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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Brown Butter Snickerdoodles

Some New Year’s resolutions are about improving upon things we do already, while others are about trying something altogether new. Sure, we want to get back on top of flossing, but we also want to bungee jump off a cliff, and somehow it makes sense to put these two things on the same list. I, personally, aim to finally pet a llama this year, but this being a cooking blog and all, let’s save that story for another day.

Snickerdoodles

And while my cooking goals for 2015 don’t involve large and furry animals, they still run a pretty wide spectrum. I plan to use my new fancy schmancy immersion blender to make all the creamy and velvety smooth soups I’ve dreamed of for years, and I’d like to start making some fancier cakes for special occasions. I’ll compete in at least one cooking competition so I don’t completely lose my mass cooking mojo while in grad school, and maybe even write a blog post during the semester. Throw in the requisite attempt at healthy cooking, and my 2015 resolutions are complete.

Cinnamon Sugar Bowls

And some cookies were actually made before the new year, so none of the above applies.

Brown ButterBrown Butter Snickerdoodles

Adapted from Baked Elements

Makes about 20-30 cookies

2 1/4 sticks unsalted butter

2 3/4 cups flour

2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon and 2 teaspoons cinnamon, separated

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1 tablespoon milk

3/4 cup and 3 tablespoons sugar, separated

2/3 cup light brown sugar

All Together

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat, swirling it occasionally. Do this until the butter turns nut brown, which will take 7 to 10 minutes. Pour the butter in a stand mixer and beat on medium-low speed for 6 or so minutes to cool the butter.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, and salt.

Flour Spice Everything Nice

In a separate bowl, lightly whisk together the eggs and milk.

Add the 3/4 cup of sugar and the brown sugar to the butter and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Turn the speed to low, scrape down the bowl, and add the egg mixture. Once the egg is incorporated, add the flour mixture in three batches, and mix just until the mixture comes together. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 5 hours, and up to a day.

Sugar Butter

Once ready to bake, preheat oven to 400 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine the remaining sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Use your hands to roll the dough into ping pong ball sized balls, roll in the sugar and cinnamon, and place on the baking sheet about 1 1/2 inches apart from each other. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, rotating half way through the bake time. The cookies are ready when they have cracked and the breaks look like they have set.

Cool the cookies. They will keep for a few days in an airtight container.

Snickerdoodle

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…

Ginger Molasses Cookies, Or The Easiest Cookies That Ever Were

I have made these cookies three times in less than three weeks. It may have something to do with how easy they are to make–they are a strictly two bowls and five minutes ordeal. But, more likely, it has to do with ease and flavor, and how these cookies sit perfectly on the intersection of the two. I daresay, if we add a third element–accessibility of ingredients–these cookies would still rest perfectly at the nexus of all three factors.

Ginger Molasses Cookie

Not to add more elements than necessary, but I must also point out how malleable these cookies are. Don’t have enough brown sugar? Add some white. Not enough cinnamon? Put in nutmeg and some more ginger. Basically, do whatever you want. As long as your dough ends up somewhat sticky and the taste is to your liking, the finished product should be just as good. And I probably don’t even have to tell you about how many variations you can make on the dusting that the cookie dough gets rolled in before it is baked, or baking time (12 minutes for soft and chewy, 15 or more for ginger crisps). Whatever you want out of a cookie, chances are this recipe can deliver!

Cookie Ball Balls

Ginger Molasses Cookies

Adapted from Flour

Makes about 32 cookies

For the dough:

1 2/3 sticks unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature

1/4 cup dark molasses

1 cup mine 2 tablespoons brown sugar (I like to use a mix of light and dark.)

1 egg

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 heaping teaspoon ground cloves

For the dusting:

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Cookie Pile

Put the butter, sugar, molasses, and egg in a stand-mixer and mix on medium until combined (about 1 minute). In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and spices, and mix until spices are evenly distributed. Pour the flour mixture into the stand mixer, and mix on low and then medium until combined (about 2 minutes). Once the dough has come together, pull it into a ball, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

Brown Sugars

Spice and Everything Nice

Prepare the dusting by mixing all of the ingredients together with a whisk.

Ginger Molasses Dough

Once you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Using your hands, roll the cookie dough into balls about the size of ping pong balls or slightly smaller. Roll each ball in the dusting, and space about 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Bake for about 12 minutes. The cookies should be slightly cracked, but beware: do not over-bake if you want them to retain any chewiness!

Cookie Dough Balls

These can be kept in an airtight container for up to two days, though they will quickly become more crisp. That is not such a bad thing, since they are delicious when dunked in coffee.

Cookie Platter

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