Wednesday, January 27, 2010


I said that coconut-apricot cookies are my favorite holiday treat that I make, but I am a good Scandinavian, and there’s no doubt that spritz are my favorite cookies that my mom makes. It wouldn’t be Christmas without them.

A few years ago, A’s mother handed down her family’s cookie press to me, and I eagerly set about trying it. But I made one misstep: I decided to use Carole Walter’s spritz recipe from Great Cookies instead of my mom’s. Before you go pointing your fingers at me and hissing, “Ungrateful daughter! Ungrateful daughter!”, keep in mind that since I already knew my mom would be making her spritz for Christmas, there was no point in my making the exact same recipe; plus, it would be fun to try something new, and Walter’s recipes are always impeccable, so maybe it would even be a fancy improvement. But of course, even though there was nothing wrong with the recipe, it wasn’t the spritz I craved. It was more like your standard butter cookie. So I relearned my lesson: mother knows best.

Even though my mom takes care of the spritz-making for our family, I still make spritz every Christmas for my friends in California and for A’s family—I figure that since I’ve been entrusted with the family cookie press, I should repay the kindness in cookies, because no one (at least, no one Swedish) should have to endure a spritz-less holiday. And I stick with the old recipe. The thing that seems to make it unique among the recipes I’ve compared it to—Walter’s and the one in the Betty Crocker Cooky Book—is that it uses powdered sugar instead of regular granulated. Maybe that’s what gives it such a perfect tender texture. That’s the big attraction for me, along with the almond flavor.

I think spritz tend to be underrated. They’re a regular feature of the holiday cookie plate, at least in Minnesota, most of the time the emphasis tends to be on form rather than flavor. They’re just sugar cookies that have been colored and shaped. I made the mistake of bringing some in for my office’s holiday cookie exchange one year, and I had an embarrassing amount of leftovers. A convinced me that people have just been conditioned to expect bad spritz, so few people even tried mine. Or maybe I just love spritz more than the average person. Anyway, I now bring a sexier (usually chocolate-based) cookie to the exchange and save the spritz for myself and others who appreciate them. But if you think spritz are nothing special, do try these and see if they change your mind.

These are really easy to make. The dough is really basic, and dying it with food coloring and sprinkling colored sugar on top is technically optional, though I recommend it for the full just-like-mom’s experience. Using the cookie press is really the only thing that requires a little expertise, or at least finesse, and even that’s not complex—it’s basically just a grown-up version of that device that used to force the Play-Do into different shapes, like star-shaped ropes or spaghetti strands . I’ve heard that if you buy a good-quality new one, like Wilton’s, you don’t need to swear at it quite so much, but I sort of enjoy having to do a bit of wrangling. It makes me that much prouder of the finished product. And luckily, even the deformed spritz taste good. (Although I do recommend sticking to the larger, rounder shapes, like the wreath and the tree or holly leaf or whatever that triangular thing is—it helps keep the cookies from overbrowning.)

1 cup butter, softened
1¼ cup powdered sugar
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
2½ cups flour
⅛ teaspoon salt
Red and green food coloring
Granulated sugar or sanding sugar

1. Stir together the flour and the salt in a medium bowl.

2. Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and the sugar in a large bowl. Mix in the almond and vanilla extracts and the egg. Gradually add the dry ingredients and mix until blended.

3. Divide the dough in half and place each half in a separate bowl. Add a few drops of red food coloring to one bowl and a few drops of green to the other. Mix each one (I use my hands for this) until the color is distributed throughout, adding more coloring if necessary to achieve your desired hue.

4. Wrap each dough ball in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour.

5. Preheat the oven to 375 and remove dough from refrigerator.

6. Press dough through a cookie press onto ungreased baking sheets.

7. Put a spoonful or two of granulated or sanding sugar into each of two bowls. Put a few drops of red food coloring into one bowl and green food coloring into the other, and stir each bowl until the color is distributed throughout the sugar. Sprinkle a pinch of colored sugar atop each cookie.

8. Bake for 6–8 minutes until firm but not browned, being careful not to overbake.

Yield: Maybe 4 dozen?
Time: 1½ hours, plus 1 hour chilling time
Leftover potential: Good; these keep well in the freezer.

Monday, January 25, 2010


It was the photo that lured me into making this recipe from The Kitchn (go and look at it, because my picture sucks with a suckiness I can only attribute to the distractingly mouthwatering aroma emanating from the plate, demanding that I sit down and eat, or possibly also the second night of the 24 season premiere, with Jack Bauer demanding that I sit down and eat), although I’m also unable to resist the keywords “lemon” and “garlic” and I continue to be on the lookout for easy weeknight main dishes I can pair with more complicated side dishes, like my favorite salad. (Which I wanted to make last week because A’s mom gave me walnut oil for Christmas. The recipe calls for walnut oil in the dressing, but I’d always used olive oil in the past because walnut is expensive. It turns out walnut oil is really, really tasty, and I’ve been using it in most of our salad dressings for the past month. Thanks, B!)

When I started cooking, I suddenly realized that this was basically just a simplified version of a recipe that’s already in my repertoire, but with garlic instead of potatoes and asparagus. Thus, I assumed it wouldn’t be a keeper. I mean, I figured it would make a fine dinner, but nothing special. So I was surprised when this easy, breezy little toss-it-into-a-pan-and-bake concoction turned out to be exceedingly delicious, worthy of celebration in its own right and not just as a quick-and-dirty desperation dinner. It yields moist, flavorful chicken with little effort (and, unusually, no added fat), and we enjoyed it so much that A mentioned it several times in the following days (“You know, that chicken we had the other night was really good…”).

So it turns out that this is, after all, a keeper. It was great with The Salad, but I found myself wishing for a side dish of potatoes (maybe these), the better to soak up extra super-lemony, super-garlicky juices.

8 pieces bone-in, skin-on chicken (1 whole cut-up chicken, or 4 halved breasts, or 4 thighs and 4 drumsticks)
3 lemons
15 cloves garlic, peeled
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Wash the lemons, slice them in half, and juice them. Place the lemon halves and juice in a 9-by-12-inch baking dish with the garlic cloves. Arrange the chicken pieces in the dish, skin side down, and sprinkle with salt and pepper and half of the thyme. Turn the pieces over so that they are skin side up, and sprinkle with salt and pepper and the remaining thyme.

3. Put the dish in the oven and bake the chicken for 30 to 40 minutes, basting every 10 minutes. When the skin gets crispy and the meat is cooked through, it’s done.

Serves: 4
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Good

Friday, January 22, 2010


Of all the treats I routinely make for Christmas, these may be my favorite—and they don’t even have chocolate in them. Almost every recipe I’ve tried from Carole Walter’s Great Cookies has been spectacular, but this is the most delicious and unique of the lot, and has earned an ardent following among those who’ve tasted the result.

It’s hard for me to detail what makes these cookies so fantastic without wanting to run to the kitchen and bake a batch for inspiration, but I’ll try to break it down for you from memory:

  1. They’re a coconut lover’s dream—not only is coconut mixed into the dough and then rolled onto the outside of the cookies, but coconut extract also adds a megahit of flavor. They’re like coconut macaroons that have ascended to a higher plane.
  2. Excellent use of apricots. I don’t especially like dried fruit in cookies, but the apricots taste great with the coconut and look so prettily stained-glass-like when the roll of dough is sliced.
  3. The texture: moist, tender, buttery, and a little chewy inside, surrounded by a crisp shell of browned coconut.
  4. The unusual egg yolk/milk wash that’s painted on the cookies just before baking gives them a sunny yellow color that makes me think of Easter.

Come to think of it, there’s nothing particularly Christmasy about these cookies; Christmas just happens to be the time when I’m in the mood to put a little more effort into my baking. And these do require more effort than your traditional drop cookie; you’ve got to divide the dough, roll it into logs, paint them with egg white, roll them in coconut, chill them, slice them, and then paint them with the egg yolk. But this technique is what makes them so special, and besides, having to chill the dough means you can divide the work over multiple days if you want to—I mixed it up and formed the logs one weekend, stuck them in the freezer, and then sliced and baked the next weekend.

1 10-ounce package sweetened, flaked coconut
2¼ cups all-purpose flour, spooned in and leveled
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup (6 ounces) dried apricots, chopped into ⅛-inch pieces
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly firm
¾ cup sugar
1 large egg
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon coconut extract
1 large egg white
2 teaspoons water
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon half-and-half or milk

1. Place the coconut in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse five or six times, then process until finely chopped. Set aside.

2. Strain together the flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl. Remove 2 tablespoons of the dry ingredients and toss with the apricots in a second small bowl. Set aside.

3. In the large bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the butter on medium-low speed. Pour in the sugar in a steady stream, and mix for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the egg and mix for 1 minute longer, scraping down the bowl as needed. Mix in the extracts.

4. Reduce the mixer speed to low and blend in 1¾ cups of coconut. Add the dry ingredients in 2 additions, mixing only to combine after each addition. Using a large rubber spatula, mix in the apricots.

5. Shape the dough into three logs, each measuring about 8 inches long and 1½ inches in diameter. Place the remaining coconut on a 15-inch sheet of wax paper. Whisk together the egg white and the water in a small bowl. Brush one log of dough with the egg wash, then place the log on the coconut, positioning it so that the length of the log is parallel to the short sides of the wax paper. Grasp each side of the wax paper, lift the paper off the counter, and, moving your hands up and down, roll the log to coat it with the coconut. Wrap the log in plastic, twisting the ends of the wrap tightly to secure. Repeat with the remaining two logs, and then refrigerate all three for at least 1 hour or until firm. (This dough will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or may be frozen for 1 month.)

6. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

7. Using a sharp knife with a thin blade, slice each log of dough into ⅜-inch-thick slices, turning the log every two or three cuts to maintain the shape, and place on ungreased baking sheets about 2 inches apart. If the dough tears when slicing, press it back together.

8. Using a fork, mix the egg yolk and the half-and-half or milk in a shallow bowl, then lightly brush the tops of the cookies with the glaze.

9. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until lightly browned around the edges (to ensure even browning, rotate the baking sheets from top to bottom and back to front near the end of the baking time). Do not overbake. Remove from the oven and let stand for 1 minute before loosening with a thin metal spatula. Transfer to cooling racks.

Yields: 6 dozen 2-inch cookies
Time: 1¼ hours, plus 1 hour chilling
Leftover potential: High; can be frozen

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Even though I consider myself a major vegetable fan, I hadn’t really tried fennel before (the bulb, I mean; my father loves fennel seed and instilled an appreciation for it in me, even though I don’t really care for other licorice-flavored items). I’m pleased to report that it is delicious, at least when caramelized and heaped onto pizza. Also delicious: kale pesto! If you’re unsure about trying kale, kale pesto is a good gateway drug. Although it tastes quite different from basil pesto, it’s not especially kale-like, just garlicky and green (if you gave it to me in a blind taste test, I might have guessed that it was spinach pesto, although in my opinion it also had a certain ineffable something that made it tastier than spinach). It’s a genius way to get your winter veggies, or to use up any extra kale that you might have lying around, and I imagine it tastes great in any context where you might use pesto (on pasta, bread, etc.).

I also love sausage and needed to make a new batch of pizza sausage anyway, so this recipe from Eggs on Sunday was an all-around win for me, heaped with bold, hearty, wintry flavors that complimented each other tremendously well. It was a bit more labor-intensive than my other pizza recipes, but having premade my own sausage cut down on the work, and there’s no reason you couldn’t make the pesto or caramelize the fennel ahead of time, too. But even if it took hours I’d still be panting to make it again—and you can bet I’ll be bookmarking more fennel recipes posthaste.

(You may notice that I rearranged the order of the items in the title, and that's because when I told someone I was making “pizza with sausage, caramelized fennel, and kale pesto,” they thought that meant that all three items were ground up together in the pesto, less appetizing-sounding.)

2 cups (packed) trimmed kale
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic
Salt to taste
¼ cup + 1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large fennel bulb (or 2 smaller ones), thinly sliced
1 pinch sugar
½ pound hot Italian sausage
1 pound pizza dough
1–2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

1. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add fennel, a pinch of sugar, and a pinch of salt. Reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until soft and caramelized.

2. Meanwhile, remove casings from sausage and brown in a skillet over medium heat, crumbling with the back of a spoon. (Or you can use 8 ounces of ’Atsa Spicy Pizza Sausage and skip this step.)

3. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and blanch the kale for 2 minutes. Drain and squeeze out excess water. Add kale, Parmesan, garlic, and salt to the bowl of a blender or food processor and puree until fairly smooth. Add the olive oil and process until a smooth, loose paste forms.

4. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Roll out the pizza dough and place on a cornmeal-dusted baking sheet. Spread the kale pesto over the dough, then top with shredded mozzarella, caramelized fennel, and sausage.

5. Bake until the crust is golden and cheese is bubbly, about 8 minutes.

Serves: 4
Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Leftover potential: Good, especially if reheated in the oven

Friday, January 15, 2010


Aaaaand…we’re back to cookies. Spice cookies (gingerbread, pfeffernusse, etc.) are traditional at Christmas, but I can never muster up much enthusiasm for them—especially when I could be having chocolate instead. Still, when planning my holiday assortment, I feel compelled to add the quintessential wintry flavors to the mix, and Carole Walter’s Madras Cookies (from Great Cookies) fit the bill perfectly. They’re festively redolent of spice and orange zest, but the curry powder defies the usual ginger/cinnamon hegemony, and coconut and almond—two tastes I find it hard to resist—play major supporting roles. The cookies have a complex flavor, but they’re still subtle enough to be crowd-pleasers. In other words, you don’t bite into them and say, “Oh, curry”; it just adds a certain je ne sais quoi. These are just basically just a spice cookie with a twist, but it’s a good one.

I won’t lie; Carole Walter is always a demanding mistress (I appreciate the careful specificity of her instructions, down to precisely how many minutes to run the stand mixer at each stage, but occasionally while making one of her recipes I find myself rolling my eyes at some of the hoops she wants me to jump through, even though I’m sure they do make the cookies better), and this recipe is a bit fussy, what with needing to toast the curry powder and grind the almonds and chop the coconut and everything, but I assure you that in this case, all the steps are important. I once substituted almond meal for grinding the almonds myself, and the cookies just weren’t the same—the nubbly texture I achieved in my wimpy mini food processor gave them so much more character. So put your trust in Carole.

2 teaspoons mild curry powder
2½ cups all-purpose flour, spooned in and leveled
1 cup plus about 50 (scant ½ cup) unblanched whole almonds, toasted
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly firm
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
⅔ cup granulated sugar
⅔ cup lightly packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut (Carole likes you to chop your coconut in a food processor ahead of time; I don’t always do this, but I admit that it does improve the texture of the cookies by eliminating long, troublesome strands)

1. Heat the curry powder in a small, heavy skillet over low heat for 15 to 30 seconds until fragrant. Set aside to cool.

2. Place the flour, 1 cup of almonds, toasted curry powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a food processor bowl fitted with the steel blade. Pulse 10 to 12 times, then process for 1 minute or until the mixture is finely chopped and cakey. Set aside.

3. In the large bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the butter and orange zest on medium-low speed until creamy and lightened in color. Add the granulated sugar in a steady stream, then add the brown sugar and mix for about 1 minute. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each, then add the vanilla, scraping the bowl as needed. Add the dry ingredients in three additions, mixing just until blended after each addition. Using a large wooden spoon, fold in the coconut.

4. Chill the dough for 20 to 30 minutes, or until firm enough to roll into balls.

5. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees and moderately butter your baking sheets.

6. Roll the dough in the palms of your hands to form 1-inch balls and place about 2 inches part on the baking sheets. Gently press a whole almond into the center of each cookie. Using the heel of your hand, flatten the cookie into a 1½-inch disk.

7. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until the edges are golden brown (toward the end of the baking time, rotate the baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back). Remove from oven and let stand 2 to 3 minutes before loosening with a thin metal spatula. Transfer to cooling racks.

Yields: 50 2-inch cookies
Time: 1½ hours, plus 30 minutes chilling
Leftover potential: High; can be frozen

Thursday, January 14, 2010


We interrupt Cookiefest to bring you a salad break—and I’m sure we could all use one, right? This recipe from Jamie Oliver (via Serious Eats) is a real winner, jazzing up barely-blanched broccoli (cooked just enough to lose that raw bitterness, but not enough to sacrifice crunch) with bacon and an addictive bacony-vinegary-mustardy-garlicky dressing that seeps into every little crevice of the broccoli. Tomatoes add nice color and acidity and the chives a subtle oniony flavor, but the real star is the broccoli. Even if you never envisioned yourself downing the green stuff by the bowlful, this might change your ways. Both A and I loved it, and although I served it on the side of some salmon, in the summer it could make a fine main dish on its own.

This most exciting thing about making this recipe was that I got to use my brand-new cast-iron skillet for frying the bacon, woohoo! There’s not too much else to note; I followed all directions as written, except that I decreased the olive oil from 6 tablespoons to 4, both because that seemed like a lot of fat for a dressing that already included bacon grease and because I could see that we weren’t going to need all that dressing anyway (I don’t like my salad drowning in dressing, so I didn’t use the whole bowl). Besides, I prefer an acidic dressing (I make my usual one with about half lemon juice and half oil). I also subbed in cherry tomatoes, because I like them so much in salads and they’re better this time of year than Romas, When summer comes, a mix of red and yellow cherry tomatoes will be so pretty against the green of the broccoli.

2 heads of broccoli, about 1½ pounds
4 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into matchsticks
2 roma tomatoes, halved, seeded, and finely chopped (or about a cup of cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered)
1 bunch fresh chives (15 to 20), finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced or pressed
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
4–6 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Meanwhile, trim the woody ends from the broccoli and trim the heads up into small florets of about equal size. When the water comes to a boil, blanch the broccoli for 1–2 minutes, until they are starting to get tender but still have bite in the middle. Drain in a colander and spread out on a kitchen towel to steam dry, about 15 minutes.

2. In the meantime, cook the bacon in a large skillet with a splash of olive oil over medium-low heat until the fat renders into the pan and the bacon is crisp but still slightly chewy.

3. Drain the fat collected in the bacon pan into a bowl and add the garlic, dijon, and vinegar. Whisk well to combine into an emulsion, then add the olive oil slowly in a stream, whisking constantly. Season to taste with salt and pepper and taste also for acidity, adding more vinegar or oil if needed.

4. Toss the broccoli with the tomatoes, bacon, chives, and dressing.

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: OK if eaten within a few days

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Even though my favorite way to celebrate Christmas is by making, giving, receiving, and eating homemade goodies, one of my most beloved holiday treats is a storebought product: Candy Cane Joe-Joe’s, the limited-edition version of Trader Joe’s take on Oreos. Ordinary Joe-Joe’s are plenty good too, by the way, made without preservatives and with a far superior texture than Oreos and actual vanilla-bean flecks in the filling, but I can still resist them most of the time in favor of my homemade fare. When Candy Cane Joe-Joe’s appear on the shelves, however, I must buy them and hoard them (I currently have one stashed in my freezer, awaiting the time when my post-holiday healthy eating kick wears away and I can fulfill my longtime plan of making Candy Cane Joe-Joe cookies-and-cream ice cream). They’re like Thin Mints on crack, or possibly made with crack, featuring a strong but not toothpastey peppermint flavor and a nice crunch from real bits of candy canes in the filling. They have become my gold standard for all things chocolate-peppermint, a combo I always crave when December rolls around.

I have longed to share the joy of Candy Cane Joe-Joe’s with my loved ones, but handing out $2.99 boxes of prepacked cookies at the holidays seems gauche. Yet I’d never considered trying to make my own chocolate-peppermint treats until I saw this recipe for peppermint bark chocolate cookies a couple of years ago. Perhaps it would capture the Candy Cane Joe-Joe's magic in a homemade form? I made them last Christmas, and they were…fine, but not what I was hoping for. The chocolate flavor wasn’t very intense, and the texture was uninspiring (I think I overbaked them a bit, which didn’t help). So this year I decided to try subbing peppermint bark into Carole Walter’s recipe for chocolate chocolate-chip cookies. I hadn’t tried this exact cookie before, but nearly everything in Great Cookies is, well, great, and having sampled some of her other chocolate-cookie recipes, I knew the chocolate flavor would be there.

The result? Much improved, definitely chocolatey, and complimented by many who tasted it, but still not the chocolate-peppermint cookie of my dreams. Maybe I should have put some peppermint extract in the cookie itself? Or maybe I should just make peppermint bark next year and skip the cookie entirely, which would be much less labor-intensive and equally enjoyable to eat? Besides, maybe there’s a classy way I can give away Candy Cane Joe-Joe’s, after all: This year I spotted a fancy new version of them for sale, dipped in chocolate and sprinkled with crushed candy canes. Purely for research purposes, I bought and sampled them, and they were indeed delicious, but it was verging on highway robbery—the package cost more than a box of the unadorned cookies and was half the size. It would be a simple and much more affordable matter to dip them in melted chocolate and decorate with candy cane pieces myself! Hmmm…

In the meantime, however, if you love chocolate and peppermint and don’t live near a Trader Joe’s, or have to wait 11 months before Candy Cane Joe-Joe’s season arrives again, these cookies are an excellent choice. And if for some reason you hate peppermint with chocolate, you can revert to the original recipe by substituting 12 ounces of good-quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chunks or chips for the peppermint bark and have yourself some darn fine chocolate chocolate chip cookies.

8 ounces good-quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup all-purpose flour, spooned in and leveled
2 tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, slightly firm
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ cup lightly packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons hot water
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
12 ounces peppermint bark, cut into ¼- to ½-inch chunks

1. In a medium bowl over a pot of simmering water on low heat, slowly melt the 8 ounces of chocolate and keep warm.

2. Strain together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl and set aside.

3. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the butter on medium-low speed until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Add the granulated sugar, then the brown sugar, and mix until well blended and lightened in color 2 to three minutes. Add the eggs, mixing until well combined, scraping the bowl as needed. Blend in the warm melted chocolate, then the hot water and vanilla extract.

4. Reduce the mixer speed to low and blend in the dry ingredients in two additions, mixing until just combined. Using a large rubber spatula, fold in the peppermint bark chunks.

5. Chill the dough for 1 hour.

6. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and moderately butter your baking sheets.

7. Drop 1½-inch mounds of dough from the tip of a tablespoon onto baking sheets, placing them about 3 inches apart. Scrape down the side of the bowl occasionally to endure even distribution of peppermint bark.

8. Bake for 10 to 11 minutes, rotating the baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back towards the end of the baking time. The cookies will look underdone, but they will firm up as they cool. Remove from oven and let stand for 1 or 2 minutes, then loosen with a thin metal spatula. When firm enough to handle, transfer to cooling racks.

Yield: About 4 dozen
Time: 1 hour, plus 1 hour of chilling
Leftover potential: High; can be frozen

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


We always have almond bark for Christmas, but I’d never really heard of or eaten peppermint bark before I got an itch to make peppermint bark cookies last Christmas (the cookies are a whole separate saga in themselves and will be discussed in a later post). So I made peppermint bark using this recipe and, although I accidentally bought “mint extract” (i.e., spearmint) instead of peppermint extract, giving my bark a distinct hint of chewing-gum flavor, I was impressed by how easy, pretty, and tasty the finished product was. I always think I don’t like white chocolate, but it does often have an allure, especially with the mint enhancing its cool creaminess…sort of like the inside of a peppermint patty, but less cloying. I used the peppermint bark in my cookies as planned, but noticed that the leftover fragments of the bark on their own were also well received.

So this year I thought I’d one-up myself by making this awesome-looking triple-layer peppermint bark to put into the cookies. Then I got sort of tired and scaled back to just two layers, one white one dark, basing my efforts on this recipe—although I added some peppermint extract (actual peppermint this time) to one layer because I liked the mintiness of the white chocolate last year. It was a cinch to make and turned out so deliciously that next year I’m thinking of skipping the cookies entirely and just concentrating on the peppermint bark! This is one of the simplest holiday treats around (melt, pour, and repeat!), but it looks fancy enough to make a nice gift when packaged in a cute bag or tin.

This year, I noticed peppermint bark for sale in stores everywhere at holiday time, often for upwards of $10 a pound. People, I implore you, please don’t waste your hard-earned money on that when you can do it yourself without breaking a sweat (well, unless you get a bit too aggressive while crushing those candy canes) for half the price!

1 pound dark (semisweet or bittersweet) chocolate chips (or a bar cut into squares)
1 pound white chocolate chips (or a bar cut into squares)
6 ounces (1 regular package) candy canes
½ to 1 teaspoon peppermint extract

1. Unwrap the candy canes, place them in a plastic zip-top bag, and crush them with a rolling pin, mug, mallet, or small hammer. Don’t pulverize them; you want the pieces to be pretty fragments, not sand—but you don’t want huge chunks, either. A variety of sizes and textures is nice.

2. Line a large baking sheet with waxed paper.

3. Melt the dark chocolate over a double boiler until smooth. Spread (with an offset or rubber spatula) in an even layer on the baking sheet. Place in refrigerator or freezer to harden, approximately 30 minutes.

4. Melt the white chocolate over a double boiler until smooth, then stir in peppermint extract. Spread white chocolate on top of the dark chocolate layer. Working quickly before the white chocolate sets, sprinkle the crushed candy canes on top and gently press into the chocolate. Refrigerate until complete hard and set, at least 2 hours.

5. Place a second sheet of waxed paper over the top of the slab of peppermint bark (to protect your hands from the sharp peppermint pieces and keep the chocolate from melting) and break bark into pieces. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer.

Yield: 2 pounds
Time: 30 minutes hands-on, plus 2½ hours of hardening
Leftover potential: High. Keeps great in the freezer.

Monday, January 11, 2010


Happy new year! I know that after the holidays know we’re all sick of sweets and snacks and trying to eat light and healthy fare. Believe me, one of my goals for the month (possibly the year, but I’m not making any promises) is along the lines of “more kale, fewer cookie plates.” But I’ve got all these recipes from my Christmas baking burning a hole in my pocket now—I didn’t share them in December because I didn’t really want to reveal the secret formulas right before I gave everyone treat assortments as gifts,* and also because I needed time to photograph them all—and I don’t want to wait a whole year until they’re more seasonally appropriate to post. So: things are going to be retroactively cookie-intense around here for a little while. But I’ll try to at least throw a few kale recipes into the mix as well.

(*I still feel a little shifty about sharing the recipes, like it’ll ruin the magic or something. I already posted all my jam recipes (and jam featured heavily in my gift-giving this year) when I was desperate for material during NaBloPoMo, so I guess I’m already on the slippery slope. I’m counting on all of you to forget this little peek behind the curtain by the time next Christmas rolls around and I hand you your treats. Or at least be too busy or lazy to simply whip them up yourself now that you’ve seen how easy they are.)

I’m always hoping to make more savory goodies to share at holiday time, because everyone (including me) gets so overloaded on the sweets, but the only savory recipe I’ve managed to get around to is this one. Luckily, it’s a doozy. I’ve made it for the past two years, and only financial concerns (cashews can be pricy) prevent me from making dozens of pounds at a time. This year I made a triple recipe and barely had a handful for myself. But that’s probably for the best, because I think I could eat these addictive little gems until I burst—which is why, even though they’d be perfect for any party or just a relaxing evening in front of the TV, I try to forget about them for the other 11 months of the year. They’re not particularly unwholesome if eaten in moderation (only a touch of butter, sugar, and salt), but moderation is hard to achieve when these are around. They’re just the perfect mix of salty, sweet, spicy and savory, with a festive green pine-needle zip from the rosemary. (Don’t skimp on the rosemary! Spice-phobes can cut back the cayenne and sodium-watchers can dial down the salt, but the rosemary makes the recipe.)

The recipe is from the Barefoot Contessa; taking a tip from the commenters, I modified the procedure slightly to add the butter and then the spices to give everything to stick to the cashews. It’s still a struggle, but you’ll have a better chance of success with this method—and luckily, I’ve found that most snackers find the stray crumbs of butter-sugar-spice-herb debris quite as tasty as the cashews themselves. Aside from the mixing issues, this recipe is hard to mess up—as long as you don’t scorch the cashews! For the love of all that’s good and holy, watch those cashews in the oven like a hawk, because there is nothing sadder than spending upwards of $5 per pound on some nuts and then ruining them right off the bat. I speak from experience. However, I can also attest that as long as they aren’t blackened, even the overcooked cashews are pretty tasty when the seasoning is applied, so you can always save that batch for yourself and make better ones to give away.

1¼ pounds unsalted cashew nuts (this is sort of an odd amount; at Trader Joe’s the cashews come in one-pound bags, so that’s what I usually use and it’s fine)
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
1 tablespoon melted butter

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. Place the nuts on an ungreased baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes until they are warmed through. (Watch them very closely to avoid burning. You don’t really want them to get especially brown; you just want them to be lightly toasted and activate their oils enough for the seasonings to stick.)

3. Meanwhile, combine the rosemary, pepper, sugar, and salt in a small bowl. Place the melted butter in a separate small bowl (or just use the container you melted it in). Have a large empty mixing bowl and a rubber spatula ready.

4. When you remove the nuts from the oven, immediately pour them into the large bowl, and working quickly, drizzle the butter over them, add the seasonings, and then toss well with the spatula. Serve warm or (once cooled) store in an airtight container (they’re even better the next day). Can be frozen for longer storage.

Yields: 1¼ pounds
Time: 20 minutes
Leftover potential: High, if you don’t scarf them all down immediately. They’ll stay fresh in the freezer for weeks.