radiation sugar cookies

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If I don’t often talk about what I do for a living, it’s because it’s hard to explain. I don’t have one of those jobs that you can name in one word and people will get at least some idea of how you spend your days, like being a teacher or nurse or accountant or engineer. My official title is either Scientist 2 or Difficult Waste Expert.

radiation symbol

If I say I work with nuclear waste, you might start to picture Homer Simpson’s job, but mostly I work in an office with spreadsheets. Our official task is to come up with ways to get radioactive waste (stuff mostly left over from the Cold War; not spent nuclear fuel) safely disposed of. There is a radioactive waste repository near my town, half a mile underground in a salt deposit, but I never have any reason to go out there.

radiation containment suit

Even so, my coworkers and I are trained on what the radiation symbol looks like, including the colors – yellow and magenta, at least until you run out of magenta icing, and then black is acceptable. Not even one of the thirty or so people in my office have been required to wear hazmat suits for our current positions, but the idea was too cute to pass up.

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I was worried my nuclear containment guys would end up looking like yellow astronaut teddy bears, but I think I got the point across. Other than one manager who thought they might be eskimos, my coworkers loved these. And after another long day looking at computers, trying to make tiny steps toward solving the country’s nuclear waste problem, a distraction in the form of cute cookies is something we could all use.

One year ago: Baked Eggs in Mushrooms with Zucchini Ragout
Two years ago: Vanilla Bean Cupcakes
Three years ago: Sourdough Bagels
Four years ago: Apple Cheddar Scones

lemon ricotta cookies

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Due to the knee injury that’s kept me from working out at my normal intensity for four months (and counting), I mostly gave up baking for a while. Most of the baking I’ve done recently has been to use up the surplus of organic lemons I keep ending up with as a result of buying them in bags in the Big City. I hoard them until the week before I plan to head back to the Big City, and then I figure that I’d better get rid of them so I can justify buying more.

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I’m not sure my coworkers have noticed the prevalence of lemon treats I’ve brought in to share. It started with the pound cake, and then, weeks later (a departure from the once a week or so I used to bring stuff in), there were these cookies. Next week, it’ll be lemon cream tartelettes.

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I don’t think anyone has minded, considering that several people came by to tell me that these might be the best thing I’ve shared yet. (Questionable.) More tiny glazed cake than cookie, I definitely understand the popularity. But now that I’m almost back to my normal workouts, my coworkers better brace themselves for something besides lemon – by which I mean chocolate, of course.

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One year ago: Basic Coleslaw
Two years ago: Quinoa Tabbouleh
Three years ago: Croissants
Four years ago: Ricotta Spinach and Tofu Ravioli

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Lemon Ricotta Cookies with Lemon Glaze (slightly adapted from Giada DeLaurentiis via Apple a Day)

Cookies:
2½ cups (12 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups (14 ounces) granulated sugar
zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon table salt
2 large eggs
1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese
3 tablespoons lemon juice

Glaze:
1 cup (4 ounces) powdered sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. In a medium bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. Set aside.

2. Place the sugar, salt, and lemon zest in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large mixing bowl if you’re using a hand-held mixer). Beat on medium-low speed until the sugar looks slightly moist. Add the butter and continue beating on medium-low until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. With the mixer running, add the eggs, one at a time. Add the ricotta and lemon juice, then continue mixing on medium speed for about 1 minute. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing just until evenly combined.

3. Spoon the dough (about 1 tablespoon for each cookie) onto the baking sheets. Bake for 8-11 minutes, until slightly golden at the edges. Remove from the oven and let the cookies rest on the baking sheet for 15 minutes.

4. For the glaze: Combine the powdered sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest in a small bowl and stir until smooth. Spoon about ½ teaspoon onto each cookie and use the back of the spoon to gently spread. Let the glaze harden for about 2 hours before serving.

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wedding cake sugar cookies

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It’s possible that cookies soaked in espresso and rum might not be the best idea for children, so I planned to make something in addition to tiramisu for my coworker’s rehearsal dinner. When I was discussing ideas with the bride, I almost offered to decorate sugar cookies, and then I realized that that might be insane. I planned to make raspberry squares instead, but in the end, sane has never been my strong suit. I mixed up a batch of sugar cookie dough the day after the bridal shower.

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I had spent some time with the bride discussing her decorations, because I’m a girl and I’m into that stuff, so I knew her cake was going to be white fondant covered in black damask with a red ribbon around the bottom. The lack of a wedding cake cookie cutter did not stop me from charging off to make a cookie imitation of this. The lack of cookie decorating skills did not stop me from attempting to make tiny swirls and, even trickier, letters.

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Still, I thought they came out well, and it wasn’t difficult to work in the time to decorate them. I made the dough a week before the dinner, rolled and cut it the next day, then froze the unbaked cookies for a few days. I baked, outlined, and flooded them three days before the party, detailed them two days beforehand, had time to go out with a friend the night before, and made tiramisu the morning of the rehearsal dinner. And then I took a well-deserved nap.

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One year ago: Semolina Bread
Two years ago: Shrimp Burgers
Three years ago: Pasta with Cauliflower, Walnuts, and Ricotta Salata
Four years ago: Creamy Buttermilk Coleslaw

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I used my favorite recipe from this roll-out sugar cookie comparison.

strawberry lemonade bars

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I’m always trying to find desserts that Dave will eat because they’re so good he can’t resist, and not just to be polite. It isn’t that those desserts don’t exist – crème brulee, eclairs, and tapioca pudding come to mind – it’s just that the desserts he loves don’t require me to use the mixer, and where’s the fun in that? So the real challenge is finding a dessert that Dave loves to eat as much as I love to bake it.

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Strawberry lemonade bars weren’t a sure thing, but it was a good bet, I thought. He does like lemon bars – not as much as, say, snickerdoodles, but more than brownies at least. And his favorite ice cream flavor is strawberry, so strawberry lemonade bars seemed like they’d have potential.

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The browned flaky crust, taken from my lemon bar comparison last year, didn’t hurt, and neither did the creamy filling. The filling was not just a lemon bar filling with some strawberry juice added; it incorporated a generous portion of flour, necessary to hold all the extra liquid together. The result was a bar that was soft and gooey (maybe I should have cooked it longer) and tasted perfectly of lemons and strawberries. I loved the bars, and as for Dave – he liked them enough to eat a couple to be polite.

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One year ago: Caesar Salad
Two years ago: Whole Wheat Brioche
Three years ago: Blueberry Crumb Cake
Four years ago: Spinach Feta Pine Nut Tart

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Strawberry Lemonade Bars (adapted from Annie’s Eats via Sophistimom)

For the crust:
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
⅓ cup (1.33 ounces) powdered sugar
1 cup (5 ounces) all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt

For the filling:
1½ cups (10.5 ounces) sugar
⅔ cup (3.3 ounces) all-purpose flour
1½ tablespoons lemon zest (from 3 lemons)
⅛ teaspoon salt
1½ cups (8 ounces) frozen strawberries, thawed
3 large egg whites
1 large egg
⅔ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 3 lemons)
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8-by-8 inch baking pan with nonstick spray.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until smooth, 1-2 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour and salt, mixing just until incorporated.

3. Transfer the dough to the prepared baking pan, pressing into an even layer over the bottom of the pan. Bake the crust for about 25 minutes, or until light golden brown. Remove from the oven, maintaining the temperature.

4. While the crust is baking, prepare the filling. Combine the sugar, flour, lemon zest and salt in a blender. Add the strawberries; blend until smooth. Add the egg whites and eggs; blend until incorporated. Add the lemon juice, processing just until evenly mixed.

5. Pour the filling over the crust and bake until the center is just set and no longer jiggles when gently shaken, about 30-40 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Dust the top with confectioners’ sugar before cutting and serving.

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whole wheat chocolate chip cookies

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I was never a big fan of roast turkey, so when I was a kid, my favorite part of Thanksgiving was that it was the only time of year my mom bought white sandwich bread, because she liked it better for the stuffing. White bread! What a treat!  It’s been a slow adjustment, spanning close to ten years, but these days, largely due to Peter Reinhart’s trick and Tartine’s country bread, I actually prefer bread with a hearty portion of whole wheat flour. The flavor is deeper, more complex. I’m disappointed when a restaurant serves only pasty white bread.

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Cookies, in my experience, are a different matter. But my experience is only for substituting whole wheat flour in a recipe designed for white flour. Starting with a recipe designed for whole wheat flour is bound to give me better results. The only ingredient called for in this recipe that isn’t in the Tollhouse chocolate chip cookie recipe, besides whole wheat flour of course, is baking powder, substituted for the baking soda in most chocolate chip cookie recipes. Other differences are more flour and sugar for the same amount of butter and eggs in the Tollhouse recipe and less chocolate.

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I was a little worried that the dough, my favorite part about baking chocolate chip cookies, wouldn’t be as tasty as dough made with white flour, but it definitely passed inspection. The cookies themselves were also irresistible. Obviously the whole wheat flour doesn’t make the cookies healthy – that isn’t the point. These cookies are just as loaded with butter and sugar as any other cookie, and the whole grains are just for flavor. For me, though, the flavor was perhaps a little stronger than I might prefer. Plus, the texture was more bread-like than tender. I still loved the cookies, but now I want to find a way to tone down the whole wheatiness and get the texture I want. Should I replace half of the flour in this recipe with white bread flour? Should I start with my favorite regular chocolate chip cookie recipe and substitute whole wheat flour for some of the white? I can’t wait to start experimenting.

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One year ago: Comparison of 3 Chocolate Mousse recipes
Two years ago: Brown Soda Bread
Three years ago: Deli-Style Rye Bread
Four years ago: Chocolate Cream Pie

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Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies (adapted from Kim Boyle’s Good to the Grain)

The original recipe is designed to start with cold butter, perhaps so the dough doesn’t get too warm and spread too much in the oven. However, because I have found that an overnight rest is good for both cookie dough and whole wheat doughs, I knew I would be chilling the dough before baking it and started with the softened butter that I’m used to. I also increased the chocolate and used chips instead of chopping my own.

3 cups whole wheat flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1½ teaspoons salt
1 cup (7 ounces) dark brown sugar
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped into ¼- and ½-inch pieces

1. In a small bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a hand mixer, or a spoon or whatever), beat the butter and salt until creamy. Add the sugars and beat on medium speed until fluffy. Add the eggs, one a time, mixing for one minute after each addition. Add the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour miture, mixing just until almost combined. Add the chocolate and pulse the mixer on low speed until the chips are dispersed and the flour is incorporated. Press a sheet of plastic wrap right against the dough; refrigerate overnight or up to 3 days.

2. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

3. Drop rounded tablespoons of dough onto the lined baking pan, spaced an inch or two apart. Bake the cookies for 7-10 minutes, until slightly browned around the edges and just set in the middle. Cool the cookies for at least 2 minutes on the sheet before transferring to a rack to finish cooling. (If they still seem fragile after 2 minutes of cooling, you can just leave them on the sheet to cool completely.)

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parmesan bacon shortbread

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There’s a fine art to choosing a dish to bring to a potluck. If people are milling around, there’s a definite advantage to a handheld, plate-optional snack. On the other hand, if it’s mostly sit-down, dips and spreads don’t work well because people have to guess at the right ratio of dip to dipper to scoop onto their plate, not to mention the issue of whether to put the dip next to the dippers, taking up valuable plate space, or on top, risking getting dip on your fingers while you try to eat the dippers.

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Last year, I brought goat cheese, sundried tomato, pesto terrine with a thinly sliced baguette to the company potluck. It did not go over well. For one thing, it’s a dip and the potluck turned out to be a sit-down kind of deal. For another, a few of my coworkers were unfamiliar with and unwilling to try goat cheese. (Their loss!)

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This year I went to the other end of the spectrum and chose easily grabbable finger food. I included bacon to guarantee there would be no complaints about scary new ingredients. It seems to have worked; these got a lot more love than last year’s goat cheese spread. And no wonder, with so many salty rich ingredients encased in a tender cookie. I can’t think of many situations in which these little treats wouldn’t work perfectly.

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One year ago: Roasted Tomato Soup
Two years ago: Orange Berry Muffins
Three years ago: Thumbprints for Us Big Guys
Four years ago: Cooks Illustrated’s Classic Pound Cake

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Bacon Parmesan Shortbread (adapted from The New York Times via Use Real Butter)

Makes about 18 cookies (more if you cut them thinner)

I used pancetta instead of bacon, which complimented the parmesan nicely.

The original recipe titles these crackers and shows a picture of thin and flaky squares. These must have been rolled paper thin before baking. However, the recipe instructs the dough to be rolled out (or cut, the way I did it) ½-inch thick. I compromised and went with ¼-inch thick, which gave a texture more like shortbread than crackers. I’m sure they’re good both ways, but if you do roll them thinner, you’ll need to adjust the cooking time.

1 cup (4.8 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 ounce) finely grated fresh Parmesan cheese
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter
¼ cup cream or half-and-half, more as needed
4 ounces (about 4 slices) bacon, cooked and crumbled

1. Put the flour, salt, cheese and butter in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the flour and butter are combined. Add about ¼ cup cream or half-and-half and let machine run for a bit; continue to add liquid a teaspoon at a time, until the mixture holds together but is not sticky. Add the bacon and pulse a few times to incorporate.

2. Transfer the dough to a large square of parchment or wax paper. Shape the dough into a long rectangle with a 1-inch square cross-section. Wrap tightly in the paper and freeze for at least 3 hours.

3. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

4. Slice the dough ¼-inch thick, arranging the cookies ½-inch apart on the baking sheet. Bake until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Cool on a rack; serve warm or at room temperature or store in a tin for a few days.

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sugar cookies – star wars characters

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I recently overheard people talking about a dessert I’d baked, and they said something to effect that probably anyone could do something like that with the right equipment. I mostly agree with them; there are no sneaky tricks up my sleeve. I followed a recipe, with a few tweaks to get the flavors I wanted and with the experience to know what pitfalls I might encounter. (Not that that ever stops me from finding new mistakes to make.)

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But they are wrong in one important aspect, and that is that what sets some bakers apart is a high capacity for tedium. Sugar cookies decorated with royal icing are the best example. The whole process takes forever.

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I prefer to divide the work up between four different days, mixing up the dough on one, rolling the dough and cutting shapes on another, then the big day of baking, outlining, and flooding, and finally adding the details after the flooded icing has dried. This time, I only had a few days between receiving these Star Wars cutters as a gift and having dinner with a couple of young Star Wars fans.

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I’ve used royal icing a handful of times previously, but so intermittently that I wasn’t learning from my mistakes. I have found that it’s imperative that I draw a map of my plan for each shape – first the outline color, then the flooding, then each layer of detail. Maybe more experienced decorators don’t need this, but for a newbie like me, it makes the process less intimidating. (Each photo set shows essentially what my hand-drawings do, as far as the steps to decorate each cookie.)

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This was probably my most successful attempt at royal icing – and the most time-consuming, because there was a lot of detail in these designs. I did learn a few things along the way, and I can only hope that it will make me better at this in the future. Still, I suspect that this is one of those baking endeavors that will always require a generous tolerance for tedium – and that, for better or worse, is something I have.

star wars cookies 3 yoda

One year ago: Cream Cheese Pound Cake
Two years ago: Roll-out Sugar Cookies (comparison of 4 recipes) (coincidence, I swear!)
Three years ago: Roasted Kale
Four years ago: Rice Pudding

I used the first recipe listed in my sugar cookie comparison.  I’m not confident enough in my royal icing skills to offer any sort of tutorial. At this stage, I’m still referencing Annie’s tutorial for instructions.

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butterscotch peanut butter chocolate rice krispy treats

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I did something very, very stupid with this recipe. It calls for 1½ bags of butterscotch chips. The thing is, I don’t like butterscotch chips very much, so I didn’t want half a bag leftover that I would feel obligated to keep around indefinitely, where it would take up valuable cabinet space. I only bought one bag, deciding to wing it (always trouble) for the remainder.

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I started regretting this shortly after leaving the store. Because obviously I could have just dumped that half bag of chips into a batch of chocolate chip cookies and they would be hardly noticeable. Or, heaven forbid, I could just throw a handful of butterscotch chips away if I didn’t plan to use them.

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Instead of making an extra trip back to the store, I forged ahead. Things looked bad from the beginning when I measured out my single bag of butterscotch chips and it was even less than I was expecting. I still forged ahead, adding in a couple tablespoons of butter and another couple tablespoons of corn syrup to make up for the fat and sugar I was missing from the extra chips. I knew I was in bad shape when I poured in the entire box of cereal, and it filled my pot to the brim. I thought about shoveling some of the cereal out before mixing it into the melted butterscotch and peanut butter mixture but stubbornly forged ahead instead.

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No one is surprised that my rice krispy bars were a crumbly mess, are they? There simply wasn’t enough glue to hold together all that cereal. They tasted good, like that classic combination of peanut butter and chocolate, but, while I did manage to cut a few clean squares, they’re so delicate that they crumble as soon as they’re touched. Of course I ate them anyway, because they’re butterscotch peanut butter chocolate rice krispy bars. Crumbles aside, what’s not to love? But next time, I’ll follow the directions, half bag of extra chips be damned.

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One year ago: Strawberry Buttercream
Two years ago: Bacon-Wrapped Stuffed Dates
Three years ago: Beer-Battered Fish
Four years ago: Julia Child’s French Bread

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Butterscotch Peanut Butter Chocolate Rice Krispy Treats (slightly adapted from Cara’s Cravings)

About 32 tall bar cookies

3 cups (1½ to 2 11-ounce bags) butterscotch chips
1½ cups (13½ ounces) creamy peanut butter
salt
1 (12-ounce) box crisp rice cereal
4 cups (2 12-ounce bags) semi-sweet chocolate chips
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
1½ cups (6 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
¼ cup water

1. Spray a 9-by-13 inch pan with cooking spray.

2. In a large (at least 5-quart) pot over medium-low heat, melt the butterscotch chips with the peanut butter and ¼ teaspoon salt. When the mixture is smooth, which will take 8-10 minutes, add the cereal and stir to thoroughly coat the cereal with the peanut butter mixture.

3. Meanwhile, bring 1-inch of water to a simmer in a saucepan. Place the chocolate, water, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and butter in a heatproof bowl and set it over the simmering water. Stir occasionally until the chocolate is melted and smooth, 6-8 minutes. Stir in the powdered sugar.

4. Transfer half of the cereal mixture to the prepared pan; use a rubber spatula or greased hands to pat the mixture into an even layer, pressing lightly to compact. Spread the chocolate mixture evenly over the cereal in the pan. Top with the remaining cereal mixture. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set, about 2 hours.

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Normally I wouldn’t waste your time describing such a mistake, but this recipe was on my list of 2012 goals for February.

chocolate sugar cookies

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Once the holidays ended and we got into the slower part of the year, I started thinking about what I wanted to do with my newfound free time. Get my garden up, which we can do early in the year where I live; fix up my house a bit; set up a recipe database; get better at Photoshop; relearn how to ride a bike; and, maybe, if there’s time after everything else, decorate sugar cookies more often.

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I haven’t decorated sugar cookies since I made these, for Valentine’s Day last year. I distinctly remember staying up long after my normal bed time, on a weeknight, using toothpicks to manipulate royal icing into hearts, then cleaning mixing bowls and squeeze bottles at midnight. I think I’m up until midnight every time I decorate sugar cookies.

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Rationally, I know that when I decorate sugar cookies with royal icing, I should think of it as a day-long project – and that’s assuming that I’ve already made the cookie dough, rolled it out, cut shapes, and baked the cookies. But every time I actually work with royal icing, I wait until the end of the day, because I can’t convince myself that a simple outline and filling of sugar cookies could really take several hours. And then it takes that long, every time.

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These hearts, although not any less time-consuming than regular royal icinged sugar cookies, are at least more foolproof. Instead of painstakingly (at least it’s painstaking for me) detailing on top of hardened icing, you use toothpicks to manipulate two liquid royal icing colors. All you have to do is drag a toothpick through a dot to turn it into a heart.

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The over-the-topness of tiny hearts set into pink, red, and white icing on top of heart-shaped cookies should not detract from the chocolate cookie itself, which is soft, meltingly tender, and most importantly, intensely chocolately. It was almost worth the loss of several hours of sleep. Still, I’m not sure how often I see myself doing this, no matter how much free time I have.

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One year ago: Fettuccine Alfredo
Two years ago: Oatmeal Pancakes
Three years ago: Crispy Bagel Roll
Four years ago: Olive Oil Bread

I’m not qualified to give a royal icing tutorial. I used Karen’s tutorial for these hearts, and Annie later did one as well.

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Chocolate Sugar Cookies (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

I reduced the flour slightly from Deb’s original recipe; this increases the chocolate flavor, although it has the potential to lead to more spreading in the oven. But as you can see, the scalloped hearts retained their decorative edge after baking. Still, if you’re working with a delicate shape, freeze the dough until firm after cutting shapes, then bake the cookies directly from the freezer.

2¾ cups (13.2 ounces) all-purpose flour
⅔ cup unsweetened cocoa, sifted to remove lumps
½ teaspoon baking powder
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
¾ teaspoon salt
1½ cups (10.5 ounces) sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, and baking powder; set aside. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large mixing bowl if using a hand mixer), beat the butter and salt until creamy, about 1 minute. With the mixer running, gradually add the sugar; beat on medium speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing to incorporate each one before adding the next. Beat in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low; add the dry ingredients and mix just until combined, with no dry pockets of flour. Shape the dough into a 1-inch thick disk; wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.

2. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

3. Lightly flour a large sheet of wax (or parchment) paper. Transfer the chilled dough to the paper and top with a second sheet of wax paper. Roll the dough into ⅛-inch thickness, flouring as needed to prevent the dough from sticking to the paper. Use floured cookie cutters to cut shapes; transfer the shapes to the prepared pan. Re-roll and cut shapes from the scraps, using as little flour as possible.

4. Bake the cookies until the tops look dry but are still slightly soft, about 8 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the pan for about 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.

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black bean avocado brownies

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I have developed an extensive spreadsheet of calculations in an effort to address to issue of brownies that aren’t bad for you, and what I have discovered is that brownies are bad for you. The problem is the chocolate. Chocolate on its own doesn’t taste good, as you’re probably aware. It needs sugar to taste good. Fat is nice too. Sugar and fat aren’t good for you.

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Sure, the internet is rife with recipes for black bean brownies, in which beans replace the flour, cocoa powder is the only source of chocolate, and, in Cara’s recipe, avocado adds some fat, but the healthy kind. I made Cara’s recipe, exchanging 2 tablespoons of cocoa for 1 ounce of bittersweet chocolate to add oomph to the chocolateliness in a compromise between health and flavor that I thought was worthwhile. The brownies were very, very edible. They didn’t taste like beans or like avocado. They also didn’t taste much like chocolate.

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This is when I started calculating calories, trying to see how much chocolate I could add to black bean brownies before it defeats the purpose of making a healthier brownie. I started by looking at Cook’s Illustrated’s Lighter Brownies recipe, replacing the flour with beans and the butter with avocado. I also added some ground almonds, because the original brownies needed something dry to absorb some of the moisture and bulk up the batter.

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Once you add more chocolate and fatty nuts to the recipe, it has just as much fat as Cook’s Illustrated butter-containing light brownie recipe. It has twice the fat of Cara’s recipe – but half the fat of my favorite regular brownie recipe (for the same size square). It has about the same amount of fiber and protein as Cara’s recipe, and two or three times the protein of a regular brownie recipe. (Regular brownies don’t contain any fiber to speak of.)

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What these brownies have going for them is that they’re chock full of fiber, high in protein, gluten-free, and full of good fats. What they have working against them is that they still have a significant amount of refined sugar, and they have more fat and therefore more calories than other black bean brownie recipes. They also have more flavor, more chocolate flavor, that is; in fact, so much chocolate flavor that this won’t just satisfy a chocolate craving, but it’ll cause a craving – for black bean brownies.

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first batch (all other photos are of second batch)

One year ago: Great Grains Muffins
Two years ago: Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese
Three years ago: Tofu Croutons
Four years ago: Potstickers

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Black Bean Avocado Brownies (adapted from Cara’s Cravings and Cook’s Illustrated’s Lighter Brownies)

12 medium squares

¼ cup almonds
½ cup (3.5 ounces) sugar
⅛ teaspoon table salt
1 (15-ounce black) beans, rinsed and drained
2 ounces avocado flesh (about ½ an avocado)
3 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 tablespoon boiling water
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon instant espresso powder
½ teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat an 8-inch square baking pan with vegetable oil spray.

2. Process the almonds, sugar, and salt in a food processor until the almonds are finely ground, about 2 minutes. Add the beans and avocado; process until the beans are smoothly pureed, 4-5 minutes (some flecks of bean skins may remain).

3. Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan containing one inch of simmering water. Add the chocolate; stir frequently until the chocolate is smooth, then remove from the heat. In a separate small bowl, whisk the cocoa, water, vanilla, and espresso powder together. Add the chocolate, cocoa mixture, and baking powder to the bean mixture in the food processor; pulse to combine. Add the eggs; process for 30 seconds, stopping twice to scrape the sides of the bowl.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack, at least 1 hour. Store leftovers, tightly wrapped, in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

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