August marked the 16th anniversary of my Baking Secrets food column with the Daily Herald.
It's been a unique experience for me to blend my passion for food science passion and natural culinary curiosity into an interesting and fun endeavor. Just as importantly, I've enjoyed meeting our readers at food events around the Chicago area.
This summer offered me the opportunity to take time and digest all the information and lessons learned as part of the 2016 Daily Herald Fittest Loser contest.
As I'd shared with Daily Herald Food editor Susan Stark, immersing myself into an intensive fitness and food challenge would no doubt leave lasting changes. The only question was where this path would lead.
One change that has stuck -- and quite honestly, I never saw this one coming -- is that I have completely walked away from dark chocolate bars. Who knew this die-hard chocoholic and pastry chef could accomplish such a feat? But it's true! There were lots of layers to this change and, after 12 weeks, I had altered my taste buds.
All of this got me thinking about how to weave the life-changing experiences and culinary information I learned at Push Fitness studios into my Baking Secrets column. In lieu of pulling up my pastry chef tent on designing and crafting dessert recipes, I have come to see this as an opportunity to challenge my food science passion and natural culinary curiosity.
For me, this new path begins designing baking recipes that include ingredients offering substantial balance to the power of sugar. I'll be looking to infuse good quality fats, such as coconut and olive oils, and boosting the fiber content in desserts. Protein has been a sidelined player in baking recipes, and going forward, I'll be highlighting more ingredients from this powerhouse food group.
Today's featured recipe, Granola Coconut Cookies, brings all of these concepts together into one revamped cookie designed to excite the taste buds -- not disappoint them. My goal isn't to play into the substitution ingredient game, but rather look to what possibilities other ingredients could bring to the recipe. It's a big change in my culinary perspective.
With toasted granola as the featured ingredient, I knew this cookie's texture could handle hearty flours. Bob's Red Mill whole wheat pastry flour provides more fiber and a good boost of protein, all delivered in a softer, 100 percent stone-ground product. In this pastry flour, you get all the nutritional benefits of whole wheat without the heaviness of hard wheat.
My base granola cookie recipe calls for 1½ cups sugar, giving the baked texture a crunchy snap. Omitting white sugar entirely, I relied on just one-half cup each of light- and dark-brown sugar to sweeten the dough. This softened the cookie's chewiness and, as a bonus, granola brings a light background honey flavor to the recipe.
Along with granola, chopped unsweetened coconut was already on my most wanted stir-in list. Then I had an interesting idea: Why not substitute coconut oil for half the unsalted butter? Here, the background flavor of butter actually keeps the bold taste of coconut oil from overwhelming the other ingredients.
It's on the pricey side, but I've become a fan of milk & honey's original cafe blend granola. Deep toasting brings out the flavor depths of oats, sunflower seeds, almonds and wheat germ. A splash of vanilla rounds out the background tropical notes of coconut.
Divine aromas enticed my senses, but I felt like the cookie needed a little something more. Interesting stir-ins take a good cookie to greatness, and a few handfuls of dried cranberries provided a much needed pop of color against the harvest hues.
There's a lot to like about these granola cookies when they're fresh from the oven. But stash some away for a few days, and your taste buds will enjoy soft texture and developed coconut flavors!
Want to see Annie in action?
She'll be leading classes at the upcoming America's Baking and Sweets Show: For its fourth year, the show returns to the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center in Schaumburg Nov. 11-13. Annie's classes will be held on Saturday and Sunday and include:
• Secrets to Successful Holiday Cookies will be from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. Nov. 12. She'll showcase her Toasted Pecan Crescent, a Daily Herald favorite, and she'll offer samples, too.
• Great Tasting Gluten Free Baking will be from 4 to 5 p.m. Nov. 12. She will demonstrate her gluten free Lemon Olive Oil Pound Cake. Samples available.
• Bake Like a Pastry Chef is set for 1 to 2 p.m. Nov. 13. Annie will demonstrate her recipes for homemade vanilla extract, raspberry coulis and white chocolate whipped cream. In addition, she'll showcase a brownie plated dessert.
Classes cost $10 each, buy tickets online at americasbakingandsweetsshow.com.
• Annie Overboe, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, lives in Oakbrook Terrace. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.