I was on dessert duty for July’s Gourmet Club meeting, and the theme was Asian fusion. This ended up being far more challenging that I originally anticipated… Dessert just usually isn’t the highlight of an Asian meal. Even when it is (mango sticky rice, anyone?), I had another stumbling block. Gourmet Club was meeting on the eve of day one of the Mile High Music Festival, which we were attending since lucky Dr. O won tickets. So, not only did my Asian dessert have to appeal to six palates, it had to be made ahead and dropped off by noon on the day of our meeting. Yikes.
After several failed experiments, I decided to do three mini make-ahead desserts with the hope that everyone would enjoy *something.* I found a fabulous book at the library called The Sweet Spot by Pichet Ong and Genevieve Ko; it was focused entirely on Asian desserts, so I just had to find things that could be made ahead. One recipe that caught my eye was for Chocolate-Covered “Pocky” Sticks, which are apparently a popular Japanese snack food. They looked delicious (who doesn’t like chocolate-covered cookies?) and could be made two days ahead, so I decided to give them a try.
First, I mixed 1/4 cup of sweetened condensed milk with 2 tablespoons of water and set the mixture aside.
To start the dough, I combined 1 cup of all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder, 2 tablespoons of sugar, 1/8 teaspoon of ground cardamom, and 1/8 teaspoon of table salt in the bowl of my stand mixer. (The mixer was fitted with the paddle attachment.) I mixed the ingredients on low speed until well incorporated.
Next, I added 1/4 cup of unsalted butter (room temperature) and mixed until the mixture resembled cornmeal (about 5 minutes). With the machine running, I added the condensed milk mixture all at once and continued mixing until it was fully incorporated. The recipe indicated that the dough would form a ball around the paddle after about 5 minutes, but this never happened for me (even with a couple extra mixing minutes). After about 7 minutes, I transferred the dough to a large sheet of plastic wrap, patted it into a 1-inch-thick disk, and wrapped it tightly in the plastic.
The recipe said to chill the dough for 20 minutes before working with it… This wasn’t long enough! After 20 minutes, the dough was still soft and very sticky. I ended up making the pocky sticks in two batches, and it was easier (though still not easy) to work with the second-batch dough that had been chilled for about 40 minutes. I would definitely recommend the longer chilling time.
When I was ready to form my first batch of sticks, I preheated the oven to 300F and lined a large baking sheet with parchment paper. I took half of the dough (the other half went back into the refrigerator), divided it in half, and then divided each half into 8 pieces. This is another point where the recipe instructions just didn’t work for me. The recipe said to “roll one piece into a ball, then stretch it and roll it under your palms into a 10-inch stick, about 1/4 inch in diameter. Transfer the stick to a lined baking sheet and repeat with the remaining dough, setting the sticks 1/2 inch apart.” Impossible! The dough was so soft and sticky (even after the longer chilling time) that it would have been impossible to shape and transfer it. I ended up rolling each piece into a ball and doing an initial stretch. Then, I put the dough on the parchment-lined baking sheet and finished shaping it by stretching it *on* the baking sheet. I just couldn’t see how to do it any other way. I think my method is why my sticks ended up a bit more flat and wavy than I wanted.
I put the baking sheet with the sticks in the refrigerator for 10 minutes to allow the dough to rest. Immediately before baking, I brushed the sticks with 1 large beaten egg white. I baked the sticks until they were golden brown and crisp (22 – 23 minutes at my house; 25 minutes according to the recipe) and then set the baking sheet on a wire rack until the cookies were completely cooled. I repeated the entire process with the second batch of sticks.
Once all of the cookies were cooled, I melted 2 ounces of milk chocolate and 2 ounces of dark chocolate separately in the microwave. (The recipe said to use a double boiler, but I was getting lazy at this point.) I used a pastry brush to cover the first batch in milk chocolate and the second batch in dark chocolate. (Fun trivia: Extra-dark-chocolate pocky is known as “men’s pocky” in Japan.) I let the pocky sticks rest on wax paper until the chocolate coating was set and then stored them in an airtight container until dessert hour at Gourmet Club.
These were actually pretty delicious and fun to eat. The cookies were light and crisp; I think the cardamom gave them a bit of a graham-cracker flavor, even though the texture and appearance weren’t graham-cracker-like at all. I thought the milk chocolate ones (Dr. O’s favorite!) would go fastest, but the rest of our gourmet group seemed to like the more sophisticated dark chocolate option.
Despite really liking the pocky sticks, I’m not sure I’ll make them again unless I specifically need a make-ahead Japanese dessert. They were time-consuming and the dough was so difficult to shape. Still, I think it was a great learning experience with delicious results, and the sticks were a *perfect* addition to my dessert trio.
TIPS: I said it before and I’ll say it again – chill the dough longer than instructed. Not only did my sticks shape better with the colder dough, they spread less during the baking process.
Another thing to note: The cookies are *very* fragile. You’ll want to be careful every time you handle them. I think I broke 4 out of 32 between removing them from the baking sheets, applying the chocolate, and storing them.