June 21, 2015

Strawberry Almond Coconut Bars

I'll admit I'm a little hesitant to publish this recipe right now. You're probably aware of the extreme drought in California, and reducing almond consumption definitely won't solve the whole problem but it can still make a huge impact. I read that it takes a full gallon of water to grow a single almond, and that already shocking statistic doesn't include the water necessary for almond products like almond milk (water soaked with ground almonds) and almond butter. The majority of the world's almonds are grown in California, and the crop is quickly using up what little water is left. Strawberries are also a common crop grown in California, but the water usage isn't quite as alarming and there are other places to get them. For example, one of the things that inspired this recipe was all of the fresh strawberries available at the Dane County Farmers' Market this week. I still think that this recipe is worth making since it's so fresh and delicious and seasonal, but in the future I'll probably try it with a different type of nut.

There are three layers to these bars: the coconut cookie base, the strawberry filling, and the coconut almond streusel. Since it's summer, I like to use fresh ingredients when possible, especially for the strawberry filling. However, using fresh coconut simply isn't practical; sweetened shredded coconut has the right texture and amount of sweetness. It's in both the base and the topping, but if you want more, you can make a coconut whipped cream using full-fat coconut milk and powdered sugar.

The coconut cookie base is essentially a sugar cookie dough with extra butter and a handful of coconut. I pulse flour, sugar, sweetened shredded coconut, baking powder, and salt in a food processor until the coconut is pretty finely ground. I then add chilled cubed butter until small lumps remain and finally an egg yolk and some water. The process is like a biscuit dough or pie crust in that you want to keep it cold and avoid overworking it. The dough is pressed into the pan and chilled before baking, and it's only partially baked so that it doesn't burn when the other ingredients are added and baked.

The next layer is the strawberry filling. Like I said earlier, you can't beat fresh strawberries in this recipe, but I also like to add a layer of strawberry jam. The jam adds more bulk to the filling and helps prevent all the strawberry juices from soaking into the cookie base. If you're having a Martha Stewart or Ina Garten day, you can make your own jam; just remember to use the *good* strawberries (actually no, don't do that since jam is a great way to use up any sub-par berries that are mushy or just plain ugly).

The top layer consists of a buttery streusel packed with more sweetened shredded coconut and almonds. I prefer sliced almonds because I think they look pretty; however, slivered or chopped would work well too. I would try to avoid whole almonds since they're just too big and it doesn't take too much effort to run a knife through them. If that's not enough almond flavor for you, you can add more almonds to the streusel, add a (small) splash of almond extract to your jam, or replace some of the flour in the base with some almond flour. I think I'm going to try this with walnuts or even pecans, and it would also be interesting with other kinds of berries, too.

2 1/2 Cups Flour
1/3 + 1/4 Cup Sugar
3/4 Cup Sweetened Shredded Coconut
1/2 tsp Baking Powder
Pinch Salt
1 Stick + 2 T Butter, Chilled & Cubed
6 T Butter, Softened
1 Egg Yolk
1 Cup Strawberry Jam
1 Pint Fresh Strawberries, Sliced
1/2 Cup Sliced Almonds

Pulse 1 3/4 cups flour, 1/3 cup sugar, 1/2 cup coconut, baking powder, and salt in a food processor until combined. Pulse in the chilled butter until small lumps remain. Whisk the egg yolk and 1 T water together, then pulse into the dough until just combined.

Heat oven to 350F and line a 9x13" pan with parchment.

Press the dough into the prepared pan and chill until cold, about 20 minutes. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until firm.

Combine the remaining flour, remaining sugar, remaining coconut, and softened butter. Stir in the almonds.

When the crust has cooled, spread the jam in an even layer and top with the strawberries. Sprinkle the coconut almond streusel on top and bake for 16-18 minutes or until golden and bubbly.

Makes 24
Recipe Adapted from Milk and Honey

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