Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

oatmeal raisin tastefood.jpg
This recipe is the closest I have come to my idea of a perfect oatmeal raisin cookie. It’s packed with oats and raisins with just a little flour to bind it all together, along with a blast of wheat germ for nutty crunch. The result is a crisp and chewy cookie that’s wholesome and rich at once. There is no white sugar in this recipe – only brown sugar which creates a deep caramel sweetness which dissolves in the mouth with every bite.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Refrigerating the cookies before baking will ensure a thicker, chewier cookie. Makes about 30 (2-inch) cookies.

1 3/4 cups light brown sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups old fashioned oats
1/2 cup wheat germ
1 1/2 cups raisins

Whisk the sugar, butter, egg and vanilla together in a large bowl until smooth. Mix the flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt together in a small bowl. Stir the flour into the butter and sugar and thoroughly combine. Stir in the oats and wheat germ. Add the raisins. Refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Drop rounded tablespoons of the dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment, leaving 2 inches between each cookie. Bake until the cookies are set in the middle and golden brown, 12 to 14 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on a rack.

Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons

coconut macaron tastefood

~ Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons ~

The bane of my childhood candy experience was a Mounds Bar. I just didn’t get it. I would bite into the promising chocolate nugget, which would immediately give way to a chewy, shredded, nutty interior, that in, my opinion, had no rightful place in a chocolate bar. It was clearly the texture that I did not like. I was mystified by my friends who bought super-sized packages of Almond Joys to scarf down when we were at the movies. Every halloween when my brothers and I would pile our loot in the middle of the kitchen table, gloating and eyeing trade-ups, my chocolate covered coconut bars were the first to offer up with no regrets. Sadly, my brothers were not so keen on coconut either, so the negotiating could get ugly.

As a parent, it baffled me that my children loved coconut. But as chief cookie baker, I stepped up to the plate and used coconut more and more freely in bars, cakes, and cookies. And, you know what? I, too, developed a fondness for this tropical “nut”, appreciating its flaky fresh and nutty interruption in a sea of sugar. I guess you could say I grew up.

I eat coconut now, unforced, and prefer it paired with dark chocolate. Sometimes I make macaroons, a jumble of coconut bound together with egg white and condensed milk. Yes, the milk is icky-sweet, but it seems to yield the best  juicy soft interior, which is what prevents dryness and distinguishes a great macaroon. I’ve followed a recipe from Ina Garten from time to time, but switch out some of the sweetened coconut with unsweetened, which I find reduces excessiveness cloyness. Oh, and I always dunk them in dark chocolate, of course – which has a magnificent grounding effect on, well, everything.

Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons
Makes about 24

14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
8 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
6 ounces unsweetened shredded coconut
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large egg whites, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 ounces dark (70%) chocolate, melted

Heat the oven to 350°F (180° C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine the milk, coconut, and vanilla in a large bowl and stir to blend.
Beat the egg whites and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer until soft peaks form and then fold into the coconut.

Drop heaping tablespoon-sized mounds of coconut on the baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Remove and cool completely on a rack. Dip one half of each macaroon in the melted chocolate and transfer to a board or platter lined with parchment. Refrigerate until set.

Almond Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

almond choc chip tastefood

~ Almond Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies ~

This is no ordinary chocolate chip cookie. It has all of the delectable aspects of a traditional tollhouse-style cookie, but then ups the ante with the addition of almond butter and sea salt. Almond butter does wondrous things to the dough. It’s not as pronounced in flavor as peanut butter which can overwhelm a cookie. Almond butter is mellower with notes of deeply roasted nuts, adding a subtle, golden background to the dough. A dusting of sea salt is an extra flourish – optional but highly recommended. A little salt makes everything taste better, even sweets – especially when chocolate is involved.

(Please accept my apologies if this messes with your New Year’s diet resolutions…)

Almond Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes 36 cookies

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup unsalted creamy almond butter (not raw)
1 cup semisweet or dark chocolate chips

Whisk the flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl; set aside. Cream the butter and sugars in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla. Mix well. Mix in the almond butter until smooth. Add the flour and mix to combine, then stir in the chocolate. Refrigerate the batter for at least one hour. (Batter may be refrigerated for up to 24 hours – if you can wait that long).
Heat oven to 350 F. Drop rounded tablespoons of dough on baking sheets lined with parchment. Bake until light golden, about 14 minutes.

Optional: Sprinkle a few flakes of sea salt on the cookies before baking.

Speculoos: Ginger Spice and Everything Nice Cookies

And one more cookie for the New Year:

speculaas

~ Speculoos: Spiced Holiday Cookies ~

Speculoos (or Speculaas) cookies are a Belgian and Dutch cookie. They are very spiced, but more fragrant than a gingersnap. What distinguishes a speculoos cookie is 2 things. The first is that they require a spice blend that reads like a laundry list of Asian and East Indian spices. The second is that Speculoos are traditionally prepared in a springerle mold, which produces picture-perfect cookies stamped with quaint images such as windmills, St. Nicholas, angels and cottages. The spice blend is easily prepared with commonly used spices, and you can make a large batch to keep on hand for extra cookies or seasoning breads and cakes. If you don’t have a springerle mold, no worries. The dough may be rolled and shaped with cookie cutters, or simple flattened into disks, as I have done in this recipe. While rolling and flattening may appear a tad less decorative and more homemade, once you take a bite of these spiced cookies you won’t mind one bit – happy new year!

Speculoos Cookies

Makes 3 dozen cookies

Spice blend:
3 tablespoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground white pepper

Cookies:
1 1/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons speculoos spice blend
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Sliced almonds as garnish, optional
Turbinado sugar for sprinkling

1. Heat the oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment.
2. Mix all of the spice blend ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.
3. Prepare the cookies: Cream the brown sugar and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until light. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy. Whisk the flour, the spice blend, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Add to the sugar and mix until combined without over-mixing.
4. Roll the dough into one-inch balls and place on the prepared baking sheet, at least 2 inches apart. Flatten each ball with the bottom of a water glass to a 1 1/2-inch disk, approximately 1/8-inch thick. Press a few almonds into the top of each cookie and sprinkle with a pinch of Turbinado sugar. Bake until light golden and firm, 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.

Salted Caramel Blondie Bars

Salted Caramel Blondie Bars

You might call these “everything but the kitchen sink bars” but Salted Caramel Blondie Bars (with chocolate and oats) pretty much sums up these rich and chewy nuggets. What prompted this recipe was my discovery of a forgotten jar of homemade salted caramel sauce in the back of the refrigerator. I know: You are thinking, how could anyone forget caramel? Good question, and I admit I’m not proud. To rectify my oversight, I quickly whipped up these blondies today to satisfy a sweet craving, and to start building our sugar tolerance in the lead up to Halloween at the end of the month. To balance out all of the sweet ingredients, a sprinkling of sea salt over the top of the bars helps to tame the excess – which (naturally) enables us to eat more.

Salted Caramel Blondie Bars with Chocolate and Oats

The addition of oats is optional. If oats are omitted, then increase the amount of flour to 2 cups. Makes 36 small squares.

1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar, lightly packed
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 cup old fashioned oats
3.5 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup salted caramel sauce
1 teaspoon sea salt

Heat oven to 350 F. Butter an 8-inch-by-8-inch baking pan. Line with parchment and butter the parchment. Whisk the brown sugar and butter together in a large bowl. Whisk in the eggs and vanilla until smooth. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in medium bowl and whisk to blend. Add to the sugar and butter, stirring to incorporate. Stir in the oats and chocolate. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top. Drop spoonfuls of the caramel over the batter. Using a sharp knife, swirl the caramel through the batter to evenly distribute. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon sea salt. Bake in oven until top begins to turn golden brown and bars are set, about 30 to 40 minutes. Remove and cool completely on a rack.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Therapy

Chocolate Chip Cookie Therapy

Sometimes, life gets busy and a few curveballs come our way. Best laid plans are, well, put to rest. So, we go with the flow, chin-up, and carry on. In honor of life’s little bumps and interruptions, I offer this simple gift. It’s nothing new, but, rather, something familiar, comfortable, and oh-so sweet. You’ve seen these cookies here before in a 24-hour version, but this batch requires no such waiting, because there is a time and place for instant gratification, too. Especially when chocolate is involved.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes about 30 cookies

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 cups, plus 2 tablespoons, all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup finely chopped dark chocolate

Heat the oven to 375 F (190 C). Combine the butter and sugars together in a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat at high speed until light and creamy. Add egg and yolk. Continue to mix until thoroughly combined. Add the vanilla and mix again. Whisk the flour, salt and baking soda together in a small bowl. Add to the butter and sugar and mix until well blended. Stir in the chocolate chips and chocolate. Drop rounded tablespoons of the batter onto baking sheets lined with parchment. Bake until tops are light golden, 10 to 12 minutes.

Lemon Bars

Lemon Bars

~ very lemony lemon bars ~

‘Tis the season for lemons. Actually, late winter is the season for lemons, but happily the season spills into spring, offering up bushels of citrus which beget light and lovely desserts, such as these Lemon Bars. Lemon Bars are a family favorite, a quintessential childhood treat that pleases adults and kids alike. The key to a good lemon bar, in my book, is that the filling must be intensely lemony packing a wallop of tart, with just enough sugar, but not so sweet that it’s cloying. The final touch is a pinch of sea salt, which keeps the sweetness in check and allows the lemon to shine through.

Lemon Bars

This recipe is adapted from and inspired by many sources, including Ina Garten and, most recently, Lucas’ Lemon Bars from Food52, as well as my personal weakness for sea salt. Makes 32 two-inch square bars.

Shortbread:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened but still cool, cut into cubes

Filling:
6 large eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter a 9 inch by 13 inch baking pan. Line with parchment and butter the parchment. Combine the pastry ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix until the dough resembles coarse lumps and just begins to come together. Dump the dough into the prepared pan and, with your fingers, evenly press the dough to cover the bottom of the pan. Bake the crust until it just begins to turn golden, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven.
Whisk the filling ingredients together in a large bowl until blended. Evenly pour over the crust. Return the pan to the oven and bake until the filling is set but not coloring, about 25 minutes. Remove and cool completely on a rack. Cut into bars. Dust with confectioner’s sugar and lightly sprinkle with sea salt flakes.

Cooking for your Health: Homemade Granola Bars

In this installment of Cooking for your Health, the theme is brain food: Healthy high energy snack food that’s a perfect pick-me-up during the work or school day or following a workout, providing a nutritional boost of energy which improves concentration and stamina. A diet rich in iron, B vitamins, essential fatty acids and complex carbohydrates comprises a winning menu for your brain, increasing focus and memory. While nailing the nutrition may be easier to accomplish when preparing a sit-down meal, it’s often difficult to find in a snack when you are grabbing food on the go. What can you eat that’s portable, delicious and healthy? Look no further than these homemade granola bars.

The beauty of homemade granola bars is that you can pick and choose your ingredients, omitting excess sugars, fat and additives without sacrificing flavor. These granola bars are studded with dried fruit and nuts, including anti-oxidant rich blueberries and almonds, B-vitamin heavy lifters oats, coconut and wheat germ, and coconut oil which provides lauric acid, known for its anti-oxidant and antibacterial properties. Come to think about it, snacking never felt or tasted so good.

Homemade Granola Bars

Makes approximately 24 small bars.

2 cups old fashioned oats
1/2 cup coarsely chopped raw almonds
1/2 cup unsweetened grated coconut
1/4 cup almond meal
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups dried fruit, such as chopped apricots, cranberries, blueberries, or raisins

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter an 8 by 11-inch baking pan and line with parchment.
Combine the oats, almonds, coconut, and almond meal in a bowl. Pour onto a rimmed baking sheet and spread evenly. Bake until fragrant and lightly toasted, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and pour into a large bowl. Reduce the oven temperature to 300°F.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the sugar and syrup, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and whisk in the vanilla, cinnamon, and salt. Pour the sugar over the oats, mixing to thoroughly combine. Stir in the dried fruit. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading to firmly and evenly distribute.
Transfer to the oven and bake until golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove and cool completely in pan until firm, at least 2 hours. Cut into squares or rectangles. Store at room temperature in an airtight container.

Home Baking: White Chocolate and Coconut Oatmeal Cookies

Home Baking: White Chocolate and Coconut Oatmeal Cookies

~ White Chocolate and Coconut Oatmeal Cookies ~

Wherever we move, there is a kitchen ritual to settling in. A new home is exciting and unsettling. There are new smells, a different light and the need to relearn a dance in our daily routine. Things are lost, then found and lost again.  We hurry to get our groove, a new groove, which will eventually transform into normal, while the urge is never stronger to wrap ourselves in the comfort of the familiar. So one of the first things I do is bake cookies. As the cookies bake, their fragrance wafts through the house marking its territory and reminding us of our family life. The smell coaxes us from our various rooms, technologies and activities, and we sit together, again, at our kitchen table, sharing a plate of home baked cookies with milk and tea.

White Chocolate and Coconut Oatmeal Cookies

Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen; Deb at Smitten Kitchen has a way with sea salt, and this recipe immediately caught my attention. I’ve adapted it slightly and added a shower of coconut to the dough.

Makes approximately 30 2-inch cookies

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut, plus extra for sprinkling
6 ounces high quality white chocolate, chopped, about 1 cup
Sea salt flakes, such as Maldon or Fleur de Sel, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350 F. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a bowl; set aside. Beat butter and sugars together in a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until light and fluffy, 3 minutes. Add egg and vanilla and mix well. Add flour and mix to thoroughly combine. Add oats, coconut and chocolate and mix to blend. Shape in 1 1/2 inch balls and place on baking sheet lined with parchment. Flatten slightly. Sprinkle with a pinch of coconut and a few grains of sea salt, gently pressing into the dough. Bake in oven until light golden, about 14 minutes.

Chunky Chocolate Cookies with Toasted Almonds and Raisins

Chunky Chocolate Cookies with Toasted Almonds and Raisins

Chocolate Therapy:
Chunky Chocolate Cookies with Toasted Almonds and Raisins 

As we tighten our purse strings, eat out less, purchase fewer perceived must-haves, it’s important to take a moment to focus on the simpler things in our lives that bring us pleasure: Family and friends? Absolutely. Good health and happy children? Of course! Beautiful sunsets and autumn foliage? Thank you very much. But right now what I’m most interested in is chocolate.

It’s not so long ago that I posted a recipe with chocolate on my blog. Perhaps this is reflection of the state of the world as I know it.  So call me repetitive or even a diet saboteur, but let’s be frank. Chocolate is good. When you taste it, you know it. More importantly, when you serve it to your friends and loved ones, it brings a smile to their faces. And, these days, generating smiles on the faces of people we know and touch is a very good thing.

Chunky Chocolate Cookies with Toasted Almonds and Raisins
Makes  30 2-inch cookies

14 ounces dark (70%) chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups  granulated sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup toasted almonds, chopped
3/4 cup golden raisins

Melt  chocolate and butter in the top of a double boiler over simmering water, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat. Beat sugar and eggs in the bowl of an electric mixer until thick and very pale in color, 3 minutes. Add chocolate and vanilla to the eggs and mix well. Whisk flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Add to the chocolate and mix to combine.  Stir in almonds and raisins. Refrigerate batter 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 F. (180 C.) Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Drop rounded tablespoons of batter onto the parchment. Bake until the tops are cracked and firm to the touch, 12-14 minutes. Remove from oven. The cookies will still be soft in the center and will continue to harden as they cool. Cool completely on parchment. Store in an airtight container for 2-3 days.

More chocolate therapy? Then try these recipes:
Chocolate Orange Pots de Creme with Fleur de Sel from TasteFood
Miette’s Chocolate Sable Cookies from the Kitchn
Rich Chocolate Brownies from TasteFood
Chocolate Caramel Tart from My Baking Addiction