Saturday, December 17, 2011

Creating Cookies, or Why Did I Ever Think That Sounded Good?

by Guest Blogger Norma Huss

Since I love to cook, and love to mix up something new and tasty, I create mystery characters who do the same. In my first mystery, my amateur sleuth researches the homeless by acting as a bag lady. She repays any favors or overnight stays by cleaning house or cooking a meal from whatever she finds in the kitchen. In my newest book it isn’t the protagonist Cyd, but her sister Kaye who is village-wide famous for her delicious desserts that she freely shares as a way to encourage help with her schemes.

After the books were in print, I decided to showcase these dishes on my website. Problem was, those recipes didn’t exist. As I typed merrily away, I threw together something that sounded great. Like, garlic chicken with peanut sauce, noodles and assorted leftover vegetables. When it came to throwing together the actual food I discovered that what sounds good on the page may not taste good in the kitchen, especially not without a great deal of experimentation. (My hubby doesn’t usually mind that part at all.) That chicken recipe took several failed tries to perfect. Eventually, it rated the raves I craved. (Or, at least, a nod and a second helping.)

Now I’m trying recipes to go with the second book. I started experimenting the other day.

Coconut blossoms sounded good when I included it in the manuscript. I fancied plump little petals surrounding a raised center. Should I add food color to part of the dough? Recently I saw directions for adding color to coconut. Hmmm. I searched recipes. Lots of coconut cookies. Coconut macaroons? A snicker doodle recipe looks interesting. Hmmm. Add coconut? Why not?

How about something truly experimental? I scanned my spice cupboard. Let’s see, turmeric is yellow. Paprika for red. On the other hand, those spices sound too kooky. I really should use food coloring instead. Much better idea, I’m sure.

I mixed up a slightly changed snicker doodle recipe: reduced sugar by 1/4 cup and added a cup of coconut.

What the heck—I tried it both ways. If the spices turned out, I’d have something remarkably creative. Right? I divided a couple of dabs of dough, added turmeric to the smaller and paprika to the larger. One teaspoon redish dough, push thumb into the center, then add a small ball of the yellowish dough. Bake. Came out flat and crispy, but with definite color differences. Definite flavor differences too!

Too creative. Why do I remember an experiment of my mother’s, chocolate pie crust with orange filling? She never lived that one down.

Okay, I decided to forget using spices to color my cookies. Fortunately I didn’t experiment with all the dough. I put some coconut into a plastic bag, added a few drops of red food coloring, then shook and massaged the bag until the coconut was a lovely shade of red. Then I rolled teaspoon-size dough bits in coconut, did the thumb-print thing, then added tiny wads of undyed dough in the center. Baked. Tasted. Presented both to the ultimate taster (Hubby), and accepted the verdict (which I agreed to).

Forget the weird spices.

Now I have a new recipe to include on my website (and here). Coconut Blossoms, a crispy confection that keeps well so could be baked ahead for my Christmas treats or enjoyed any time of the year. However, I do wish I’d named them something else in the manuscript. Coconut Crisps maybe. Much easier to just mix, drop teaspoon-sized wads of dough on the cookie sheet, and bake.   
Kaye’s Coconut Blossoms
½ cup butter, softened
½ cup shortening
1 1/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
2 1/4 cup flour
2 teaspoons cream of tarter
1 teaspoon soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
Red food coloring
1/4 cup additional sweetened flaked coconut (about)

1. Mix softened butter and shortening together
2. Stir in sugar and eggs.
3. Mix dry ingredients together, then add, alternating with adding the coconut
4. Color additional coconut (place in plastic bag with a few drops of food coloring and shake)
5. Roll teaspoon-sized bits of dough in red coconut, place on ungreased cookie sheet and push thumb into center. Place smaller bits of plain dough into indented center of each cookie

Bake 10 minutes at 400°  Cool on sheet for a few minutes, then remove to a paper towel-lined rack. After cool, store in a closed container at room temperature. 

The first recipe, from Yesterday’s Body, is on my website: (Click the recipe title at bottom of recipe page.) The coconut cookies are mentioned in my new mystery, Death of a Hot Chick.
Some cooks are strictly by-the-book. (I actually met one once.) Do you like to experiment or stick to the recipe? If you are an experimenter, like me, do some of your improvements leave much to be desired?
Norma Huss, at 82, is a wife, mother, and grandmother whose first full-length mystery was published a month before her 80th birthday. She likes to call herself, "The Grandma Moses of Mystery." The original Moses was an artist who started late, became famous at 80, and painted until she was 102. Since her mother is now 102, walking for exercise and doing word puzzles, Norma has the genes to do the same. She lives and writes in Pennsylvania. She and her husband are glad their children, although spread from north to south, all live in the same time zone. Visit her website: Her latest book is Death of a Hot Chick .