experiments in cooking

Archive for the ‘Cookies’ Category

Monster Chew Cookies

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I made these cookies not long ago, with chocolate chips, but this time I decided to use M&Ms instead and make monster cookies.

It should have gone smoothly, but it didn’t. These cookies just would not firm up! They were so soft and so thin that after I took them from the oven I couldn’t get them off the cookie sheet with the spatula. My spatula was covered with cookie gunk, the M&Ms got smushed all over the cookie sheets, a bunch of the cookies got holes in them when I tried to move them. Also, every time I pulled a cookie sheet out of the oven, I had to put it back in for several more minutes to try to firm up the cookies a little. In the end, after baking the cookies for twice the recommended time in the recipe, I wound up with some very, very chewy cookies.

I didn’t know what to think. I’d made these before with no trouble. Did I let the oats sit too long? Did the addition of the M&Ms cause some odd chemical reaction? Was it all the fault of the corn syrup? 

I was pretty bummed about these cookies until Chris and Jonah each tried one and came back for more. Jonah never wants one of my cookies, but he ate two right away and begged for more.

So, I will  make them again, because it’s nice to see my kid with M&Ms smeared around a big smile.

Monster Chew Cookies
based on a Joy of Cooking reduced fat oatmeal chocolate chip cookie

Makes about 3 dozen cookies

Position a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Coat cookie sheets with nonstick spray.

Whisk together thoroughly:

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt

Beat on medium speed until well blended:

¼ cup corn or canola oil
1 cup packed dark brown sugar|
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1/3 cup light or dark corn syrup
1 tablespoon skim milk
2 ½ teaspoons vanilla

Stir into the batter:

2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2/3 cup M&Ms

Let the mixture stand for 10 minutes so the oats can absorb some moisture. Stir in the flour mixture; the dough will be slightly soft. Drop the dough by heaping measuring tablespoonfuls onto the sheets, spacing about 2 ½ inches apart.

Bake 1 sheet at a time, until the cookies are tinged with brown all over and the centers are just barely firm when lightly pressed. This should take 7 to 10 minutes, but it took about 15 minutes per sheet. The original recipe says to be careful not to overbake. That didn’t seem to be a problem with this batch.

Remove the sheet to a rack and let stand until the cookies firm slightly, about 2 minutes. If they don’t firm up, return them to the oven for a few more minutes. Transfer the cookies to racks or wax paper to cool.

Chocolate Chip Icebox Cookies

I used to say I didn’t like crisp chocolate chip cookies, only chewy ones. Then I made these and found out I was wrong. These chocolate chip cookies are absolutely yummy—and crisp.

I tried this recipe because I wanted a cookie dough I could mix quickly and then refrigerate until I had time to bake. They can be refrigerated for up to a week (at least) and frozen for longer.

Chocolate Chip Icebox Cookies from Joy of Cooking

About forty-two 21⁄4-inch cookies

Whisk together:

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
4 teaspoon salt

Beat in a large bowl until fluffy:

10 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar

Add and beat until combined:
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla

Stir in the flour mixture until blended. Add 1 cup mini chocolate chips along with the flour mixture.

Refrigerate until slightly firm, about 1 hour. Shape the dough into an even 11-inch log. Refrigerate or freeze until very firm.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease or line 2 cookie sheets. Cut the log into 3/16-inch-thick slices and arrange about 2 inches apart on the cookie sheets. Bake, 1 sheet at time, until the cookies are lightly browned at the edges, 8 to 10 minutes. The longer the baking time, the crispier the cookies. Let stand briefly, then remove to a rack to cool.

Cranberry-Spice Icebox Cookies


Chris and I have gotten in the habit of taking homemade cookies to work for our lunches every day, but we usually run out of a weekend batch by Tuesday night, so I needed a way to make some quick cookies in the middle of the week.

Yes, I said every day. And no, we are not getting fat from this. I may eat a couple of cookies Monday through Friday, but I pay attention to my total calorie intake and I don’t eat near as many as I used to back when I was young and thought that chubby would never describe me. Anyone else ever had a point in their life where four big cookies was a small snack? And while Chris is eating more cookies than I am, since he gave up regular pop completely, he can afford to eat a few cookies.

Plus, there’s something good about eating fresh sweets instead of processed, store-bought sweets. Eaten in moderation, homemade cookies can add a little nutrition, especially those with nuts or cranberries or oatmeal in them. At least that’s what I tell myself.

Anyway, as I said, we keep running out of cookies mid-week, when I’m usually so busy I don’t have much time to mix up and bake cookies. So, last weekend I used the “Fourteen-in-one” cookie recipe from my Joy of Cooking to mix up some spice cookie dough. I mixed dried cranberries into half the dough, and the other half I left plain. Then, in the beloved icebox cookie tradition, I refrigerated the dough to pull out the cranberry-spice dough as needed during the week.

On Tuesday evening, I discovered it was easy as could be to slice off nine cranberry-spice cookies and bake them for about 10 minutes. After cooling for just a short while they were ready to store to eat over the next couple of days.

As for the other half of the dough, I plan to roll out the plain spice cookie dough this weekend and cut out cookies with Jonah using some Christmas cookie cutters and maybe the new dog bone cookie cutter my mom gave me at Thanksgiving.

Our poor dogs won’t get any, though. They’re all on a diet. So maybe I shouldn’t make any cookie shapes that will get their hopes up.

 

“Fourteen-in-one” cookie basic ingredients

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ pound unsalted butter cut into 14 pieces, at room temperature (that’s 2 sticks)
1 cup superfine sugar (you can also pulse granulated sugar in a food processor for 1 minute)
½ teaspoon table salt
1 large egg yolk
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla


To make them into spice cookies:

Substitute 1 cup packed light brown sugar for the sugar and add ¾ tsp ground cinnamon, ½ tsp ginger, ¼ tsp nutmeg, ¼ tsp allspice, and 1/8 tsp ground cloves to the flour.

Optional: dried cranberries (chopped or whole; you can mix them into the entire batter or into just half of it) 

On medium speed, mix butter, sugar and salt until fluffy. Add egg yolk, whole egg, vanilla and melted chocolate (or wet chocolate mixture) and mix until well blended. Reduce speed to low and add flour and spice mixture slowly until well combined. Divide dough in half. Roll the dough into a roll if you want to slice cookies from it after it’s chilled. If you want to roll cookies later, you can leave the dough in a dish shape. Wrap dough and refrigerate until firm. (At least 1 hour and up to several days. Dough may also be frozen for up to a month.)

Substitute 1 cup packed light brown sugar for the sugar and add ¾ tsp ground cinnamon, ½ tsp ginger, ¼ tsp nutmeg, ¼ tsp allspice, and 1/8 tsp ground cloves to the flour.

 

Optional: dried cranberries (chopped or whole; you can mix them into the entire batter or into just half of it)

Preheat oven to 375 degree F and prepare two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

You can slice the cookies in desired thickness and place about two inches apart on the cookie sheets.

For rolled cookies, on a well-floured surface, roll dough out to 1/8 inch thick. Cut cookies with cookie cutters. May re-roll scraps one time. Any scraps left over at this point should be rolled into balls, placed on a cookie sheet, and flattened. Place cookies on baking sheets and place sheets into oven (one on lower rack, one on upper). Bake for 6–10 minutes, rotating sheets half way through baking (watch closely for browning).

The People Who Eat Peppernuts

When Chris and I were first married nine years ago, and we approached our first Christmas as a married couple, he kept talking about something called “peppernuts” that his mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother used to make for Christmas. He described them basically as tiny red and green cookies flavored with peppermint.

The name confused me.

“Do they have nuts in them?” I asked.

“Nope,” he said.

“Or pepper?”

“Don’t think so,” he said.

Seemed a little odd to me.

Every year he raved about peppernuts, and one year he made some himself. It took him hours to do it, and he was really proud of what he’d done, but I wouldn’t touch the cookies.

“Peppermint-flavored cookies don’t appeal to me,” I said.

“Come on,” Chris said, “just try them.”

“No thanks,” I said. “Why don’t you have one of my family’s traditional iced Christmas cookies?”

“Can’t. I’m having peppernuts.”

“And I’m eating an iced Christmas cookie,” I said.

For the next several years, Chris kept his Christmas traditions, and I kept mine. He ate peppernuts. He reminisced about cherry moos and zwiebach. I ate iced Christmas cookies and talked wistfully about pecan fudge and date balls and spiced tea.

And then, this year, I decided to cross the great divide. It was time for me to connect with my husband’s German Mennonite roots, as they are my sons’ roots too. I want my sons to grow up in a home with traditions from both families.

So, in the fall, I learned about zwiebach and learned to make Chris’s family’s favorite buns. For Christmas, I planned to make cherry moos and toyed with the idea of making peppernuts. But I still thought the idea of peppermint-flavored cookies sounded a little odd.

Then two things happened that changed my mind: Chris tried to make his own peppernuts, and Chris’s mother sent home a peppernuts cookbook (yes, an entire cookbook full of nothing but peppernuts recipes).

This is what happened. After several years of not making peppernuts because I wouldn’t eat them or help him make them—and they are a lot of work—Chris decided to make up a batch for a bake sale at church. But he forgot to add the sugar. I found him in the kitchen late that evening, trying to fold sugar into the finished dough.

“That’s not going to work,” I said.

“Sure it will,” he said. “I’ve done it before.”

But it didn’t work. The test batch of peppernuts he pulled out of the oven looked awful. We both stared at the baking sheet full of discolored, flat lumps of baked dough, and Chris sighed. I threw away the botched cookies and the dough as he left the kitchen, dejected.

Then the next week, Chris’s mom told me she’d found a small cookbook about peppernuts and was sending it home in Jonah’s school bag for Chris to look at.

But it was me, not Chris, who opened the cookbook that evening and began to read.

I learned that peppernuts, the beloved little German spice cookie, come in many different versions, with and without food coloring, with and without pepper (usually white pepper), with different flavorings—many with anise, or molasses or cinnamon—in different shapes (round or like little pillows), even with and without yeast. And apparently there is much debate over whether the best peppernuts are hard and crispy, chewy, or soft.

I also read that Mennonite women used to make the dough several weeks before Christmas and let it chill for up to a week in a cold cellar to let the flavors mellow. I read about day-long gatherings of Mennonite women, mixing, rolling, cutting, baking, and packaging peppernuts. I read about church ladies baking peppernuts to supply an entire town, children waiting all year to eat peppernuts, mothers making peppernuts for Christmas guests. I read about women grinding their own spices to flavor their family’s special peppernuts recipe. I read about star anise, cloves, and nutmeg. I read debates about the origin and meaning of the name “peppernuts.” I read grandmothers’ recipes, best friends’ recipes, recipes from Mennonites in South America, recipes from Kansas, recipes from Canada.

Then I put down the cookbook. And I got out the recipe that Oma, Chris’s great-grandmother, had passed down to her granddaughter, my mother-in-law. And then I mixed up a batch up peppernuts.

With eyes that were now a little familiar with the peppernuts tradition, I looked over the recipe. I saw that its unique features included the use of sour cream and the addition of food coloring to provide Christmas coloring. The recipe also called for wintergreen to flavor the green peppernuts, and I realized I could use anise instead, as in several of the recipes I’d read. And, of course, the recipe called for peppermint extract to flavor the red dough.

With determination, I set to work. And Saturday evening, after the dough was chilled and dinner was over, I called in Chris for help. We spent a couple of hours rolling and cutting and baking and pouring finished peppernuts into jars.

When we were done, we called in the boys for a treat. Jonah reached for a red peppernut, bit into it, and smiled.

“Can I have a green one too?” he said.

So now I get it. I understand where Chris got this passion for peppernuts. And now, although it’s my kids and my husbands who have German ancestry, not me, I am as proud as any German Mennonite woman’s daughter when I look at the glass jars of peppernuts sitting on my kitchen counter, right next to a tin of my family’s favorite “five-minute fudge.” And you can hear me talking about pfefferneusse at work just about any day this month, with the ladies who grew up making these cookies with their church youth group or dunking it in coffee or learning from their mother how to make it the way their family makes it.

Yes, now I understand.

 

Oma’s Peppernuts

2 2/3 cup sugar

1 1/3 cup butter (at room temperature)

4 eggs (at room temperature)

2 tsp baking soda

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp cream of tartar

¼ cup sour cream

6 cups flour

1/8 tsp salt

Red and green food coloring

Flavoring: peppermint extract, anise extract, wintergreen extract, etc.

Cream butter and sugar on medium until fluffy. Add eggs and beat until well combined. Beat in baking soda, baking powder, cream of tartar, and sour cream. Stir in flour and salt until well blended. Refrigerate dough (for up to one week).

Divide dough into halves. Add red food coloring and 1 tsp peppermint extract. To the other half, add green coloring and 1 tsp anise extract. Roll into pencil-like rolls and cut into small pieces. Bake at 325 for 10 minutes for soft peppernuts or 1–2 minutes longer for crisper peppernuts.

Angel Sugar Crisps to Lift Your Spirits

The week after my first son was born was a difficult time for me. I had expected to be blissfully happy and expertly maternal. Instead, I was recovering from an emergency C-section and struggling with feeding issues, thrush, and fatigue.

On top of that, we had a litter of puppies living in the family room because our longhaired dachshund Layla had delivered a litter a few weeks before my son was born, and it was weaning week, a tough week for both puppies and their mother—who, out of desperation at being kept from feeding her babies, kept liberating them from their cage in the middle of the night or in the middle of my shower or a diaper change or whenever I was busy. She also kept presenting her belly in an offer to feed my baby since I seemed to be having so much trouble with that.

And in the midst of all this chaos, there were the cookies my friend Lisa had dropped off with a casserole. She called them sugar cookies, but her mother calls them “Angel Sugar Crisps,” and those cookies did the work of an angel for me that week. Every time I ate one of those cookies, I felt the fog of post-partum depression and new-mom fear and hysteria roll back just a little.

When I think back to that week, I remember the panic I felt at being so out of control, and the sleepless nights, and how shocked I was that now matter how prepared I thought I was to care for a baby, the real thing was more momentous and demanding than I’d imagined. I also remember the cookies. Those cookies were heaven-sent.

But Lisa didn’t give me the recipe, so they stayed only a memory.

Recently, though, I found myself thinking about those cookies, so I asked Lisa for the recipe. She sent it just before Thanksgiving—just in time for some angel sugar crisps to play guardian angel again in the current trials of my life.

They were every bit as delicious as I remembered. Four and a half years after the first time I had one of these cookies, they were still the perfect antidote to a rough day.

 

Angel Sugar Crisps from Lisa Cansler Noah

½ cup shortening

½ cup (1 stick) margarine or butter

½ cup white sugar

½ cup brown sugar

Sugar to top cookies (try demerara sugar or sugar in the raw)

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla

2 cups flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp cream of tartar

½ tsp salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cream shortening, sugars, margarine, egg, and vanilla in a medium-sized mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Sift the dry ingredients together and add to the creamed mixture; mix until blended. Shape into small balls and dip the top of each ball into sugar. Place sugared side up and place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for approximately 8 minutes or until cookies are lightly browned. Cool 1–2 minutes before removing from pan.

Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies

The classic chocolate chip cookie is one of the best tasting cookies you can make with little effort. But for whatever reason—possibly because of the easily accessible readymade dough at the grocery store, or maybe because someone else is always making them—I haven’t made plain chocolate chip cookies myself in years. But recently, with our church bake sale coming up, I decided it was time to make my own. The recipe I went with was one from Joy of Cooking, because I liked the name: “Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies.” Classic sounds a lot more interesting than plain.

And man, were these cookies yummy. They spread a fair bit and taste both chewy and soft. This is the only cookie I’ve made this year that everyone in the house wanted to eat—adults and kids alike.

 

Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies from Joy of Cooking

Position a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease cookie sheets. Whisk together thoroughly:

1 cup plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour

½ tsp baking soda

Beat on medium speed until very fluffy and well blended:

8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

½ cup sugar

½ cup packed light brown sugar

Add and beat until well combined:

1 large egg

¼ tsp salt

1 ½ tsp vanilla

Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture until well blended and smooth. Stir in:

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Drop the dough by heaping teaspoonfuls onto the sheets, spacing about 2 inches apart. Bake, 1 sheet at a time, until the cookies are just slightly colored on top and rimmed with brown at the edges, 8 to 10 minutes; rotate the sheet halfway through baking for even browning. Remove the sheet to a rack and let stand until the cookies firm slightly, about 2 minutes. Transfer the cookies to racks [or a tea towel or wax paper] to cool.

Italian Ribbon Twists

I don’t have any idea what makes these cookies Italian, but I got them from an Italian recipe web site, Mangia Bene Pasta, so I guess they are. The “ribbon twists” part of their name is self explanatory.

These ribbon twists are made by twisting strips of pastry filled with fruit preserves and sugar, cinnamon, and chopped nuts. The process was similar to the way I twist the homemade breadsticks I’ve been making, but messier because of the preserves.

I made the pastry on a Thursday afternoon, left it in the refrigerator overnight, and baked the cookies on Friday afternoon. I had never before made a filled cookie of any kind, so I was excited to try this recipe. Everything went really well, except that when the cookies were done and I’d pulled them out of the oven, I had to leave the house for a couple of hours. When I came back, the cookies were stuck to the wax paper I’d baked them on. I tried really, really hard to get all the wax paper off the cookies. I tried to slip a spatula beneath them, I tried to peel the paper off gently, and I also tried trying to rip it off quickly, like a scab off a wound. (Yes, I have a fondness for unappetizing similes.) But I only managed to save about a dozen, plus a handful of cookie scraps that I’ll make my family eat for Thanksgiving.

From this process, I learned:

Do not leave the cookies sitting in jam that will harden. If you bake cookies filled with jam, and the jam leaks out of the cookie while it’s baking, you absolutely must remove the cookie from the baking pan (and any paper you baked it on) before the jam hardens.

Apricot jam is not weird after all. I have never, ever tried apricot jam. I’ve always steered away from light-colored jams. I don’t know why, I just found darker jams more appealing. And less “out there.” Well, I used a jar of apricot jam my mother-in-law let me have—only because it was recommended by the recipe—and they tasted really good in this cookie. So I’m a convert.

Pie pastry is not as hard to make as I thought it was. When I taste tested one of the cookies, I realized that the cookie was basically pie pastry with jam on it. I had made pie pastry without even realizing it. What was I so afraid of? Well, apparently all anyone would have had to do to get me to try pie pastry would have been to call it “cookie pastry.”

This was a fun cookie, and I will make the recipe again, because I really want to get the process right at the very end.

I took the dozen pretty ones to our church potluck Thanksgiving dinner, and they did get eaten. I hope people liked them.

Ribbon Twists from http://www.mangiabenepasta.com
(Should make about 36 cookies)

Pastry:
4 ounces (1 stick) butter, room temperature
3 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 egg yolk
1 cup flour

Filling:
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts (or other nut)
1/4 cup apricot (or other flavor) preserves

Using an electric mixer, combine the butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add the egg yolk and mix until incorporated. Add the flour and beat just until combined. Form dough into a disk, cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, combine sugar, cinnamon, and walnuts. Set aside.

Divide the chilled dough in half. Lightly flour a work surface. Roll the dough into a rectangle about 20 x 6-inches.

Spread a thin layer of preserves on the dough. Sprinkle half of the sugar mixture on top.

Take one of the long edges of the dough and fold to down to meet the other long side.
Gently press down on the dough to seal the top to the bottom.

Using a pastry cutter [I used a pizza wheel], cut the dough into strips 1/2-inch wide by 3 inches long. Take the strip of filled dough and gently twist. Place the twisted strips on the prepared baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Repeat the procedure with the second half of dough.

Bake for 12–15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove the baking sheets from the oven. Allow the cookies to cool approximately 10 minutes [but no so long that they stick to the paper on the pan] and then transfer the cookies to wire racks [or a cloth or fresh wax paper] to cool completely.

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