March 7, 2011
From kale to cookies, this is how we do.
Baking was how I got my foothold in the kitchen, and I think it’s still where I feel most comfortable, most sure of my abilities. People love baked goods, you know? And even people who claim not to love baked goods always seem to make an exception for mine, which makes me feel awesome sauce (as my students would say).
I am admittedly a snob when it comes to certain things, and baked goods are one of them. This is a recent development; I used to be an equal-opportunity sugar fiend, but now I like things that are a lot less sweet; I am very picky about the kind of chocolate I will eat or bake with, making the candy area by grocery store check-out lanes a lot less tempting.
The sweet tooth still throbs, though, the main food area in which my discipline is inconsistent. So starting Wednesday, I’m going to be saying “adios” to baked goods for a while; no sweets (or diet sodas, which make me crave sugar like nobody’s business) for me during Lent 2011.
In past years, I’ve found that going without something (meat, alcohol, chocolate) for a little while recalibrates my relationship to that thing, hopefully making me more mindful and appreciative of whatever it may be. Or just really cranky without my sugar fix. We’ll find out!
FAT TUESDAY TREATS
It’s traditional to load up on whatever you’re giving up the day before your fasting starts—hence Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras and its over-the-top Epicureanism. These two cookies might not be the most decadent, but they are sophisticated and delicious.
Both of these cookies are ever-so-slightly adapted from Alice Medrich’s Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies, which you should buy RIGHT NOW if you love sweets as much as I do. It’s probably one of the best cookbooks I’ve ever had the pleasure of owning: an authoritative but friendly voice, lovely photographs (though I wish there were more of those), and every recipe one I can’t wait to try.
Be advised: for both of these cookies, it’s all about the butter. I’m talking really-good-quality golden, fatty butter, the expensive kind. Because there’s nothing better than that sensual, slide-y quality it takes on when you remember to take it out of the refrigerator at the right time instead of cheating with the microwave (we’ve all done that, right?) Seriously, buy the good stuff. And bake with it. And slather it on homemade bread. Now and always.
Salted Peanut Cookies with White Chocolate
Note: this recipe includes chilling time for the dough—two hours minimum up to two days.
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. flaky sea salt or ¾ tsp. fine sea salt
8 T unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
¾ cup white sugar
1 cup natural peanut butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¾ cup white chocolate chips or chunks
½ cup unsalted peanuts, chopped
Whisk together the dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, & salt. In a separate bowl, mix the butter with both sugars until smooth and creamy. (You can use a mixer or a wooden spoon & elbow grease for this part). Add the egg, vanilla, and peanut butter and mix until blended. Stir in the dry ingredients until just incorporated. Gently mix in the peanuts and white chocolate.
Cover the dough and refrigerate as directed above. When you’re ready to bake, preheat your oven to 325°.
Squeeze the dough in the palms of your hands to form 1-inch balls; the dough will be crumbly, but don’t worry. Place the cookies two inches apart on cookies sheets lined with parchment (or greased).
Bake 15-18 minutes or until cookies are lightly colored on top and bottom. Though I normally think it’s an unnecessarily fussy step, I do recommend rotating the pans from top to bottom halfway through baking.
The cookies will be very soft to the touch. Cool a good while before attempting to move them around!
Be warned—you may find yourself putting away handfuls of these at a time. They are also lovely crumbled with vanilla ice cream.
¾ cup + 2 T all-purpose flour
2 T natural cocoa powder
¼ tsp. salt
14 T unsalted butter, cut into chunks
4 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped*
1 1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
½ tsp. instant espresso powder
special equipment: mini-cupcake/muffin pans and liners to go inside them
oven: preheat to 350°
Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, and salt. In a separate (glass) bowl, melt the chocolate and butter together, using a double boiler or the microwave. (The latter is my preferred method—just take it slow, 30 second increments, stirring well in between each one).
Once the chocolate and butter are completely melted, whisk in the sugar, vanilla, & espresso powder. Add the eggs one at a time, blending well before adding the next. Add the dry ingredients and whisk until smooth, but do not overmix.
Spoon a little batter into each cup, filling almost to the top of the liner. Bake 14-18 minutes or until a toothpick comes out of the center of one of the cakes with just a few crumbs. Cool the cakes on a rack before enjoying or storing in an airtight container for up to three days.
*Medrich’s recipe calls for 70% cacao, but I used 55% and cut the sugar down to just 1 cup.