Italian Polenta Cookies

Everyone is looking for comfort right now, as well as ways to fill unaccustomed time at home. Baking makes your house smell absolutely safe, warm and inviting. But even after the aromas have dissipated, the delight of eating something delicious that you made lingers on. These Italian Polenta Cookies fit that description perfectly.

Grocery shopping has become challenging in the Time of Coronavirus. Many items are out of stock and getting deliveries scheduled can now take days (if at all) instead of hours. And who knows what will actually arrive when the delivery comes? I admit it. My pantry could probably survive the Zombie Apocalypse, but even I need to buy certain fresh staples like eggs, milk and produce.

In looking for some treat to make for my husband and me (because don’t we all need a little sweetness in our lives?) I came back to this recipe from David Lebovitz that I had seen about 18 months ago. I really love the not-overly-sweet variety of Italian cookies and I especially like cookies made from cornmeal or polenta. They just have this extra somethin’ somethin’. There is the zing of lemon with that slight crunch and flavor of the polenta. These Italian Polenta Cookies are perfect for afternoon tea, with a glass of Vin Santo or a cup of coffee.

Recipe

Yield: About 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients

3 tablespoons water

3/4 cup (90g) dried currant or another dried fruit, such as chopped cranberries or cherries

3 tablespoons eau-de-vie or grappa (I used Amaretto since I had neither grappa nor eau-de-vie)

1 3/4 cups (250g) flour

1 cup (160g) fine (or instant) polenta

3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar, plus more for finishing the cookies

1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

8 tablespoons (4oz) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Grated zest of 1 lemon

Directions

Heat the water in a small saucepan until it starts to boil. Turn off the heat and add the currants, or other dried fruit, and liqueur. Set aside for 30 minutes to 1 hour. (They can be plumped a day or two in advance.)


In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the flour, polenta, sugar, salt and baking powder. (You can also make this dough in a large bowl, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula.)

In a medium bowl, mix together the egg and the egg yolks, then stir in the melted butter and lemon zest.

Add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients and stir together for about a minute, until they’re well-combined. Add the currants and any liquid, and beat them in at medium speed for about 30 seconds.

Remove the dough from the bowl, wrap it in plastic wrap, flatten it into a disk, and chill until firm, about an hour. (The dough can be made 2-3 days in advance, and baked later.)

To bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

On a lightly floured counter top, pinch off tablespoon-sized pieces of dough, roll them into little logs (you may need to flour your hands as the dough can be slightly sticky), then press the logs gently to flatten them a bit, and pinch the ends to taper them. Place them on the baking sheet about an inch (3cm) apart, to allow for some spreading. Sprinkle the tops with granulated sugar.

Bake the cookies until golden brown across the top, about 15 minutes, rotating the baking sheets in the oven midway during baking. Let the cookies cool for a few minutes, then transfer them to a cooling rack.

Storage: The cookies can be kept up to one week in an airtight container at room temperature.

For other wonderful cookie options:

Lavender Mint Shortbread Cookies

Vegan Italian Chocolate Cookies

Tahini Cookies

Salted Chocolate Chip Tahini Cookies

Chewy Molasses Cookies

Tehina Shortbread Cookies

Vegan Oatmeal Raisin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies

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Hamantaschen and Purim

It’s almost Purim! Bring on the noisemakers, costumes and treats! And Purim wouldn’t be a celebration without Hamantaschen. Imagine a flavorful dough, shaped like a triangle and stuffed with all kinds of delicious fillings. Traditionally, these sweet treats were filled with poppy seeds or lekvar (prune paste). But now, anything goes. Growing up, my son’s favorite filling was (and remains) Nutella. I also love apricot, almond paste, or even blueberry with lemon zest. Whatever you choose to fill your hamantaschen with, just enjoy them.

I’m not usually boastful, but these are simply THE BEST Hamantaschen that you will ever eat.

Why Hamantaschen?

The name, Hamantaschen, which is Yiddish, translates as Haman’s Pockets. It’s not really known why these treats came to be associated with Purim. But one story is that Hamantaschen resemble the tri-cornered hat Haman wore. Or maybe his pockets filled with bribes to spies. In Hebrew these delectable sweets are referred to as Haman’s “Ears.” But who was Haman and why do we remember him? The evil Haman was the royal vizier in the court of the Persian King Ahasuerus. He was out to exterminate the Jewish People.

When Do We Celebrate Purim?

Purim is celebrated according to the Hebrew calendar on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar (this year on March 9-10). This is the day following our deliverance from the evil decree. It is a time of merriment and satire much like April Fool’s Day. There is often a carnival and both adults and children dress up in costumes and swing noisemakers to scare off our enemies. In addition, the Book of Esther (Megillah) is recited publicly and we all boo every time Haman’s name is mentioned.

The Purim Story in Brief

Why does the Purim story resonate today? The Megillah is perhaps, the first written story about classic anti-Semitism. In the 4th century B.C.E., Ahasuerus, chooses the beautiful and brave Esther, a Jew, for his wife and queen. Haman, arrogant and egotistical, starts whispering in the king’s ear that because the Jews are different, they must be suspect and should be killed. Thankfully, Haman’s plans are foiled by Mordecai, an advisor to the king and Esther‘s cousin and adopted father. The day of deliverance was celebrated with a day of feasting and rejoicing for Jews.

So in addition to eating many special treats and reading the Megillah, Jews are commanded (Esther 9:18) to send out gifts of food or drink, and to make gifts to charity. 

While my son never wanted to dress up for Halloween, he always donned costumes for Purim as did I. And like so many Jewish girls, I always wanted to be Queen Esther, the brave and smart savior of our people.

Relevance today

Unfortunately, anti-Semitism was not wiped out along with Haman. Even after 6 million Jews were butchered during the Shoah, our enemies are still whispering lies and committing acts of violence and hatred against our people. So while Jews everywhere will celebrate Purim this year, we will also remain vigilant against the Hamans of this world.

Recipe

I always look first to Gloria Kaufer Greene for my Jewish Holiday recipes. I have tweaked the original recipe and those changes are reflected below.

Yield: About 2 dozen (Can be doubled)

Ingredients

1/2 cup butter or non-dairy buttery sticks, softened

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Zest and juice of one medium navel orange (Up to 3 Tablespoons of juice, as needed)

1.5 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

Do-Ahead

Cream the butter (non-dairy sticks) with the sugar using a food processor or electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, zest and vanilla until well combined.

Add the flour, salt, baking powder and baking sugar and mix until mixed through. Add orange juice, as needed. (If the dough seems really dry and won’t form, I add the juice to get a smooth dough.)

Form the dough into a thick disk, wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours. (You can make the dough up to 3 days ahead.)

Baking

When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Then roll out the chilled dough on a lightly floured surface until it is about 1/8-inch thick. (I like to roll out 1/2 of the dough at a time to make it easier to handle.)

Cut out circles that are 3-inches in diameter. You can use a clean, empty tuna can or a glass if you don’t have a cookie cutter. Re-use scraps until almost all of the dough is used up. I wouldn’t re-roll more than once.

Scoop a generous teaspoon of whatever filling you are using into the center of each circle. (I like to set things up like an assembly line, with my fillings all lined up and ready to go to make this go more quickly.)

Fold up the edges of each circle in thirds to form an open triangle with some of the filling showing. Using my finger and some cold water, I then “paint” the pinched edges both to seal them and to smooth them. You don’t want your hamantaschen opening up in the oven. They may taste fine, but the look will be disappointing.

Place the hamantaschen on baking sheet lined with a silicon baking sheet or parchment paper. Bake for about 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

Fillings

I am happy to use bought fillings which I then add special touches to. You want a filling that is thick enough to hold up to baking without running all over. I like to use either Solo brand or Love N’ Bake. Some of my favorite fillings are Nutella, apricot pastry filling, almond pastry filling and Lekvar or prune filling.

I always add a bit of orange zest to my apricot and prune filling and place a few sliced almonds on top of the almond filling. Nutella needs nothing added, but on occasion I have been known to add a few mini-chocolate chips.

Below is a wonderful poppy seed filling, which I will make from scratch. Obviously, if you are using multiple fillings, you will either have left-over filling or gee, I dunno, you may need to make additional batches to hand out to lucky friends and family! (Left-over filling can be used in yeast-based pastries or in little tarts.)

Best Poppy Seed Filling – Ever

1 cup (About 5 ounces poppy seeds

1/2 cup dairy or non-dairy milk

1/2 cup honey or agave

1/4 cup dark raisins

1 Tablespoon butter or non-dairy buttery sticks

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Directions

  1. Grind the poppy seeds using a coffee or spice grinder. You can do this with a mortar and pestle, but it will be more work.
  2. Place the ground poppy seeds into a small saucepan with the remaining ingredients.
  3. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently for about 10 minutes or until the mixture is very thick and almost all of the liquid has been absorbed.
  4. Remove the filling from the heat and allow it to cool slightly. Chill the filling before using for best results. This can be made up to 3 days ahead as well.

Lavender Mint Shortbread Cookies

I decided to revisit this recipe after watching an episode of Valerie Bertinelli where she made lemon rosemary shortbread. I made a few changes and I think you will really like the results. These melt-in-your mouth Lavender Mint Shortbread Cookies are a little taste of Provence. Give them a try; they make wonderful holiday or hostess gift cookies. For other delicious and easy-to-make cookies for an afternoon tea, try Financiers or Mandelbread.

I tend to get seduced by recipes and so I have all of these special spices and herbs around the kitchen. When a colleague baked some lavender cookies, I, of course, went on a search for the best dried edible lavender. Growing up, lavender grew like a weed in our backyard and every year my mother and I would dry it and then sew sachets for gifts and to put in our drawers. I still remember the beautiful amber colored watered silk that we used to contrast with the pretty lavender colored ribbon that we tied around the sachet. While these cookies will most definitely NOT go in my lingerie drawer, they do evoke that wonderful childhood memory. However, they do not taste like potpourri or soap. They taste like Provence, the flavoring is actually quite subtle and they simply melt in your mouth. While not vegan, they do not have any egg. They could be made with vegan buttery sticks, but since butter is the star here, personally I would not go that route. Your choice.

Lavender Shortbread Cookies by Erica Leahy, The Artist Baker – Morristown, NJ and tweaked by me

Yield: About 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cake flour
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh lavender or 1.5 teaspoons dried lavender buds
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1.5 teaspoons dried mint
  • Zest of one lemon

For Garnish

  • Zest of one lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried lavender
  • 1/4 cup granulated or coarse sugar

Directions

  1. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter, granulated sugar, powdered sugar, and salt until thoroughly combined, about 3 minutes. Add in vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, sift together the all-purpose and cake flours. Mix the flour mixture into the butter mixture in 3 additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl in between each addition. Add the lavender, lemon zest and mint and mix to just combine. The dough may appear crumbly but will come together when rolled in plastic wrap.
  2. Roll out the dough to a long roll about 2.5 inches in diameter, using the plastic wrap to form the dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
  3. Meanwhile mix the 1/4 cup sugar with the lemon zest and lavender in a small bowl. Cover and set aside.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Cut the log in half and refrigerate one half while you work on the other half. Using a sharp chef’s knife, slice the dough into 1/2 inch thick disks and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake the cookies until just golden at the edges, about 25 to 28 minutes. Ovens vary so watch them after 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately sprinkle with the lemon, lavender sugar mixture. Any extra will be wonderful in tea or certain mixed drinks. Let cool completely before serving. While these will be delicious with coffee or milk, the true, delicate floral notes will come out with a nice light tea or a dessert wine.

Vegan Italian Chocolate Cookies

Lumpy. Bumpy. Chewy. Deeply chocolaty with an undertone of spice. And easy – so easy.

As anyone who reads my blog knows, I am not a vegan. However, I always like to have some good vegan recipes – especially desserts – in my back pocket. Whether you keep kosher or eschew dairy products for ethical reasons or because of food allergies, vegan desserts can be a wonderful option.

However, I will not serve a vegan dessert unless it is just as good as a non-vegan one. I came across this recipe and after a few tweaks, the result is a delicious cookie that chocolate lovers will adore. The hint of exotic spices gives a Mediterranean flavor that marks it as unique.

This recipe comes together quickly and requires no special equipment or techniques – and I had everything on hand in my pantry. Do use a really good quality unsweetened Dutch Processed cocoa like Droste or Valrhona when making these. Chocolate and cocoa powders each have their own unique flavor profile so find one that you like and use it in all of your recipes.

I confess that I made my cookies with unsalted real butter, but they absolutely will not suffer if they are made with a buttery vegan solid such as Earth Balance.

My husband and I tried the cookies still slightly warm from the oven and after a day in an airtight tin. While both were good, we agreed that the flavors and texture were at their peak after sitting overnight. The cookies will easily keep for a week, if stored properly, and are luscious with a glass of milk (dairy or non), a cup of coffee or with a sweet dessert wine.

Because the cookies are such a deep, dark brown, it can be difficult to tell when they are fully baked. I made three batches and baked each one for a different amount of time – from 14 minutes to 20 minutes. All worked, but the one that baked for 14 minutes was the best. The dough does not spread during baking so however the cookies go onto the baking sheet is pretty much how they will come out at the end. Try one of these deeply satisfying and not overly sweet cookies soon.

Recipe

Yield: 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients

1/2 cup of unsalted, solid vegan buttery margarine or unsalted real butter (1 stick)

2/3 cup unsweetened Dutch Processed Cocoa

2 cups light or dark brown sugar

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup strong coffee (the liquid and NOT granules!)

2.5 cups whole wheat flour

1.5 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup coarsely chopped, lightly pan-toasted blanched almonds or walnuts

1 cup of raisins tossed with 1 teaspoon of flour

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets or pans with parchment paper or a non-stick silicone mat like Silpat.
  2. Combine first five ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium/low heat. Allow the mixture to melt until it resembles chocolate syrup. Do not allow it to boil. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.
  3. Combine the flour with the baking powder, spices and salt in a large bowl.
  4. Pour the melted chocolate mixture into the flour mixture and stir to combine until no flour is visible. Add the almonds and raisins and work through the batter so that everything is evenly distributed.
  5. Lightly spray a 1 Tablespoon cookie scoop or measuring spoon with a non-stick spray. Scoop out slightly rounded Tablespoonfuls and place on the prepared baking pan. The cookies do not spread during baking so they can be fairly close together.
  6. Bake for 14 minutes, turning once if your oven bakes unevenly like mine!
  7. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 3-5 minutes before transferring the cookies to a cooling rack. Allow the cookies to cool completely before storing.

Almond Flour Blondies

Gluten-Free? Really?

I’m not gluten-free. However, I did have left-over a lot of wonderful almond flour that I had bought for Passover. Not sure what I was thinking when I went shopping, but let’s just say that I got carried away and we’ll leave it at that.

And I’ve been in a brownie-making mood so I went in search of a recipe. Everything sounded pretty simple and I had all of the ingredients on hand, which was a plus since Frances has me cooking down my pantry. The only problem I had is that I really do not like white chocolate. So I made a couple of minor tweaks and came up with this version.

If you want an ooey, gooey blondie with crispy edges, I recommend that you try this version or the original. You don’t have to be gluten-free to enjoy them. And because they are so gooey, I think that the brownies actually improved when they were a few days old. It didn’t stop me, my husband or our cat from eating them the second that they had cooled down!

Recipe from Meaningful Eats and tweaked by me

Yield: About 24 squares

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter [coconut oil will work for dairy-free]
  • 3/4 cup dark or light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cup almond flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup of shredded, unsweetened coconut
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 baking pan.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugars. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix on high until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  3. Add the almond flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix to fully incorporate. Stir in the chocolate chips and pecans.
  4. Pour the dough into the greased baking dish. Smooth into an even layer. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until until golden and the brownies appear to be set. Allow to cool completely before cutting. Slice into bars and enjoy!

Financier Pastries

So What Is a Financier?

A financier is an almond and brown butter pastry baked in a small mold. These light and moist pastries have a crisp eggshell-like exterior and traditionally were baked in small rectangular molds that resemble gold bars. They became a favorite of bankers in the Paris financial district.

While popularized in nineteenth century France, these delectable little pastries date back to the Middle Ages. They were originally made by nuns of the Order of the Visitation and were called a visitandine.

Turning Flour Into Gold

When you bite into one of these delights, the combination of brown butter and almond flour explodes with an instant burst of caramelized deliciousness. Financiers are deceptively simple to make, but unlike the classic Madeleine, they don’t disappoint. Marcel Proust has A LOT to answer for!

I have looked at numerous recipes for the financiers and they are all pretty similar. By some wonderful alchemy, these simple ingredients bake into pure pastry gold. The following recipe comes from the Joy of Baking and makes 12 little pastries. Since the financiers are best warm from the oven, this number was perfect for me.

Recipe

Don’t worry if you don’t have rectangular or boat-shaped molds. These work out fine using small muffin cups.

Ingredients

1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter plus 2 Tablespoons melted for brushing the tins

1/4 cup (30 grams) all-purpose, unbleached flour

1/2 cup (55 grams) ground almonds (can use almond meal/flour)

3/4 cup (90 grams) confectioners (powdered or confectioner’s) sugar sifted

1/8 teaspoon salt

3 large (90 grams) egg whites lightly beaten

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Fresh berries (optional)

Directions

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C) with oven rack in the center. Place 12 shallow, rectangular or boat-shaped tartlet molds (or mini-muffin cups) on a baking pan. Brush each tin with melted butter.

Place the 1/2 cup of butter in a small, light-colored saucepan over medium heat. [You need to be able to see the color of the butter change so please don’t use a dark pan.] Melt the butter and allow it to come to a boil, swirling the pan occasionally. As it boils, you will notice foam coming to the surface. Continue to cook the butter until it starts to look clear and the milk solids have dropped to the bottom of the pan. The butter will turn a golden brown. [This happens all of a sudden so do not walk away!]

Immediately remove the butter from the heat and pour it through a fine strainer lined with cheesecloth.

Allow the now clarified brown butter to cool to room temperature. You will need 1/3 cup of brown butter for the recipe. I didn’t have any left over, but if you do you can use this to brush the tins.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, ground almonds, confectioner’s sugar and salt. Be sure to break up any lumps from the ground almonds.

Make a well in the center and fold in the lightly beaten egg whites, vanilla and the brown butter.

Fill each mold almost to the rim. Bake the pastries for 5 minutes or until the batter is set around the edges but still soft in the center. [I originally baked it for 4 minutes so my berries sunk a bit more than was perfect.]

Remove the pan from the oven and place raspberries or blueberries on top, if using, which I recommend. Return the pan to the oven and continue baking until the financiers are golden brown and springy to the touch. Ovens vary but mine took an additional 7 minutes.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 20 minutes on a wire rack. Once cool enough to easily handle, the financiers should easily pop out of the tins. These are best served warm, but they can be stored for a few days, covered, at room temperature.

Mandelbread

Mandelbread2

Mandelbread or “almond bread” is the Jewish version of Italian biscotti. Like biscotti, mandelbrot is twice-baked, but unlike biscotti, mandelbrot is more cakey. When well-made, I enjoy both. When my sister and I were in our teens, our mother would buy mandelbrot from a bakery in a traditionally Jewish suburb of Chicago. Since we lived in the city, this wasn’t a trip that she often made so when she would buy mandelbrot, it would be boxed up, tied with string and stocked in our freezer. My sister and I thought we were very clever and had figured out a way to somehow wiggle our fingers into the box without removing the string, while we grabbed a yummy slice. We got so good at this trick that we kept going back for more and more. Unfortunately, when my mother went to actually serve the mandelbrot, the box was magically empty! Try these with a cup of coffee or a glass of milk or sweet wine. Get creative and use pistachios and dried cherries instead of almonds and chocolate. Just be sure to make enough! These keep for a very long time in a cookie tin.

Mandelbread from The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden and tweaked by me

Yield: About 4 dozen

Ingredients

3 large eggs

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 cup Canola oil

Grated zest of one large navel orange (or lemon if you prefer)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt

1 Tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon espresso powder (optional)

3.75 cups of unbleached all-purpose flour

Generous 1/2 cup whole raw almonds, toasted for about 12 minutes in a 350 degree F oven and allowed to cool

Generous 1/2 cup mini bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate morsels

1 large egg yolk mixed with 2 teaspoons of cream or non-dairy milk (I like vanilla soy but any creamy non-dairy milk will do)

Granulated or course-grained sugar for garnish

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a standing mixer, beat the eggs with the sugar until pale and thickened. Add  the oil, zest and vanilla and beat until well mixed.

     

  3. Using a whisk or fork, mix together the flour, baking powder, espresso powder (if used) and salt. Slowly beat the mixture into the eggs, scraping the bowl as necessary. Then add in the cooled almonds and chocolate morsels and mix through by hand. With lightly oiled hands, shape the dough into 2 long slim logs with slightly flattened tops and place the on a baking sheet lined with a Silpat or parchment paper. They should be several inches apart since they will spread some. Brush each log well with the egg yolk mixture and sprinkle with the additional sugar. I have also used a mixture of cinnamon and sugar at times.

     

  4. Bake for about 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Allow the cakes to cool for about 15 minutes. In the meantime, raise the temperature of the oven  to 400 degrees F. Once the logs have cooled enough to easily handle them, slice each log on an angle into 1-inch pieces. I used a long, serrated bread knife for this. Lay the pieces down flat back onto the parchment or Silpat. They will no longer spread so they can be pretty close together.Mandelbread5
  5. Return the baking sheet to the 400 degree F. oven and bake for about 10 minutes more or until lightly browned. There is no need to turn the slices over. Cool completely and enjoy them right away or store them in a tin if you have will-power.Mandelbread4       Mandelbread

 

Tahini Cookies

Tahini cookie1

I saw this recipe on the Bon Appetit website and thought they looked like just my kind of cookie – not too complicated and not filled with all kinds of junk. The result is a lovely,  cookie that is rich without being cloying and sweet without making your teeth ache. The tahini lends a subtle nutty flavor. The texture goes from a fragile morsel that melts in your mouth when just barely warm to slightly chewy when fully cooled. The real danger in these cookies is that they take no time to prep and bake, so as long as you have the shelf-stable ingredients on hand, you can have these cookies baked and cool enough to eat in about 40 minutes. Can you say instant gratification? Until the cookies are completely cool and have sat out for an hour or so, they remain very fragile. But oh, so delicious! If you plan on transporting them somewhere, you must wait for them to firm up. On the other hand, if you plan on serving them at home, try them when they are still slightly warm. These cookies will hold up well for several days if stored in an airtight container.

Please DO NOT use a butter substitute for this recipe. Sorry vegans, but it just won’t be the same.

Tahini Cookies from Mamaleh’s, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Yield: About 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

3/4 cup (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3 Tablespoons honey or agave syrup

3/4 cup tahini (I like Soom brand)

1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds (I used a combination of black and white sesame seeds)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F with the rack on the middle shelf. Line two large cookie sheet pans with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together all of the dry ingredients. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, cream the butter, sugar and honey until fluffy. Beat in the tahini and then add in the dry ingredients, beating slowly so the flour doesn’t fly all over the place. The resulting dough will be quite soft and very slightly sticky.
  3. Place the sesame seeds in a shallow bowl. Scoop out rounded tablespoons of dough and roll the dough into a ball. Don’t worry about perfection! Carefully roll the top of the dough ball in the sesame seeds and gently lift the dough onto the parchment with the seeds facing up. The dough is very soft so it may smush a bit. Don’t fret. All will be well! The cookies should be about 2-inches apart.
  4. Bake for about 15 minutes or until golden. Remove the pan to a rack to cool and repeat with the second pan. Some people like to do two pans at once, rotating them half-way. That never seems to work well for me since I have a crummy oven, but if you want to go for it be my guest. Allow the cookies to cool. They will firm up if allowed to cool completely but are delicious when still slightly warm and pretty soft. But these cookies are not made for keeping – they are made for eating – RIGHT NOW!IMG_4407IMG_4409IMG_4406

 

Mixed Berry Scones

Berry Scones2

When I was growing up, fruit and vegetables had distinct seasons and everything we cooked or baked was dependent on that. Frozen foods were still in their infancy and while my mother was a wonderful cook and baker, if you can believe it, having a Swanson’s TV dinner was considered a BIG deal. With global markets food seasons are something of the past. Unless I am shopping farmers’ markets, I can get beautiful berries and flavorful tomatoes all year-long. However, even with changing weather patterns, winter is still winter, summer is still summer and spring, while totally unpredictable is still spring. Chicago’s spring has been chilly and damp on some days and summer-warm on others, but it is still spring and the trees have that new green and the first flowers are blooming. All of this makes me want to start using berries in everything. However, I have learned over the years, that if the berries are going to be mixed through a batter or dough that it is actually preferable to bake with frozen fruit, which also tends to be somewhat more consistent than fresh. The fruit will squish less, keeping the integrity of the berry. (I still buy and eat fresh berries every day and enjoy those fragile and delicious farmers’ market strawberries when I am lucky enough to find them.)

I wanted to make something that ticked all of my boxes and decided on these mixed berry scones.  The recipe comes from two recipes: Cook’s Country and the Pioneer Woman with a some tweaks from me. They will work for breakfast, brunch or afternoon “tea.” And while they may look heavy, they are actually remarkably light, not overly sweet and bursting with berries.

Mixed Berry Scones adapted from Cook’s Country and The Pioneer Woman

Yield: About 8 large scones

Ingredients

Scones

1 ¾ cups (8 3/4 ounces) frozen mixed berries

3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

3 cups (15 ounces) all-purpose flour

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, chilled

1/3 cup (2 1/3 ounces) granulated sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup heavy cream

1.5 Tablespoons berry jam

1 teaspoon orange zest

1 large egg

Glaze

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 tablespoon honey

Directions

  1. FOR THE SCONES: Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees F. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. If your berry mix contains strawberries, cut them in half or quarters. Toss berries with confectioners’ sugar in bowl; freeze until needed.
  2. Combine flour, 6 tablespoons butter, granulated sugar, baking powder, orange zest and salt in food processor and process until butter is fully incorporated, about 15 seconds. Add remaining 6 tablespoons butter and pulse until butter is reduced to pea-size pieces, 15 to 20 pulses. Transfer mixture to large bowl. Stir in berries.
  3. Beat milk, preserves and egg together in separate bowl. Make well in center of flour mixture and pour in milk mixture. Using rubber spatula, gently stir mixture, scraping from edges of bowl and folding inward until very shaggy dough forms and some bits of flour remain. Do not over mix.
  4. Turn out dough onto well-floured counter and, if necessary, knead briefly until dough just comes together, about 3 turns. Using your floured hands and bench scraper, shape dough into 12 by 4-inch rectangle, about 1 1/2 inches tall. Using knife or bench scraper, cut dough crosswise into 4 equal rectangles. Cut each rectangle diagonally into 2 triangles (you should have 8 large scones total). Transfer scones to prepared sheet.

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  5. Bake until scones are lightly golden on top, 16 to 18 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking.
  6. FOR THE GLAZE: While scones bake, combine melted butter and honey in small bowl.
  7. Reduce the oven temperature to 400 degrees F. Remove scones from oven and brush tops evenly with glaze mixture. Return scones to oven and continue to bake until golden brown on top, 5 to 8 minutes longer. Transfer scones to wire rack and let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving. Serve as is or with Devonshire cream and more honey or jam. Berry Scones

Chewy Molasses Cookies

img_2600Sunday we had our first snow of the season which was my signal to start baking cookies. As a kid I loved to bake cookies and my father and brother loved to eat them as fast as I could make them. As I grew older, I preferred to make cakes, breads and pies. Cookies seemed like so much effort and they were gone so quickly. But I do so love a really good molasses cookie and this simple recipe satisfies my craving. It’s fairly instant gratification, taking under an hour from start to finish. I used Grandma’s Unsulphured Original Molasses. I mean what’s the point of making a molasses cookie if you aren’t going to go for the full flavor experience? In my oven, these were perfect after 9 minutes. Now I have to admit that while these are a wonderful chewy molasses cookie, I personally really prefer a crisper, even slightly leathery molasses cookie. So I will be on the hunt for a recipe that meets those criteria and hopefully will have it to share in the next couple of weeks since I know that this is prime cookie baking season.

Chewy Molasses Cookies by Alison Roman in December 2013 Bon Appetit

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Ingredients

Yield: 2½ DOZEN

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

¾ teaspoon ground cardamom

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 large egg

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

⅓ cup granulated sugar

⅓ cup mild-flavored (light) or robust-flavored (dark) molasses (I used robust-flavored)

¼ cup (packed) dark brown sugar

Coarse sanding or raw sugar (for rolling)

Directions

  1. Place racks in lower and upper thirds of oven; preheat to 375°. Whisk flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and salt in a small bowl. spicesWhisk egg, butter, granulated sugar, molasses, and brown sugar in a medium bowl. Mix in dry ingredients just to combine.
  2. Place sanding sugar in a shallow bowl. Scoop out dough by the tablespoonful and roll into balls (if dough is sticky, chill 20 minutes). Roll in sugar and place on 2 parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing 2” apart. img_2590
  3. Bake cookies, rotating baking sheets halfway through, until cookies are puffed, cracked, and just set around edges (over baked cookies won’t be chewy), 8–10 minutes. Transfer to wire racks and let cool.

DO AHEAD: Cookie dough can be made and rolled into balls 2 weeks ahead. Freeze on a baking sheet; transfer to resealable plastic bags. Let sit at room temperature 30 minutes before rolling in sugar.