Baking Through Adversity: Oatmeal Coconut Raspberry Bars

Should I be concerned that in my writing program I am known best not necessarily for my writing or my insightful commentary but for my baking?

The director of the department today sampled an oatmeal coconut raspberry bar that I made for my adaptation class and said to my classmates: “Boy are you lucky.” Apprently he told his master screenwriting class about me. (My friend John says he said: “This guy makes unbelievable pastries…this coconut raspberry bar…it was very short.” What does that mean? I asked John. “It means there’s lots of butter…like shortening. It’s a good thing.)

Well I’ll take glory where it comes. And if anyone knew how disaster-riddled this coconut raspberry bar experience was, they’d think twice before declaring me a master baker.

The recipe comes from The Gourmet Cookbook which means that the recipe’s available on Epicurious. You can read it here.

Essentially you toast coconut, make dough, add the coconut and oats, spread in a pan, add raspberry jam, sprinkle with topping and more coconut and bake.

The first disaster struck when toasting the coconut. I burnt it:

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This was especially distressing because I only had one bag of coconut. Whole Foods doesn’t sell normal baking coconut–only unsweetened flaked coconut. So I had to rely on the one bag I purchased a while back from Gristedes. Luckily, there was enough in there to toast more.

The second toasting came out swell—-if you do this recipe make sure to watch the oven as it the coconut gets golden. It’s a short leap from gold and pretty to charred and nasty.

My next disaster involved the spreading of jam. When you press a layer of buttery, flaky, crumby dough at the bottom of a pan and attempt to spread jam over it you’ll have a problem: the dough will start rising up with whatever tool you’re using. I was using a flat spatula. I had to patch dough-holes with topping dough. (You reserve dough for the topping.) Eventually I got a fine layer of jam:

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A note on the jam: it says to use seedless raspberry, but I couldn’t find seedless raspberry. So I used raspberry jam with seeds and no one noticed. (Maybe they’ll notice later when raspberries begin to grow on their digestive track…)

Those two disasters aside, the rest was easy. You sprinkle on the topping and bake for 20 minutes. Look how pretty they came out:

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I have to tell you, this is my favorite kind of pastry. Buttery and fruity—I love raspberry jam and I love coconut. I bought a similar pastry all the time at the Fairfax Farmer’s Market when I lived in LA. It was called the “Raspberry Princess.” That one didn’t have coconut so this princess is more tropical. And more substantial than either play I’ve written this semester—I only have 20 pages of each and I need to finish one. STOP MAKING ME BLOG FOR YOU! I’m in a writing program, damn it, not a baking program! Maybe I should transfer to the King Arthur Flour school of dramatic writing? I can write “A Streetcar Named Ciabatta” or “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Bake Bread.”

19 comments

  1. Maybe I should transfer to the King Arthur Flour school of dramatic writing? I can write “A Streetcar Named Ciabatta” or “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Bake Bread.”

    it’s phrases like these that make me love the internet…

  2. “Short” refers to the gluten strands…gluten is a protein in flour that gets long & stretchy in bread and is ideally kept short (aha!) in buttery things like cookies & cakes.

    Here endeth the pastry lesson. Amen.

  3. Possibly dumb question: What’s the difference between “normal baking coconut” and unsweetened flaked coconut?

  4. LOL! A Streetcar named Ciabatta… that’s good stuff! The bars look really good, I might have to whip up a batch for my fiddle class next week.

    And I was just thinking about the jam. You could heat it up a bit to thin it, then drizzle over the dough and spread a tiny bit to cover. I think my mom used to use that trick.

    Good luck with the play writing!

  5. Hey Meg – I’m sure you are chemically correct but not etymologically. The term “shortening” for cooking existed before anybody knew about the structure of gluten.

    It’s actually from a different origin and more recent than the “short” meaning “not long”, which comes from Old English sceort.

    The cooking meaning comes from the corruption of a Norwegian and Danish word, which I lack the font set to spell. The similar word in Swedish is “skor”. It means timid or not strong. So something that is “short” is timid or not strong, as in crumbly.

  6. Warm the jam just slightly higher than room temp, and cool the dough in the fridge for an hour–it’ll spread like butter instead of jam.

    Also, use a spoon but dip the spoon in warm water or a little oil–this will keep the jam from sticking to the spoon and pulling away.

  7. Two pints of raspberries and sugar in a blender or food processor. WHIR.

    Pour in a pan and add a bit of lemon juice and some corn starch.

    Cook til bubbling nicely and thickened, strain, cool. Raspberry jam sans seeds with the added bonus of being easy to spread (if you use it still warm)

  8. Uh, Peter, you’ve got it wrong too.

    ‘Skor’ in Swedish means “shoes.”

    (This is why Swedish people think American candybars are so funny.)

    The closest Norwegian thing to your assertion is a word, ‘sjenert,’ but to get from there to “short” takes a linguistic mutation that doesn’t tend to happen (a dropped internal hard ‘n’).

  9. why does there have to be an explanation other than short means it has a lot of shortening in it?

  10. All right, let me consult the master (Harold McGee):

    “Shortening – This term has been used since the early 19th century to mean fats or oils added to baked goods that supposedly ‘shorten’ or break up the masses of gluten, thus weakening the structure and making the final product more tender…”

    From the new edition of On Food And Cooking, page 303 (Amen). He goes on to say that that explanation is not totally scientifically accurate, but it explains some of the etymology.

    So I guess ‘short’ probably refers to both the length of the gluten and the fact that the dough includes some type of shortening/fat – though I can believe that ‘short’ could most definitely come from another source as well. Oh, the mysteries of language..

    I wish I had a copy of the new Alton Brown…I’ll bet he talks about it. Anyone out there have a copy? Or has this subject put you all to sleep by now? Hello???

  11. It means “shoes” in modern Swedish but apparently it did use to also refer to weak or timid. I get this all from an acquaintance who’s a germanic language expert. She doesn’t know modern Swedish, so maybe got it a little wrong. It’s old Norse in origin, skortr, which means “lack”. See http://www.seslisozluk.com/?word=short

    Obviously, short as in lack of length and short meaning “lack of strenght” have similar meanings. It’s may be a parallel evolution of the words through two different paths.

    A non-refereed site matches my origin and mentions the Swedish ( kallskor and Danish and modern Norse kuldsjaer, or coldshort – brittle iron):

    http://www.takeourword.com/Issue006.html

    I checked and the OED agrees with Meg ( short fibers)

    http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=shortening&searchmode=none

    I must bow to the OED :-(

  12. Peter, while I can’t argue about ‘skortr’ meaning “lack,” the key particle in that word that has survived is ‘kort’, which is precisely the Danish word for “short”. ‘Skor’ still means “shoes”. There’s no connection there between ‘skor’ and “short,” as in buttery. Your reference also doesn’t back up that claim.

    I think you’re wise to go with the OED etymology– that’s the only one that seems reasonable.

    [I probably know your friend, as I’m a Professor of Linguistics.]

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