Woot! I have finally perfected my Happy Panda Cookie Recipe! I love pandas and I love cookies so I knew the moment I saw these little tea cookies they were going to be mine.
These little cuties were certainly a work in progress and I know what you’re thinking, how hard is it to make a batch of cookies right? Well, my crafting skills are apparently not up to par in the polymer clay department for starters so when my cutie suggested a bamboo sushi roll, I knew he was onto something brilliant. So, get yourself one of those, along with some plastic wrap, the ingredients below, a cookie pan, and that apron because we’re going to make ourselves some Panda Cookies! The first two batches were made and unsatisfactorily eaten out of frustration (or sheer exhaustion, I’m not sure which really) but that was when I realized the recipe was the main problem. I then found what I believe to be the original recipe online. Finding the original recipe really helped :p I have made a few adjustments and I think I have it now. Let’s find out for sure, shall we?
Here is the original link: http://cookpad.com/recipe/1436562
It is in Korean but I translated (that’s right, I hit Google Translate ;) and then I converted the measurements. Below is my translation of the ingredients (these are what I call ‘English Major Measurements’-it’s a guesstimate when it comes to cooking. Take a look at the original recipe and convert for yourself for an exact).
6 oz. Flour
1.3 oz. Potato Starch
3.5 oz. Butter
3 oz. Granulated sugar
1 large Egg
2 tb. Cocoa
2 tb. Green Tea Powder
With these ingredients in mind, I wanted to make a few changes. I prefer natural, organic ingredients and I wanted this to be a gluten/ wheat free recipe. I liked the idea of using Cocoa for the black facial features, but I also wanted those eyes to be really dark in color so I added a bit of ground Coffee to darken it up. I also skipped the green tea powder. I thought about picking it up at the Asian Market but as I stood in the tea aisle of the market, I realized I probably wouldn’t like the taste of Green Tea in my cookies. Yes, I was pretty sure of this. So I skipped it but I did however pick up that bamboo Sushi Mat while I was there. It was $1.50 and ever so helpful in rolling out the dough. See Youtube for a demonstration on wrapping a sushi mat in plastic if you need help on this. It’s pretty basic but you want to make sure you cover the sushi roll completely in plastic wrap, while also not wrapping it too tight or it won’t roll properly. Definitely remember to keep that plastic wrap clean between dough colors being rolled or you will make a mess of the whole affair.
I also decided to add Vanilla as I found it blends well with the Cocoa and Coffee. Something was needed to make these taste decent and I knew looking at the original, they weren't going for taste but cuteness. I like cuteness, but I do also like taste so I did my best. Someone online recommended using Tapioca Flour because it is so fine in texture, which was an excellent suggestion since I wanted this to be gluten/ wheat free, so I went with that. It also is a really great medium for rolling out the pieces (very forgiving for dough patch work) and kept most of that white dough mix light in color. Someone else recommended using Powdered Sugar. I used a light colored organic Raw Sugar, but you can probably use powdered sugar (use less of course-probably something like 1/3 less). I used a variety of flours as you will see from the ingredients called for in my version below but in truth you can mix up the flours you want to use or have on hand, and just have it so that those parts equal the total flour amount the recipe calls for. I discovered this when making Gluten/ Wheat Free Pizza Dough (I highly recommend the blogsite www.GlutenfreeGoddess.blogspot.com for awesome recipes. She really has some nice recipes up there) and it works here as well. For example, I thought I had enough Tapioca Flour to bring down the Mayflower but after having tripled the original recipe and then doubling that recipe (that’s right, I wanted a LOT of Panda Cookies :), I was 4 oz. short in total on the Tapioca flour, so I just substituted those 4 additional oz. with a Brown Rice Flour I had on hand so mix as you will, just try to keep the flour ratio equal in relation to the rest of the mix.
My recipe (gluten/ wheat free):
2.5 c. Tapioca Flour
¼. c. Sorghum Flour
1/4 c. Oat Flour (you can easily grind your own in a little grinder)
10 oz. Butter, softened
1 1/8 c. Sugar
Green Food Dye (use Green Tea Powder in place of green food color if desired. P.S. you can also find a natural green food dye at New Seasons for those who like to keep it as natural as possible ;)
8 tbs. Powdered Cocoa
2-3 tbs. finely ground Coffee
1 tbs. Vanilla (optional and can be substituted for slightly less almond extract)
¼ c. Water to moisten the mix
Up to a ½ c. 1% Milk
Additional Tapioca Flour for dusting the dough while rolling the dough strips out.
*In doubling this recipe, I dropped an egg, only using 3 total. This led to adding a smidge more water. Add the entire 1/2 c. of milk if needed. If not, at least a tbs to blend the mix nicely.
Add the softened Butter, Flour combination, and Sugar together and mix very well. Make sure the butter has been completely mixed in and you will find a folk may help you cut that butter into the flour mix. Beat the Eggs, add in the Vanilla to the egg mixture, and then add this egg + vanilla combination to the flour mix. Once mixed, separate the dough into 3 portions: One larger portion for the white dough, a small black portion for the nose, eyes and ears (smallest of the three colors), and then a portion of green dough. I then mixed in the green coloring for the green portion and Cocoa and Coffee to the black dough. Mix very well so that the green coloring does not make a green swirl color. Mix in a lot of the Cocoa and ground Coffee. You will want the black dough to be very dark because as it bakes the green and black dough colors will lighten in the oven. Blend completely and roll out with a rolling pin if needed to really blend the color in.
Once the dough is ready to be worked, take the black dough and make 1 nose (the smallest of the black pieces), 2 eyes (largest of the facial features), and 2 ears (slightly smaller than the eyes). Taking a look at the images above will help you determine the sizes needed for the black pieces (yeah, I know, it's not the best image in the world, but it is about 4 am and I'm just trying to give you a basic visual here on how you are going to create the face so bear with me here. This image below shows essentially how the face will look without those black lines indicating the white layers.
That looks much better doesn't it? Getting the black pieces similar in diameter to the images above will really help your panda faces turn out actually looking like pandas and not like little derp faced cookies. Try to make each black strip about 8” in length, or if unsuccessful in keeping those pieces so long, split each longer piece into two shorter pieces instead. Use tapioca flour to keep the dough from sticking. Cover and chill these pieces once rolled out if they get too warm though ideally you are going to want to make the entire dough roll all at once and chill if you can.
Assuming your dough strip is going to be about 8”-10" in length, take the green dough and roll it out on a lightly (Tapioca or other gluten/ wheat free) floured surface, add a little more flour to the top and roll the dough out with a rolling pin so that it is about 1/3” thick. Make this piece 8”-10” in length x 5” width, or as close to these measurements as possible with the dough that you have. You really want at least 1/3” green dough around the entire edge of the panda face so it is best to keep the dough thickness the same and shorten the width slightly as needed to about 4.5”and then, as needed, shortening up the length.
Next take the white dough, and again, if you find this needs to be chilled before rolled out at all, feel free to pop it into the fridge but I didn’t need to chill mine. It was a cool night and I tried to work quickly but you’re the cook-you can easily determine for yourself if and when the dough becomes unmanageable. You will however find that the Tapioca Flour (or in my case the Rice Flour as I ran out of the Tapioca), is very nice for keeping your dough dry and easy to roll out. It also makes a fabulous medium for repairing cookie dough areas later on. Roll a strip 8”-10” in length by ¾” diameter. Roll it out initially on your lightly floured surface and then pop it into your newly plastic wrapped bamboo sushi roller. Roll it so it is nice and round and lay it out on a floured surface ready to chill. Put the sushi roll to the side. Next take a strip that is about ¾” in width x 8-10” in length, with a thickness of about ¼,” and lay that out as well. With the rest of your white dough, make a strip of dough that is 2 ¼” wide x 8” length with a thickness of 1/3,” which will be ever so slightly larger than the ¼” thick dough strip you are making to place between the nose and eyes later on.
Take your base white strip of dough and place the nose strip on the top center of the white. Push down ever so slightly so the black piece will stay where it is, and then take your long eye strips and place them on either side of the nose, leaving a space of course for that second white strip to be placed in between the nose and eyes. Add that small white dough strip, tucking the sides in carefully so as to completely separate your face pieces. Take your third white dough strip and tuck it in on the left side of your cookie roll, roll it up and around the strip of dough you are building, and ending on the other side of the panda face where the other eye ends. At this point, your entire cookie roll shows only white dough all the way around it. Carefully rock the dough roll ever so slightly side to side so you can make sure there are no black areas showing on the sides or top. If there are any, fill them in with extra white dough at this time.
At this point (and this is rather important if you want cute faced Panda Cookies), you are going to want to score the top of your cookie dough log on each end so you know which side is right side up BEFORE you put it into the sushi roller. A small mark on each end in between the eyes on top will help. Once you have done this, take this piece and roll it carefully and quickly in your sushi roll. Remove it from the sushi roll and take your last 2 black dough strips intended for the ears and place them right side up (check the score mark so you make sure your ears are placed correctly) ever so slightly slanted, on the top sides of the dough strip. Next, depending on the state of your dough, you will either chill the dough strip once more before finishing or you will add the green strip at this time, beginning by tucking the green down in the middle between the ears at the top, wrapping around the bottom and then back up and around the ears again. Gently move your dough roll onto the center of the green pieces and wrap the green up and around each side, sealing the green ends together up and in by the ears. Roll this dough strip through the sushi roller once more, careful not to put too much weight when rolling. You just want to press the dough strips together, you do not want to move the pieces inside. In the end, I ended up with 2-1-1.25" diameter x 12-14" long dough rolls, a little more than I originally expected.
Wha-la! Your panda dough roll is officially finished and yes, you’re going to want to pop that baby in the fridge for few hours. Once chilled, remove the plastic wrap and press and roll the dough roll to round out the bottom where the dough has sank slightly, and then cut slices with a sharp knife, cut off thin 1/4” thin slices of cookie dough. You want these slices to be thick enough so you can cook them and hold together without falling apart, but not too thick that they will require a lot of cooking because that will spread the panda faces too much and your pandas will look all wonky. Once you have sliced the pieces, carefully shape each and round out the bottom area on each slice. You can also mush down the faces a little and thin out the cookie pieces and shape the face as desired. That is how you get those cute almond shaped panda eyes, by molding the dough ever so slightly. That’s cocoa and coffee grounds you’re shaping and they will melt and leave smears if you mess with them too much. Make sure you have a tea towel and a sharp knife on hand because you will want to slice clean through the dough and that knife will get covered with dough every once in a while so clean it often. Remove any little coffee or chocolate pieces that appear out of place on the faces and lay them out on a buttered cookie sheet. If you find the face isn’t the best, turn the piece over and see if the other side looks better. I found in almost every piece one side would have a better panda face than the other so pick accordingly.
Once those faces have been molded and cleaned up to perfection, place them on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake at 300 for about 9 to 10 minutes and then check them. You will know they are done when the edges and bottoms are ever so slightly browned. Ever so slightly I said! It was hard to gauge how long because I lost a batch of 15 (ok, 16 ;) on the first round because I thought they were done and they weren’t. If you find that the faces are starting to bubble slightly during the cooking process, open the oven immediately and turn the temperature down to 280-290 (you can even leave the door open for a minute or two because you want to cool that cookie sheet down right away). Cook for a few more minutes. The timing for these is going to be different based on the recipe you used, the thickness of the cookies, how cool or soft the dough is, the food dye you used, as well as a number of other factors so you will have to gauge for yourself the time needed for cooking.
With each cookie sheet that went in, I added a test cookie that was just excess dough essentially, made into the size and thickness of the rest of the cookies. When I thought they were nearing their cooking time I would pop open the oven and check that little test cookie. You’re going to have excess dough or a few pandas that just don’t look all that great, so use those as baking tests and also for dough fillers (I found in many cases I had to add a tiny little patch of a certain color of dough to perfect the panda faces so definitely save the excess dough in a small bowl for the finishing touches). I wasn’t entirely sure at first if the first batch was fully cooked and I should have popped them back in the oven for a few more minutes. Once they cooled I realized the mistake and it was a little too late to re-cook them at that point. If you are unsure, I would recommend putting them back in, or running a test batch with say one or two cookies on the sheet to start and see how that goes. In almost every case once I checked the test cookie, I put them back in the oven and dropped the temperature to about 290 for about 4 or so more minutes. Two indicators that they are not finished will be a strange coloration on the white portion of the panda face once cooled (I didn’t really notice until they had cooked so again, a test batch is a really good idea) and also, the bottoms of the not-quite-fully-cooked version looked ever so eggy on the bottom. A quick note here on eggyness with these cookies. Despite what they said in the original recipe about folding in the whole eggs to the rest of the dough batter (I think that’s what it says anyway), I lightly beat the eggs and it was ok, just get it so they are mixed well, but don’t over whip because we don’t want this mix to be too fluffy. We’re going for a short bread styled cookie essentially but without the high butter count because the butter makes the faces spread out too much and you don’t end up with panda faces, you end up with something else (attempts 1 & 2 :/).
I had to mix it in a really big stainless steel pot because it was the only thing I had that was large enough to mix all of these ingredients. It seriously looked like a bit of a dust storm mixing all that super fine Tapioca Flour but I got that butter mixed really well with the flour mix and then I added the rest of the ingredients, but if you have blended those eggs really well, the dough won’t clump, or will clump less at least. I’m wondering now if mixing the eggs more and adding the ¼ c. of water to the egg mix before adding it to the flour mixture would also help keep that egg from wanting to bind with the flour mix and clump so fast. Someone should try that and let me know. Maybe I should have added half the milk to the Egg + Vanilla + Water mixture, and then slowly add that combo to the flour mix, while mixing to keep an even blend of ingredients going. I would try again myself but, well, these photos were taken around 4 this morning after cooling so I’m a bit too tired to try again now, but perhaps again soon. You never know ;)
Anyway, that’s about it really. Once you have finished cooking your little pandas, let them cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes, and then you know the rest ;)
Nom Nom Nom…
P.S. I totally loved how these turned out. Were they the tastiest cookies ever? Who cares, they’re the cutest little Happy Panda Cookies! Yes, I was obsessive but I wasn’t going for sanity (who knows what that is anyway). No, I was going for perfection instead. Was perfection reached in the end? I don’t know, I don’t see any cookies hehe…
Now, who wants some Happy Pandas?!