Hawaii was always on my radar. Even as a kid landlocked in the crook of Connecticut, I would dream of going to the islands one day. From the time I was about 9 years old, a surfboard was routinely on my wishlist for my birthday or Christmas, hoping, dreaming, that one day I could get out on the ocean. Unfortunately, the closest I ever got was a boogie board and a surfboard keychain. Palm trees felt more homey to me than the pines and maples I grew up with and the sand and ocean called to me, like a scene out of Moana.
Sometimes after dinner, my dad would take us to the 7-11 a few blocks away to get dessert. My sisters would be wide eyed and giddy in the candy aisle, but I was different (surprise, surprise). If I wasn't going for a Coke slurpee, my dad and I would hit the cookie aisle together, the myriad of Pepperidge farm bags staring us in the face. We'd gravitate toward the Sausalito cookies, the ones with chocolate chunks and macadamia nuts running through them. Macadamia nuts, if you're not familiar, are grown on my beloved island. They were a little exotic and so buttery and delicious.
Why am I telling you all this? Well, flash forward a good 20 years and I made it to Hawaii, for the 3rd time, and was working on a cacao and macadamia nut farm. Things were coming full circle in a way I could have never imagined. It was there that I had my pivotal first taste of chocolate made from scratch. It was freshly made -- not sitting on a store shelf for months, losing flavor; not grossly over sweetened. I had all of the macadamia nuts I could ever want at my fingertips, and I found out the hard way why they're so damn expensive. (Hint, they fall off the tree when they're ripe and we had to harvest them on our hands and knees. They're also ridiculously hard to crack open and require a machine to do so.) It was heavenly and it felt so...right. I'm not saying it was all unicorns and rainbows, but it certainly beat working in the soul-sucking corporate job that I left behind.
When it was time to make the chocolates at the farm, we would sneak in a batch of chocolate-covered mac nuts and they were by far my favorite. They were an elevated version of my favorite flavor combo, wrapped in nostalgia and goodness. I wanted to recreate this in my own line of chocolates, but I upped the ante by adding some dried hibiscus to really drive home the floral taste of the island and the cacao fruit itself. Thus, the Island Girl was born.
Now that I'm back in Connecticut in a time of quarantine, working from home, and travel bans... I've had the desire to bake...everything. To finally go through all of the things I've pinned on Pinterest, perhaps, but have yet to make. To go through my pile of cookbooks and clipped out recipes and take the time to make something a little extra special. Or, you know, to make batch after batch of chocolate chip cookies because they're comforting. This last batch, I decided to take my favorite cookie recipe and add some island flair with mini slabs of my homemade rich dark chocolate studded with toasted mac nuts and hibiscus. Now if only our potted palm would grow...
Island Girl Cookies
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature 1/4 cup granulated sugar 1/2 cup packed brown sugar 1 large egg 1 tsp vanilla extract 3/4 tsp baking soda 1/4 teaspoon sea salt 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour 1 cup chopped dark chocolate
1/2 cup chopped toasted macadamia nuts
minced dried hibiscus and sea salt, for sprinkling on top
Preheat oven to 375°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla, beating until incorporated. Whisk together the salt, baking soda, and flour until combined, then incorporate into the butter and sugar mixture until just mixed. Fold in the chocolate and macadamia nuts, making sure not to over stir. Drop dough by heaping spoonful onto the cookie sheet, spacing them apart. Sprinkle sea salt and hibiscus on top. Bake for 9 to 12 minutes, until golden on the edges but still soft in the middle. Let rest on baking sheet for a few minutes before transferring a cooling rack.