Last weekend, we drove out to Fort Tilden. The day was grey, and the beach was practically deserted, and we sat facing the ocean, listening to the waves lap up against the shore. In the city, houses packed tightly against each other, it’s easy to forget how close we are to beaches, to endless horizons.
I wanted to bake a treat to take with us, something easy and healthy, that wouldn’t require a trip to the store. Heidi’s animal cracker cookies, with coconut oil, shredded coconut, and just a bit of brown sugar, seemed to fit the bill. I decided to swap the whole wheat pastry flour for spelt, which I thought would go nicely with the coconut. You begin by finely mincing the coconut, which releases fragrant perfumes with every swoop of the knife, triggering wanderlust for sun-drenched, exotic places, and lazily dragging your toes through soft, warm sand. The dough comes together effortlessly, with a whisk or a fork, and then rests in the fridge for an hour, during which you can have a second cup of coffee and pack a little picnic bag. When you’re ready, you roll out the dough, and stamp out the cookies. I found the dough a little difficult to work with, to be honest, but then again, exercises in patience are never a bad thing. During their brief stint in the oven, the cookies filled my house with waves of coconut perfume. Before you know it, you’re biting into one, crisp, and faintly sweet, the coconut flavor subdued and delicate.*
The daughter of one of my close friends loves butterflies, so I see them everywhere, and tuck butterfly things into care packages I send her- wings and wands and butterfly-studded tops. I thought of her as I stamped out these cookies, and as we ate them seated across from the ocean. But today, as I write this, they seem to lean into metaphor territory, flying towards the horizon in all of their delicate, light-winged beauty.
*Coconut, previously: Coconut Granola Bars.
Animal Cracker Cookies
adapted from 101 cookbooks
Lightly scented with coconut, these cookies are delicious- crisp and just faintly sweet. I swapped the whole wheat pastry flour specified for white spelt flour (1:1). Heidi notes that you can make your own walnut or almond meal by pulsing the nuts in a food processor “until it is the texture of sand”- be careful: go too far, and you’ll have nut butter on your hands (not a bad proposition). Heidi also suggests you can lightly toast the shredded coconut for added depth, which I might do next time. I used Demerara in place of the fine-grain natural cane sugar and the turbinado sugar specified, for the simple reason that it’s what I had on hand. I think any natural/brown sugar would do nicely for the dough, but a big-grain sugar would really be nicer for sprinkling. I think these would also be wonderful half-dipped in melted chocolate, but then again, what wouldn’t?
Yield: approx. 2 dozen cookies (depending on the size of your cookie cutters).
1 cup white spelt flour
1/4 cup walnut or almond meal (see above, I used almond)
1/2 cup unsweetened finely shredded coconut, very finely minced
1/4 cup extra-virgin coconut oil, softened**
1/3 cup fine-grain natural cane sugar (I used Demerara)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
a few tablespoons big-grain turbinado sugar (I used Demerara)
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, walnut or almond meal and shredded coconut.
In another medium bowl, beat the coconut oil with the sugar and salt until smooth. Beat in the egg, mixing until combined. Add the flour mixture, stirring until almost incorporated. Place the dough on your counter, and knead it once or twice, before gathering it into a ball. Cut the dough in half, flatten each piece, and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for at least an hour.
When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350F/180C degrees. Place the racks in the middle of the oven, and line your baking sheets with parchment paper.
Lightly flour your work surface, and roll the dough out to 1/8-inch thick. If the dough cracks, let it sit and warm up for a few more minutes. Using floured cookie cutters, stamp out shapes, and place the cookies an inch apart on the baking sheets. Sprinkle the cookies with a bit of the turbinado sugar, and bake until they are just starting to become golden at the edges, about 7-8 minutes.
Remove from the oven, and cool on racks.
**I wasn’t sure what was meant by “softened,” and just used mine as is.