Category Archives: Cookies

It was a dark and stormy night

Is. It is a dark and stormy night, perfect for baking. Or not baking, as the case may be.

Dark & Stormy Rum Balls  2

Dark and Stormy Rum Balls (PDF)
Recipe 330 of 365

My mother-in-law is famous for her holiday rum balls, which she makes precisely because there’s no baking required. Sometime around Thanksgiving, she rolls them together and packs them into the back of the fridge or freezer in plastic containers, and by the time Christmas comes around, the rum has mellowed a bit and the cocoa flavor comes out a bit stronger. Here’s a version that leans on the old drink standby, made with crystallized ginger, ground dried ginger, and ginger thins instead of the more traditional Nilla wafers.

Whirl the ginger thins, pecans, and crystallized ginger (each separately) in the food processor until very finely chopped, or cut the pecans and ginger by hand, and put the cookies in a big zip-top bag and pound into crumbs with a rolling pin.

TIME: 35 minutes active time
MAKES: about 60 rum balls

3 cups ginger cookie crumbs (I used two 5.25-ounce packages Anna’s Ginger Thins)
1 cup toasted pecans, finely chopped
1/4 cup cocoa powder, plus more for dusting at end
1/4 cup very finely chopped crystallized ginger (from 1/2 cup ginger slices)
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
3 tablespoons corn syrup
1/2 cup dark rum (Gosling’s, of course)

Place all ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir to blend very well. Refrigerate for about 15 minutes, until batter is firm enough to scoop, form into balls about 1” in diameter, and place on wax paper-covered baking sheet. Refrigerate again for 15 minutes, then roll in cocoa powder to coat. Store in freezer or refrigerator, at least 1 week and up to 1 month before serving.

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I can’t beat ’em

Lavender blossoms

I sort of hoped an early Thanksgiving would mean a bit of a break between holidays – you know, just a day or two to let the country collectively relax before being handed another Hallmarked to-do list. But it won’t happen. Not in Seattle, anyway. Yesterday I got pounded with Christmas music. I let it snow at Trader Joe’s, got my halls decked at Whole Foods – couldn’t even avoid it on NPR. And you know that old saying. . .

So I’m joining. You’ll find lots of holiday sweets here this week – maybe not every day, but most days. Early, I know, but this way, two weeks from now, when your cookie crisis hits, you’ll have a bit of a collection to turn to. Not that there wasn’t one already around here. . .heck, between the Rustic Salty Cashew Shortbread, the Everything Oatmeal Cookies, and the Cornmeal Sparklers, you already have a few good (and freezable) options for your swap.

Lavender-Pistachio Tea Cakes

Lavender-Pistachio Tea Cakes (PDF)
Recipe 329 of 365

Based on a recipe for Russian Tea Cakes handed around in my husband’s family (and inspired by the Lavender-Honey ice cream at Bi-Rite in San Francisco), these little guys carry just the right hint of floral flavor.

If you’d like to make these ahead, form the balls and freeze unbaked, first on a cookie sheet until they harden, then in a big zip-top bag. Bake directly from frozen for a few minutes longer.

TIME: 25 minutes active time
MAKES: about 3 dozen cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried lavender buds, crushed or finely chopped
1 cup pistachios (shelled), coarsely chopped
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Note: You can bake the cookies directly after mixing, skipping the chilling part, but they’ll be denser and a little less delicate. I prefer them to be fragile and shatter when I bite into them.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light, about 2 minutes. Scrape the butter from the sides and bottom of the bowl, add the flour, vanilla, salt, and lavender, and mix on low until the flour is incorporated.

Chopped pistachios

Stir in the pistachios, and chill the dough at least 30 minutes. (It will be crumbly.)

Lavender-Pistachio Tea Cakes dough

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Press the dough into walnut-sized balls and arrange 1” apart on two parchment-covered baking sheets. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through, or until cookies are firm and just beginning to brown. Let cool 2 minutes on baking sheets, then roll in confectioners’ sugar, once when hot, then again about 15 minutes later, when the cookies have cooled a bit. Let cool to room temperature on racks before storing.

Lavender-Pistachio Tea Cakes 2

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An unorthodox cookie

Blue Cheese and Walnut Cookies

Bleu Cheese and Walnut Cookies (PDF)
Recipe 322 of 365

I can’t decide whether these are better as an unusual appetizer, served with a little tray of olives or a schmear of tapenade, or as a dessert geared toward those who prefer a more savory nibble after dinner. Either way, they’re a unique take on shortbread, and easy to make. Bake them all at once, or wrap half the prepared dough well in plastic and freeze for a month or two, until the next time you need them. They’ll take a few minutes longer if you slice and bake them from frozen.

TIME: 25 minutes active time
MAKES: 40 cookies

1 cup walnuts (shelled halves)
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 ounces blue cheese (such as Point Reyes Original), crumbled
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast until browned and fragrant, 5 to 10 minutes. (Watch carefully!) Transfer the nuts to a cutting board to cool, and turn off the oven.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and cheese with the sugar on medium speed until light, about 3 minutes.

With the machine on low, add the flour to the mixer a little at a time, and mix until the flour is fully incorporated, scraping down the sides of the mixer with a plastic spatula when needed. (The dough will be a little crumbly.) Finely chop the walnuts and stir in half by hand, and spread the rest out on the cutting board.

Divide the dough between two 1’ square pieces of wax paper. Roll each mound into a log almost a foot long and about 1 1/2” in diameter. Roll the logs in the remaining walnuts, wrap each log in wax paper, twist the ends to seal, and chill for 2 hours (or up to 3 days), or until very firm.

Blue Cheese and Walnut Cookies (rolled in walnuts)

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon baking sheets, and set aside.

Slice dough into 1/2” rounds, and arrange on baking sheets, about 20 cookies per sheet. Bake the shortbread for 25 to 30 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway through, or until the cookies are only very barely beginning to brown at the edges. (They will not look much different from when you put them in.)

Cool the cookies 10 minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer to cooling racks to cool completely. Store in an airtight container up to 1 week.

Blue Cheese and Walnut Cookies 2

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A cookie for fall

Pumpkin, Seed, and Nut Cookies top

Pumpkin, Seed, and Nut Cookies (PDF)
Recipe 285 of 365

I enjoy the kitchen sink approach to cookie creation. For cookies that taste a little more like fall that plain ol’ chocolate chip, start with a soft, chewy pumpkin cookie base, then fold in almonds, pumpkin seeds, and chocolate chips (plus a few secret good-for-you ingredients).

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: 3 dozen cookies

1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup almond meal
2 tablespoons flaxseed meal
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup dark chocolate chips
1 cup whole oats

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, spread the almonds and pumpkin seeds on the paper, and toast for 10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Set aside.

seeds and nuts

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon baking mats, and set aside.

Meanwhile, whisk the flours, almond and flaxseed meals, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon together in a medium bowl, and set aside.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light, about 2 minutes. Whisk the pumpkin, eggs, and vanilla together in a small bowl, then add to the butter/sugar mixture, and mix on medium for 1 minute. Scrape the bottom of a bowl with a soft spatula, add the flour mixture, and mix on low until all the flour is incorporated. Add the chocolate chips, oats, and toasted almonds and pumpkin seeds, and stir to blend.

Drop the dough by heaping spoonfuls 2” apart on the baking sheets, and bake for 16 to 18 minutes, rotating the sheets top to bottom and front to back halfway through cooking, or until the cookies are barely cracked on top and brown around the edges. Cool for five minutes on sheets, transfer to racks to cool completely, and repeat with remaining dough.

Pumpkin, Seed, and Nut Cookies  stack

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Hottie Biscotti

WW Walnut-Cran Biscotti 1

My friend Michaela is a wordsmith, in the most literal way: she makes everything up. A regular dictionary just doesn’t apply to her vocabulary. When her cat does that mystical cat thing, sleeping in a corner with both eyes closed but still completely conscious of everything going on around her, she calls it speeping – a cross between sleeping and spying. Proscuitto is pronounced pros-kah-TOOT-y. And everything – yes, everything – can rhyme with something nonsensical. Herego, in KaelaSpeak, a nice pair of shoes is not cute, they’re cutie patootie. A job is a yobsicle. And her vocabulary is highly contagious, which means I call my own cat Kitzen McBitzen and my dog roo roo, and Tito is my husbie and at 3 p.m. I eat snackycakes.

Which brings me to hottie biscotti. My term, actually, but her fault.

I buy biscotti when I need just a bite, typically when I’m having coffee with someone else, and feel I’ll be giving my espresso drink the love and attention it deserves, rather than shoving it behind my laptop, to be consumed only when thirst overrides my interest in whatever I’m writing at that moment.

Since I’ve been adding real, whole grains to much of my baked goods, it seems silly not to make biscotti with something – protein, nutrition, anything – that will actually give me more than just a sugar high. The dip in dark chocolate is for health purposes only.

Chocolate-Covered WW Walnut-Cran Biscotti 5

The plumbing project continues – today we had no water, which meant I baked these and left all the dishes in the sink all night long. (Of course, today had to be the day I dropped an egg on the floor.) Tomorrow I’ll give Bo and Jason a few of these when they show up (although you can bet I won’t be mentioning the whole grains), and I’ll take the rest to my neighborhood hardware store, to say thanks to Marty, Willow, Mike, Luna, and Jennifer, the folks who regularly stuff my dog with treats and bent over backwards last weekend to help us locate the last cans of the proper paint base in Seattle.

I recently heard a treatise (on NPR) on the physics behind the best way to dip a cookie into a liquid – you know, for maximum milk retention given a stable, holdable cookie. But now, of course, I can’t find it. Let me know if you heard it.

WW Walnut-Cran Biscotti 2

Whole Wheat Cranberry-Walnut Biscotti (PDF)
Recipe 249 of 365

Based loosely on the recipe for Chocolate-Dipped Pistachio-Orange Biscotti in Stonewall Kitchen Favorites, these are traditional biscotti – cookies baked twice, first in a loaf, then sliced and baked individually – with some not-so-traditional mix-ins.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: About 30 biscotti

2 cups walnuts or walnut pieces
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for forming biscotti
3/4 cups whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons raw quinoa (red or white)
2 tablespoons wheat germ
2 tablespoons oat bran
2 tablespoons flax seed meal
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup olive oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup dried cranberries, roughly chopped
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped and melted when biscotti is cool (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, add the walnuts in a single layer, and toast on the middle rack for 5 to 10 minutes, or until lightly browned and fragrant. Transfer the nuts to a cutting board to cool, coarsely chop if whole, and set aside. Return parchment paper to baking sheet and set aside.

Meanwhile, place the flours, quinoa, wheat germ, oat bran, flax seed meal, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl, and whisk to blend. Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk the oil, eggs, vanilla, and milk together until blended. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, mix until well combined, and stir in the toasted walnuts and cranberries. (The dough will be slightly wet.)

Flour a large work area, dump the dough onto the flour, and dust the top with more flour. Using floured hands, divide the dough into two pieces. Working with one piece at a time, form into two flat logs about 3 inches wide and 12 inches long, adding flour as needed to prevent your hands from sticking to the dough and the dough from sticking to the counter. Transfer both logs carefully to the parchment-covered baking sheet, about 3 inches apart, and bake for 30 minutes, or until firm to the touch and just beginning to brown.

uncooked WW Walnut-Cran Biscotti

Remove the biscotti from the oven and decrease the oven temperature to 300 degrees. When the biscotti are cool enough to handle, transfer them to a cutting board and use a serrated bread knife to cut them into 3/4″ wide slices on a diagonal.

WW Walnut-Cran Biscotti cooked once

Transfer the biscotti back to the baking sheet, cut side up, and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, turning the biscotti over halfway through baking, or until browned on both sides and quite firm. Cool completely on wire racks. If desired, dip half of each biscotti into the melted chocolate, and let dry on waxed paper until chocolate is firm. Store in an airtight container up to 2 weeks.

Choc-Cov WW Walnut-Cran Biscotti 2

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Day 2: Cookies for painting morale

The second day dawns. We’re ripping yesterday’s tape off, and morale is high. The weather looks good, and we’ll have talented help again today.

Chocolate Chocolate Espresso Cookie Sandwiches 2

Chocolate Chocolate Espresso Cookies (PDF)
Recipe 245 of 365

This is a cookie for the troops, a cookie for boosting morale (and perhaps heart rate). Serve them warm from the oven, or let them cool and use them to make ice cream sandwiches. I used Ben & Jerry’s Dublin Mudslide and Coffee ice creams, but I’m sure most any flavor will do.

If you do make sandwiches, make sure to refreeze after you assemble them, so the ice cream has a chance to reset. Otherwise this will happen:

Chocolate Chocolate Espresso Cookie Sandwiches 3

TIME: 25 minutes active time
MAKES: about 2 dozen cookies

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup espresso beans, finely ground
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

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

Whisk flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt, and coffee grounds together in a medium bowl, and set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or using a hand-held electric mixer), cream the butter and both sugars on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time on low speed, beating well after each addition and scraping down the inside of the bowl with a plastic spatula as needed. Beat in the vanilla on low speed. Add the dry ingredients to the butter-sugar mixture in three additions, mixing on low speed until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Drop the dough by heaping spoonfuls (a 1 1/2-inch ice cream scoop works perfectly) about 2” apart on the baking sheets. Bake 15 to 17 minutes, or until the tops are beginning to crack. Cool the cookies on sheets for 5 minutes, and transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

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Taking the good with the bad

So, like I said, I’m working my way off the ‘roids. It’s meant for a sore and slightly cranky week, but, hallelujah, it’s sort of good to feel my body again. Prednisone basically dampens how I feel most symptoms (fatigue, soreness, etc.) – this is usually a good thing, but sometimes it makes me feel inhuman. It’s not so much that I haven’t had a regular cold in three years, I just haven’t felt the symptoms of one – it makes me feel a little alien, and when I woke up this morning with a headache, some sneezes, and watery eyes, I was almost comforted. Guess it’s a matter of taking the good with the bad.

It’s been another busy week here, and in the spirit of not getting done, I bought a tank top that says “busy bee” this morning; it should serve as a constant reminder of my most natural tendencies. (Thank you, sale rack at Lemon Meringue.) I will use this mantra as an excuse to write here, then spend the rest of the day doing nothing productive. Wait, that might actually be productive in itself – confused yet?

It’s also been a hot week in Seattle. The city almost fainted when the thermostat hit 90 mid-week. I’m telling you, this is a city of weather sissies, and I think I’m well on my way to becoming one of them.

Of course, it happened to be the week I’ve tested a bread recipe I’m working on seven times, all at 450 degrees. Sweltering. By Friday, I was thinking of cordoning off the oven with a sign that said “out of order.” I spent most afternoons being thankful I’m no longer cooking in hot kitchens all afternoon, every day, in the summers.

Then I opened a recent Gourmet Magazine, and found a peanut butter cookie recipe that made me switch tacks. Yum. I stared at it for a long time, trying to remember the last time I’d made peanut butter cookies. I must have, at some point, but . . . when?

One summer, formynineteenthbirthdayohmygod, my now-husband flew from Maine to Boise, just showed up in my living room as a surprise. My friend Beth was in on it, and she penned me in at home while my parents picked Tito up at the airport, claiming she needed to copy a peanut butter recipe out of one of my mother’s cookbooks. (Can you imagine copying a recipe out of a cookbook by hand now? How web unsavvy.) There was much talk of making peanut butter cookies that night, but no actual stirring or baking, because Tito showed up, and, well, as they say, the rest is history.

Anyway. That was almost exactly ten years ago.

Recently, I’ve been hoping to send treats to a few friends. They’re taking the last heavy steps toward their dissertation defenses, and peanut butter cookies seemed just the thing. I envisioned making ice cream sandwiches with half the batch; I looked forward to hugging the oversized cookies around caramel Ben & Jerry’s.

But following recipes is not my strengh. I spiked Gourmet’s version with the same whole grains I’d been using in the bread, for cookies with more crunch than usual, really a superb texture for a cookie. And isn’t adding nutrition to a not-so-healthy recipe better than skipping out on the nutrients entirely? Take the good with the bad, I say.

The original recipe‘s headnote warned that it’s a huge batch of cookies but worth making in its entirety, and they were right. I got three dozen cookies each big enough to palm like a discus, and they marched out of the house like a nursery rhyme:

Three we ate hot, before dinner was started
My dog licked the baking sheet – tongue must have smarted
Five cookies for Vicki, for her road trip down south
Then she asked for five more when the first hit her mouth
But before I could leave to fetch her some more
Her dog Scout pawed the plate and all four hit the floor
So I hustled back home, ignoring his crime
And handed ten over, all sealed up this time
Then nine went to WHOI, three went to Mass.
Thank goodness all these treats won’t go to my ass
The half dozen left I stacked up in a tower
Saved for watching the Tourfriends had taped all three hours
But time passed too quickly; we were suddenly late
Now I need a whole new damn batch for stage eight

Everything Peanut Butter Cookies

Recipe for Everything Peanut Butter Cookies
Recipe 196 of 365

Stuffed with flax seeds, whole wheat flour, and whole raw quinoa, millet, and oats, these cookies pack more of a nutritional punch than most, but don’t shy away from them: they’ve still got all the tasty stuff, too. This recipe is a modified version of the one found in Gourmet Magazine’s July 2007 issue – the original credit goes to Britta, the 9-year-old daughter of the innkeeper at The Willows, a Victorian inn on Lummi Island in Washington’s San Juan Islands.

The original recipe calls for baking the cookies for 30 minutes, but I found I much preferred a slightly shorter cooking time, for cookies that are softer and more chewy once cooled.

Since it’s best to put the raw cookies on cold baking sheets, it’s easier to make these using four baking sheets. (But don’t worry, the cookies lift off easily, so there’s not much clean-up.)

TIME: 30 minutes active
MAKES: 3 dozen large cookies

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup raw millet
1/4 cup ground flax meal
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup raw quinoa
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 sticks (3/4 pound) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter
2/3 cup sugar
2 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons vanilla
1/2 cup whole oats (not quick oats)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Arrange racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.

Whisk the flours, millet, flax, wheat germ, quinoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl until blended. Cream the butter, peanut butter, both sugars, and oil in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on high for 2 minutes, or until pale and light. Add the eggs, yolks, and vanilla, and beat just until blended. Add the flour in three additions, mixing on low speed between each addition, then add the oats and walnuts and mix until incorporated.

Scoop 1/4-cup mounds of dough onto the baking sheets, about six per sheet, spaced two inches apart. Dip a fork into a bowl of flour and use the fork’s tines to push the dough down twice in a crisscross pattern, so the dough is about 1/2 inch thick. Repeat with the remaining cookies, dipping the fork into the flour between each cookie. (Refrigerate dough between batches.)

Bake the cookies for 25 minutes, rotating sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through baking, or until golden brown around the edges. Transfer cookies to racks to cool. Repeat with remaining batter, placing raw dough on cool baking sheets.

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Be with what is.

“Be with what is,” directed my yoga instructor at a class two Sundays ago. I smirked out loud and rolled my eyes at my husband from downward dog, half laughing at her self-righteous yogic tone, and tried unsuccessfully to cover it up with fake cough. Be, she repeated more slowly (now she’s onto me!), with what is.

That afternoon, when the seven bags of garden mulch I schlepped home from the hardware store turned out to be moldy, her words crept back into my brain. “Be with what is,” I said to the mulch, and ruled out the option of harassing the hardware store guys more than absolutely necessary. Sure, I had to make a second trip to exchange it, but really, what could I do?

These last two weeks have been busy, packed with people, and it’s become sort of a mantra. I’ve seen many friends, felt many of the warm, knowing, comforting hugs that make having friends so important. We talked weddings and births and deaths, adventures and boredom and problems and triumphs. I burst into tears on the way to REI once, overwhelmed by the telling of life in the comfortable presence of a dear friend, and in that moment I was silently grateful to have so many wonderful people to count on.

It’s been so much. So much energy, so much time, so many sheets to change. Somehow, though, balancing people and work and my own limitations has been easier these days. I’m not sure why, but I have a feeling my little yoga chant is helping. It’s quite convenient, really. I think it would make a good television advertisement, if I had any feeling for what those sound like: Facing a deadline you know you’re going to have trouble making? Don’t panic. Just be. It is. Cat puked on the rug? The rug is now a different color. Be with the slightly different rug.

It translates quite well to the kitchen environment.

Last weekend I conjured up a deep-dish strawberry-rhubarb pie in my mind, made with the season’s best of both – strawberries from a farmer’s market and rhubarb from the new growth on our plants in the backyard. I’d give it a very lightly sweetened cornmeal crust and bake it in a small springform pan, so it had tall, squared-off sides like a cheesecake and a full pastry top. I couldn’t wait to cut a strawberry-shaped hole out of the center of its top and watch the sticky pink juice ooze from it.

Then, a friend asked for a recipe for a fruity something with a cornmeal top or bottom. I thought it was meant to be. I ran out and bought some conventional strawberries from a big grocery store; I couldn’t wait until market day. So unlike me.

But yesterday when I made the crust, a not-quite-typical version pulsed in the food processor with eggs and sour cream, I lost the pie vibe. I wrapped the dough in a sheet of wax paper to chill, knowing it was a bit too wet for a proper pie crust. To test it, I rolled a little chunk of it into a ball, sprinkled it with raw sugar, and baked it off, the way I’d planned to treat the top of the pie.

The little dough trial came out, a cornmeal cookie, and I ate it hot: a cornmeal shortbread, almost, like the best corn muffin top in the world, only more buttery, sprinkled with crunchy sugar and still moist in the middle.

The dough was too good plain. I opened the refrigerator and squinted hard at two pounds of steroidal strawberries, wondering what I’d do with them if I didn’t put them in the pie. My brain ping-ponged between my choices: Dough is good. Cookies are dynamite. But strawberries need to be used. Be with what is, a voice said. The dough is so good. So I rolled the dough into little cookie balls and surrounded them with sugar, and when they came out of the oven, puffed and sparkling, I knew I’d made the right choice.

That pie may still come, and the crust won’t be all that different. But it’s just not ready to be yet.

Cornmeal Sparklers

Recipe for Cornmeal Sparklers
Recipe 178 of 365

Like a cross between cornmeal shortbread and corn muffins, these sparkly, sugar-crusted cookies are cute and addictive, crunchy on the outside but buttery enough to melt in your mouth. For something more like a snickerdoodle, add a teaspoon of cinnamon to the flour before mixing the dough, and sprinkle a bit of cinnamon on top right as they come out of the oven.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: 3 dozen cookies

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
2 sticks (1 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces each
1/2 cup cold water
1/4 cup sour cream
1 large egg
Turbinado sugar (large crystal raw sugar), about 1 cup

Pulse the flour, cornmeal, salt, and sugar together in the food processor until blended. Add the butter, and pulse 20 times, or until the butter is the size of small peas. Whisk the water, sour cream, and egg together in a measuring cup (it should total about a cup of liquid). Turn the machine on, and add the liquid in a slow, steady stream; the dough should ball up almost immediately.

Dump the dough onto a large piece of wax paper (the dough will seem quite wet), wrap, and chill until firm, about 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and line two baking sheets with silicon baking mats or parchment paper.

Working quickly, roll tablespoon-sized piece of dough into balls, roll the balls in the turbinado sugar to coat on all sides, and place on the baking sheets about 1 1/2” apart. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cookies are firm in the center and barely beginning to brown on the bottom.

Cool cookies 5 minutes on pans, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

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Queen for a day

At some point we’re queens for a day, all of us. My dog is currently the drama queen, sulking on her bed in the giant plastic cone we’re now forcing her to wear since she chewed her stitches out. My neighbor Sammy was recently crowned valedictorian of her high school class, and she’s thrilled. And my gorgeous sis will undoubtedly have a shot at prom queen, or princess, or whatever they call it these days, when she wears what must be the only dress in the entire world purchased by a mother/daughter pair as multigenerational party attire: first, my 16-year-old sister will wear it to her prom, then, our mother will wear it to her 40th high school reunion. Will wonders never cease?

But today, I don’t feel very queenlike at all. I feel totally uninspired. In fact, I just came across a photo I took last year, which pretty much sums up how I feel about this project today:

Rachel gets poked

As Mary Engelbreit would say, I think I need to snap out of it.

So I baked cookies. I meant to make these with a sample of the dried Goji berries I got in Chicago, but took one taste and thought better of it. I should know better than to put a product that advertises its healthful qualities into a cookie.

Everything Oatmeal Cookies

Recipe for Everything Oatmeal Cookies
Recipe 110 of 365

I firmly believe that the dude on the top of the Quaker Oats container has the best recipe for oatmeal cookies – and changing the butter/sugar/egg ratio is sacrilege. You’ll find the basis for this recipe under the lid (as “Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies”), but what his recipe doesn’t say is that it’s almost infinitely alterable – I add whole wheat, a variety of baking spices, and anything else I think might go well in a cookie. Here’s a great version.

My friend Peter’s grandmother used to send him oatmeal cookies in college packed in an empty Quaker Oats container, so the other students wouldn’t raid his cookie stash. Brillliant!

TIME: 20 minutes
MAKES: about 3 dozen cookies

2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 packed cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground green cardamom
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips or chunks
1 cup chopped toasted walnuts
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup toasted coconut

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 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, cream the butter and sugars together on medium speed for about 3 minutes. With the mixer on low, add the eggs one at a time, blending until incorporated between additions and scraping the sides of the bowl if necessary, and then add the vanilla.

Meanwhile, combine the flours, baking soda, cardamom, and salt together in a mixing bowl and whisk to blend.

Add the flour mixture to the butter/sugar mixture and mix on low speed until the flour is just incorporated. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well.

Use an ice cream scoop to portion the cookies out onto the baking sheets, about 12 per sheet, and bake until golden brown at the edges and set in the center, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool 5 minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely and repeat with remaining dough.

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A sonnet for my salt box

This week is Valentine’s Day. What, you hadn’t heard? That’s because we Americans are so thrifty and self-reliant. Conspicuous consumption isn’t really our thing, so the advertisers don’t really capitalize on V-Day like they could. It’s a good thing we don’t need to create a national holiday to trick ourselves into thinking people love us more than they really do. We don’t need to spend a statistically significant portion of our GDP on bad chocolate for people who would prefer a nice grapefruit, just so we feel better about ourselves.

But really, even though Valentine’s Day is a big Hallmark-sponsored load of horsepucky, I love it. So this week’s theme will be Things Jess Loves. Up first: salt.

I may have mentioned this fabulous 16-piece salt sampler box I got as a gift over the holidays:

Salts of the Earth

A Whitman's box of salts

I wrote it a poem for Valentine’s Day:

O woe is he who never tasted salt
And never felt that tingling rush it brings
A twisted lame-ass fate (it’s not my fault)
That salt makes some hearts fail and some hearts sing

My salt box is my kitchen Valentine
A Whitman’s box of joy in little tins
With special types for sprinkling it shines
A beacon of such flaky salty sin

I wonder how that Morton’s soul did rest
Or if he knew how tragic his salt tastes
It’s sure that no salt lover’s heart resists
True sea salts of all colors, shapes, and flakes

These sixteen little metal jars of love
Are all I’ve ever needed from above

Iambic pentameter and everything. (And now you’ve seen the limits of my poetic talent.)

Cashew Shortbread with Palm Island Black Lava Salt 2

Recipe for Rustic Salty Cashew Shortbread
Recipe 42 of 365

These are not the shortbread you get in the mail at Christmas; they’re light, a little crumbly, and utterly meltable. I sprinkle them with different colors of sea salt right before baking.

The plain cashew flavor is delicious, but finely chopped fresh herbs, such as rosemary or thyme, would make an awesome addition.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: about 36 cookies

2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 cups whole roasted, salted cashews
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
Coarse sea salt, for topping cookies

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or using a hand-held mixer), cream the butter with both sugars on medium speed until light, about 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, pulse the cashews in a food processor about 30 times (or chop by hand), until the nuts are finely chopped but before they turn to a paste.

With the machine on low, add the flour to the mixer a little at a time, and mix until the flour is fully incorporated, scraping down the sides of the mixer with a plastic spatula when needed. (The dough will be a little crumbly.) Stir in the cashews by hand.

Dump the dough out onto a 2 foot long piece of aluminum foil. Gather the dough into a ball, press it into a 6” square, wrap it in the tinfoil, and refrigerate for one hour.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon baking sheets, and set aside.

Let the dough come up to room temperature for a few minutes, then roll it out with a floured rolling pin on a lightly floured surface (a big cutting board works well), into a roughly 12” square. (If the dough cracks, just push it back together with your hands.) Using a big knife or a pizza cutter, trim the edges (if desired) and cut the dough into 36 equal squares. Using a spatula, carefully transfer the cookies to the baking sheets (there is only minimal spreading, so you can put them pretty close together) and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake the shortbread for 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway through, or until the cookies are only very barely beginning to brown at the edges. (They will not look much different from when you put them in.)

Cool the cookies 10 minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer to cooling racks to cool completely. Store in an airtight container up to 1 week.

The dough can be made and refrigerated, wrapped well, up to one week; just thaw it on the counter until it’s soft enough to roll out.

As an alternative to the roll-out method (or if you don’t have a rolling pin), you can also form the dough into three (2” diameter) logs, wrap them in wax paper, and refrigerate or freeze the logs. Using a serrated knife, slice off 1/3” thick slices and bake as needed.

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The Co-Op Speaks!

One of my readers got caught eating the lemon cookies I was talking about at the Boise Co-Op, and struck up a conversation with the right person. I got the recipe. She Who Must Not Be Named emailed it to me on the condition of secrecy. I also promised her a digit from my chopping hand, but I may go back on my word (about chopping a finger off, I mean, not about keeping the secret – I think keeping recipes secret is silly, but when someone asks you to do it, you have to, unless someone’s being abused as a result your secrecy, which in this case is highly unlikely). Plus, I love all my fingers equally and could never pick one.

I can’t wait to try them! The cookies, not my fingers.

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One Tough Cookie

I warned you: I’ve hit a baking streak.

A few days ago, I ran across what must be considered a sign from above. I found buttermilk sold in 1-cup cartons at Ken’s Market, down the street from me:

Little Buttermilk!

Hallelujah.

I’d just been to Boise, Idaho, where the local co-op makes a most delicious glazed lemon cookie. It’s as big as the palm of my hand, and has a cakey base with a thick white lemony frosting that’s almost hard, a little like white donut glaze, but thicker. Years ago, when a friend who worked at the Boise Co-Op tried to wrestle the recipe out of the bakers there, she’d had no luck, and we resolved to recreate it ourselves.

When we moved to Seattle, my desk went through the expected hurricane of paper-shuffling, and I came across our second attempt at glazed lemon cookies (the first had only limited success), dated May 23rd, 2004. We’d changed from a classic cookie technique (cream butter and sugar, add eggs) to a more cake-like technique (ribbon eggs and sugar, add butter). We’d made careful notes of which flour/egg/sugar combinations to try the next time, and there was a little note suggesting we look into using buttermilk.

So when this little box of buttermilk appeared, I had visions of my most recent lemon cookie experiences. I remembered the sleepover at Hilary’s house at least 5 years after college, when her mom set a plate of Co-Op lemon cookies on her nightstand when we were out. Then she moved to Japan, and I think I mailed her some. Last fall I shared one with my sister, sitting at the lunch counter at Co-Op with her and her boyfriend, and just last week, I gave Michaela her first lemon cookie experience, and we finished it (okay, them) before we reached the cash register. I decided it was time for another Test.

This is the best version so far. It’s cakey and lemony like the original. I botched my first attempt at icing by making a cooked icing, hoping it would harden more than the uncooked version, but it just soaked into the cookie and made sort of a mushy mess. In any case, I’m not sure if 1 box of confectioner’s sugar will be enough, so buy two boxes, just in case you need to double the icing (and let me know if you do!). P.S., you must sift the confectioner’s sugar!

These aren’t as good as the original, mostly because they’re not the original. Like so many things, this cookie doesn’t taste as good if you haven’t nearly run over a Catholic school kid, fought for parking, and drooled into the cheese case on your way to the cookie counter. But they’re a unique cookie: cakey, lemony, and best enjoyed as soon as the frosting has dried.

Glazed Lemon Cookies

Recipe for Glazed Lemon Cookies
Recipe 30 of 365

The Boise Co-Op does not give out its most cherished recipes, or any, for that matter. Their lemon cookies are a culinary touchstone for me, and I’ve been trying to recreate the recipe for a few years; this is the closest I’ve come.

You can use regular or Meyer lemons for this recipe.

TIME: 40 minutes, plus baking
MAKES: about 20 cookies

3 cups cake flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder (be sure to press out any chunks)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup loosely packed lemon zest (from 4 lemons)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup lowfat buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice, plus more if needed
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted, plus more if needed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats, and set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the flours, baking powder, salt, and lemon zest together until well-blended, and set aside.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, ribbon (beat) the eggs and the sugar together on medium speed until the mixture is much lighter in color, thick, and increased in volume, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix the buttermilk, vanilla and melted butter together in a bowl, and stir to blend.

With the mixer on low, alternate adding the flour mixture and the buttermilk mixture to the eggs and sugar: first some flour, then half the liquid, then more flour, then the rest of the liquid, and finally the last of the flour. Mix only until barely blended between each addition, scraping down the sides of the bowl if needed; mixing more than necessary will result in tough cookies. The batter should be thick.

Using a large spoon or a big old-fashioned ice cream scoop (this will result in the smoothest-looking cookies), arrange generous 2-tablespoon-sized scoops of the batter about 1 1/2” apart onto the baking sheets. (I fit 10 per sheet). Bake for 15 – 18 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through, or until the cookies have just begun to crack on top and the edges are barely beginning to brown.

While the cookies are baking, make the lemon glaze: place the lemon juice in the bottom of a big mixing bowl. Whisk a little bit of the sifted confectioners’ sugar into the juice at a time; the juice will take much more sugar than you might think. Continue to add sugar (you can do this with the whisk attachment in your stand mixer, too, if you feel like washing the bowl) until the glaze is very thick. It should be stiff enough to cling to the sides of the bowl while you stir, but soft enough that it begins to settle back down into the bottom of the bowl when you stop stirring.

Arrange two icing grates or cooling racks, if you have them, over sheets of aluminum foil. When the cookies are done, let them cool on the baking sheets for about 5 minutes, then transfer them to the racks to cool for another 10 minutes.

When almost cool, cover each cookie with a coating of lemon glaze (spooning it on works well, or you can carefully dip the cookies top-down into the glaze), allowing the extra glaze to drip through the racks onto the foil. If you have any glaze leftover, repeat the glazing process, adding a little more to each cookie. Let the glaze harden, and consume.

Note: my experience has been that these cookies do not keep well. Eat immediately, and I’ll work on a version that lasts longer!

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Ooey-Gooey Mayan Goodness

I have a thing for the Mayans. I’m not sure why, becuase I’m pretty sure Dad botched my interest in Mayan history by delivering his now-infamous hours-long diatribe on the Incans and the Mayans one night after dinner in about 6th grade. But in any case, I love their claim to chocolate usage as we know it, and hey, my brother’s getting a PhD in history, so the diatribe must not have been that harmful.

When David Lebovitz announced chocolate by brand as the theme for this month’s Sugar High Fridays, an event created by Jennifer of Domestic Goddess, my mind flew to the Maya Gold bar by Green and Black’s chocolate of the UK. I once saw Craig Sams speak at a conference, and he was eloquent enough in his discussions on fair trade to help me develop a pretty good dedication to his product.

I love spicy chocolate, and G&B’s Maya Gold bar, with orange and spices, is no exception. (Dagoba and Theo also make great spicy bars.) But since fancy chocolates always seem to end up in fancy desserts, I wanted to make something really homey and basic.

The result: cookies with kick. Chocolate chunks (rather than chips) means bites are ooey gooey and fabulously messy when they’re still warm; extra flour gives the dough enough structure to hold all that chocolate up. A little G&B’s cocoa powder (which I used simply because I had it) gives them the ultimate chocoholic appearance. Next time, I’m adding nibs for crunch.

Ooey-Gooey Double Chocolate Orange Cookies

Recipe for Whole Wheat Double Chocolate Orange Cookies

Sugar High Friday participants will be reviewed on David’s site on Friday, January 26th. Stay tuned.

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