In December 2010 I read an article in Smithsonian magazine called “A Quest to Save the Orangutan.” The article focused on a woman in Borneo who has made it her life mission to protect orangutans from habitat loss due to loggers, poachers, gold miners, and palm oil plantations. Palm oil was a new term for me, and the story had my full attention. As it turns out, palm oil plantations in southeast Asia are responsible for massive loss of rainforest habitat, imperiling already threatened large species like the orangutan and the Sumatran tiger, as well as hundreds (if not thousands) of other plants, animals, and other life forms inhabiting the rainforests there. After I finished the article, I swore off palm oil and palm kernel oil. Although southeast Asia is not the only place where palm oil is grown, it produces the vast amount (~85%) of the world’s supply. And because it is difficult, if not impossible to find out where palm oil comes from and if it is grown in a sustainable manner, I decided I would boycott all palm oil products, unless I could see that it was sustainably produced. Why should my food choices potentially help lead to the extinction of a species of animal halfway around the globe? Palm oil is not the only fat available out there, so my thinking was “How hard can it be?”
Once I started reading food labels, though, I realized that palm oil is everywhere: cereal, flour tortillas, dried fruits, candy bars, toaster pastries (like Pop Tarts), ice cream, crackers, cookies, granola bars, even bars of soap. I just finished reading A Year Without Made in China, and I can sympathize with the Bongiorni family–sometimes it is impossible to find a product that does not contain palm oil. So I just do without. In the age of the internet, I can usually find a recipe to make the food product that I can no longer purchase because of my boycott. If only the Bongornis were so lucky…
Several years ago, during Girl Scout cookie season, I just happened to check the label of ingredients. Uh-oh. Palm oil. Damn! Well, I guess we’ll do without. Hubby was devastated. Imagine my surprise, then, when a co-worker offered me a Girl Scout cookie a couple of weeks ago and told me about the GreenPalm sustainability logo on the package. As it turns out, GreenPalm sustainability does not mean that the palm oil in the product you purchase is necessarily sustainably produced. Most palm oil ends up at the same place because to separate out sustainably grown palm oil would add significant costs. So the certificates a company purchases through GreenPalm sustainability acts to offset unsustainable palm oil production, much in the same way that a coal-burning power plant might puchase carbon credits. So it’s not perfect, but it’s better than nothing, and at least there is some pressure out there on the large corporations who run the palm oil plantations to consider sustainable alternatives to clearcutting rainforests and replacing them with monocultures of palm oil trees. I continue my palm oil boycott, however, and I’ll have until next year to think about whether or not I want to buy Girl Scout cookies again.
One of my favorite candy bars, Twix, contains palm oil, and I have not eaten one in probably 4 years (however, original Snickers do NOT contain palm oil, and they are my other favorite candy bar). Just weeks ago I found a recipe to make a homemade version, and I made them for Girls Night Thursday. They were fantastic, even if I goofed up the chocolate coating a little bit–I got in a hurry and didn’t measure my ingredients carefully, and the chocolate never quite set up. I had a feeling this was going to be the case, and I even considered adding a tablespoon or two of butter to the mixture to help it harden as it cooled, but I didn’t. So they turned out a little gooey, but tasty nonetheless.
Homemade Twix tartlets (adapted from Twix Tart, by The Brown-Eyed Baker)
For the crust:
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons butter, cut into small cubes
1 egg, lightly beaten
For the caramel filling:
1/2 cup + 1 teaspoon heavy cream
4 1/2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup sugar
6 tablespoons light corn syrup
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons butter
For the chocolate coating:
7 oz. milk chocolate chips
5 tablespoons heavy cream
To make the crust, add the flour, sugar, salt, and butter to a food processor. Pulse several times until the butter becomes incorporated into the dry ingredients. Slowly add the egg, pulsing once or twice. Once the egg is added, process until the dough forms a large clump. Roll dough out between 2 sheets of plastic wrap until it is 1/4 inch thick. Use a 3 inch round cookie cutter to cut as many crusts as possible. Tuck dough into muffin cups. Re-roll dough and cut more crusts until you have filled a 12 muffin tin with crusts. Prick bottom and sides of each dough several times with a fork. Bake at 375 degrees F for 18-20 minutes, or until lightly browned.
While tartlet crusts are baking, prepare caramel filling. In a small saucepan, combine cream and sweetened condensed milk. Cook over low heat until the sweetened condensed milk is incorporated into the cream. Remove from heat. In another saucepan, add sugar, corn syrup, and water. Cook over low heat until sugar melts, then increase heat and cook until the temperature reaches 250 degrees F on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and stir in butter. Add cream mixture carefully and cook over medium heat until mixture reaches 240 degrees F. Spoon caramel mixture into cooled crusts and allow caramel to cool completely. They will look like this:
To make the chocolate coating, place chocolate chips in a small bowl and set aside. Pour the cream in a small saucepan and bring just to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat and pour over chocolate chips, stirring until the chocolate is melted. Place the tartlets on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper. Use a spoon to drizzle the chocolate coating over each tartlet, letting the chocolate drip down the sides of the crust. Allow to cool completely, until chocolate is firm.