Apr 4, 2008

Lemon Shortbread

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So before my last post, you probably noticed that it had been, um, a


since I last visited with you. And some false starts before that. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise when I say that I just straight up lost my baking mojo, people. But happily, it’s all coming back to me now and everything is getting okay. I’ve been so


to be back in kitchen, holed up with a great cookbook or a promising idea, my steadfast and true KitchenAid mixer purring along, not even once giving me grief for being away for so long. We just don’t speak about it.

In this case, the great cookbook that got the mojo working once again was, but of course, the Tartine cookbook. I am lucky to live a healthy walk away from Tartine (healthy enough to offset any guilt, anyway), and every time I glance in the windows while passing by, I just want to hurry home and caress the gorgeous photography and read through the intricate recipes in the cookbook. Like I’ve said before, many of the recipes have so many steps it will just blow your mind, like the Three Day Cake, but there are a few simple beauties in the book that come together more quickly than that favorite cookie recipe you can bake by heart.

The Tartine shortbread recipe is so easy you might wonder if you’ve suddenly taken a wrong page turn into another cookbook. But that’s just the kind of baby step I needed to get back into the kitchen. The simple ingredient list and method yields a shortbread cookie so tender and buttery, it’s practically restorative. Well, it was for me, anyway, because it got me back to tying my apron strings after a long hiatus, and even sparked some extra creative energy, like adding a small pile of finely grated lemon zest to the dough for a little extra somethin’.

Lemon Shortbread
Adapted from Tartine

Makes about 40 cookies

The butter should be so soft that it has the look and consistency of mayonnaise or thick whipped cream; this can be quickly achieved by putting the cold butter into a saucepan, melting about a third of it, and then stirring all the butter together to create a very soft result. Create superfine sugar for dusting the shortbread by taking granulated sugar for a spin in your food processor, blender or clean coffee grinder.

1 cup plus two tablespoons unsalted butter, very soft
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest (2-3 lemons’ worth)
1/4 cup superfine sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and set a rack to the middle position. Butter a 9×13-inch glass baking dish.

Place the butter in a mixing bowl–it must be very soft, think the look and consistency of mayonnaise or whipped cream. Stir the salt into the butter. Sift together the flour and cornstarch. Using a wooden spoon or silicone spatula, stir the sugar into the butter and then stir in the flour and lemon zest until a smooth dough forms, using your hands towards the end if necessary (run your hands under cold water first to keep from making the dough too warm). Press the dough evenly into the prepared pan. Bake for 30 minutes or until the edges and bottom of the shortbread begin to turn golden. Cool on a wire rack until just warm to the touch.

While the shortbread is still warm, sprinkle the surface with superfine sugar, tilting the pan to coat the shortbread evenly with sugar. Tap out any excess that doesn’t cling to the surface. Use a very thin, sharp knife to cut the shortbread into 40 equal cookies. Chill completely in the pan before attempting to remove the cookies with a small offset spatula–the first cookie will be hard to remove, but the rest should come out cleanly.

Apr 2, 2008

Lemon Cream Cupcakes

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Hooray! Ahh, it’s good to be back. I’ve missed you!

Now that we’ve settled in San Francisco and have been out of L.A. for a few months, I’m able to selectively remember only the things I love about having lived in Santa Monica. One of those things is the whimsical and utter delight that is Vanilla Bake Shop. I had the pleasure of meeting Amy Berman (co-owner along with her husband, how cute is that?!) right before the shop first opened, and boy, is all the hype well deserved. Everything in there is totally inspired and completely delicious, my favorite cupcake being the Meyer Lemon Raspberry. And wouldn’t you know it, this morning I heard Amy is appearing tomorrow on The freakin’ Martha Stewart Show to make Meyer Lemon Raspberry cupcakes with Martha! Too much! The craving hit me full force after seeing the preview. And even though I have my Tivo set to find out what the real recipe is, I am just way too impatient and so I cobbled together my own version today, using some of my favorite components from different recipes.

To me, lemony desserts of all kinds just scream Spring!–like sunny days, tea parties and a smattering of flowy skirts on the sidewalks (okay, so I’m understanding I probably won’t ever see weather consistently balmy enough for flowy skirts here in San Francisco, but whatever). These cupcakes turned out to be the perfect Spring celebration, with my very favorite soft white cake recipe as the base, billowy vanilla buttercream atop, and a filling of just-tangy-enough lemon pastry cream that has a bit more of a dreamy character than Vanilla Bake Shop’s lemon curd filling. Success! I opted to make them pretty Vanilla-style with a layer of pastel yellow sanding sugar, which also adds a nice crunch to the perfectly smooth buttercream beneath. A little cheery button of a fresh raspberry finishes off the cupcake, and you can almost hear it chirping, “I’m too cute to eat!”, but guess what, it’s not. Nom, nom, nom.

Lemon Cream Cupcakes
Makes about 24 cupcakes

If you can find Meyer lemons, absolutely use them in the lemon pastry cream, but regular lemons will work just fine. To use this recipe in a different way, omit the lemon pastry cream and make a classic vanilla cupcake with the cake and frosting recipes, adding a bit of interest to the buttercream with a scraped vanilla bean in addition to the extract. All three elements can be made a day ahead and refrigerated and the cupcakes assembled the day of serving, just set the pastry cream out to soften before using.

For the cake:

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 1/4 cups cake flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon good vanilla extract
4 egg whites

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line two 12 cup muffin tins with paper liners.

Sift together the flour and baking powder in a small bowl. In a glass measuring cup, combine milk and vanilla. In yet another bowl, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. Set all three elements aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until soft, creamy and pale in color. Alternately beat in the milk and flour mixtures in three parts, blending well after each addition. Fold in the beaten egg whites at the very end, making sure no traces of whites remain in the batter.

Fill lined cupcake pans 2/3 full. Bake for 18-20 minutes, when the tops are just set and beginning to turn a light golden brown. Do NOT overbake.

For the lemon pastry cream:

This recipe makes more than you’ll need for 2 dozen cupcakes, but trust me, you’ll find a way to use the leftovers. Like eaten from a spoon straight from the bowl.

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
Pinch of salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, cut into 10-12 pieces

Fill a medium saucepan with a few inches of water and set to a simmer over medium heat. Whisk together the lemon juice, eggs, egg yolk, salt and sugar in a stainless steel bowl that just fits into the saucepan without touching the surface of the water. Continue whisking the mixture over the heat until it is thickened and it registers 180 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove it from the heat and cool to about 140 degrees, stirring occasionally to help release the heat.

When the lemon curd is cooled, pour it through a fine sieve to remove any bits of cooked eggs or lemon pulp, using a rubber spatula to coax it through, into a blender (or a clean bowl if using an immersion blender). Blend the butter into the lemon curd, one piece at a time at a low speed until all the butter is completely incorporated.

For the buttercream:

For the second addition of confectioners’ sugar, use anywhere from 2-4 cups more sugar and add more heavy cream as needed to get the consistency your prefer for buttercream.

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon good vanilla extract
4-6 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream (perhaps a bit more to adjust the consistency)
Fresh raspberries, for garnish (optional)

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and vanilla together until the butter is very soft. Add just 2 cups confectioners’ sugar and beat for 2-3 minutes, until it starts to appear fluffy. Add the rest of the sugar and the heavy cream (adding more sugar and/or cream as desired), and mix on high for another 5 to 7 minutes until the buttercream is whipped, light in texture and shiny.

To assemble the cupcakes:

Use a pairing knife to cut a small cone shape into the center of each cupcake, making a well for the filling, being careful not to cut the wells too deep. Trim a bit of cake from each “cone” to make room for the filling. Fill each cupcake with a small spoonful of the lemon cream and replace the trimmed tops. Alternatively, use a pastry bag to pierce the top of each cupcake and fill them.

Frost the cupcakes with the buttercream. To decorate, coat with colored sanding sugar, add a small dollop of buttercream atop the sugar, and finish with a fresh raspberry.

Feb 29, 2008

Shameless Self-Promotion

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Hi, guys! So I’ve started branching out into the food writing world beyond my own little food blog, and it’s for a fun new site called WiredBerries. Now, when you check this out, you may notice that I display little of my confectionery prowess in my articles there; that’s because WiredBerries is a site all about healthy, organic living. And believe it or not, I do eat food other than desserts, and lots of my favorite recipes that don’t fit on this here baking blog are making their way onto the WiredBerries Food and Nutrition page. I often say here on Piece of Cake that I’m a big believer in absolutely everything in moderation, from green veggies to homemade marshmallows, and it’s nice to have a platform to share some of my favorite everyday recipes that don’t involve butter, sugar, flour and eggs.

Hope you will check it out!

Feb 26, 2008

Blueberry Crumble Muffins

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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 egg
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.

Feb 20, 2008

Roasted Nut Brittle

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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.

But I found this post that I had started waaay back over the holidays and I thought it would be fun to post it, two months after the fact. As much as I love sharing my recipes and stories with you, I think most food bloggers would admit that posting the stories are equally as important to the writer, helping us chronicle different events and points in time. So selfishly, I am posting this outdated entry below. Plus, this brittle is out of this world and I wanted to share recipe and the moments surrounding its devouring.

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.

Jan 28, 2008

Crazy New Year

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“We have to get on, we have to get on! We have so much time and so little to do! Wait a minute. Strike that. Reverse it. This way, please!”
-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.

Dec 23, 2007

World Peace Cookies

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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.

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