twd: baking with julia: oasis naan

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sometimes, i feel like fine dining is totally wasted on me when i would be perfectly happy just consuming the bread basket. sometimes (see friday night, to the somm's horror) a loaf of good crusty bread is dinner. add butter, cheese, maybe some honey. call it a day.

since the somm was in town and would prefer not to consume only carbohydrates, i decided to go ahead and try a few new indian recipes to go with the naan.

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there was a half-hearted attempt to find friends to come share the mountain of food, but it ended up just being us.

no complaining here.

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more easy chicken masala, caramelized cumin-roasted carrots, green bean, corn and coconut stir fry and raita for me.

every one of those recipes was easy and super delicious. light, and summery, not what you might think of when you think indian food, and worth sharing … or keeping to yourself.

but back to that naan. this recipe did not turn out the way i expected naan – which is usually soft, and chewy, and little charred. instead, i got a yeasted, crispy flatbread. 

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i tried baking them two ways: on my pizza pan that has lots of little holes that encourage crispness, and on the back of a cookie sheet, as recommended by the cookbook. no real noticable difference. 

the problem was probably too much flour in the dough, which was necessary since the recipe called for TEN WHOLE MINUTES of hand kneading. which i handled like a champ, thanks to my fabulously gay drill sergeant of a weights class instructor. no master courvoisier, i wasn't whining. i just think a traditional naan dough should be wetter. and maybe involve yogurt.

while i don't think these were really naan-enough, and i probably won't make them again because my go-to bread recipe involves no physical exertion whatsoever . . . the bread was tasty and eargerly consumed by both the somm and myself. and just as good smothered in raita as butter. the big crystals of salt made them reminiscent of pretzels.

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which are still so totally on my summer bucket list.

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for links to the recipe, visit tuesdays with dorie.

baking with julia: strawberry rhubarb “shortbread”

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summer has arrived. with a vengeance. 

luckily, we can temper the crankiness brought on by heat and humidity with the sweet pucker of strawberries.

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i love the classic sweet tart of strawberries and rhubarb. i like my food with balance. not too much one way or the other.

the way a sprinkle of sea salt on dark chocolate brings the sweet and bitter together a little more harmoniously on your tongue.

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if it is pink, all the better.

i learned a new technique with this recipe. you put together the dough, chill it, and then grate it into the pan.

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the grated dough sandwiches homemade jam of the strawberry rhubarb vanilla bean persuasion. don't be tempted to add something sweeter. it needs a bit of the sour bite of the rhubarb. and the vanilla bean deepens the flavor a bit. i love the almost woody caramel flavor of a real vanilla bean.

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grating the frozen dough keeps the butter cold but brings a lightness to the finished cake. because, let us be clear.

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if you are looking for the crisp crumble of a walker shortbread cookie, this is not your recipe.

this is cake.

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have a bite!

For the recipe, visit Tuesdays with Dorie or buy the book!  

twd: baking with julia: lemon bunny cake

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there are two food traditions in my life: grandma's stuffing at thanksgiving and a bunny cake at easter.

i'll be honest, my earliest memories of this cake are more related to stealing jelly beans from the bunny decorations than the actual cake.

and then lying my pants off about it. i'm pretty sure my mom didn't buy it.

but i'm also pretty sure she's forgiven her sweet-toothed baby girl, because she still sends me an easter basket every year full of goodies . . . and always a dark chocolate bunny.

you're never too old for a dark chocolate bunny.

also?

you're never too old to fall for the homespun charm of the bunny cake. coated in coconut "fur", nestled on a bed of that insanely irritating easter basket grass, sprinkled with easter egg jelly beans.

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the relatively tart flavor of the lemon pound cake and cream cheese frosting helped cut the sweetened coconut a little, but let's be real. this is a seriously sugary proposition.

in previous years, i've gone with a carrot cake for the bunny. it felt so meta . . . bunnies eat carrots, but we're eating the bunny, the bunny made out of carrots . . . why is this so entertaining to me? 

one year, i tried to go a little more healthy by buying an actual coconut, smashing it open with a hammer, and then decorating the bunny with toasted brown freshly peeled coconut curls. it was amazing and wrong all at the same time.

and this is the other thing about my easter bunny cake tradition . . . it's supremely adaptable. easter, for the non-christian christians, is a holiday without a lot of baggage or rules. it isn't the holiday you'll fly across the country to visit the family for. it's the holiday you celebrate with the family you've created wherever you are – or the family you borrow for a weekend or egg-toss-filled brunch.

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Lemon Easter Bunny Cake

You can find the recipe for the lemon loaf cake at Tuesdays with Dorie. I took the whole loaf recipe, but baked it in a 9 inch round cake pan instead. I also baked this Thursday night for serving on Sunday, and has happy to find the cake stayed moist and yummy wrapped in plastic wrap in the fridge.

To assemble, take a 9 inch round cake. slice in half so you have two half circles. Stand one up, and coat the flat side with thick frosting. (I used Joy's recipe.) Stand up the other half circle and press the flat side into the frosting so you essentially have half a layer cake standing upright on your cake stand or platter. If you have time, give the outside a thin frosting crumb coat and then refrigerate for 20 minutes or so to let the frosting set before adding your final coat. This helps make the bunny truly white white, but since you're adding coconut, it isn't completely necessary. Then lightly press coconut all over the bunny to create the fur. I like to add a ball of coconut as a tail.  Eyes and nose are jelly beans, and I cut ears and whiskers out of paper. You'll need to cut little slits in the cake to insert the paper.

spring brunch

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did you have a good easter/passover/pagan spring celebration?

good. me too.

i ate too much, but it was glorious. i can't wait to show you the bunny cake. next week!

in the meantime. i offer you this delightful brunch menu.

first, start with mimosas. this might seem self-evident, but it bears repeating. start with mimosas. add a splash of st. germaine if you're feeling fancy.

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we may have started on the mimosas BEFORE the photographing. mmmmm.

second, serve a strata or  savory bread pudding that requires a night in the fridge to get good and settled. (is there a difference between a strata and a bread pudding? is is just all stuffing? gah.) why on earth would you want to wake up early to actually cook something? sanity requires that any party that begins before 3 pm on a sunday be as make-ahead as possible.

this dish is aptly named the "don't hold the anything" bread pudding. it was created for those among us who agonize over the sweet and savory options on the brunch menu. stuffed with sage, sausage and cream cheese, it is an eggy custardy delight of a savory bread pudding, with a sweet sugary crackly crust. let's get a close up.

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douse it in some real maple syrup and you won't be able to stop yourself from seconds.

or thirds.

you did start with the mimosas after all.

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third, don't forget the carbs. these blueberry beauties will hit the spot. never have i made muffins that so looked like the perfect crumb-laden berry-studded image in my brain.

plus? super yummy. brown butter. a tender crumb. sweet enough without being cloying. and lots, LOTS of exploding blueberry goodness. tis the season friends, tis the season.

i am a crazy lady and broke my own rule of baking the morning of to get these on the table because the somm was concerned there wasn't something sweet on the menu. (i mean, wha? challenge ACCEPTED.) 

but my guess is that you can make the batter and stir the blueberries in the morning of, and have them in the oven in just a few minutes.

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the scones? even easier. those can be premade, frozen and reheated with no one the wiser. squeeze a lemon into a bowl of powdered sugar, and you can even give them a quick sweet tart glaze.

i used this recipe because i wanted a nice, light scone to balance the richness of the bread pudding and (turns out) the sweetness of the muffins.

think of these as the dowager countess of scones. traditional in their flaky texture, they are not disguised slices of cake. the flavor is complex, but restrained. i added a strong hit of fresh and candied ginger for spice, and lemon zest for some tart. a little sugar for balance. but they will not send you into a food coma.

plus, you could probably eat them with white gloves. win!

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four, end with fruit salad. this is a purely defensive move on my own part, as i need a bowl of something relatively safe and healthful to pick at while we stretch brunch out, sitting, chatting, sipping mimosas and holding onto every lazy, sunny spring sunday moment.

ahh.

plus, this is the last of citrus season. show off your bad-ass knife skills by supreming the heck out of a bunch of oranges (ooo!  maybe i'll post a how-to for this). i've been on a cara cara kick for their beautiful pink color, but the humble naval oranges lately have been delightfully, drippingly sweet and seductive.

add berries, a squeeze of lemon juice, maybe some mint and sugar. a splash of grand marnier if you're looking to step it up a notch. done.

and yes, that was totally a somm sighting. he stuck around even though things got pretty real in the condo: we were visited by munchkins.

you'll be happy to know manchego survived the encounter. that poor cat has no idea what's in his future.

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Spring Brunch Link Love

Don't Hold the Anything Breakfast Bread Pudding from Food52: I've made this recipe twice now and it is pretty-much no fail. The recipe calls for maple sugar on top, but turbinado sugar worked really well for me.

Browned Butter Blueberry Muffins from Shutterbean: This is also from the Joy the Baker cookbook, which is on my wish list. Just putting that out there, internet gift fairies.

Ginger Lemon Scones from Smitten Kitchen: I may never be able to produce my own recipes because I seem to have a complete adversion to measuring anything. But I think I added a few tablespoons of chopped fresh ginger and a few tablespoons of chopped crystallized ginger.  And the zest of a lemon.  It worked out.

twd: baking with julia: pizza rustica

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this baking challenge is certainly going to get me to make recipes i never would have otherwise.

take this "pizza" rustica.

i approached the recipe with extreme caution. i knew i could get behind the ingredients in the filling: prosciutto, ricotta, cheese, more cheese.

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but baked in a sweet pie crust?

with a fancy-pants lattice top?

i mean, julia and dorie, are you for real?

i cut the recipe in half and baked the pie on a sunday and waited (waited! me!) until tuesday when i would have friends over to help me judge and consume what i feared would be calorie-bomb without much of a payoff.

well, i take it all back.

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this was a delicious recipe. i mean. ricotta. mozz. parm. prosciutto. done. and the salty filling contrasted really nicely with the sweet crust. which – and we all know my fear of rolling pins – was easy to put together in the food processor, did not require time to chill, and was reasonably forgiving when it came to assembly.

the recipe omits an egg wash for the crust, which i added when i reheated because who wants a pale pie? it ended up a little toasty around the edges and a little pale in the middle where the filling sunk during the first and second trip to the oven.

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irish car bomb brownies

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we all know i’m a crazy overachiever when it comes to desserts. i may be half-assing my way through many many other parts of my life, but when it comes to treats, i want them to be made from scratch.

except for brownies.

i love me a good brownie. rich, fudgy, with chewy edges.

but from scratch brownies? you know the pitfalls. too cakey. not gooey. not chocolaty enough. and ghirardelli box mix? it treats me right, every single time. i like a brownie i can count on.

well, this recipe may break me from my ghirardelli habit.

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these brownies are insanely chocolaty and nearly as easy to whip together as a box mix.

at least compared to my other overachiever dessert recipes!

there’s no waiting for butter to soften, there’s no need to use the stand mixer. you will, however, just have to resign yourself to getting chocolate everywhere. unless, unlike me, you have self control and can keep your fingers out of the chocolaty batter.

like many of my recipe discoveries, i found this recipe to use up the bottles of guinness that have been lurking in my kitchen since st. patrick’s last year when i made these irish car bomb cupcakes that rocked my world.

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but cupcakes. they feel so daunting. they are not a weeknight recipe. they are not a sunday-afternoon-crap-i-forgot-we-agreed-to-bring-dessert-to-that-dinner-party friendly.

these brownies are. and they give you way more instant chocolate gratification. extremely dense and fudgy. almost like a flourless chocolate cake by with a bit more of a bite. the edges won’t get that great chewy character of the box brownie, but these are by far the best from-scratch brownies i’ve ever had.

plus, they are a GREAT use for stray bottles of dark beer you may have lying around.

my first night in england on my year abroad, a group of us naive americans ordered a round of guinness at our first pub outing. not realizing that we were in london, not dublin. and that fosters or carling, or even cider, would be not only a more traditional, but also a more tasty choice.

don’t worry, by the end of the year we all managed to get quite high marks in our chosen extracurricular: drinking habits of uni students.

just thinking about snakebites to this day makes me feel a bit queasy.

anyway. guiness, while foul by the pint, is delightful with chocolate. the bitter, sweet, and caramel notes of the beer complements and draws out the best in good dark chocolate.

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Irish Car Bomb Brownies

The original recipe had stout in the glaze-like frosting, but I found that to be a bit intense. the second time I made these, I added a glug of Bailey’s instead and much preferred the sweeter flavor as a contrast.  I’ve also sprinkled sea salt on top, and that’s pretty tasty too.  Adapted from Epicurious – find the recipe here.

  • 1/2 cup stout (such as Guinness)
  • 16 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped, divided
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (2 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • 1/4 cup Bailey’s liquour

preparation

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 9x9x2″ metal baking pan with foil, leaving a 2″ overhang. Bring stout to a boil in a medium saucepan; cook until reduced to 1/4 cup, about 8 minutes. Let cool.

Stir 12 ounces chocolate and 1 cup butter in a medium metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water until melted and smooth. Whisk sugar, eggs, and vanilla in a large bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in chocolate mixture, then 1/4 cup stout from pan. Fold in flour and 1 1/4 teaspoons salt. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake brownies until surface begins to crack and a tester inserted into center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 35–40 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cool for at least 20 minutes.  Alternatively, these work well in mini muffin tins – bake 10-12 minutes, and then let set in the tin for about an hour (or cheat and let them firm up in the freezer for 15 minutes).

Stir remaining 4 ounces chocolate in a medium metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water until melted and smooth. Add Bailey’s, remaining 2 tablespoons butter, and 1/4 teaspoon salt; whisk until well blended.

Pour warm glaze over brownies. Let stand at room temperature until glaze is set, about 40 minutes. DO AHEAD: Can be made 8 hours ahead. Cover and let stand at room temperature.

Using foil overhang, lift brownie from pan; cut into squares

 

 

twd: baking with julia: soda bread

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how was your st. patrick's day? did your neighborhood turn into a green-tinged frat party like mine? the gloriously summer-like weather brought out all kinds of leprechauns.

after downing more than my fair share of a pitcher of strawberry margaritas, i felt old in the best possible way heading home at about 8 pm to continue celebrations on the couch with ryan reynolds, a bottle of bubbles and the yogi.

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this soda bread came together in a snap for lunch the next day. 

never one to leave a perfectly delightful, four ingredient recipe alone, i added cheese.

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gloriously vibrantly orange sharp cheddar. i wish i could say it was of irish origins, but my corner grocery really just doesn't have that type of selection. all their irish cheddar was white.

and as far as we're at it, cheddar isn't really proper cheddar if it's from anywhere other than somerset england.

and their cheddar isn't usually orange anyway. you have to dye it to get it that bright.

but then, traditional soda bread isn't supposed to have cheddar cheese in it.

not even currants and caraway. that's totally american.

kind of like st. patrick's day.

wait, where was i?

non-irish cheddar. at least it lowered the bread's carbon footprint, right?

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anyway, i threw tradition to the winds, added orange cheddar for those lovely streaks and then a bit of caraway for a pop of anise flavor. i'd recommend the combination, but if i made this again i might be tempted to veer even further off the usual soda bread path and add onions and maybe even poppy seeds for crunch.

as an added bonus, i think the fat and moisture of the cheese helped the bread stay fresh a bit longer than advertised by the recipe, which promised the bread would go stale within hours.

i had some for breakfast and dinner the following day and it remained delightfully rich and dense, made even better by toasting to firm up the crumb. and then i finally pitched into the freezer to save myself from eating nothing but soda bread for the remainder of the week.

all in all, a winner of a st. patrick's day weekend.

for the recipe, and to see lots of other lovely blogs featuring this soda bread, visit tuesdays with dorie, my culinary mission, or chocolate moosey.

pretzel dogs

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when i saw these bad boys on joy the baker, they solved an immediate problem. what to bring to a superbowl party hosted by a foodie couple that requested witty treats?

witty these are not, but they are the perfect homage to new york street food. soft, warm pretzels with just the right amount of chew. salty, savory, you-know-they-aren't-good-for-you goodness of a hot dog.

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food really is the best part of sports, isn't it?

plus, i've been wanting to get into the pretzel bread game.

while it is completely ridiculous, the somm and i are more or less regulars at an amazing las vegas restaurant.

if we don't live in the same city, our favorite restaurant might as well be somewhere else anyway, right? we're just doing our best to prove proximity is overrated.

right? actually, not. not for husbands, and definitely not for pretzel rolls.

that restaurant has the best pretzel rolls i've ever eaten, hands down. i tried to recreate them, but failed. failed hard.

then we went to oktoberfest in munich. i ate my body weight in the bretzels the lovely madchen sold from their charming wicker-baskets wearing their dirndls.

there may also have been beer. take this as your subsitute gratuitous manchego shot. man, we love our fuzzy little mascots. also, i may have been too (tipsy?) busy eating pretzels to actually take a photo of them.

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but munich? way further than either my husband or my vegas pretzel rolls.

back to the kitchen!

here's the thing about pretzels. the dough starts out nice and easy like a basic brioche or other buttery bread dough.

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looks like play-doh, right?

finished up with a nice coat of butter, chunky salt and fresh cracked black pepper. and into the oven!

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the magic of the pretzel – like the bagel – is the boil. in highly acidic water.

victory for these little suckers came from dumping an entire box of baking soda into the boiling water.

this is how you get the dark, chewy crust.

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these were so good and so easy, i'm doubling down on the pretzel challenge. these were great – seriously, amazing sports-watching food, or even breakfast food if you're so inclined, and you know who i'm talking about - but they aren't the pure pretzel i've been craving.

plus, i recently sleuthed out that the real professionals use food-grade lye to boil their pretzels.

i'm going to say that again. lye.

you know, the stuff half-pint and pa used to make SOAP in the little house on the prairie books?

i know we live in an internet age, but i feel like there is a line you cross when you start ordering such products online. friends, it is a line i have now crossed. get ready. pretzel rolls are coming soon!

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and if you need to borrow some food-grade lye to bake along with me . . . i'm pretty sure i now have a lifetime supply.

Find the pretzel dog recipe and really super easy to follow instructions here.

twd: baking with julia: rugelach

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as a kid growing up in southern california, rugelach were not abundant. we were an oatmeal cookie kind of family. as an adult, the cardboard specimens i ran across left me unimpressed. they always seems so dry. the filling wasn't gooey or rich enough.

this recipe CHANGED MY MIND. for serious. it was a multistage process, but it was worth every moment.

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there was rolling. slash beating of that mighty hunk of dough with a rolling pin.

there was chilling. more rolling. slicing, dipping. way too much eating.

but these rugelach were some of the best cookies i've ever had. rich and buttery, coated in cinnamon sugar that gets crisp, caramelized, chewy.

i made two types – apricot and dried cherry, with homemade apricot lekvar, and dark chocolate with nuts and cinnamon.

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lekvar is a type of jam made from dried apricots. the flavor is deep and rich.

i think maybe my secret was an excessive amount of filling. i did not manage to create much of a spiral effect, and that is even after i scooped a bunch of filling out of the way post first attempt, which, by the way, was fantastic over greek yogurt. no homemade lekvar went to waste here! 

i'm pretty sure this isn't what the rolls of deliciousness were supposed to look like.

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the dough kept melting and needing to be rechilled, making me curse the concept of rolled pastry, but silently, so the somm wouldn't think i was going too crazy.

the result was cookies that are almost like slices of pie – rich, chewy centers of dried fruit or chocolate, surrounded by the tender cream cheese crust.

just because it was a novel trick for me, i'm going to say that rolling the crust out with a dusting of powdered sugar instead of flour helped keep the crust so light and tender despite my repeated mangling attempts to get it to behave.

they aren't pretty, but man were they good.

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this recipe made a lot of cookies. i tried foisting them off on friends, neighbors, coworkers, but still ended up freezing about a dozen.

and discovered a whole new way to love rugelach. oh, good lord. frozen, they are even chewier and more satisfying.

i really felt initiated into the community of rugelach lovers when describing my triumph to a friend's mother who seriously knows her way around good pastry and she whispered . . . have you tried them frozen?

yes, barbara. yes i have. there's no going back now.

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seriously, if you have a free weekend, do yourself a favor and make these cookies. just be sure you have a distribution plan, or you WILL end up eating them all yourself. find the recipe in this book, or at tuesdays with dorie, including this week's hosts jessica of my baking heart and margaret of the urban hiker

and here's this week's gratuitous shot of manchego, the cat who is too cool for rugelach.

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spicy double chocolate cookies

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the next two posts i have planned have a theme: using food to make friends.

i have told you before that i am shameless in using baked goods at the workplace. here is my latest entry . . . a revamp of a tried and true chocolate chocolate chip cookie. inspired by this recipe, i decided to up the flavor with cinnamon, super finely ground coffee and cayenne pepper.

these are serious cookies. they come to play.

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clearly, they aren't the only ones.

they make an impression. this is a chewy, soft, brownie-like cookie. it isn't crisp. it's rich and fudgy.

leave out the spices and coffee, and this is as true a chocolate cookie for chocolate lovers as you can get.

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add the spices?

you'll leave people wondering just what it is about those cookies. they'll ask you for the recipe. word will get around. 

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mission accomplished.

Spicy Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies

Adapted from Crisco – don't judge until you try them!

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp finely ground coffee or espresso powder
  • 2/3 cup shortening
  • 1tsbp water
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 package chocolate chips – I find I like the bigger chunks for this recipe

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Stir together dry ingredients – flour through spices and coffee – in a medium bowl.

In a larger bowl, beat shortening, water and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla.

Add dry ingredients to wet, mix at low speed until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips.

Bake 8-10 minutes or until set.