Carpe Diem

Let’s see, it’s been a month since we celebrated Lilli’s birthday party, and I have just a few weeks before Passover starts. Apologies for those expecting a gluten-free recipe for the holiday, but I’ve wanted to share these whole-wheat chocolate chip cookies for years on the blog. It’s 6:51 am, and it’s the weekend. Carpe Diem, my friends.

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This year Lilli made it clear she did not want a cake, but rather these cookies by Kim Boyce that made the rounds, let’s see, oh, nine years ago. We baked dozens and froze them two weeks before the party, along with these spectacular and very simple blondies. We also made these halva tahini brownies that were so simple, and so so delicious, that really, the only thing you should be doing right now is melting some chocolate into olive oil.

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But yes, these cookies. They are a fan favorite. The whole wheat makes for a deeper, nuttier taste. The butter remains cold so you don’t have to plan in advance to made them as you do with most cookie recipes that call for softened butter. I promised my friend Ben a care package, and I do plan on mailing some to him. We got up early the day of Lilli’s party and made the smaller sized ones into ice cream sandwiches because, well, Carpe Diem, my friends.

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We had about 50 people in total to the house that day. A mix of current kindergarten friends, friends from PreK, friends from my Hebrew school class that Lilli comes to every Sunday with me, and a few pals from around town. Parents were invited to drop off or stay. Most stayed once they saw the spread in the kitchen.

This year I served: Michael Solomonov’s hummus (we used the Instapot for the first time to (intentionally) overcook the chickpeas; caramelized onion dip;  butternut squash and chickpea salad (which was kind of eh); Brussels sprouts with leeks, parmesan and chestnuts; Vietnamese tofu; peanut butter noodles; farro with dried apricots, mushrooms and hazelnuts; marinated roasted red peppers served with fresh mozzarella and crusty bread. You know, the usual fare for a six-year-old’s party

There was also the usual chips, dip, Pirate’s Booty, Lilli’s stuffed dates, pizza, and crudite for nibblers.

The kids clearly had a blast playing dress-up, doing art projects, and for some of the boys, playing tag inside the house. There may have been a lightsaber that needed confiscation.

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We sang happy birthday and enjoyed the aforementioned desserts, along with a Panda chocolate chip cookie cake by Papa, and some melon. It was a great party. And I still have about a dozen cookies in the downstairs freezer, despite Rich’s best efforts to finish them.

Kim Boyce’s Whole-Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients

Dry Mix

3 cups whole wheat flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

Wet Mix

8 ounces (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch pieces

1 cup dark brown sugar

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

8 ounces chocolate chips

Directions

  1. Place two racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Although you can butter the sheets instead, parchment is useful for these cookies because the large chunks of chocolate can stick to the pan.
  2. Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl, pouring back into the bowl any bits of grain or other ingredients that may remain in the sifter.
  3. Add the butter and the sugars to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. With the mixer on low speed, mix just until the butter and sugars are blended, about 2 minutes. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until each is combined. Mix in the vanilla. Add the flour mixture to the bowl and blend on low speed until the flour is barely combined, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.
  4. Add the chocolate all at once to the batter. Mix on low speed until the chocolate is evenly combined. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, then scrape the batter out onto a work surface, and use your hands to fully incorporate all the ingredients.
  5. Scoop mounds of dough about 3 tablespoons in size onto the baking sheet, leaving 3 inches between them, or about 6 to a sheet.
  6. Bake the cookies for 16 to 20 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through, until the cookies are evenly dark brown. Transfer the cookies, still on the parchment, to the counter to cool, and repeat with the remaining dough. These cookies are best eaten warm from the oven or later that same day. They’ll keep in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

 

Twist and Shout

As my back heals and I try to follow the directions my physical therapist has laid out for me which include wearing a back brace, and not bending or twisting, Rich has done more than his fair share in the kitchen. This is a mixed blessing, as his repertoire consists mostly of cocktails and cooking large pieces of meat. Still, beggars can’t be choosers, and I do love gin.

Last week I heard him rummaging in the spice cabinet – my guess is to find the nutmeg for a hot toddy – and I heard him call out to me, “You know you have an unopened container of Ghirardelli baking cocoa back here?” I thanked him for the reminder and tucked the knowledge away for another time.

dark chocolate soft pretzels

When we heard that winter storm Hercules was coming our way, Rich went to the market to load up on supplies, which just meant more milk for White Russians and hot cocoa with the aforementioned canister. But I actually had a plan for that unsweetened cocoa, one I hadn’t had a chance to work on. And so, with both our offices closed on Friday because of the snow storm, and Lilli off taking her morning nap, I got to work on the dark chocolate soft pretzels I’d bookmarked in a cookbook that was sent my way a few months ago.

I’ll admit the title of the book captured my attention immediately. I mean, who wouldn’t be intrigued by a cookbook called Crazy About Chocolate? It contains more than 200 sweet and savory recipes written by Krystina Castella, author of Crazy About Pies, Crazy About Cupcakes, Crazy About Cookies and Crazy About Cakes. (There was a photo of her on the back cover, and no, she doesn’t look like she eats sweets all day long.)

There were the expected candy, cake and cookie recipes (a natural progression by someone who’s written books about those subjects) but there were also savory recipes like apple-smoked ribs with cocoa barbeque sauce, and grilled corn on the cob with milk chocolate butter. I also got a kick out of the holiday section, which ranged from chocolate-coated, almond-flavored Easter eggs, hamentashen for Purim and hazelnut meringues for Passover, and even chocolate pineapple moon cakes for the Chinese New Year.

But it was these dark chocolate soft pretzels that caught my eye. They were actually in the “Weddings” section of the book:

Celebrate tying the knot with soft chocolate pretzel twists. Based on recipes used by classic New York street vendors, these pretzels have a chocolaty, salty flavor combination that’s sure to please.

Or, as Rich noted after eating one, “They taste like the chocolate bread they serve at The Cheesecake Factory.”

There’s something nice about rising a yeasted dough on a heating vent on chilly winter days (so long as the heat is working). And yes, like last week’s rugelach, the directions might seem complicated but aren’t at all: Make a yeasted dough, let it rise, shape the pretzels, boil them and bake them. The rolling out the dough into long ropes and twisting them into pretzels would be a great task for young helpers in the kitchen. If you can’t find a ruler, do what I did and use a measuring tape.

Cowgirl Lilli

I will say that the author and editor slipped up a bit in the recipe, forgetting to include when the yeast mixture is added to the flour mixture, so I have included that step here. I also kneaded the dough with my dough hook on my Kitchen-Aid mixer, lightening the load on my back.

When I posted the photos of the finished product on Facebook, my friend Gayle asked where I’d found the lye, which is traditionally added to the boiling water when making pretzels. Goodness, no, I wouldn’t have lye in the house with a little one. Baking soda replaced the lye when it was time to boil these babies. Feel free to get creative with your toppings. The recipe makes eight pretzels, so I made two each of Maldon salt, Turbinado sugar, chopped mini peanut butter cups (a tub of which lives in my freezer, ahem) and mini chocolate chips leftover from last week’s rugelach.

Dark Chocolate Soft Pretzels from Crazy About Chocolate by Krystina Castella

Ingredients

1 ½ cups warm water

¼ cup plus 3 Tablespoons granulated sugar

2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast (1 package)

4 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder

2 teaspoons kosher salt

5 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Vegetable oil

2/3 cup baking soda

1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 Tablespoon water

Pretzel salt, sea salt or Maldon salt

½ cup nuts, sprinkles, nonpareils, or white chocolate chips

Directions

Combine the water, 3 tablespoons of the sugar, and the yeast in a small bowl. Let sit for 5 minutes, or until the mixture begins to foam.

Combine the flour, cocoa powder, salt, remaining sugar, and butter in a large bowl. Or, combine the flour, cocoa powder, salt, remaining sugar, and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the foaming yeast mixture and mix it all together in an electric mixer on low speed until well blended. Transfer to a floured work surface and knead the dough until it is smooth, 8-10 minutes. Or, if you are using a standing mixer, switch over to the dough hook and knead the dough on high speed until the dough is smooth.

Grease a large bowl with vegetable oil and place the dough in the bowl. Cover the bowl with either plastic wrap or a clean dish towel and set in a warm place for 50 – 60 minutes, or until the dough has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 450F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and lightly brush with vegetable oil.

Fill a large pot with water (10 – 12 cups) and stir in the baking soda. Cover and bring to a rolling boil over high heat.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope. Make a U shape with the rope and, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other to form the shape of a pretzel. Press the dough to secure the shape, then place on the baking sheets.

Add the pretzels one at a time to the boiling water for 30 – 40 seconds, 15 – 20 seconds on each side. Remove the pretzels from the water using a slotted spoon. Return to the baking sheet, brush the top of each pretzel with the egg-water glaze, and sprinkle with the salt, nuts, sprinkles or candies. Bake for 12 – 14 minutes, until dry and dark. Transfer to a rack to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

The Cookie Thief

The Jewish ways of mourning are very precise in their thoughtfulness. Doors are left unlocked so there’s no need to ring a bell or knock, as this could startle a mourner. One doesn’t start a conversation with the mourner, but waits to be engaged; it’s entirely up to the griever if they want to talk or not. The visitors are there to show support. And, this is key: Since the mourner isn’t allowed to cook or do anything for himself, visitors always bring food. Of course, the food isn’t just for the mourner, but also for the visitors.

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I mention a few of these rules here because Rich and I made a shiva call – that’s the word to describe a sympathy visit, coming from the word “to sit” because that’s what a mourner does as a part of his bereavement process – for a very good friend of ours last week who just lost his mother. Baked goods are usually the way to go when making a shiva visit: They can be eaten in hand, with a napkin or a plate, and can be frozen for another time. We brought coffee rolls and muffins baked by Rich’s mom.

We sat with our friend, and I popped up to make him a plate of fruit, a few slices of different cakes and a handful of cookies. Lilli, who doesn’t know yet about all these rules (and hopefully won’t have to for many, many years) cruised her way over to our friend’s plate, grabbed a piece of melon and kept on going. Of course we were embarrassed that she’d taken food off the plate of the bereaved, but our friend smiled and said he’d never stop a child from eating fruit.

She must have felt emboldened by this allowance, because she then cruised over to our friend’s father’s plate, looked at the goods, grabbed a huge chocolate rugelach cookie and took a big bite. Rich and I were mortified, first because she’d taken a cookie off the plate of a man who’d just buried his wife of 61 years, and also because that bite was much too big for a wee one. Also, she’d never had a cookie before, let alone had seen rugelach. We grabbed the cookie from her little fist, apologized profusely to the mourner, and found a replacement for him.

making rugelach

I’d like to say I’ve done a good job of keeping Lilli away from sweets. The original plan was to keep her away from sugary things until her first birthday, but plans change when real life gets in the way. Sure, things started out innocently: We fed her pieces of homemade pumpkin and apple pies at a friend’s house this past fall. But by last week, our Saturday afternoon snack had turned into the two of us munching on halvah.

The rugelach Lilli had grabbed was not the best-looking cookie I’d ever seen, not by a long shot. I could see by its sheen it was a parve cookie, meaning it was made with shortening instead of dairy products. If you ask me what makes a good piece of rugelach, it’s one with a cream cheese dough. So when we got home, I ransacked both the baking and Jewish sections of my cookbook library. Most of the Jewish cookbooks had parve rugelach recipes, although Joan Nathan explained that rugelach is a traditional cookie at Chanukah because of the American addition of the cream cheese which celebrates the dairy aspect of the holiday.

All those recipes looked pretty complex, and, I have a bad back and a very active 11-month-old to watch. I found my solution in Dorie Greenspan’s Baking cookbook. Hers had a cream cheese dough, whipped up in a food processor in less than three minutes. The dough had to be chilled, allowing me do make the cookies in a series of steps. The closer I read the recipe, the easier I realized this cookie was to make.

So this morning, while Lilli took her morning nap, I finished the cookies. They really were a breeze to put together, making this cookie I thought was a bakery treat into something I can do in my own kitchen. In a few years, I’m sure Lilli will help me with the rolling of the sweets.

Greenspan’s recipe calls for a brush of melted jam – I used marmalade this time, but I think I’d do the apricot or raspberry (seedless) next time round. (And there will be a next time since the recipe calls for 4 oz. of cream cheese and the package is sold in 8 oz.) Next came a sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar, followed by a scattering of chopped pecans, then currants (or chopped raisins if you can’t find them), and finally the mini-chocolate chips. Because the dough is halved into disks and you apply everything as you would to a pizza, I divided the nuts, dried fruit and chocolate into two sets so I wouldn’t have to guess when half of the goodies were used and there would automatically be the right amount for the second disk of dough.

lilli rugelach

Please don’t be intimated by the length of the recipe. It was very manageable, and remember, I have a very willful 11 month-old. Of course, after all this work, it turns out these were a little too complex for her palate. I’ll go simpler for her first birthday. More for Rich and my offices in the meantime!

Rugelach from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking

For the Dough

4 ounces cold cream cheese, cut into 4 pieces

1 stick (8 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

¼ teaspoon salt

1 cup all-purpose flour

For the Filling

2/3 cup raspberry jam, apricot jam or marmalade

2 Tablespoons sugar

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ cup chopped nuts (I prefer pecans, but you can use walnuts or almonds)

¼ cup plump, moist dried currants

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped, or 2/3 cup store-bought mini chocolate chips

For the Glaze

1 large egg

1 teaspoon cold water

2 Tablespoons sugar, preferably decorating (coarse) sugar (I used Turbinado which I had in the pantry)

To Make the Dough

Let the cream cheese and butter rest on the counter for 10 minutes – you want them to be slightly softened but still cool.

Put the flour and salt in a food processor, scatter over the chunks of cream cheese and butter and pulse the machine 6 to 10 times. Then process, scraping down the sides of the bowl often, just until the dough forms large curds – don’t work it so long that it forms a ball on the blade.

Turn the dough out, gather it into a ball and divide it in half. Shape each half into a disk, wrap the disks in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 1 day. (Wrapped airtight, the dough can be frozen for up to 2 months.)

To Make the Filling

Heat the jam in a saucepan over low heat, or do this in a microwave until it liquefies. (I did this in the microwave in 30 second intervals; it took about 2 minutes to do.) Mix the sugar and cinnamon together.

Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats. (Silicone baking mats are great for rugelach.)

To Shape the Cookies

Pull one packet of dough from the refrigerator. It if is too firm to roll easily, either leave it on the counter for about 10 minutes or give it a few bashes with your rolling pin.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into an 11-to-12-inch circle. Spoon (or brush) a thin gloss of jam over the dough, and sprinkle over half of the cinnamon sugar. Scatter over half the nuts, half of the currants and half of the chopped chocolate. Cover the filling with a piece of wax paper and gently press the filling into the dough, then remove the paper and save it for the next batch.

Using a pizza wheel or a sharp knife, cut the dough into 16 wedges, or triangles. (The easiest way to do this is to cut the dough into quarters, then to cut each quarter into 4 triangles.) Starting at the base of each triangle, roll the dough up so that each cookie becomes a little crescent. Arrange the roll-ups on one baking sheet, making sure the points are tucked under the cookies, and refrigerate. Repeat with the second packet of dough, and refrigerate the cookies for at least 30 minutes before baking. (The cookies can be covered and refrigerated overnight or frozen for up to 2 months; don’t defrost before baking, just add a couple of minutes to the baking time.

Getting Ready to Bake

Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

To Glaze

Stir the egg and water together, and brush a bit of this glaze over each rugelach. Sprinkle the cookies with the sugar.

Bake the cookies for 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back at the midway point, until they are puffed and golden. Transfer the cookies to racks to cool to just warm or to room temperature.

Campaign Cookies: Why I started baking.

Cookies for volunteers.

I never considered myself much of a baker. But when I captained a phone bank in last year’s special election (don’t get me started), I thought the least I could do for my volunteers was to reward them with some good cookies. I came across this recipe and took a liking to it.

After mastering this simple recipe, I realized there was nothing stopping me from baking all sorts of things, from lemon bars to macarons to challah to apple cake.  But today, I found myself wanting to bake these cookies again.

This is a pantry recipe. It involves butter, which should just live in your freezer, so you’ll always have it at hand. You should have eggs in the fridge, and everything else you’d have on hand in your pantry. Chocolate chips and dried fruit? In your pantry. Or, you might have to store chips in your freezer if your pantry gets too warm in the summer.

I actually had a bit of trouble with some of my batches of cookies today. The recipe wasn’t off. My oven was. So the cookies in the pics you have here are not my best work. But I promise you it makes a good cookie. If you’re into chewy with lots of good bits of stuff, this recipe is for you. Side note: I actually like the way these cookies taste the next day more than a few hours out of the oven.

The recipe I like to use is from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, which has the same ingredients as Toll House, but in different measurements.  They also differ on greasing the pans: Fanny is pro and Toll House is con.

The cookies in these pictures are a mixture of the newly invented Cherry Garcia, chocolate and peanut butter chips, chocolate chip and heath crunch. (I intentionally leave nuts out of my cookies when I don’t know who I’m baking for; it’s just safer that way. But if you know who you’re baking for, have fun with the nuts.)

The amount you want to pay attention to is 1 cup of chips to half a cup something else, say dried fruit or nuts. Make sure to chop up whatever that is, be it dried fruit, or nuts, or both. The Cherry Garcia cookies, for instance, were 1 cup of chips to half a cup chopped dried cherries — which Ocean State Job Lot always has on hand. The Heath Bar Chip? A cup of chips to a half cup Heath Bar bits; the Heath English Toffee Bits, “Bits O’ Brickle Toffee Bits” were actually a pantry addition by Rich and Mike.

Whatever “side” your on, if you want to help out on a campaign but feel weird about talking to strangers, you can pitch in by baking a batch of cookies for the volunteers.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Adapted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook

As you can see, the recipe doubles easily

1/4 pound butter

1/2 dark brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

3/4 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup and two tablespoons flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup chopped nuts or chopped dried fruit, or both

6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (1 cup)

Preheat oven to 375 and grease some cookie sheets. Cream the butter, then gradually add the two sugars, beating until light and smooth. Beat in the egg and the vanilla. Mix the flour, salt and  baking soda and add it to the first mixture blending well. Stir in the nuts/dried fruit and the chocolate chips. Drop by teaspoonfuls* onto the cookie sheets about 1 inch apart and bake for 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned.

*Please read below for more on this cookie scoop.

Both recipes say you can make an average of 55 cookies with this recipe. It’s more like 2 dozen.

*I don’t usually complain about products, but feel I must in this case. Two weeks ago I had attempted to make cookies for the campaign, but my cookie scoop lost one of its rivets that held the sweeper in place. I couldn’t bring those to the campaign; what if someone bit on that rivet? I brought it back to Crate and Barrel, and they replaced it immediately. This is what happened during today’s baking.

This product is garbage.