Chocolate Buckwheat Cocoa Nib Cookies

Quite some time ago I came across a recipe for buckwheat pancakes. I, of course; went out and bought the buckwheat flour to try it out. The pancakes were extremely good and have been my preferred recipe when I have a pancake and maple syrup craving! My dad with my mom on there last visit to Seattle.

I must admit that there was an underlining reason I was so happy that these pancakes were so good. This is because my father loves buckwheat pancakes. I envisioned that the next time they visited I will have them over for a buckwheat pancake brunch! Unfortunately, we have not had any brunch opportunities as of yet. But I am still waiting, and in the mean time I have this bag of buckwheat flour sitting there. Each and every time I open up the cabinet door it looks me in the eye and begs - “Please! Please! Make something with me!?!” I could hear it whisper - “I am good for so much more than just pancakes!”

Of course I started to look into many different types of recipes I could sub buckwheat flour into. Being the cookie monster I know I am it was only logical I start there. it was my thought that buckwheat’s earthy sweetness pairs perfectly with a deep chocolate flavor. A few recipes were tried before i realized how much I like this one: Chocolate Buckwheat Cocoa Nib Cookies. I made them and was smitten. Then I ate a few more the following day with a cup of tea; could it be they were even better? I did some research and discovered many others who tried cookie recipes said the same thing, the flavor of the buckwheat developed and mellowed out a bit the following day. The cookie became more crisp, deeper in chocolate flavor, and the earthiness of the buckwheat made the cookie overall less sweet and more satisfying.

Cookies cooling from the oven.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. My father’s birthday was approaching and I asked him if there was anything he wanted. He responded with: cookies! When I asked what kind he said, "Any cookies you make, like the ones you use to make." I was a bit baffled being I do and have made many, many cookies over time; but I knew any cookies I would make would be good in his opinion. (If there is anything my father and I share it would be our Cookie Monster tendencies.

So I whipped up a couple different kinds, along with the the Chocolate Buckwheat Cocoa Nib Cookies. I may not be able to have a pancake brunch yet with them being we are thousands of miles apart. But cookies... cookies always ship quite well, that is what my dad and I think at least. Great minds think alike…cookies and all. (Happy Birthday Dad! I hope you are enjoying your cookies.)

Chocolate Buckwheat Cocoa Nib Cookies...crispy and yummy!

Chocolate Buckwheat Cocoa Nib Cookies (makes about 40 - 45 cookies)

1 1/4 cup of flour

3/4 cup buckwheat flour

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

10 oz butter (at room temp)

1/2 tsp of sea salt

2/3 cup sugar (plus more for sprinkling)

2 tsp vanilla extract

1/3 cup roasted cocoa nibs

Sea salt for Sprinkling (flaked sea salt is great for this, it is also a great time to try out flavored salts. I used an espresso salt, but plain old sea salt is just as good.)

First, whisk together both the flours, sea salt, and the cocoa powder. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Next, in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment place your butter and your sugar. Mix it together until it is light and fluffy. Add in the vanilla extract and mix it well. Once it is all combined well, slowly add the flour mixture. Mix it until it is combined and formed into one even dough.

Then, mix in the cocoa nibs and generously flour a smooth surface to roll out your dough. Roll the dough out with a rolling pin (generously flouring the dough too) until it is about 1/4 inch thick. *See note at bottom. Cut into desired shapes and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Chill until firm.

Finally, once the dough is firm sprinkle the top of each cookie generously with the extra sugar. Pinch a bit of the extra sea salt in the center of each cookie dough. Place the baking shtiks in the oven for 10 - 14 minutes until they are set, but with a little give. Let them cool on a rack and wrap tightly in plastic until ready to eat. They are best if eaten within a week.

**NOTE: I find when rolling out any dough it is always best to roll the rolling pin in one direction only. rotate the dough 45 degrees and roll again. I keep repeating this process until I get the thickness needed in the dough, and flour it as needed. You will find that by doing this the dough sticks less to your work surface, and you end up with a more evenly rolled out dough.

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookie

Of all the desserts, sugary items, oozy and gooey treats to indulge in and decadent things to eat…there is only one that will forever have my heart. I have been told that I make delicious custards and puddings, I have made cakes that are both rich and light, I can make munch-worthy candies, I can even flambé and brulee until your heart is content. But none of these things can hold a candle to my all-time favorite “dessert like” item: the ever beloved, Chocolate Chip Cookie. The best chocolate chip cookies stacked high after cooling.

The last time I was out with my family we walked into a bakery and café. They all laughed at me as we placed our orders. Of course I ordered a chocolate chip cookie and my mother said to my dad, “Some things will never change!” I have written on here before about my love of this divine treat and my memory of the first time I made these lovely and oh so wonderful cookies. Throughout time it is the only item I continuously go back to; I am always game for a good cookie. Yes, I have had some bad ones, but I have tried to wipe them from my memory! I personally feel there is a time and place for each kind of cookie; whether it has the qualities of being chewy, soft, crispy, crunchy, dunkable, or gooey.

I am in love with this Chocolate Chip Cookie.

Several months ago I read an article on Serious Eats written by, J. Kenji López-Alt; about the man who set out on a quest to find the best recipe for a chocolate chip cookie.  Through trial and error he literally tried a ton of recipes (Reading the article was refreshing actually. It made me feel like I was not alone with my crazed obsessions over food!). The end result was a mighty fine cookie. At first the recipe seemed like a bizarre mixing technique and brown butter. Call me strange but I was aroused and intrigued. I dove right in on the first free evening I had and I could not believe the outcome. They had great texture, the edges were crisp, and the cookie’s center had a nice balance of soft yet chewiness. The crumb of the cookie was subtle and the over the top finish was the light dusting of sea salt that you catch in just about every other bite. I will admit, I have made this recipe quite a few times now. Each and every time I share one of these chocolate chip cookies with someone they raise their brow because their taste buds have been alerted…yes, they know they just tasted the best chocolate chip cookie. I could go on and on about this recipe, but I will leave you with his exact measurements & instructions, you will have to let me know if you totally fall in love with the cookies like I have.

I savor every last bit of these cookies.

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookie (makes about 28 cookies)

8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter

1 standard ice cube (about 2 tablespoons frozen water)

10 ounces (about 2 cups) all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt or 1 teaspoon table salt

5 ounces (about 3/4 cup) granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

5 ounces (about 1/2 tightly packed cup plus 2 tablespoons) dark brown sugar

8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, roughly chopped with a knife into 1/2- to 1/4-inch chunks

Coarse sea salt for garnish

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, gently swirling pan constantly, until particles begin to turn golden brown and butter smells nutty, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and continue swirling the pan until the butter is a rich brown, about 15 seconds longer. Transfer to a medium bowl, whisk in ice cube, transfer to refrigerator, and allow to cool completely, about 20 minutes, whisking occasionally. (Alternatively, whisk over an ice bath to hasten process).

Meanwhile, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Place granulated sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk on medium high speed until mixture is pale brownish-yellow and falls off the whisk in thick ribbons when lifted, about 5 minutes.

Fit paddle attachment onto mixer. When brown butter mixture has cooled (it should be just starting to turn opaque again and firm around the edges), Add brown sugar and cooled brown butter to egg mixture in stand mixer. Mix on medium speed to combine, about 15 seconds. Add flour mixture and mix on low speed until just barely combined but some dry flour still remains, about 15 seconds. Add chocolate and mix on low until dough comes together, about 15 seconds longer. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate dough at least overnight and up to three days.

When ready to bake, adjust oven racks to upper and lower middle positions and preheat oven to 325°F. Using a 1-ounce ice cream scoop or a spoon, place scoops of cookie dough onto a non-stick or parchment-lined baking sheet. Each ball should measure approximately 3 tablespoons in volume and you should be able to fit 6 to 8 balls on each sheet. Transfer to oven and bake until golden brown around edges but still soft, 13 to 16 minutes, rotating pans back to front and top and bottom half way through baking.

Remove baking sheets from oven. While cookies are still hot, sprinkle very lightly with coarse salt and gently press it down to embed. Let cool for 2 minutes, then transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Repeat steps 3 and 4 for remaining cookie dough. Allow cookies to cool completely before storing in an airtight container, plastic bag, or cookie jar at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Brown Butter Toasted Almond Blondies

The other day I wanted something other than fruit; with summer in full swing we are indulging in all the super ripe summer fruits. Berries, apricots, nectarines, cherries – we have been helping ourselves to handfuls at a time. They are super sweet and tart, while being so juicy their nectar can barely be contained when slicing them. It feels so good to be enjoying all the natural wonders of summer like this. But sometimes I feel like being naughty! By naughty I mean, indulging in something sweet and decadently chewy instead of all that summer stone fruit and berries. Freshly baked Brown Butter Toasted Almond Blondies.

So in the morning I made some brown butter and set it aside for cooling. Have you had brown butter before? I have heard it referred to as a gift of the culinary gods! But all that it is is butter that is left over a low flame until it is melted and the solids of the butter separate from the fat and it begins to “toast” and turns the loveliest deeply golden color. Brown butter possesses a slightly nutty aroma and flavor to it as well. It is fantastic to drizzle over steamed veggies, or to sauté a light piece of fish in it. As if that is not enough to do with it, add brown butter to a cookie or cake recipe and the flavor of that recipe creates a depth that exceeds normal butter. I would not say you should go around and replace brown butter in every baking recipe you have, but in certain items it makes it sublime.

Freshly made brown butter, notice the amber like color.

With the brown butter made and cooled to room temperature I opted to whip up some Brown Butter Toasted Almond Blondies. They were moist, chewy, with a slightly crisp outer layer, while the interior was “almond-y“ and nutty from the brown butter. It was a perfect break away from the usual summer fruit. The blondies were great with some tea, and may I admit – even better as breakfast! This recipe is baked in a 9 by 13 inch pan, so depending on how you cut it you can end up with about fifteen pieces. More than enough to share and even more than enough to be naughty with. That is if you chose to eat them on your own; but I must admit, I enjoy them more when shared!

Chewy and Yummy!

Brown Butter Toasted Almond Blondies (makes about 15)

1 ¼ cups (2 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for pan

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan

1 cup white whole wheat flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoons sea salt

1 ¾ cups packed light-brown sugar

¾ cup granulated sugar

3 eggs

1 tbsp pure vanilla extract

½ tsp almond extract

1 ¼ cup almond slivers, toasted

First, place a small heavy bottomed pot (at least a quart or two in size) over medium low heat and place your butter within it. Keeping a close eye on it, because it can burn very easily. It will melt, then it will foam a bit, before it will slowly start to “toast” and turn amber like in color. Once the color is achieved remove it from the heat and let cool. You can place it in a bowl if you wish, or it can remain in the pan. It will be fine at room temperature for the day, (you can wrap it up and store it in the refrigerator until its use). For this recipe you will want to have the browned butter at room temperature.

Next, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9 by 13 inch baking dish and set aside. In the bowl of a standing mixer place your browned butter, brown sugar, and sugar in it. Mix it all together with the paddle attachment until pale in color and fluffy. To this add 1 egg at a time until it is thoroughly mixed before adding the next one. Scraping it down between them all. To this add your vanilla and almond extract and mix evenly.

Then; in a separate bowl add both of the flours, baking powder, and sea salt. Whisk it together and add it to your butter and egg mixture and mix it well, until it is even. To this add 1 cup of your toasted almonds and fold together. Pour the batter in your prepared pan and over the top sprinkle the remaining ¼ cup of almonds. Place it in the center of your oven and bake about 40 – 45 minutes, rotating it half way through.

Finally, once your Blondie appears golden and slightly firm you can remove and let cool about 30 minutes before slicing and serving. Can be wrapped in the pan or removed to a plate or platter and covered with plastic wrap. These Blondies can be stored at room temp for up to 5 days.

French Almond Macaroons, just the way I made them at my bakery.

When I had my bakery I was looking to make a new addition in the cookie department of our standard menu. We had been open a little more than a year and I felt the menu needed something new. I struggled long and hard over what to add. I went through countless books, scrolled the internet, tested a few recipes, and was left feeling really unsure. You see my cookies were popular…sometimes too popular, but that is another story. Picking just one recipe was hard; picking the perfect addition was even harder. It was not until I was slicing a piece of our Flourless Chocolate Cake (it was topped with dark chocolate ganache and some gold leafing that intrigued everyone) for a customer that I knew what kind of cookie to add, and it was going to be flourless. French Almond Macaroons, sandwiched with Dark Chocolate Ganache

A French Almond Macaroon would be a perfect addition to our menu. They were light and airy, with a slight chew in its texture. Now a traditional French Almond Macaroons are usually made in various flavor, colors to match, and also have many fillings. Traditionally the fillings are an Italian Buttercream of sorts, but I felt that was a bit too sweet for our bakery and opted for the dark chocolate ganache instead. Also, by keeping the cookie a plain and natural Almond base, when it was sandwiched it looked somewhat like a hamburger. I thought the cookies were so cute to look at, while being fun to eat.

Each morning I would bake off a batch and would wait for it to cool and shortly before we would open for business each day I would sandwich two of them together with a dollop of dark chocolate ganache.

Filling the Almond Macaroons, just like when I had my bakery.

When they caught on and gained a fan base with my customers it was sometimes hard to make them fast enough for them. They developed a following of loyal customers.

Fast forward to this past week - Brian and I went to Portland get away for a couple days .While we were there we got to visit and catch up with one of our old costumers and now friend that is a chef there. We got to gossip about the food scene, caught up on each other’s lives, had a few drinks, ate a really great meal, and low and behold my he began to tell me all the reasons he loved my cookies! Of all the cookies his favorite was the French Almond Macaroon. He explained how he felt the texture was just right, that these cookies had a nice light chew, and how the chocolate center finished it off well. I was touched to hear I left such an impression on him…but I will admit these cookies are that good. They are downright—Powerful! That is when I told him one of my secrets about these cookies. I increased the amount of almond that goes into the cookie so that the overall taste would be less sweet and have more mouth feel to them. I later told him I will write up the recipe here so that he and his friends can give it a try. Maybe you will too. Once again a good cookie is powerful, but I will take the good company and catching up with a friend over them any day. I can always make these cookies; you cannot just whip up a friendship with someone who loves food just as much as I do!?!

It was fun making these again. I am really happy for the memories they have crated with my customers.

French Almond Macaroons (from the Sweet Pea – bakery and catering)

*Makes about 28 – 36 cookies depending on the size you pipe them out.

1 ¼ cup powdered sugar

1 1/3 cup almond meal or almond flour (see notes below)

3 large egg whites

¼ cup of sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

Chocolate Ganache (recipe to follow)

First, preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Have ready a piping bag fitted with a round tip that has about a ½ inch opening to it. You will also need to have your baking sheets lined with parchment paper or Silplats if you have them.

Next, in a large bowl add your almond meal / almond flour and powdered sugar and whisk it together. In another bowl or in the bowl of a standing mixer place your egg whites and begin to whip them until they become foamy. Once foamy, begin to whip on a high speed and slowly add the sugar. You are looking for the egg to at least double in volume and hold a medium to soft peak. Then stir in your vanilla extract.

Then, place half your whipped egg into your bowl with the almond and powdered sugar mixture. Fold it together until you have lightened up the almond mixture. Add the remaining egg whites and fold together until the mixture is light, yet smooth.

Afterwards, you will fill your pastry bag with your mixture and pipe out anywhere from the size of a nickel to a quarter. Be sure not to leave a peek when piping, you can tap you pan gently to see if your peeks fall. Or with a slightly damp finger you can push them down. Place them in oven for about 25 minutes rotating them half way through. I found that depending on the batch they might need 5 – 10 minutes extra time, it might vary. Before pulling them out you want to see the cookies you piped are firm, set in place, and will lift from your lined pan when pulled.

Finally, let the cookies cool about 10 minutes before sandwiching with the ganache. Once you sandwich the cookies let them sit about 15 minutes to be sure the ganache has set before serving. Can be made ahead of time and wrapped in plastic to hold. Can be refrigerated once wrapped, and best not to sit longer than two days. I personally think these cookies taste best when eaten at room temperature.

Chocolate Ganache

5 oz. Semi-sweet chocolate (chips are fine but chopped chocolate is best)

1/2 cups cream

First, place Cream and chocolate in a bowl of a double boiler over medium heat (there should only be an inch or two of water in the pan, and the bowl should not be touching the water).

Next, you will want to gently stir the chocolate and the cream together as the chocolate melts. You will keep stirring until your chocolate and cream have unison and are a smooth sauce, and glossy looking.

Finally, remove your mixture from heat and let cool slightly before using. You are looking for the ganache to be smooth touched but hold its shape when dropped or piped.

NOTES: I know that the Almond Meal or Almond Flour may not be the easiest to find, but I do see it more frequently than years ago. Trader Joe’s has a version, so does Bob’s Red Mill, but I have even seen it pop up in the bulk section of stores like Whole Foods. Sometimes it will be blond in color and that is perfect. Sometimes it will be speckled with brown and that is fine too. It is just the skin of the almond in there. If you still cannot find any Almond Meal or Almond Flour you can make your own. Take whole or slivered blanched almonds and pulse them in a food processor until finely ground. Then sift the mixture so that you have a somewhat even texture remaining. If there are larger bits of almond left in the sifter you can toss them away.

Chocolate Dipped Graham Crackers

Sometimes I get these cravings out of the blue. Like when we moved into our apartment and all I could think about was Key Lime Pie? Or like when I wake up and all I can think about is Pasta and Broccoli that I have to go to the market and get all the ingredients so that I can have it for dinner. Brian usually goes along with my impulsive cravings. He dives into whatever I create with a random fork, spoon, or knife in  his hand. There are times I find him sneaking in a taste before the dish is even done and he will always openly tell me what he thinks of it. He is very honest and I value his input beyond belief. Why shouldn’t I? As always I credit Brian for pointing me in the direction of culinary school. Without it you would not be reading this right now! Chocolate Dipped Graham Crackers

So when I told Brian that I had a desire for a Chocolate Dipped Graham Cracker, he looked at me over his eye glasses with his eye brow bent and said- Really? Okay, so he was not too thrilled with my craving. But I told him to trust me because I knew he would enjoy the outcome. So I researched a bunch of recipes, and looked high and low for graham flour (a coarsely ground whole wheat flour) and could not find one. Whole wheat pastry flour and wheat bran would replace it without hindering my crackers.

Graham Crackers cooling out  from the oven.

I whipped up a bunch of crackers the other night. We snacked on two of them when they were done baking. Brian ate it gently as it was still really warm and exclaimed- These are really tasty! After I was done baking and cooling the crackers and I began to melt the chocolate and started in on dipping all of them. Now I could tell that Brian was interested in what I was creating because he was now up and out of his seat and watching me. (Working with dark chocolate will usually get this arousal out of him!) I told him to go ahead and try one and when he did he was grinning and I could tell he was already planning on how to ration them out to make them last. In Brian’s opinion the cracker develops much more flavor once they are cooled, and the dark chocolate was a nice contrast to the mildly sweet cracker. Now, can you see why I value his opinion so immensely?  These crackers were great and lasted us about a week…I am surprised we held out on them!

Freshly chocolate dipped graham crackers waiting to cool and harden.

Chocolate Dipped Graham Crackers

(amount of crackers to be made will depend on the size you cut them. I did them about 3 1/2 inches square, resulting in over 4 dozen crackers - plus scrap ends from rolling out.)

1 ¼ cup of Whole Wheat Flour

¼ cup of Wheat Bran

1 ½ cup of AP flour

1 tsp of Cinnamon

½ tsp of Cardamom

½ tsp of Baking Soda

1 cup Brown Sugar

1 tbsp of Honey

1 tsp of Vanilla Extract

8 oz of Butter, softened

3 – 4 tbsp Cream

1 pound of Dark Chocolate

First; in the bowl of a standing mixer place your whole wheat flour, wheat bran, AP flour, brown sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and cardamom. Give it all a quick stir and then place in the butter, with a paddle attachment begin to mix it all together on low speed.

Next, you will notice the mixture will begin look crumbly. When you see that the butter is evenly mixed in to the dry ingredients, add in your vanilla and honey. Continue to mix it together and slowly add the cream, a little bit at a time; until you see your mixture form a ball and hold together.

Then, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Take your dough and divide it up into 4 to 6 pieces (whatever is more manageable for yourself.) Roll out each piece of dough between two pieces of lightly floured parchment to about ¼ of an inch thick. Place the rolled out cracker and parchment in the freezer and chill until firm, about 25 minutes.

Afterwards; when dough is firm to touch cut into desired shapes – square or rectangle (using a knife or a pastry wheel).It is best to cut them uniformly so they bake up evenly. Keeping the cracker dough on the parchment, dock your dough with a fork and place on a cookie sheet and bake until firm. About 8 – 16 minutes, until golden and firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and cool.

Finally, over a double boiler gently melt your chocolate until it is smooth. Remove from the heat. Quickly and as neatly as possible dip the desired amount of each cracker (I did the back side) into the chocolate. Let the chocolate drip from cracker before placing it on a piece of parchment to cool and harden. Once chocolate is set be sure to wrap them well and store in a cool dry place for about a week.

Double Chocolate Cookies with Peanut Butter Chips

We are making headway on this puzzle. Little by little, day by day more gets done; and yet we have had moments were we feel like we are getting nowhere. It all made me reflect back to last year when we went on a two night get away to Northeastern Washington and brought this along in case we were looking for something to do in the evening. What made me think we could do a 2,000 piece puzzle of Starry Night in two days is still beyond me. 057

So here we are almost a year later finally tackling this thing. More than two weeks into it and finally making progress. I will admit I starred at it for a while on my weekend that it made me feel like I was seeing double. Do you blame me? All these tiny shapes with teeny paint brush strokes of the post-impressionist movement will make you dizzy. So if there was anything that what would make evenings of jigsaw puzzle assembly bearable it would be cookies!

Peanut Butter Chips and Chocoltae Chunks

Chocolate cookies with chocolate chunks and peanut butter chips in them…In my opinion that combo will make just about anything bearable and have simplicity. I baked up these cookies the other morning and surprised Brian with them when he came home. After dinner (like every other night since we started this puzzle) we sat at the table attempting to piece together the multi shades of lavender and blue. Some are speckled with yellow, brown, and green in complete random that all together it can make your head spin trying to make sense of it all. So you eat a cookie, and then you eat another one. Cookies make the puzzle go by faster and before you know it a little more of the puzzle is put together. Maybe it is the combo of double chocolate and peanut butter chips? I love this combo together. But we are now out of the cookies and the puzzle still needs to be finished. I think I will be making more cookies this week; we might even finish the puzzle.

Double Chocolate Cookies with Peanut Butter Chips

Double Chocolate Cookies with Peanut Butter Chips (makes about 4-5 dozen)

8 oz of Butter (softened)

1 cup of Sugar

1 tsp of Vanilla extract

1 Whole Egg

1 Egg yolk

1 oz of Unsweetened Chocolate

2 ¼ cup of All Purpose Flour

½ tsp of Baking soda

½ tsp of Sea salt

¼ cup of Cocoa powder

1 cup of Chocolate chunks

1 cup of Peanut butter chips

First; preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Place your 1 oz of unsweetened chocolate on a double boiler and heat until melted and set aside.

Next, In the bowl of your mixer place your butter and sugar and mix it all together until it is well incorporated, fluffy, and light in color. To this add your vanilla and whole egg and mix on low again. Be sure to stop and scrape down the sides to be sure it all mixes together smoothly. Add in the yolk and again be sure to mix it in fully, then mix in your melted chocolate until it is evenly mixed into all of it,.

Than, in a separate bowl whisk together your flour, baking soda, sea salt, and cocoa powder. Add a little bit of this to your butter mixture and stir together. In two more parts add the rest of your flour mixture and stir until it is all well blended.

Finally, fold in your chocolate chunks and peanut butter chips. Place parchment paper on a sheet pan and scoop out your cookie batter leaving a bit of room between each cookie and slightly flatten each scoop before placing in the oven baking until golden on the edges and slightly firm in the center. Let cool before removing from pan and enjoy.

**Note: Cooking time may vary depending on the size of your cookie. I scooped them about 2 tablespoon a piece and baked them for about 8 to 12 minutes each.

Chocolate Sugar Cookies with Peppermint Icing

I wait all year to enjoy the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Every year I watch it at Christmas time, and I hope that I have made an impression on others the way Gorge Bailey has. Each year, I am reminded that the value of family and friendship is what makes you rich. I love in the end how George receives the message that – No man is a failure who has friends. I value that statement… I also value the power of a good cookie! Assorted Sugar Cookies- Chocolate Sugar Cookies with Peppermint Icing, Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookies in the background .

Now I know that last statement may seem odd to some, but if you know me you will understand where I am coming from. To me a good cookie makes everything better. A cookie can bring a smile to the face of those you share them with. A good cookie makes you feel comforted and loved when eating one. Spending an afternoon decorating cookies is even better. It brings me peace. With the craziness of the season behind me to spend the afternoon with a friend icing, sugaring, and adorning each cookie has a Zen-like quality to it. With holiday music playing along with fun conversation I am at ease and I am realizing that there is love and friendship to surround me in my life.

As I snack on the cookies I reflect on the traditions of the season. I am so happy to have the two of these. I love watching this movie, and I love making these cookies!  If you are interested in the recipe Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookies you can find them here. The Chocolate Sugar Cookies are close contender and I sometimes think I like them more than the vanilla bean ones. Maybe it is the Peppermint Icing I pair them with. Maybe you can make a new tradition and bake some of them yourself. You can spend some time decorating them and enjoying the season as I have! Make memories, share the cookies; you might be making someone’s day with them…you never know the power of sharing - especially at the holidays.

Happy Holiday! Happy cookie making, happy cookie eating!

Chocolate Sugar Cookie Stars with Peppermint Icing

Chocolate Sugar Cookies (Makes 2 dozen or more depending on cutter size)

10 oz. Butter

1 ¾ cups Sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 Eggs

3 ½ cups Flour

1 ¼ tsp Baking Powder

1 tsp Salt

1 cup Cocoa Powder

¼ cup of Sugar

First, in the bowl of a mixer combine the 1 ¾ cup of sugar and the butter and mix together until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time and the vanilla until well combined and mixed to a smooth consistency.

Next; whisk together all of your flour, coco powder, ¼ cup of sugar, salt, and baking powder. Add your dry mixture to the bowl with the butter. Mix on a low speed until all of the batter is combined well and evenly smooth.

Then, roll out your dough onto a lightly floured surface. Roll to about ½ inch thick, at least. Cut into desired shapes and place onto a lined sheet pan. Place the sheet pan in the refrigerator and chill at least 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the sheet pans in the oven and bake about 8 minutes depending on size. Be sure not to bake until too golden in color. If they are still soft in the center that is fine, let them cool on a sheet pan on rack before decorating.

*Note: Baking these cookies too long, or mixing these cookies too long will make them tough and or bitter tasting!

Peppermint Icing

2 cups powdered sugar, or more

¼ cup of water, or more

1/4 tsp of peppermint extract

First, in a bowl place your powdered sugar and stir with a fork. Be sure there are not lumps.

Next, little by little add some of the water you have and constantly whisk it with your fork. You want to work in the water little by little until you have a pasty, yet smooth consistency. You want the icing to be smooth and thick, but not drippy…if it is too drippy r runny you can add a bit more sugar to even out the consistency.

Then, when you have the consistency you would like for decorating you can whisk in the peppermint extract.  When done fill a piping bag with the icing and you are ready for decorating. If you are leaving some of the icing in a bowl you can place a damp paper towel over the top of it to keep it moist while it rests…you do not want it to dry out.

Finally, once your icing is on you can dust with sprinkles and enjoy. If you are looking for the icing to harden you should let the cookies sit and dry out for a bit before enjoying.

Hawaii, Passover, and Cravings

I started writing this from Hawaii, and I was so busy I am finishing it in Seattle. I was in Maui for work for two and a half weeks. I am sure to most of you it sounds like a great place for a business trip, but the reality of it is seeing the back side of a resort and its kitchen for the majority of the time. It is all for a Passover vacation the company I work for puts together. It is a lot of hard work, dedication, and long hours leading to total exhaustion by the end of a day. Beach after a morning walk in Maui.

Did I mention this was all for Passover? The translation of this means nothing is to be prepared with any grain, rice, flour, or legume. This is only after the kitchen is scrubbed beyond any recognition of any trace of these ingredients. They scrub away at the stoves, ovens, utensils, serving equipment, plates, glasses, and such just to get a thorough cleaning. This makes my job as a pastry chef really hard. People still want cake, expect cookies, love their pastries, and expect loads of sweets. By the time the cleaning is done we can start preparing our desserts and sweets from the likes of ground almonds, potato starch, & cotton oil. I find myself craving a big bowl of pasta, whole wheat bread, and cookies made with… Flour!

My last full day in Seattle before I traveled here I had this urgency to bake something. I thought long and hard over it too. This might be the last sweet item I eat for almost two weeks that contains flour; I must make something worthy of my time and effort. I pondered on this for a bit and remembered a recipe I have tried a few times from Food & Wine magazine. The recipe was a Chocolate Chip Cookie that you bake in a bar form in a spring form pan. It was simple, easy, delicious, and so gratifying. I first tried the recipe as is, but of course I tweaked it to fit my desire. The recipe calls for chocolate chunks, but I found a shop in my neighborhood that sells chocolate chips that have been smoked! This was the perfect opportunity to try them out. The other great thing about this recipe is it uses whole wheat flour. I love the nutty flavor that whole wheat imparts onto a baked item. Combine this with the smoked chocolate chips and toasted pecans results in a lovely sweet meets savory flavor.

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Pecan Bars (Made with smoked chocolate chips.)

I understand that you may not be able to find a chocolate that is smoked, and believe me that this recipe is great without them. But it goes to show you that some things are always worth trying. It really makes the weeks working Passover so much more bearable! I may have had two and a half weeks to gaze out at the beach as I walked to the kitchen in the morning…but there is only so many ways you can try to reinvent potato starch. Now that I am back in Seattle I need to whip up another batch – the heavenly smell and taste are calling to me…Absence makes the taste buds long for more!

Whole wheat chocolate chip bars with pecans fresh out of the oven.

Whole Wheat (Smoked) Chocolate Chip Cooke Bars (makes about 16 – 18 squares)

1 cup of pecans

6 tbsp of butter, room temperature

2 tbsp of vegetable oil

¼ cup plus 2 tbsp of sugar

¼ cup of light brown sugar, heaping

1 large egg

2 tsp of vanilla extract

1 1/3 cups of whole wheat flour

½ tsp of kosher salt

½ tsp of baking soda

1 cup of chocolate chips (smoked if you can get your hands on any)

First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Place your pecans in a pie dish and place in the oven for about 10 minutes. You are looking for the pecans to toast and become fragrant; without burning them. Once they are toasted, let them cool, and chop them roughly.

Next, in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment place your butter, oil, brown sugar, and ¼ cup of sugar. Mix it all together until it is all combined, light, and fluffy. Add in the vanilla and egg and mix it all again. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to be sure that all your ingredients are combined well.

Then, add in your whole wheat flour, baking soda, and salt. Mix just until it is combined. Fold in the chocolate chips (smoked ones if using) and your pecans. Place all in a 9 – 10 inch spring form pan lined with parchment paper; and pat down until it is evenly spread across the pan. Sprinkle the top evenly with the remaining 2 tbsp of sugar.

Finally, place in the center of the oven and bake about 20 minutes at 350 degrees. You are looking for the edges to be golden; and the center somewhat firm. Remove from the oven to cool before removing from the pan. Once cool you may remove from the pan and slice as desired. Keeps well once sealed for at least 4 days.

Rosemary Shortbread is Independence!

As I walk throughout my neighborhood I am surrounded by an abundance of flowers springing up everywhere. Among all of this there are Sweet Peas and huge Rosemary Bushes multiplying overnight.  Sweet Peas are growing along the busy road sides, out of rock walls and everywhere you turn. Some of the rosemary bushes I see feel as though they have doubled in size overnight. They are so beautiful and sway in the breeze bringing a beautiful smell that I wish I could bottle. All of this brings up so many memories as I see and smell them.

You may not know but several years ago I was searching for a name for my bakery and I felt so lost. I already had a menu of sweets in mind, but could not settle on a name. I asked others for help but still nothing was satisfying. I came across someone carrying Sweet Pea Blossoms. They were so delicate, dainty, and smelled beautifully. She told me that she grew them in her garden. So I went home to see how feasible it would be to grow them in my own yard. (You have to remember that this is when I lived in Phoenix. It is really hard to grow much of anything in the dessert unless you dedicate a lot of time to it!) In my research it said that a Sweet Pea blossoms are to be described as a casual splendor, accompanied by subtle aromas. A light bulb went off; I had a name for my bakery: The Sweet Pea.  And believe it or not I always made a Rosemary Shortbread that I was planning on having on the menu. So you can see how this time of year as I walk around I am reminded of all that went on not too long ago.

About six years later at the time of closing my bakery, my husband and I were dealing with so much stress. Besides the closing of our business and the failing economy in Phoenix, my father had become gravely ill and was hospitalized for about a month. Brian’s job was becoming increasingly difficult and weighing on him like a ton of bricks. My husband’s aunt who we adored had passed away unexpectedly and we took it really hard. On top of it all Brian lost his job when they laid-off half his company. What a few months of hell. Time for a rebirth, time for change, and time to move on.  Seattle bound we were which leads us to now. (I moved here exactly 2 years ago this past week!)

We came to Seattle for a new start, and to regain what we had. I guess you can say we were looking for our independence again. With all the greenery and growth here it was the perfect move to make. It seemed like there was “life” here if that makes sense to anyone? Room to grow if you will. So I find it a bit ironic that I see all these splendors of nature here that I had to search for in Phoenix. Sweet Peas galore and rosemary a plenty….or just for remembrance, like in Shakespeare?

The Fourth of July is this week and many of you will be BBQ-ing it up. With red, white and blue food and desserts decking out your tables; however I might be going about it a different route. Sweet Peas freshly picked from one of my walks through our hood. Let us not forget Rosemary Shortbread – you always should remember where you came from, and how you got there. Happy 4th to you all! Happy Cooking!

Rosemary Shortbread (makes about 30 cookies, depending on size)

These cookies are wonderfully light and mildly sweet. The mixture of rosemary along with the honey creates not only a beautiful aroma when baked, as well as a lovely taste with a buttery goodness. They are great any time of day, and especially lovely with tea! I am sure you will become a fan, as so many of our customers and friends have. 

4 cups of AP Flour

1 tsp of sea salt

1 tsp of baking powder

2 tbsp of fresh rosemary, chopped

1 pound of butter, at room temperature

2 tbsp of honey

1 cup of powdered sugar

2 Tbsp of granulated sugar or sugar in the raw

First; in a bowl stir together your flour, sea salt, & baking powder and set it aside. In a standing mixer cream together your butter, honey, and powdered sugar. Once your butter, honey, and powdered sugar are creamed together you can mix in the rosemary. When that is all well combined you can then add your flour mixture. Add it in slowly until it is all combined together. It will begin to all become one form when it is ready.

Next; line a sheet pan with parchment and press your shortbread batter into your pan evenly across it. I like to press it into place, and then place another sheet of parchment across the top of it.  With a rolling pin or a study even jar (depending on what will fit within the rim of the baking sheet) gently roll over the shortbread dough to be sure it is all evenly placed within the pan.

Then; remove the top layer of parchment and with a knife carefully score where you would like your cookie to be cut. Once that is done, with a fork prick each cookie evenly. (This is so heat will escape the shortbread while it bakes without it deforming the shape of the cookie.) Sprinkle the top of the shortbread with either the granulated sugar or the sugar in the raw. Place the sheet pan in the freezer so that the shortbread will become firm before braking.

Finally; pre-heat your oven to 300 degrees. Once your oven is at temperature you can place your chilled shortbread in the oven and bake about 30 - 40 minutes. You are looking for the cookies to have a slightly golden blond look to them around the edges of your pan, and a nice firmness to the touch. Let cool about 10 minutes before re-cutting the cookies along the scores you made. Be sure they are cool to the touch before lifting off of the pan.

Old Fashion Walnut Brownies

What do you do when you hear of family or a friend in need? You can call, you can write, you can lend a hand, you can send flowers… I bake. It is the one thing I know I can do that will almost always bring a smile to the face of the receiver. I often bake when I know someone is down or in the need of some comfort and reassuring. But what to bake is the question? In this particular case I am shipping my baked goods back to New Jersey. I could send cookies, or make a quick bread; but then it hit me: Brownies! They are the ultimate comforting homey baked good I can think of. When served with a glass of milk they exude love & comfort, and that is just what I am going for. So I hope my aunt will be surprised when she receives some Old Fashion Walnut Brownies this weekend from me.

I have developed this recipe long ago and have been making them for years now. They are actually the same brownies that I put into my Brownie Chunk Cookies (minus the walnuts and a bit of salt). It is also the same recipe that was published in Bon Appetit Magazine’s issue of Best of Bakeshops back in September of 2008 when I had my bakery in Phoenix. I hope that you all try it and feel the love and comforting warmth that I believe they give.

Old Fashion Walnut Brownies

8 oz of unsweetened chocolate, chopped

8 oz of butter

4 cups of sugar

8 eggs

1 tbsp of Vanilla Extract

2 cups of Flour

1 tsp of sea salt

3 cups of walnuts

First, on a double boiler melt the chocolate and the butter. Stir and be sure you have a smooth consistency, remove from boiler and cool slightly (10 min). Also preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Next, in a large bowl place your sugar and whisk it together with your eggs & Vanilla. Once combined whisk it with the melted butter and chocolate mixture.

Then, mix in your flour and sea salt. Once all is combined; fold in your nuts and set your brownie batter mixture aside.

Finally, line a 9 by 13 inch pan with foil and butter it well. Pour your batter into it and smooth out to even it in your pan. Place in the center of your oven and bake about 35 – 40 minutes until it feels set and does not jiggle when touched. Let cool before slicing and serving.

Note: If you chill the brownies, the foil will assist you to lift the brownies out of the pan easily. It also slices a lot more nicely if it is chilled first, as opposed to slicing it warm.