Sunday, September 28, 2008

Back to School with Peanut Butter Cookies

I may be slightly tardy on the whole “back to school” thing (it’s been a few years now since I’ve been “back to school”), but I don’t think it matters how long you have been out of the classroom. When September comes around, the blustery days arrive, and shiny red apples are numerously displayed on every grocery cart, and that feeling of a new start comes rushing back. There is some seriousness to it: as in, what a fun summer, now back to the “real” work. However, what I enjoy is the sensation of change, of starting anew. Of course that comes with the springtime, as well, and a bit more logically, but even still. To me, autumn is another turn in the cycle, and I like to welcome it now with the same traditions that I’ve carried from my grade school days.
Nothing engulfs me with a wave of nostalgia like food does. That’s why it’s around September when I like to pull out the apples, the peanut butter, the oats, the caramel, the macaroni & cheese … all of these foods remind me of the first days returning to school, and I’m pleased that these memories are not ones of terror. Perhaps the food aided as a comfort when returning to a routine after the laziness of summer, but if that’s the case, then it seems even more necessary to utilize their characteristics to help usher in the surprisingly chilly and overcast Fall that we’ve already begun to experience in New York.
So when I found a recipe that combined both peanut butter and oats (two lunchbox cookie staples), I decided to play around with some of the ingredients and came up with the super simple recipe below.

The cookies come out of the oven crisp and flavorful, tasting strongly of peanut butter. The oatmeal gives a unique texture to the cookies, and the wheat bran adds some healthfulness without detracting from the overall taste.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies

Yield: About 4 dozen


1 cup butter, melted

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 cup peanut butter

2 eggs, beaten

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup wheat bran

3/4 cup rolled oats

2 tsp.baking soda


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

2. In a large bowl, beat together the butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar,vanilla, peanut butter and eggs. In a separate bowl, mix the flour,bran, oats, and baking soda. Slowly stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture until smooth. Drop by rounded teaspoons onto an ungreasedcookie sheet.

3. Bake for 14 to 17 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Cheesecake filled Thumbprints

I've written about The Cake Shop in the Lower East Side before, when I sampled their vegan cupcakes. I've been patronizing the place with increased frequency over the past few months, and incidentally, it is a little too adorable, I think, to be writing a blog post for your dessert blog in a place with this name (while, yes, eating a cupcake). Though now I suppose I'm one of those irritating 20-somethings who blogs in a coffee shop (although The Cake Shop is much more than that: it's a performance space, a record store, a bar, a vegan eatery...).

Anyway, to the point: I have quite a thing for thumbprint cookies. What I love most about them is how adaptable they are: there is a seemingly endless list variations and, thus, ways to get creative. I've made peanut butter and jelly thumbprints, brownie thumbprints, lemon thumbprints. There are date fillings and pecan topped and the standard jelly-filled butter cookie types. At my house growing up, we always had the jelly-filled type, which I've since come to regard as the “classic” thumbprint, and it wasn't until later in my baking career (and recipe research) did I see that versatility is this cookie's best quality.

This is why I was so excited to see, in Martha Stewart's Cookies, a new twist that had never occurred to me: Cheesecake Thumbprints. Now that I've seen it from Martha, it seems like such an obvious idea. The cheesecake flavor pairs well with so many other forms of desserts (like brownies and ice cream), so why not put it into a thumbprint? When I read through this recipe, it seemed pretty basic, but I made a couple of changes to the ingredients for the filling, only because I have a bit of a love for different sorts of cheeses, and pairing them together with other foods. Once, in New York, I had a spectacular cone of gelato: Marscapone flavored. Because this particular cheese works so well when used in desserts, I thought it would be an interesting experiment to try it in place of the cream cheese. It certainly made for an amazing cheesecake filling with a mild taste. However, I found the filling to be slightly overshadowed by the buttery strength of the base cookies. When I make these in the future, I'll be sure to roll the cookies smaller and attempt to make larger wells.

Still, though, these are a very delicious and novel cookie, which I found satisfying enough after enjoying only one.

Cheesecake Thumbprints

Yield: About 3 dozen


8 ounces cream cheese, softened

½ cup granulated sugar

1/8 plus ¼ teaspoon salt

2 large egg yolks

1 ½ teapsoon sour cream

¼ teaspoon vanilla

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

2 cups all-purpose flour


1. In a mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy for about three minutes. Beat in ¼ cup sugar and 1/8 tsp. salt until smooth. Mix in one egg yolk, sour cream and vanilla. Cover and put in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

3. In a large mixing bowl, beat together butter, ½ cup sugar and ¼ tsp. salt until creamy and combined. Mix in the last egg yolk until well-incorporated. Gradually add flour and mix until combined.

4. Scoop out level tablespoons worth of the dough and roll into balls. Place balls onto parchment-lined or greased baking sheets. Using the handle end of a thick wooden spoon, or your finger, make an indentation in the center of each ball.

5. Place into the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and carefully use your thumb (or the end of the same wooden spoon) to press the middle of the cookies, remaking the indentations. Place cookies back into the oven, rotating them from their original position, and continue to bake until slightly golden around the edges, about 7 minutes.

6. Remove cookies from the oven and fill the indentations with the cheesecake filling. Place back into the oven and bake for about 8 more minutes, until the filling is set. Remove from the oven and transfer cookies to a wire rack to cook completely. When cool, place cookies into the refrigerator to chill before serving.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Chocolate Coconut Oatmeal Cookies

There's nothing like a hearty, autumn oatmeal cookie. As a previous post attests, I have a weakness for oatmeal cookies, but this recipe is quite different from the other. There is coconut, and even though the amount used is not much, it really has an impact on the overall taste. Additionally, dark chocolate is used as opposed to milk, which takes away a bit of the sweetness. And, there is no cinnamon, but none is needed for these cookies.
Although coconut often gives baked goods a summery, tropical feeling, in these oatmeal cookies, it only adds to its substance. I must give the newest issue of Cooking Light it's due for providing me with the recipe; I must admit, reading through this magazine every month gives me a great amount of pleasure. I'm not big on magazines in general, but the foodie ones have a special place in my heart, and have never failed to disappoint. I always find either a new recipe to add to my ever-expanding lexicon or an explanation of some technique that I have yet to try (what precisely is braising?).
But of course, I'm not attempting to sell a subscription to anyone. I suppose that while some people cannot pass up the newest issue of People or Glamour, one can walk into my apartment and find a plethora of cooking magazines, all dog-eared and marked up, simply waiting for me to open them and find my next delectable dessert.

Chocolate Coconut Oatmeal Cookies

Yield: 2 dozen cookies

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup quick-cooking oats
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
½ cup packed brown sugar
6 tbsp. granulated sugar
¼ cup butter, softened
1 large egg
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup flaked sweetened coconut
¼ cup finely chopped dark chocolate
Cooking spray

1. Preheat oven to 350°.
2. Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; stir with a whisk.
3. Place sugars and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (about 2 minutes). Add egg, beating well. Beat in vanilla. Add flour mixture to butter mixture; stir just until combined. Stir in coconut and chocolate.
4. Scrape dough onto a lightly floured surface, and divide into 24 portions. Roll each portion into a ball. Place 12 balls on each of 2 baking sheets coated with cooking spray; flatten slightly with the heel of your hand. Bake, 1 sheet at a time, at 350° for 15 minutes or until the tops are set and cookies are lightly browned on the bottoms. Remove cookies from pan; cool on wire racks.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Chocolate Cake unlike the 13x9" variety

Every week I volunteer at a wonderful used book store in SoHo, Housing Works Bookstore Cafe. I spend my evening shelving books, talking with customers, and socializing with the other volunteers, who have become good friends. For a bibliophile like me, I find myself in a state of utter bliss, being surrounded by books: obscure titles from decades past, new releases, covers for which to judge. I believe that all of us volunteers who are there, not only because we want to support the Housing Works cause, but also because we find a certain comfort in books.

And of course, since another form of enlivenment for me is baking, I tend to scan the cooking section of the bookstore on a weekly basis, checking for any appealing titles. This week did not disappoint. I really should have no shame in saying that I've been waiting for Nigella Lawson's “How to be a Domestic Goddess” cookbook to appear in the store; even though I would not simply go to a bookstore and buy the book full price, I've been fetishizing it for some time. Part of this is due to the title: I do want to be a goddess of this variety, one who has an artillery of recipes for every occasion, all mouth-watering and luscious. Another part is due to the fact that I think Nigella is an extraordinary woman and baker (I suppose in order to support her, I should have just bought the book retail. Oh, well). Though she has not been trained as a chef, she brings her personal style of enjoyment to her cooking shows and her cookbooks: for her, food is a pleasure and it is meant to be savored, not endured. She cares about the method and the final product, all with a relaxed attitude that many uptight chefs would benefit from. Also, she initially worked in publishing, which is why I relate to her beyond the love of cupcakes and the therapeutic nature of cooking.

Needless to say, I'm thrilled to have her cookbook, and I was quite pleased with the dessert I made this weekend. It's a chocolate loaf cake, and it has the simplicity of a quick bread recipe. However, one would never mistake one for the other; this cake is dense and rich. I think that pairing it with vanilla ice cream would make it even better, but it still is an incredibly satisfying dessert on its own.

Chocolate Loaf Cake

1 cup soft unsalted butter
1 2/3 cups dark brown sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla extract
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted
1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup plus 2 tbsp. boiling water

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F, grease and line a 9x5 inch loaf pan. Be sure to line the pan with parchnent or wax paper.
2. Cream the butter and the sugar. Add the eggs and the vanilla, beating well. Fold in the now-cooled chocolate, blending but not overmixing. Gently add the flour, which should have been mixed with the baking soda, and then slowly mix in the boiling water. The batter will be quite liquid.
3. Pour into the lined pan and bake for 30 minutes. Turn down the oven to 325 degrees F and continue to cook for another 15 minutes. The cake will not be entirely firm, so no need to worry if you insert a toothpick and it comes out unclean.
4. Cool the loaf pan on a rack and let it completely cool before turning it out.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Cran Apple Cider Cupcakes

Yesterday at the office there was an overflow of baked goods: we had waffles, chocolate sauce, cookies. No one was complaining, exactly, but when there are so many options, how does one make the choice of what to sample? A small taste of everything? Mindless munching while walking through the cube space? One deliberate dessert to last the day?

Unfortunately, I made the decision even more difficult in the afternoon. During lunch, I picked up a dozen cupcakes from Tribeca Treats: my dozen cupcakes, actually. As the winner of the "create a speciatly flavor" contest, I was given a gift of my Cran Apple Cider cupcake with cinnamon icing and candied ginger; since so many of my co-workers supported me in the voting process, and since I really shouldn't have a dozen cupcakes just lying around my apartment, I brought them in for all to share.

The feedback was amazing. Now, I obviously did not make the cupcakes, so I really shouldn't even be taking credit. But, as was pointed out a few times, they were my brainchild. If I do someday open a bakery (I hear Seattle is a nice place for baked goods), then I'll want to start getting creative now.

The cupcakes are, in fact, incredible. The cake tastes, true to its name, like cider and the cranberries give it a welcome tartness. The frosting also pairs well with the cider, with only a hint of cinammon and a marvelous cream cheese consistency. It's the kind of cupcake I can see myself earnestly pairing with a glass of apple cider, perhaps sitting underneath a tree in the park, watching the yellow and red leaves drift to the ground and get carried off with the autumn breeze.