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Monday, November 1, 2010

English Coconut Biscuits

When is a biscuit not a biscuit? When it's an English Cookie!
We Americans hear "biscuits" and immediately think of a type of quick bread served with a meal. However, the British translation of that would be what we call a "cookie" or perhaps "cracker" depending on whether it is sweet or not. In this case we're talking cookie.

When our friends Nora and Larry were over recently for the Project Food Blog dinner party, Nora brought along an old cookbook for me. She knows how much I enjoy perusing old and out of print works for interesting things that might not be in vogue today. The book she brought was the "Good Housekeeping Picture Cookery Book" which was published just after World War II in Great Britain. At first, I didn't realize it was British and thought there just was no section for cookies. Then as I flipped through its worn pages I noticed the spellings and the reliance on weights instead of the usual volume measurements used in the USA. Then I happened upon the "biscuits"!

There were many interesting variations including one for my favorite Shrewsbury Cookies. However, in glancing at the recipe, I feel my adapted 18th Century version would be far superior to the one given in this book. I did happen upon a recipe in there for a coconut cookie. That looked interesting and I had all the ingredients including Castor sugar.

So, while I waited for Halloween Trick or Treating to get underway this afternoon, I decided to whip up a batch and see what this old recipe wrought.

Looking at it, I knew I'd need to add a couple things to it for more current tastes. The original didn't use any flavorings beyond coconut. I felt that might be a little much without something to balance it a bit, so I chose to add a bit of vanilla. The original also didn't utilize any salt to help brighten the flavors so I felt I'd need just a touch to wake up what could otherwise have been a rather one note cookie.

I began working on the recipe but quickly found that the dough was much too loose to work with or roll out. I'm not sure if there was a mistype in the old book, but a scant 4 ounces of flour and 4 ounces of coconut just wasn't giving the body necessary to roll out this dough! So, I decided to up the flour content slightly so the dough would come together a bit better, then instead of rolling it out, I went with my cookie scoop.

The results were great! I got a very delicate cookie with a nice light coconut flavor balanced with the vanilla. These almost melt in your mouth! I thought about dusting them with powdered sugar but decided in the end that it would be almost too sweet. I liked the less sweetened "biscuit" more.

You could also use a bit of lime juice in place of the vanilla for a lime-coconut cookie. Either way, these are marvelous little discoveries from the period when Britain was still recovering from the effects of the Blitz!

The good news too, was that they kept me out of the Halloween candy between Trick or Treaters! As it was we had candy left over (never a problem back east!) Luckily, it's mostly bubble gum and a few lollipops so it won't hit my waist too hard when I eventually get into it!

4 oz. unsalted butter, room temperature
4 oz. castor sugar
6 oz. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
4 oz. desiccated coconut
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 large egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 350° and line baking sheets with parchment. In bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and mix until incorporated. In small bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to the butter/sugar mixture along with coconut and beat until flour mixture is incorporated. Add egg and beat until soft dough forms.

Using a cookie scoop or teaspoon, drop dough in rounds onto baking sheets lined with parchment. Bake in 350° oven for 12-15 minutes or just until edges of cookies begin to brown. Allow to cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes then remove to wire racks to cool completely. Store in airtight containers.

Notes: Castor sugar is fine grain sugar. You can find it in many grocery stores today but almost always in specialty supermarkets.

Desiccated coconut is finely shredded coconut that has been dried. You may find it in your local specialty store, but if not, its very east to make. Simply take regular shredded coconut and place it in a food processor and pulse until the coconut is of a fine consistency (almost like snow). Then spread on sheet pan and place in oven heated to 250° for about 5-10 minutes (time will depend on moisture content of your coconut). Do not let the coconut brown or toast! Remove the dry coconut from the oven and allow to cool until it is ready for your recipe.

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