a touch of fall; coconut sugar cookies

sugar cookies are something that never go out of season.  for a baker, they are the equivalent of a blank canvas just waiting to be transformed into tasty works of art.  the dough is also flexible enough that the ingredients can be manipulated with substitutions and it will still be easy to roll out.

for this batch i replaced the butter with coconut oil and the result was a crispy, flaky cookie with a rich coconut flavor.  since it is now fall, i thought a few swirls of fall colors in the dough and a leaf cutter would be a nice way to try out my new kitchen and oven.  by using toothpicks, it is easy to add little dabs of color to the dough.  do this carefully, as you can see, the red i used overpowered the orange and yellow and made the dough look a bit cherry red instead of marbleized fall colors.

marbleized coconut sugar cookies
makes about 24 large cookies
7 ounces coconut oil, at room temp and solid
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
2 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour, plus more for rolling the dough
paste food colors and tooth picks
leaf cutter
place the coconut oil into a mixing bowl with the sugar, vanilla and salt.  with the mixer on medium-low, combine the ingredients completely but take care not to mix too long.  coconut oil responds to friction quickly and will melt with a lot of mixing.  add the egg and mix to combine.  add the flour and mix the dough until it is combined.  
scrape the dough out onto a clean tray or large platter to prevent the colors from staining your counter top or cutting board.  to color the dough, dip the toothpicks into the food color and dab it onto the dough.  the more you add, the more the colors will mix and homogenize so do not try to add a lot.  wearing gloves if you do not want to stain your hands, gently knead the dough to distribute the colors.  add more color if you like, and knead it in.  do not knead it excessively or the colors will blend to form a single tint.  place the dough on the tray in the fridge to set for about 10-15 minutes to make rolling it out easier.  preheat the oven to 350.  line several cookie sheets with parchment paper or silpats.  
to roll the dough, refer to this previous post which illustrates the use of dowels.  roll the dough, cut out the leaves and transfer them to the prepared trays.  bake the cookies for about 14-16 minutes.  the cookies should be lightly browned around the edges.  allow the cookies to cool completely, store air tight.

old fashioned iced oatmeal cookies

my latest baking obsession, iced oatmeal cookies.  no, i cannot explain it.  of course, i have always liked oatmeal cookies, especially oatmeal cookies with dried currants in them.  and yes, i have always preferred them to be homemade and warm from the oven.  even so, i really like the ones that come in a bag with the hard white frosting.  crispy cookie and crunchy white frosting.  go figure.

unfortunately, when your doctor has told you that your cholesterol level is higher than what is considered normal, you cannot indulge in cookies loaded with butter.  therefore, i made an attempt to slim this favorite snack down and make it a little better on the numbers.

my starting point for the cookies was this recipe from mel’s kitchen cafe.  to change the recipe, i substituted whole wheat flour for the all purpose flour and virgin coconut oil for the butter.  each was a 1 for 1 swap meaning that an identical amount of the substitute was used for the original ingredient.

coconut oil and whole wheat flour make a drier batch of dough.  i gently pressed each of the cookies down to form a thick disk before i put the pan in the oven.  the results were a cookie that was dense and not as crispy as butter would have made them.

the glaze was simply powdered sugar with a little milk in it.  each cookie was dipped in the glaze and placed on a rack to drip and set.  they did not set quickly and that moisture softened the cookies a bit.  not necessarily a bad thing but it did not give them the crispy/crunchy texture i was hoping for.

pretty but not perfect.  tasty but not the taste i wanted.

 i soldiered on.  for the second batch, i pulled out my own recipe and baked off a batch.  this time, i also substituted coconut oil and whole wheat flour but i tinkered with some of the amounts.  then to frost them, i went with my instincts and whipped up a small batch of royal icing and thinned it out with water to make a drippy glaze.  these look a whole lot more like what i was hoping for and they also taste a lot more like what i was hoping for.

for comparison, batch #1 on the left, batch #2 on the right.  will i make these again?  you betcha!

old fashioned iced oatmeal cookies
makes about 24 small cookies

1 1/2 cup rolled oats
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

4 ounces coconut oil
1 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoon molasses
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
1/3 cup dried currants
preheat the oven to 350.  in a bowl, combine the oats, whole wheat flour, salt and baking soda and whisk it to combine, set aside.  in a mixing bowl, combine the coconut oil, brown sugar, molasses and salt and mix at medium-low speed until fluffy.  add the egg and water and mix until combined.  pour the combined dry ingredients in and mix on low speed until it starts to come together.  add the currants and mix until combined. scoop out the cookies using a small (#40 or #50 if you can find one) portion scoop and place them on paper lined sheet pans.  bake until lightly golden and a little puffy, about 10-12 minutes.  cool completely before glazing.
royal icing glaze
1 egg white
2 cups powdered sugar
combine the ingredients and whip on medium-high speed until it forms stiff peaks.  add water, a teaspoon at a time to make a slightly runny(but not watery!) glaze.  dip the tops of the cookies in the glaze taking care not to dunk them in completely, they should have spots of cookie showing, refer to the photo.   place each dipped cookie on a rack to set and harden.  store airtight.

holiday cookie round up: homemade oreos

minty oreos just scream christmas!  to make these, i used my chocolate wafer recipe which you can find by clicking on this link.

for fun, i pressed each cookie with a cookie stamp so that they would be a little fancier.  to fill them, i used this recipe from wayne harley brachman’s book retro desserts.  since i did not use that chocolate wafer recipe, i cannot comment on it but the filling recipe worked out very nicely and was pretty close to the real thing.  one thing to keep in mind, the moisture content in butter will cause the cookies to soften a bit after a couple days.  this did not bother me but for those of you expecting a really crispy cookie sandwich, they are best filled the day you will serve them.

to make the pattern on the cookies, i pulled this set of glass cookie stamps out of the drawer.  they were given to me more than 20 years ago and were purchased in williams sonoma.  they no longer sell this set but if you do an internet search, they will come up on various sites as “vintage” and are not terribly expensive.

holiday cookie round up: gingerbread and almond crisps

what kind of holiday season would it be without gingerbread?  this year, I decided to go simple with them, they are fluted rounds with a dusting of coarse sugar.  perfect for snacking or dunking and even suitable for stacking with a frosting filling.  need a recipe?  try this one from rose levy beranbaum’s book, rose’s christmas cookies.

on a recent trip to atlanta, my daughter and i made a stop at one of our favorite places, white windmill bakery.  they have so many cookies to choose from but these almond cookies caught my eye.  when i returned home, i began a search for the recipe and after several tries, i came up with these.  they do not look like much but if you love almonds, these things are addictive.

crispy and full of almonds, they are light and easy to make.

i must have made at least 3 batches.  for the gluten free cookie lover, they are easy to make with rice flour and every bit as tasty!  try this recipe, it is the one i started with but i did add a little butter and increased the almonds.  since it is a work in progress, i am not posting the recipe at this time.

holiday cookie round up: wheat cookies

it just doesn’t seem like christmas without sugar cookies.  every year, my girls decorate a batch of sugar cookies to give to their cousins.  it is a bit of a joke, the cookies are some of the craziest, ugliest cookies around!  the royal icing used for decorating is tinted with colors that are vibrant to say the least.  and they aren’t shy with the icing either.  but none of that matters.  they are always well received and a good laugh is had by all.

it just so happens that sugar cookies are one of my favorite cookies.  when i was much younger, a child even, i would look forward to our family trip to my aunt and uncle’s house for christmas dinner.  honestly, it was the cookies i was anticipating.  there were so many to choose from.  each year, my aunt would roll out a batch of bertha’s famous wheat cookies.  while wheat cookies may not sound like something a kid would covet, these were really just sugar cookies made with some whole wheat flour.

my aunt kept it simple.  she would adorn each cookie with a piece of glaceed cherry, some red, some green.

sometimes, simplicity is perfection…

the cookies are easy to make.  i have posted the recipe before and you can find it by clicking here.  the recipe was written down by my late uncle, my mother added the note about not using butter.  however, i made this batch with butter and to compensate for the drier dough, i reduced both types of flour by 1/4 cup.  it worked perfectly.

holiday cookie round up: coconut spritz

several years ago, i scored this vintage cookie press on ebay.  it has lots of disks to make many shapes.  the box is in nice shape too and even has the original price on it, $3.95.  try and find a new set this nice for that price.  i love the trigger action, it works perfectly.  the only advice i can give you, press them directly onto the sheet pans; do not use paper or grease the pans!  the reason, the cookies will not separate from the gun and you will find yourself getting rather irritated when you have to peel each one off and put it on the pan…yes, that is experience talking.

for my batch, i decided to make them coconut flavored.  to do this, i used coconut oil in place of the butter and because it seemed a little on the dry side, i also added a few tablespoons of unsweetened coconut milk.  if you would like to try mixing up a batch, try this recipe from the joy of cooking, it is the base recipe i started with and then made the substitutions.

when i switched to pans without paper, it was quick and easy to pump out the cookies.  to make it even easier, i used the same pattern for all of the dough.

each pump of the trigger releases the exact amount of dough for one cookie.

because i also added a little coconut milk to the dough, they spread out a bit.  the combination of coconut oil and coconut milk gave nice flavor and brought back childhood memories of danish butter cookies.

each christmas, my grandfather would bring us a tin of (store bought) danish butter cookies.  the different shapes and varieties were stacked separately in the tin using large fluted paper muffin cups.  one of my favorites was always the coconut bars.  they were rectangular in shape with grooves across the top.  these were also some of the last to go-apparently, i was the only one who liked them.

holiday cookie fest round up: amaretti

growing up in an area where italian foods are common, finding amaretti is easy.  i can hardly remember a holiday season when i didn’t see the red tins stuffed full of these paper wrapped almond cookies.  these memories served as my inspiration when i chose the recipe from carol field’s book, the italian baker.

they mix up quickly and honestly, you will wait longer for them to bake.  they bake at a low temp, 300, then sit in the oven with the heat off to finish drying out.  they are meant to be crunchy but will melt in your mouth.

red and green paper make them so festive, perfect for giving as gifts.

the secret to the batter, getting the egg whites whipped to the proper consistency.  it should be a little droopy and shiny, more whipped than marshmallow cream but not as stiff as a meringue topping.

to portion the cookies out, i used a small scoop.  i wasn’t looking for perfect mounds and did not mind the uneven shape.

somehow, these little cookies may have taught me a thing or two about making macarons.  just look at the feet on these things!  these were a favorite among all who received them and i will be making them again next year.

the recipe is posted online at cookinglight.com and can be found with this link .  both versions of amaretti cookies found in carol fields book, the italian baker are posted.  to make these cookies, i used the first recipe.

holiday cookie round up: biscotti

each holiday season, i make cookies, lots and lots of cookies.  it is a tradition in our house to make all kinds of cookies and give them as gifts.  for my mother, i make apricot biscotti and if i can, i dip them in white chocolate.  they turned out beautifully this year.  the biggest surprise is that i actually did the dip by hand-no tempering machine since mine is out of commission until i can replace the probe.

for the round up, each day this week, i will be posting photos from a different batch of cookies that i baked for the holiday.  if recipes are available, i will include them or links to them.  each day this week, i will post photos from a different batch of cookies that i baked for the holiday so be sure to visit daily!

biscotti are such and easy cookie to make.  they mix up quickly and are easy to shape.

divide the dough into as many pieces as you like and stretch it out to form a log.

once you have the length of the log, work on getting the width and the thickness-it is best if the log is uniform in shape and thickness so that it bakes evenly.

bake them and let them cool completely.  contrary to what most recipes tell you, biscotti will slice cleanly and perfectly after the first bake only if you let them sit for 4-6 hours or even overnight.  the moisture within the log has time to distribute and soften the outer crust.  that way, you can slice them with a serrated knife and not have them crumble or break.

perfect slices with a light dip of pure white chocolate
all ready to be packed up and shipped to mom

for the rest of the family, i make something chocolate.  this year, i made marbled almond biscotti.

just like the apricot biscotti, the dough is portioned out.  the two doughs are stacked and are now ready to make marbled logs.

using a little cold water on my hands to prevent the dough from sticking, i stretch and pinch the balls of dough to make the logs.

before going into the oven, the are shaped so that they are an even width and thickness.
the layers remain separate and form lovely patterns in the sliced logs.
using my old ruler, i mark the logs every 3/4″ so that the biscotti are uniform in size.  
marbled dough is a favorite of mine.  no two ever come out the same.

hard to believe that the holiday season is coming to a close.  in the blink of an eye, it was the day after christmas…to see the rest of the cookies i made this year, check back.  i will be posting photos all week.

gingersnaps; tuesdays with dorie

 this week, we tackled gingersnaps.  fitting choice given the season.  truth is, i love gingersnaps and gingerbread and will make either one at anytime in the year.  since gingersnaps are a favorite of mine, i was eager to try this recipe which was contributed by david blom and to see it, this is the link.

as always, i made a few changes to the recipe.  first of all, i very rarely use molasses.  how can that be you ask?  well, i live in the south and around here, we use sorghum.  so what’s the big deal about sorghum?  it tastes better than molasses and it is a pure product meaning that it is just sorghum syrup that is extracted from sorghum cane and cooked down.  no chemicals, no refining, nothing, just sorghum.  not familiar with sorghum, read a few facts about it here.  and for those of you with a diy fetish, here is an interesting article on just that, making your own sorghum.

 what other changes did i make to the recipe?  well, for starters, i added a whole lot more spices.  i quadrupled the ginger, doubled the cinnamon and added garam masala, cardamom and cloves to make a nice and spicy dough.  then i reduced the water a bit; i was making a batch that was 4 times the recipe and it would have called for 6 tablespoons of water but i only added 5.  thinking back now, i would reduce it even more, maybe just use 4.

when i roll out cookies, i use wooden dowels that are the exact thickness that i need to help guide my rolling pin and keep it all consistent.  i also brush off as much of the excess flour as possible.

my collection of cookie cutters is on the large side.  in the bins are several hundred shapes to choose from.  since these cookies are going to a christmas party, i chose a holly leaf, it was 2″x3″ and with a batch of dough that was quadrupled, i ended up with just over 60 cookies.

 the recipe was a bit unusual for gingersnaps.  it did not include any eggs and when the cookies were cut, they got a glaze made of molasses and water before going into the oven.  the recipe for the glaze could easily be cut back, i had a lot left over but again, i did multiply the recipe.  if you do the same, cut the glaze in half.  if you just prepare the recipe as it is, make the full amount.

 and just because i could, i gave the cookies a sprinkle of sanding sugar before they went into the oven.  no such thing as too much sparkle on a gingersnap.

the cookies took longer in the oven than the recipe called for.  a lot longer and about double the time if not a little longer.  considering that i made them only slightly larger than the recipe called for and that i baked them at 350 rather than 325 (because i didn’t read that…), i was surprised at how long they took to become “almost firm” in the oven.  the other surprising fact is that i had also reduced the water.  the cookies were a little on the soft and flexible side and once they finally baked, they were really hard once they cooled off.  those with sensitive teeth may want to dunk them first…

 perfect with a cup of hot tea or coffee, feel free to do just that, dunk them if you like.

 after a hectic couple of days at work, it was nice to come home and bake a batch of cookies.  it was well worth the time i spent that afternoon, almost comforting.

 as the afternoon sun slowly sank, the light changed in the room.  it seems that all of the classes and workshops i have taken suddenly came together in one quiet afternoon in my dining room.  the light became the focus, not the cookies.

 the magic hour.  you can see the shift in the light by looking at the top left corner of the photo.  suddenly, the pink/gold of sunset was creeping in.

this light is fleeting.  you must be just as quick to capture it.  here it glides across the pan from left to right.

 and now, it has moved.  so quickly the color changes.  
 and changes still.  the mood of the photo has changed as well.  
would i make these again?  meh…maybe.  with changes.  less water, no glaze.  love that they are made without eggs and could easily be a vegan recipe by switching the butter to a non-hydrogenated shortening, a vegetarian butter or coconut oil.  honestly, i have a wonderful gingerbread recipe and a damn good ginger snap recipe already so the likelihood is slim.  but that vegan factor will keep them on the maybe list.  to see how the other tuesdays with dorie bakers did with this recipe, visit the website.  to bake along with us, pick up a copy of the book and, register at the website and start baking!  the book can be found easily, it is still in print.  try bookstores, online, your local library or a friend.  whatever you do, just bake…

double chocolate cookies; tuesdays with dorie

this weeks recipe for tuesdays with dorie was a simple one.  actually, that was exactly what i needed, a simple cookie recipe.  a chocolate cookie can do many things and after the craziness of travelling for a week, chocolate cookies were just what i needed.  to make the recipe, pick up a copy of baking with julia by dorie greenspan.

 the recipe uses a pound of chocolate.  twelve ounces of bittersweet chocolate and four ounces of unsweetened chocolate.  the recipe instructs you to melt half of the bittersweet chocolate with the unsweetened chocolate.  the other six ounces of bittersweet chocolate is cut into chunks and stirred into the batter.  since i think there can never be too much chocolate, i went ahead and added an additional six ounces of white chocolate chunks with the bittersweet chunks.

the recipe calls for chilling the dough for at least three hours if not longer.  but before you try to scoop them out, let them soften a bit; chilling makes the dough about as hard as cement.  i used a portion scoop, size 40 which will have a purple handle if you buy it from a restaurant supply.  my yield was almost 4 dozen after adding the extra chocolate.  the recipe states that you will get 24 large cookies and they are “spreaders” but i did not think they spread much at all.  the baking time was accurate; don’t go over the 12 minutes or they will not be fudgy.

these cookies are somewhere between a cookie and a brownie making this recipe  worth the pound of chocolate it calls for.  but don’t let that stop you from adding extra chunks-white, milk or dark.  they are best when warm so don’t hesitate to reheat the leftovers in the oven for a minute or two.  be warned, they are addictive.

generally, i ask people to buy a book but if that is not an option, consider borrowing it from a library or a friend.  however, many of these recipes are up online already and you can find it by searching for “double chocolate cookies baking with julia”.