Mom’s Browned Butter Coconut Haystacks
My mom peacefully slipped away eleven years ago today. It was a comparatively subtle ending to a messy and painful battle with cancer. Mom was a big, hard woman. Her cancer was bigger and harder. Days, even weeks go by without her lingering in my mind. I seldom, at the risk of sounding callous, miss her in the way that I might if things had been different between us.
I’m careful with my memories of her, most of which lie dormant in the inner recesses of my mind throughout much of the year. I unpack them in December like a box of fragile, mismatched ornaments, only pulling out my favorites, and leaving the ugly ones to hide in the box until I can face them or part with them. Out of my memory box come the trips to the country where we cut down our tree together while dad pouted at home. I dust off the only times I can ever remember my parents lovingly embracing. I polish to a shine the way she complimented my pretty cookies.
Mom’s best, our best, came shining through at Christmas like the warm Chicago summer that can make you forget how brutal the winter was. As a kid, I spent eleven months of the year wanting to be somewhere, anywhere other than my house, but at Christmas time our warm, chaotic, vanilla infused kitchen was the only place I wanted to be. Cue the Johnny Mathis music. Preheat the oven to 350°F. And start creaming the butter and sugar–always by hand, never with a mixer. With the help of my grandma, sisters, aunts, my childhood best friend Jen, and even dad who perfected the art of rolling perfectly round one-inch balls, our bustling kitchen turned out hundreds of dozens (yes, hundreds) and nearly 30 varieties of cookies including:
Peanut Butter Temptations.
Early in December I make my holiday baking list always with mom in mind. Old family favorites make up the bulk of the list. It’s sprinkled with a few new family favorites like Sea Salt Vanilla Caramels and punctuated with recipes I’m dying to try. This year’s newcomers will include the Brown Eyed Baker‘s Chubby Hubby Truffles and Date Ma’amouls from Leite’s Culinaria.
Like my mom, I’m crazy about coconut, so these haystacks make the list every year. They’re like the prettier, better tasting cousin of a Hershey’s Mounds Bar. I think they’d be lovely with a little rose water, but I can’t bring myself to add it. I don’t fuss with mom’s cookie recipes, because a single bite of a coconut haystack can remind me of the happy times we shared in the way that only food can do.
Browned Butter Coconut Haystacks
The recipe below is exactly how it was written on mom’s recipe card. I use unsalted butter, heavy cream, and unsweetened coconut. Mom made hers with salted butter and sweetened coconut flakes. She dipped the bottoms in whatever chocolate she had on hand: chips, Hershey Bars, you name it. I dip some of mine in Ghirardelli bittersweet for the dark chocolate fans and the rest in Hershey’s milk chocolate. You’ll need six ounces of your favorite chocolate.
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup cream
2 cups powdered sugar
3 cups coconut
chocolate (for dipping)
Melt butter, heat until golden brown. Stir in remaining ingredients. Drop by spoonfuls onto wax paper and chill. Shape when still slightly tacky and chill again. Dip bottoms in melted chocolate.
Makes 3 dozen.