Tomorrow, I leave for a two-week self-guided historic food tour through Paris. There will be perfectly flaky pastries and artisanal ice cream and divine butter and rich sauces and fancy chocolates and to-die-for foie gras and crackly baguettes and delicious Moroccan dishes … and, most likely, a corresponding five- to ten-pound gain in cushion for the pushin’.
But before I depart, I want to leave you with an edible gift that’s historic (in its own American way and because it was my first catering experience for my friend Meghan’s gorgeous Lake Tahoe wedding!), rich (in caramel, butter, and chocolate), and so entirely delicious as to justify the time it takes to make it: the gift of bake-’em-yourself Girl Scout cookies.
Camping trips, craft projects, sleepover parties, and games with my best friends – my Girl Scout troopmates – fill my childhood memories. But selling Girl Scout cookies without getting to eat any until I got home and mom finally gave in and bought a box? That was pure torture.
Back then, local grocery stores were kind enough to allow us to set up a booth to sell some cookies, but the big selling was done door-to-door. (Clearly, this was before websites existed to inform our parents that the guy next door had a prior child molestation conviction.)
Once I became a full-fledged, incredibly intelligent and experienced, “always prepared” Girl Scout, my mom required me to lead my fledgling Brownie Scout of a sister around the neighborhood and split between us the credit for total number of cookie boxes sold.
I was less than pleased to have a mandatory tag-a-long (Ha! Bad pun on another Girl Scout cookie!), but onwards and upwards we went. Literally. Up a mountainous driveway to a down-the-street neighbor’s front door. Ding dong! We rang the doorbell once. No answer. Ding dong! Still no stirring within. Oh well, time to turn around, hike back down the driveway, and try the next home.
Suddenly, we heard loud barks and the scurrying of feet. We both hesitated a moment, thinking the dogs might be alerting their owner to our visit. Maybe the steep climb up the driveway was worth it and we’d make a few cookie sales after all! Then, I realized the dogs were outside – a large one and a small yippy one, both baring terrifyingly sharp teeth – bounding around the side of the home and straight towards me. So I booked it down the long, winding driveway as fast as my legs would carry me.
Somehow, I got to safety. I sighed deeply with relief. Phew, Kate, that was close. Kate wasn’t there. In a moment of sheer fright, I had left my little sister behind and ohmygodmymomisgoingtokillme! Luckily, she dove into some bushes mid-way down the driveway and was unhurt except for some minor scratches from the branches. After that, we decided to call it a day, making sure to play around for a good 45 minutes before returning home so that our mom would think we had actually walked up to the front doors of each neighbor’s house but didn’t make any cookie sales because it just so happened that no one was home.
That adventure took place back when a box of Girl Scout cookies cost $2 and change. While there’s no denying that the coconut-caramel-chocolate deliciousness of Samoas has remained the same since then, the Girl Scouts now charge almost twice that for an annually shrinking box of cookies.
But let’s look beyond the price inflation because, really, who is going to say no to a little Girl Scout, clad in uniform, badge-covered sash and sugar-sweet smile, trying to sell you cookies so yummy that you’d gladly pay a finger, an ear, maybe even an arm for them? The real problem arises when Girl Scout cookie season is over; that means no more Samoas for you because, unlike the Thin Mint knockoffs that can be found on cookie shelves in your regular supermarket, no one has recreated the more copycat-worthy Samoa.
In the Girl Scout cookie world, Samoas (a bad play on s’mores, perhaps?) are also known as Caramel DeLites. But don’t let that de-lite-ful name name fool you. These cookies are anything but light.
Just like the originals, I topped a buttery shortbread cookie with a heap of toasted coconut flakes that had been mixed into homemade caramel, and then dipped the bottom in dark chocolate. You could also drizzle chocolate over the coconut-caramel topping, but I was so generous with the bottom-dipping that I actually ran out of chocolate. Totally amateur.
But when I made a couple hundred of these delights for Meghan’s wedding in Tahoe a few weeks back, nobody noticed that a drizzle of chocolate was missing from the top. In fact, I’m not even sure anyone noticed the delicious but not as eye-catching brown butter brown sugar shortbread cookies I made, which were on a beautiful vintage glass cookie plate right next to the coconut-caramel-chocolate bites of decadence.
All eyes mouths were on the Samoas. Seriously. They disappeared faster than crack in the Tenderloin.
The individual steps aren’t difficult, but these cookies can be time-consuming to make given that they involve three separate steps: (1) baking shortbread cookies and allowing them to cool; (2) making the coconut-caramel topping, applying it to the cookies, and allowing the topping to set; and (3) dipping the cookie bottoms in chocolate and allowing those to set before serving or transporting.
Don’t let the time investment discourage you; the steps can be spread out over several days. You can bake the shortbread cookies a day or two in advance to break up the work (shortbread keeps quite well for a week, maybe longer). The coconut flakes can also be toasted a day or two before you make the caramel, and kept in an airtight container. However, if making it from scratch, caramel should be made the same day as you make and apply the topping to the cookies. Finally, dipping the cookie bottoms in chocolate can be pushed off to a day after the caramel topping has been applied, provided that you store the topped-but-not-yet-dipped cookies in an airtight container.
I promise the work will be worth it. Samoas are showstoppers.
And you? The brilliant and talented baker. Maybe a friend will even hire you to make them for her wedding and place a sign with your name on it next to your delightful cookies. In other words, making these Samoa knockoffs will make you famous. Or, at least, very popular.
Samoas / Caramel DeLites
Makes 3 dozen
3 c. grated coconut
16 oz. very soft, chewy caramel (this homemade recipe is highly recommended, or proceed at your own risk with high quality, store-bought caramel chews, which readers have had varying degrees of success using)
3/4 c. butter, melted
1/2 c. brown sugar (or 1/2 c. white sugar and 2 Tbsp. molasses)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. flour
16 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped or chips
Two pieces of wax paper
Preheat oven to 300F.
In a large bowl, mix melted butter, brown sugar (or white sugar and molasses), vanilla and salt until combined. Add flour, and mix until combined.
Lay one piece of wax paper on the counter. Transfer dough onto wax paper. Place second piece of wax paper over the top of the dough, and roll out dough with a rolling pin until it is 1/4-inch thick. Let stand while you toast the coconut flakes.
Spread coconut flakes evenly across a baking pan. Toast in oven for 10 to 15 minutes until golden brown, stirring every 5 minutes. Once coconut flakes are lightly browned, remove from oven, transfer to a large bowl, and allow to cool, stirring periodically (coconut will continue to toast slightly). Set aside, but keep oven heated at 300F.
Using a 1 1/2-inch round cookie cutter (or the sipping end of a champagne glass if you’re lacking cookie cutters like I am), stamp the dough. Using a 1/2 or 1/4-inch cookie cutter (or the wider end of a pastry tip, in my case), cut center holes out of each cookie. Transfer cut mini doughnut-shaped cookies to parchment or silicon-lined baking sheet. Roll out any remaining dough, and cut additional cookies, transfer to baking sheet, and repeat until all dough is used.
Bake on center rack in oven for 14 to 16 minutes until cookie edges turn lightly golden. Remove from oven, cool on pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to rack to continue cooling.
If using homemade caramel (highly recommended for best topping texture results!), make according to the instructions here, removing caramel from heat once it reaches 245F and immediately pouring it into a cool bowl (ignore all the subsequent cooling and rolling/cutting instructions). If using store-bought soft caramel chews, heat in microwave in 30 second increments, stirring between zapping sessions, until caramel becomes just barely soft and melty enough to mix with coconut flakes (proceed with caution because overheating the caramel will result in a very hard, unpleasant-to-bite topping).
Pour toasted coconut flakes into a bowl with the caramel and mix until evenly combined.
Using a spatula or your fingers, cover each cookie with the coconut caramel topping, pressing it into the cookie to adhere. (I found it easier to use my fingers, and it cuts down on the re-heating of the caramel topping, which you can do for 15 seconds at a time if the mixture becomes too difficult to press on cookies; but be careful with re-heating candy, as overheating will cause it to harden up into an unchewable mess!) Allow topping to set.
Heat chopped chocolate in the microwave, stirring in 30 second increments, just until barely melted (for me, this took about 90 seconds total). Dip the bottom of each cookie into the melted chocolate, and set on wax paper to cool. You can also drizzle the top with chocolate if desired, but I was generous enough when dipping the bottom of each cookie to run out of chocolate. Store on wax paper in an airtight, refrigerated container for 3 to 5 days, if you can manage that sort of self-control. Allow to come to room temperature (unless room temp is 75F or warmer because chocolate will get too soft) before serving so the caramel softens up a bit.