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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My Award-Winning Lemon Meringue Pie Ice Cream

Hello, my filthy scuzzies! Such greetings are requisite after a day with Matt Timms and his crew of Takedowners. As all who attended today’s Ice Cream Takedown at The Bell House can attest, it was a hot and heavy day, with a bounty of frozen treats, free pomegranate drinks, and a stellar, though sweaty, crowd.

Matt Timms!!

TIT Certificate

After three weeks of making ice cream batter, running batch after batch through my ice cream maker, keeping fingers crossed during transportation from my apartment to The Bell House that my ice cream wouldn’t melt into nothingness, and hoping I was handling dry ice properly and not edging towards some serious burns, it all paid off! People of the internets, my lemon meringue pie ice cream got me first place People’s Choice at today’s competition.

Lemon Meringue Pie Ice Cream

When concocting my recipe, I wanted something light and refreshing–it would have to wake people up rather than make them feel more weighted down on a hot summer day. Lemon was a good place to start, as anything citrus can brighten one’s day. The gingersnap was meant to add some spice and cut through the sweetness of the lemon ice cream, as well as be reminiscent of pie crust. And the final touch, the marshmallow fluff, was a stand-in for meringue, and certainly lightened up the texture, which was fairly dense and custard-like. Not to mention, this combination of ice cream and mix-ins meant that I could happily yell, “It’s like a pie in an ice cream!” to all those who sampled my frozen concoction.

Sugar Zest

Lemon Meringue Pie Ice Cream

Adapted from The Perfect Scoop

Makes 1 1/2 quarts

3/4 cup sugar

zest of 3 large lemons

1 cup whole milk

2 cups heavy cream

generous pinch of salt

5 egg yolks

1/2 cup crushed ginger snaps

1/2 cup marshmallow fluff

Lemon Lemon Lemon

Combine the sugar and lemon zest in a food processor and pulse until the zest has become very fine and incorporated in the sugar.

Zest and Sugar

Place the sugar and lemon mixture, milk, and 1/2 cup of the heavy cream in a medium pot. Warm the mixture, stirring occasionally.

Once the mixture has warmed, cover the pot, remove from heat, and let infuse, undisturbed, for 1 hour.

Yolky

Whisk the egg yolks together in a medium bowl. Once the hour has passed, rewarm the milk and sugar mixture. Pour the mixture slowly into the egg yolks, whisking constantly.

Prepare an ice bath with a large bowl inside it, containing the remainder of the heavy cream. Place a fine sieve over the large bowl.

Pour the egg yolk and milk mixture back into the medium pot, and place over medium heat. Use a rubber spatula to stir constantly, and make sure to scrape along the bottom of the pan. Be careful of over-cooking. The mixture is ready when it has a custard-like consistency and coats the spatula.

Pour the mixture through the sieve and mix with the heavy cream. Discard the lemon zest and any cooked egg particles that are caught in the sieve. Keep mixing until the mixture has cooled. Place in an airtight container in the fridge and thoroughly chill, for at least 24 hours.

Churnin Churnin

Once the mixture has thoroughly chilled, run it through your ice cream maker per the manufacturer’s directions. As you remove the ice cream from the ice cream maker, use a spatula to fold in the marshmallow fluff and ginger snap cookie crumbs. Feel free to adjust the amount of marshmallow fluff and ginger snap cookie crumbs to your liking, but work quickly so the ice cream does not melt! Place in the freezer to solidify for at least 2 hours.

Lemon Ginger Perfection

Now enjoy! Hopefully with a crowd of 250 people and 29 fellow amazing ice cream chefs, as I was fortunate enough to. A huge thank you to all who participated, The Bell House, and of course Matt Timms, the leader of this crazy cult of Takedowners. And of course further thanks to all who turned out and voted for their favorite ice creams, particularly Tyra Banks (oh yeah, did I not mention that before?), my friends, and Harry (who doubled as ice-cream scooper extraordinaire)! You guys are da bomb. Democracy and ice cream for all!

Ice Creaming Partners

Lime Meltaways and Shameless Self-Promotion

Drinks and dessert may not be the most common pairing one thinks of. Sure, there’s the classic wine and chocolate pairings, but in a time of sweltering heat and suffocating humidity, who can even fathom having a sip, let alone a glass, of dessert wine? It simply wouldn’t do. It’s the time of year for refreshment and relief from the overheated outdoors—decadent desserts are so last December.

Limey

But there is a way to work dessert into this uncomfortable weather. The answer is citrus. Light, sour, only slightly sweet, lemon and lime desserts are the way to go this time of year if you want to satisfy a sweet craving without feeling weighted down and overly-indulgent. And while these desserts may still not be the greatest for maintaining a swimsuit body, they do feel slightly less sinful than fudge, saltwater taffy, apple pie a la mode, ice cream, and the other desserts of summer.

Limey Cookies

My specific suggestion for summer soirees is the key lime meltaway. These delightful cookies are small, have a sour kick to them, and seem to melt away before you can even take the faintest bite. They are all you want when seeking something sweet in the middle of a hot day, and nothing more (by that I mean not more than your sweet tooth can take).

Lime Zesty

Lime Meltaways

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes about 50 itty-bitty cookies

13 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

1 cup powdered sugar

zest of 2 1/2 limes

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 cups flour

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon salt

Cookie Log

Whisk together the flour, cornstarch, and salt.

Butter Me Up

In an electric mixer, cream the butter and 1/3 cup of the sugar until they are fluffy. Add the zest, juice, and vanilla and mix until fluffy. Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until light and fluffy.

Whip Its

Use parchment paper to roll the dough into 1 1/4 inch diameter logs. Put in the fridge for at least an hour to chill.

Dough Logs

Once dough has chilled, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Remove the parchment paper from the logs and cut the dough into 1/4 think inch segments. Place cookies on baking sheet, one inch apart.

Lime Meltaway

Bakes cookies for about 15 minutes, until lightly golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes, then place in a ziplock bag with the remaining sugar to coat. Remove from bag and allow to continue cooling.

Pair with gin and tonics, Coronas, or any other alcoholic what-have-you of summer.

Lime Zested

P.S. On another (hypocritical) note, I will soon be competing in the Ice Cream Takedown at the Bell House. Buy your tickets and buy them fast—these sell-out in no time! Fifteen dollars gets you tastes of 30 different ice creams, and the opportunity to vote for moi. And if you have any suggestions for ice cream flavors, comment away!

My Award-Winning Sweet and Salty Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Sea Salt Flakes

Hello my filthy scuzzies! Excuse the language–I have spent a bit too much time with Matt Timmz and his legion of Takedowners. But it was all for a good cause, for you see, not only did I get to feed my cookies to 200-plus cookie-hankering New Yorkers at the Bell House today, I also placed second in the audience favorite category.

Cookie

While I am normally a modest and self-effacing baker, I have no qualms saying loud and proud that my cookies were da bomb! These are some bonafide, award-winning, delicious, perfectly balanced, and all around excellent chocolate chip cookies. The chocolate and sea salt flakes are high quality, and boy can you taste it.

Chocolate

Maldon sea salt

This is the only chocolate chip cookie recipe I have used since the recipe I adapted it from was first published in 2008. And while four and a half years may not seem like a very long time, keep in mind that that is about one-third of my baking life. It is for all practical purposes a cookie-ternity. Trust me, if you make these, you will never again consult a cooking magazine, website, or butter box in search of the best chocolate chip cookie recipe–for thou hast found it.

Ready for my close-up

That being said, though I have known for some time now the many delights of this recipe, I don’t believe I had ever before made more than one batch of it at a time. This week has taught me that baking 304 cookies is very different from baking 50 cookies. Lessons learned include spreading out the purchasing of ingredients over several days, and spreading out the prep work over several days. You do not want to end up hating baking after an awful experience trying to fit all of the work into one day. On that note, make at least one test batch, and make sure to solicit feedback from a variety of palettes. (I almost made the mistake of making snickerdoodles, but the masses called upon me for my chocolate chip cookies. Thank you, masses! You were right!)

And, I cannot stress this enough: make friends with your local grocery store employees. Any time you are making this many batches, chances are you will buy the store out of at least one ingredient, and they will need to order more for you. C-Town was so on top of ordering Ghirardelli’s, I cannot thank them enough.

Cookies

Of course, victory could not have been possible without the friends, family, and various other supporters that came out today. You guys are da bomb! An extra thank you to Wendy Kessler for the logo and business cards–they were a huge crowd hit! And another extra thank you to Harry, who awoke at the crack of dawn today to roll and salt cookies, and talk me off the I-can’t-take-this-anymore-why-is-there-still-so-much-cookie-dough-left ledge. Harry, you are the filthiest scuzzy of them all.

Anxiety

If you’re making four batches for a cookie competition (and who isn’t), plan on 2 1/2 hours for chocolate chopping, 3 hours for cookie dough prep, and 3 1/2 hours for cookie rolling and baking. I am currently on hour four of recuperating post-competition, and have a feeling I will recommend at least one good night’s sleep to complete this wonderful experience.

Sweet and Salty Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Sea Salt Flakes

Adapted from the New York Times

Makes 30-70 cookies, depending on how big of a cookie you want (my philosophy is go big or go home)

1 1/4 pounds Ghirardelli’s 60% percent cacao baking bars

1 3/4 cups cake flour

1 2/3 cups flour

1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt

2 2/3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 1/4 cups light brown sugar (using organic light brown sugar adds a nice molasses-y flavor)

1 cup sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract (don’t ruin all your hard work by using imitation vanilla)

Maldon sea salt flakes, for garnish

Ingredients sans chocolate

Cut the chocolate bars into 1/4 inch by 1/4 inch chunks. Do not use chocolate chips, as these have an ingredient that keeps them from melting too much. Trust me, taking the time to cut up a chocolate baking bar is well worth the effort.

Ghirardelli's deliciousness

Chocolate sans ingredients

Sift the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and coarse salt. Use a whisk to mix these together.

Sifted flours

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugars together. This should take about 5 minutes on medium speed. You want the mixture to be very light and fluffy. Once the mixture is ready, use a tablespoon or rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl and incorporate into the rest of the mixture.

Ready to be creamed

Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the vanilla extract and mix well. Once again, scrape down the sides of the bowl and incorporate.

Whipped it good

Slowly add the flour mixture, and mix just long enough to combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again. Add the chocolate chunks, and mix very briefly on slow speed. You want the chunks to remain intact.

Cover the dough with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 24 hours and up to 72 hours. From my many times making this recipe, I have found that 48 hours really hits the spot.

Ready for refrigeration

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll out balls ranging from cotton ball size to golf ball size, depending on how big of a cookie you want. Place these on baking sheet. Use your fingers to crush sea salt flakes and sprinkle on top of each cookie. Experiment with how much salt you prefer.

Ready for the oven

Bake for 10-20 minutes, depending on size of cookie. The cookies are ready when they are just barely turning golden brown at the edges. Cool for an hour. These cookies taste best on the day they are baked, but can last in an airtight container for a day or two. You can also wrap them in aluminum foil, stick them in the fridge, and warm them up in the microwave when you’re having a cookie craving.

To the victor go the spoils

Enjoy these cookies with bourbon, egg nog, and the sweet, sweet taste of victory!