Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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A Christmas must-have . . . leading to cookies

Actually, I think crystallized ginger is a year-round must-have. But I want to make these great dark chocolate ginger cookies this afternoon, so making crystallized ginger last night was important.

Of course, if you have a convenient place to buy crystallized ginger, that’s fine. But if you don’t, then this is very easy. Plus, as a perk, you also get about two cups of blazingly good ginger syrup, which you can stir into drinks or drizzle over gingerbread or apple cake or whatever you like. Pumpkin-pecan pancakes are pretty tasty with ginger syrup. Whatever.

So, crystallized ginger:

1 lb (or so) ginger roots
3 C (or so) sugar
3 C (or so) water

Peel the ginger. Slice about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. I suggest lengthwise slices, which lie better on wire racks later.

Place the ginger in a pan and add equal amounts of sugar and water until the ginger slices are covered. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat and boil gently for, oh, about an hour and fifteen minutes, until the sugar syrup reaches 220 degrees. It seriously does take well over an hour for the temp to come up that last little bit, so there’s no point sitting there watching the candy thermometer. Just get a gentle boil going and set the timer for an hour and go do other things for a while.

Once the syrup reaches 220 degrees, remove the pan from the heat and let the ginger just sit there in the syrup until it is cool. I just left mine overnight.

When the syrup is cool, pour the ginger through a strainer, into a bowl so you keep the syrup. You will have about two cups of syrup. Pour this into a jar and stick it in the fridge, where it will last basically forever. Though if you wait long enough, it may start to crystallize.

Anyway, toss the ginger slices with sugar. Then lay the slices out in a single layer on wire racks and let them sit out all day or overnight. Then pack them into a container. I store these in the fridge because I once had a batch mold.

Now that you have plenty of crystallized ginger, you really should try these cookies, even if you are suspicious of the combination of dark chocolate and ginger. They are superb.

2 3/4 C all purpose flour
1/4 C cocoa
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 C butter, softened
3/4 C brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 C molasses
2/3 C buttermilk
1/2 C chopped crystallized ginger
1 1/2 C semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips

Combine the dry ingredients and set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the egg and molasses. Beat in the buttermilk. Stir in the flour mixture. Fold in the crystallized ginger and chocolate chips.

Drop by rounded Tbsp on parchment-lined baking sheets and bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Try not to overbake. Cool 2 minutes on the pans. Remove to racks to finish cooling.

If you like, make sandwich cookies with this filling:

6 oz cream cheese, softened
2 C powdered sugar
1/2 C minced crystallized ginger

Enjoy!

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Cookies, cookies, cookies

Or at least one recipe, because here is what I am making this morning, since schools are closed in this area. (Snow! Very beautiful. Not often we get ten inches or so before Christmas. I’m just guessing about the final amount because it’s still coming down.)

Anyway, here is an appropriate recipe for a snowy winter day:

Scandinavian Brown-Butter Cardamom Cookies

2 sticks unsalted butter
3/4 C sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1 1/2 to 2 C flour

1 egg white
64 pecan halves

Powdered sugar

Okay, brown the butter first. Browning changes both the flavor and how the butter behaves in the cookie (it gives the cookies a sandier texture than you may be used to). You can skip this step, but it will dramatically alter the cookie. Plus, browning butter is perfectly simple.

Put the butter in a small saucepan, melt over med-low heat, and simmer until butter solids have browned, about 15 minutes or so. Pour the clarified butter through a fine-mesh strainer into a large bowl and chill until firm.

Add the sugar, egg yolk, vanilla and cardamom to the clarified butter and beat until light and fluffy. Gradually add enough flour to make a smooth dough. For me this is close to 2 C. of flour.

Divide the dough into fourths and then eights. Shape each portion into eight smooth balls. Obviously you will have 64 cookies. Place the balls on parchment-lined cookie sheets. Beat the egg whites in a small bowl until frothy. Dip the pecan halves in the egg whites and press one pecan half onto each ball, flattening the balls slightly.

Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes, until set but not brown. Cool on racks. Dust lightly with powdered sugar.

In my opinion, these are at their very, very best the same day they are made. However, I will certainly freeze most of them and they will be fine when thawed. If you freeze them, they will be at their prettiest if you wait with the powdered sugar dusting till right before you serve them.

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Brief update, plus cookies

Yes, the revision is going great! I got *so much done* this past Sunday because it was cold and nasty and I didn’t want to leave the house anyway. I have twelve bulleted points left to fix, but the big ones are done and most of the rest will be quick.

Well, yes, one of them requires me to write a whole new scene, but I know where to PUT the new scene, which is half the battle! (A small half, admittedly.) Plus, writing a new scene is often kind of the fun part of revising.

I think . . . I think . . . yeah, not much chance of getting this all the way done before Thanksgiving, but maybe by the end of the long weekend and ALMOST CERTAINLY before December 1st. Which is fabulous! THEN I can read, oh, I don’t know, THE CHOCOLATE HEART by Laura Florand, before really getting into the real WIP.

The last thing for this revision will be, or ought to be, a complete read-through from top to bottom, adjusting this and tweaking that. If I have the patience. Which I guess I do. Sigh.

Okay, in the meantime, cookies! Because it is definitely cookie season, right? Plus I promised to bring The Best Cookies In The World to the Cavalier party on the 8th, so gotta get it in gear.

So I made these today. I don’t know if these are The Best, but they are new to me and interesting. They will freeze well because they are shortbread cookies and shortbread cookies always freeze well. I got the recipe from somewhere. Epicurious? Bon Appetit? Sorry, I don’t remember, but now that I have searched, I see they are around here and there on the web, so I guess it’s okay to post the recipe here, too. Besides, I’m changing the directions kind of a lot, though the ingredients are the same, and I will also suggest a possible glaze, though I haven’t tried that yet.

You may like these, though they are weird. This is a cookie where you eat one and then pause. The flavors sort of develop gently over a minute or so. I would say that these are for adults, unless you have kids with unusually adventurous palates.

Curry Shortbread Cookies

2 tsp coriander seeds
1 1/2 tsp Madras curry powder
2 sticks butter
1/2 C sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt
1 3/4 C flour

Heat a small skillet for a couple of minutes and toast the coriander seeds for two minutes, shaking the skillet frequently. Pour seeds onto a plate and let cool. Toast the curry powder — I made mine, with coriander, mustard seed, cumin seed, cloves, fenugreek, dried cayenne chilies, and turmeric, but I am sure you can use any Madras-ish curry powder you like — for fifteen seconds or a bit longer. The recipe said a minute but I think my skillet was a bit hotter than theirs.

Grind the coriander seeds in your handy Preethi spice grinder, which is one of the more delightful kitchen gadgets you can have, btw. Or grind them somehow. A mortar and pestle, maybe even a food processor, whatever. I suppose in a pinch you could use ground coriander, but that would be a much, much finer grind and produce a different effect in the finished cookies.

Soften the butter — fifteen seconds in the microwave gets the job done if you forget to set it out a couple of hours beforehand. I always just microwave the butter. Don’t get distracted, though. Melted butter does NOT behave like softened butter in cookies. (Ask me how I know.)

Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla. Combine the spices, salt, and flour. Add that mixture and stir until the dough comes together. Wrap in plastic and chill an hour or longer. If you chill this particular dough overnight, you may want to let it set at room temp for a couple of hours so it will be easier to work with, but that is strictly up to you because it’s fine either way.

Anyway, divide the dough into fourths. Now into eights. Now you can take each of those portions and make it into eight little balls. The original recipe said to make 38 1-inch balls, but I wanted at least five dozen cookies, so as you see, I made 64.

Place the balls on cookie sheets as you go. I lined the baking sheets with parchment paper because I always do, but in fact shortbread cookies are not likely to stick anyway. When you’ve made all the balls, take a small glass or whatever, dip it in flour, and gently press each ball into a rather thick disk. This is not rocket science, but I think my disks were between 3/4 of an inch and an inch across before baking.

Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes. The original recipe says 20-25 minutes, but those cookies were bigger. I suggest you look at yours after 10 minutes, but I expect you will not take them out quite that soon. Cool before removing to racks, because they’re pretty fragile when hot.

Now, as you may know, coriander seeds have a sort of citrus-y resin-y flavor. If you want to drizzle a glaze across these cookies, one option is to bring out the citrus a bit and use orange juice plus powdered sugar to make a glaze. Or, since there is vanilla in these cookies, milk plus vanilla plus powdered sugar. Either way, I think these cookies would be pretty if you pipe thin stripes of the glaze across the cookies. You could even add a dab of orange food coloring to the glaze, but maybe that is too Halloween-y for the season. Yellow, maybe, for the curry.

If you don’t have a decorating set, or don’t want to bother getting it out, get a large piece of plastic wrap, double it over, poke a hole in the middle with your thinnest knife, spoon the glaze onto the plastic, and presto! A pastry bag, quite suitable for piping glaze across cookies.

If you try these, I’d be interested in what you think. *I* think they are quite good, and I do remember that the original recipe declared that the test kitchen filled up with fans. If you are the sort of person who likes cayenne in your dark chocolate truffles, I bet you love these.

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A few more Adventurous cookies —

Moving right along, we come to —

CHOCOLATE GINGERBREAD MARSHMALLOW BARS

These are meant to look a LOT like ice cream bars. I made a couple different versions, experimenting with different flavors, with different techniques of assembly, and with the amount of marshmallow. I found making a full recipe of marshmallow was better, both to make the cookies look A LOT like ice cream bars and for the marshmallow to balance the cookie and for ease of prep.

To my surprise, I liked this gingerbread version significantly better than the kind I made with plain chocolate cookies and coconut marshmallow. Until this contest, I was under the impression that I didn’t like chocolate combined with ginger. Apparently I was wrong! These are good, not THAT hard, and just plain fun to serve.

2 2/3 C. flour
1 C less 1 Tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp ground ginger
¾ tsp salt
1/8 tsp baking powder
1 ½ sticks butter
1 stick margarine
1 C. sugar
2 egg yolks – here’s what to do with the yolks if you used the whites for the paciencia!
1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger

1 recipe marshmallows, prepared like THIS, but with 1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger and 1 C. minced crystallized ginger added.

Combine the flour, cocoa, ginger, salt, and baking powder. Cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the egg yolks and grated ginger. Chill the dough thirty minutes or so. Divide in half. Roll out each half, between a sheet of parchment paper and a sheet of waxed paper, to a 12 x 8 inch rectangle. Peel off the waxed paper and trim the edges so you have two nice straight-edged rectangles, still on the parchment paper.. Poke holes in the dough with the end of thermometer or similar blunt instrument – you want the holes to look like the ones in ice cream sandwiches. Lift the paper with the rolled-out dough onto baking sheets and bake at 350 degrees for 16-18 minutes, until set. Try not to overbake. Cool completely on the baking sheets because if you try to lift the parchment paper up, the cookie sheets will break, which isn’t a total disaster because the marshmallow will disguise a lot of flaws, but try not to break the cookies if possible.

Now, fit one cookie into a shallow 13 x 9 inch baking dish, which you have prepared by lining it with foil and spraying the foil and sides of the dish with cooking spray. Now prepare the marshmallow and pour it over the cookie, working fairly briskly because it is easier to spread while warm. Top with the second cookie sheet. Cover the dish loosely with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature overnight to let the marshmallow set.

The next morning, use the foil to slide the whole shebang out of the baking dish. Use a pizza cutter sprayed with cooking spray to trim extra marshmallow away from the edges. (You can eat that extra marshmallow as a reward for tackling this recipe – not that it’s that hard, honest.)

Cut into bars about the size and shape of ice cream bars. I found a 3 x 2 inch bar looked nice. The best way to cut the cookie is to use a sharp serrated knife to gently saw through the top cookie, then press straight down through the marshmallow and bottom cookie layer. Dip the edges of the marshmallow into cornstarch if you wish, to keep them from sticking to everything. I am pretty sure you will get admiring comments when you serve these. Plus, they’re really good. I kind of overdosed on the first batch I made.

CHOCOLATE ORANGE PINENUT SPIRALS

I saw a picture that looked nice in a cooking magazine, but totally changed the dough. I didn’t add enough orange when I made them; I’m going to suggest ingredients that should significantly bounce the orange flavor, but I admit I haven’t actually tried the cookies again with the adjusted ingredients.

1 C. butter
4 oz cream cheese
1 C brown sugar
1 egg yolk
½ tsp orange extract (I didn’t include this in my trial run, but I think I should have)
2 Tbsp Grand Marnier OR orange juice concentrate
2 ½ C. flour
¼ C. cocoa powder
½ C. ground pine nuts or other nuts

A filling to make sandwich cookies with, if you wish – for the contest, I used an ordinary chocolate ganache with a bit of orange extract and a good pinch of cayenne. This was fine, but a caramel-orange filling would be a good choice, or my brother suggested vanilla ice cream, which I am pretty sure would be fabulous. But the cookies aren’t bad at all just as-is.

Cream the butter, cream cheese, and sugar. Beat in the egg yolk and orange flavorings. Add flour. Divide the dough into two portions. Add the cocoa to one half and the ground nuts to the other half. Chill about an hour. Roll out each portion between two sheets of waxed paper to a 16 x 8 rectangle. Peel the top sheet of paper off the nut layer and use the other sheet of waxed paper to help you lay it over the chocolate layer. You do want the chocolate layer on the bottom because it is going to be stiffer than the nut layer, which will make it easier to roll the dough up jelly-roll style if you have the chocolate layer on the bottom. (Yes, I am speaking from experience.) Roll up the two layers together into a nice tight spiral. This is not at all difficult. Wrap the log of dough in plastic wrap and chill until very firm – several hours or overnight.

Slice the log ¼ inch thick and lay the slices on parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 9 to 11 minutes, until set and just a little browned on the bottom. Cool completely on racks. Use whatever filling you like to assemble into sandwich cookies, if you like. These are pretty and impressive and really not at all difficult.

Enjoy!

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More Adventurous Cookies

I’m just posting a couple at a time because, hey, don’t want to overwhelm everyone with cool possible recipes. But check these out:

SWEET POTATO-CHOCOLATE-GINGER PILLOWS

I admit that my first attempt at sweet potato cookies were a major flop. I knew exactly the texture I wanted: cakey and soft and pillowy. What I got was far too moist and sticky, a total waste of excellent chocolate. I’d tried a variation on a pumpkin cookie, but I was so disappointed in the result that I switched completely to a recipe that originally used sour cream, for which I substituted an equal amount of cooked pureed sweet potato. Then I changed the spicing and added fresh grated ginger and chopped bittersweet chocolate and, well, here you go:

4 ½ C. flour
4 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 tsp nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp cayenne
½ C. margarine – this will give a softer, more cake-like texture than butter – I used a brand that is only about 50% fat, which is going to give an even softer texture.
8 oz cream cheese – again, this helps give a soft texture
2 C. sugar
2 eggs
1 C. cooked pureed sweet potato, or I imagine pumpkin would be fine.
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 ½ C. finely chopped bittersweet chocolate, or you can use mini chocolate chips. Or, for that matter, you can leave out the chocolate. I thought these cookies were really good without chocolate. I made them without chocolate first, see, because I was afraid of wasting more great chocolate on another flop. But this version was fine.

Filling:
6 oz cream cheese
3 C. powdered sugar
½ Tbsp grated fresh ginger
½ C. minced crystallized ginger

Combine the dry ingredients. Cream the margarine and cream cheese with the sugar. Beat in the eggs, sweet potato, and grated ginger. Stir in the flour mixture. Chill at least one hour.

Roll out the dough 3/8 inch thick (measure it, this is thicker than you may expect). Even after chilling, the dough will be soft. Roll it out with a light touch, adding as little extra flour as possible – rolling it out thick will help here. But don’t be obsessive about it, they’ll be fine if you do have to use a bit more flour. Cut out cookies with a 3 inch round cookie or biscuit cutter and place on parchment-lined baking sheets. Re-roll the scraps and cut out more cookies. Was quite pleased with the texture of these cookies even after the dough had been re-rolled three times. Anyway, when you get as many cookies cut out as possible, bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes, until set and just browned on the bottom. Cool on sheets for a few minutes and then cool completely on racks.

Combine the filling ingredients, adding enough powdered sugar to make a decently thick and spreadable filling, and assemble the cookies.

DEATH BY HAZELNUT CHOCOLATE COOKIES

For these, I started with a chocolate-hazelnut cookie I found online, which had garnered comments such as “More like a dog biscuit than a cookie.” Obviously lots of room for improvement there! I punched up the sugar a lot and added English Toffee Bits. I also made a kind of homemade Nutella as the filling, but nothing stops you from using actual Nutella, which I think would work great. Also,I know hazelnuts are super expensive; I think I’ll try these again with walnuts and I bet that will work just fine. If you try this recipe with some other kind of nut, let me know how it works out!

1 C. butter
½ C. sugar
½ C. brown sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 egg
1 Tbsp Frangelico, or ½ tsp hazelnut extract, or hey, both – I didn’t even know there was such a thing as hazelnut extract until I happened to fortuitously stumble across it at the right moment.
½ tsp vanilla
4 Tbsp cocoa
1 ¾ C. flour
2 ¼ C. chopped toasted hazelnuts, divided
½ C. English Toffee Bits

If you want to make your own hazelnut filling:

1 C. toasted hazelnuts
2 Tbsp sugar
8 oz bittersweet chocolate
¼ C. butter
½ C. cream – I used coconut milk because of contest rules, but really I suggest you just use cream.
2 tsp Frangelico or ¼ tsp hazelnut extract

If you have untoasted hazelnuts, toast them: spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 13-18 minutes, until decidedly golden in color, shaking occasionally. Cool. Rub off skins by wrapping in a kitchen towel and rubbing briskly.

Make the hazelnut filling: Combine the hazelnuts with the sugar in a food processor and grind into a gritty paste. Melt the chocolate with the butter. Whisk the cream into the chocolate mixture. Whisk in Frangelico and/or the hazelnut extract. Whisk in the nut paste. Chill until thickened.

Make the cookies: Cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the salt, the egg, the Frangelico and / or hazelnut extract, the vanilla, and the cocoa powder. Stir in the flour and 1 ½ C. chopped nuts and the toffee bits. Spoon down the middle of two sheets of plastic wrap. Use the plastic wrap to help you form the dough into two logs (which is a bit soft, but you can get it shaped into logs if you work at it for a minute). Freeze the logs overnight. Roll each log in the remaining chopped nuts. Slice ¼ inch thick and place on parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake at 375 degrees for 6-8 minutes, just until set. Try not to overbake. Cool a minute or so on the sheets, then cool completely on racks.

Assemble into sandwich cookies. Unusually for sandwich cookies, I think these are significantly better the day they are assembled, while the toffee bits retain some crunch. If I make them again, I will keep the filling separate and assemble cookies right before serving.

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Adventurous Cookies

I wound up submitting nine cookie recipes for the Scharffen Berger Adventure Coookie Contest – I couldn’t quite get the caramel filling to work out or I would have submitted a variation of one of these, making ten recipes, which was the maximum allowed. But hey, coming up with nine good recipes in one month, I’m pretty happy with that. One took three tries before I thought it was okay to submit, but some I did hit on the first try.

I suspect most entries must surely come from professionals, so I don’t know that any of my recipes have much of a chance – but hey, I did develop some great recipes! So it was definitely worth the trouble to enter. Next year I will try to remember to check out this contest in October, which is when it started this year. Three months to work on recipes would be much better than trying to do it all in one month!

Here are the cookies I submitted:

Pine Nut Orange Florentines
Chocolate-Coconut Paciencia
Chocolate-Sweet Potato-Ginger Pillows
Gingerbread-Marshmallow Bars
Chocolate Pinenut Orange Spirals
Death By Hazelnut Chocolate Cookies
Mayan End-Of-The-World Chocolate Cookies
Aztec Gold Cookies
And (my favorite) Taste For Adventure Triple Ginger Chocolate Cookies

So! I know some of you bake! Here are the first couple recipes! If you try any of them, I’d be interested in what you think.

PINE NUT-ORANGE FLORENTINES

For this cookie, I just took an ordinary Florentine-style cookie, substituted chopped pine nuts for sliced almonds, added Grand Marnier and orange zest – I think orange goes well with pine nuts and, of course, chocolate. Then I used melted chocolate to sandwich the cookies together. These didn’t turn out super-fancy because it was hard to get the cookies perfectly round – if I was trying it again, I’d chop the pine nuts a bit finer, chill the dough, and see if I could form the dough into little tiny balls rather than trying to drop the dough on the cookie sheets. If you try this, let me know how they come out.

½ C. butter
2/3 C. sugar
2 Tbsp cream
2 Tbsp corn syrup
1/3 C. all-purpose flour
½ tsp vanilla
2 tsp orange liqueur such as Grand Marnier
¼ tsp orange extract
2 Tbsp orange zest
1 C. finely chopped pine nuts (or other nuts – I actually prefer almost every other kind of nut to pine nuts. I’d probably use walnuts here if I did this again, but hey, I’m not the boss of you. Sliced almonds or pecans or whatever would be great, but take it from me, you aren’t going to be able to roll the dough into neat balls if you use sliced almonds, which are too pointy.
1 C. bittersweet chocolate, melted

Combine the butter, sugar, cream, and corn syrup in a saucepan. Heat until mixture reaches 230 degrees, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and stir in flour and all the orange flavorings. Stir in the chopped nuts.

Drop onto parchment-lined baking sheets by rounded ½ tsp (or chill dough and roll into tiny balls). Bake at 350 degrees for 8-11 minutes, until caramelized and lightly browned. Cool on the paper. When the cookies are cool, they will lift right off the paper.

Melt the chocolate. Brush chocolate on the underside of one cookie and sandwich with another cookie of similar size and shape. If you like, drizzle more melted chocolate across the tops of the sandwich cookies.

CHOCOLATE-COCONUT PACIENCIA

Paciencia are Filipino meringue cookies. I simply substituted cocoa powder for a bit of the flour – you substitute 2 Tbsp cocoa for every Tbsp flour you take out – and then I added coconut extract, then made a chocolate ganache with coconut milk and coconut extract. I got these to work perfectly once, but the second time I couldn’t get the egg whites to whip stiff enough. It might, I admit, have been lack of patience. I mean, these cookies get their name for a reason. Below, I’ll provide every possible suggestion for getting the egg whites to whip really stiff. On a day when you’re feeling patient, you really should try these – they’re quite addictive when they work.

2 egg whites
½ C. sugar
¼ tsp coconut extract
¼ C. + 1 Tbsp flour
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
1/8 tsp baking powder

6 oz bittersweet chocolate
4 oz thick coconut milk from the top of an unshaken can, or 4 oz heavy cream – it doesn’t make any difference, I just used the coconut milk because it was an “adventure” ingredient.
1 tsp coconut extract

Beat the egg whites until quite stiff. Don’t use totally fresh eggs – they should be at least a week old. Bring the egg whites to room temperature before you beat them – leave them sitting in the bowl for at least half an hour before you start beating them, and an hour is better. You know you mustn’t have a speck of yolk in the egg whites, right? Before you start, you might wash the beaters and bowl in hot soapy water even if they’re already clean, just to make absolutely sure there’s not a trace of grease anywhere. But then give everything plenty of time to dry completely because even a drop of water can interfere with egg whites whipping. I have NEVER had trouble whipping egg whites until these cookies, so don’t let me scare you away from trying them. I think all the sugar and stuff interferes a lot more than just whipping the egg whites by themselves.

So, as I said, beat the egg whites until quite stiff before you start to add the sugar. I think that’s where I went wrong, starting to add the sugar before the egg whites were stiff. You can tell whether the egg whites are stiff by switching off the mixer and lifting the beaters straight up, btw – the peaks left in behind in the egg whites should stand up straight, not fold over. Standing up straight means you have whipped the egg whites to “stiff peaks”.

Okay! Gradually beat in the sugar, a Tbsp at a time. Only when you have stiff peaks AND all the sugar has been added should you beat in the coconut extract. Now: combine the flour, cocoa powder, and baking powder and beat that in. You should still have stiff peaks. If the mixture has partially collapsed again, beat it some more. I swear, the first time I made these the whole process only took about ten minutes.

Spoon the batter into a pastry bag (or a zip lock bag with the tip of one corner cut off) and pipe quarter-sized mounds onto parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake at 400 degrees until lightly toasted, 12-15 minutes, trading the positions of the baking sheets halfway through to compensate for any hot spots in your oven. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets. When cool, the cookies will lift right off the parchment paper.

Make the ganache: heat the coconut milk or cream with the chocolate in your microwave and stir until smooth. Stir in the coconut extract. Set the ganache aside until it thickens, about 30 to 40 minutes. Assemble sandwich cookies, but don’t eat any yet – they are super-crisp and will be much better if you continue with the patience. Store the cookies overnight at room temp in an air-tight container. NOW pick up a good book and settle down with these softened, chewy cookies for a real treat – they are quite wonderful.

Okay, you’ll find the next cookie recipes I’ll post will be much more foolproof!

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Smugglivus . . . and cookies!

Okay, first, just a quick note that I’ll have a guest post appearing over at The Book Smugglers later today. It’s a month-by-month best-reads-of-2012 type of post, and thus is a bit similar to my recent post here on Best Everything for 2012. But it’s definitely not identical, so click over and take a look at it if you like.

Keeping a list of books bought / books read has made such a difference to me; I’d never be able to remember anything if I didn’t write it down. It’s really interesting to see how my reading breaks down for the year. For example, about 75% of the books I buy get read in same year I buy them. I would have thought the proportion would be smaller. And I thought these days I read almost all fantasy and very little SF, but The List makes it clear I still do read quite a bit of SF.

How well do you remember what you’ve read? And, if you had to pick a top-five list of books you read this year, what would be on it?

And while we’re on the subject of Smugglivus, let me just say that there are lots and lots of guest posts over there this month, many very much worth reading — Smugglivus is where I find out what great books are coming out next year, for example. Angie at Angieville says that we can expect both a new Mercy book from Patricia Briggs and a new Kate Daniels book from Ilona Andrews — good news for me, since those are my two favorite paranormal / UF writers. Plus there’s apparently an intriguing book coming out called A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn, which is abut “a scandalous flapper exiled to Africa.” Doesn’t that sound fun? It was Angie who gave me a pointer to The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen, and that sure turned out well, so probably I’ll try this one.

And here’s another post I appreciated: Andrea K Höst, a self-published author whom Ana describes as “a talented self-published writer of awesome Sci Fi and Fantasy novels” — which makes me want to pick up something of hers, it’s so amazing to hear from a blogger I trust about an “awesome” self-published author — gives an overview of all of Diana Wynne Jones’ books. You know, there are still a few I haven’t read? Amazing, isn’t it? Someday I will complete my set.

Okay! Now! The promised cookie recipes:

I have two great intensely chocolate cookie recipes, both of which are very popular with tasters.

CHOCOLATE TRUFFLE COOKIES

4 oz unsweetened chocolate — I use Ghirardelli
1 C semisweet chocolate chips — I use Callebaut or Ghirardelli
1/3 C butter
1 C sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 C flour
2 Tbsp cocoa
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 C mini choc chips

Melt the unsweetened chocolate and the 1 C chips and the butter together in the microwave, stirring every thirty seconds. Cool ten minutes. Beat sugar and eggs for two minutes. Beat in vanilla and chocolate mixture. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Add to creamed mixture. Stir in mini chocolate chips. Cover and chill at least 3 hours.

Roll into 1″ balls, place on parchment-lined baking sheets, and bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes, until lightly puffed and set. Try not to overbake — err on the side of taking them out a bit early. Let cool on sheets 3-4 minutes before removing to racks to cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar and serve. These cookies freeze very well.

CHOCOLATE NUT TRUFFLE COOKIES

1 C butter, divided
1/4 C heavy cream
2 Tbsp honey
6 oz chocolate chips — again, I use Callebaut, which I buy in 22 lb bags, which is quite cost effective as far as great chocolate goes.
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 C powdered sugar
2 1/4 C flour
1/4 tsp nutmeg — yes, really; unless you’re a supertaster, you won’t actually be able to tell it’s in there, but it adds a different kind of depth.
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 C toasted pecans, coarsely ground

Combine 1/4 C butter, cream, and honey in a saucepan and heat to a simmer. Add the chocolate chips and stir until smooth. Stir in vanilla. Cool slightly.

Cream remaining butter with powdered sugar. Beat in chocolate mixture. Combine flour, nutmeg, and salt and stir in. Chill 1 hour. Shape into 1″ balls and roll in pecans. Place on parchment-lined baking sheets and back at 375 degrees for 6-8 minutes.

And! As a bonus!

Commenter Elaine Thompson contributes this recipe, which I certainly must try:

ABSOLUTELY DEEP DARK CHOCOLATE FUDGE COOKIES
(From Death by Chocolate, by M. Desaulniers)

!/2 C cocoa
8 oz semisweet chocolate
4 oz unsweetened chocolate
3 C semisweet chocolate chips
1-1/2 C all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1-1/2 C tightly packed light brown sugar
12 Tbsp unsalted butter
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

Note on ingredients: We use Bendsdorp’s Dutch cocoa, the recipe specifies Nestle cocoa. Substituting Demerara sugar (or similarly coarse brown sugar) changes the texture in a way I like. We use either Ghirardelli chocolate or Scharffenberger. For these cookies we use pure Tahitian vanilla. And I almost never have unsalted butter on hand, and don’t notice a difference when I do use it. (although our daughter the supertaster probably would but she doesn’t eat these because of the mixed chocolate & cocoa.) Not in the official recipe, but we add sometimes to punch up the flavor: ¼ tsp powdered instant coffee.

These can be tricky to bake – they’re easy to overcook, and In Our Humble Opinions taste best soft, not hard. [I would definitely agree that all these cookies should be barely baked through — R]

Preheat oven to 325F.

Melt the 4 oz unsweetened chocolate and 8 oz semisweet chocolate together. Set aside.

Blend the sugar and butter in mixer, add eggs, vanilla, salt, soda. (I’m skipping all the add one, mix x seconds, scrape down, add something else. As well as sifting all the dry ingredients together, which I never bother with.) Carefully pour in the melted chocolates as well as the cocoa. Mix well, and add the flour, then the 3 cups of semisweet chips. The batter tends to be pretty stiff, and I’m glad I have a good stand mixer to mix it. [Note: I don’t! I keep meaning to get one! I suggest that if you don’t have a great stand mixer, simply do the last part of the mixing with your hands — R] Mix as well as you can.

“Portion 6 – 8 cookies per baking sheet by dropping 2 level tablespoons of batter per cookie onto each of the 2 baking sheets.” Or use your usual cookie scoop and do it the usual way. Bake 18-22 minutes – even 1 tablespoon cookies do tend to take about that long. [I make all my Christmas cookies very small, because they’re pretty that way and because I want people to feel free to eat more than one cookie — so I’ll probably be using a tsp scoop and guessing about the timing — R]

“If a nocturnal lust for chocolate has you making furtive movements towards the kitchen, I suggest a few Absolutely Deep Dark Chocolate Fudge cookies, each one dipped into your favorite chocolate ganache. It is a fact that this confection will assuage even the most passionate chocophile regardless of the hour.”

Even for us, adding the ganache is a bit much.

I bet! But I may try it anyway!

Okay, everyone, enjoy!

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Blog / The Best Cookies In The World

So that’s what hydroplaning feels like. Plus, marshmallows.

It turns out my tires were bald, bald, bald. Who knew? I commented to my Dad that it felt like I kept starting to hydroplane coming back from the Springfield show the other week. I couldn’t go above sixty (the speed limit was seventy) and it wasn’t even raining that hard. How could I have let my tires get that bald and not notice? Well, I never said I knew anything about cars or tires. And after all, it didn’t rain at all this summer, so not a problem until recently. But it’s a good thing at least my Dad can recognize an obviously bald tire when he sees one.

Do you know how long it can take to get your tires changed? Especially if the tire place doesn’t seem to really get the concept of an “appointment”?

So, see, it’s NOT MY FAULT that I haven’t even STARTED the revision that I planned to have FINISHED by December 15th. Dog shows! Tires and other random annoyances! And now, the year’s round of Christmas parties! I’m not so much of a hermit that I just skip all the parties. No, indeed.

Well, the show season is now over for me, and alas, Kenya did not pick up her other major. Next year for sure! And for the Cavalier party this past Sunday, I took this beautiful platter of intense chocolate cookies surrounded by swooshes of coconut marshmallows and these pretty pink marshmallows I made with rose water and minced dried cranberries. I will take a similar assortment to the Master Gardener party tonight. And I will turn on my laptop tomorrow FOR SURE.

I posted this marshmallow recipe last year, but it’s so amazingly good that I’m going to post it again. If you have kids, this recipe would be SO NEAT to do with kids. Marshmallows just seem SO artificial when you turn them out of the pan!

Coconut marshmallows (or rose and cranberry marshmallows) (or chocolate marshmallows):

3 env. unflavored gelatin
1 C cold water, divided
2 C sugar
1 C corn syrup
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp coconut flavoring
1/2 tsp vanilla

Ground toasted coconut

Line a 13 x 9 pan with foil and spray the foil with cooking spray.

Sprinkle the gelatin over 1/2 C water in a LARGE bowl and whisk quickly to break up the gelatin. Set that aside.

Combine the other 1/2 C water, sugar, corn syrup and salt in a pan. Bring to a boil over med-high heat, stirring only until the mixture comes to a boil. Bring to 240 degrees (use a candy thermometer, for heaven’s sake! They’re wonderful to have even if you don’t use them all that often.)

Once the syrup has reached 240 degrees, gradually pour the hot syrup mixture into the bowl with the gelatin, while the mixer is running. Then continue beating on high for 10 minutes or so, until the mixture is white, thick, and trying hard to climb up the beaters so it can engulf the mixer. Beat in the coconut and vanilla flavorings.

Or, for rose and cranberry marshmallows, beat in a bit of red food coloring, plus 1 C of minced cranberries and 1 1/2 tsp rosewater.

Pour and spread into prepared pan. The mixture will be VERY STICKY, so don’t bother trying to get ever bit of it out of the bowl. The kids can clean some of it out for you and then you can run hot water in the bowl to dissolve the rest.

Anyway, let the marshmallows sit, uncovered, in the pan, for six hours or overnight. Although I’ve rushed it with no ill effects, so I think four hours is enough, probably.

Lift the marshmallows out of the pan with the foil, lay it upside down on a cutting board, peel off the foil, and cut it into squares with a pizza cutter sprayed with cooking spray. Roll each square as you cut it in the coconut.

Or, if you made the rose/cranberry marshmallows, mix cornstarch and powdered sugar and toss the cut marshmallows in that.

Store at room temp in an airtight containger. Stores just fine for weeks, but they’re not likely to last that long.

I’ve also done this to make chocolate marshmallows: add 2/3 C cocoa powder to the gelatin before you beat in the syrup, then roll the finished marshmallows in a mixture of 1/3 cornstarch and 2/3 cocoa powder. Also very good!

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Blog / The Best Cookies In The World

And here is THE BEST COOKIE IN THE WORLD

Seriously. Even though there’s no chocolate, which I know seems like it’d take a cookie right out of the running. Even so, seriously, you have to try this cookie! I really think it’s a springtime cookie, but hey, try it out at Christmas, I don’t think anybody will complain!

I modified this recipe heavily, but the idea is based on a cookie from tigersandstrawberries.com — Barbara is an amazing cook.

Aphrodite Springtime Cookies

2 1/2 C flour
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
2/3 C buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
14 Tbsp unsalted butter,
1 C sugar
2 eggs

Filling:

1/2 stick butter
4 oz cream cheese
8 oz powdered sugar
2 tsp rose water
2 drops red food coloring

Whisk together dry ingredients. Combine buttermilk, egg, and vanilla.

Beat butter and sugar three minutes. Beat in flour mixture and buttermilk mixture alternately, beginning and ending with flour mixture.

If you think that this method is much more like you are making a butter cake than a cookie, you are right! These are the most cake-like cookies you can possibly make. They work perfectly with the filling, believe me.

Now, you can drop the cookie dough on parchment-lined baking sheets, but I STRONGLY SUGGEST piping the dough, which is MUCH faster and easier and gives you a lot more control over the size of the cookies, plue ensures they come out round. Make ’em small, like a tsp each.

Bake at 350 degrees for 6-8 minutes, until just barely brown around edges — you don’t want to overbake them.

Now combine the filling ingredients. Pipe the filling on half the cookies and top with the other half to make sandwich cookies.

These freeze beautifully, but because the cookies are so soft, you will find they stick to each other. Put waxed paper between layers.

If you have filling left over, ice cupcakes with it. In fact, if you make twice the filling, you’ll have enough to ice a whole layer cake! Mmmm.

When I was depressed last year after losing Adora’s only puppy from her first litter? These are the cookies I made. Then I sat down and read THE HUNGER GAMES and ate all the cookies. (Well, not all, but lots of them.) So that’s my prescription if you need a comforting evening after a hard couple of weeks: a really good dystopian story and a lot of really good cookies.

Extra note here: Adora’s two puppies this time around are doing great! Which does not stop me from eating cookies, but means I’m less inclined to eat them all myself.

Okay! Merry Christmas! See you after the holiday!

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Blog / The Best Cookies In The World

The must-try new cookie of the season

Can’t believe I never made this before! Already making plans to make ’em again, though of course not until I start running low on cookies, which I estimate will happen about March.

Anyway!

Walnut Horns

1 C butter, no substitutes
8 oz cream cheese
3 C flour

1 Tbsp butter, melted
4 C walnuts, toasted and ground
3/4 C sugar
1/4 C milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp salt

Additional sugar

Now, soften the butter — about ten seconds in the microwave. Add the cream cheese and zap another ten seconds or so. You don’t want the butter melted, just softened, it makes a difference. Beat the butter and cream cheese together, beat in the flour. Chill if necessary to make the dough easier to handle (I chilled it overnight just because that was convenient).

Divide the dough into fourths (I divided it into fifths to make smaller cookies, but suit yourself).

Roll out one portion of the dough into a 12 inch circle. Spread with 1/4 of the filling. Cut into 12 even wedges (I used a pizza cutter). Roll up each wedge from the wide end toward the tip. Curve gently into a crescent shape.

Bake at 325 degrees for 25-40 minutes (depending on how big you made your cookies, right?) until slightly golden.

Roll warm cookies in additional sugar.

Now, this is a pastry type of cookie and not a cookie type of cookie, right? These are sinfully rich and delicious, but in my opinion, although you can freeze them, they will lose a little in quality if you do, unlike a more cakey or shortbread type of cookie. Too bad! Worth making anyway!

I found the pastry easy to handle, so these were really no trouble at all to make. And they look very distinctive and pretty on the platter amid all the other cookies!

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