Oh, I have missed baking dearly this last month I've been away. I decided to treat myself today and buy ingredients for just a simple recipe, so when I caught a ride in to work this morning, I took a little detour to the Superspar grocery store - the slightly nicer store in Mbabane. And the one that has at least a few gluten-free flour mixes. I had already bought a self-raising flour mix that I was waiting to use, and so I went down the baking aisle and grabbed a bag of coconut, a cheap bottle of vanilla flavoring, and after a careful search that yielded no discoveries of chocolate chips, headed over to the candy section to pick out a dark chocolate bar that I could chop up and use for these bars. These fabulous goodies were inspired by the cookie bars on the Gluten-Free Goddess' website. Karina, who blogs her wonderfully creative and always delicious adventures in the kitchen, came up with this very simple recipe for some knockout cookie bars using coconut, and I basically used the same recipe with a few substitutes for ingredients I could find here in Swaziland. Her recipe calls for chocolate chips; I used a whole chocolate bar. Hers calls for Spectrum shortening; I have roughly zero chance of finding that here and so substituted a baking margarine I found here. I didn't have finely granulated brown sugar, so I used raw. I love vanilla and added a little more than what was originally called for. And instead of Pamela's, I used the only flour mix I have available to me: Orgran Self-Raising Flour mix, free of all allergens. If I could have found any, I would have added some crushed pecans into the batter as well, but alas, only macadamia and cashew nuts showed themselves in the Superspar. As I marched into the kitchen with an armful of baking ingredients, Celiwe looked over at me and exclaimed, "Siphiwe is baking a cake!" with a big smile (Siphiwe is my Swazi name), and she and the other staff watched me with some interest as I started putting the ingredients together, stirring and measuring out the flour and brown sugar. Celiwe stepped in and started stirring the dough for me as I spooned in the flour bit by bit, and when she finished stirring it all in, she took a little taste and said, "Oh! That is nice. That is going to be a good cake, sisi (sister)." And she was right - they were some pretty awesome (and yes, very cake-like) cookie bars. All of the staff tried a piece and they agreed that it was "very nice," one of them even exclaiming, "Oh! If I could have this for Christmas, I would just be happy." So, consider these a treat worthy of any occasion; they're extremely easy to put together, ingredient-light, and everyone will love them.
Coconut Dark Chocolate Cookie Bars
1/2 cup baking margarine, vegetable oil, or Spectrum shortening (if you can find it!)
1 cup brown sugar, packed firmly
3 tsp vanilla
2 cups self-raising flour (your favorite brand, or your own blend of flours with salt and baking powder added in)
3/4 cup shredded coconut
1 whole dark chocolate bar, chopped into very small pieces OR 12 oz. bag of dark chocolate chips
1/2 - 3/4 cup finely chopped pecan pieces (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 F or 180 C. Allow the margarine to come to room temperature and beat, adding the brown sugar in to mix well. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix. Add the flour bit by bit, stirring carefully to mix it all in. Then add the coconut and add 3/4 of the chocolate and 3/4 of the pecans and stir to mix. The dough will be pretty thick at this point. Grease a 9 x 13 pan and press the dough into it, and then sprinkle the rest of the chocolate and pecans on top and press into the dough. Bake for about 20 -25 minutes, being careful not to overbake so it doesn't get too dry. I'd err on the side of removing from the oven after 20 minutes rather than waiting too long. Allow to cool and then either top with a dark chocolate ganache drizzle, or serve by itself - with hot tea or coffee is preferred!