Sunday, July 27, 2014

Coconut Caramel Cocoa Nib Cookies with Sea Salt

I never had much of a sweet tooth.  So, it follows that once I embarked on a gluten-free, dairy-free, and now vegan, life, I almost never suffered the mourning, the temptation, nor the bitterness of not being able to have baked goods like cakes, pies, and cookies.  Now, before we go any further, please notice that I have said, "almost never."  For there are times when others are intensely enjoying a dessert: eyes rolling back, giggles bubbling over into ecstatic gibberish, and then the words, "You have to try this!" - when do I feel it.  Not so much because I actually want the dessert(s) in question, but because I wish to share in that experience.

Today's recipe was inspired by one of those times.

The Steeping Room has a famous cookie:  The salted toffee chocolate chunk.  It is the most popular dessert on the menu, and for those that have had it, just the mention of it alone inspires a beatific, eye-brightening smile.  For years, I have witnessed the delight this cookie brings, and for years, there has never been a gram of longing to try it.  That is, until the day not too long ago that a pan of cookies was deemed unsellable, and the owner, seeing this as an opportunity, mashed the nearly baked cookies into one behemoth cookie, and cutting them into cute little squares, presented them to the staff.  As I saw my coworkers scrambling to the pan and holding each square like a squirrel about to enjoy its first acorn after the Winter, creating a collective euphoria, I was completely blindsided by feelings of being left out.  I wanted to belong….I wanted to not be on the outside looking in…I wish I could have one with them.

Not one who waits for doors to be opened for him, I went straight to my kitchen and got to work developing this recipe.  And after bringing a batch of them to work and proudly watching as my coworkers once again turned into happy squirrels, I knew I had winning cookie.

I mean, just look at it. [proud papa dance]

Coconut Caramel Cookies with Cocoa Nibs and Sea Salt
Gluten-Free & Vegan

Active Prep Time:  5 minutes
Inactive Prep Time:  at least 30 minutes
Baking Time:  15 minutes
Yield:  2 dozen

1 tablespoon ground golden flax + 3 tablespoons filtered water

1 c (5 1/4 oz) gluten-free all purpose flour
2 tablespoons (1/2 oz) dried shredded unsweetened coconut
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt

3/4 c (94 g) vegan butter
3/4 c (94 g) blonde coconut sugar
1 teaspoon molasses
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 heaping tablespoon raw cocoa nibs
2 Cocomel ™  coconut caramels, chopped

raw cocoa nibs & sea salt flakes, to garnish

What you'll need:  2 mixing bowls, hand mixer, whisk, spatula, plastic wrap, parchment paper, large spoon or cookie scoop, cookie sheet pan, cooling rack

1.  Combine flax and water.  Allow to sit for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, to create a flax "egg."
2.  Combine dry ingredients and whisk to combine.
3.  In the other mixing bowl, cream vegan butter and sugar using a hand mixer.  Once fluffy, lightened in color, and holding peaks, add flax egg, and once incorporated, the molasses and vanilla.  Note:  Try not to forget/leave out the molasses - it's a small amount, I know, but it makes a big difference in flavor.
4.  Gradually fold dry ingredients into the creamed butter mixture.  Once a sticky, moist dough is beginning to come together, add cocoa nibs and caramel pieces.   If the caramel is too soft to cut into small pieces, chill slightly to make it easier (emphasis on slightly, as too long and the caramel will become hard and brittle and not fun, nor safe, to cut).  
5.  Wrap/cover dough in plastic wrap and transfer to refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.  This will help greatly with the final texture and durability of the cookie.  You can allow it go up to overnight, or even freeze the dough, with consistent results.
6.  When ready to bake, preheat oven to 325 degrees.
7.  On a parchment paper lined cookie sheet, arrange the cool dough in slightly flattened balls 2-3" apart to make allowance for spreading.  Add a few more nibs and a sprinkling of sea salt on top, lightly tapping them into the surface.  Be sure the dough is still cool, as overly softened dough will result in crisp, thin cookies (which, let's be honest, will still be delicious).
8.  Bake for 15 minutes, or until the cookie is a rich caramel brown and matte in appearance.  The cookies will feel slightly soft to the touch upon removal from the oven, but trust that it will harden and become sturdier as they cool.  After about 5 minutes, transfer to cooling rack to finish cooling completely.

I loooove using shredded coconut in baking.

Creamed butter and sugar getting their fluffy on.

Cocomel ™ coconut caramels - pretty glorious.

Folding in the fix ins'...

Just flattened slightly with ample room in between.


I recently made these for my birthday gathering this past weekend, and beyond the rosemary lemon lavender shortbread (which really is the king/queen of my cookie repertoire), these were a close second, inspiring satisfied sighs, smiles, and spontaneous hugs, which were the best presents anyone could offer me.

Best.  Birthday.  Ever.

The beauty of this cookie, beyond its deliciousness and ability to stir the inner child, is the spiraling of flavors into a wondrous whole, where each component lifts up the others and vice versa.  It's awesome to help translate what people are tasting as they make that face where they can't believe they're enjoying something they don't understand so thoroughly.  The pleasant bittersweet crunch of the cocoa nibs, the chewy mellow sweetness of caramel, the buttery, slightly crisp cookie base, and the flavor-illuminating pop of sea salt.

While I don't search for opportunities to feel left out or deprived, I do welcome the inspiration that often follows.  And from that inspiration, the possibility to pay it forward and give someone else the key to open the doors that confront them, whether they be concerning cookies, relationships, careers, or any aspect of the journey we call Life.

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