Samoa Cookies

I'm the special occasion nerd at work. It's possible I'm more excited about a birthday than the actual person celebrating it, because it means I have to challenge myself. It's like I have to top the last one every time, or at least attempt it, because this blog isn't about being perfect at cooking and baking, but learning about it.

One of my colleagues is a chronic Facebook sharer. I'm always tagged in some meme or recipe. Given that I love memes, I don't find that to be an issue. And recipes! Give me all the food ideas.

Well, on at least three of these random taggings, there's been a samoa cookie-inspired recipe. I knew workiversary time was around the corner, so the most recent recipe was recorded in the mental notes. These are handy because sometimes I'm at a loss as to what I can make. Work smarter, not harder.

We all know Girl Scouts are the big timers of the cookie market. They sell these perfect collections of sugar outside the store, waiting patiently to pounce on you as you walk to your car. Sure, you had the best intentions. You walked the perimeter of the store, grabbing only fresh produce and meats on the way. But none of that matters when your eye catches those bright colored boxes of joy. Thin Mints. Samoas. It's already over. You're three boxes in before you know it. Addict.

Time for that Morpheus meme. What if I told you you could make samoas at home?

I'm not opposed to supporting the Girl Scouts. But we know those cookies aren't out year-round, and what if I get a random hankering for one of those special little pieces of heaven? I need options. I've got you, bud. Read on.

Making the dough was simple. The ingredients were creamed butter, powdered sugar, salt, and flour. That's right, no eggs. I added in some vanilla and almond extract because, well, I felt like it. Though crumbly, the dough was combined well.


The dough needed to rest for about hour, and this gave me time to focus on the caramel. I needed the dough to rest and to make it hard enough to be rolled out and handled, so it got balled up in plastic wrap and refrigerated for an hour.


I split the dough in half and rolled it out on my handy dandy pastry board until it was about 1/4 inch thick. Then the biscuit cutters came out. The larger one made the cookie and I cut a hole out of the center with a small one. The hole is purely aesthetic; I don't imagine leaving it out would cause immense structural damage or anything. So if you want more cookie, leave that in place. I wanted the muy authentico version.


Just like that, a tiny shortbread cookie was born.


I laid my little dough collection out on a pan lined with a silicone pan (and another with parchment) with some spacing to allow room for rising. The giant cookie called for about a 20 minute cook time, but when you split it into 25 parts, the heat is going to affect it a little more. I baked them for about 12-15 minutes, and they only grew a small amount, so this was perfect.


In the meantime, I melted some dark chocolate in a saucepan on LOW heat. I wanted to wind up with a creamy chocolate to dip in. It doesn't take long.


The cookies baked for around 15 minutes, then I let them cool for a few minutes before spreading some chocolate on the bottom of each. I laid them face down (chocolate side up) on a plate, then put them in the fridge to cool. The chocolate doesn't harden right away so the refrigeration helps.


Now it was topping time! I made a homemade caramel as opposed to the melted down caramel squares originally called for, but you can save time and just melt down some squares. I had about a cup and a half of melted caramel in my topping. It hardens FAST. So once it's warm, mix in the coconut and start the spreading process.

I scalded off  fingerprint or two here because homemade caramel is basically napalm. That made unlocking my phone a whole new challenge for a few days. It's like a game, trying to get that reader to pick up a partial print. What I'm getting at here is that you may want to consider being careful.


I topped the caramel of with some more chocolate and voila: gave those scouts a run for their money.


Bueno! You know, I post all my recipes, but I am a harsh critic of my work. Many times, I enjoy a recipe and get decent feedback (I prefer super dry honesty, because how can I get better without it?!), but feel like there was room for improvement. But not here.

These were awesome. The shortbread itself was phenomenal and I can see it topped with many variations. I didn't detect an overly nutty flavor from the spelt (that is one of the reasons to use spelt, adding some flavor), but I found the texture of the cookie perfect. Spelt is slightly grainier than regular all purpose flour, and depending on how you use it, can make something special.

The topping didn't hang on to the cookie as well as I'd hoped; I noticed it pop off on a few, but likely due to the caramel cooling first. My thought here is to use a little more caramel to thin out the topping and give it more liquid caramel to "glue" to the cookie, or just spread some melted caramel on before adding the coconut-mixed in one (I later found this was suggested in the original recipe, so, great job Em). Either way, a little bit of a topping malfunction does not take away from this cookie.

Most importantly, however, they were a hit at work. I was able to make someone feel special with a little customized surprise, and she even loved how they tasted. I bake for two reasons. One is that I love learning and playing in the kitchen. Two is that I get a great deal of enjoyment making people happy via their stomachs.

These do require a bit of patience, and depending on how dedicated you are feeling with the caramel (homemade vs. store bought), it can take a few hours. 100% worth it.

Samoa Cookies Recipe

Ingredients:

For the shortbread cookie:
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup spelt flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

For the topping:
3 cups shredded coconut, toasted
1 1/3 cup chocolate chips, melted
1 1/2 cup soft caramels, melted
3 tablespoons milk
1/4 teaspoon salt

Instructions:

For the shortbread cookies:
Heat oven to 325 degrees F. Beat the butter until light and fluffy, about 1-2 minutes in a stand mixer. Add the powdered sugar and beat until combined, then stir in the vanilla. Gradually add the flours and salt, then mix until just combined. Gather the dough into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about an hour.

Roll out the dough onto a floured surface until it is about 1/4" thick, dividing in half if you don't have enough room for the whole amount. Use cookie or biscuit cutters to cut out a large circle, then a smaller one. The cookies can be as big as you'd like, though smaller ones will cook faster. Place cookies on a parchment-lined pan and bake for about 15 minutes, until they are lightly browned. Set aside to cool prior to adding topping.

For the topping:
To toast the coconut, spread the shredded coconut onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes, stirring halfway through to evenly toast.

Melt the chocolate on low heat, then spread a thin layer on the bottom of each cookie, leaving 1/4 cup behind. Set the cookie chocolate side up on a plate or tray and refrigerate for 10 minutes to harden the chocolate.

Melt your caramels in a small saucepan on medium heat, adding about 2 tablespoons of milk to thin it out. Stir while it melts, then add the mixture to a bowl with the toasted coconut and stir. Spread the topping onto the cookies, then drizzle with the remaining melted chocolate.

adapted from giant samoa cookie

Dolmadakia

Dolma refers to stuffed leaves in the general sense. There are versions with meat (dolmades, typically with lamb and beef), and some without (dolmadakia, which has rice). I've seen dolmades at many a Greek restaurant, and the flavors and fillings have been quite different regularly. I've had a few, and the meat-filled were always my favorite. A friend of mine picked up some rice filled ones in a can at a point and the disappointment was real. She loved 'em, but it just wasn't my thing.

At the same time as that cold dolmadakia encounter, I picked up some grape leaves. We were in Tarpon Springs, a little Greek fishing village near Tampa, Florida. It's a cute little spot right on the Gulf coast, with some Greek restaurants and shops. We were there a typically hot Florida day with bright blue skies and the smell of salty sea air. I can't think of a better place to enjoy Greek food.

I had no plans when I bought them, though dolma seemed like a pretty obvious choice. It wasn't until another friend was over and suggested we give these a try that they got some action.

We viewed a few recipes before making up out minds on what to throw in the filling since dolma was new in my kitchen. It was clear across the board that a good rinse and even some soaking of the grape leaves in fresh water was a must. There were quite a few crammed in that jar, and several tore while I finnagled them out. But that's to be expected when a bunch of fragile, easily tearable leaves are tightly stuffed in a jar with liquid. I moved them into a big bowl of water while I made the filling. They were already soft straight out of the jar and didn't require any boiling.



The starting point was sauteing some onion and garlic with some olive oil until the garlic was fragrant. Though not pictured here, I finished the filling by adding some fresh chopped grape tomatoes, oregano, dill, parsley, salt, pepper, and lemon juice. I made some white rice in a separate pot.


It really only needed to cook for about 5 minutes, until the tomatoes had softened a bit, and then I mixed in the rice and got ready to stuff some leaves.


I laid out a grape leaf with the vein side up and the smooth side down. It's obvious when you have one which way to go. I then plopped a little bit of filling right in the center. Not too much, though, because you've gotta roll it up.

The rolling part is just a matter of folding the left and ride side over the filling, then rolling it all together toward the top to create a tightly wrapped stuffed leaf. Got that? Left, right, then roll it up.


I used all of the whole leaves to make as many rolls as I could, using up almost all the filling. They weren't looking so bad for a couple of first timers.


The remaining leaves were laid on top, which is a great way to use them an keep moisture in. I then poured water over it all and covered the pan with tin foil before baking.


After 45 minutes, the leaves were darker in color and a few of my top layer ones were even crispy. The water had soaked in and evaporated perfectly.


And there you have it, dolmadakia.


Though they took a little bit to bake, these were actually a rather easy recipe. Many Greek recipes are overwhelming due to the multiple step processes and delicate ingredients (i.e., phyllo), but this one was a quick Saturday afternoon side dish. The filling definitely had a dill and lemon taste, but I'd be a liar if I didn't tell you that these were my favorite dolmades yet. Of course, the beauty of home cooking is the freedom to add or subtract ingredients as you see fit, and in this I nixed the pine nuts and a few other bits but added oregano, which felt appropriate in the recipe. For a veggie side dish or snack, this one wins.

Dolmadakia Recipe

Ingredients:

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onion (1 whole onion)
3 tablespoons garlic
1/2 cup lemon juice (juice of 1 lemon)
3/4 cup chopped fresh grape tomatoes
1 tablespoon dried dill
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried parsley
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 cup white rice
1 jar grape leaves (16 ounces)
1 cup water

Instructions:

Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Remove grape leaves from jar and soak in water while preparing filling. Boil rice in a saucepan. To make the filling, heat olive oil in a large saucepan and saute onion and garlic for about 5 minutes over medium heat, until garlic is fragrant. Stir in lemon juice, tomatoes, dill, oregano, parsley, salt, and pepper and simmer for 4-5 minutes. Stir in rice and remove from heat.

To fill leaves, lay out grape leaf shiny side down and add about a tablespoon or two of filling. Fold sides of grape leaf over filling then roll up into a tubular shape. Add to baking dish. Continue until all filling is used, then top with any remaining grape leaves or pieces. Add water to pan and cover with foil. Bake for 45 minutes, until water is gone from pan.

adapted from dolmades

Fig Rolls

After my recent Figgy Pudding experience, I was left with a bunch of dates and figs. The obvious choice with figs are Fig Newtons. Isn't that what you know figs best for? If not, I'll take a list of the next most popular items. Don't worry, I'll wait.

Cranberry Orange Muffins

Muffins are one of the easiest grab and go breakfast items. While certainly not a full balanced meal, for a person sneaking in extra time whenever she can, I find muffins to be an easy thing to snag on my way out the door. And ok, muffins can taste dayum good, too. It's like a half-assed cupcake for a breakfast. Which is a good thing.

Cranberry and orange are a powerful flavor combination. I've had it in cookies before, and so muffins are an easy swap. Rather than using orange juice, I used zest, as adding liquid to batter can alter the final result. Citrus is notorious for causing curdling when you have milk/cream in something as well, and I'm still figuring that out. While I doubt the final baked result would be affected by curdling (though it would create an ugly batter), orange zest adds flavor even in small doses without affecting consistency. Easy.

Spaghetti Squash Alfredo

My mom watches a lot of TV. When it comes down to it, it's roughly 75% cooking shows, followed by random news and crime stories. I can't say I spend much time watching that glistening screen in my living room, which I can't say is a bad thing, but does not leave me with much time to skim food shows for recipe suggestions and ideas. There's a point to all this, I swear.

My mom and I were chatting one day and she mentioned seeing a spaghetti squash recipe where they made little alfredo pasta bowls out of the squash. She saw in on one of the super-famous shows - I couldn't tell you if it was "The Chew", "The Kitchen" or something else starting with "The" - and said it looked amazing. Using the squash skin as a bowl isn't exactly a new concept, but frankly, I'd never even considered making spaghetti squash alfredo. Marinara is my sauce of preference for the most part, and tomatoes seemed like an appropriate fit for the yellow veggie.

Figgy Pudding

I'm big on holiday traditions. And wouldn't you know it? I dig on baking, too. There's plenty of both to be had during the holidays, though some traditions are well known but not well understood.

We've all heard Christmas music, in particular the song "We Wish You a Merry Christmas". Played in nearly every holiday movie (likely only beat out by "Happy Holidays"), this tune features the line, "Now bring us some figgy pudding". But what the hell is figgy pudding?

I found some interesting posts on the history, this one sticking out in particular. Long story short: It's from 1600's-era Britain, became a holiday tradition, and is soaked in booze. Um, sign me up.

Eggnog

It's holiday time! Every year, we have the opportunity to squeeze in cherished moments with family, celebrate, and remember. It's also filled with traditions. Seeing that the holidays are also loaded with planning, shopping, and a fair amount of stress, a little holiday drink or three is always welcome.

My holiday beverage-making experience begins and ends at Coquito, a rich Puerto Rican drink. I'll admit I've never been much of an eggnog person. I had a homemade version once, but other than that, it's been store-bought cartons of eggnog for me. It's not bad, but the flavor never really wowed me. But this year, I decided to give it a go. It was a new one for the checklist, after all.

Vasa's Cake

Serbian desserts are outside of my realm of experience. I've made my share of Greek goodies, so I know the intricacy of European baking. Recipes can take hours, even days, to prep, but there is a purpose to every step. The more complicated recipes make me the most proud. To put my time and energy into a high-maintenance dish and wind up with a totally new experience is a thrill.

As my fondness for birthday baking doesn't stop at cupcakes, when the birthday of a Serbian colleague came up, I decided to make this birthday bake off one from the Google results. It's always my goal to make these birthday dishes based on something I know a person likes. In this case, it's chocolate, plain and simple. The vasa cake recipe, with it's torte structure and pudding filling, sounded like it would be worth my while, so I dove in.

Pin It button on image hover