whole wheat biscotti with pistachios, apricots, chocolate, and lavender

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Sometimes you want the comfortable and familiar. You want brownies. You want vanilla or strawberry ice cream. And who am I to begrudge you a good ol’ chocolate chip cookie craving?

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Sometimes, though, maybe you want something more interesting, maybe even a bit challenging. You want something more adult. But you should keep the chocolate. This is dessert we’re talking about here, a treat, not a chore.

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For those times, you can add fruit. Nuts, maybe. Use whole grains and unrefined sugar. Add…flowers?  Why not?

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I made a half batch of these for a gathering of myself, Dave, and two of our guy friends. They were all gone (except one, which was perfect with coffee the next morning) by the end of the evening, and I swear I didn’t eat them all myself! Grown-up food isn’t so bad.

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One year ago: Ginger Fried Rice
Two years ago: Green Pea Ravioli with Lemon Broth
Three years ago: Pizza with Figs, Prosciutto, Gorgonzola, Balsamic, and Arugula
Four years ago: Pan-Roasted Asparagus
Five years ago: Sichuan Green Beans

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Whole Wheat Biscotti with Pistachios, Apricots, Chocolate, and Lavender
(adapted from 5 Second Rule)

Makes 72 1-inch bites

You can probably choose one type of sugar and one type of flour. I was hedging my bets on the healthier additions.

I used 6 ounces of chocolate, and it was delicious but too much for the dough to hold onto, so I’ve reduced it slightly.

1 cup (4.8 ounces) whole wheat flour
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons (3 ounces) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) turbinado sugar
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 extra-large eggs
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 ounces (¾ cup) semisweet chocolate chips, chopped
½ cup finely diced dried apricots
½ cup pistachios, rough-chopped
1 teaspoon dried lavender

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mats or parchment paper.

2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the flours, sugars, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs until well combined, then add the olive oil and vanilla extract. Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture and use a rubber spatula to stir the ingredients until the dry ingredients are evenly moistened. Stir in the chocolate, apricots, pistachios, and lavender.

3. On a dry work surface, knead the dough until it’s no longer sticky. Transfer it to the prepared baking sheet and press into a ½-inch thick rectangle measuring about 10 by 6 inches. Bake for 22 to 25 minutes, or until the top no longer looks raw. Transfer the baking sheet with the dough to a cooling rack. Let dough cool for at least 5 minutes.
4. Transfer the dough to a cutting board. Cut each block into 6 long strips, then cut each strip at 1-inch intervals to form squares. Transfer the pieces back to the baking sheet. Bake for 10-14 minutes, until the squares just begin to brown at the edges. Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack to cool completely.

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green pig macarons (green tea macarons with vanilla bean swiss meringue buttercream)

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These might have come out okay in the end, but it was looking bleak at first – and in the middle, and even a bit toward the end. I might have been overly confident when I agreed to make shaped macarons, with just one previous attempt at the notoriously finicky cookie. To make matters worse, the inspiration blog entry was written in Hebrew.

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I’m not the first person to make shaped macarons, but most people are using the traditional method for macarons, the one I used last year, in which egg whites are beaten with granulated sugar until stiff peaks form, then almond meal and powdered sugar are folded into the mixture. It’s fussy – the egg whites need to be aged overnight, just the right amount of folding is necessary to deflate the meringue just so, and the piped batter needs to sit at room temperature for an hour before baking. Annie promised to have a simpler, more dependable method, and I wanted to try it.

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In this method, half of the egg whites are mixed into the almond meal and powdered sugar; the other half are whipped into a meringue with hot sugar syrup, then folded into the pasty almond meal mixture. The cookies are piped and baked immediately.

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It sounded simple enough, but things started going wrong early on. First I ran out of almond meal, which I discovered after I’d measured out egg whites, sugar, and water to the gram. I had some slivered (not blanched; they still had skins) almonds in the pantry, so I ground those up and mixed them into the batter. One obstacle was overcome.

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My next mistake was adding too much of the meringue mixture to the almond meal mixture. You’re only supposed to add as much of the meringue mixture for “thick ribbons to batter to run off the spatula”, but that required all of the meringue for me, and at that point, the batter was too loose, and the cookies spread when I piped them.

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My next problem – there was always a next problem on this particular day – was trying to get the nose and ears on top of the main body of the cookie. Eventually I found that the best method seemed to be baking the plain macarons for the specified time, then piping the nose and ears on the firm surface of the cookie and rebaking them for a few minutes until the smaller portions set. The cookies seemed no worse for the extra time in the oven.

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It’s a good thing that the Angry Birds pigs aren’t pristine shapes even in their original format on the game, because my cookies were anything but round, with ears of indeterminate size and shape. Sometimes the ears blended right into the rest of the cookie; sometimes the noses caved in. And by this point, my kitchen was covered in macaron batter, which, by the way, turns into concrete when it dries, and my bread dough was overrising while seemingly infinite batches of macarons hogged the oven.

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The piggie faces, thankfully, were mostly saved by the addition of nostrils and pupils. Eyebrowns drawn on with a edible marker didn’t hurt either. And I think it speaks volumes about the dependability of this recipe that with all my foibles, the macarons rose enough to somewhat form those elusive foamy feet. (Not that my troubles were completely over.) But while they might not be as pristine as I had intended, the 6-year-old birthday boy didn’t seem to mind. I’m going to call this kitchen battle conquered, though it wasn’t easy.

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One year ago: Chocolate Sugar Cookies
Two years ago: Fettuccini Alfredo
Three years ago: Toasted Vegetable Subs
Four years ago: Red Velvet Cake (comparison of 5 recipes)
Five years ago: Vanilla Frosting (comparison of 4 recipes)

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Green Pig Macarons (Green Tea Macarons with Vanilla Bean Swiss Meringue Buttercream) (adapted from Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel’s Bouchon Bakery via Annie’s Eats)

Makes 24 sandwich cookies

The very small amounts of almond meal, powdered sugar, and egg whites are for the white eyes. If you’re just making regular green tea macarons, you can skip that.

Where I went wrong with the batter was adding too much meringue. Once I got to the point where I had thick ribbons of batter, it was definitely too much meringue and the batter was too loose, spreading on the baking sheet. All I can recommend to correct this, until I gain more experience with macaron-making, is that you watch for VERY thick ribbons of batter falling off the spatula.

Green tea cookies:
212 grams almond meal, plus 16 grams
212 grams powdered sugar, plus 16 grams
1½ teaspoons matcha powder
82 and 90 grams egg whites, plus 6 grams (about 6 eggs total)
236 grams granulated sugar, plus ¼ teaspoon
158 grams water

Vanilla bean buttercream:
2 egg whites
½ cup (3.5 ounces) granulated sugar (vanilla sugar if you have it)
pinch table salt
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
seeds from ½ vanilla bean
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. For the cookies: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place a rack in the middle of the oven. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Fit one pastry bag with a ½-inch round tip and two with ¼-inch round tips (for the white eyes and the green ears and nose).

2. In a large bowl, combine the 212 grams almond meal, 212 grams powdered sugar, and matcha powder. Whisk together to blend and break up any clumps. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in 82 grams of the egg whites. Blend the egg whites into the dry ingredients until evenly mixed. The mixture will be thick and paste-like. For the white eyes, in a small bowl, mix together the 16 grams of powdered sugar, 16 grams of almond meal, and 6 grams of egg whites.

3. Combine 236 grams granulated sugar and the water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. When the temperature is around 210 degrees, combine the 90 gram portion of egg whites with ¼ teaspoon sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Begin whipping on medium-low speed. Continue whipping the whites on medium speed until they form soft peaks. If soft peaks are achieved before the syrup reaches the target temperature, reduce the speed to low to keep the whites moving.

4. Once the syrup reaches 248 degrees, immediately remove it from the heat. Increase the mixer speed to medium and pour the syrup down the side of the bowl in a slow drizzle until fully incorporated. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and whip the meringue until stiff, glossy peaks form.

5. Add one third of the meringue mixture to the bowl with the almond mixture with the matcha. Fold in gently until the mixture is smooth. A bit at a time, gently fold in the remaining meringue until the batter is smooth and runs in thick ribbons off of the spatula. You may not need all of the meringue, so add it gradually. Repeat the process with the white batter.

6. Add most of the green batter to the pastry bag with the ½-inch tip. Hold the bag perpendicular to the baking sheet about ½-inch above the surface of the pan. Steadily pipe rounds about 1¼- to 1½-inches in diameter. The batter may create small peaks immediately after piping, but if it is the correct texture these will smooth themselves away after a minute or two. If the batter is too stiff, the peaks will remain and the tops of the shells may not be totally smooth. If the batter is too thin, the rounds will spread further.

7. For the ears: Transfer some green batter to a piping bag with a ¼-inch tip. Pipe small ears adjacent to the larger circles of batter.

8. Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 325 degrees. Bake for 9-12 minutes, until the tops are smooth and set and “feet” have formed around the bottom.

9. Transfer the white batter to a piping bag with an ⅛-inch tip. Remove the baked cookies from the oven and immediately pipe on a green nose in the middle of the circle and 2 white eyes to the side of the nose. Return the cookies to the oven for 3-4 minutes, until the nose and eyes are set. Add noses and eyes only to every other batch; the backs of the sandwiches will just need ears.

10. Transfer the baking sheet with the cookies to a cooling rack; cool 5 minutes, then peel the cookies away from the parchment and transfer to a cooling rack. Repeat as needed with the remaining batter, replacing the parchment paper with each batch, bringing the oven temperature back up to 350 degrees before baking each sheet.

11. For the buttercream: In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl if using a hand-held mixer), combine the egg whites, sugar, and salt. Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Whisk constantly until the mixture reaches 160 degrees.

12. Fit the mixer with the whisk attachment; beat the egg white mixture on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and it has cooled to room temperature, about 8 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and add the butter 2 tablespoons at a time, adding more once each addition has been incorporated. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until the buttercream is thick and smooth, 3-5 minutes. Add the vanilla seeds and extract; mix until incorporated.

13. To assemble: Pipe the buttercream onto the flat sides of half of the cookies. Top with the remaining cookies. Serve immediately or cover and store overnight in the refrigerator (bring to cool room temperature before serving).

Thirteen steps, and I forgot to tell you how to make the project-saving eyes and nostrils. Powdered sugar + milk + food coloring, stirred until smooth and dripped off the end of a toothpick.  Tedious, but it got the job done.

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rosemary gruyere and sea salt crisps

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Pretty much every year, I get it into my head that I want to make a big Thanksgiving-style turkey dinner. Geography doesn’t allow me to host the holiday for either my family or my in-laws, so I usually end up doing it on a random weekend in December. This time I had to wait until January. (My “insane amount of time spent in the kitchen” project for December was the Star Wars cookies, and there wasn’t time for another big project.)

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I had some friends over, and they brought the stuffing, but the rest was up to me. I spent almost one full day of a 3-day weekend preparing as much as I could ahead of time and the greater part of the next day cooking, then entertaining. It was glorious.

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I served these, along with glazed pecans and butternut squash phyllo cigars, as a snack before dinner (insurance against dinner being late – which, miracle of miracles, it wasn’t!). They’re a great recipe for a big meal like this, because almost all of the work can be done in advance – far in advance – and you still get to serve perfectly fresh crackers. I mixed, rolled, cut, docked, and froze the dough the weekend beforehand. The day of my dinner, all that was left to do was transfer the crackers to a baking sheet, spritz with water, and top with salt.  And beyond their convenience, their eminent snackability make these little grown-up Cheez-Its perfect for before a feast.

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One year ago: Chickpea and Rosemary Soup
Two years ago: Curry Coconut Chickpea Soup
Three years ago: Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese
Four years ago: Crispy Baked Chicken Strips
Five years ago: Caramel Flan

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Rosemary Gruyere and Sea Salt Crisps (from Deb Perelman’s The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook)

6 ounces (1½ cups) shredded Gruyere cheese
4 tablespoons butter
¾ cup (3.6 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon finely minced fresh rosemary (from about 1 sprig)
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more for sprinkling

1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor, processing continuously until the mixture resembles coarse, craggy crumbs, about 2 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a large sheet of plastic wrap, gather it together into a ball, and flatten it into a thick square. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 15-20 minutes.

2. On a floured work surface, roll the dough to about ⅛-inch thickness. Cut the dough into 1-inch pieces. Dock each cracker with a skewer, then brush with water and sprinkle with sea salt. Transfer the crackers to a parchment- or silicone-lined baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes, or until the bottoms are lightly browned.

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christmas star wars cookies

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I’m exceptionally proud of these cookies. Not necessarily for how they came out in the end, although I’m pleased with that too. But mostly for coming up with the idea completely on my own.

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This is rare for me – I’m a good idea copier, and a proficient idea alterer, but a poor idea generator. I don’t even remember how I came up with the idea of Star Wars Christmas cookies, except that I wanted to send my in-laws cookies for Christmas and didn’t know how I could possibly live up to the original Star Wars cookies I sent them last spring. And, okay, maybe the picture of Darth Maul in a Santa suit on the front of the Star Wars Lego advent calendar we got our nephews for an early Christmas present helped.

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But my creativity didn’t end with just coming up with the idea. Googling “Christmas Darth Vader”, “Christmas Yoda”, and “Christmas Stormtrooper” just showed me a few pictures of each character wearing a Santa hat. That wasn’t going to cut it, because I wanted the characters to be different.

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Combining the ultimate Star Wars bad guy and the ultimate Christmas good guy to make Vader Santas was a given, and the white stormtroopers would work well for snowmen. Yoda’s wide earspan would make good antlers, and hopefully the red nose would make the Rudolph idea obvious. That left Boba Fett…my least favorite of the character shapes got left with the leftover idea, and he just ended up with an elf hat.

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It seems to have worked out, because we gave the cookies to a 4-year-old, and he identified the Star Wars/Christmas connection of each cookie immediately…except for Boba, and that’s no surprise. He’s got a red and green hat, that’s Christmassy enough. And hey, if that’s the best I can come up with, at least it was my own idea. And Rudolph Yoda’s red nose makes up for any weaknesses in the vaguely elf-like Boba.

One year ago: Herb-Roasted Pork Loin
Two years ago: Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls
Three years ago: Twice-Baked Potatoes
Four years ago: Pumpkin Seed Brittle

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gingerbread cookies

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I have what I admit is a random prejudice against crisp, crunchy cookies. I want soft, I want tender, I want chewy. I think most people, or at least most people of my generation, agree with me, but I doubt it was always this way. Surely there was a time when crisp cookies were at least as popular as soft ones. How else would we have gingersnaps?

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Obviously when I went looking for a gingerbread cookie recipe, “snap” wasn’t going to be part of the title. I wanted chewy and sweet but not too sweet and spicy but not too spicy.

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What I got was just about the perfect cookie – by my soft cookie standards. It puffed quite a bit in the oven, but not enough to lose its shape. It could use some more spice, but that’s easy to fix next time. More importantly, it was just the right level of sweetness, and even better, perfectly chewy. At least I thought so; Dave said he prefers his ginger cookies crunchier. Unfortunately for him, the only way he’ll get snappier gingerbread cookies is to make them himself, because this recipe was too perfect for me to try another.

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One year ago: Pizza with Butternut Squash and Kale
Two years ago: Red Pepper Risotto
Three years ago: Steak au Poivre
Four years ago: Sausage Apple Hash

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Gingerbread Cookies
(slightly adapted from Gourmet via epicurious)

Makes about 3 dozen, depending on the size of your cookie cutters

I chilled my cut cookies on the baking sheets, before baking, for about 10 minutes before transferring to the oven. This tends to help cut-out cookie retain their shape during baking, but these still puffed quite a bit.

I didn’t use the icing recipe linked here. I decorated my cookies with cream cheese frosting because it seemed easier and tastier. It was, but the cookies had to be stored in a single layer to avoid messing up the frosting.

The spices in the original recipe here were pretty mild; next time I’ll double them.

⅔ cup molasses (not robust)
⅔ cup (4.67 ounces) packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons baking soda
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3¾ cups (18 ounces) all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading and dusting
½ teaspoon salt

1. Bring the molasses, brown sugar, and spices to a boil in a 4- to 5-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring occasionally; remove from heat. Stir in the baking soda (mixture will foam up), then stir in the butter 3 pieces at a time, letting each addition melt before adding next, until all of the butter is melted. Add the egg and stir until combined, then stir in the flour and salt.

2. Arrange a rack in the middle position and heat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

3. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead, dusting with flour as needed to prevent sticking, until soft and easy to handle, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Halve the dough, wrapping one half in plastic wrap; keep at room temperature.

4. Roll out the remaining dough into a 14-inch round (⅛-inch thick) on a lightly floured surface. Cut out as many cookies as possible with cutters and carefully transfer them to the prepared baking sheets, arranging them about 1 inch apart.

5. Bake the cookies, one sheet a time, until edges are slightly darker, 8 to 10 minutes. Let the cookies cool for a couple minutes on the pan before transferring them to racks to cool completely. Make more cookies with remaining dough and scraps. Decorate cooled cookies as desired with decorating icing.

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chai snickerdoodles

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Making a commitment to cook two pre-chosen recipes a month has been a great way to push my boundaries with the occasional challenging recipe, as well as check off some easier recipes that have been nagging me for years but I never got around to making. There’s not always a good reason that I needed the extra push, but sometimes the accountability is necessary to check that dish off the list. It’s been a great way to convince myself to try flavors I knew I would like but hadn’t quite convinced myself to make yet, like the ones in these cookies.

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But. There is a problem sometimes. The problem is not that I end up making a recipe I’m not in the mood for because it’s the last day of the month, although that has happened. That’s part of the game. No, the problem is that I am then obligated to share recipes here that I don’t necessarily recommend. If I was a more organized person, I would make the recipes multiple times in the month until I had them perfect, but this is stretching my competence too far.

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Instead, we have snickerdoodles that didn’t turn out just right. Which is particularly annoying, because they’re from a recipe I wholeheartedly endorsed several years ago. This time, however, they were crisp, without that light cakey bite I prefer in snickerdoodles. I can only guess that the difference is the temperature of the dough right before baking.

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But this challenge was about chai, not snickerdoodles, and the chai spices were perfect. They weren’t drastically different from regular cinnamon-coated snickerdoodles, but the extra spices, especially the cardamom, made them a bit more special.  They weren’t perfect, but neither am I, so I have no choice but to share an imperfect recipe.

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One year ago: Yukon Gold and Sweet Potato Gratin
Two years ago: Bacon Egg Toast Cups
Three years ago: Sopaipillas
Four years ago: Chocolate Chip Cookies (comparison of 4 recipes)

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Chai Snickerdoodles (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated and The Novice Chef)

Makes about 60 cookies

Dough:
2¼ cups (11¼ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool
½ teaspoon salt
1½ cups (10½ ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs

Chai mix for rolling dough:
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1½ teaspoons ground cardamom
½ teaspoons ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon nutmeg

1. Adjust oven racks to the middle position. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, salt, and sugar on medium speed until well combined, 1 to 1½ minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the eggs, and beat again until combined, about 30 seconds. Add in the dry ingredients and beat at low speed until just combined, about 20 seconds.

2. In a small, shallow bowl, combine sugar and spices for rolling the dough. Stir or shake well to combine. Working with a scant tablespoon of dough each time, roll the dough into 1-inch balls. Roll the balls in the cinnamon sugar mixture and place them on the prepared baking sheets, about 2 inches apart.

3. Bake until the edges of the cookies are beginning to set and the center are soft and puffy, 8-10 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets 2-3 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.

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cinnamon macarons with apple buttercream

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Macarons have been all the rage recently, and yet, I’ve had no real desire to make them myself. This, even though they’re known to be finicky, and I do love making my life unnecessarily complicated. But while I do love a challenge, I don’t particularly love meringue cookies.

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This is probably because I’ve never gotten them quite right, as they always seem to be chewy in the center instead of crisp the whole way through. Maybe the precise directions included with many macaron recipes could help me avoid this pitfall. If not, at least they’d be filled with swiss meringue buttercream.

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One of the hallmarks of good macarons is the foamy feet around the bottom edge, which show that your macarons rose up in the oven instead of spreading out. When I started to see those feet form, I made Dave come over to look through the oven window with me and give me a high-five. I was also happy with the smooth tops of the cookies, and it goes without saying that I was happy with the apple buttercream, which was noticeably and pleasantly appley.

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The only problem? A chewy center. I guess practice makes perfect. Fortunately, I think it’s safe to say that meringues are good enough to make again.

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One year ago: Butternut Squash Risotto
Two years ago: Pomegranate Glazed Salmon
Three years ago: Sun-Dried Tomato Jam
Four years ago: Sushi Bowls

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Cinnamon Macarons with Apple Buttercream (adapted from Tartelette)

Makes about 20 sandwich cookies

For a lot of meringue-making tips, read Tartelette’s article.

Meringues:
110 grams blanched almonds or almond meal
200 grams powdered sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
100 grams egg whites (from about 3 large eggs), aged overnight
25 grams sugar
Pinch salt

Apple buttercream:
4 egg whites
1¼ cups (8.75 ounces) granulated sugar
Pinch salt
24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
⅓ cup apple butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. In a food processor, process the almonds and powdered sugar until the nuts are finely ground. In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or a large bowl with a handheld mixer), beat the egg whites, sugar, and salt on medium-high speed (high speed if using a stand mixer) until soft peaks form. Use a large rubber spatula to fold the nut mixture into the egg mixture. After about 50 folds, the batter should be evenly mixed, with no streaks of egg white.

2. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. Spray the lined sheets lightly with cooking spray. Transfer the batter to a piping bag fitted with a wide (about ½-inch) round tip. Pipe quarter-sized rounds onto the prepared pans, leaving about an inch between rounds. Gently rap the baking sheet against the counter to pop any large bubbles. Set the piped dough aside for 1 hour.

3. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 300 degrees. Bake one sheet at a time until the cookies are lightly browned around the bottom edges, about 15 minutes. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack; cool for about 5 minutes, then use a thin spatula to transfer the cookies from the pan to the wire rack. Cool completely before filling.

4. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl if using a hand-held mixer), combine the egg whites, sugar, and salt. Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Whisk constantly until the mixture reaches 160 degrees.

5. Fit the mixer with the whisk attachment; beat the egg white mixture on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and it has cooled to room temperature, about 8 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and add the butter 2 tablespoons at a time, adding more once each addition has been incorporated. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until the buttercream is thick and smooth, 3-5 minutes. Add apple butter and vanilla; mix until incorporated.

6. Pipe the buttercream onto the flat sides of half of the cookies.  Top with the remaining cookies.  Serve immediately or cover and store overnight in the refrigerator (bring to cool room temperature before serving).

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chocolate chip cookie comparison 2

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The Chewy

I’ve done all these comparisons and experiments with chocolate chip cookies, and yet, I don’t make any of those recipes. Usually, I make chocolate chip cookies to please myself, because I think it’s fun, so I’m more concerned with which recipe I most enjoy baking instead of which recipe has the best result. But maybe this isn’t so bad – maybe my hacked combination of recipes could stand up to the originals.

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The Chewy dough

It was time to find out. For a comparison of the best of the best, I chose Alton Brown’s The Chewy recipe, winner of my last comparison; Cook’s Illustrated’s Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie, a true standout; Kelsey’s Best Ever Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies (adapted from Anna Olson’s original recipe), which are the most popular post on her blog; and the one I always make when I’m too lazy to follow an actual recipe.

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The Chewy

What sets Alton’s recipe apart is the use of bread flour instead of regular and the replacement of an egg white with milk. Cook’s Illustrated Perfect recipe is designed to mimic the effects of the overnight rest of the dough recommended by the New York Times, which it does using melted browned butter. Compared to the traditional Tollhouse recipe, Kelsey’s recipe uses a higher ratio of flour (plus a bit of cornstarch). My recipe has some similar traits to those above, like bread flour instead all-purpose and an overnight chill to enhance the butterscotch flavor.

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my recipe dough

Between the four tasters I had, there was no unanimous favorite. Dave’s favorite was CI’s Perfect cookies. My sister and her husband both chose Alton Brown’s The Chewy as their favorite; it was chewier, but, to Dave, it was too greasy. Kelsey’s recipe was drier than the others; compared to the ultra-rich versions it was being compared to, it had less flavor. My hacked together recipe was the most traditional, crispy around the edges and gooey in the middle.

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Cook’s Illustrated’s Perfect

As for me, I’ll certainly keep making the version I have been, now that I know that it can hold its own with the big dogs. I love it because I don’t have to look at a recipe and the dough is perfect for snacking. The Chewy tends to come out a little too flat, and I don’t like the dough for CI’s Perfect (which makes it the recipe of choice when self-control is necessary!), plus it simply isn’t as fun to make cookies with a whisk as it is with a mixer. Slight differences aside, these were all standout recipes, but I appreciate the validation to keep being lazy with my hacked together version.

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left to right: The Chewy, my recipe, Kelsey’s Best-Ever, Cook’s Illustrated’s Perfect

One year ago: Kofta
Two years ago: Grilled Corn Salad
Three years ago: Espresso Cheesecake Brownies
Four years ago: Chunky Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Chocolate Chipsters

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Accidental Variation of The Chewy (adapted from Alton Brown)

As I was writing up this recipe, I realized I did not actually make The Chewy, which I now see is supposed to use melted butter. I used room temperature solid butter. The recipe below is what I did. This means that the only difference between my recipe and The Chewy is a lower ratio of brown sugar to white and the use of an egg white instead of milk.

16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2¼ cups (11.25 ounces) bread flour
1 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ cup granulated sugar
1¼ cups brown sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons milk
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda and set aside.

2. Add the butter to the mixer’s work bowl with the sugars. Cream the butter and sugars on medium speed. Add the egg, yolk, 2 tablespoons milk, and vanilla extract, and mix until well combined. Slowly incorporate the flour mixture until thoroughly combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

3. Scoop the dough in heaping tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, until they are browned around the edges and do not look wet on top, 8-12 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the cookie sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

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Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies (from Cook’s Illustrated May/June 2009)

I baked smaller cookies – tablespoon-sized dollops of dough – for about 9 minutes at 375 degrees.

1¾ cups (8¾ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons (1¾ sticks) unsalted butter
½ cup (3½ ounces) granulated sugar
¾ cup (5¼ ounces) packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1¼ cups semisweet chocolate chips or chunks
¾ cup chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted (optional)

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.

2. Heat 10 tablespoons butter in 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking, swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and, using heatproof spatula, transfer browned butter to large heatproof bowl. Stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter until completely melted.

3. Add both sugars, salt and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining, about 30 seconds. Let mixture stand for 3 minutes, then whish for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth and shiny. Using rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined, about 1 minute. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if using), giving dough final stir to ensure no flour pockets remain.

4. Divide dough into 16 portions, each about 3 tablespoons (or use a #24 cookie scoop). Arrange 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets, 8 dough balls per sheet.

5. Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 10-14 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; cool cookies completely before serving.

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Best-Ever Chocolate Chip Cookies (rewritten but not changed from Kelsey’s Apple a Day, who adapted it from Anna Olson)

2 cups (9.6 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon table salt
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup (5.25 ounces) brown sugar
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) granulated sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup (6 ounces) bittersweet chocolate chips

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. In a medium bowl, mix the flour and baking soda.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl if using a stand mixer), beat the butter, salt, and sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy, 1-2 minutes. Add the egg, beating until incorporated, then mix in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour, mixing just until incorporated. Stir in the chocolate chips.

3. Scoop the dough in heaping tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, until they are slightly browned around the edges, 8-10 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the cookie sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

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Chocolate Chip Cookies (adapted from nearly every single chocolate chip cookie recipe I’ve ever read)

I haven’t found a dependable measurement for the weight of 1 cup of bread flour.  I used to assume 5 ounces for 1 cup of bread flour, but I think this is on the high side, so I’m changing the volume measurement in this recipe from 2¼ cups to 2⅓ cups.  Unfortunately,  it could be as high as 2½ cups, depending on how you measure your flour.  If you can, definitely measure by weight and not volume (food scales are cheap!)!

16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon table salt
1 cup (7 ounces) brown sugar
½ cup (3.5 ounces) white sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2¼ cups (11.25 ounces) bread flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. In a medium bowl, mix the flour and baking soda.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl if using a stand mixer), beat the butter, salt, and sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy, 1-2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until incorporated, then mix in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour, mixing just until incorporated. Stir in the chocolate chips.

3. Scoop the dough in heaping tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, until they are browned around the edges and do not look wet on top, 8-12 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the cookie sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

orange vanilla creamsicle whoopie pies

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I brought pumpkin whoopie pies to a company picnic a couple years ago, and my coworkers got quite a kick over the name. So you’ll forgive me if the post-it next to these in the office kitchen said “orange vanilla creamsicle sandwich cookies”, with no mention of whoopie. I didn’t need the giggles today.

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I’m not sure if these are more whoopie pie or more sandwich cookie anyway. The cookie part ended up on the chewy side, not as tender and fluffy as the traditional cakey whoopie pie. At least it seemed that way to me fresh out of the oven.

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Sandwiched with cream cheese frosting and left overnight in the fridge, they seem to have become more cakey, because the several coworkers I quizzed about whether these seemed more cookie-like or more cake-like guessed cake. (They didn’t seem excited about the pop quiz, but they passed with flying colors.) More importantly, they raved, so whoopie pies or sandwich cookies, it doesn’t matter; all that matters is how good they are.

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One year ago: Blueberry Barbecue Salmon
Two years ago: Rhubarb Crumb Coffee Cake
Three years ago: Quick Baking Powder Pizza Crust
Four years ago: Mashed Potatoes with Kale

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Orange Vanilla Creamsicle Whoopie Pies (adapted from Culinary Concoctions by Peabody)

Makes about 3 dozen sandwiches

If you have vanilla sugar, use that!

I am a food blogger failure and used cream cheese frosting that I’ve had in my freezer for months, doctored up with vanilla seeds.

Cookies:
3½ cups (16.8 ounces) all-purpose flour
1¼ teaspoon baking soda
1¼ teaspoon baking powder 2 cups (14 ounces) sugar
zest from 2 oranges
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
½ teaspoon salt
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
½ cup sour cream
2 eggs, room temperature

Filling:
3 ounces cream cheese
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
pinch salt
1½ cups (6 ounces) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. For the cookies: Adjust an oven rack to the middle position; preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and baking powder.

2. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large mixing bowl with a hand mixer), beat the sugar and orange zest on medium speed until fragrant, about a minute. Add the butter, salt, and vanilla seeds; continue beating until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the sour cream. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating to incorporate each addition. Reduce the mixer speed to low, and gradually add the flour mixture, beating just until combined.

3. Spoon (or pipe) the batter in 1 tablespoon rounds on the prepared baking sheets, leaving 2 inches between rounds.

4. Bake until the tops of the cookies don’t look wet and the bottoms just begin to brown, 8-12 minutes. Cool for 2 minutes on the cookie sheet before transferring the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

5. For the filling: Add the cream cheese, butter, vanilla seeds, and salt to a clean mixer bowl and beat until smooth. Gradually add the powdered sugar, beating until smooth. Beat in the vanilla extract.

6. To fill, dollop (or pipe) the filling onto the flat sides of half of the cookies. Top with the remaining cookies, flat sides down. Serve immediately, or cover tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, bringing to cool room temperature before serving.

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strawberry white chocolate brownies

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I know white chocolate isn’t as sexy as its darker sibling, but I think it has its own charm. It’s not much beyond sweet and soft, which could be boring, but you can use those traits to the advantage of the treat you’re making with it. Mixed into a batter, it adds a little more interest than plain white sugar would, although I think you’d be hard-pressed to pick out the white chocolate flavor if you didn’t know it was there.

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That being said, while I expected these to turn out quite nice, they exceeded my expectations. I reduced the sugar from the original recipe, suspecting that the white chocolate would contribute plenty of sweetness, and that, combined with an extra dose of salt, resulted in the perfect balance. Bright, juicy strawberries added a welcome flavor and texture contrast. Forced to choose between these and my favorite dark chocolate brownies would be a tough call, but these tamer white chocolate brownies would stand a good chance.

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One year ago: Pizza Bianca with Goat Cheese and Greens
Two years ago: Garlic Mustard Glazed Skewers
Three years ago: Tribute to Katharine Hepburn Brownies
Four years ago: Vanilla Ice Cream

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Strawberry White Chocolate Brownies (adapted from Love and Olive Oil)

Makes 16 squares

1 cup (4.8 ounces) all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
⅓ teaspoon salt
5 ounces white chocolate, chopped fine
5 tablespoons butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
½ cup (3.5 ounces) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
4 ounces strawberries, hulled and quartered

1. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom and sides of an 8×8 baking pan with parchment paper, leaving a slight overhang. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together.

2. Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan containing one inch of simmering water. Add the chocolate and butter; stir frequently until the mixture is melted and smooth, then remove from the heat. Whisk in the sugar (the mixture will appear curdled), then add vanilla and the eggs one at a time, whisking constantly.

3. Switch to a rubber spatula and add the flour mixture, stirring until just combined. Gently fold in the strawberries. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it into an even layer.

4. Bake the brownies for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the top is lightly golden and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack; cool completely. Use the parchment paper to lift the bars out of the pan and cut into 2-inch squares. (The brownies can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.)

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