Cookies & Bars

Lavender Lemon Bars

lemon bars

Something about lemon bars just tastes like summer! The sweet-tart curd is perfectly balanced on top of a buttery shortbread crust. As a child, they were my favorite treat. The very thought of the tangy creaminess makes my mouth water. As my palate has matured (that’s a polite way of saying…I have gotten old) I still love my childhood favorite but I have added an aromatic twist. Lavender and lemon pair so perfectly that they beg to accompany each other. The flavor combination takes this classic bar cookie and upgrades it to a level that begs to be served at your next bridal or baby shower.

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Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

choc chip 1

Have you seen the Friends episode where Monica is trying to figure out and re-create Phoebe’s grandmother’s secret chocolate chip cookie recipe? I feel like I have lived my life inside this episode trying to come up with the perfect quintessential cookie. A cookie that is slightly crunchy on the outside but soft and chewy on the inside. A cookie that has a rich buttery flavor in every bite. A cookie that allows the chocolate to accent but not overpower. Monica finally found her perfect cookie recipe on the back of a bag of chocolate chips….my search, however, has not been that simple.

I have tried every recipe imaginable from copycat “Mrs. Fields” recipes to the $500 Neiman Marcus recipe. I have tried recipes that combine low protein cake flour with high protein bread flour (which ends up creating all-purpose flour). I have ground whole grains into flour, tried malted barley, sugar syrups, you name it I’ve tried it. The recipe I have finally deemed “perfect” is not easy and does take prep work but it so incredible that it is worth every extra effort it involves. I promise this IS the best chocolate chip cookie EVER!!!

choc chip 2The first secret to this cookie is browned butter. If you have ever made madeleines you are familiar with browning butter and how it is a game-changer in baked goods. The deeper nuttier flavor it adds to a recipe heightens and enhances the flavor. Browning butter is easy, can be made ahead, and is well worth the time it takes. Combining sugars in this recipe creates the perfect texture. Brown sugar adds moisture, golden syrup adds chewiness, and the turbinado sugar adds a sweet crunch that retains its integrity even through the baking process. I have come to believe that corn starch is pure magic in cookies. Adding about 2 tablespoons for every cup of flour adds a softness to cookies that can’t be created any other way…not to mention the perfect crumb.

This recipe does take advanced preparation. After making the dough it needs to sit and mellow so the flavors infuse together. This may seem like a silly extra step but I have baked them right after mixing (when no one could wait for a fix) and I could taste the difference. My family has come up with a solution, we now freeze the dough balls. I recommend forming the dough into balls before freezing the dough. The dough is too hard to scoop after it is frozen plus you can take out the exact number you need without wasting precious dough.

I recognize that everyone claims to have the best chocolate chip cookie recipe. As much as I don’t want to disagree with Monica or offend anyone’s great aunt Ethel…this recipe is quite possibly the world’s most perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe ever!

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Raspberry Macarons

Rasberry MAcaronIhave to admit, even before our current pandemic hit, I have always been a little over the top crazy about food storage and emergency preparedness.  When COVID-19 first started to surface I began taking inventory of my basement bunker. I came across several #10 cans of freeze-dried raspberries that needed to be rotated. Fresh raspberries are a favorite at my house, but what could I do with freeze-dried raspberries. If you know me or follow my blog at all you probably know that my kitchen tends to revolve around french macarons. So, it should come as no surprise that my mind instantly went to infusing the fresh tart flavor of raspberry into these magical almond cookies.

These cookies are SO incredible that I can’t figure out why it took rotating food storage to come up with the idea!!! The flavor tastes exactly like fresh raspberry. Anyone who makes macarons knows that the recipe is delicate and that additional moisture can “break” the meringue. For this reason, pastry chefs often add artificial flavors or flavor pastes to macarons. Artificial flavorings albeit functional cannot deliver fresh flavor. Freeze-dried fruit powder, however, satisfies both the palate and the delicate moisture balance in meringue.

To make the raspberry powder simply put freeze-dried raspberries into a food processor and pulverize. Dehydrated fruit is not the same and simply does not preserve fresh flavor the way freeze-drying does. Next, sift the powder through a fine-mesh sieve to remove all of the seeds, ensuring a smooth macaron skin. Now, when it comes to incorporating fresh fruit into an already finicky macaron this is usually done in the filling or layered between the two shells.  Due to the current quarantine, I decided not to brave the grocery store and make my normal raspberry buttercream with the same freeze-dried powder rather than fresh berries. The flavor was so much better that I may never go back. How can freeze-dried taste better than fresh? It is the concentration of flavor it allows the recipe to hold without adding additional moisture. This filling is so fresh and tangy, I am not going to lie, I was eating it by the spoonful.

I have to say that these perfect little cookies are my silver lining to a very stressful quarantine. They have honestly made me rethink my whole food storage. Maybe storing almond flour, dehydrated egg whites and some freeze-dried berries is all I need. I always imagined Marie Antoinette as arrogant and out of touch with the French people when she proclaimed “let them eat cake”… truth is maybe she understood food storage better than all of us!

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Easter Chocolate Coconut Nest

nests (2)

What do you do when Easter is a week away and the COVID-19 quarantine hasn’t been lifted. You make homemade Easter treats of course! Use this quarantine as an opportunity to expand your culinary skills. Hold true to your Easter traditions without leaving the safety of your own kitchen. Russel Stover makes a coconut chocolate nest at Easter that has become an Easter basket staple. Don’t let being locked at home keep you from enjoying this crunchy sweet confection. The homemade version is so much better than it’s commercial counterpart you may never go back…even when you are allowed to shop again 😉

These nests are as much fun to make as they are yummy to eat. I use sweetened flaked coconut because it becomes so much crunchier than unsweetened when toasted. You can use any milk chocolate you choose. Yes, even chocolate chips.  The oil in the coconut thins and shines the chocolate so beautifully you will be amazed.  I like to use a medium cookie scoop to mound the chocolate and coconut mixture then I use the backside of a melon baller to press and form the inside of the nest. Next, place three Cadbury mini eggs inside the nest and let dry completely before moving. Now, Russel Stover puts jelly beans in their nests…but yuk! why on earth would you ruin perfectly paired chocolate and coconut with pectin of any kind when you can just as easily add rich and creamy Cadbury mini eggs to the nest.  One of the best things about this treat is they are no-bake, easy to make, yet taste like they were purchased at a high-end chocolatier.

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Meringue Kisses

kisses #21

After posting yesterday’s blog we were overwhelmed by the number of people who loved the cookies and wanted to try making meringues, but felt the piping work looked too difficult to master.  Meringue can be piped into almost any intricate design you can think of.  Although the possibilities are endless nothing can compare to a meringue kiss. The drop shape design is the perfect introduction to meringue cookies using a simple large round tip (I use Wilton A1). They are simple and delicate, creating the perfect presentation for any gathering. Meringues not only look classy and sophisticated but the taste sets them apart from other deserts. The light and airy crunch of meringue melts in your mouth.  Sprinkle them with sugars or sandwich them together with a ganache filling. Any way you create them they are sure to impress!

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Valentine Meringue Cookies

heart shaped merigues

The origination of meringue is highly disputed. Italy, France, and Switzerland all claim to be the birthplace of this light and airy protein structure of egg whites, and sugar. Regardless of where it came from one thing is indisputable, it takes cookies, pies, and even buttercream frosting to a whole new level.

Meringue cookies were originally shaped in the17th century by using two spoons to scoop and dollop the meringue as carefully as possible.  Today many bakers have taken the skill of making meringues to an absolute art form. The protein structure created in meringue enables bakers to use limitless creativity in making meringue cookies. With a kitchen full of piping tips you can truly let your imagination be your guide in creating colorful decorative cookies. These crunchy cookies are so light, airy and low on calories that you don’t have to feel guilty indulging on your baked masterpieces.

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Soft Valentine Sugar Cookies

valentines sugar cookie

There are a few must-have treats every holiday. Valentine’s Day is no exception. Sugar cookies with red and pink sprinkles are as important as pink boxes filled with conversation hearts. Something about this holiday just screams sprinkles and sanding sugar. The memories of my kids standing on stools with adult-sized aprons falling off their tiny bodies as they decorate the perfect cookie for each classmate. Cookies so covered with frosting and sprinkles that you barely recognize the cookie buried beneath. Who needs date night with long-stemmed roses when you can decorate cookies to accompany handwritten Valentines. The cookies were almost as important as the box the Valentines would go in. Handwritten cards. Homemade Valentine boxes. sugar-dusted cookies. The sweet simplicity of childhood love! Continue reading

Cream Cheese Thumbprint Cookies

thumbprintSomething about these cookies makes me feel like a kid in kindergarten finger painting for the very first time. Rolling the dough in sparkling sugars. Making the heart shape by pressing your fingers into the dough, then filling the pressed shape full of jam.  I know these are traditional Christmas cookies, but they are just so much fun to make. I had these on my list of cookies to make and post at Christmas, but due to my unrealistic baking schedule during December, many of my Christmas projects have become Valentines’ Day baking projects (just wait until you see my cupid gingerbread men).  Yes, I bite off more than I can chew…or bake as the case may be, but I think you will agree these heart-filled cookies make the perfect Valentine’s Day gift.

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Valentine Patch-Work Cookies

shape swap #2Can I just say how much fun these cookies are to make! Making these cookies looked like a baking game of musical chairs around the kitchen island. After the large heart cookie shapes were cut and chilled, the real fun began. The girls and I took out the chilled cookie sheets and began using mini heart cookie cutters to cut, sand with sugar, then swap for the center of a contrasting cookie. We worked fast to ensure the dough would stay firm and perfectly fit the previously cut cookie.

I am always looking for new ways to make sugar cookies. While making stained glass cookies this week the idea came to me to create the same look with different colored dough instead of hard candy. All sugar cookies are not the same. Some sugar cookies are soft and cakey, pairing perfectly with American buttercream. Other sugar cookies are buttery and dense taking on more of a shortbread flavor. I think it is a good idea to have several sugar cookie recipes in your arsenal depending on the project you are working on. I am not going to lie…our most requested recipe is our sour cream sugar cookie. This cookie is unbelievably soft but isn’t my dough of choice for intricate cookie cutters or detailed frosting work. 

For this cookie, I knew I wanted to create a patchwork of shapes. The dough would need to be sturdy enough to be cut, lifted, and patched into a completely different cookie. I started with a butter cookie base. I eliminated all leavening agents as I didn’t want the cookie to puff or swell while baking. Next, and most important I added cornstarch. Can I just say that in cookies cornstarch is a magical white powder that is pure witchcraft! Wheat flour has proteins that form gluten strands. While gluten gives great structure to bread it doesn’t always produce the perfect soft texture and tender crumble for a cookie. The addition of corn starch inhibits this structure and softens the cookie. I played with the amount of cornstarch until I found an amount that created a soft cookie and held a perfectly sharp edge.

I don’t know if I had more fun creating my own cookies or watching the combinations my girls would come up with. Kennedy is detail-oriented needing every edge perfectly aligned, while Maddie is the Picasso of sanding sugar, dusting every cookie with bright colors. Isn’t it funny how they get older and bigger, but their little personalities stay the same. Creating recipes and playing with my girls…I can’t imagine a better day!!!

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Linzer Cookies

Traditional European Linzer cookies have always been a family favorite at our house. We like to make them just about as much as we like to eat them. Don’t let these fancy little cookies fool you, they look difficult but are actually very simple and fun to make. Adapted from the lattice topped Austrian Linzer torte, this fruit filled cookie has become a holiday icon around the world.

This year we changed our recipe to include cardamom. It is no secret in reading my recipes that cardamom is my favorite spice. But, oh my…added to this almond butter cookie, it is amazing!!!  Many people add lemon to their linzer dough. While I love these cookies with lemon zest, cardamom adds a deeper and more intricate lemon flavor. You really must try this recipe…one simple spice makes all the difference.

My daughter Kennedy’s favorite filling is plum. Plum jam is seedless, tangy and creates the most beautiful crimson color through the tiny cut window. Citrus curds are also a fun option to fill the cookies with in spring using flower-shaped cutouts.

With so many shapes to choose from, don’t let Christmas be the only time you enjoy these buttery cookies. Red or pink jam and a heart shaped cookie cutter will quickly turn these dainty cookies into the perfect Valentine’s Day gift!

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