Iced and Snowy Stars

I love this shortbread recipe and use it shamelessly whenever I can. Every Christmas my mom would bring out special cookie cutters. The ones she used for shortbread. The mystery still remains why they were shaped like playing card suits and; how”spades” and “diamonds” scream Christmas I never thought to ask
perhaps I should have
She rolled the dough out thicker than usual,  slightly underbaked them and half-dipped them in chocolate. They are perfect that way and are still my favorite way of eating them
They are also delightful rolled a bit thinner and baked a bit longer. When  glazed with ivory tinted royal icing, and flavored with a bit of almond they are the best accompaniment to your morning cuppa.

Shortbread Cookies

1 cup butter–room temperature
3/4 cup sifted powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups flour
Beat sugar and butter until completely mixed together, but not light and fluffy.  Add vanilla and salt and mix until just incorporated. Slowly stir in flour and only mix until just incorporated.  Divide dough in 2 portions, wrap in plastic and place in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight.  When ready to bake, roll out and bake on parchment paper.  Top with sprinkles or leave plain and bake at 325 until just starting to brown on the bottom. Once cooled you can dip in tempered chocolate or glaze with royal icing (alton brown recipe here), flavored as you choose.
Just a simple tip: I glaze the cookies using a pastry bag and let them dry.  I then dip a small paintbrush in a bit of Everclear or vodka (or you can use extract) and gently swipe it across the top. I then immediately sprinkle the sugar on top. the liquid will evaporate almost immediately–but it will allow your sugar to stick without sinking into the icing.

Jammy Jam Bars

Being a person that spends the summer and early fall preserving fruit in the form of jam, while also being a person that eats very little jam is the dichotomy I find myself to be.

I do however love things filled with jam; scones, hand pies, thumbprint cookies are all things I love. I also love these jam bars. This is a great way to use up the half-empty or “just a smidge” left jars that may be occupying the top-shelf in your refrigerator at this very moment. If you purchase a jam specifically for these bars, please splurge a bit; you do not want to use a jam that is sticky-sweet.

Jam Bars
makes 9 large bars

1 cup unsalted butter–room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
2 1/3 cup all purpose flour or 2 cups all purpose and 1/3 cup whole wheat
1 1/2 cups of good jam (single flavor or mixture)
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2-1 tsp spices–use is optional. choose spices that are complimentary to your jam. I find ginger, cardamom, and cinnamon work well with most jams, but you can be as creative as you like, or omit altogether.
1/2 cup toasted and chopped nuts–optional

Preheat the oven to 350F. Spray the bottom and sides of an 8 or 9″ square cake pan (the 8″ will result in thicker bars).
Cream the butter, sugar, and salt together. Add the vanilla, scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix well again. Add the flour all at once and mix until just incorporated.
Press about 1/2 of the mixture into the bottom of your pan to a thickness just less than 1/4″. Press some of the mixture up the sides to create a bit of a ledge (about 1/4″). Pour the jam evenly on top of the crust. If you are using several flavors try not to fully mix the flavors; either layer or intersperse to avoid muddling too much.
Add the oats, spice, and nuts (if using) to the remaining mixture and lightly mix with your hands. If you are a salt-loving person, you can add a few more pinches of a finishing salt here, or use salted nuts in the mix. Generously sprinkle the mixture on top of the jam layer. I like to use a mixture of small bits and large chunks on top. To make larger chunks, simply pinch pieces together and drop onto the jam. I’m partial to lots of topping, but if it seems too much for you, don’t use it all. You can bake it off separately and have as a topping for yogurt or ice cream, or even as a snack.
Bake for approximately 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool before cutting.

Jammy Almond Crumb Bars

We live in the country. Not the county of estates and tag sales; but the country of pastures and dairy sheep. So when someone stops by; we wave them in, take their coat and sit them down with a hot cup of coffee and a sweet.These bars are a twist on the common crumble bar. I use whatever jam i have on hand. {usually something not too sweet loaded with bits of fruit}
The twist comes in the form of almond paste. It finds its way into these cookies, at every bite.

Jammy Almond Crumb Bars
2 sticks unsalted butter–room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
7 oz almond paste (divided)
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt
3/4 cup high quality-not too sweet jam (ollalaberry, raspberry, blackberry, fruits of the forest, etc)
1/4 cup toasted pistachio nuts

Place sugar, flour and 1/3 of the almond paste in a bowl. By hand, work in the almond paste so that it is in small bits throughout the flour. Add the butter and work by hand until you get a crumble that will stick when pressed together.
Press about 2/3 of the dough into the bottom and up the sides of a 9″x9″ fluted tart pan*. Take remaining almond paste and lightly press a thin layer on top of the crust. You may not use all of the paste. spread evenly with jam.
Mix the pistachio nuts in with remaining dough. Evenly distribute remaining dough by crumbling on top of jam. (i like a thick layer of topping)
Bake at 350 for approximately 40-45 minutes. You want the crust and crumble to be slightly colored, but not over-browned.

*if you do not have a fluted tart pan, this works fine in a standard 9×9 cake pan, just be sure to bring the crust 1/4-1/2″ up the sides.

Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Mayberry-esque after school tales of warm cookies and cold milk, aren’t mine. In my world cookies were for Christmas; fruit, yogurt, and cheese were snacks. I never quite developed a sensory memory for the ubiquitous toll house. Instead of invoking memories of backyard tag, championship games, and mom with flour dusted apron, I’ve been a bit bored by them. >em>Until Now. This is not my recipe. It came to me by way of a third-party. I have been told it was created by Cook’s Illustrated. It doesn’t surprise me in the least bit. This cookie is filled with notes of toffee, enough salt to tease your palate, the bite of bitter chocolate and manages to be both soft and crispy. The recipe is a bit fussy, but worth it. trust me….

Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
makes 16
from cook’s illustrated and only v.slightly changed

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
14 Tbs unsalted butter–divided
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup dark brown sugar-firmly packed
1 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
3/4 cups toasted walnut halves

Heat oven to 375F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour and baking soda in a bowl and set aside. Heat 10 Tbs of butter in a skillet over medium heat, swirling continually, until it becomes a dark golden brown and it smells a bit toffee like. This should take about 3-5 minutes…the larger the skillet, the quicker the reaction. Remove from heat and pour butter into mixing bowl. Add the remaining butter and stir until it is melted. Add the sugars, salt and vanilla to the bowl and hand-whisk until mixed well. Add egg and egg yolk and whisk until smooth and begins to lighten in color a bit. Let rest for 3 minutes. whisk again for 30 seconds and let rest for 3 minutes. Do this procedure 2 more times. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to stir in the flour mixture so that it is just combined–do not over-mix. Stir in chocolate and nuts. Scoop out large balls (about 3 Tbs) onto to the parchment, placing about 2″ apart. Bake for about 10-14 minutes or until the edges are slightly browned. Cool on wire rack.

*the original recipe calls for table salt, semi -sweet chips or chunks and chopped pecans or walnuts. i prefer kosher salt, bittersweet (60-70% cocoa solids) and large pieces of walnut which is why i inserted them into the recipe. try it both ways and decide for yourself!

Black and White Cookies

My parents grew up in New York. Although we moved to California when i was a toddler, “new yorkness” remains in my dna. I won’t apologize for it. See? i warned you. My favorite goodies from the old neighborhood were tucked in a pink box and secured with twine. Wrapping not only sweets but stories of my mother as a young girl; a nickle in her pocket, walking to and from school in snow up hill–both ways, stopping at the local bakery to warm her toes and carefully choose an afternoon treat. Times have changed and so have bakeries. Fancy cupcakes, mini pies and low-carb muffins have edged out old fashion favorites like; slabs of coffee cake, sweet buns crullers and black & whites as big as your noggin. Thankfully, Nancy Baggett has a knock-out recipe for black and whites in her “The All American Cookie Book”. There is nothing I like more than presenting this New York favorite to my favorite New Yorker, my mom.

New York Black and Whites
recipe from Nancy Baggett

3 cups all-purpose white flour
Scant 3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/3 cups sugar
2/3 cup (1 stick plus 2 2/3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, slightly softened
1/2 cup white vegetable shortening
2 large eggs
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons light corn syrup
Scant 3/4 teaspoon lemon extract
1/3 cup sour cream
Quick Vanilla and Chocolate Fondants:
1/4 cup light corn syrup
5 cups powdered sugar, sifted after measuring, plus more if needed
3/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease several baking sheets or coat with nonstick spray. In a medium bowl, thoroughly stir together flour, salt, and baking soda; set aside. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer on medium speed, beat together the sugar, butter, and shortening until well blended and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs, vanilla, corn syrup, and lemon extract and beat until evenly incorporated. Beat in half of the flour mixture until evenly incorporated. On low speed, beat in the sour cream. Beat or stir in the remaining flour mixture, just until well blended and smooth. Let the dough stand to firm up for about 5 minutes.

Using a scan 1/4-cup measure of dough, shape into balls with lightly greased hands. Place on the baking sheets, spacing about 3 1/2 inches apart. Using your hand, press and pat the balls to about 3 1/4 inches in diameter.
i make mine mini..using a small ice cream scoop as my measurement

Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, in the middle of the oven for 10 to 14 minutes, or until lightly browned at the edges and the tops just spring back when lightly pressed in he centers. Reverse the sheet from front to back halfway through baking to ensure even browning. Transfer the sheet to a wire rack and let stand until the cookies firm up slightly, 1 to 2 minutes. Use a spatula, transfer the cookies to wire racks. Let stand until completely cooled.

For the Fondants:
In a medium, heavy saucepan, bring 1/2 cup water and the corn syrup just to a boil over medium heat. Remove from the heat and stir in the powdered sugar and vanilla until completely smooth. Place the chocolate in a small, deep bowl. Pour 2/3 cup of the hot vanilla fondant over the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate is partially melted. Pour another 1/2 cup of the vanilla fondant over the chocolate. Stirring constantly, thin the chocolate fondant to a fluid but not runny consistency by adding 3 to 4 teaspoons of hot water, a little at a time. Stir until the chocolate melts completely and the water is thoroughly incorporated.
Set the wire racks with the cookies over wax paper to catch drips. Using a small, wide-bladed spatula, spreader, or table knife, immediately ice half of each cookies with the chocolate fondant. (if the fondant stiffens as you work, thin it by thoroughly stirring in a few drops of hot water. If the fondant cools completely, rewarm it over low heat, stirring).
In necessary, adjust the consistency of the vanilla fondant by stirring in additional powdered sugar or hot water until fluid by not runny. Ice the second half of each cookies with the vanilla fondant. Let the cookies stand until the icing set, at least 2 hours and preferably 4 hours.
This recipe comes directly from Nancy Baggett’s All American Cookie Book; a book that has been in my library for about 10 years. I have not bee asked to endorse the book or any individual recipes by the author or publisher. This is simply a darn good recipe, one of many in this book

Brown-Butter Bacon Shortbread with Bourbon Maple Glaze

At a recent food swap I traded jam for browned butter shortbread. It was out of this world. Within minutes of finishing the very last crumb, I was conspiring to make my own. The gal with whom I swapped was kind enough to share the recipe
from Gourmet magazine.
insert long sigh and whimper mourning the loss of this fabulous magazine
While browning the butter, I was reminded a bit of the smell of bacon.
I have been known to smell bacon at a kosher deli; I’m slightly obsessed. Chocolate-covered bacon is where I stop the madness; don’t love it, don’t like it. Not bacon’s best move.
But here is what I do love: these crispy, nutty, salty, with throat-warming bourbon glaze, cookies.

Brown-Butter Bacon Shortbread with Bourbon-Maple Glaze

*this recipe only slightly resembles its inspiration. the addition of bacon, bacon fat, nuts, and glaze are all mine
4 oz browned butter-cooled to solid in fridge
2 oz bacon grease–cooled to solid in fridge
1/2 tsp grey sea salt (kosher is fine)
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup bacon–cooked crispy and finely chopped
1 1/3 cup+ 3 Tbs all purpose flour
1 cup toasted and chopped pecans
In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the cooled butter, cooled bacon grease and brown sugar. Add the salt and vanilla and stir to mix. Mix in the bacon bits, then the flour. mix only to fully incorporate the flour, do not over mix. Remove the dough from mixer and form into a cylinder on plastic wrap. Roll the dough into the chopped nuts, cover and place in refrigerator. Let rest in fridge for an hour. When ready to bake, heat oven to 350f. Slice the roll into 1/4″ slices and place on lined cookie sheet, leaving about 1/2″ between each cookie. these will spread a bit. Allow to bake about 10-12 minutes or until they start to brown on the bottom. Remove from oven and let cool. Once cool, drizzle with glaze.

bourbon maple glaze
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp maple syrup
up to 1 Tbs bourbon
Place powdered sugar in a bowl. Stir in the maple syrup. Add bourbon 1 tsp at a time until it reaches a nice runny consistency, that will barely hold its shape. Pour into a piping bag or use a spoon to decoratively drizzle over the cookies. Allow to sit until the glaze has firmed up.

Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Cookies

I‘m that person. The one that is rarely late. The one that calls restaurants to say I’m running behind schedule. I’m that person leisurely sauntering through the airport, who doesn’t huff and puff when someone has 7 layers of clothes to remove
along with lace up knee high boots, at security. Because I am neurotic, I always have time to spare. I missed a plane once. It was in the 90s, and because of an accident on a country road. Traffic was stopped dead, no fighting it. It was 3 days before my sister’s wedding, I was maid of honor, and I hadn’t had my dress fitting. Consequently, it took me more than a day of travel. Which led to a last minute dress fitting; resulting in a poorly made dress. When my dance partner accidentally stepped on the bottom of my dress, most of it (the dress) ended up lying in a heap on the dance floor. There I stood, in my very classy maroon stockings, 3 inch heels and crop top.
I am now neurotic about airline travel. 2 hours before flight time I like to be sitting at the gate: not at the check in or security, but at.the.gate.
Which brings me to today’s recipe. Recently, while enjoying the sights and sounds of Milwaukee International Airport, for hours on end, I purchased a peanut butter oatmeal cookie as big as my head. Mike and I both thought it was genius: peanut butter and oatmeal. Sadly, genius it was not. Great idea. poor execution. I knew I could make something that tastes better. And i did.

Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Cookies
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cup crunchy peanut butter
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
3 cups old fashioned oatmeal
Mix the salt,baking soda, flour, graham cracker crumbs and oatmeal in a large bowl. In a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat together the butter, dark brown sugar and granulated sugar, until fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla..and beat until fully incorporated. Beat in the peanut butter and beat for 1 minute. Add the dry ingredients all at once and stir until fully mixed. Form into balls and flatten with the tines of a fork. Bake at 350 for about 10 minutes. These are delicious right out of the cookie jar, but also wonderful with a scoop of peanut butter chocolate ice cream sandwiched between.

Chocolate Covered Gingerbread

It has been quite some time since I have made gingerbread cookies. With all the excitement around gingerbread houses and gingerbread cakes, in our house, the cookies take a back seat.

But I had a special request for the holiday season, so I must oblige.
I dusted off my cookie cutter and scoured my recipe archives, and found a fun idea in Nancy Baggett’s All American Cookie Book
I slightly altered the recipe, only very slightly. I think the cookie benefits from a bit of honey, and that the glaze needs a nice chocolate bump.

Chocolate Glazed Gingerbread
(adapted from all american cookie book)
6 1/2 cups flour (plus more if needed)
2 Tbs ground cinnamon
2 Tbs ground ginger *
1 tsp ground cloves
1 1/4 tsp kosher salt *
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar *
1 cup unsalted butter–slightly softened
2 Tbs corn oil (or other flavorless oil)
1 1/4 cup molasses*
1/4 cup honey*
Whisk together the flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, salt and baking powder in a large bowl and set aside. In an electric mixer, beat together the brown sugar, butter, and oil until light and fluffy. Beat in molasses, honey and 2 1/2 Tbs water until well blended. Beat in half the flour mixture until well blended. Stir in the remaining flour. knead the dough until it becomes smooth and shiny. If dough is too stiff, you may add a bit more water, if too sticky, add flour. Divide dough into three pieces. Roll each piece in between pieces of wax or parchment paper to 1/4″ thick. Place in the refrigerator to firm up (about 3 hours). When ready to use, peel back the parchment from both sides and using a cookie cutter, stamp out design. Bake on a parchment lined cookie sheet for approximately 6-12 minutes at 350F. Keep a close eye. Let cool, then dip in chocolate glaze

Chocolate Luster Glaze
1 1/2 ounce unsweetened chocolate–coarsely chopped and melted*
3 1/4 cups powdered sugar
pinch kosher salt*
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder*
1/3 cup water
1 Tbs light or dark corn syrup*
1 tsp vanilla extract
Heat the water and corn syrup in a sauce pan, over medium heat until it just comes to a boil. Remove from heat. Sift together the powdered sugar, salt and cocoa powder. Stir the hot syrup/water into the powdered sugar mixture and beat by hand until smooth and shiny. Toss in the vanilla and melted chocolate and beat again until smooth. Dip cookies or use an offset spatula to frost. Let cookies sit a minimum of 3 hours to ensure they are set. Decorate as desired.

the ingredients marked by * have been altered, or added by yours truly.

Gingerbread Biscotti

I love this biscotti.

2 3/4 -3 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt
3 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
3/4 cup + 5tsp granulated sugar
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 Tbs molasses
2 Tbs butter–melted and cooled
2 tsp vanilla
3 eggs
1 Tbs sugar + 1 tsp cinnamon mixed together
1 egg–gently whisked for glazing

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, ginger, cinnamon and cloves.  In a bowl whisk together the whole eggs with the granulated sugar, brown sugar, molasses, vanilla and butter.  Stir in the dry ingredients and mix until it comes together. If it is too wet, add a bit of flour to your hands as you form the mixture into 2 logs of about 2″ wide. Place each log on a parchment lined cookie sheet.  Brush the top of each log with the egg and sprinkle the cinnamon sugar on top. Bake at 350 until it is puffed and firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and let cool. Once cooled, slice crosswise, reduce the oven to 325 and place cut side down on the cookie sheet.  Return to oven and bake until dry but not brown.

I use a little royal icing to mimic the gild of gingerbread people, but it isn’t necessary.