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a few weeks back, my boss bought me and my coworker nanaimo bars, just as a nice treat.  he devoured his, exclaiming how the bottom layer was his favourite and if only they would only just make this one layer.  curious, i nibbled on mine (it had been many many years since my last tasting of a nanaimo bar) and discovered my absolute hatred of that same bottom layer.

the discussion about the love vs hate of coconut ensued.  i pointed out that i had no issues with coconut itself, it was more the texture of the dried, shredded stuff that got to me.  sort of the textural equivalent of nails scratching on a board.

and i can’t recall what led me to smitten kitchen’s recipe for toasted coconut shortbread, but the post was on the same subject of the polarizing nature of coconut.  through reading the comments i learned of others who either directly, or through someone close to them, were all too keenly aware of the dreaded loathing of dessicated/shredded coconut, particularly the texture.  what piqued my interest was how all the coconut ‘haters’ loved these cookies!

so it became a personal challenge to see how i would feel on the matter.  i figured even if i hated them, they wouldn’t go to waste – at a minimum, my coworker would be happy!

verdict?  not too shabby! this was a nice change to regular shortbread, and because they were thin, the crunchiness of the coconut and the buttery-ness of the cookie were a nice pairing.  i must admit though, being a chocolate lover, the chocolate part was a definite highlight :)

in making the shortbread, the recipe instructions called for chilling the dough, and then letting it warm slightly prior to rolling.  after a night in the fridge, i left it out on the counter for almost an hour, expecting the dough to soften, but while workable, it wasn’t initially easy to roll.  after cutting the cookies, i placed them on the baking sheet and popped them back in the freezer for a few minutes to have them harden back up prior to baking.

i’ve modified the recipe slightly from smitten kitchen’s, to account for sweetness both in the addition of the dipping of chocolate, but also to cater to those preferring generally less sweet desserts.

toasted coconut shortbread
makes 30-36 cookies

1/2 cup (about 1.5 ounces) unsweetened shredded coconut
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks or 6 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar (minus 1 tsp sugar if dipping cookies in chocolate later)
1/2 tsp coarse kosher salt (or slightly less if reducing the sugar)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour

preheat oven to 325°F. spread coconut on rimmed baking sheet. bake until coconut is light golden, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes (if your oven runs hot, be sure to keep an eye on the coconut, even 5 minutes may be sufficient). cool completely, then grind in a coffee grinder, food processor or blender (the coarser the grind, the more likely the shredded coconut texture may still be apparent).

using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar in large bowl until well blended and slightly fluffy. mix in salt and vanilla. beat in flour in 2 additions. stir in toasted coconut. gather dough together, flatten into a disc and wrap in plastic. chill at least 1 hour. (can be prepared 2 days ahead. keep chilled. soften slightly at room temperature before rolling out. dough may still appear firm when rolling, if disk is thick, while still wrapped in plastic, pre-flatten dough with hand to facilitate rolling).

preheat oven to 325°F. line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out dough disk on lightly floured work surface to scant 1/4-inch thickness. using 1 3/4- to 2-inch-diameter cookie cutters, cut dough into rounds. transfer cookies to prepared baking sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. gather dough scraps and reroll; cut out additional cookies.

bake cookies until light golden, about 20 minutes. cool on baking sheets for 10 minutes. transfer cookies to racks and cool completely.

chocolate for dipping (optional)

200g good quality dark chocolate (70% cocoa)
about 1 tbsp unsalted butter
pinch of salt

once the cookies have cooled, in a double boiler, melt the chocolate and butter, stirring occasionally until smooth, stir in the pinch of salt.

working quickly, dip each cookie part way in the melted chocolate, shaking off the excess chocolate.

place on parchment or rack to let chocolate cool.

enjoy! store cookies in airtight container at room temperature.  if dipped in chocolate, they may do better in a cooler spot so chocolate doesn’t get too melty.

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