Fudgy Chocolate Toffee Walnut Cookies

Of the few activities I enjoy more than baking, one is sharing my kitchen creations with family and friends. So it should be no surprise that The Takedowns, whether they be cookie-, ice cream-, chili-, or otherwise themed, are amongst my most looked-forward-to events of the year. And what an extra special one this was. Not only did I get to spend time with loved ones, sample dozens of other home chef extraordinaires’ cookies, and share my chocolate toffee walnut cookies with all the attendees, I also won first place!

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These winning cookies are deeply chocolate, slightly smokey (from the walnuts–make sure you toast them!), and feature toffee bar bits and sea salt flakes. They are also that rare breed of cookie that taste better after they’ve had a few days to let the flavors meld together. So get to it, and make them soon for your holiday festivities. They’re sure to be a crowd pleaser.

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Chocolate Toffee Walnut Cookies

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes about 30-40 cookies

5 tablespoons butter

12 ounces Ghirardelli’s 60% cocoa baking bars

4 ounces Ghirardelli’s 70% cocoa baking bar

1/2 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

heaping 1/2 teaspoon salt

4 eggs

1 1/2 cups light brown sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

5 1.4 ounce Heath bars, chopped to about chocolate chip size

1 cup walnuts, chopped, and toasted (the toasting is critical!)

Maldon sea salt flakes, for topping

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Fill a small pot with about an inch of water and bring to a simmer. Place butter and cocoa bars in a small or medium bowl and place on top of pot. Stir occasionally, until butter and cocoa are melted together. Let cool slightly (but not completely) while you work on the following steps, continuing to stir every few minutes to make sure it is not solidifying.

Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small bowl.

Beat the sugar and eggs in a stand mixer on medium high speed for about 6 minutes, until the mixture thickens. Add the vanilla extract and melted chocolate, and mix on medium speed until well incorporated, about 2 minutes.

Use a rubber spatula to fold the flour mix into the batter. Make sure it is evenly distributed. Add the Heath bits and walnuts (make sure they are well toasted!) and fold until well distributed within the batter.

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Cover top of batter with plastic wrap and place in fridge for at least 1 hour and 15 minutes to harden (or else it will be too difficult to shape into cookies).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Using either a teaspoon and your hands or a cookie scooper, shape the dough into slightly smaller than ping pong ball sized mounds. Sprinkle liberally with sea salt flakes. Baked for 8-12 minutes, until tops looks just slightly dried and cracked, but much of the cookies still looks raw. Allow to cool completely.

Unlike most baked goods, these taste best once they have completely cooled, and once they have rested for a day or two–somehow all the complex flavors come together while the cookie retains a deep fudgy-ness. Just make sure to store these in an airtight container (at room temperature).

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In Which I Reject Perfection, or S’More Pie

Grad school starts tomorrow! Well, I technically don’t have classes until Wednesday, but given that I am starting my NYU job tomorrow and this Labor Day weekend has been filled to the brim with reading for my upcoming classes, I think it is fair to say that my grad school ship is sailing.

Unsuspecting Marshmallows

After realizing that just one of the readings for one of my classes comes in at over 600 pages, I am remembering the principle of diminishing returns. (Can you tell I had to take a microeconomics exam last week?) To put it another way, in Voltaire’s words, the perfect is the enemy of the good (and done). Was it likely that my assignment actually entailed reading 600 pages and taking careful notes just to be prepared for one class session? Probably not. Was I still tempted to do just that? Of course! Did I? No…at least not after about 10 pages or so.

It seems that grad school will have to be when I finally accept that I cannot do everything; that sometimes there are shortcuts and it is okay (and expected) to take them. One day I will realize that skimming a reading instead of critically analyzing its entirety is not the end of the world. Until then I’ll be having a panic attack in the corner every time I try to digest hundreds of pages of reading in a matter of minutes, and remembering the one time I tried to take a drastic shortcut in the kitchen and miserably failed.

Ah The Burnt Marshmallow Horror

It was Thanksgiving 2013. I had little time and a whole s’more pie to make. I was not about to make marshmallows from scratch, and so I thought, why not just dump a package of marshmallows on top of my chocolate pie, brown them in the oven, and call it a day? Because marshmallows expand when they are heated, and if you are not careful they will touch the broiler and set themselves on fire, and before you know it the kitchen will be filled with smoke, and your oven will look like the gates of hell, and you will have to flee the home on Thanksgiving. That is why not.

But with some careful planning, this could have been avoided. The shortcut would have worked if I had been mindful enough to put the pie on a low rack far from the broiler, and had kept an eye on things. And that is what I well have to tell myself now. Breathe. It will all get done. Just keep it in perspective.

Burnt Smores Pie

S’more Pie

Adapted from Gourmet

Makes 8 servings

For the crust:

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs

6 tablespoons melted butter

1 tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

For the chocolate filling:

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

3 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

1 cup heavy cream

1 large egg, at room temperature

salt

For the marshmallow topping:

1 bag of regular sized marshmallows

ButterFor the crust, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl. Use your hands to press the mixture into a pie plate. Bakes for 15 minutes, or until the crust looks crisp. Set aside to cool completely while you make the filling.

Graham Cracker Crust

For the chocolate filling, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bring the cream to a boil. Put the chocolate in a large bowl and pour the cream over it. Let stand for one minute, and then whisk the chocolate and heavy cream so they are well combined. Whisk in the egg and salt gently. Pour the chocolate mixture into the graham cracker crust. Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until the filling looks set and the center just slightly trembles.

Chocolate Filling

To brown the marshmallow topping, position an oven rack in the lowest possible rack (this is important!!!) and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour marshmallows over the chocolate filling, and place in the oven. Bake for about 3 minutes, checking on the pie every minute to make sure it is not burning and about to set your home aflame. The pie is ready when the marshmallow topping is as brown as you would like it to be or your smoke detector goes off.

Chunkies

Is there an activity more associated with Mother’s Day than brunch? Being fortunate enough to live in a neighborhood that is known for its many restaurants, and about 15 minutes away from my mommy, I definitely am not complaining about this annual tradition. And living so close to my parents means that it doesn’t have to be a special occasion for me to meet up with my parents for a meal or to stop by my childhood home.

Chunky Lola

But having my own place so close by also means that I rarely see my parents for more than a few hours at a time, and even more rarely overnight. And while I’m glad I’m not living in their basement or sleeping in the bed I’ve had since I was four years old that they have somehow managed to hold on to, I do miss many of the things we would do when I was younger or when I was back home for the summer during my college years–things we did together by virtue of living under the same roof. There were weekend walks around the neighborhood, evenings spent drinking tea and playing battleship or rummy, and, what I miss most of all, many hours spent cooking together.

Every Christmas Eve, I make sure I plan at least a few dishes that require being made right before serving, just so I can have some moments in the kitchen with my parents. And while it wasn’t a part of how I celebrated Mother’s Day this year, I’d like to make cooking together a part of my mother’s and my Mother’s Day tradition in years to come. Having some “adult” (unsweetened chocolate and pecans) and “kid-friendly” (milk chocolate and sweetened coconut) flavors, I think these cookies would be the perfect place to start. With the few hours they need to spend “marinating” in the fridge, you can make the dough, have some brunch, and be back just in time to bake them.

The Chocolate Stars

Chunkies

Adapted from Flour by Joanne Chang

Makes about 25 cookies

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

2/3 cup light brown sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/4 cups flour

2/3 cup old fashioned rolled oats (not instant!)

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

5 ounces semisweet or milk chocolate, chopped

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped

1 1/2 cups chopped pecans

1 cup sweetened shredded coconut

The Chunkies

Cream together the butters and sugars in a stand mixer on medium speed. It will take about 5-7 minutes for the mixture to become light and fluffy. Scrape the sides, and the eggs and vanilla, and mix until incorporated well.

Sugar Butter Sugar

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, oats, baking soda, and salt. Then add the chocolates, pecans, and coconut, and mix to combine.

Working in batches, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture just until the flour mixture is incorporated.

The Chunks

Put the dough in an airtight container and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, but preferably overnight. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Roll the cookies to about the size of bowling balls, and slightly flatten them. Place them on a baking sheet about two inches apart. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges are golden brown but they still look soft in the center.

Chunkies in the Making

Eat with your Mother’s Day brunch! Or any other time…

Chocolate Gingerbread Granola

One surefire way to tell if a recipe is successful is the amount of time that passes between the first and second times that you make it. I find the lower the amount of time, the more likely it is to be a keeper. I made this chocolate gingerbread granola tonight. When else did I make it? Three days ago. Did I get anywhere near depleting the supply I first made in the past three days? No–nowhere near it. But I can already tell this is the kind of food that I will want to have on-hand at all times. Good thing it can be frozen in an freezer bag or other airtight container for months.

Chocolate Gingerbread Granola

And did I mention how much cheaper it is to make this than it is to buy granola, especially if you are into those “artisan” granolas that seem to pepper any and all farmer’s markets these days? I cannot imagine ever going back to paying seven dollars or more for the stuff. This recipe also takes mere minutes to toss together, so you will be saving not only time but money. Winning!

Granola for Giving

And who has time now that the holidays are quickly approaching? I’m sure this has occurred to you already, but this granola also makes a wonderful gift when packaged in pint jars. I eat almost all of my granola with yogurt, but the thought of my friends and family enjoying some of this granola with warmed milk and a hot cup of coffee on Christmas morning, once all the gifts have been opened and dinner plans are a few hours away brings me joy. 

Candied Ginger

Chocolate Gingerbread Granola

Adapted from Everybody Likes Sandwiches

Makes about 4 pints

3 1/2 cups oats

1/2 cup wheat germ

1 cup raw almonds, roughly chopped (or you can use a mix of almonds and pecans)

1/4 cup high quality unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tablespoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon salt (I like using ground Maldon salt)

1/3 cup melted coconut oil

1/3 cup molasses

2 tablespoons maple syrup (I recommend using the real stuff)

1 cup dried cranberries

1/3 cup candied ginger, finely chopped

Up Close Granola

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat mats.

Dry Mix

Mix the oats, wheat germ, nuts, cocoa, and spices in a large bowl. Add the coconut oil, molasses, and maple syrup. Use a spoon to mix well.

Wintry Granola Mix

Pour the granola out on the two mats evenly, making sure to spread it as much as possible so it can bake evenly. Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, stirring after 15 minutes.

Remove from oven and sprinkle with dried cranberries and candied ginger. Allow to cool completely, and then use the back of a spoon to break up granola into smaller clusters. Store in airtight containers, and plan on losing a few handfuls to “taste testing” as you pack it up.

Aerial Granola

Spiced Brownie Cookies

These are not the most inspiring cookies to look at. Perhaps I am to blame–I could have pulled out the squirrel or dinosaur cookie cutters. Maybe I could have put some frosting or nonpareils on top for a bit of pizzazz. But the great thing about these cookies is that they don’t need anything more than themselves. I brought forty of these to a small party, and within about two hours, there was nary a crumb left, but plenty of compliments to the chef (merci, merci).

Spiced Brownie Cookie

These cookies pack quite the chocolate punch, and with the addition of cinnamon and cayenne pepper, they also have a nice autumnal warmth. Could you think of anything better to enjoy these last few weeks of summer and start welcoming the fall? I won’t bore you with tales of how easy they are to make, but I will leave you with this tip: if you don’t have a cookie cutter, use a small cup to cut the cookies. No need to whip out the fancy shapes for this one.

The Brownie Batter

Spiced Brownie Cookies

Adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

Makes about 45 cookies

3 cups flour

2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (you can use Dutch or the regular Hershey’s stuff)

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

17 tablespoons butter, softened

1 1/3 cups sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Don't Look

Whisk together the flour, cocoa, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, salt, and baking powder.

In an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until they are fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time. Add the vanilla extract. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and gradually add the dry ingredients.

The Flavor

As soon as the dough comes together, shape it into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and put it in the fridge for at least an hour.

Brownie Ball

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thick. Use a cookie cutter to cut out cookies, and place them on baking sheets lined with parchment paper, about 1/2 of an inch apart.

Ready for Cookie Cutting

Bake for about 10 minutes, until the cookies look firm on the edges but still soft in the center. Let the cookies cool. They can be wrapped in tin foil and stored for several days.

Brownie Stacks