When people ask me what my favorite dessert is, I usually say, without hesitation, apple pie. Please don’t make me a cake for my birthday — in fact, for our wedding we cut into a small pumpkin cake just for tradition’s sake but had a table of fall fruit pies for all our guests (and us, of course). But guys, I’m at that point in the year when I’m kind of over fruit and I want everything to be chocolate. I want all cookies, all the time. ‘Tis the season, right? And while I am definitely shoving many peanut butter blossoms in my face each day, I also have been craving the more refined variety. There’s nothing better on a cold winter’s day than an afternoon coffee or hot cocoa and a crunchy biscotti — unless it’s these Mexican Hot Chocolate Biscotti. These are biscotti on an even higher plane.
Do you remember when life was simple and all you needed for a delicious, well-earned, just-baked dessert was a Tollhouse chocolate chip cookie? Cream the butter and sugars, add the eggs and vanilla, add the flour mixture in three portions, stir in chocolate chips, bake at 375 degrees. In our quest for always better, always different, always new, I wonder if we’ve sort of lost sight of the basics. I’ve seen gorgeous recipes for dishes and desserts with 4,000 ingredients that you never thought to put together. I, myself, proudly brown my butter and whisk it with sugar and eggs in four different stages, because, yes, I really, really like these cookies. These are the ones I want in my life every single damn day. And last week, I finally replenished my tahini supply and made these lovely Salted Tahini Chocolate Chip Cookies from Danielle Oron’s book Modern Israeli Cooking, reprinted earlier this year in the New York Times. Like the brown butter chocolate chip cookies, they straddle the classic and the different, yet are still entirely simple to make — you even cream the butter and sugar, like the olden days! Continue reading →
It’s easy to get tucked into the cradle of comfort in the kitchen: bake the same things over and over, use tried and true recipes in your back pocket or from the very best food bloggers or cookbook authors. Tweak nothing. Why diverge from what works, has always worked, has been proven to work? But when you want to turn your favorite oatmeal into cookies, tried and true doesn’t always translate. So this week, with a little time on my hands, I experimented with versions 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 of peaches and cream oatmeal cookies.
I have a confession to make: I absolutely, positively can’t stand Mariah Carey’s silly, saccharine “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” Earth-shattering, I know. But there are few songs that fill me with rage deep enough to make me threaten to leave a party. I don’t know what it is. It’s just so — happy. And catchy. It’s in my head as I type this, threatening to overpower my vocabulary with generic, candy-coated truths. I mean, the sentiment is nice. The sentiment of the lyrics I generally agree with. I don’t need Santa to bring me toys either. I just want the love of my life. And cookies. Lots and lots of cookies. But I’ll be singing the praises of these deliciously perfect mint mocha crinkle cookies in the deliciously dark key of F minor.
What do you do when you miraculously find a bit of extra time on a weekday and are preparing for a half marathon? You bake peanut butter cookies, of course.
I took most of last week off from running, trying to heal up what I think was a bit of tendonitis in my foot before the Brooklyn Half Marathon on Saturday. It’s sort of amazing how much free time I have when I don’t run. Don’t get me wrong, I need it for my health and my sanity and I’m glad I have the ability to do it (read: no serious injuries), but it was nice to be able to spend time cooking, relaxing, and finally baking — on a weeknight.
What grounds you? For me it’s the gentle purr of a cat. The peaceful fall of snow against lamplight. A warm, firm embrace. And cinnamon. No matter where my mind is, whether it be under stress or on the high of a possible opportunity — an electrical current coursing — they bring me back down to earth. They give me a moment to pause, to breathe, to close my eyes and smile.
So when it snowed on the first day of spring, my brain frustrated from staring at research and trying to edit on an 11-inch screen, I stepped into my kitchen and watched our one tree being blanketed swiftly with white as the sky became greyer and greyer, then darkened towards nightfall, pink and purple in the cloudy city sky, and knew that I also needed to inhale the aroma of butter and chocolate and oatmeal and cinnamon. The frustration of technology, and not having a printer, required a double dose of grounding. I needed oatmeal chocolate chunk cookies to connect me back with the earth, my sanity, myself.
I know for the last days of Hanukkah I should probably be making jelly doughnuts. Or a jelly doughnut cake. But sufganiyot, the traditional treat served during the Festival of Lights, was never high on my mother’s dessert agenda, and I’m not sure we ever tried convincing her otherwise. Once, as an adult, I fried up some apple cider doughnuts for our Hanukkah feast, but have since realized they’re much better baked. And although I’ve had no problem stopping at Dunkin Donuts for some chocolate honey glazed (which, I think in this day and age, is no longer glazed with honey, but rather some other sugary concoction) to share around the menorah, rugelach is more in line with my family tradition. And unlike fried doughnuts (but not fried cookies), they’ll last for more than one sitting. I’m also gearing up to try my hand at croissants, so I may as well work on my crescent-rolling technique now, right?
This year I set out to do something a bit different from the traditional. At least, traditional in my family. My mom’s recipe, which comes from my grandma’s Romanian side of the family, is filled with sugar, cinnamon, and chopped walnuts. Actually pretty perfect for this time of year. But I must be stuck in some other dimension because my December treats have been suspiciously lacking in chocolate, and this must be amended immediately. This year we’re going to make rugelach of the babka variety: chocolate and cinnamon; tender and bittersweet. Sort of like 2014. But that’s a whole other story.
When I was a kid, Christmas was never a thing in my house. That comes with the territory of being a Jewish family in the suburbs of New York City, I suppose, where we were never alone. We were surrounded by plenty of kids who celebrated Christmas, of course, and we even had our moments of jealousy, but Hanukkah was a-okay. Eight days of presents and candles and yummy fried foods? That should be great in anyone’s book. But Christmas did sneak in while we lived on Long Island, thanks to our neighbor Rosanna.
Every December, Rosanna would make her famous Christmas cookies: strips of dough, cut into diamonds, twisted, fried and doused with powdered sugar; a holiday staple in her native Italy and possibly the most perfect cookie ever made. And she made them not only for her own family, her kids returning from college, her husband returning from the merchant marines, but for her neighbors — her friends — as well. It was always a treat to stop by her house while she was cooking them — we would get a few warm, along with a story or two, and then a bowl of them to bring back to our families. She even made them for Halloween, tucked in those little treat bags with cartoon ghosts and witches on them and handed to the local kids who would ring her doorbell for trick or treat. Those were still the days when neighbors were loved and trusted. Everyone loved Rosanna. She was the epitome of generosity, of warmth.
I love biscotti. Twice baked, it’s the adult version of our childhood nostalgia: crunchy sweetness best dipped before being devoured. Instead of a glass of milk, though, those little bars are beautiful with a latte, a cup of tea, a mug of hot chocolate. It’s breakfast, it’s dessert, it’s your sophisticated milk-and-cookies before bed.
The problem is, though, that too often, biscotti are a little too crunchy — or rather, uncrunchably hard. I once made a recipe that was so hard, I actually realigned my jaw trying to bite into one after years of it being nearly imperceptibly, but rather painfully misaligned. Though most of my friends refused to touch it, I claimed it a medical victory. But you never want friends to avoid your baking, no matter how it might accidentally give you some mandibular relief. I am no doctor — it’s not a method I would necessarily advise to anyone. Truth be told, I was lucky I didn’t break a tooth or five.
It’s December. The tree is up, the menorah is candle-ready, and it’s cookie month. C is for cookie, that’s good enough for me — as long as they’re not those overly sweet, unbalanced confections that are so common at the Christmas cookie swap. If I’m going to eat my weight in cookies for a month, they’d better not give me a nauseating sugar headache. So let’s make some beautiful little treats that not only have the traditional heart of the holidays, but also have some balance. Who’s with me?
Two years ago, when we were going gluten-free out of fear that the fella may have inherited his mom’s celiac disease, we also happened to be staying here in NYC for the holidays. I tried to bring as much Christmas spirit into the apartment as I knew how — surprised him with a decked-out tree, bought some baubles, and tried my hand at gluten-free, dark chocolate peanut butter blossoms. Did you know you can make cookies without flour? Any flour at all? And that they will just melt in your mouth? It’s a thing, and they’re amazing. You could probably call these peanut butter meltaways. Two years later and with wheat flour once again a very prominent feature in our lives, I’m still making them. Continue reading →