Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Baking Special Treats for No Reason

Wow, was this past Sunday a big cooking day for me. I mean, among other things. I worked on my WIP in the morning, then made this interesting filled shortbread, then took some of the dogs to the park, then made khachapuri breads. There was no particular reason to make a lot of wonderful, interesting treats this weekend; it just worked out that way.

Both these recipes were good and impressive and rather easy, so let me share them with you in case you have a particular reason to want to bake specialty breads (or no actual reason, but you just want to).

So, first —

Lemon-Curd Filled Shortbread

This recipe is from this blog post, which I found because I googled “recipes using lemon curd.” Every so often my mother’s Meyer lemon tree ripens a fruit despite suffering from a terrible sunlight deficiency during the winter, and so I make Meyer lemon curd and then look around for stuff to do with it. Aside from just layering the lemon curd with whipped cream in little glass dishes, which by the way is hard to beat, but the following recipe only uses ½ C of lemon curd, so there was plenty for both uses.

I found the lemon actually rather subtle in this recipe, so I may try it again with raspberry jam, an alternative suggested by the original post. It was quite easy and the shortbread practically melts in your mouth, so it’s definitely worth making again.

Here’s what you need —

8 oz butter, softened
4 oz sugar
¼ tsp salt
10 oz cake flour (I used all-purpose)
½ C lemon curd
1 egg, for egg wash (I didn’t do this)
1 Tbsp sugar to sprinkle over top (or this)

Cream the butter, sugar, and salt. Add the flour. You can of course use cake flour, which will make the shortbread more tender and crumbly. I have to say, it was PLENTY tender and crumbly even using all-purpose flour, so my official position on this issue is: Do not make a special trip to the store for cake flour.

Whatever kind of flour you use, divide the dough into two portions. You can chill or freeze the dough at this point, but I went straight on.

Roll one portion of the dough out to a 12” round . . . mine was more like 10”. The original recipe says to roll it out and then transfer it to parchment paper and I was like, why would you make life hard for yourself? So I rolled it out actually ON the parchment paper. My widest baking sheet is just about 11”, so that’s how wide I rolled out the circle of dough. Yes, this is a very tender, soft dough. Just be gentle and use a tiny bit of extra flour on the top surface so the rolling pin doesn’t rip it up too much. It wasn’t that hard to roll out.

The way you keep the parchment paper from sliding all over the countertop while you roll out the dough, by the way, is to overlap the paper a bit over the edge of the counter and lean your body against the paper to pin it in place. It’s quite simple, a lot simpler, probably, than trying to transfer a delicate round of dough to parchment after you roll it out.

Move that round out of the way and roll out the second portion of dough to match, on a second piece of parchment paper.

Spread the lemon curd over one round of dough, leaving about ½ inch border. Use the parchment paper to lift the second round and invert it over the first. I realize this step has some potential for catastrophe, but in fact the dough stuck to the paper just well enough to make it pretty easy to line up the circles as I inverted the top one. The paper then cooperatively peeled off, so I definitely recommend this method.

Now, trim the edges to make a reasonably smooth circle – I was not obsessive about this – and crimp the border all around with a fork. Prick the top all over. Here’s where you could brush the round with a beaten egg and sprinkle it with sugar, but I forgot. I just dusted the whole thing with powdered sugar after it was out of the over and that worked fine as a finishing touch.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until lightly golden.

Incidentally, you can throw away the trimmed scraps of dough, but you can also make four or so thumbprint cookies and fill them with lemon curd. They got overbaked when I did this, so maybe put them on a separate sheet and bake for, I don’t know, 18 minutes maybe.

Cool before cutting into wedges and serving. Really tasty, especially if you don’t cool the shortbread quite all the way to room temp so that you get to eat a wedge while it’s still a little bit warm. I’m embarrassed to tell you how many pieces I ate in one day, but I will just mention I’m giving the rest to my mother, who loves shortbread and unlike me actually needs to gain weight.

So that was treat number one, and very pleasing it was!

Okay, later in the day I made these spinach khachapuri. After Christmas I always get myself a few cookbooks as for some reason everyone else seems to feel I have enough. Anyway, this year I picked up Samarkand, by Eden and Ford, and needed to use up some spinach, so I made these khachapuri boats. For the third time. They’re really good! I have never made them quite according to the recipe, but every variation I’m made has been great.

Spinach Khachapuri

1¼ C bread flour – I have been using a high-protein white whole wheat flour
1 tsp yeast
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp sugar – the recipe says superfine, but honestly, it’s just ¼ tsp, so what difference can it possibly make?
1/3 C plain yogurt – I used full-fat Greek yogurt, which I generally have on hand.
2 Tbsp warm water – I used at least 6 by the time I was done, possibly because Greek yogurt doesn’t have as much water in it as regular.

2½ C chopped spinach leaves. I have used fresh (which I zapped briefly in the microwave to cook just a little) and frozen (which I squeezed out) and I will say that I used too much spinach when I used frozen because I wasn’t sure how to much would equal 2½ C chopped fresh. Maybe more like 1 C frozen. Use your own judgment.

1 C grated mozzarella
½ C feta, crumbled
¼ C ricotta. I happen to dislike ricotta, so I used a pretty generous amount of cream cheese, which I like much better.
2 scallions, chopped
1 Tbsp minced parsley. I didn’t have any, so I left it out.
I Tbsp minced cilantro. Ditto.
1 tsp minced dill. I used dried.
3 eggs
Salt and pepper to taste

Make the bread dough. I used my stand mixer. Let rise two hours, it says. I let it rise a little less than one hour in a warm oven.

Combine the filling ingredients through the herbs. You can add one egg to the filling, but somehow I just never seem to. I think I didn’t have enough eggs the first time I made this and it worked fine without. Probably adding the egg would make the filling lighter and puffier. I should actually add it next time and see.

Divide the dough in half. Or thirds. Or fourths. I favor making these smaller, though the original recipe just makes two bigger khachapuri. I find even three a bit on the big side and will probably make four next time.

Roll each portion into a longish oval. Spoon over a matching portion of the filling and spread it out over the dough. Pinch the ends shut over the filling and make a boat shape, so your finished breads will look like this:

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees and put a pizza stone in the oven to get really hot. Slide the khachapuri onto the hot stone. Or use a plain baking sheet. Either way, bake for 10 minutes. Take out of the oven, push the filling aside in the middle of the boats, and break in an egg. Return to the oven for 5 minutes or until the egg is just set.

Now, I have had trouble getting the eggs to set. I don’t mind a liquidy yolk, but a liquidy white – ugh. So twice I have put the khachapuri under the broiler for a minute to finish the eggs. This time I just let them bake a little longer. Either way, the bread gets really brown, so what I actually suggest is, bake for just 6-7 minutes first, then break the eggs into the middle, then bake another 7 minutes or so, until the eggs are set to your taste.

Cool enough so you won’t burn your mouth and there you go. The original recipe says “Serve with a slice of cool butter on top” which you can certainly try if that appeals to you, but it seems completely unnecessary to me. Definitely an excellent brunch idea if you’re having company.

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Recent Baking: Experimenting with peculiar cookies

I’ve had a couple of recipes for somewhat out-of-the-way cookies sitting right here on my kitchen island for some time. Months, probably. Both originally from Food52, by the way. What with the low-carb thing I hadn’t yet made them, and I figured if I didn’t make them now, for Christmas, it might be a good long while before I found an excuse to try them.

So I made them. I made them tiny and fancied them up and put them right in with the more ordinary cookies and so far one is getting good reviews and the other is facing a more ambiguous reception. I’m going to offer both recipes here and you can try them if you like.

So, first, the more iffy cookie:

Food52 says this recipe comes originally from Kermanshah near Beirut, so this is a traditional cookie that generations have continued to make. Yet I couldn’t help but view this recipe with some concern. I like rosewater a lot. I like cardamom a lot, too. That leaves rice flour as a possible concern. There’s a reason you don’t just substitute rice flour one-for-one for wheat flour. It doesn’t behave the same in recipes, it doesn’t give at all the same results, and so I felt rather uneasy about trying this recipe. Especially since I am rather low on rosewater and this recipe uses quite a bit, relatively speaking. But I finally did try this, once as originally given and once as a variant. I’ll tell you about the variant in a minute. First, the original recipe:

Rosewater Cardamom Rice Cookies

4 oz butter, melted
4 oz sugar
1 egg
1 Tbsp rosewater
8 oz rice flour (meaning ordinary rice flour, not glutinous (sweet) rice flour)
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cardamom

Combine butter and sugar, beat in egg, beat in rosewater. Combine the dry ingredients and stir in. Shape dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill overnight. Let set at room temp half an hour if necessary (I found the dough workable straight out of the fridge). Roll out ¼ inch thick, cut out with a circular cutter, and place on parchment-lined baking sheets. I used the cap off some bottle or other, an inch and a quarter diameter or something like that, but certainly you could use an ordinary cookie cutter. I just wanted the cookies to be quite small and round, not with fluted edges.

If you bake, you may well be wondering what the dough was like to handle. Actually, it wasn’t bad. It took a bit more patience and care than rolling out a wheat-flour dough, and certainly the circle of dough tended to crack around the edges, but it wasn’t bad at all. The dough didn’t stick (I dusted the counter lightly with ordinary flour), it cut cleanly, and the circles lifted off the counter easily. I re-rolled the dough and cut more cookies until the dough was basically all gone, and really I did not add very much extra flour at all as I re-rolled and re-rolled.

Okay, now, pay attention: pre-heat the oven to 250 degrees. That is really two hundred and fifty degrees, not a misprint. Bake the cookies for 15 minutes or so, until dry but still white, rotating the cookie sheets once if your oven tends to bake hotter on one side or the other.

There, that’s basically the original recipe. I found these cookies had a wonderful, vivid flavor, but they were quite dry. Crumbly isn’t unexpected with rice flour, but I don’t mean they crumbled and shattered; they were just unpleasantly dry in the mouth. I imagine one would generally eat them with coffee. I certainly wanted water. In order to try to improve the texture of the cookie, I made them again, this time with half rice flour and half ordinary all-purpose wheat flour. This improved the texture, but not all the way – and the wheat flour muted the flavors. So I’m not sure what to advise. If you try these cookies or a variation on the theme, let me know what you do and how it turns out, okay?

What I did was make little sandwich cookies because I figured icing would improve the dryness problem. I used a wonderful icing I had already made for the Aphrodite cookies: a lovely pink rosewater icing that plainly would suit these rosewater cookies perfectly. It did improve the cookies, but they are still probably going to strike most people as a bit too dry.

Aphrodite Icing (originally from TigersAndStrawberries blog)

½ stick butter, softened
4 oz cream cheese
1 lb powdered sugar (I probably use a little less)
3 Tbsp heavy cream
2 tsp rosewater
Pink food coloring

Cream the butter and cream cheese together. Start beating in the powdered sugar, adding the cream and rosewater as you go. You could make this icing a little stiffer or a little less stiff depending on what you plan to do with it. If you’re going to make sandwich cookies, it doesn’t need to be quite as stiff and that’s why you can probably get away with adding a bit less powdered sugar.

This recipe yields enough icing to make sandwich cookies using two recipes of Aphrodite cookies or four recipes of the rosewater cookies given here. It might be enough to ice a two-layer white cake, which I bet would be lovely and popular. Or you can use the extra icing on, say, warm scones. I happen to think that is just swooningly delicious and reason enough to make this icing.

However, can’t have roses in everything, right? So moving on:

Now, this next cookie is unusual in a quite different way: it uses pepper!

Yep, pepper. Years ago I tried a peppercorn shortbread type of cookie and quite liked it, and I love cayenne in this one apple cake I sometimes make, so I was really inclined to try this. These cookies turned out great: nice texture, chocolate-y, and with an interesting flavor that I’m not sure people will tend to identify as pepper. Let the flavor bloom in your mouth for a few seconds and I think it is more identifiable. Eat the cookie fast and then scarf something else and I’m not sure you would figure it out.

South African Chocolate Pepper Cookies

16 oz bittersweet chocolate chips, divided (I actually used 8 oz bittersweet and about 6 oz semisweet)
12 Tbsp butter
2/3 C brown sugar
2 eggs
2 C flour
2/3 C baking soda
1 Tbsp freshly ground black peppercorns (I used a mélange of black, white, green, and pink peppercorns because I had that handy, but I’m sure just black would be fine)

Now, listen, freshly ground black pepper is nothing like that stuff that comes pre-powdered in cans. If you are not used to freshly ground pepper, this recipe ought to provide you with the excuse you’ve been waiting for to invest in a decent peppermill or a spice grinder. You can do what you want, I’m not the boss of you, but seriously, freshly ground is just worlds better.

Anyway, once you’ve got the ground pepper, melt 8 oz of bittersweet chocolate. I recommend a microwave, thirty seconds at a time. You are not likely to burn bittersweet chocolate if you take any kind of care; it’s a lot more forgiving than milk chocolate. Cream the butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Beat in melted chocolate. Combine flour, baking soda, and pepper and stir that in. Stir in the remaining chocolate chips – I didn’t feel a whole ’nother 8 ounces was necessary, and as I said, I used semisweet at this point. Either way, drop by tablespoons on parchment-lined cookie sheets –

Unless you are making these for Christmas. In that case, you may want to try a fancier presentation. So chill the dough a couple of hours, roll into small balls, toss the balls a few at a time in powdered sugar, and then place the cookies on the baking sheets. Now you will get a chocolate-crinkle kind of cookie, much prettier than any drop cookie could ever dream of being.

Bake cookies at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes. It’s hard to tell when chocolate cookies are done, so touch one lightly and see if it feels firm-ish. In my opinion, with this cookie you are better off erring on the less-baked side than the overdone side, but obviously you should suit yourself.

Cool. The flavors will bloom better if the cookie is not hot when you taste it. A little warm is okay. If you make these, let me know what you think! For me, this recipe is a keeper.

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Cookies cannot be too thin or too rich

Or too chocolately, but that’s a different story. I like to mix up a cookie tray, providing at least one non-chocolate cookie for every type that contains chocolate and a good assortment of crunchy-chewy-cakey-crisp types.

Of course I like all kinds of cookies, but those of you who agree with the header above might particularly want to check out these sesame cookies, which are extremely easy to make if you just follow my advice.

Important advice 1: Do not double this recipe.

Benne Wafers

6 Tbsp butter, room temp
3/4 C brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 C plus 2 Tbsp flour
1/4 C toasted sesame seeds
1/8 tsp baking soda

Now, are your sesame seeds toasted? No? Then toast them first. Heat a dry skillet over medium heat, add the sesame seeds, and stir or shake the sesame seeds for five minutes or seven minutes or ten minutes or until they look nicely golden-brown and smell good. Pour them into a shallow bowl to cool.

Beat together the butter and sugar. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Combine the flour, sesame seeds, and baking soda. Stir that into the creamed mixture. You will have a batter rather than a dough.

Important advice 2: do not drop by 1/4 tsp onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Instead get out a decorating bag — I use disposable bags — and a big round tip. Or snip the corner off a plastic ziplock bag.

Pipe the cookies onto the parchment-lined baking sheets. For heaven’s sake, use parchment paper. You will totally regret it if you don’t. (Ask me how I know.) (I was a much less experienced baker then.)

Make the cookies about, oh, the diameter of a quarter. Space them fairly widely apart, maybe an inch and a half. Piping will take next to no time and using a spoon will take the next thing to forever, so follow my advice about this.

Bake the cookies at 325 degrees for 8-12 minutes, until brown around the edges and set in the middle. Check after five minutes and rotate the cookie sheets if necessary.

Important advice 3: Cool the cookies practically completely on the parchment paper. They will lift or even slide right off when cool. Just leave them alone until they’re ready to come off.

This recipe will make about 100 little wafer-type cookies. That’s why I said not to double it even though it doesn’t look like you’re using a lot of ingredients. But hey, if you want 200 cookies, go right ahead and double the recipe.

These aren’t super-fancy, but as I say, they’re very easy and will look nice scattered amid the other cookies on a plate.

bennewafers

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Finished! Again, for a while. Plus, cookies!

Whew, what a weekend. I thought I might wrap up the latest draft of No Foreign Sky on Friday, but no way. I finally tied a bow around it at seven AM this morning and sent it off to Caitlin just now. I do think it’s better — she was dead right about this one particular plot element being repetitive — and it is certainly shorter. I cut three chapters entirely, which of course required a good deal of adjustment to the remainder. Then I tried to trim 500 words per chapter. Didn’t quite manage that, but the finished draft is down to 143,000 words. I believe the longest draft was, what, something like 180,000 or so.

Anyway, I’m pretty pleased with this draft and I hope and believe Caitlin will agree it’s ready to send out now. Then will come months of not knowing whether it will find a home, probably. Crossing my fingers!

I find the best thing to do at these moments is put the manuscript completely out of mind and work on something else. I’d like to have the third Black Dog novel, Shadow Twin ready to go sometime in January, so that’s one thing. Hopefully Navah won’t have MAJOR suggestions for The Dark Turn of Winter, but this would also be a good time to work on that.

Meanwhile, Christmas preparations! Gotta bake a lot of cookies. Here is one recipe I adjusted substantially and now like a lot. The original recipe is from Bon Appetit and looks pretty much like this:

Chocolate-Nut Rugelach (by which they do not mean traditional rugelach, which are a pain to shape, as you may know. These slice-and-bake cookies are easier).

½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking powder
2½ cups flour
¾ cup chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 large egg yolks
⅓ cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 13-ounce jar Nutella
1½ cups finely chopped pistachios, divided
2 tablespoons demerara sugar, divided
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt, divided, plus more
1 large egg, beaten to blend

Pulse cocoa, brown sugar, kosher salt, baking powder, flour in a food processor to combine. Add butter and pulse until largest pieces are pea-size.

Beat egg yolks, sour cream, and vanilla extract in a small bowl until smooth. With the motor running, stream sour cream mixture into food processor and process until dough forms a ball around the blade. Turn out dough onto a surface and knead until smooth. Divide in half and form into two ¾”-thick disks. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, about 2 hours.

Roll out dough to a 12″ square on a lightly floured sheet of waxed paper. Spread half of Nutella over dough. Sprinkle half of nuts, 1 Tbsp. demerara sugar, and ½ tsp. sea salt over Nutella. Roll up dough to make a log. Repeat with remaining dough, Nutella, nuts, 1 Tbsp. demerara sugar, and ½ tsp. sea salt.

Slice logs 1″ thick and transfer to parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing 1½” apart. Brush tops with egg and sprinkle lightly with more sea salt. Bake rugelach until centers are set and tops are firm to the touch, 25–30 minutes. Let cool.

Now, I followed that recipe last year and sort of liked the result, but several things struck me as needing improvement. The cookie itself was not sweet enough, for one thing, all the sweetness coming from the Nutella; and I hated the salt; and I am not a big fan of pistachios. So this year I adjusted the recipe, thus:

½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¾ cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking powder
2½ cups flour
¾ cup chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 large egg yolks
⅓ cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
Some milk, about a quarter cup
Almost an entire 26-ounce jar Nutella
1½ cups finely chopped walnuts, divided
2 tablespoons demerara sugar, divided
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt, divided, plus more
1 large egg, beaten to blend

Pulse cocoa, brown sugar, kosher salt, baking powder, flour in a food processor to combine. Add butter and pulse until largest pieces are pea-size. For some reason, the butter refused to be chopped into tiny bits so I poured the contents of the food processor into a deep bowl and used a pastry cutter. That won’t happen to you, probably. I’ve never had it happen to me before as far as I can recall. Anyway, moving on:

Beat egg yolks, sour cream, and vanilla extract in a small bowl until smooth. With the motor running, stream sour cream mixture into food processor and process until dough forms a ball around the blade. Add enough milk to get this to work if the mixture turns out to be too dry, as it probably will. I believe I added about 1/4 cup of milk, but honestly I’m not sure. Turn out dough onto a surface and knead until smooth. Divide in half and form into two ¾”-thick disks. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, about 2 hours.

Roll out dough to a 18×8″ rectangle or something approximately like that on a lightly floured sheet of waxed paper (the change in dimensions is to give smaller cookies when you slice the roll, which is a personal preference). Spread a good bit of Nutella over dough. Sprinkle half of nuts and 1 Tbsp. demerara sugar over Nutella. Roll up dough to make a log. Repeat with remaining dough, Nutella, nuts, and 1 Tbsp. demerara sugar. Chill or better yet freeze the rolls because that will make them easier to slice.

Slice logs about 1/3″ thick — again, I was making smaller cookies than the original recipe aimed for, but a whole inch seemed way too much to me — and transfer to parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing maybe half an inch apart. Bake until centers are set and tops are firm to the touch, maybe 15-20 minutes. Let cool. Remove to racks and cool completely.

I didn’t measure the nutella, but there wasn’t as much left as you might think after I made these cookies. Unfortunately, since I’m quite happy to eat Nutella straight out of the jar. But the cookies are very good, are not too Nutella-heavy, and are definitely going on my every-year list. You should definitely try them if you’re a Nutella fan — with or without the salt. Frankly I can’t see the salt, but I know many people are a fan of sea salt for desserts.

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Peanut-butter-filled Chocolate Cookies

I haven’t made these for a while because although I love chocolate and I like peanut butter and I thoroughly approve of many, many desserts that combine the two, for some reason I have never much cared for chocolate peanut butter cookies. On the other hand, these cookies are pretty, and a lot of other people do like them, and this season I seem to be kind of into making cookies I haven’t made every single year for the past ten years. So I got out this recipe. And, actually, I like them better than I remembered, so maybe my tastes have changed.

So, forthwith:

Peanut-butter-filled Chocolate Cookies

½ C. butter
½ C. sugar
½ C. brown sugar
¼ C. creamy peanut butter
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 ½ C. flour
1/3 C. baking cocoa
½ tsp baking soda

¾ C. creamy peanut butter
¾ C. powdered sugar

Combine the butter, sugars, and ¼ C. peanut butter. Beat until smooth. Beat in egg and vanilla. Combine the flour, cocoa, and baking soda and add to the creamed mixture. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to proceed, but the dough is easy to work with and doesn’t need to be chilled if you’re ready right away.

Combine the ¾ C. peanut butter with the powdered sugar until smooth. Kneading with your hands is by far the easiest way to make a smooth dough of the peanut butter and powdered sugar. Obviously there is no need to refrigerate this if you want to hold it for a couple of hours or a couple of days. I mean, you don’t refrigerate either powdered sugar or peanut butter, after all. Just put it in a container and leave it at room temp till you get around to baking the cookies.

Okay, now the recipe says to divide the cookie dough and filling into 24 pieces each, and that is fine, but I made 48 cookies because I think cookies that are going into a large assortment for Christmas should be small. Divide up the two doughs however you like and roll each portion into a smooth ball.

Flatten each cookie dough ball, place a filling ball on it, and wrap the filling up in the cookie dough. The cookie dough is pretty easy to work with, so this is a bit tedious but not difficult. Roll each filled cookie into a smooth ball again and place on cookie sheets.

I found that I had a bit more filling than I needed, so I can tell you that the extra filling is actually pretty tasty eaten as a candy.

When you have a sheet filled, take a small glass or jar, moisten the bottom of it, dip it in sugar, and flatten each cookie slightly. Bake at 375 degrees for 6-8 minutes, until the cookies look done and are starting to crack on the top. Cool slightly on the baking sheets and remove to racks to cool completely.

The first time I made these, years and years ago, it was for a potluck and two different people asked me how I got the filling into the cookies. Well, this is how, and these cookies are indeed quite suitable for potlucks or other special occasions. You should probably tag them, though, so people know there is peanut butter in them, just in case someone is allergic.

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Potlucks are an excuse to bake cookies

Mostly I make cookies between Thanksgiving and Christmas, aiming for about 30 kinds of cookies and candies. (I make cookies that freeze well, obviously. Most cookies freeze perfectly.)

Anyway, those are meant to be tiny and fancy. Everyday casual cookies are not allowed to mingle with tiny little fancy cookies. So I don’t make everyday casual cookies all that often.

When I do, though, I often make Toffee Cranberry Chocolate-Chip Cookies. They are good, easy, a little bit different, and not pretty enough to work as part of the Christmas assortment.

We had an office potluck yesterday, and several people asked for the recipe. No problem! Here it is, and then those of you can bake can try them if you like, and I can send them the link on Monday.

Toffee Cranberry Chocolate-Chip Cookies

1 C butter
3/4 C granulated sugar
34 3/4 C brown sugar (Thanks, Hanneke! Yes, definitely not 34 cups!)
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 C flour
1 1/2 C quick oats (or old-fashioned oats)
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 C dried cranberries
1 C mini chocolate chips (not regular size, really. Use mini chips.)
1 C English toffee bits or almond brickle chips

Cream butter and sugars. Beat in egg and vanilla. Combine flour, oats, baking soda, and salt. Stir in lightly. Add dried cranberries, chocolate chips, and English toffee bits. Stir in.

Drop by tsp onto parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Cool on baking sheets for a couple of minutes and remove to racks to cool completely.

Anyone who is an experienced baker should be able to see that these are going to come out rather thin and crisp, what with all that butter and only one egg. If you only like soft cakey cookies, then these are not the best choice. They are, however, really really good.

On the other hand, if you like cakey cookies and cranberries, you might try the following recipe instead. I would have made them as well except I didn’t have any vanilla chips. If you don’t like vanilla chips, I’m right there with you, but this recipe is an exception, I swear. They are just as easy as the above, but quite different in character. It’s the lower proportion of butter to dry ingredients, the extra egg and the use of baking powder as well as baking soda. Also, if you happen to want to exaggerate the cakey nature of these cookies, margarine will give you a softer texture than butter.

Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies

1 C butter or margarine
1 1/2 C sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 C flour
2 C quick oats
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 C coarsely chopped dried cranberries (I don’t always bother to chop them)
1 Tbsp freshly grated orange peel (I just leave it out if I don’t have an orange handy)
1 pkg (12 oz) vanilla chips

Cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each — this is a cake technique, by the way. Beat in vanilla.

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Stir in lightly. Add the oats, cranberries, and orange zest and stir in lightly. Add the vanilla chips and stir to thoroughly combine.

Drop by rounded tsp onto parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes, until edges are lightly browned.

There you go, next time you have a potluck or whatever, try taking a plate with both of those. I expect you won’t be taking many back home with you.

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Busy busy. Also, cookies!

I’ve had a pretty busy couple of days, though honestly they’ve been the kind of day where you seem to be doing stuff all the time and yet at the end of the day you haven’t got much to show for it. I suppose we all have days like that.

Anyway! Today I wasted an hour and a half driving to a dog show. And an hour and a half back. I was so peeved, because Honey needs just one (1) point to finish her championship, and there were only two bitches entered, so it was a one point show and she just had to beat this one other bitch. And then the other bitch didn’t show up! Aargh!

I’m going back tomorrow, though. Because there are two dogs, so one of them will get a point. If Honey beats the Winners Dog and gets Best of Winners, she would get his point. This is called a crossover point. It’s rather unusual for a young bitch to beat a mature male, but I think it could conceivably happen this time. Neither of the dogs at this show is particularly great. One has no coat to speak of — I can’t think what can have happened to give a male Cavalier such a short coat, he might as well be a Welsh Springer, seriously — and he also has a rather plodding manner in the ring; the other has a nice head and decent body and a showy attitude, but only a snippet of white instead of a full blaze and (more important to me) a very visible movement fault. Now, Honey has white showing in one eye (in Cavaliers, the sclera is supposed to be pigmented, so that’s a cosmetic fault on a par with lacking a full blaze) and, of course, she is still rather puppyish in both head and body. But she has great movement and a charming, lively attitude. So it will all depend on what the judge prioritizes. A head judge will probably put the no-blaze male up, but a movement/structure judge should go for Honey. Or a fault judge, the kind of judge who just puts up whatever dog has the fewest obvious faults regardless of his actual quality, might say “No blaze! White eye!” and put up the plodder. I don’t know about this judge, so I’ll have to show to her to find out what she likes. I will certainly be taking notes about what she does.

Anyway, I really did not feel like working on my current WIP today. Technically I should be revising MOUNTAIN for Navah at Saga Press. And I will! Before Christmas if I am fairly on the ball, or by the middle of January at worst, I should think. But not tonight. Tonight I made cookies, because, you know, priorities.

I don’t think I’ve ever posted this recipe before, and it’s a favorite for both me and my mother, so you may want to try it:

CHOCOLATE ALMOND COOKIES

1 C butter
1 C sugar
1 egg
1/4 tsp almond extract, which I realize as I type this, I forgot the almond extract. Well, the cookies are fine anyway. I just ate a couple to make sure. It’s a tough job, taste-testing cookies, but I’m willing to take one for the team. Anyway:
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 C flour
1/2 C baking cocoa
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1 C mini chocolate chips
1 C finely chopped almonds

Additional sugar or demerara sugar

Cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the egg and extracts. Combine the dry ingredients and stir in. Stir in the mini chocolate chips and chopped almonds. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill an hour or until you get around to baking the cookies. Divide the dough into fourths. Divide into fourths again. Do that once more and you will have 64 little balls of dough. Roll each into a smooth marble and then roll in the sugar or demerara sugar (if you want a slightly fancier cookie and more crunch). Flatten cookies gently with the bottom of a glass. Bake at 350 degrees for about 7 minutes. Try not to overbake, but you don’t have to tell me about what a nuisance chocolate cookies can be. Try touching one gently at 6 minutes and seeing if it seems to be mostly set, and if it does, take that tray out. You may want to bake and cool one tray of cookies first and eat a cookie to see how they turned out, then adjust the timing.

Anyway, these are great, even if you aren’t ordinarily super fond of almonds.

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The Best Cookies In The World

Crystallized ginger

So, supposing you took my advice and made crystallized ginger? Now that you have all that crystallized ginger, not to mention all the ginger syrup, what can you do with it?

Of course you could just make a LOT of double-chocolate ginger cookies, which is an excellent idea and don’t let me talk you out of it. I’ve been adding twice the crystallized ginger in that recipe, btw, and reducing the chocolate chips to one cup, so that ratio is totally up to you.

But supposing you would like to branch out a bit, here are a couple other recipes you might try:

King Arthur Flour Gingered Oatmeal Muffins

I like these a lot. They rise surprisingly well, too. For me, this recipe made more than 12 muffins, and I was glad I didn’t just insist on putting all the batter into just 12 muffin cups. They also came out of the muffin tin pretty easily.

1 C white whole wheat flour
½ C oat flour, which you can make by grinding some oatmeal in a food processor or (easier, if you have one) a spice grinder
¾ C rolled oats
¾ C brown sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 C plus 2 Tbsp milk
¼ C vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
½ C finely diced crystallized ginger

Toss the crystallized ginger with a spoonful of flour and set aside. Combine the dry ingredients. Whisk together the milk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and fold in. Add the crystallized ginger. The batter was quite thin but everything was fine, so probably you should expect that. Spoon or pour the batter into greased muffin cups, probably about fifteen cups if yours are the same size as mine. Bake at 400 degrees for about 18 minutes. Let cool five minutes and remove from the pan.

Now! You could have sprinkled these with a streusel topping before baking, as KAF suggests, and I’m sure that would be good. But I dipped the warm muffins into ginger syrup and then Demerara sugar. They were great.

King Arthur Flour Ginger-Molasses Cookies

Another KAF recipe. Usually they’re very reliable, you know. Anyway, this is a nice, soft type of cookie, which is what I prefer. I did mess with this recipe a bit, as you will see. What? You can never have too many chocolate-ginger cookies.

1 C butter
1 C sugar
¼ C molasses
¼ C ginger syrup (or more molasses)
2 ¼ tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon (the recipe called for 1 ½ tsp)
½ tsp cloves (the recipe called for 1 tsp)
1 tsp ginger (I believe the recipe called for ½ tsp)
2 eggs
3 ½ C flour (or reduce the flour by 2 Tbsp and add ¼ C. cocoa, or by 3 Tbsp and add 1/3 C cocoa)
½ to ¾ C crystallized ginger (not in the original recipe)
¾ C bittersweet chocolate chips (not in the original recipe)

Make cookies.

Oh, all right, actual directions: Cream the butter and sugar. Beat in molasses and ginger syrup. Beat in baking soda, salt, and spices. Beat in eggs. Stir in flour, or flour and cocoa powder. Stir in crystallized ginger and / or chocolate chips. Scoop onto lined baking sheets or else roll into 1 ½ inch balls, roll or dip into coarse sugar (such as Demerara), and place on baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Cool on sheets 10 minutes, then cool completely on racks.

Lemon Ginger Scones

2 C flour
¼ C sugar
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
½ butter, cold, cut in pieces
½ C chopped crystallized ginger
Zest of one (or two) lemons
2/3 C buttermilk

Combine dry ingredients. Cut in butter with a pastry cutter. Stir in the ginger and lemon zest. Stir in the buttermilk. Knead gently till the dough comes together. Pat out into 7 inch circle. Cut into eight wedges and place on lined baking sheet (or freeze). Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until a touch golden. Cool on racks, or better, serve warm.

I would suggest making a glaze with powdered sugar and lemon juice, since after all you just zested that lemon. Alternatively, nothing stops you from drizzling these scones with ginger syrup. Maybe try some each way? Anyway, mmmm, scones.

You can always freeze scones at the cut-into-wedges stage, and I always do unless baking for a crowd. Freshly baked scones are just better, and you can bake them right out of the freezer. Of course it adds a few minutes to the baking time, but not enough to signify.

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Cookies!

Here is the platter I took to my vet and her staff today when I went in for Folly’s hip check. (Yes, I am totally bragging, but I’m proud of my cookies.)

Cookies

I always take a *big* platter of cookies to my vet at Christmas, because I trust her to go above-and-beyond for me when necessary. Of course, I sometimes feel I am personally putting her son through college, so there’s that.

Folly’s hips look fine, btw, which is nice but not (in my opinion) essential for a Cavalier. You hardly ever hear of a Cavalier who has the least bit of trouble with her hips, even if x-rays show mild dysplasia. In fact, I don’t think I have *ever* heard of a Cavalier that had clinically apparent hip issues. It’s patellas that are a concern in Cavaliers, not hips — my vet just routinely re-checks patellas ever time she sees a small dog. But I haven’t quite given up doing hips myself, yet.

Anyway! The cookies, so far this year:

Chocolate pistachio slices
Madras shortbread coookies
Chocolate almond cookies
Cranberry bites
Rosemary lemon cookies
Chocolate coconut slices
Caramel swirls
Scandinavian brown-butter cardamom cookies
Honey apricot cookies
Chocolaty double crunchers
Peppermint puffs
Tea cookies
Double chocolate ginger cookies
Almond bombes
Sesame snaps
Nutella sandwich cookies
Lavender honey shortbread
Lemon glitter cookies
Lemon bars
Cathedral window candies
Cream cheese truffles
Peanut scrunch

I’ve posted some of the best of these recipes over the past couple of years, btw, so let me point out the Best Cookies In The World tag, right? Some of the least showy cookies, like the Chocolaty Double Crunchers, are actually some of the best. A few aren’t to my taste — I don’t like peppermint, having overdosed as a small child.

I’m not quite done, either. Some of my favorites haven’t been made yet — I’d like to get to another half dozen or so types, minimum! That means the *second* platter that goes to my vet — for the other half of the staff, because they trade off here close to Christmas — will be quite different from the first.

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Flaky Almond Pastry — and Flaky Almond Cookies

You may be familiar with this almond pastry, which is officially known as Dutch Roomboter Banketstaaf — that is, Flaky Pastry with Almond Filling.

Almond pastry

I made this last year. I’m not normally the world’s biggest fan of almond paste, but it’s interesting stuff, and actually the pastry sets this almond filling off really well. I found it fairly addictive, which was good, as there was plenty to go around.

So I happened to spot the version linked above at Willow Bird Baking, which is also where I got the picture, btw. You may recall that Julie at Willow Bird Baking often includes a nice school-related story to go with her recipes, which is the case here. Very Christmasy. You should click through and read the entry, and then if you want to make the almond pastry, go to it.

On the other hand, if you’re not necessarily interested in working with pastry, here is an easy cookie version of this recipe. I made these cookies this morning and they are definitely reminiscent of the Dutch pastry.

Almond Pastry Cookies

1 C butter, softened
2/3 C powdered sugar
1/4 C milk — I was out of milk and used cream
1 tsp vanilla
3 C all-purpose flour
7 oz almond paste, which comes in cans, btw. I get mine at Global Foods, but this time of year perhaps normal grocery stores carry it.
Powdered sugar

Cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the milk and vanilla. Stir in the flour. This dough is easy to work with as-is, no need to chill.

Divide the almond paste into four portions. Divide each of those portions into fourths, and fourths again. Roll each portion into a ball. Poof! You now have 64 little balls of almond paste.

Divide the cookie dough into 64 portions just as you did with the almond paste. Roll each bit of dough into a ball, flatten, top with a ball of almond paste, pinch the dough shut around the filling, and roll into an even ball again. Place on parchment-lined baking sheets.

All this rolling of stuff into balls really does not take very long, btw. Naturally if you happen to have children who can be recruited, it will go even faster.

Anyway, bake the cookies at 375 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes. Cool a bit on the cookie sheets and then cool completely on wire racks.

Dust with powdered sugar. My suggestion is: don’t actually roll the balls in powdered sugar; you aren’t making tea cookies. Just dust them lightly.

These are unusual, quite good, and very Christmasy.

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