Cookies


brownie-buttons1

So clearly it’s been awhile since our last post.  I have no excuses except  for work, school, life, and a DVR full of West Wings.  And here it is almost Christmas  – that wonderful food-filled holiday – and this blog has been silent.  As an early New Years resolution I resolve to do better – to post more, to take more pictures, to experiment more in the kitchen.  There is holiday baking to be tackled and Dorie Greenspan’s Brownie Bites are the perfect place to start.

orange-zestchocolate1white-chocolate

When I was growing up, one of my good friends got a chocolate orange every Christmas.  At the time I was more entranced by the fact that orange would magically split into perfect sections once opened rather than the combination of orange and chocolate.  Truthfully,  I’ve  never been one to like fruit flavors with my chocolate – usually I think it messes up the perfect balance of chocolate.  But chocolate and orange seem to go together around Christmas; when I saw that Dorie’s recipe for Brownie Bites  called for orange zest it seemed to be a sign that this could be a new option to add to the cookie tray.

brownie-batter

The batter was easy to put together.  You just melt the chocolate, brown sugar and butter; once this mixture is off the heat you add vanilla, an egg, some sugary orange zest and flour.  It’s a basic brownie recipe – the thing that makes this cute and Christmasy  is that fact that they are cooked in mini muffin pans.  Once popped out of the pans and cooled, the brownies really do look like buttons.

brownie-bites

But what really makes these special is the white chocolate glaze.  Simply melt white chocolate chips then dip the tops of the brownie buttons in the melted chocolate and twist your wrist as you pull them out.  If you do it right it looks like the brownies have a cute little white hat on – just right for a Christmas cookie tray.

tray-of-brownie-bites1

Brownie Buttons
from “Baking, from my Home to Yours” By Dorie Greenspan

Grated Zest of 1/2 Orange
1 teaspoon Sugar
1/4 Cup plus 2 Tablespoons Flour
Pinch of Salt
1/2 Stick (4 Tablespoons) Unsalted Butter, Cut into 4 Pieces
2 1/2 Ounces Bittersweet Chocolate, Coarsely Chopped
1/3 Cup (Packed) Brown Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract
1 Large Egg

For the optional Glaze:
2 Ounces White Chocolate, Finely Chopped

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter two miniature muffin pans, each with a dozen cups, and place them on a baking sheet.

If you’re using the orange zest, combine the zest and sugar in a small bowl, rubbing them between your fingertips to blend: set aside. Whisk together the flour and salt.

Melt the butter, chocolate, and brown sugar in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over very low heat, stirring frequently with a heatproof spatula and keeping an eye on the pan so that nothing overheats or burns. When the mixture is smooth, remove from the heat and cool for a minute or two. Stir the vanilla, egg and the zest into the chocolate mixture. When the mixture is well blended, add the flour and stir only until it is incorporated. You should have a smooth, glossy batter.

Spoon the batter into 16 of the muffin cups, using about a teaspoon of batter to fill each cup 3/4 full. Put 1 teaspoon of water in each empty cup.
Bake for 14-16 minutes, or until the tops of the buttons spring back when touched. Transfer the pans to racks to cool for 3 minutes before carefully releasing the buttons. Cool to room temperature on the racks.

To make the glaze: Melt the chocolate over a double boiler. Stir constantly and don’t leave the chocolate for even one minute- white chocolate scorches easily. As soon as the chocolate is smooth, remove from the heat.

One by one, dip the tops of the buttons into the chocolate, twirling the buttons so that you get a little swirl at the center of each one and the excess chocolate drips back into the bowl. Refrigerate the buttons for 15 minutes to set the glaze.

When I think of my favorite cookies, I always fall back on the classics – chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter cookies and even oatmeal cookies. And when I feel the need to bake for my colleagues at work, I often use a recipe for one of these cookies. But in flipping through my well-worn copy of Dorie Greenspan‘s Baking: From My Home to Yours, I discovered that my favorite baking goddess has a recipe that combines all three of those classic cookies. She calls it the Chunky Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Chocolate Chipster. It’s like the holy trinity of classic cookies – clearly I had to make this recipe.

The recipe comes together like a normal drop cookie. The butters (both the peanut and the normal kind) are creamed with sugar and the rest of the wet ingredients. The oatmeal and the rest of the dry stuff is added in later along with the chocolate chunks. The dough will be a bit on the sticky side, so I agree with Dorie‘s recommendation to chill it for a few hours (if you have the time). The dough will set up quite nicely and be much easier to work with.

So here’s the part where I confess – I made a mistake with this cookie. I didn’t even realize it until the last of the cookies were in the oven and I was tasting the warm cookies for the first time. They were good – chewy and flavorful – but something was off. And as I looked at my countertop of ingredients, which I had not yet put away, I realized that salt was not among them. I left out an ingredient that I am fanatical about adding into baked goods – I left out the salt. Gasp.

If you are not a big baker, then leaving out a 1/4 t. of salt in a cookie may not seem like a big deal. But the salt helps complete the cookie. It makes the flavors of the cookie – the peanut butter, the chocolate, the spices and, most importantly, the sugars – all work in harmony. You don’t taste salt in the cookie – but you taste it if it isn’t there. So as I looked at the dozens of freshly baked warm cookies that I was going to surprise my co-workers with, I was disheartened. Until, that is, I decided to experiment. I grabbed some fine sea salt and lightly sprinkled a bit over the tops of the cookies. Because the cookies were still warm, the salt stuck, like little crystals on top of the cookie. And as for how it tasted – it tasted perfect. Because I used sea salt there wasn’t an overpowering saltiness, and just a tiny sprinkle allowed the salt to do its work. Now I would not advise anyone to make this mistake on purpose – best to add the salt right into the batter – but know that some baking mistakes are fixable. And my co-workers didn’t notice a thing – in fact the words “best cookies ever” were heard more than once. So I managed not to ruin the holy trinity of classic cookie – not to mention retaining my baking reputation with the ever important colleagues.

Chunky Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Chocolate Chipster

From Baking: From my Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

Ingredients:

3 cups old-fashioned oats

1 cup AP flour

1 t. baking soda

2 t. cinnamon

1/4 t. freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 t. salt

2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter – soft

1 cup peanut butter

1 cup sugar

1 cup packed light brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 t. vanilla

9 ounces bittersweet chocolate chopped into chunks or 1 1/2 cups of chocolate chips.

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk together oats, flour, baking soda, spices and salt.

In a stand mixer beat butter, peanut butter, sugar and brown sugar on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating fully after each addition, then add the vanilla. Reduce the mixer to low and slowly add the dry ingredients, beating only till blended. Add in the chips. If you have time, chill the dough for 2 hours or up to 1 day.

Drop rounded tablespoon of dough 2 inches apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment or silicone mats.

Bake for 13 to 15 minutes, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back after 7 minutes. Take out the cookies when they are gold and just firm around the edges

Coconut Close Up

Say what you will about the Food Network, but a guilty pleasure of mine is to snuggle down on the sofa and watch an episode or four of the Barefoot Contessa.  I am completely convinced that Ina Garten and I would be BFF if we knew each other in real life.  We would get together to plan posh dinner parties and lazy afternoon picnics at the beach.  And every year around the holidays, I would send Ina a box of her very own jam thumbprint cookies, which brings us to the subject of this post.  I have baked these cookies countless times, and they have never failed me.  I’ve even baked these in unfamiliar kitchens with foreign tools and unknown brands of flour.  Still they prevail.  And did I mention that they are delicious?  Oh, and so beautiful you almost (just almost) don’t want to eat them?

Unbaked cookies

Coconut Covered

The driving force — the engine, if you will — of these cookies is butter.  Three sticks to be exact.  That’s ¾ of a pound of butter . . .  how can these cookies not be good?  And to gild the lily even further, there’s a ruby center (raspberry preserves) and a toasted crown of coconut. 

I’ll admit these aren’t the speediest cookies to whip up.  There are several steps (a swim in the egg wash, a dunk in the coconut, a dollop of preserves), but none of the steps are difficult.  It’s the kind of cookie you bake while listening to the Splendid Table and contemplate what to make for dinner.  Before beginning, I recommend clearing off a wide swath of counter top – you’ll need it.  The recipe makes a lot of cookies so you’ll also need at least a couple of cookie sheets. 

                                                                             Raspberry Jam1 Ounce EachOven Ready

 

 

 

Note that the recipe calls for each cookie ball to weigh 1 ounce.  The first time I baked these, I did not have a scale and they turned out fine.  The balls of cookie dough will be approximately the size of a golf ball.  When we moved to Charlotte (and to a much smaller kitchen), we considered each piece of kitchen equipment, and I couldn’t bear to part with the scale.  I consider it essential.  You don’t have to run out and buy a scale to bake Ina’s cookies.  But if you’re like me, and search for any excuse to add to the kitchen collection, this would be the perfect time to make the purchase.  Your cookies will all be the same size, and they’ll emerge from the oven evenly baked.

Jam Thumbprint Cookie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ina Garten’s Jam Thumbprint Cookies

¾ pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3 ½ cups all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash

7 ounces sweetened flaked coconut

Raspberry and/or apricot jam 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until they are just combined and then add the vanilla.  Separately, sift together the flour and salt.  With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the creamed butter and sugar.  Mix until the dough starts to come together.  Dump on a floured surface and roll together into a flat disk.  Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.

Roll the dough into 1 ¼ inch balls.  (If you have a scale they should each weigh 1 ounce).  Dip each ball into the egg wash and then roll it in coconut.  Place the balls on an ungreased cookie sheet and press a light indentation into the top of each with your finger.  Drop ¼ teaspoon of jam into each indentation.  Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the coconut is golden brown.  Cool and serve.

So one of my many, many vices are pistachio nuts. Give me a bag of pistachios while watching a movie or sitting around a campfire and I will demolish those nuts, without even a thought as to the fact that I will inevitably have sore fingers and broken nails. The answer to this heartache (or finger ache) is, of course, shelled pistachio nuts – which I didn’t even realize existed until this week. But beware of the shelled pistachio nut – it looks so naked and shriveled without its shell, but it truly is a dangerous thing. If you take these nuts into your home, you will discover that when you don’t have to take the time to shell them, you will unavoidably eat half your pistachios, and realize that if you eat any more that recipe for pistachio shortbread cookies you’ve been waiting weeks to try will have to be put on hold once again. Not that this happened to me, of course, I have more will power than that….

On to the pistachio shortbread cookies. Other than pistachio ice cream, I have never had a sweet treat that featured the pistachio, which seems odd given that pecans, almonds and cashews show up in just about every other dessert these days. Martha Stewart’s recipe seemed pretty easy to follow. I didn’t have sanding sugar, as her recipe suggested, so I just pulsed regular sugar in the food processor a few times, and that seemed to do the trick. I also chose to go with the circle-shaped cookie cutter – instead of Martha’s recommended fluted square – but then I like to take risks.

Now here’s where Martha failed me – in her recipe she says to bake the cookies at 350 for 18 minutes. Now I’m not a novice baker, so I realized 18 minutes was a long time for cookies, especially ones that are rolled to 1/8 inch thick. So I simply set the timer for 15 minutes and checked back then – but I’m apparently not expert enough to know that even 15 minutes was way too long. The first tray of cookies came out dark brown and crispy – basically not good. So after cursing Martha to high heaven, I put the next tray in for 9 minutes and kept checking until the edges were golden brown at 11 minutes. This tray came out perfect: tender and delicate and tasting of pistachios. So if you try this recipe – which I do recommend – remember, unless you want to get unreasonably mad at Martha Stewart, bake at 350 for 11 minutes. You, your sanity and your stomach, will thank me.

Pistachio Shortbread

Makes 48 Cookies (or 32 if you burn a tray)

Ingredients

1/2 cup shelled pistachios

1/4 cup fine sanding sugar

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 large egg yolks

1 large egg white, lightly beaten

Directions

In the bowl of a food processor, grind pistachios until fine but not powdery. Divide ground pistachios equally between sanding sugar and flour; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar on medium speed until fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add vanilla and salt, and beat for 1 minute. Add yolks one at a time, and beat until evenly combined. Add flour and pistachio mixture, and mix until just combined. Remove dough, and form into a 4-by-6-inch rectangle; wrap in plastic, and chill for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with Silpats (French nonstick baking mats) or parchment paper, and set aside. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to a 1/8-inch thickness. Brush dough with the egg white to moisten. Cover evenly with pistachio-sanding-sugar mixture. Lightly press mixture into dough with the rolling pin. Using a 1 1/2-inch fluted square cookie cutter, cut cookies as close as possible to avoid waste. Place on prepared baking sheets.

Bake until edges are just lightly golden, about 11 minutes. Transfer cookies to a cooling rack. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

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