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Taste of the Times
I hate losing, even losing track of, anything beloved. One earring from a gift pair. Books I’ve lent. The sharp details of old memories. People from my life. Recipes. I especially hate losing recipes. Like the lost earring or music or friend, a lost recipe will leave a gap between the strung together events and routines that comprise my life.
One such routine event is Christmas baking. Every year I make an assortment of five or six cookies for gift
baskets I give to friends and family. Sometimes I take one or two of the old favorites out and try a couple of replacements for variety and surprise. But I have my stalwarts: brownies, ginger cookies, honey-laced nut bars, hazelnut biscotti, Scottish shortbreads cut in rounds and sandwiched with jewel-toned jams.
I also make sure to include an early 1990s-era Food and Wine recipe for chocolate-dipped coconut snowballs. Unlike many of the other cookies I make, these I make only once a year (they seem too wintery to eat year round) and the anticipation only serves to whet my appetite.
About six years ago, as I gathered my cookie recipes for the gift baskets, I went through my stacks of Food and Wine magazines looking for the one with the holiday cookie article containing the coconut snowball recipe. The issue was nowhere to be found, and believe me I hunted high and low, pulling out every single stack of magazines, examining each and every one over and over and over. No snowballs.
For years after I did my best to forget I even owned this recipe, never mind owned then lost it. That particular failure was hard to bear. I did my best to revamp the cookie basket to keep it worthy of all my wonderful friends. I even tried to forget how good my first bite of a snowball always was, how much I savored the few I had always saved for myself, and how I made those few bites last. Sounds melodramatic, raising a lost cookie recipe almost to the status of a lost love, but this is how I felt: I had lost a piece of myself. A piece of my personal history.
A few summers ago I found my thoughts drifting back to the coconut snowball. Why the thought of coconut snowballs came to me in summer, I’m not really sure. Maybe I wanted to try one last time to find the recipe in time for the upcoming holiday season. I started scouring library shelves for Food and Wine recipe collections in cookbook form. I found some, but not one that contained the recipe I needed. Still, being in the library gave me an inspired idea: I could ask a librarian to do the research for me.
Shortly after, on one of my regular book finding trips, the reference librarian came up to me and, wordless, passed a photocopy to me. I looked at the paper in my hands. “Chocolate-Dipped Snowballs” it read. This sheet was stapled to a second so I flipped it over to look at the second page: “Food and Wine’s Holiday Favorites.”
The hardworking, dedicated, doggedly persevering librarian who don’t give up when they were given as little as recipe name and a magazine title and still somehow hit the jackpot. My recipe, at last, returned to me! My history made whole.
Below is the recipe for Chocolate-Dipped Coconut Snowballs, my favorite holiday cookie, exactly as it appeared in Food and Wine. Holiday perfection in a cookie.
Chocolate-Dipped Snowballs (Makes about 2 dozen)
2 ½ cups unsweetened shredded coconut
1 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. cornstarch
¼ cup sugar
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pieces
¼ cup light corn syrup
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¼ tsp. salt
2 large egg whites, beaten until slightly frothy to mix
6 ounces of your favorite chocolate, chopped and melted over a double boiler
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Alternately, butter and flour a baking sheet well. In a medium bowl combine the coconut and the cornstarch. Set aside.
Beat the egg whites a little to combine. Set aside.
In a medium stainless steel saucepan set over medium high heat, combine the sugar, butter, corn syrup, vanilla, and salt, and stir as mixture melts together.
Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil for 10 seconds, remove the pan from the heat, and stir the coconut mixture into it. Add half of the beaten egg whites and stir with a wooden spoon to combine. Add the second half and stir to combine. The mixture will begin to hold together and form a ball in the pan as you stir.
Return this to high heat and cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds. Let mixture cool slightly.
Begin scooping small amounts of the slightly warm coconut mixture to form snowballs. Use a cookie scoop for uniform size balls, or alternately, use moistened hands to roll the mixture into 1-inch balls. Put up to a dozen snowballs on each prepared cookie sheet.
Bake in the middle of the oven for 5 minutes. Rotate the baking sheets after 5 minutes, shifting top to bottom and bottom to top and continue cooking until the peaks of the snowballs begin to turn pale golden brown, about 5 minutes longer. Let the cookies cool completely on the baking sheet.
Dip the cooled snowballs into the melted chocolate. Melted chocolate is ready for dipping when it is still quite liquid and when a small drop feels cool on your skin.
Place the snowballs, resting on their sides with chocolate side up, on a sheet of parchment or waxed paper. Let the chocolate set until firm before packaging or serving.