Category Archives: Cookies

The Village

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Fifteen people helped me function normally yesterday. I probably only know ten of their names, and I’d only really call five of them friends, but nevertheless, these days, all 15 are essential. See, I broke my collarbone on the Fourth of July. It was a classic bike accident—despite enough city riding to have a solid awareness of the problem, I fell for the old bike tire in the railroad tracks trick—but it’s left me with 3 good breaks and a not-so-classic problem: how does one cook with just the non-dominant hand?

The truth is, I haven’t been cooking. Or typing for more than ten minutes at a time, or exercising, or lifting my 44-pound child, or putting him into the car, or getting him out of the car, or bathing either of us if not absolutely necessary. This was all well and good when my husband was home, mostly waiting on me, but he’s off to sea again, so I’m either begging for help or learning to do things a little differently. Here are the fancy things I can do with just my newly promoted right hand: open jars (if braced properly between my hip and the counter), pick herbs off their stems, pour wine, slice cheese badly, make scrambled eggs, help my son pee on someone’s lawn because I can’t carry him inside in time, clean up after my cat’s mousing habits, put on anything with an elastic waistband, sit in a boat holding liquor while other people drag crabs off the bottom of the ocean, use an ice cream scoop, win at corn hole, pick up my telephone.

Here’s what my right hand can’t handle: cracking eggs, writing, wiping my child’s face, helping my child walk, pulling my child’s pants up, putting on make-up. When I’m alone, I just deal; I do things that I probably shouldn’t, like make my son’s lunch, or cut a nectarine, or put on sandals with two hands, or (the worst idea ever) dry my hair. But watch out; if you walk into my home’s general vicinity, you’ll get nabbed. Which means that yesterday, for example, members of the fantastic crew rebuilding our basement helped me get my kid into and out of the car. My neighbor’s daughter came over to water the garden, cut food and do dishes, put Graham’s shoes on, get him into the car while he threw a tantrum, and then later, when he finally sacked out, carry him into bed. One friend undressed my child for swimming lessons; another redressed him when the lessons were over. Graham’s therapist put on his shoes, and the preschool teachers helped me navigate transportation details into and out of his school. Mark carried my coffee when my useful hand was full. The baristas at Top Pot offered me ice for my injury. Whole Foods made me lunch. Jackie wiped the construction dust out of my house. And later, when Graham was finally asleep, I poured the rosé all by myself.

Today will be a totally different cast of helpers. Richie will probably get the kiddo into the car again—hear hear, Moms, hire a builder who’s had six kids—and the process will start anew. I’ll go back to the coffee shop where the barista knows how to put my barrette in, and to the gym, where I’ll ask a random old lady to help me put on my clothes in exchange for her bad collarbone stories. Tami will bring dinner and Dan will wrangle 3 kids at bath time. JJ, a guy I’ve never met, will pick up the tile for the downstairs for me, because it would be silly to lift all 3,000 pounds’ worth when I can’t drink out of a Nalgene bottle with either hand, and my in-laws will collect a week’s worth of laundry to take back to their place, because, naturally, the washer and dryer in the basement are disconnected and the plumbing is a bit spotty these days.

The whole experience has made me feel like a tornado of need, traveling through every village of friends that’s ever helped me, leaving a trail of appreciation and debt two (left) arms wide and three dinners deep. And since, for me, the path to paying it forward has always started in the kitchen, it feels like a rather irresponsible way to live.

Curiously, breaking my collarbone hasn’t seemed to impact my whining ability in the slightest. I seem to tolerate alcohol just fine, and I’m perhaps a bit better at sitting still to watch sports (although now that the Tour de France has finished, I may consider rescinding that claim). But two weeks ago, when the novelty of breaking what shouldn’t break was still all new and shiny, I was being very tough and resilient. Which is why, five days after my all-too-dramatic crash, but two full weeks before I could comfortably type, I made cookies.

I’m not normally one for contests, but Drew laid it out flat: this wasn’t a bake-off. This was a “cookie on,” because no one was allowed to enter unless they promised to get their cookie on for reals. I’d committed to entering the week before the Fourth, when Drew—another patient with (much more severe) cerebral palsy at Graham’s therapy center—had announced over her sparkle-tied Chucks that I was invited to join.

When I was out flat after the Fourth, slathered between ice like a freshly-caught salmon while my family stripped the basement naked in preparation for all that construction, I privately resigned from the contest. But the day before the cookies were due, I saw Drew again. She’s a gorgeous, spunky, bright-eyed, smartly dressed kid heading into 7th grade at the top of her class. She has severe cerebral palsy. She’s still learning to talk, walk, and write. Yet somehow, despite unimaginable obstacles, she cooks. She has major opinions about what tastes good and what doesn’t. And she wanted me to enter. How can you tell a girl who can’t stand at a counter that a broken bone is stopping you from turning on an electric mixer?

Good butter

I started with 3 sticks’s worth of butter, because it meant opening a single large package of butter instead of multiple smaller ones. I weighed instead of measuring wherever possible, because my right hand’s dexterity hadn’t yet gone through its latent puberty. It was so awkward. I made a hell of a mess. But in the end, I wound up with crunchy, chewy cookies with the tang of summer cherries.  I was satisfied.

My entry was the first on the cookie table the next day. Graham and I left the therapy center, and I waited. And waited. I never got to see the other cookies, but I felt like I’d made a good specimen. But alas, among the plethora of categorized prizes available—prettiest cookie, best-named cookie, tastiest cookie, etc.—I got nothing. Well, except an honorable mention, for Best One-Armed Baker.

I get it. Nothing beats a Husband Getter. (When Stephanie tells me what exactly a Husband Getter is, perhaps I’ll be able to explain why she won.) I never tasted that, or what Drew made, or what Drew’s mom made, but they were apparently all wayyyy better than mine. I’m working hard to avoid losing confidence over a cookie-baking contest instigated by a 12-year-old. And I get that I should have added chocolate, even if it might have meant figuring out how to axe into a block of Callebaut with my non-dominant hand.

But what I also get, as I dole out lumpy scoops of dough every other day from the bucket in the refrigerator when the need for a cookie calls, is that no matter how annoyed I get about needing and asking for help, I’m both lucky to be whole and lucky to have a village. And I understand that I’ll have ask and ask and ask for help, and be okay with it, until this whole episode is over, which, someday, it will be.

And some day, when I’m all patched up and she’s perhaps a little older, I’ll ask Drew how she does such a good job giving back with just her smile, and how she’s okay with not giving back sometimes. Because if there’s ever a contest to get your gracefulness on, or to get your spark on, or to get your ability to inspire people 25 years your senior on, those are the ones she’ll win.

Super-Powered Cherry-Millet Oatmeal Cookies (PDF)

These cookies have a distinct advantage over every single other cookie recipe I’ve made before: they can be made with one hand. My apologies if you don’t have a scale to measure out the dry ingredients properly. You’ll understand, I hope, that since Hogwash is about food and life, there is naturally a category for recipes made with a broken collarbone.

If you have the pleasure of the use of both of your arms AND a food scale, add a couple handfuls of chopped dark chocolate to the mix right at the end.

Makes: About 4 dozen

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
350 grams/12 1/2 ounces all-purpose gluten-free flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch salt
150 grams/5 ounces old-fashioned oats
100 grams/3 1/2 ounces raw millet
1/2 pound dried sour cherries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon baking mats and set aside.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter and sugar until light and fluffy on medium speed, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs and whip again on medium speed for 2 minutes, scraping the sides occasionally.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. With the machine on low speed, add the dry ingredients to the mixer in a few separate additions, mixing until thoroughly combined. Add the oats, millet, and cherries, and mix on low until evenly distributed, scraping the bottom of the bowl if necessary.

Using a 1 1/2-inch ice cream scoop (or a big cereal spoon), form the dough into 1 1/2-inch balls and place them on the baking sheets at least 2 inches apart. Bake for about 15 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through baking, until the edges of the cookies are browned but the centers are still light. Let the cookies cool 5 minutes on the baking sheets, transfer to racks to cool, and repeat with the remaining dough.

Cookies are best eaten the same day.

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Filed under Cookies, gluten-free, grains

A different kind of resolution

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookie 2Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookie batter

I know, I know. February is a little late to be telling you about my resolutions. But I really stink at resolutions, which is why I don’t make them. Or it may be, just perhaps, that I stink at January. Case in point: I exercised twice in January. Since January 1st, I’ve managed to bring home a stomach flu, a sinus infection, a torn (and re-torn) intercostal muscle, and more candy than my home has seen since Halloween of 1987. I’ve turned an assignment in late for what might be the second time in my life—yes, I’m that person—and made some pretty awesome mistakes emailing incorrect files for big projects. January is when I mess things up, apparently.

Buying a juicer will make it all better, I’m sure. At least, that’s the theory, which is why there’s now a gleaming mammoth of a thing sitting on my kitchen counter. It’s been churning out delicious combinations and elixirs meant not to replace the vegetables in my diet—there are usually plenty of those—but simply to introduce new flavors and textures into my diet. To notice vegetables in a different way. And to help me pay attention to what I eat for breakfast, because my three-year-old has been talking me into Rice Krispies an awful lot recently. Occasionally, though, the thing is a little threatening. You’re being too healthy, it whispers. My goal isn’t to lose weight. My goal is to pay attention to what I eat, rather than eating blindly.

The theory—one I call Better Late than Never, or Better Something than Nothing—also includes paying attention to the smaller things in my diet. Like, well, gluten. I’ve been off the stuff for about 18 months now, and every once in a while, I need to be reminded why I’m doing it. Eating gluten makes me feel meh, a bit hungover, but it doesn’t actually make me sick. In January, I ate a croissant one day, and a bowl of pasta the next, and, not so surprisingly, I felt off but not terrible. I began to debate eating gluten again. For convenience. For easy dining outside my house. For really good croissants. Then someone published a story in the New York Times Magazine that articulated perfectly what I myself was told about how gluten causes things like lupus, and I remembered why I’m avoiding it: I’m avoiding it for me, not to make things easier on other people. Since then I’ve been darn near perfect about the gluten thing. So. On to bigger and better offenders.

February is also when I pay attention to my diet because it’s American Heart Month. You know, the one where you’re supposed to wear red a lot and remember that there’s this big beating beast inside your chest that keeps you alive. Theoretically, said beast does a bit better with a little less salt, which is why someone somewhere picked now to release a beautiful book called Sodium Girl’s Limitless Low-Sodium Cookbook. I think that’s great for hearts everywhere. But what the title doesn’t say—and what makes the book important to me—is that it’s written by Jessica Goldman Fuong, my San Francisco food writer doppelganger, which means it’s also good for kidneys. She also has lupus, and she, even more than me, has a deeper-than-normal relationship with her kids. (Hers have names, people. Frank and Stein. I’m so jealous she thought of that first.)

The book is a foray into really spunky low-sodium cooking for people petrified of putting down the shaker. It’s a tongue-in-cheek guide to junk food that won’t kill you, or more specifically, her or me—things like buffalo wings and homemade ranch dressing—and a funny, quirky guide to relearning how to cook. (There’s even a full-page Janet Jackson reference.) And most importantly for me, the book is a wake-up call. It reminds me that even after a rough January, when I spent so much time sick because my new lupus drug clobbers my immune system, I sometimes forget to watch what goes into my mouth.

So when I turned to my north kitchen wall yesterday—the one where I sneak recipes up under the rolling pin hanging there, to remind me at all times of the little tastes I want to try—and found one for salted peanut butter cookies, I swooned. (Wouldn’t you? Peanut butter cookies with a ton of salt in them? What could be better?) Then I reconsidered. Technically, I don’t need to eat a low-sodium diet. But with two kidneys always working overtime, it’s probably a bit better for me to steer clear of the extra-salty stuff. And of course, I’d need to make the recipe gluten-free. These are by no stretch diet cookies, but they are better for my diet than what I’d normally make. And these are the changes I want to make at home. Little improvements. Sustainable, kidney-hugging improvements.

The original recipe—from a forthcoming book called Malts and Milkshakes by Autumn Martin, of Seattle’s Hot Cakes Molten Chocolate Cakery—is from someone whose recipes I trust completely. I knew Autumn would nail the right chewiness, and the right vanilla flavor. But I didn’t know whether I’d miss the salt.

So I tinkered. I used Jeanne’s gluten-free all-purpose flour blend , and I added oats for staying power, and because my husband is a sucker for oatmeal cookies and was about to board a plane for Chile. I added chopped peanuts for some of the peanut butter, because I wanted a bit of crunch. I added a bit more leavening, because I wanted them to rise and fall, so they had a bit of crinkle on top.

Then, the strangest thing happened: I meant to decrease the salt from 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon (!) to just 2 teaspoons—still a huge amount of salt for someone on a low-sodium diet but, in my salt-pickled mind, a conscious effort to lower the sodium—but I plum forgot to add any salt at all. And you know what? Between the salt in the peanut butter, the baking soda, and the baking powder, these cookies are delicious and still, strangely, salty. I’m not sure I’d give one to Frank or Stein, but I’d give one to you.

I would, I said. But I can’t. Half of them are at 38,000 feet, somewhere between Miami and Santiago, and the some came with me to feed a gaggle of 3- and 4-year-olds and their associated moms. And the rest of them? I’m saving them for my kidneys, who will someday also have names. I’m not dieting, but I’m trying to treat those kids a little better every day.

Editor’s note: The cookies have made it through customs. You were worried, I know.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookie stack 1

Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies
This recipe, adapted from Autumn Martin’s Malts and Milkshakes, makes tender, chewy cookies with a bit of staying power. You want the kind of tan that comes with an unexpected sunny day in February on these cookies, not the kind you work for at the beach; even a shallow ring of toasty (as opposed to light golden) color will turn these from chewy to crispy. Pay attention.

Time: 15 minutes active time
Makes: About 3 dozen 2-inch cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour mix
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup natural low-sodium creamy peanut butter
1 cup roasted unsalted peanuts, chopped
1 1/2 cups rolled oats

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and baking powder, and set aside.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar, and sugar until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl and the paddle once or twice. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing on low speed between each addition. Add the vanilla and peanut butter, then mix on medium speed until well blended. Add the dry ingredients in three batches, mixing on low speed between each until no white spots remain. Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the chopped peanuts and oats.

Using a small ice cream scoop or a tablespoon measure, form the dough into 2 tablespoon-size balls and arrange them on the baking sheet, leaving about 1 1/2 inches between the cookies.

Bake for 13 to 16 minutes, or until the cookies are puffed and very pale golden brown around the edges. (You don’t want them to actually brown.)

Let the cookies cool 5 to 10 minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer carefully to a cooling rack and repeat with the remaining batter.

Store baked, cooled cookies in an airtight container at room temperature, up to 5 days.

Note: I used Jeanne’s gluten-free all-purpose flour blend for my muffins.

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Filed under Cookies, dessert, gluten-free

Something to try

Smoky Spruce ButtercrunchSmoky Spruce Buttercrunch

I have an announcement to make: I have a new favorite flavor. It’s related to chocolate – what great foods aren’t? – and it comes from a tiny little sweets shop a couple miles from home. Friends, I am officially in love with smoked chocolate.

It’s not something I could have predicted, because typically, I’m almost completely anti-smokiness. I’m not a particularly avid fan of smoky barbecue. I can’t stand smoked cheeses. Smoked sausages? No way. But once the wisp of an alderwood fire crosses over to the sweet side, it seems like my taste buds forgive and forget.

I first tasted smoked chocolate in chocolate chip cookies from Hot Cakes, a newish sweets shop in Seattle run by Autumn Martin, the pastry genius once behind the confections at Theo Chocolate. When I was writing Dishing Up Washington, she gave me her recipe for smoking chips in a cold smoker, and together we adapted it so anyone with a standard-issue grill and the kind of box boots come in could replicate her cookies at home. But then. Then. Then she put her smoked dark chocolate chips up for sale, and suddenly it seemed perfectly reasonable to spend $15 on what amounts to less than a grocery store-sized bag of chocolate chips. Why? Because they taste like a campfire would smell if you drowned it at the end of the night with a fountain of dark chocolate. Because our fireplace is now home to the dog’s bed, and somehow, having an edible equivalent to that winter fireplace aroma makes up for it. Because this is Seattle, which means it’s raining outside and my grill is already hibernating. And, well, because time is money.

But last week, innocently enough, I ambled into Hot Cakes to run an errand for Santa (which I can’t mention here, for fear of exposure), and I ordered a smoky hot chocolate. There, underneath the house made marshmallow, hid an accent that surprised me. It tasted a little bit like pine trees. It was like drinking thick sipping chocolate that had taken a spill onto a forest floor covered with a soft, fragrant bed of needles – albeit remarkably clean ones. Autumn told me I was tasting fir essential oil, and that I could get all sorts of similar things at Dandelion Botanical, a shop across the street, so I wandered over. I went home with spruce tree essential oil. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Since the year I spent a December testing recipes for a cookbook for Kathy Gunst, about a decade ago, holiday baking has meant one thing most strongly: buttercrunch. In her family, the secret family recipes is . . . well, secret, but I’ve made it enough times that a) I have to make some new version every year and b) I never seem to be able to make enough of it.

As soon as I tasted Autumn’s hot chocolate, I knew I’d be making a version redolent of smoke and that forest floor – spruce trees, it turned out, produced the essential oil I liked best. I folded Hot Cakes’ smoked chocolate chips and a few drops of that oil into my version of Kathy’s buttercrunch recipe, and added a bit of toasted coconut for texture (and okay, yes, I was flirting with the idea of making candy that looked like a campsite).

This ain’t your grandmother’s Christmas candy, people. But if you wanted to distill the smell of camping in a Northwest forest into an afternoon snack, and you want something delicious to crunch on in wintry weather, I got you covered.

Smoky Spruce Buttercrunch

Smoky Spruce Buttercrunch (PDF)
Crunchy, chocolaty candy with the smoky, pine-filled allure of a campfire? Sign me up. But let’s not kid ourselves: this is not a low-maintenance holiday treat. It requires two ingredients you might have to mail order, but both, in my opinion, are intriguing enough to be worth the time and money. Order smoked chocolate chips from Hot Cakes Molten Chocolate Cakery in Seattle (www.getyourhotcakes.com) and spruce extract from Dandelion Botanical, which is actually just across the street (www.dandelionbotanical.com).

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: about 3 dozen pieces

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
2 tablespoons water
3 to 6 drops spruce or pine essential oil
7 ounces smoked chocolate chips
2/3 cup toasted sweetened coconut
7 ounces high-quality bittersweet chocolate (I prefer 70%), finely chopped
2/3 cup toasted sliced almonds

Line a baking sheet with a silicon baking mat (or greased foil) and set aside.

Combine the butter, sugar, corn syrup, and water in a medium non-reactive (not aluminum) saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the temperature reaches 290°F on an instant-read thermometer. (It will take 10 to 15 minutes, but this is not the time to wander around the kitchen, as overcooking the caramel will cause it to separate. Be patient.)

At 290°F, stir in the essential oil (3 drops for a hint, or up to 6 for a super piney flavor, depending on how strong you want it), then carefully pour the toffee mixture onto the lined baking sheet, tipping the sheet and/or spreading the mixture with a small offset spatula until the mixture is just a bit bigger in size than a piece of paper. Let cool completely, about 30 minutes.

When cool, melt the smoked chocolate chips: Place them in a saucepan over very low heat, and stir constantly until almost all the chunks are melted. Remove from heat and stir until smooth. Set aside.

Spread the melted smoked chocolate in an even layer over the cooled toffee, and sprinkle evenly with the coconut. Cool until the chocolate is dry and completely firm (this may take a few hours), then carefully flip the toffee. Repeat the melting process with the bittersweet chocolate, over low heat, then repeat the spreading process with the remaining chocolate and sprinkle the almonds on top. Let cool completely, then break into bite-sized chunks. Store in a tightly sealed container up to 3 weeks.

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Filed under Cookies, dessert, Dishing Up Washington, gluten-free, kitchen adventure, recipe

Holiday Baking

HolidayCookieCollage_2

These days, life feels like it consists mainly of gathering. I’m gathering things for cookbook signings, gathering holiday gifts, gathering friends for dinners and parties, gathering photos and addresses, gathering tights I’ve ripped putting on with too-dry cuticles. It seemed only fitting to gather up a few of my favorite holiday baking recipes from Hogwash. Enjoy!

Coffee (with Cream and Sugar) Cookies
Salty Marcona Almond Toffee
Cardamom Snowflake Cookies
Ginger Shatters
Curiously Strong Buttermint Crunch
Nut-Smothered Chocolate-Dipped Pretzels
Heirloom Apple-Cranberry Pie

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Filed under Cakes, Cookies, recipe

Is there an allergy test for that?

Millet-Pecan Carnival Cookies 2

Here’s how you make chocolate chip cookies: you beat the butter and sugar into a fluffy little frenzy, possibly forgetting about them both while you answer an email. You crack two eggs in, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl between each one, then swear at yourself for a) always throwing the vanilla into the baking drawer upside-down, since this time it leaked, and b) spacing out on the computer instead of blending the dry ingredients, because now you need them. You whisk flour—or flours, if you’re me, because I love the chew of chocolate chip cookies made with a mixture of bread and whole wheat pastry flours—with salt and some sort of leavening and perhaps a bit of spice, dump it all into the mixer, and stir. Then there are the add-ins—chocolate (always), oats (more often than not), dried fruit (sour cherries, please, never raisins), and toasted coconut. These are my favorite cookies.

That’s what I used to think. That’s what I thought until I morphed into one of those people who may or may not be allergic to certain things. (The horror.) That’s what I thought until today, in fact, when I decided that rather than substituting various things into my standard chocolate-chunk cookies—ground flax for the eggs, new flours for all-purpose, and the like—I need to research my standard definition of “cookie.”

I didn’t have to go much farther than Super Natural Every Day, Heidi Swanson’s newest cooking bible. I’ve liked Heidi’s recipes in the past because they’re fresh and creative, but in the last six months—yes, it’s been that long since I cut out gluten, eggs, and soy—her books have provided constant inspiration when I’m trying to find a path out of the way I used to cook (or at least from empty kitchen to warm dessert). She cooks things that are instantly familiar, even if you’ve never tasted anything remotely similar. She uses unique ingredients without making them seem like substitutions. And in my experience, every recipe works every time. Case in point: chocolate chip cookies.

Millet-Pecan Carnival Cookies batter

Heidi calls these “Carnival Cookies.” It’s fitting, given the original combination of peanuts, popcorn, and chocolate chips, but for me, the name is more about the fun. Stirring up something called a cookie without going through the normal cookie motions—for one, these don’t require a mixer, or even sugar—was somehow liberating, allergies be damned. Substituting a big handful of millet for some of the oats, and pecans for the peanuts, was easy enough, and made these safe for my father-in-law, who’s allergic to peanuts. They’ll work for my friend’s hypersensitive son. And they’ll work for me, because if I’m allergic to anything in this world, it’s a week without a great cookie.

Millet-Pecan Carnival Cookies 3

Millet-Pecan Carnival Cookies (PDF)
Changed only slightly from Heidi Swanson’s recipe for Carnival Cookies in her latest book, Super Natural Every Day (Ten Speed, 2011), these cookies are a blast. Between crunchy millet, swaths of chocolate, and little popcorn grenades, they’re far more interesting in the mouth than your average chocolate chip cookie—and appropriate for many with dietary restrictions.

Active time: 20 minutes
Makes about 24 cookies

1 1/2 cups well-mashed bananas (about 3 large)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup barely warmed (not solid) extra-virgin coconut oil
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup raw millet
1/2 cup almond meal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2/3 cup chopped toasted pecans
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups popped corn

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the bananas, vanilla, and coconut oil. Set aside. In another bowl, whisk together the oats, millet, almond meal, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until combined. Fold in the pecans, then the chocolate chips, and finally the popped corn. (It won’t look like normal cookie dough.) Shape the dough into 1-inch balls with your hands, packing the dough firmly together. Place them 2 inches apart on the baking sheets, and press each ball down a bit with the palm of your hand, so each mound of dough is about 1/2-inch tall.

Bake the cookies for 15 to 20 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through, or until the bottoms of the cookies are a deep golden brown. Allow the cookies to cool completely, directly on the baking sheets.

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Filed under Cookies, egg-free, gluten-free

A Good Use for Cheap Butter

mapled choc chip cookies 2

There’s a certain amount of freedom that comes with an empty refrigerator. Coming home from ten days in New England, I was baffled by how much we didn’t have. There were all of the things that were actually necessary to feed a child—milk, and a few slices of bread, cheese and tortillas, and a few oranges. But after going out to breakfast the first day we were home, it occurred to me that at some point, we’d have to feed ourselves, too.

Over the holidays, I also tested recipes for the Pike Place Market cookbook. Every day, I had specific goals—pulled pork sandwiches with coffee-tinged barbecue sauce one day, smoked salmon rillettes and stout-braised bratwurst the next. (It was a delicious week.) Here, filling a refrigerator with everyday food, with no actual recipe plans, seemed incredibly novel—and somehow daunting. Handicapped by jetlag and a holiday hangover, I couldn’t get it together to plan out food for the week, so I did what anyone with an empty refrigerator might do. I bought butter.

Normally, I buy two butters—Trader Joe’s unsalted store brand, and Golden Glen Creamery’s fancy butter. The former is cheap and works fine for baking; we use the latter (which is not cheap) for toast and in foods where you can really taste it. But on our vacation, I ran into a recipe that specifically called for ShurFine butter—the cheapest stuff you can get in New England.

Snowy chicken coop

We’d planned to spend one night with friends in Norwich, Vermont, in a little modern homestead perched over the White River, between a country road and a pig farm. It was all about as cute as we could handle, with chickens clucking around in the front yard, just past the frozen pond, and a team’s worth of hockey sticks lined up next to the front door. The neighbors’ bushes all had little A-frame houses built over them to protect them from snow. When we drove up, our hostess bounced down the driveway to meet us, the way one almost never does in a city, because the driveways just aren’t long enough. We squealed and hugged and walked inside, where the warm scents of chocolate chip cookies and wood smoke mingled with a pervasive sense of calm.

Our first course of cookies came before we took our coats off. Nicknamed “Wezie Burgers,” for our hostess’ mother, they stray a bit from the traditional back-of-the-bag recipe, with different amounts of sugar and egg and maple syrup in place of the vanilla (and then some), and with ShurFine, and only ShurFine, butter. The first time, they were still warm and chewy, but by the time we’d finished our venison chili—made with a deer shot on the property, naturally—they’d crisped up a bit, so they had the consistency of store-bought cookies, but with way more personality. (Thank you, maple syrup.) The third course came the next morning, when we dipped them in coffee as the tots ran around screaming and the adults tried to estimate just how much snow had collected on the roof of the chicken coop.

mapled choc chip cookies 1

Because there’s nothing quite as welcoming as a plate of warm chocolate chip cookies, I returned the favor when we were in Maine, with other friends visiting. Again, the cookies were big, with big cracks in the top emanating from where the oversized chocolate chips I’d used poked through the dough. I, for one, thought they were very similar to the first batch – impressive, I thought, given that the maple syrup measurement was never all that clear. But Wezie uses half whole wheat flour, and I hadn’t, and I didn’t feel like I could call them Wezie Burgers without following her recipe to the T.

mapled choc chip cookies 3

So at home, I whipped up another batch—this time with chunks and shards of chocolate, which I prefer to chips, and Trader Joe’s butter. I was almost satisfied, until my husband asked what it was that made the originals so different—he said they were stiffer, that the dough itself was somehow chunkier, and that the chocolate chunks just weren’t quite right in this cookie. I hate it when he’s right.

For batch three, I bought the cheapest salted butter I could find. I switched to mixing by hand, because it occurred to me that I didn’t see a mixer at my friend’s house, and switched back to whole chips. Perfect. If you can tell me why good butter ruins these cookies, I’m all ears.

I know cookies aren’t exactly what most people need right now. Show me anything with a sprinkle or a twinkle, and might throw it back in your face. But once they’ve cooled, these cookies get a little saggy and deflated, which is exactly how I feel right now—not at all bad in a sick way, just tired.

I’m convinced someone was in charge of structuring the calendar so people would be buoyed by the prospect of new, exciting things immediately after an exhausting vacation, but I clearly haven’t figured out why now is the “right” time to diet.

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Mapled Chocolate Chip Cookies (PDF)

Called “Wezie Burgers” by the family who created the recipe I’ve based mine on, this version of chocolate chip cookies is a Vermont-inspired variation on the back-of-the-bag standard. They’re best mixed a little less than normal, so I add all the dry ingredients—including the chocolate chips—at once.

Day-old cookies can be warmed in the microwave for about 20 seconds for a just-baked effect.

Active Time: 15 minutes
Makes: About 2 dozen

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 sticks (1 cup) cheap salted butter
1 1/4 cups white sugar
1 large egg
1/4 cup real maple syrup
1 1/2 cups dark chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon baking mats and set aside.

Whisk the flours and baking soda together in a small bowl, and set aside.

In the work bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter and sugar together on medium speed for about 1 minute, until well blended. Add the egg and maple syrup, and mix to blend. Add the dry ingredients and the chocolate chips, and stir with on-off pulses just until the mixture comes together.

Arrange 1 1/2” balls of dough at even intervals on the baking sheets (you may need to make more than one batch) and bake for about 15 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through, or until the cookies are light golden brown. Let cool on sheets for about 15 minutes, then serve warm.

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Bucking up

Sugared Buckwheat Shortbread 2

I just realized, with a little shudder of excitement, that in the next 10 days, I’ll see 40 people I love and don’t get to see often. We’ll traipse from Massachusetts to Vermont to New Hampshire to Maine, stopping and hopping to see family and friends, like we do every year. It’s always fun. It’s always heartwarming. It’s always delicious. And it’s always exhausting.

I probably shouldn’t have counted. I probably should have packed up at the very last minute, without thinking about last year, when I arrived home from the holidays with soaring blood pressure, freakish night sweats, and no appetite – the symptoms of what I thought at the time was a case of too much travel stress, but what I’d later learn was a bit of a kidney crisis.

But I did. I counted. And instead of calming me by organizing the trip in my mind, like I thought it might, the exercise only served to completely separate me from the ability be even remotely productive. Between wrapping and planning and packing and prepping, there has been no room in my frantic little brain for writing. This week, there has not been one ounce of creativity flowing from my fingers. (Speaking of which, what is the correct unit of measurement for creativity?)

Recipes, though – I can always write recipes, and luckily, this time of year, there are always people around to eat sugar in immodest doses. Tomorrow, my suitcase will be packed with these rustic beauties, tender buckwheat shortbreads crusted with turbinado sugar.

Happy holidays, friends. See you in 2011.

Sugared Buckwheat Shortbread cooling

Sugared Buckwheat Shortbread (PDF)
Inspired by the buckwheat pancakes at Seattle’s new Seatown Seabar & Rotisserie, these sweet treats get their rustic look and earthy flavor from buckwheat flour.

Time: 15 minutes active time
Makes: 2 dozen cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup buckwheat flour
1/4 cup turbinado sugar

In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or using a hand-held electric mixer), cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the vanilla and the salt, and mix again to combine. Add the flours one at a time, mixing on low speed between the two until just combined, and scraping the sides of the mixing bowl when necessary.

When all the flour is incorporated, dump the dough onto a board or a clean countertop. Gently knead the dough until it comes together (it should feel sticky). Shape the dough into a log about 12” long. Sprinkle the log with about half the turbinado sugar, coating it on all sides. Wrap the sugared dough in waxed paper, twist the ends to help push the dough into an even, round shape, and refrigerate until very firm, about 3 hours, or overnight. The dough can also be well wrapped and frozen up to 1 month.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon baking mats. Slice the dough logs into 1/4” thick pieces, and place the cookies about 3/4” apart on the baking sheets. Sprinkle with the remaining turbinado sugar, then bake for 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and end to end halfway through baking, until the cookies are firm.

Let the cookies cool 5 minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer them carefully to cooling racks to cool completely. Store in airtight containers, up to 1 week.

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Filed under Cookies, recipe