The husband and I have a theory of sorts. It’s called the Skillet Cookie theory, and it goes like this: say you’re enjoying a cheap, moderately satisfying meal at a good old American chain restaurant (despite my love of truly great food, I am not opposed to this on occasion–hello, Chili’s queso dip?!). You’ve had your Monster Burger or Extreme Fajitas or whatever and just want something sweet. So you reach for the sticky dessert menu on the table (which also is bound to have some ridiculous cocktails served in like, galvanized pails or something in colors that just don’t come in nature, ever) and it catches you. The Skillet Cookie. A huge chocolate chip cookie! In a skillet! Two, three servings at least! Ice cream, chocolate sauce, whipped cream–SOLD!! The table is giddy because of the impending Skillet Cookie and drunk with the promise of more commercially made food to add to overly stretched bellies. But it just looked so good on the menu and has every dessert-related thing you can imagine, all in a cast-iron vessel! Who can resist the Skillet Cookie? Communists!
So the SC arrives, and everyone digs in with vigor. One bite, two bites, three bites, goooood. And then…well, then the sugar punch to the palate wears off and you’re left with a cloyingly sweet mess–bland flavors, a badly underdone cookie with soggy edges, cheap ice cream and a chocolate sauce that tastes like it was melted down from an Advent calendar from 1984. Oh, dear. The Skillet Cookie is never as good as you think it’s going to be. Too good to be true. Sigh. One of my oft-recited phrases is, “I love when something tastes just the way you want it to”. The Skillet Cookie will never be that.
And so is the case with so many sweet treats that have more than one element to them. So many layered bars and embellished desserts and coffee cakes with too many things going on end up falling short somehow. So certainly I would never find the perfect blueberry muffin that I’d been craving and dreaming up for days–a sweet-smelling, tender crumb with just a bit of spring, plump berries that didn’t bleed all through the muffin, and a salty-sweet crunchy streusel topping. Equally delicious served warm or at room temperature, with coffee in the morning or vanilla bean ice cream after dinner. I didn’t want a mondo cupcake, but I didn’t want a dense, short scone-like thing. I wanted light, fluffy, but with the integrity to stand up to juicy berries and a crunchy top hat. And by God, I found it. Seriously, these are so good, I really do think God is involved somehow. Please try.
Blueberry Crumble Muffins
Makes 10-12, depending on size
For the muffin:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup milk
1 cup fresh blueberries (or frozen–thawed, well-drained and patted dry)
For the streusel:
1/2 cup white sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup butter, cubed, softened but still cool
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and set an oven rack to the middle position. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin or line with paper liners.
To make the streusel,using a fork or clean fingertips, mix 1/2 cup sugar, 1/3 cup flour, butter, and cinnamon until all the ingredients are incorporated, but the mixture is still very pebbly. Set aside.
To make the muffins, whisk together the flour, 3/4 cup sugar, salt and baking powder. In a glass measuring cup or similar, whisk together the vegetable oil, egg and milk. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until blended but don’t overmix. There may be a few small lumps, that’s okay. Carefully fold in the blueberries. Fill muffin cups right to the top, and generously sprinkle each muffin with streusel.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes in the preheated oven, until the tops spring back slightly and the topping is set and golden brown. Cool in the tins for five minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely or serve warm.
Oh, dear. I’ve done it again. After promising you in my last post that I was going to get back on track with our conversations, I totally dropped the ball. Luckily, my ice cream maker for my KitchenAid has arrived and recently I made the most amazing batch of blueberry muffins that I have ever tasted in my entire life. They were really something and I will be sure to share the recipe with you very soon. Seriously.
December 30, 2007
Since landing in Illinois one week ago, my tastebuds have gone into overdrive. With just a couple days left in my hometown. The main sport around here has been munching all snackily, alternating salty and sweet flavors interspersed with sips of wine or diet Coke. We’ve all decided that our holiday activities have required such a steady stream of fuel, whether it’s being a Wii player or spectator, watching two little puppies play, making a trip to a megamall or having a big old-fashioned family Christmas with a 17 pound turkey and a beef filet the size of the countertop. There also was a drive up to Kenosha, Wisconsin today just over the Wisco-Illinois border to meet halfway with some dear Milwaukee-born friends at a little restaurant with a Wisconsin theme. There was beer and cheese soup on the menu, people. But I have also braved the cold and snow three times to go for a run around the neighborhood in this town where I did a lot of growing up. So that’s physical and emotional work which means extra snacks for me. Good thing I brought along a big container of a buttery, sweet, salty, nutty brittle, drizzled with dark chocolate.
Before I head back to a busy new year of work in California, some of which will be on national television which usually features people who don’t eat things like brittle or Chardonnay with potato chips, I really should start to scale back. The bottom of the brittle container is nearing, and I’ve decided that will be my stopping point. I mean, after the husband and I make a visit to the city tomorrow to visit our old neighborhoods and have a coffee at Julius Meinle, a big slice at Lou Malnati’s, and a warm, crackling bag of Garrett’s popcorn while walking along Michigan Avenue. And then I will stop. Because all good things, like a glorious hometown holiday eating tailspin, must come to an end.
Luckily, all good things have a beginning as well, and I blame this brittle as my undoing. It all came together quickly the night before our flight left San Francisco, a hybrid of several different brittle recipes I’ve collected. Among the laundry and phone calls and listmaking that come before a long vacation, there was still time to throw together this luscious, utterly satisfying candy. It’s a versatile recipe that allows for a lot of creativity. Use whatever nuts you like or happen to have in your cupboards, roasted or raw. I used roasted cashews and found that the cooking candy toasted and darkened the nuts even further, and gave a complex, deep caramel, almost coffee-like flavor to the candy. The chocolate can be semi-sweet, dark, a mixture of both, or even white chocolate, a drizzle of which would be lovely with Marcona almonds in the mix, now that I think about it. If you’d prefer to keep it traditional, this recipe would be just as delicious with the chocolate omitted altogether and using raw peanuts for a straightforward, old-fashioned peanut brittle.
Whatever variations you choose to make this recipe your own, make sure you’ve got the process and cooking temperatures down before beginning. A candy thermometer is your best friend here, and a necessity to achieving the proper snap when it cools. It may be tough to keep the flame under your pot at a good level, but just keep your eye on your thermometer and if the candy is hanging out at the same temperature for too long before jumping up to hard crack stage, just give it a jolt of heat to get it up to the right temperature. And don’t forget the baking soda–it seems like an odd ingredient here, but it’s the key to creating a porous brittle that is pleasantly, not painfully, crunchy.
Other things worth noting with this recipe are that if there was ever a time to finally invest in some silicone baking mats, this is it. Also, this is a fun recipe to prepare with another person, and definitely makes the hurried stretching of the rapidly cooling candy much easier. And finally, HOT SUGAR IS AKIN TO MOLTEN LAVA. Please be very, very careful while stirring and handling the cooking candy. Thank you. And thank you, delicious nut brittle, for setting me up for my holiday gluttony with great, great joy.
Roasted Nut Brittle
Makes 2 1/2 pounds
2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup water
1 cup unsalted butter
2 cups roasted or raw nuts (cashews, peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts)
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons fleur de sel or other sea salt
3/4 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips
Line two baking sheets with silicone mats, or with plenty of nonstick cooking spray.
Combine sugar, corn syrup and water in a large, heavy bottomed saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat and stir until the sugar dissolves and mixture comes to a boil. Stir in the butter, and continue to stir frequently once it reaches 230 degrees.
When the cooking candy reaches 280 degrees, (soft-crack stage), add the nuts and begin stirring the mixture constantly until the temperature reaches 305 degrees (hard-crack stage). Remove the pot from the heat and quickly and carefully stir in the baking soda until completely incorporated–it will bubble intensely. Immediately pour the candy onto the prepared baking sheets. Immediately start stretching it thin by lifting and pulling from edges using two forks. Allow the slabs of brittle to cool completely. Meanwhile, melt the chocolate over a double boiler or in the microwave for 30 second increments, stirring often, until melted and a nice drizzling consistency. When the candy is cool, drizzle the chocolate Pollock-style all over the brittle. When the chocolate is set, break the into generous pieces. Store in an airtight container.
-Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
And so describes my Crazy New Year. I am so sorry I’ve left you all for so long! I had no intention of doing so, really. But a long, relaxing Christmas vacation in Illinois lead right into a memorable New Year’s celebration, then it was all zipping back to San Francisco to shoot new episodes of Budget Travel Minute and then re-packing like mad, leaving the very next day to head back down to Los Angeles to work a couple weeks on another TV job. And then finally heading back up to San Francisco where I am now cozy and home and celebrating the first sunny day in a week by sitting indoors and updating you, and I think that’s just grand. In all honesty, I could’ve gotten back in touch with you last week, but the rain, people! It was the kind of rain that makes you grateful for having canned goods in the house, because Lord knows you ain’t goin’ out there. And I took a nice mental break as well. Hooray! I have at least four half-baked (no pun intended) posts sitting in my little Blogger account that might eventually make their way online, but maybe not. It is a new year, after all.
But there is one storied recipe from the pre-2008 days that I just have to share with you. My brilliant, beautiful little sister gave me one of my very favorite Christmas gifts this year, in the form of the phenomenal cookbook from Tartine Bakery in San Francisco, which just happens to be a healthy, guilt-reducing walk from our new home. The photos transport you into some other world, where everything is glossy but real and just sweet enough. You want to eat the pages. I heard Nora Ephron on LRK’s show talking about how this is one of her favorite cookbooks but it’s the kind of cookbook where you just stare at the pictures and recipes but they’re all too complicated and time-consuming for the home baker to actually make. Well, Ms. Ephron, you haven’t met me. I live for complicated and time-consuming. In fact, if the recipe requires a trip to some exotic specialty store, even better.
Now, granted, sometimes I just want to bake something simple and familiar and get on with it. No one will ever scoff at a great chocolate chip cookie. But other times a Three Day Cake project thrills me in a way that cannot possibly be expressed. I see the dramatic photo, read the columns and columns of ingredients and instructions that require flipping back and forth to multiple parts of the book (and, quite frankly, could probably use a flow chart or two to better illustrate them) and I get giddy. And that’s what happened when I opened Tartine and fell in love with the Lemon Meringue Cake. Three days before my family (in quivering suspense by this time, I might add) got to taste it and fall in love with it too. It’s really something.
The Lemon Meringue Cake is, according to the book, one of Tartine’s very best sellers. Which is saying a lot considering the vast array of amazing things this place serves up. It’s a real beauty, with swirls of toasted meringue taking the place of a buttercream frosting, coating layers of tender chiffon cake, cheerful lemon pastry cream and buttery caramel that might seem like a bit too much on paper, but the caramel is subtle, not goopy, and actually cuts through the tartness of the pastry cream in a way that just leaves you going, “ooh, what is that?“. Even though it does take some doing to put this cake together, breaking it down into individual tasks–even over a few days–when you have time to make each element, really makes it doable. It’s definitely a special occasion dessert, and when I served it at a family dinner a couple days after Christmas, with its elegant look and dance-in-the-mouth flavor, my Gramma said it could be a really spectacular wedding cake. If you do decide to spread out the work of this cake over a couple of days, maybe even build one more day into the equation after browning the meringue, before serving; the flavors meld together even more beautifully.
Now would normally be the time when I would painstakingly write out the aforementioned columns of ingredients and instructions with which to make this amazing cake. But this time, I’m going to encourage you to go out and get the Tartine cookbook. The whole book reads almost like a great novel, and it would be crazy to just pull one recipe from it and put it out there. Do this cake justice by buying the amazing cookbook from which the recipe comes and supporting the incredibly talented folks who dreamt up this confection. Plus, I would get arthritis typing out the entire recipe. And now that I’m finally back in the blogosphere, that would be terrible! Thanks for understanding. Now get thee to Amazon!
Here’s to lots of great recipes in 2008…see you again soon, I promise.
Dorie Greenspan, why are you so awesome? Why must you be an amazing baker and great food writer and have one of those fantastic names that is so fun to say with first and last name together all the time, Doriegreenspan?
For my last Christmas cookie tin trick, I decided to go for the Sure Thing–chocolate and more chocolate. And thanks to the endlessly inspiring Dorie Greenspan by way of the legendary Pierre Herme, I was able to introduce a whole bunch of lucky people to the now-famous World Peace Cookie this holiday season.
This recipe is like the No-Knead Bread of the dessert world, ending up on countless food blogs for the better part of two years. And not-a one has dissed this cookie. It is at once sweet and salty, crisp and tender, a pure celebration of chocolate. The name comes from a neighbor of Dorie Greenspan’s who proclaimed upon tasting it that if this cookie was given to every single person, there would be planetary peace and happiness. It’s food stories like this that make me laugh out loud like Lynne Rosetto Kasper and then get immediately into the kitchen. I pulled the recipe from The Splendid Table’s website forever ago, and was excited to finally have a reason to bake up more than one batch of these luscious gems to give away and pass on the cookie love.
These are intended to be easy slice and bake cookies, just like a good sablé, and believe me, I have made batches of these cookies in that very manner. For the cookies pictured in this post, however, alternative measures were taken. Note to self and anyone who will listen: do not take every single one of your knives to be sharpened during high baking season. A steak knife will not cut it–literally. The dough will mush and crumble instead of slicing cleanly. But it’s a tribute to how great this dough is, because even though I ended up having to do these cookies up Heirloom Sugar Cookie style by rolling the shattered dough into balls and then flattening them with a drinking glass, their flavor and texture came out just as lovely as the batches I’ve made the “right” way.
Something else to think about with these beauties is the quality of the ingredients you choose. Sometimes in baking you can cut corners–store brand flour, sugar, butter and eggs–without effecting the final product one bit. I’m all for saving a buck when it doesn’t make a difference in the end. But when you’re making a recipe that either has very few ingredients (say, five or less) or when you’re dealing with a recipe that has a Main Event flavor or ingredient (like the chocolate and cocoa in these cookies), don’t scrimp. Don’t tell Dorie Greenspan (or worse, Pierre Herme, mon dieu!), but I once made these cookies with Hershey’s cocoa and chopped Nestle chips. Good, but…meh. Flat tasting. And then I redeemed myself by using Valrhona. I’m sure you can guess which cookie got more eyes fluttering upon tasting–the finest dark or bittersweet chocolate and cocoa powder here really will take this recipe to the level at which it’s intended to be. A lovely fleur de sel rather than table salt also gives an obvious bump in flavor. It may take a little extra time in your grocery store to find the best ingredients available with which to make these cookies, but then again, doesn’t the possibility of world peace just in time for Christmas make it all worth it? I thought so.
This is my first holiday season blogging about my baking projects, and it’s been so much fun! For the first time in quite a while, I’ve truly been counting down the days until Christmas like a little kid, and I know sharing recipes with all of you has been a big part of that Advent calendar-esque feeling, so thank you for reading and coming along for the ride. We leave tomorrow for Chicago to enjoy a fabulous, extended Christmas break with family and I look forward to sharing all kinds of great new recipes with you in the brand new year. I hope you all spend the coming days surrounded by friends and loved ones and lots of great food. Happy Holidays!
World Peace Cookies
From Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours
Makes 3 dozen
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
11 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips, or semi-sweet mini chocolate chips
Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together.
Working with a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more. Turn off the mixer. Pour in the dry ingredients, drape a kitchen towel over the stand mixer to protect yourself and your kitchen from flying flour and pulse the mixer at low speed about 5 times, a second or two each time. If there is still a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple of times more; if not, remove the towel. Continuing at low speed, mix for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough. For the best texture, work the dough as little as possible once the flour is added, the dough may look a little crumbly. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate.
Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you’ve frozen the dough, you needn’t defrost it before baking — just slice the logs into cookies and bake the cookies 1 minute longer.)
When you’re ready to bake, center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.
Using a sharp, thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are 1/2 inch thick. (The rounds are likely to crack as you’re cutting them — don’t be concerned, just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.) Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them. Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes — they won’t look done, nor will they be firm, but that’s just the way they should be.
Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest until they are only just warm, at which point you can serve them or let them reach room temperature.
The best holiday cookie tins have a terrific balance of flavors and types of cookies. Like a classic, simple shortbread or sugar cookie, definitely a chocolate selection, something exotic and then something that brings the cute, festive factor that takes a little doing.
For the cute, festive cookie in my gifty tins this year, it had to be kitschy little gingerbread people–the ultimate holiday baking experience, right? But after some cheer-filled mixing, rolling and cutting (with Frank and Bing still playing in the background–not tired of it yet!) things took a turn. Sheet after sheet of spicy sweet little people began emerging from the oven. And then I started to panic–I knew there was no turning back. You simply cannot give someone a cookie in the shape of a person and not decorate it. That would be the saddest thing ever. And given my Type A baking tendencies, I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep until every last cookie had been given life in the form of royal icing eyes, mouths, clothing and accessories. What had I done? I had put myself in Martha hell, that’s what. Oh, dear.
Thankfully, the anxiety was fleeting. As soon as I had put the finishing touches on the first cookie and saw its darling little face smiling at me, I let out a maniacal giggle much to the husband’s great fear, and spent the next two hours hunched over a community of adorable gingerbread people that outnumbered the residents on my block. I mean–so cute! Can you stand it?!
But all of their adorable, sugary accoutrements aside, gingerbread cookies are one of those things that can be very, very good, or very, VERY not. Some are so spiced and pungent, they’re almost soapy. Some are so weak, well…they might as well be snickerdoodles, people. And the right texture was of upmost importance–I definitely wanted crunchy, but not so hard they could be mistaken for dog biscuits. So in short, I wanted to make sure the base cookie recipe for my gingerbread friends was crisp and sturdy enough to decorate and had a balance of sharp spice and mellow sweetness, with a lush, buttery nuance as well.
I wanted them to be as cute as they were delicious, and to add the cuteness I needed a good royal icing recipe. Something that would be workable given my limited cookie decorating experience (and lack of piping bag–there are still five shopping days left until Christmas if you’re trying to think of something to get me, I’m just saying) and also an icing that would set up firm so I could ship the cookies without freaking out about my hard work schmearing all over the insides of the tins.
I settled on a gingerbread recipe from Baking Illustrated with a few added tweaks, and consulted the fantasically handy Joy of Cooking for guidance with a royal icing recipe. To color the icing, I used my beloved gel food coloring for the most intense color, mixing red, yellow and blue like a first grader until I arrived at the perfect Christmas-y red and green hues. Filling the icing into plastic zip bags and snipping off a tiny corner of them worked really well considering the aforementioned lack of piping bag, and helped make this the most freakin’ adorable Christmas ever.
Classic Gingerbread Cookies with Royal Icing
Adapted from Baking Illustrated and Joy of Cooking
Makes 3-4 dozen cookies, depending on shape and size
For the cookies, feel free to experiment with the amount of ginger in the recipe–more ground ginger equals more spice and heat. Or add additional spices like nutmeg, clove, even white pepper. Mild flavored molasses is recommended here, but if you love the flavor, try a robust molasses instead. For the icing, meringue powder is easiest to work with, but a large fresh egg white can be used in a pinch if you’re not afraid of using raw eggs. The consistency of the icing is stiff enough to pipe smiling gingerbread faces and buttons, but adding a tiny bit more water will make it spreadable enough to smoothly cover larger surfaces. Any leftover icing stores for up to two weeks in an airtight container.
For the cookies:
3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened but still cool, cut into 12 pieces
3/4 cup mild molasses
2 tablespoons milk
For the royal icing:
2 2/3 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons meringue powder or powdered egg white
4 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon clear vanilla extract (optional)
Food coloring (optional)
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and position the oven racks to the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper sprayed with nonstick cooking spray.
In the bowl of your standing mixer with the paddle attachment, with an electric mixer, or in a food processor, mix the flour, brown sugar, soda, ginger, cinnamon and salt until well-blended. Scatter the butter pieces over the dry ingredients and mix again on medium low speed until the mixture is sandy and resembles fine meal. With the mixer or processor running, slowly pour in the molasses and milk, and mix until the dough is evenly moistened, no traces of flour remain, and begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl.
Scrape the dough out onto a work surface and divide it in half. Roll out each portion to about 1/8 inch thickness between two large sheets of parchment paper. Stack the two parchment-gingerbread sandwiches onto a baking sheet and freeze until firm, about 15 minutes. Working with one portion at a time, cut the dough into desired shapes and place on prepared baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes until the cookies are darkened in color and their centers are firm to the touch. Cool on the baking sheets for two minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely before icing.
Meanwhile, make the royal icing: In a medium bowl, stir together the confectioners’ sugar, meringue powder, extract (if using) and water until well-blended. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of your standing mixer fitted with the whip attachment, or using a handheld electric, beat on high speed until stiff peaks form, about two minutes. Divide the icing into smaller containers and color as desired with food coloring (use gel food coloring for the most vibrant colors and to avoid thinning out the icing). Embellish the cooled gingerbread cookies to your heart’s content using a small spatula, a piping bag or similar. Allow the icing to dry completely, at least 15 minutes, before serving.
I am an “everything in moderation type” of person when it comes to the joy of eating, especially during the holidays. I am sort of notorious for following a lovely balanced meal of grilled fish, brown rice and a green salad with a sizable piece of frosted cake. And I think that’s just fine. I prefer healthy, nourishing foods for my main meals and my desserts from scratch so I know exactly what’s in them. When I’m keeping this kind of balance in my diet, I don’t have to reach for fat-free plastic pudding or go all wacky health food nut and muck up classic dessert recipes with whole wheat flour or somesuch to guiltlessly satisfy my sweet tooth. Viva le white flour and sugar–in moderation!, I say. So although intrigued by the Nibby Buckwheat Butter Cookies in Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert (an entire book beautifully dedicated to “mucked up” dessert recipes with wacky health nut ingredients, by the way), I was skeptical. Then I saw a post about them on the ever-inspiring Orangette, and onto the baking to-do list these cookies went.
I wanted to instantly love these, I really did. They seemed so awesomely sophisticated. Cacao nibs are the new black. I pretty much covet everything Alice Medrich has ever done, and then there was that endorsement from one of my favorite food bloggers. I so wanted to be in the Nibby Buckwheat Butter Cookie Lovers’ sorority. Well, it didn’t happen right away. In fact, I didn’t think it would happen at all. It didn’t even happen after Molly’s recommended day of waiting to let the flavors develop and the buckwheat-y punch to dissipate. I was afraid this was too much moderation for me. I wanted to ice them with a vanilla glaze or dip them in melted Valrhona or something. I don’t want to feel like I need to wear something made of hemp in order to enjoy a cookie, okay?
But then a few more days went by. I had stashed the leftover cookies in the freezer because I hate throwing out food, even food I am on the fence about. After lunch one day, I wanted a little something extra, but not too sweet. I had been surrounded by glittering, sugary, buttery discs the entire day before, and although I hadn’t had too many (just enough to ensure they had turned out suitably, of course–baker’s obligation, you know), I just needed to back up from that a bit. I remembered the nibby buckwheat buggers in the freezer. And wouldn’t you know it, the flavors had definitely transformed into something quite different! Even the husband said so. In the end, these radical little hippie cookies had charmed us. Who knew? This of course, wasn’t the first time I was proven wrong by a recipe. And I apologized by including these in my holiday cookie tins as the “exotic” selection. Crunchy, buttery, just sweet enough and the cacao nibs are one of nature’s most powerful antioxidants. Now how’s that for moderation?
Nibby Buckwheat Butter Cookies
From Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert
Makes 4 dozen
Medrich’s original recipe says these cookies are delicious fresh or the day following baking, but I found them to be at their best three days later. They store well in an airtight container for up to one month and are great candidates for shipping.
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup buckwheat flour
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cacao nibs
1 1/2 teaspoons good vanilla extract
Whisk the flours together in a medium bowl and set aside. In the bowl of your standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or with an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until smooth and creamy, but not fluffy. Stir in the cacao nibs and vanilla, then mix in the flours just until incorporated. Scrape the dough out onto a work surface and knead a few times if necessary until the dough is smooth. Form the dough into a 12-inch long log, about two inches in diameter. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least two hours.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and position the oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
Slice the dough into 1/4 inch thick slices and place on prepared baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Bake at 350 degrees for 12-14 minutes, rotating the pans from top to bottom and front to back about halfway through baking until the cookies just begin to brown at their edges. Cool completely on a wire rack.
What have I done, leaving you with no new recipes for nearly two weeks in the height of holiday baking season?! Well, we’ve begun settling into our new home now, the sheet pans are unpacked, and our internet connection is finally up and running. It’s all getting okay now. Exhale.
It was no more than three days in our new apartment before I got to holiday cookie baking. Between the nip in the air and the darling way our new neighborhood has decorated the main drag (ornaments and greenery on every parking meter, people!), I knew I couldn’t prioritize finding a new dentist or something over dreaming up this year’s cookie tins. Despite all the possibilities out there, it was obvious where I would begin. No cookie brings me more delicious, crumbly Christmas joy than my Gramma’s sugar cookies.
I’ve talked before about my love of heirloom recipes, and this one fits the bill beautifully, copied from a yellowed strip of newsprint tucked into a recipe box full of Gramma’s Greatest Hits. It is the crispest of sugar cookies, sandy-textured but tender with a gorgeous pale golden color that begs for a smattering of colored sugar. You never knew the humble ingredients of butter and sugar could have so much flavor until you’ve had this cookie. Making the whole thing that much more interesting is the addition of vegetable oil and confectioners’ sugar to the usual fat and sugar combination, both of which help to keep the cookie’s tender crispness for days on end, a perfect candidate for cheery cookie tins to give as holiday gifts. And both the dough and the finished cookies stash away in the freezer like a dream, giving you another reason to make them the first baking project on your list–they wait in delicious patience while you get the other elements of your cookie tins together.
When making these cookies, I keep them like the ones I grew up loving from Gramma’s cookie plate by lining up walnut-sized balls of dough onto baking sheets and flattening each with a drinking glass dipped in granulated sugar before baking (my beloved vanilla sugar is excellent for this purpose). But if you’re feeling like turning this recipe into a rolled dough for play with cookie cutters, it can be done–just be prepared for some doing. The extremely soft dough can be made workable by dividing it into fourths, forming the portions into discs wrapped in plastic wrap, then freezing them until somewhat firm (about half an hour). Then roll the discs thin between sheets of parchment or plastic wrap, freeze them again until they are very firm (an hour or two or even overnight) before attempting to cut it into shapes. It will thaw very quickly out of the freezer, however, so make your shapes out of one portion at a time and get them into the oven immediately.
To make them just like the cookies my Gramma makes, I sprinkle them with glittering coarse sugar in rainbow colors, adding crunch, festive color and the charm that only an heirloom Christmas cookie recipe can bring.
Heirloom Sugar Cookies
With its high yield, this recipe is a great one for making lots of cookies to give away as gifts, but it works just as well when halved to make a smaller batch. You can also freeze any leftover dough for up to a month, wrapped tightly.
Makes 6-7 dozen
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar, plus extra for flattening the cookies
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons good vanilla extract
5 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and position your oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Line two baking sheets with silicone baking liners or parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, soda, cream of tartar and salt and set aside.
In a large glass measuring cup or similar vessel, whisk together the oil, eggs and vanilla until well-combined and set that aside as well.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or with an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugars on medium speed until fluffy and pale in color, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl every so often. Reduce the mixer speed and gradually pour in the oil and egg mixture, beating until the resulting mixer is smooth and somewhat uniform in texture, like a thin cake batter. Stop the mixer, and in three batches, add the dry ingredients, mixing on low speed and scraping the bowl before each addition. Mix on low speed until all the dry ingredients are incorporated. The dough will be very soft.
To form the cookies, roll walnut-sized balls of the dough (about 25-27 grams each if you are a cookie-weighing nerd like myself) and place on the prepared baking sheets, one dozen to a sheet. Pour about 1/4 cup of granulated sugar (or vanilla sugar) onto a plate. Ever so slightly dampen the bottom of a drinking glass with water on your fingertips, dip it into the sugar to coat the bottom of the glass and flatten each cookie to about 1/4 inch thickness, dipping the glass with more sugar in between each cookie (you should only need to dampen the glass with water at the beginning of the process; the butter from the dough will keep the glass a bit sticky after that).
Sprinkle the flattened cookies with coarse rainbow colored sugar or other decorative sugars. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back about halfway through, until pale golden and just beginning to turn golden brown at the edges. Cool on the baking sheets for two minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and cool completely before storing or serving.
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