When I was a kid my mom always bought a lot of Girl Scout Cookies. I mean, a lot. Multiple boxes (six, eight?) each of at least four kinds: Thin Mints (of course; what’s better straight out of the freezer?), Peanut Butter Patties, Peanut Butter Sandwiches, and, be still my heart, Samoas. I often wonder if the name is a pun, as in “I WANT SOME-MOA!” Works that way for me, certainly. My bedroom growing up was originally the pantry—my dad converted it for me so I wouldn’t have to share a room with my three brothers—which meant that every time I entered or left my sanctuary, I had to pass through the kitchen. If I got up to pee during the night, I’d often return to bed with a snack of some sort. During Girl Scout Cookie season, that snack would be a box of Samoas. I’d pull them from their plastic tray, one by one, and try to savor each cookie slowly, picking off little bits of toasted coconut, or aiming only for the chocolate stripe, but usually the whole thing would disappear in two bites. But the best part would be what was left behind, pooled at the bottom of the plastic tray they came in: a small, gooey lump of caramel, sometimes with a shred of coconut mixed in, but most often just straight sugary, buttery goodness. Scooping up that little bonus with my finger, I’d run my teeth under my fingernail to ensure I’d gotten every last drop.
From the day I announced Sugar High Friday, I planned to make homemade Samoas. I haven’t had a “real” one in years, but whenever Girl Scout Cookie season rolls around I find myself fantasizing about them. My plan was to make an “upscale” version, with homemade shortbread, homemade caramel, and bittersweet chocolate. As I posted the other day, though, my attempt at caramel was something of a disaster. Upscale, shmupscale. These are junk food, pure and simple. I gave in to reality and bought a package of Kraft caramels, which saved the day.
The cookie portion of the recipe is fantastic—I’d never made shortbread before, but the recipe in Nick Malgieri’s Cookies Unlimited sounded pretty simple: just butter, sugar, flour. And these were some of the best cookies I have ever had. Do you hear me: I said the best cookies I have ever had. Buttery, tender, delicate, lightly sweet but not too sugary, it required some restraint not to eat them all before I could transform them into Samoas. (WW readers: if your yield is as high as mine was, 65 cookies, they’re only 2 points each! The problem then, of course, is how to keep from eating 65 cookies.) In the end, in fact, I preferred them straight. The toasted coconut/caramel/chocolate topping was decadent, but it went too far. Maybe I’ve gotten over my fondness for super-sweet, junky food? Maybe my tastes have matured after all these years? I’m sure as hell not going to buy a box of Samoas and find out.
Note: Since I wasn’t exactly thrilled with my caramel experience here, today I’m making a second dessert, a Turtle Tart of sorts, to bring to dinner at a friend’s house tonight. If I have time I’ll post again later today—if not, well, I guess we’ll have Sugar High Saturday, too!
ADDED MARCH 2011: Hey, guess what? Six years later, I’ve come up with a new version of homemade Samoas: Samoa Bars. That post includes an embarrassingly easy method for making caramel sauce from scratch. You’re welcome.
Yield: 65 2-inch cookies
For the cookies:
From Cookies Unlimited
20 T. (2 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
Set racks in upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 325. Line 2 cookie sheets or jelly roll pans with silpats, parchment, or foil, and set aside.
In the bowl of a standing electric mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the mixture becomes light in color and very soft and fluffy.
Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the flour by hand. The dough will be soft.
Place a handful of the dough at a time on a lightly floured work surface. Use the floured palm of your hand to press out the dough until it is about 3/8 inch thick—don’t make it too thin. If the dough seems to be sticking, run a long thin knife or spatula under it to loosen it [an offset spatula is handy here]: whatever you do, do not use a lot of flour or the shortbreads will be dry and tough. [I used my Roul'Pat Pastry Mat and needed hardly any extra flour.]
Cut out the shortbreads using a fluted round cutter anywhere from 2 to 4 inches in diameter, dipped in flour. With a spatula or pancake turner transfer them to the prepared pans, spacing about 1 ½ inches apart—they don’t spread, but they puff a little. [I crowded mine a little more, closer to 1 inch apart, and it was fine.]
Continue until all the dough has been cut and you have a large pile of scraps. Continue pressing out and cutting the scraps until they have all been used. The key here is to use very little flour on the work surface and on the dough. This way the last shortbread you cut out will be as tender and fragile as the first.
Bake the shortbreads for 15 to 20 minutes, making sure they are just a very pale golden color. [I baked mine for 8 minutes, then switched and rotated the pans and baked an additional 8 minutes.] Slide papers from pans onto racks, or if using Silpats slide cookies, carefully, directly onto racks.
For the topping:
4 cups sweetened shredded coconut
1 14-ounce package of caramels
2 T. milk
4 oz. chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 300. Spread coconut evenly on a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan and toast 15-20 minutes, or until it’s an even golden brown. Remove from the oven to stir and redistribute every five minutes to prevent burning. Set aside.
Unwrap the caramels and put into a large microwave-safe bowl. Add milk and cook on high 2-3 minutes, stopping to whisk every 30 seconds until caramel melts and incorporates into milk. Add toasted coconut and stir to combine.
Using a butter knife or small offset spatula, top each cookie with about a teaspoon of the mixture, spreading evenly over the surface. When all cookies are topped, melt chocolate carefully using your method of choice (I do it in the microwave on 50%, stopping to stir every 30 seconds). Put chocolate into a small Ziploc bag and push it down into one corner. Snip off the very edge of that corner and voila! Instant pastry bag. Use the bag to pipe a zigzag of chocolate over the coconut-caramel-topped cookies.