Makes 16 brownies
8 ounces (225 grams) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon brown rice syrup or agave syrup
Happy Valentine's Day!
In case you might still be looking for a last-minute treat to bake for your darlings, here's a little round-up of my favorite chocolate delights that are, for the most part, easy to whip up with what you've got in your pantry already (or that you could get on an emergency run to the store or gas station, if you live in Germany where stores are closed on Sunday).
I'm still undecided on what to make, though I'm leaning heavily towards these tahini brownies. Better get cracking!
Evelyn Sharpe's French Chocolate Cake - This is the best nearly flourless cake I know. Rich and intense, it's definitely for grown-ups.
Karen DeMasco's Devil's Food Cupcakes - Gorgeous little cupcakes with a thin cap of chocolate icing and a cream middle. A lovely baking project and sure to please your littlest Valentines.
Jane Hornsby's Malted Chocolate Birthday Cake - This may be labeled birthday cake, but if you bake it in a heart-shaped pan instead, hey presto, you've got an easy, totally satisfying chocolate Valentine's cake. Don't skip the frosting!
Barbara Fairchild's Chocolate-Toffee Cookies - Imagine a brownie-like cookie, but stuffed with bits of crunchy toffee and walnuts. I know.
Bret Thompson's Double Chocolate Cookies - These excellent cookies call for a whopping 1 1/4 pounds of chocolate.
Deb Perelman's Intensely Chocolate Sablés - Easy to whip up with what are probably staples in your pantry. I recommend adding a drop of peppermint extract to the dough to make Thin Mint facsimiles.
Le Pain Quotidien's Belgian Brownies - These tender, almost creamy little cakelets come from the way-back depths of the blog, but have definitely held up over time.
Alice Medrich's Best Cocoa Brownies - This is basically the only brownie recipe we ever use, because it's easy and classic and reliable and never fails to satisfy everyone.
Ashley Rodriguez's Bittersweet Brownies with Peanut Butter Frosting - The brownies are good on their own, but the silky swaths of peanut butter frosting on top take these into total romance territory.
Aaaaaand, it's naptime again, which means it's time for another blog post written on the fly! (Cue lots of cartoon dust clouds and "peee-ow" acceleration noises as your heroine's fingers fly on the keyboard.)
I don't know about you, but my pantry is full of all sorts of things that routinely stump me when I open the door (here's looking at you, wasabi powder). Hidden among the cans of beans and glass jars of flours (and the wasabi powder) are various sweeteners that have made their home way home with me over the years, like brown rice syrup, two half-empty (what gives?) bottles of agave nectar, and various shades of brown sugar. I never really know what to do with them and I confess that the "clean eating" brigade actually put me off alternative sweeteners for years.
Enter Shauna Sever's Real Sweet, a cookbook about recipes made with all kinds of natural sugars, from coconut sugar to brown rice syrup, from muscovado sugar to maple syrup, from piloncillo to agave. Sort of like Kim Boyce's Good to the Grain, Shauna's emphasis is on teaching you about the different flavors, textures and properties that these sweeteners impart to cakes, cookies and other confections. It's not a healthy or "clean" baking book, just so that we're very clear from the start. It's a fantastic collection of really delicious treats, impeccably tested, written with humor and geared towards both child-friendly treats and sophisticated desserts. The book is organized around these treat categories, rather than the sweeteners, but there's a good index in the back that allows you to choose a sweetener and then see all the related recipes grouped there.
Shauna, who is my sweet and hilarious friend, has two young children, and clearly knows a thing or two about developing Grade A playground treats. But she doesn't dumb down any of her recipes and the book is filled with neat little fillips that elevate all of the recipes into Truly Special territory. The raspberry yogurt popsicles, for example, require lemon peel and vanilla bean, which make them deeply delicious for big and small alike. Shauna's also such a baking pro that the book is stuffed with all kinds of informational gems about baking that I've applied to other recipes with outstanding results. There are lots of hidden tips that will make you a better baker and a more confident one, too. Shauna even managed to develop two recipes for meringue (one soft, one crisp) and a recipe for confectioner's sugar without processed white sugar. Amazing.
I don't know about you, but it's very rare that I end up making more than a handful of things out of any particular cookbook. With this book, though, I can't seem to stop baking from it. I've made everything from tart blueberry fruit leather (agave syrup) to a soulful orange-vanilla pound cake (made with demerara, the batter beaten so long it resembled a gorgeously tan cloud by the end) to a buttery brittle topped with mixed seeds (brown rice syrup - and a candy thermometer, don't try this without one!) to those aforementioned raspberry yogurt popsicles (again, agave syrup) and I have several more recipes bookmarked to make this month alone. (If you must know: the Banana Butterscotch Cream Pie with evaporated cane juice, the Sunflower Seed Nuggets with coconut sugar and the Cracklin' Maple Popcorn with maple syrup, turbinado sugar, plus some molasses.)
The recipes were easy to follow, worked just as written and produced great results. I especially loved that nothing was too sweet or cloying. Shauna got the balance of flavors just right in everything. Shauna really understands the different flavors that these alternative sweeteners provide, as well as the textural things they can achieve (or not) and the recipes reflect it. She didn't just plug in brown sugar for white in a standard recipe. She really developed a whole slew of new recipes around the flavor of each sweetener.
Though I loved everything I made from Real Sweet, my very favorite is actually worth the price of the book (it's also the only thing I don't have a photo for; apologies!): Chocolate Chip Cookie Brittle. This stuff is...well...insane. You make a thin chocolate chip cookie batter, then spread it out all over a baking sheet. Once it has baked and cooled, it hardens into a thin layer that you break apart into rich, buttery shards that taste like a heavenly mashup between the crisp bits of a chocolate chip cookie and a Skor bar (or any chocolate-covered hard toffee). It's delicious. It's ridiculous. You will not be able to stop eating it. ASK ME HOW I KNOW.
Thanks to Shauna, I no longer have any agave syrup in my pantry at all, but I do plan on never being without turbinado or coconut sugar again. And I love that I now have uses for maple syrup and honey beyond our weekend pancakes or Hugo's breakfast yogurt. Best of all, I'm a better baker because of it. Real Sweet will be on my shelves forever.
Note: This post includes affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you purchase through these links, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I love and companies I trust. Thank you.
Shauna Sever's Chocolate Chip Cookie Brittle
Adapted from Real Sweet
Makes about 3 dozen 3-inch pieces
14 tablespoons/200 grams unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 cup/200 grams turbinado sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 cups/250 grams all-purpose flour
1/2 cup/60 grams finely chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)
3/4 cup/130 grams chocolate chips (50-70% cacao)
1. Heat the oven to 350F/180C.
2. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and sugar together. Don't let the mixture come to a boil. Pour the mixture into a mixing bowl and let cool for 5 minutes. Whisk for 1 minute, until the mixture is thickened and smooth and no longer appears separated. Whisk in the vanilla and salt. Stir in the flour until well incorporated. Stir in half the nuts, if using.
3. Scrape the dough out onto an unlined sheet pan and pat it into a very thin, even layer with your hands. It won't look as if you'll be able to fill the entire pan, but you will; just keep patting and spreading the dough all the way to the edges. Use an offset spatula to give the dough a smooth finish. Sprinkle the chocolate chips and remaining nuts, if using, over the the dough and press them lightly into with your hands.
4. Bake for 22 to 25 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through, until light golden brown and slightly firm to the touch all over. Let cool in the pan for 3 minutes. Line a second sheet pan with parchment paper. Flip the slab of brittle onto the paper and then immediately peel off the parchment and invert it right side up onto a cooling rack. Cool completely. Break into pieces. Store in an airtight container for at least 5 days.
Drowning as I am in cakes and cookies and sweet breads, I have absolutely no business - none! - making brownies on my day off. But I couldn't help it! I'm sorry! It's just that I was looking through a book that a British publisher sent to me last year (written by a German baker living in London) when something on page 141 called Boston Brownies caught my eye.
Now as you know, I have spent many a year in Boston, both as a child and a college student, and I have never, in all that time, heard of a Boston brownie. (Have you?) I had to read a little closer. My interest was piqued! Turns out that Gerhard Jenne, inspired by the fresh cranberries he discovered on a trip to Massachusetts, decided to pop a bunch of them in a brownie batter. The result - sort of like an American take on the Black Forest Cake of his youth - was so good he put the recipe in the book.
I was intrigued. I was also a little skeptical. I mean, fresh cranberries? With chocolate? (Also, er, Anglo-German brownies?) The recipe looked really easy, though, and it was Sunday and I happened to have frozen cranberries in the freezer, so I decided to go for it and I am here to tell you now that these brownies are amazing.
You all. The brownies themselves, made with a mix of bittersweet chocolate and cocoa, are incredibly fudgy and dark with a gorgeous crackling crust. So the recipe would be a keeper for that alone. But the addition of the cranberries is, in fact, totally inspired - the sour, fruity pop against all that rich, dark chocolate is really delicious. We took the brownies to tea at our friends' house, where we each ate two pieces (Hugo included!) and then the men each ate a third while I tried to distract Hugo from demanding more by throwing myself on the floor and pretending to be a car. (It worked!)
A.The world does need another brownie recipe.
B. Fresh cranberries in brownies are brilliant.
C. Anglo-German bakers have got the brownie thing figured out.
Oh, and furthermore! Do not repeat my dunderheaded mistake of always leaving the pan of brownies wherever I bring them. Make sure to keep a few for yourself the next day or you will regret it. Speaking from experience. Ahem.
Gerhard Jenne's Bittersweet Brownies with Cranberries
Adapted from Deservedly Legendary Baking
Note: The original recipe calls for 200 grams of chocolate and only 1 tablespoon of cocoa, but I didn't have enough chocolate in the house that day, so I made do with what I had and upped the amount of cocoa. I loved the result, so that's what I've listed below.
1 1/3 cups (275 grams) sugar
6 1/4 ounces (175 grams) butter
6 1/4 ounces (175 grams) dark chocolate (54 – 60% cocoa solids), chopped into small pieces
1 1/3 cup flour plus 1 tablespoon (175 grams) all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 1/4 ounces (175 grams) fresh cranberries
1. Heat the oven to 350 F (180 C). Line an 8 x 8-inch pan with parchment paper.
2. Break the eggs into a mixing bowl, then whisk in the sugar until frothy. Set aside.
3. Put the butter in a pan and melt over medium heat until it has completely melted and small bubbles are just beginning to rise to the surface. Turn off the heat, add the chocolate, and stir until melted.
4. Whisk the eggs and sugar again until pale and frothy, then whisk in the chocolate mixture until well combined. Sift in the flour and cocoa powder and stir gently with a spatula until there are no white streaks remaining. Add the salt. Fold in the cranberries. (If you're using frozen, this will cause the batter to seize up slightly, so work quickly.)
5. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and even the top. Bake for about 25 minutes, then take the pan from the oven and place on a cooling rack to cool completely. Cut into squares and serve.
According to the internet, the East Coast of the US is about to be swathed in an apocalyptic amount of snow. Meanwhile, over here, it's just miserably gray, as it always always always is this time of year. I can't remember the last time I saw the sun. Hugo, who is really into SAAHN! and MOOOON! and DAHK! and LIGHT! and COWDS! is very confused.
Luckily, I have just the thing for all you over there and all of you over here to make while the winds howl and the sun remains stubbornly behind that impenetrable bank of clouds: Brownies. Bittersweet ones. With SALTED PEANUT BUTTER FROSTING. (If you can, imagine me yelling those last four words, getting increasingly louder with each word.)
For the past five years, I've been loyal to one single brownie recipe: Alice Medrich's Cocoa Brownies. They're easy, they're fudgy, you don't need a single special ingredient and everyone who eats them falls instantly in love with them. Why, even my husband now knows how to make them. (This, my friends, is saying a lot. Ahem, Mister Instant Mashed Potatoes, ahem.) I was pretty happy with my one single brownie recipe! It felt pretty good to have found The One. After all, at least on the brownie front, I didn't have to do any more looking.
But. Then. Along came Ashley Rodriguez of Not Without Salt and her beautiful, vulnerable, touching first cookbook called Date Night In (more on that in a second). In one flip of a page, her recipe for bittersweet brownies with a salted peanut butter frosting very unceremoniously kicked those sweet little cocoa brownies right off the ledge. Pow!
Ashley used to have her own custom cake company, and before that she learned the tricks of the trade at Spago, working under pastry chef legend Sherry Yard, so when it comes to sweets, she's a voice of authority. In Ashley's brownie recipe, you build layers of rich flavor by first browning the butter and then using a combination of chocolate and cocoa. She also gives you tips on how to get the fudgiest brownie possible (just use 2 eggs instead of 3) and that lovely crackly top, but the salted peanut butter frosting is really the, uh, icing on the cake, the cherry on top, the gilding of the lily. It's the whole raison d'être of these brownies (though they are pretty fabulous on their own, too).
You whip peanut butter, butter and confectioners' sugar together, beating them together at high speed until the mixture gets lighter and lighter, and then spread great swoops of it onto the cooled brownies. Ashley has you sprinkle the pan with flaked salt at the end, but I happened to have some of this fancy French butter with salt crystals hanging around and used that in the frosting instead, eschewing the salt sprinkling at the end.
But whatever path you take, definitely include salt. It's an essential finishing touch that keeps all the flavors together, that cuts the richness, that makes you sit up and take notice. It's no coincidence that Ashley's blog is called Not Without Salt. These aren't just any old brownies, no sirree. These are paradigm-breakers.
As for Ashley's book, which is a collection of seasonal menus (from cocktails to dessert) that she's made for a weekly date night at home with her husband Gabe, it really is so lovely. Each menu is preceded by a little story she tells about her marriage and its natural ups and downs. With busy jobs, three children, and 10 years of marriage under their belts, several years ago Ashley and her husband found themselves drifting apart. Determined not to slide into a deeper hole, they started going on dates at home every week. Gabe would mix cocktails and Ashley would create a restaurant-worthy menu just for the two of them, no kids allowed. Through this very purposeful, conscious way of approaching their marriage and their need to connect again, they created a whole new level of commitment to each other. It is, to say the least, inspiring.
Also mouthwatering, because Ashley really knows food. A few of her menus are ambitious (for a tired working mother, at least), but that's sort of the point. It's her way of showing her husband her love and commitment and she expects no less from her readers. And there are plenty of menus that are more straightforward. I've already earmarked the recipes for their perfect burger, the French 75 cocktail, salted toffee popcorn, a pickled vegetable salad and salmon cakes with chiles and fresh herbs. (Plus, thrillingly, Ashley includes a recipe for pickled peppers in the style of Mama Lil's, which Molly sent me for Christmas once and which I haven't stopped thinking of since!)
Now all I have to do is get my husband to mix me a cocktail...
Ashley Rodriguez's Bittersweet Brownies with Salted Peanut Butter Frosting
Adapted from Date Night In
Makes 16 square brownies
Note: The original recipe calls for unsweetened chocolate, which isn't available in Germany. Instead I substituted an equal amount of 70% chocolate and then reduced the sugar from 300 grams to 175 grams. I was thrilled with the result, especially paired with the sweet-salty frosting. Depending on your taste, though, if you go this route, you may want to up the sugar amount to 200 grams.
3/4 cup (170 grams) unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
3 ounces (90 grams) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (175 grams) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (40 grams) cocoa powder
1/2 cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons (85 grams) butter with salt flakes, at room temperature
3/4 cup (100 grams) smooth peanut butter
1/3 cup (40 grams) confectioners’ sugar
1. For the brownies: Preheat the oven to 325 F (160 C) degrees. Grease an 8-inch square pan. Line the pan with parchment paper so that a couple of inches hang over the edge. Then grease the parchment.
2. Place the butter in a medium saucepan and melt over medium-high heat. Allow the butter to cook until the milk solids bubble up and then settle into the pan and caramelize. Swirl the butter in the pan in order to see the color of the little bits on the bottom. As soon as the milk solids are golden and the butter smells nutty, about 3 to 5 minutes, remove the pan from the heat.
3. Pour the browned butter into a medium bowl and add the chopped chocolate. Let stand for 1 minute to melt, and then whisk together. Whisk in the sugar and vanilla while the butter mixture is still warm. Stir in the eggs, and salt until well blended. Sift in the cocoa powder and flour. Fold the ingredients together until just combined using a spatula.
4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle pulls out clean. Let cool to room temperature.
5. For the frosting: With an electric mixer, whip together the butter, peanut butter, and confectioners’ sugar in a large bowl. Continue to mix until everything is well combined and the frosting has lightened in color. Frost the cooled brownies, cut into squares and serve. Brownies can be made 1 to 3 days in advance. The frosting can be made up to 1 week in advance.
I am having a very odd week. On Monday, just after I'd dropped Hugo off at daycare (thankgodthankgodthankgod), I slipped on some just-formed black ice on the sidewalk. There was no time to catch myself, no time to even register what was happening before I slammed my head against the cobblestones. It was all very upsetting, as you can imagine, what with bits of tooth suddenly loose in my mouth and blood on the sidewalk and a momentary loss of vision and all that pain, pain, pain.
A good Samaritan helped me and I was the first in the ER that morning, so I was seen and treated in record time and in the grand scheme of things, of course, I was very lucky: The tooth I broke was a molar, the blood came from a cut under my chin, I don't have a concussion and Hugo was safe and sound in his cozy little Kita (thankgodthankgodthankgod) while all this happened. But I've spent the remainder of this week in an ugly little fog. Part of it is the pain - my jaw muscles are all seized up due to the shock and I have bruises all over my body - and part of it is a strangely thick feeling of sadness that I can't really explain. I mean, it was really just a harmless little accident. So why has it left me feeling so ravaged?
What I'd like most right now is to crawl into bed and spend a few days being very, very quiet - but if someone came and offered me a few of these cookies, freshly baked - I wouldn't kick them out either.
I first made them a few months ago, after reading about Martha Rose Shulman's secret double life, and found them to be, in fact, quite perfect. They're chewy in the middle and just a tad crisp on the edges and because of the chopped chocolate, every bite you take is infused with chocolate and caramel flavors. They're pretty flawless. And as you probably know, once you find perfect chocolate chip cookies, it's sort of difficult to find much additional language about them. If they're great, they just are; if they're not, you have to keep looking. I herewith declare my search to be over.
But my favorite thing about these cookies is that once formed into logs, they can hang out in your freezer for quite some time, resting until you have friends over and need a last-minute snack or dessert or have smashed your head on the sidewalk and are feeling fragile and in need of cosseting (provided you can still chew).
And with that, folks, I'm off to be quiet and heal. Have a great weekend!
Sherry Yard's Quintessential Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 4 dozen cookies
185 grams (1 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
2 grams (1/2 teaspoon) baking soda
115 grams (4 ounces/1 stick) unsalted butter
100 grams (1/2 cup) sugar
80 grams (1/2 cup packed) light brown sugar
2 grams (1/4 teaspoon) salt
1 large egg
5 grams (1 teaspoon) vanilla
225 grams (8 ounces) bittersweet chocolate, cut in 1-inch pieces (or use coins)
1. Sift together flour and baking soda and set aside. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter until lemony yellow, about 2 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl and paddle. Add sugar, brown sugar and salt. Continue creaming mixture on medium speed until it is smooth and lump free, about 1 minute. Stop mixer and scrape down sides of bowl and paddle.
2. Add egg and vanilla and beat on low speed for 15 seconds, or until they are fully incorporated. Do not over-beat. Scrape down sides of bowl and paddle.
3. On low speed, add sifted flour mixture. Beat slowly until all of the flour is incorporated. Scrape down sides of bowl. Add chocolate chunks and mix in.
4. Heat oven to 350 degrees with the rack positioned in the lower third of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Spoon heaping teaspoons of dough 2 inches apart onto baking sheet. If not baking right away, remove small handfuls or spoonfuls of dough from mixer and plop them down on the middle of a sheet of parchment or wax paper, creating a log about 1 1/2 inches wide and 12 inches long. Fold parchment over, creating a sausage. Chill for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight. Using a serrated knife, slice chilled dough into 1/3-inch-thick rounds and place them 2 inches apart, in staggered rows, on parchment-lined sheets and proceed. (Dough will keep, tightly wrapped, in the refrigerator for 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 1 month. Thaw frozen dough at room temperature for 30 minutes before slicing.)
5. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until lightly browned, rotating the baking sheet front to back halfway through. Remove from heat and slide parchment off baking sheet and onto a work surface. Allow cookies to cool for at least 5 minutes before serving, or for at least 20 minutes before storing in an airtight container. Repeat with remaining dough. Cookies will keep for up to 3 days at room temperature.
This is just a little love note to the internet, which has been giving obsessives of all kinds an outlet for years and which has enabled the rest of us to shamelessly improve the quality of our lives by following the obsessives' lead whenever they say to. The obsessive I'm particularly grateful to today is Deb Perelman, who blogs at Smitten Kitchen, of course, and whose idea of a good time is tinkering with a recipe, like super-chocolately, not-too-sweet, elegant French sablés, over and over (for years, people!) until she gets it right. So right.
Thank goodness for people like Deb, because lord knows I am way too lazy for tinkering with recipes (and these days, far too tired) and yet I, too, often crave the perfect chocolate cookie, which, as serendipity would have it, Deb figured out last week, right in time for my own craving to strike.
This is the kind of cookie - deep, dark, smoldering and melting and perfect - that you don't even need to go grocery shopping for. If your idea of a good time is keeping a well-stocked pantry, you can probably make these cookies right now, or at least tonight after work. I think you should.
You can do as Deb did and roll out the dough and then cut out little cookies or you can go the lazy woman's route and simple pack the blackish-brown dough into a roll, wrap it in cling film and stick it in the fridge until it's firm. Then all you have to do is slice off as many rounds as you need and bake them to order.
HA! There goes your January diet.
As I munched on a few of these the other day, something was niggling at me about the flavor of the cookies. What I realized a few bites later was that they sort of tasted like Thin Mints but without the peppermint. Uh, in other words, they would be absolutely fantastic doctored up with a little splash of peppermint extract, if chocolate-peppermint is your thing (it is mine, but I know it's not everyone's jam). Luckily, as I am a pantry-stocking freak, I have a little bottle of peppermint extract and will be trying out this version soon soon soon.
A few notes on the recipe: My food processor gave up the ghost a few hours before I wanted to pulverize the chocolate, so I ended up having to chop the chocolate by hand. What this means is that my cookies were a little more chocolate-chocolate-chip-y than I was hoping for, but they were by no means less delicious. Just a little less refined. Also, I erred on the side of using less sugar rather than more and skipped the sugar sprinkle on top. If I had been making these for kids, though, I would have done the sprinkle. So pretty!
Deb Perelman's Intensely Chocolate Sables
Makes about 40 small cookies
1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (30 grams) Dutched cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces or 115 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 to 2/3 cup (100 to 135 grams) granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 large egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) semi- or bittersweet chocolate, grated or finely chopped until almost powdery in a food processor
1. Sift together the flour, cocoa and baking soda together onto a piece of waxed paper or into a bowl and set aside.
2. Cream butter, sugar and salt together in a large bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add egg yolk and vanilla, beating until combined, then scrape down sides. Add dry ingredients and grated chocolate together and mix until just combined.
3. Scrape dough onto a piece of plastic wrap, shape into a 2-inch wide log, wrap tightly and let chill in the frige until just firm, about 30 to 45 minutes, or up to a day.
4. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Unwrap the dough log and slice off as many 1/4-inch cookies as you'd like to bake. Space them an inch apart on the sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, then remove the sheet from oven. Leave cookies on baking sheets out of the oven for a couple minutes before gently transferring them to a cooling rack. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to two weeks.
Oof. Readers, Hugo was up four times last night (10:15 pm, 12:50 am, 3:00 am, and then 5:30 am, at which point he started to do this adorable cooing, chattering thing that really is the sweetest thing on the planet except that it's 5:30 in the morning, child, and you have kept me up ALL NIGHT GO BACK TO SLEEP GAH), so, actually, I thought if anything, this day's overwhelming emotion would be one of mild exasperation and slight crankiness (on my part). Instead, as the day wound down and we did our little nighttime ritual, I was overcome with melancholia. It's all going so fast, you see. Too fast.
He'll be six months next week. Wasn't he just born? Wasn't it just yesterday that I saw his little face for the first time? Already, I can list little things that he no longer does, that he's grown out of: No more funny wheezing when he naps in the stroller. No more falling asleep in my arms when I carry him around. No more needing to be nursed to sleep at night. I'm already starting to forget what he felt like in my arms when he couldn't hold his head up on his own. When I realized the other day that Hugo was no longer a newborn, and hadn't been one for some time, my mouth went all dry. Slow down, baby, I heard myself thinking, echoing millions of people before me. Slow down, please. Stay my tiny love a little while longer.
Following Hugo's lead, I put him down tonight for the first time without nursing him. I sang a song, stroked his head once or twice and then said good night and left the room. I was steeling myself for his tears as I walked out, but none came. I stood in the hallway for a while, listening to him coo and then grow quiet. I should have felt so proud, I know, of my boy, not even six months old, now able to fall asleep on his own. But all I wanted to do was cry.
Silly, right? I know. And yet. The heart is a funny thing.
Hoo! It's probably apparent to everyone that someone else here needs an early bedtime tonight. But before I go, I just need to tell you quickly about these cookies. The thing is, I'm pretty picky when it comes to Christmas cookies. I really mostly just like to eat the ones that Joanie makes. Every year, to be a good sport, I try out new ones, but they're mostly just for show. You know? I'd never really consider adding them to the lineup.
Until now. Seriously.
I'm sure you've heard all about Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's new cookbook, Jerusalem. It's on practically every Best-Cookbook-of-2012 list, on every food blog in creation, heck, there was even a profile of them in the New Yorker last week. I don't have a copy of the book yet, so I can't say a thing about it, really, except that the recipe for Spice Cookies alone (that I found online) is so good it's worth the price of the book alone. As my father likes to say, you really only need one good recipe to make a cookbook worthwhile.
Ottolenghi and Tamimi say that their spice cookies, stuffed with brandy-soaked currants, grated chocolate, winter spices and iced with a sharp, lemony glaze, are meant to be kissing cousins of that old German classic, Pfeffernüsse, and an Italian spice cookie that they found in Nancy Baggett's International Cookie Cookbook. I say that these spice cookies are one of my favorite things I've baked all year. And get this: I'm going to be taking some to Joanie's later this week, when we get together for another round of baking. I can't wait to see what she thinks of them.
The recipe is a little funny. It calls for only half an egg and a whopping 1 1/2 teaspoons of cocoa powder and you "soak" currants in brandy for all of ten minutes, which doesn't really plump a thing. But none of this matters. Just follow the instructions. Whisk together all the dry ingredients, then beat the butter with sugar and citrus peels and vanilla until a heady, fresh scent drifts upwards from your beaters. The dry ingredients are mixed into the wet until a dark, moody dough forms. It looks like freshly tilled earth. It smells like Christmas.
You form the dough into largish balls. I made the mistake of questioning the size of the balls that the authors call for. Surely, no one would want to eat a 5-ounce spice cookie, I thought. I'm going to make one sheet of cookies as they call for and another in the bite-sizes that I'd like. Silly woman. Don't make my mistake. Make the cookies big.
[Freddie totally photo-bombing the cookie dough.]
When you bake the cookies, the dough balls collapse outwards and then puff up, little fissures forming on their tops. I'd err on the side of underbaking them ever-so-slightly - a few minutes too long in the oven and you'll end up with a too-dry cookie with too-browned bottoms. 15 minutes should be perfect.
While they're still warm, you make a lemon glaze and then spoon it over the cookies. I had to do this a few times (I suspect my cookies were still too hot) to get the thickness I wanted. If you're more patient than me, only once will probably do. Then you glue a few cubes of candied orange peel to the top of the cookies and you let them rest until they've cooled completely.
When you break one open, you might think they look a little dry. Maybe even a little boring. But one bite, one richly flavored bite with the faint zing of citrus and a winey pop of currant against the spiced, chocolatey dough, will cure you of that thought in an instant. The texture of these cookies is a revelation - velvety is the one word that keeps coming to mind. The thin cap of icing provides the most delicate of snaps. If you took away my beloved Lebkuchen for eternity and left these gems in their place, I'd be grateful. That's how good they are. You know how else good they are? So good I've decided not to bake a single other thing for Christmas except for them, again and again.
And with that, folks, I'm off to bed. My preshus will be up in a few hours to ruin my sleep and I must be prepared.
Ottolenghi's Spice Cookies
From Jerusalem: A Cookbook
Makes 16 large cookies
Note: I grated the chocolate by blitzing it to rubble in the food processor.
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons (125 grams) currants
2 tablespoons brandy
Scant 2 cups (240 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons best-quality cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon each ground cinnamon, allspice, ginger, and nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 ounces (150 grams) good-quality dark chocolate, coarsely grated
1/2 cup (125 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup (125 grams) superfine sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/2 large free-range egg
1 tablespoon diced candied citrus peel
3 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup (160 grams) confectioners’ sugar
1. Soak the currants in the brandy for 10 minutes. Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, spices, salt, and dark chocolate.
2. Beat the butter, sugar, vanilla, and lemon and orange zest to combine but don't aerate much, about 1 minute. With the mixer or beater running, slowly add the egg and mix for about 1 minute. Add the dry ingredients, followed by the currants and brandy. Mix until everything comes together.
3. Gently knead the dough in the bowl with your hands until it is uniform. Divide the dough into 1¾-ounce (50 gram) chunks and roll each chunk into a perfectly round ball. Place the balls on 1 or 2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper, spacing them about ¾ inch (2 cm) apart, and let rest in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
4. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Bake the cookies for 15 minutes, until the top firms up but the center is still soft. Remove from the oven. Once the cookies are out of the oven, allow to cool for only 5 minutes, and then transfer to a wire rack.
5. While the cookies are still warm, whisk together the glaze ingredients until a thin and smooth icing forms. Pour a tablespoon of the glaze over each cookie, leaving it to drip and coat the cookie with a very thin, almost transparent film. You may want to repeat this step for a thicker glaze. Top each cookie with 3 pieces of candied peel placed at the center. Leave to set and then serve, or store in an airtight container for a day or two.
Last Friday night, I put Hugo to bed and tip-toed out of the bedroom as I usually do, hearing him settle into his crib for the night as I closed the door behind me. I walked carefully down the hallway and into the warm, golden-lit living room where my mother sat on the couch, surrounded by the last few weeks of New Yorker issues. I waited twenty minutes, mostly for my own benefit, since nary a peep was coming from the back room, then put on my shoes, took the car keys and walked out the front door. For the first time since Hugo's birth, I was going out on my own.
Over the past few months, I'd left Hugo a handful of times with my mother or mother-in-law during the day when I had to run an errand or meet a journalist to promote the book. But I was never gone longer than an hour or two and I'd never left him in the evening before. Dinners out or a movie night with Max were a distant, hazy memory. But earlier that week, my friend Joanie had called me to say that the annual Springerle evening, when she and our friend Ann get together to make the molded, anise-flavored cookies for Christmas, had been moved up by a few weeks because she needed to have hand surgery in December. Did I want to come? Around 7:00 pm on Friday? She'd already asked my mother if she wouldn't mind babysitting. (Max was in Kassel.) With only a tiny squiggle of adrenaline at the thought of leaving Hugo at bedtime, I said yes.
When I got to Joanie's, things were already in full swing. In the kitchen, Joanie's mother-in-law's East Prussian gingerbread dough, so thick with honey and flour that Dietrich, her husband, had to use a drill to mix it, ripened on a chair wedged next to the fridge. It would get rolled out and cut the following week. The big batch of the Springerle dough, fluffy with beaten eggs and sugar, was in the living room on the dining table. Between Joan, Ann and my mother, their collection of wooden Springerle molds is practically museum-worthy. The wooden molds were spread out all over the table as Joanie and Ann worked, armed with little brushes, mounds of flour for dusting and sharp-pointed knives to clean out crevices if some errant dough got stuck.
First, they selected a mold. A shell, perhaps, or a lamb carrying a flag, or a winged angel. Then they dusted a bit of flour into the clean mold. After that, they pinched off a lump of dough corresponding in size to the mold, rolled it into an egg-like shape and then dusted that liberally with flour, too. The lump of dough then was pushed firmly onto and into the mold and the edges were trimmed. All that was left was to very carefully peel the formed dough off the mold and lay it onto the anise-strewn cookie sheet. We did this over and over again until all the dough was gone and the cookie sheets were filled with tiny masterpieces.
The unbaked cookies have to rest overnight before being baked. The key to Springerle is not letting them brown in the oven, though they do develop little "feet", like French macarons, as they bake. When they're done, Springerle look like they've been formed out of clay. This might lead you to think that they don't taste very good, but they are my favorite of all the Christmas cookies, delicate and sweet, with that haunting anise flavor. They store well and although they do get very hard with time, all you need to do is slip a slice of apple into their tin and they'll remain slightly cakey instead of rock-hard. (Though rock-hard is actually how I like them, the better for dunking into tea.)
When we were finished, we cleaned off the table, putting all the molds into the empty bowl, sweeping up the leftover flour, scraping the molds clean and wiping down the table. Then Joanie heated up a pot of borscht while Dietrich and I set the table. We ate the hot soup, dotted with spoonfuls of sour yogurt, with slices of dark bread. It was warm and cozy. As always, at Joanie's house, I felt my most calm and comfortable. But the minutes were ticking by and I soon found myself getting antsy, checking my watch. I wanted to be home again, just down the hall from my sleeping baby. So I said my goodbyes, got back in the car and drove down the emptying highway towards Charlottenburg.
Back home, things were as I had left them: My mother on the couch, Hugo asleep in his little crib. But it felt like the world had just expanded somehow. A tiny glimmer of my old life was visible again. Or, no, I guess I'd just seen a tiny glimmer of my new life, the one where Hugo no longer needs me near him 24 hours a day, where I can once again leave the house at times without him, feeling both liberated and like I've left a piece of me behind. It was thrilling and a little bittersweet, too.
Want to make your own Springerle?
Quick! Oh my goodness!! The baby's asleep! I have all of thirty-five minutes to not only write this post, but do the dishes and, you know, wash and dress myself. Hurry, woman! Stop telling them about how little time you have and just do this thing!
Okay, so. You know how you sometimes just wake up needing a cookie? And not just any old cookie, but a sort of trashy, overstuffed, super-delicious cookie that will give you a guilty conscience if you eat more than two at once? That's how I woke up last Friday. Hungry for cookies.
A quick glance through my kitchen cupboards that morning turned up a container of oats, an unopened bag of shredded coconut, some almonds kicking around in a glass jar and half a bar of chocolate. An even quicker Google search led me to this recipe. (And to the related thought of missing Gourmet. I know, that dead horse is beaten. But still. I miss it. Epicurious is no substitute.)
My darling son and his myriad needs made it so that even though I started making the dough right then and there, I didn't get to actually eat a cookie until it was almost dinnertime. (Oh, babies.) That's not to say that the recipe was in any way complicated. It's a super-simple base dough laden with chopped chocolate, toasted nuts, coconut and oats. It is the cookie version of Molly's French granola, in other words.
Yes. Yes yes yes.
The original recipe says to drop 1/4 cup-sized portions of dough onto the sheet, but that sounded obscene to me, so I made smaller cookies for the first sheet, which then promptly overbrowned in the oven. Chastened, I made larger ones for the second sheet. And then I figured out why the larger ones were better: These are no three-bite sablés, to be eaten after being dipped in some delicate-tasting tea. Oh no. These are COOKIES, brawny and brazen and unapologetic (although next time I'd reduce the sugar a little). Palm-sized is the way to go. Best paired with a large glass of milk to wash them down with. Also, to be eaten warm from the oven, when the outside is crisp and the inside is chewy and the chocolate is molten and the whole house smells like a cookie factory. Yes.
Once I'd filled my cookie craving, there was still dough left, so I baked more and filled a whole bag for my friends. Once that was done, there was still dough left. So I baked more cookies and filled another whole bag for my in-laws. And there was still dough left. (Can you tell I've been reading a lot of children's books lately?) So I formed the remaining dough into balls, put them on a plate which I stuck in the freezer, and then put the frozen dough balls in a freezer bag. You know, for a rainy day, when I need just one cookie and don't want to make a whole batch of cookie dough.
I've always meant to do this kind of thing, but never have. But now I am a mother, sensible, laden with bags and always thinking ahead, so I have no excuse. I feel very pleased with myself about this frozen cookie dough. And as soon as I can fill the rest of the freezer with nutritious soups for me and ice cube trays of puréed vegetables for Hugo, I shall purchase high-waisted jeans and a station wagon and never look back again. Yes? Yes.
Speaking of motherhood, I was thrilled to be interviewed for the wonderful Momfilter: check it out here (bonus wedding and Hugo pics!).
Oh, and the lovely Caroline from Whipped did a great Q & A right over here: click.
The baby's still asleep! It's an October miracle! Off to shower! xo!
Chocolate Oatmeal Coconut Cookies
Makes an enormous amount of cookies
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar (I'd use 3/4 cup)
6 tablespoons granulated sugar (I'd use 3-4 tablespoons)
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/4 cups old-fashioned oats
1 1/2 cups packaged finely shredded unsweetened coconut
12 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), cut into 1/2-inch chunks (about 2 cups)
3/4 cup almonds with skins (4 oz), toasted, cooled, and chopped
1. Heat oven to 375°F.
2. Beat together butter and sugars in a bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until fluffy. Add eggs and beat until just blended, then beat in vanilla, baking soda, and salt. Add flour and mix at low speed until just blended. Stir in oats, coconut, chocolate, and almonds.
3. Arrange 1/4-cup mounds of cookie dough about 3 inches apart on a baking sheets. Bake until golden, rotating halfway through, 15 minutes total.
4. Cool cookies on sheets 1 minute, then transfer with a spatula to racks to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough.