Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Samoa: Keke Faasaina (Coconut Puff Cookies)

I found this recipe on SamoaLive (Samoa's Premier Online Network). It was credited to Sandy McDonald, Magele Mose, and Mrs. Faataualofa Magele from Valoaga, Ta'I, and Karen Suaava McDonald of Teuila. It looks like a regular sugar cookie recipe, but with coconut milk, so I'm not sure how traditional it is.

The website also had an article on ancient Samoan cooking, but it was slightly beyond the methods available to a non-island, apartment-dwelling girl. To illustrate:

"If one caught octopuses while fishing, he makes a dish of them, the fai’aife’e. He scrapes coconut kernel, lights the oven and heats banana leaves. Then the coconut juice is squeezed out. Then one takes the octopuses and takes the ink out, and squeezes them together with coconut juice. Then the tentacles of the octopus are cut off. Then he takes the banana leaves, puts the fai’ai in it and puts two or three tentacles in each. Then all is wrapped up and baked. It smells ever so good when it is cooked."

Nothing says "Home" like the scent of sizzling tentacles in the oven.

Even a recipe sans octopi is pretty tough for a Boston girl to emulate, no matter how clever she fancies herself. The recipe for Faiai Limu, for example, gave the cook the following directions:

"One brings seaweed from the sea and puts it in a bowl of fresh water until the bitter taste is gone. Then take coconut kernel juice squeezed out of coconut kernel and mix together. Then take the banana leaves, put all in and cause it to bake. When it is taken out of the oven, serve it, it is excellent, particularly for old women."

Old women seem to make out like bandits in Samoa. Luau Fui is apparently good for them too:

"Only taro leaves and salt water are put together and cooked. When it is taken out of the oven, it is given only to sick people who drink medicine. Old women like it very much."

Anyway, I baked cookies.

The website called these Keke Faasaina, and the original recipe would have made about 60, so I cut it down. I also rolled the dough in dried coconut before baking, thinking, as long as I was going coconut, I might as well go all the way.

I love these cookies. The baking powder and high baking heat make them puff up deliciously. They are lightly crispy on the outside and super-ultra soft (like feather pillows) on the inside. The bottoms can burn quickly, though, so pull them out as soon as the edges turn a bit brown.

Makes 15 – 20 large puffs

4 Tbsp butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup + 1 Tbsp coconut milk
2 tsp baking powder
2 cups + 2 Tbsp flour
Shredded coconut for rolling.

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper. (I hesitate to use oil for the pans in this recipe, since I love the puff-up, and oil will surely make them spread)

Cream the butter and sugar, beat in the egg, vanilla, and coconut milk. Mix the baking powder and flour, then add to the butter mixture. Roll walnut-sized balls of dough in shredded coconut, place on cookie sheet, about 2 inches apart, and bake 9 – 11 minutes.

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