April 3, 2011
Spring is my favorite time of the year despite early seasonal allergies. The weather is starting to warm up so we no longer have to wear bulky heavy winter clothing and we can feel the sun on our skin. Everything seems to come alive again. Grass is greener, flowers bloom, and wildlife is up and about. Another good thing about Spring? Girl scout cookies! I will admit even as a pastry chef that girl scout cookies are a guilty pleasure. My favorites are trefoils, thin mints, and of course samoas. There was a period of about 2 years where I didn’t eat girl scout cookies and when I came back and bought them I noticed that samoas were renamed caramel de-lites! Though I think this has more to do about where they are made regionally. Anyway, I’ve always wanted to know how to make my own samoas and I found recipes galore in the past couple months – and now I’m happy to share mine with you!
I found the original recipe on foodbuzz.com, an online food blog community. There were a couple weeks at the end of January and early February where this was what everybody was making. However, the recipes I found always used store-bought caramels which I found ridiculous! Caramel is actually really easy to make! I decided that I would customize the recipe so that the cookie was as homemade as possible. Unless you’re harvesting and refining your own sugar, flour, and chocolate you’ll be hard pressed to find a recipe more homemade than mine!
A samoa consists of three parts: the shortbread cookie bottom, a coconut-caramel topping, and a chocolate finish. The shortbread cookie in this recipe is similar to the 1-2-3 dough shortbread in that it has very few ingredients. However, this recipe does not have any eggs and includes just a touch of baking powder. I find that the 1-2-3 dough has more of a crisp snap while the samoa shortbread is a softer crumbly cookie. However, feel free to use whichever shortbread cookie recipe you’d like.
The coconut-caramel topping is where many recipes use the store-bought caramels. As I said before though, caramel is actually pretty easy to make. If you’ve ever made simple syrup you’re only about 5-10 minutes away from making caramel! Use the same steps to make simple syrup (sugar with water until fluid, touch a cream of tartar, boil with lid on to wash down sides, do not stir/agitate, then remove lid to finish) except allow the syrup to continue to cook, undisturbed, until it reaches an amber color. Caramel that is lighter in color will be sweeter in flavor but may lack a complex caramel flavor. Caramel that is darker in color will have a richer caramel flavor but will be bitter in flavor. Use the appropriate sweetness of caramel that will complement your tastes and your coconut best. In my recipe I use a 50/50 blend of sweetened and unsweetened coconut – and I still use caramel on the sweeter side. If you use more sweetened coconut then a darker bitter caramel will help balance the cookie better. If you use more unsweetened coconut then you need to use a lighter sweeter caramel otherwise your cookie will not be sweet at all. Remember to add heavy cream and butter to your caramel to make it into a sauce. If you don’t, it will be candy-like it consistency and hard like rock candy. Feel free to adjust the heavy cream down an ounce or two in the recipe if you consistently find that the caramel is just too runny or too soft for your tastes.The final component of samoas is actually the most difficult: the chocolate. Real chocolate is a temperamental ingredient. If you watched the Haunted Graveyard Brownie episode then you know what I mean. To work with chocolate (when it isn’t used inside a batter or dough) it must be tempered. If it is untempered it will not set up quickly (or at all), it will not have the crisp characteristic snap that tempered chocolate has, and it will be off in color and in texture. Untempered chocolate will also melt faster which means messy fingers. There are many many ways to temper chocolate and which method you choose depends on what you are using the chocolate for, how much time you have, and what supplies you have.
The best tempering method is the table method (there is a great video on the table method by Ghirardelli) and it results in the strongest chocolate that sets up well. It is also best for large amounts of chocolate. However, it requires a marble slab and lots of space – two things most home bakers don’t have. It can also be tedious because when your chocolate gets too warm you have to start the process over again.
Eventually I plan to demonstrate the table method but my preferred method is called the vaccination or seed method (which was seen in the Haunted Graveyard Brownie episode). It’s easier that the table method and requires much less space. It is great for smaller amounts of chocolate that you are planning on using for decorations like lattice or filigrees. The vaccination method requires you heat chocolate to a high temperature (in the video I say 110 degrees F but for dark chocolate it is actually 122 and for milk and white it is 115 – follow the manufacturer’s directions though as each specific brand of chocolate could have different temperature thresholds) just like in the table method, but instead of working the chocolate on the marble you add tempered chocolate to the bowl and continuously (but not vigorously) stir until the chocolate reaches the correct tempered temperature (usually 90 for dark, 88 for milk, and 86 for white). The vaccination method does not create as strong as tempered product as the table method but it is a little easier, quicker, and requires less supplies than the table method.
The easiest method is the direct method. The direct method is the easiest and fastest tempering method but it is also the least reliable. The direct method is exactly how it sounds: you directly heat the chocolate to its tempered temperature. You usually use a microwave for the direct method but I find that my chocolate sometimes burns (plus sometimes the bowl can get really hot!). While the direct method sounds really easy it is difficult to make sure the chocolate is still in temper and the chocolate sets up the weakest of the three methods. It is best for dipping, very simple garnishing (like drizzle), or simple touch up.If you don’t want to deal with tempering you can use coating chocolate. Coating chocolate is available at most craft stores and baking supply stores. It is easier to work with than real chocolate because the difficult component of chocolate, the cocoa butter, has been removed and replaced with vegetable oil. It does not set up as crisp as tempered chocolate, is softer and weaker than real chocolate, and sometimes has an off-flavor but it is also very easy to work with and does not require tempering. It is also very quick and reliable and is best for dipping and very simple garnishes.
Whichever method you choose, or if you choose to use coating chocolate, the final step is simply dipping the bottom of the cookie in chocolate until you cannot see the cookie and then drizzling the top to finish. Remember to scrape excess chocolate off the cookie back into the bowl so that your cookie doesn’t develop a foot.
Here is the recipe for homemade samoas which includes the shortbread cookie and homemade caramel coconut topping. I hope you enjoy this recipe! The video for making homemade samoas is below. Thanks for watching!