an egg wash; brush over dough. Bake for 50 minutes, then cover with foil and continue baking for another 20-25 minutes, until loaf sounds hollow when tapped or the internal temperature reaches 180 to 190 degrees. Loosen loaf from pan; allow to cool completely on a wire rack. Store at room temperature for 3-4 days.

Coconut Caramel Chocolate Bars

Back when I could eat chocolate, this was exactly the kind of treat I would have loved. Reminiscent of the Samoa Girl Scout cookie, it combines toasted coconut, chocolate, and caramel – a wonderful flavor and texture combination.

I adapted this recipe slightly from the original, titled Coconut-Caramel Candy Bars, in the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion. I used caramel baking bits, rather than chopped up caramel candies, and a slightly higher quantity of bittersweet chocolate chips to cover the tops of my bars completely with chocolate. The end result is a beautiful (and according to Mike, delicious) creation.

Ingredients

For the crust

  • 8 tablespoons butter
  • 1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking poader
  • 3 cups shredded sweetened coconut, toasted*

For the topping

  • 1 cup caramel baking bits
  • 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

*To toast coconut, place it in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and bake at 300 degrees, stirring every 3-5 minutes, until browned. My coconut took about 15 minutes to toast; keep a close eye on your coconut, as it can burn quickly. 

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 baking pan.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, salt, baking powder, and 2 1/2 cups toasted coconut; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream together butter, brown sugar, vanilla, and egg. Stir in flour/coconut mixture until well blended.

Press crust mixture into the prepared baking pan and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and top with caramel bits; return to oven and bake for 10-15 minutes more, until caramels are melted and slightly bubbly (mine didn’t bubble much, so that’s okay). Remove from oven and sprinkle with bittersweet chocolate chips; allow to sit for 5 minutes, then spread chocolate evenly over the bars. Sprinkle with remaining toasted coconut. Allow bars to cool completely; cut into 24 squares.

Reese’s Pieces Blondies

These Reese’s Pieces blondies, adapted from a recipe at Sally’s Baking Addiction, were so delicious that they never even made it out of our house. I should be embarrassed to admit this, but Mike and I ate them all. That’s right…the whole pan. Granted, this was over the course of about a week, but still, we never do such things.

These blondies are as easy to make as they are delicious, requiring simple ingredients that you probably have in your pantry (except maybe for the Reese’s Pieces) and just one bowl. I lined my baking pan with parchment paper, but you could use foil or grease the pan instead of you like.

Ingredients

  • 12 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled for 3 minutes
  • 2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 2 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup Reese’s Pieces

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 x 13 pan with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk melted butter and brown sugar together until smooth. Whisk in peanut butter, then eggs, egg yolk, and vanilla until well-combined.

Add flour, baking powder, and salt and stir together using a rubber spatula; batter will be very thick. Stir in 1/2 cup Reese’s Pieces, then spread batter into the baking pan, flattening as best you can to create an even layer. Sprinkle remaining Reese’s Pieces on top.

Bake for 30 minutes, then insert a cake tester in the center; blondies are done if the cake tester comes out clean or with just a few moist crumbs. Be careful not to over-bake these; peanut butter treats tend to dry out if they’re baked too long.

Remove from oven and cool completely in the pan; lift out using parchment paper and cut into 24 squares. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for several days.

Hearty Banana Bread

A few weeks ago, I kept seeing this recipe in my Facebook feed, billed as King Arthur Flour’s Recipe of the Year. That same week I had some very ripe bananas in our fruit basket, so I took it as a sign and gave it a try. I’m pleased to say that while I’ve baked many a loaf of banana bread in the past, I liked this recipe much better than my standard one.

The recipe uses both white and whole wheat flour for a heartier treat, and includes a simple yet brilliant sugar/cinnamon topping. The bread  has a tender texture and slices very easily without crumbling, a balance not easy to achieve. Mike and my co-workers proclaimed it delicious, so I’ll stick with this as my go-to banana bread recipe. Next time, I might toast the walnuts before adding them to the batter, or add some chocolate chips as well.

Ingredients

For the batter

  • 2 cups mashed ripe bananas (about 5 medium-sized bananas)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup white flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour*
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

*I used the spoon-and-sweep method of measuring flour for this recipe. Just spoon your flour into your measuring cup, then sweep off the excess with a knife. 

For the topping

  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 5 loaf pan. Combine 1 tablespoon sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon in a small bowl; set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together mashed bananas, vegetable oil, sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract until very well combined.

Mix the flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and walnuts to the banana mixture until just moistened and no dry streaks remain; be careful not to over-mix. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and sprinkle with sugar-cinnamon topping.

Bake for 60 to 75 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean or with just a few moist crumbs. I checked my bread at 45 minutes of baking time and tented foil over it to prevent over-browning.

Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then loosen the sides with a spatula and turn onto a cooling rack to cool completely. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and foil; store at room temperature for up to 5 days.