I realize that most people don’t go to the City Bakery or their green Birdbath outlets for coconut cookies. They come in droves to load up on the legendary chocolate chip cookies, pretzel croissants or even the alien-looking baker’s muffin. The coconut cookie — an almost monotone golden brown that resembles a million other cookies on earth — just doesn’t inspire the same kind of fervor. But I think it should. If you’re familiar with the place, you could probably have guessed that Maury Rubin, the owner/chief baker of the chain — he who bakes caramel, almonds and fresh cranberries together in a way that you will never want to go without again — wasn’t going to put just any coconut cookie in his bakery case. Yet, to actually bite into one is still astonishing: how did they get all of that butter in there? Or in short: goodbye boring macaroons, forever!
As should be abundantly evident by now, I’m a bit obsessed with them, and finally decided in January that I was going to reverse engineer them or fail wildly trying. And oh, how wildly I failed, first auditioning a straightforward drop cookie with sweetened flaked coconut that was not even close. Then I decided to fiddle with all of my favorite baking vices: brown butter! sea salt! homemade vanilla extract! But I was still miles from the bakery case dream. And then, two weeks ago, I fell down the most wonderful internet rabbit hole, which began with these Blue Sky Bran Muffins, followed by a comment Patty which directed the curious to Maury Rubin demonstrating his Corn Muffins with Pear and Candied Ginger on Martha Stewart’s TV show, with an embedded video segment that I watched until the end, at which point my reward was revealed in the following 17 words: “After the break, I’ll be back with Maury to make a recipe for the perfect coconut cookie.”
HIS COCONUT COOKIE? If I knew how to make gifs, here would be a 5-second reel of Cookie Monster appearing in a thought bubble above my head, me closing the laptop, grabbing my bag and walking out the door to the grocery store, recipe open on my phone. Four stores (stupid coconut chips) and three hours later, the very cookie I’ve pined for all of these years, that I’d failed at numerous times, came out of my oven and, lo, they were perfect.
For about one hour. Here’s the thing: what’s amazing about this cookie is how simple it is. It has the same seven ingredients that form that backbone of most drop cookies — white and brown sugar, eggs, butter, flour, salt and baking soda — plus an absolutely staggering amount of dried coconut. And butter, but more on that later. But (and this is my sole City Bakery quibble) the “pinch of salt” isn’t close to enough for the massive amount of cookies, and I missed the sea salt flecks in my failed batches. I also had trouble forgetting what an incredible pairing brown butter and coconut are. And vanilla, well, it makes a virtual butterscotch of the crisp-chewy crumb.
And so I made two more batches, one Rubin’s way and one with brown butter, vanilla and more sea salt and all three “professional testers” (uh, babysitter, husband, preschooler) chose the brown butter version for you. I hope you find it as obsessively good as we do.
Four years ago: Lamb Chops with Pistachio Tapenade
Five years ago: Pesto Potato Salad with Green Beans and Lemon Mint Granita
Six years ago: Jim Lahey’s Potato Pizza
Seven years ago: Black Bottomed Cupcakes
Let me just get the obvious out of the way: these cookies contain a spectacular amount of butter. They also contain a spectacular amount of coconut. In fact, when you really look at it, there’s amazingly little flour or eggs for the amount of butter and coconut, and these four things are what make this cookie different from any other. They’re like a standard drop cookie (think: chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin) merged with a buttery, lacy florentine and they manage to have both the florentine’s golden crisp and crackle and the drop cookie’s faint chew. The browned butter, sea salt and vanilla extract are just the icing on the cake, but if you want to make them the original way, simply soften the butter, skip the water (necessary to make up for lost butter volume when it’s browned), vanilla and reduce the salt to a pinch.
Note: I halved the original recipe, which called for a full pound of butter and 8 cups of coconut; I just couldn’t.
Yield: 1 dozen (if you make the massive bakery size), about 2 dozen of a medium size (about 2T dough each; photos 6-8 here) or 4 dozen of a small size (1T each; top photo).
1 cup (2 sticks or 225 grams) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons water
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (125 grams) granulated sugar
3/4 cup (145 grams) packed light-brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons (175 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
Slightly heaped 1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt or 1/4 teaspoon table salt
4 cups (240 grams) dried, unsweetened coconut chips (I used these)
In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. It will melt, then foam, then turn clear golden and finally start to turn brown and smell nutty. Stir frequently, scraping up any bits from the bottom as you do. Don’t take your eyes off the pot as it seems to take forever (more than 5 minutes) but then turns dark very quickly. Once it is a deeply fragrant, almost nut-brown color, remove from heat and pour butter and all browned bits at the bottom into a measuring cup. Adding 2 tablespoons water should bring the butter amount back up to 1 cup. Chill browned butter in the fridge until it solidifies, about 1 to 2 hours. You can hurry this along in the freezer, but check back and stir often so it doesn’t freeze unevenly solid.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat.
Scrape chilled browned butter and any bits into a large mixing bowl. Add both sugars and beat the mixture together until fluffy. Add egg and beat until combined, scraping down bowl as needed, then vanilla. Whisk flour, baking soda and salt together in a separate bowl. Pour half of flour mixture into butter mixture and mix until combined, then add remaining flour and mix again, scraping down bowl if needed. Add coconut chips in two parts as well.
Scoop dough into 1, 2 or more (Rubin recommends a 2-inch wide scoop for bakery-sized cookies) balls and arrange a few with a lot of room for spreading on first baking sheet; use the back of a spoon or your fingers to flatten the dough slightly. Bake first tray of cookies; 1 tablespoon scoops will take 10 to 11 minutes; 2 tablespoon scoops, 12 to 14 minutes, the 2-inch scoop used at the bakery, 14 to 16 minutes; take the cookies out when they’re deeply golden all over. If cookies have not spread as much as you see above, stir 2 teaspoons more water into cookie dough, mixing thoroughly, before baking off another tray. (See note below for full explanation.) This should do the trick, but if it does not, repeat the same with your next batch. Once you’ve confirmed that you have the water level correct, bake remaining cookies.
Cool cookies on baking sheet for 1 to 2 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. Cookies keep for up to one week at room temperature. Extra dough can be stored in the fridge for several days or in the freezer for a month or more.
About the water: Browned butter is one of my favorite things to eat in cookies like things and least favorite things to write cookie recipes for, because when you brown the butter, water volume is lost, but not all types of butter contain the same amount of water. I find that for most standard American grocery store butters (I was using Trader Joe’s store brand here, but the equivalent would be any non-European style butter), 1 tablespoon of water per stick (1/2 cup) of butter is a sufficient replacement. However, should you find that your first batch of cookies is too thick, a little extra water is all you’ll need to get the texture right. It sounds scary, but I promise is as simple as can be. Holler at me in the comments if this doesn’t work for you and please note the kind of butter and how much water you used.