Don’t Tell Jim*…

…But these cookies are made with coconut.

*Jim is my mother’s fiancé. And Jim hates coconut. However, Jim loves these cookies. Like, really loves these cookies. As in he won’t share them with anyone else. So I don’t want to ruin them for him by telling him that he actually likes coconut.**

**And I realize, that by posting on a completely public blog in an open forum, there’s pretty much no chance that he won’t see this. But I figured I needed to share this information with all of you, in order to put into perspective how absolutely, completely freaking awesome these cookies are. But seriously, if you see him, don’t tell him why they taste so good…

Moving on:

Yesterday was my day off, and it was one of those absolutely perfect yoga-and-farmers-market-and-long-walks-up-the-side-of-a-small-mountain-with-my-dog kind of days. Which made it the perfect kind of day for finally trying out the recipe I’ve been writing and rewriting and fretting over for the last week.

Long walks up the side of a small mountain with my dog...

My last recipe, the More Than a Spoonful of Sugar Caramel Meltaways, was good, but the caramels were missing…something. Jim, who has this thing for pointing out minute details in taste, texture, and mouthfeel, let me know: the cookies were good but the caramel was…just alright. I really do appreciate that kind of feedback–because in order to get better, I have to know what works for my potential customers and what doesn’t.

So I looked at the caramel recipe. Now, caramel is a really difficult beast to tackle. It’s not a beginner’s food–it involves split second timing and a low margin of error…a single sugar crystal on the side of the saucepan can ruin a whole batch of caramel, and a few seconds of extra heat can leave you with a pan full of burned sugar that needs hours of soaking and scraping.

The secret to caramel involves watching that thermometer very carefully...

For the last cookie, I spent hours searching the web for comparing regular and vegan caramels. All of them used sugar, some form of cream (be it soy or true dairy), some form of fat (butter or its vegan equivalent), some form of sugary “interfering agent” per David Leibovitz (i.e. corn syrup), and then salt or vanilla to taste. However, I didn’t want to use vegan butter or Soy creamer to make caramels. I don’t know why, but the concept of using processed “foods” to make the caramels didn’t appeal to me–and I was right in assuming that the end result wouldn’t be the knock-your-socks-off stellar kind of caramel that I needed in order to make my cookies shine.

So I decided that I was going to write my own recipe.

I first searched the web for alternatives to the Earth Balance/Silk dominated vegan caramels, but I found literally nothing. This meant that I would have no foundation on which to build, at least not in a concrete sense. I wracked my brain for alternatives…and settled on coconut.

Full fat coconut milk (which, if you’re concerned contains a healthy medium chain fatty acid, which has been making waves among the health food community of late) could take the place of processed creamers or heavy dairy creams, and coconut oil could, after factoring in its lack of water content, take the place of butters and margarines. I also got rid of the corn syrup by substituting brown rice syrup and a small amount of molasses. I kept the sugar, salt, and vanilla, since they needed no substitution.

After a week of doing math (which, for this former English major, was no small feat!), I figured out what seemed like the best ratios for caramel success, and I set to work at the stove.

To die for? I think so.

The result was a resounding absolute success. Yummy, delicious, sticky caramel, which would wow even a coconut-hater.

This meant I needed a cookie to stick it in.

Sticking with the coconut theme, I made a coconut oil based chocolate chip cookie (and they don’t even taste like coconut!), and then put a small piece of caramel in the center of each cookie before baking.

Chocococonut Caramel Cookies!

Jim loved them. So much so that he had to talk everyone in the house out of trying one, just so he could have them all for himself.

I’m okay with that–so long as no one tells him what’s in ’em.

Love & Cookies,

KP

PS I’m still raising money to pay for my commercial kitchen and insurance costs so that I can start my business. If you (or anyone you know) can donate, please do so here: Help Bring KP’s Cookies to the World!

It’s All About the Process

So, I wanted to talk a little bit about making cookies.

Specifically, I wanted to talk about my process, and how I’ve finally, finally learned how to streamline it.

When it comes to baking, I used to be a haphazard everything-in-the-pantry-ends-up-spread-out-on-the-counter- and a if-it-wasn’t-in-the-recipe-I-won’t-touch-it-or-else type. A combination of the two can be lethal. I’ve learned over the past several years, however, that a good recipe is all in the deviation, and that a good day in the kitchen is one that’s organized and planned.

Sounds rather contradictory, no?

Sugary caramel meltaways!

Well, here’s how I bake cookies:

Step one: I do my research. I look at other peoples’ recipes and see what has worked for them. That often means hours (literally, hours) of surfing the internet, trying different search terms and reading every recipe that looks like it might be worth its salt (literally and figuratively) and then comparing the ingredients, the ratios, the results, and, when applicable, the reviews.

I ask myself, do I want chewy or crunchy? Puffy or flat? Rich or light? And then, after looking through the recipes, I start to write. I’ll have guides near me, like Jeff Potter’s Cooking for Geeks or Alton Brown’s I’m Just Here for More Food, since they go in depth into the science (chemistry and mechanics) of the craft. Maybe a recipe looks good on paper, but I have to consider the potential outcomes as well as the alternatives. Recipes aren’t written in stone, and often they get better when you use them as a guide but not a commandment.

Then it comes time to test. This is where it can get tedious and often messy (and expensive!). One way I’ve started to combat the tedious mess (and, in a very slight way, the financial piece, although I’m taking suggestions for making extra ingredients appear out of thin air…) is by using weights instead of volumes. In other words: instead of  spilling sugar all over my counter while trying to pack it into one of my 18 measuring cups or several bowls, I now use one bowl and a food scale. Not only are my measurements more accurate, I can pour all of my ingredients over one large bowl*, and I can do the clean up in less than 5 minutes while the cookies bake.

Using my grandmother's food scales to test a Peanut Apple Pretzel Cookie recipe

*I do use a small bowl to set the flax egg up at least 15 minutes before I start baking; the flax needs time to absorb the liquid before I can add it to the wet ingredients, so I do have a small second bowl to clean…

Weighing ingredients is also more cost effective, because I’m using the exact same amount of flour, sugar, etc etc in every single recipe. Using measuring cups is incredibly inaccurate; I can scoop 1 cup of flour 5 times, and get a different weight with each scoop, depending on how I pack the cup. With weights, I can, at the very least, budget my baking so I’ll know exactly how much flour I will get out of each bag.

Now, when it comes to the actual recipes, I go through several before I find the right one. A good example of this process can be found in my Divine Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies, which took me a good four days to come up with and then test. Another is the last recipe I baked, the “More Than a Spoonful of Sugar” Caramel Meltaways. I’m still not 100% in love with the caramel recipe I used–I’m thinking of experimenting with coconut milk and oil to see if I get a richer flavor than using Soy creamer and vegan butter–but the cookie itself is exactly where I want it….and it only took me three tries!

Making caramel

Both the first and second recipes I made up came out too bready. The first recipe was similar to my Espresso Chocolate Chip Cookies, but I used oil instead of butter, and cornstarch as a thickener. My brother said that they tasted like pancakes (and then asked for me to pour maple syrup on them…).

Not so yummy pancake balls...

The second recipe was a complete deviation from my norm: I used soy milk in the recipe, but that thickened the dough to the point of un-stir-ability (and yes, that’s a word now.) They came out extremely dry, and the caramel seeped out of the bottom and adhered to the parchment paper.

Dry, dry, and dry...and all of the caramel melted out during baking!

The third recipe was exactly what I wanted–I eschewed the milks and the starches, and went for the simplest combination of ingredients–and it worked! Now I just have to tweak the caramels, and I’ll have another killer cookie to add to my arsenal.

Getting ready for the final test...

Speaking of which, now that I’m an official business, I’m going to work on not making killer cookies–i.e. I’m on my way to finding a good commercial kitchen and a health permit, as well as some good old fashioned insurance. Since I’m still small-time, I started a GoFundMe account. If you want to help get KP’s Cookies off the ground, I would really appreciate any and all donations–or, if you know friends who might like to help, I would love it if you could pass my link along to them. Frankly, the sooner I have all of the necessary business-and-health-permit stuff taken care of, the sooner I can focus on important things, like actually shipping my cookies to all of you who have requested such a service.

If you’d like to donate, please click HERE-and thank you, thank you, thank you in advance, from the bottom of my heart,

Love and Cookies,

KP

P.S. I totally just realized that The Bloggess has a post about The Process too…

More Than a Spoonful of Sugar Caramel Meltaways

I’d like to dedicate the following recipe to my friend Jen, who I’ve known about 8 million playground minutes (roughly translated, to those who speak grown-up, into 17 years). Why Jen? Because she’s my hero, plain and simple (PS, this post is going to get real wordy real quickly. There’s a picture of cookies at the bottom to reward the intrepid readers amongst you):

Two nights ago (for those of you on East Coast time…otherwise, it’s still two hours until yesterday…um, right. Moving on:), Jen proved (as she has, time and time again over the last several years), that it is fully possible to live your dream. Hokey? Absolutely. Doesn’t make it any less true.

Jen is the girl sitting right in the center & I'm on her right. Things haven't changed all that much since 1997!

I met Jen in a drama camp at the local JCC, where we became “orphan sisters” in the summer production of Annie. I was eight at the time, and she was nine–and already Jen was the ring leader of what would become an incredibly strong group of friends, (the inexplicably named) Tuna Fish Club.

Members of the Tuna Fish Club...I honestly don't know how that name happened.

Even at the ripe old age of nine, Jen loved theatre. And as the years passed, Jen made it pretty clear that it was her mission in life to work on Broadway, and to be the person whose words would transcend history with the story of drama in our time.

That’s a pretty heavy mission to carry around on nine year old shoulders, but Jen carried it–all the way to New York City, where she studied theatre and later fell in with a crowd of up-and-coming theatre hopefuls. With them, she made it to Broadway…and that was only the start.

Remember that time we "went to the Tony Awards" by standing awkwardly outside of Radio City for an hour?

About a year and a half ago (give or take), Jen and one of her friends started a small cabaret style theatre show called If It Only Even Runs A Minute, which revived forgotten musicals, and put them, and their stories back on stage. It was part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival, and it apparently turned a couple of heads. I say that, because two nights ago, Jen brought If It Only Even Runs A Minute 8 to Joe’s Pub–and for those of you in the know, that’s a really, freaking huge deal.

Why tell this story? And what does it have to do with cookies? Well, in my life, I’ve realized that there are three kinds of people: The people who have dreams that fall into their laps by way of luck, money, or magic; the people who sit around hoping their dreams will come true; and the people who actually just go out and make things happen.

Jen has always, always been one of the latter kinds of people. She’s been fearless in her pursuit of her goals, and now I’m firmly convinced that Jen is poised to become a theatre historian for our time, one of the definitive voices of our generation. I am so incredibly proud of her–and at the same time, I’m in awe of her courage. She is and always has been one of my heroes…and I’ve finally come to the point in my own career that I am ready to stop being a hoper and become a do-er like her.

I’ve realized that I cannot live fearlessly–but I can live courageously. I can do things, like pack up my life and move across the country. Or lease a car in my own name and start a new job. Or hop into a car I’ve never driven onto a highway that’s completely foreign and get to my destination without getting lost. Or walk into the Office of the Clerk-Reporter and fill out the form to declare my business official in Santa Clara Valley.

So, as of two days ago, KP’s Cookies is a real thing. I may not have any money, but I have a plan. And I’m looking forward to making my dreams come true–and I know they’ll run more than a minute.

I said all of that to set you up for the cookie to follow. I’ve called them “More Than a Spoonful of Sugar”* Caramel Meltaways. Jen, these are for you!

Love & Cookies,

KP

*This title only makes sense if you know musicals.** Or Julie Andrews. Or if you can’t stand musicals or Julie Andrews (which is none of you, because that’s obviously blasphemy) but just want to get literal (since there’s sugar in and around the cookie), then that works too…

**And, yes, I realize that Mary Poppins was a movie first. It still counts. Mainly because I thought about making a She Loves Me Vanilla Ice Cream Cookie, and the logistics of making a vegan, potentially shippable cookie made my head spin.

EDIT: If you would like to help me get KP’s Cookies off of the ground, please visit my GOFUNDME Page!

Reconnected (with Double Mocha Caramel Cookies)

I know a lady never reveals her true age…but I guess I’m not much a lady because I have no problem telling you how absolutely freaked out I am by the concept that I am turning 25 next month.

I know that every 20-something blogger worth her weight in Facebook “likes” & retweets has put in her two cents on the concept of the quarter-life crisis, but I figure there’s no harm in adding my own loose change to the pot.

See, I don’t know when it happened, but two very big shifts happened in the last (gulp) seven years since high school. Shift one: My Facebook newsfeed (or whatever they’re calling the constant stream of status updates these days) went from displaying “what I drank last night at my (insert college and/or fraternity name here) party” to “what we drank at our wedding/engagement party/baby shower.” I’m not okay with this, since my longest relationship only lasted a few months (during several of which we didn’t even live in the same state), and the only child I’m ever going to have has fur and a tail.

and she *loves* being an only child....

 

Shift two: old, long lost friends have suddenly popped back into my life in a big way. People whose faces I haven’t seen since we graduated (and some I haven’t seen since we graduated middle school…) have shown up in my inbox, on my telephone, and even in the mall where I work. It’s pretty exciting, this whole concept of being reconnected…and it makes me wonder why I ever let some of these people fall out of my life.

I suppose that I shouldn’t look at my quarter-life crisis as a “crisis”–there’s a lot to look forward to in the next 3/4 of my life, especially if the amazing people who helped make the first part so great keep coming back.

I mention this because I filled my very first official order for KP’s cookies yesterday. The girl (woman? what are we now?) who ordered them was one of my very best friends through high school, and she and I really hadn’t had the chance to speak probably since the very first winter break of college (2005, I’m looking at you!). I made her dad a birthday batch of my Double Mocha Caramel Cookies. Here’s what the process looked like:

Hm. It’s strange….just as I’m dealing with one of the hardest transitions in my life (accepting my move into the other side of 20-something), so am I dealing with the two most difficult ingredients I could handle in my home kitchen. It’s all so time-bound–waste a moment and your sugar burns or your chocolate seizes. Turn your back and you’ve lost the whole recipe and have to start over. But do it right…well, do it right, and the sugar stays connected and the chocolate stays shiny & smooth. Do it right and you have a hell of a cookie on your hands. Or in your mouth. Whatever works for you.

Here’s hoping I get this right. Step one: make sure those reconnections are correctly bound into my life again so it’s shiny & smooth sailing to step two. Whatever that may be.

Love & Cookies,

KP