Tahini Cookies

IT’S SUMMERTIME!  And whereas kale haunted my kitchen all winter, now my counter is absolutely covered in homegrown cherry tomatoes.  I couldn’t be happier.  I’m not even angry that the tomatillos got all sad, limpy, and yellow.  I even laughed a little when I had to pull them up because of the ants’ aphid farms.  Yes, laughed.  Because the tomatoes are almost too abundant and pepper season fast approaches!

What do I do with all these cherry tomatoes you might ask?  Well, that’s an excellent question.

Ummm… Peter is back to making pita bread and some rather addictive yogurt flat breads from Ottolenghi’s cookbook Plenty that I sneakily ate with the rest of an avocado when he wasn’t paying attention.  He also started another batch of beer.

The current food theme is Middle Eastern and the textbooks are Plenty and Jerusalem.  So far it’s been a veritable feeding frenzy, the perfect antidote to living off of Panera and similar for two weeks while traveling for work.  My favorite recipes from Jerusalem this week were Na’ama’s Fattoush and Tahini Cookies.  You can find a recipe for Na’ama’s Fattoush and some beautiful photographs over at 101 Cookbooks (actually the blog post that turned me on to Jerusalem in the first place).  In short, Na’ama’s Fattoush is a fresh vegetable salad (tomatoes, cucumber, onion, parsley, mint, radish) with torn up pita in a sauce of yogurt, olive oil, and lemon.  It’s so good that we’ve had it twice this week.  Fresh, but substantial from the pita.  And quick, since I didn’t bother with the buttermilk mixture, but just used whole-fat Greek yogurt mixed with a splash of milk.  We’ve been making fresh whole wheat pita breads using my recipe for homemade pita bread here.

Finally, a tweaked version of tahini cookies from Jerusalem.  These are rather mild in flavor, but have a wonderful buttery texture.  As you know my obsession with peanut butter cookies, perhaps you are not so surprised that tahini cookies are the second recipe I made out of Jerusalem?  Nor that I made them twice in two weeks?  You can also see the original recipe and a lovely writeup here.

Tahini Cookies (tweaked from Jerusalem)

2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup butter
1/2 cup tahini paste
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 teaspoons milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
Ground cinnamon for sprinkling on top

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Cream the butter and sugar, then add the tahini, vanilla, and milk.  Finally, add the flour and mix until well combined and the dough comes together into a ball (I rolled my dough around in the bowl until it was ball-like).  Roll the dough out into ~1 inch balls and place on a parchment paper lined-baking sheet.  Press down the balls of dough to leave a nice fork mark (similar to peanut butter cookies).  Sprinkle a little cinnamon on top of each cookie.  Bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown.  Nibble with a cup of hot tea.  Smile quietly to yourself that you’ve stashed some of them away in a secret place where Peter other people can’t find them.

Madeleines Part Deux

Remember that nearly-useless madeleine pan I have?  Well it may be about to get a lot less useless because I have finally discovered a madeleine recipe worth staying up until midnight to make.  It involves browned butter, vanilla, and the zest of an entire lemon.  And when I say these madeleines are like moist little heavenly scented cake, I’m not just trying to make you jealous that you didn’t find this recipe first.  I swear.  If you come to visit Peter and I, we can whip up a batch.  I’ll try not to burn the butter, and you can try not to eat all the madeleine batter when my back is turned.  The only thing I find frustrating about madeleines is how darn good they taste straight out of the oven, requiring all my self-control not to eat the whole batch myself (by midnight Peter was passed out upstairs, so I didn’t even have cookie-glomming backup).

The recipe for these madeleines can be found in many places, but I stumbled upon it on 101 Cookbooks.  I’ve transcribed it here for my own records along with rewritten instructions detailing my failings with butter browning.  Enjoy!

Browned Butter Madeleines
(Makes 2-3 dozen cookies)
3/4 cups butter (1 1/2 sticks)
3/4 cups all-purpose flour
4 eggs
Pinch of salt
2/3 cup white sugar
Lemon zest from 1 lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Butter and flour for dusting the madeleine pan
Powdered sugar for sprinkling on the baked cookies

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a small pot melt the 3/4 cups butter over medium heat and cook for ~15 minutes until browned.*  Pour the browned butter through a fine mesh strainer lined with a paper towel to catch all the browned butter solids.  Set the butter aside to cool as you put the rest of the ingredients together.
  3. Butter and flour the madeleine pan.  Try to get all the tiny cracks if possible.
  4. Break the eggs into a bowl with the pinch of salt and beat with electric beaters using a whisk attachment for about 2 minutes until doubled or tripled in volume.
  5. Slowly add the sugar to the egg mixture, whipping constantly.
  6. Keep whipping the egg mixture another two minutes or so until thickened.
  7. Set aside the electric beaters, grab a bowl scraper, and fold in the vanilla and lemon zest into the egg mixture.
  8. Now add the flour to the egg mixture, a little at a time, and fold in.
  9. Finally, add the cooled browned butter to the egg mixture and fold in until just incorporated.
  10. Fill each shell indentation in the madeleine pan about 3/4 of the way full.
  11. Bake for 12-14 minutes.
  12. When the cookies come out of the oven, remove them from the madeleine pan immediately (and very carefully) and cool on a cookie sheet.
  13. Cover the cooled cookies with a light dusting of powdered sugar.  Or dip them in chocolate.  Or both.

*For those of you who haven’t browned butter before, I was extremely lucky with mine because it got all foamy so that I couldn’t see what was going on and I took it off the heat just in time.  The butter will smell nutty and incredibly delicious when it’s done, so pay attention to your nose and the pot.

Molasses Crinkles

This post isn’t about kale, I promise, but I am always intrigued by the bubbly nature of kale leaves, and since I pulled out all but two of my kale plants last weekend due to a very serious case of aphid infestation, we may as well just call this a memorial.  ”Thank goodness!” Peter says in the background,  ”About time!”  Well, frankly, I agree.  And on the slippery-slope of eating less kale, I have filled the void with a number of rather moist and gently crumbly sweet breads.

It started with some banana bran muffins that are healthy in imagination only.  Peter pointed out that other than the addition of fruit, they have the same butter to sugar to flour ratio as chocolate chip cookies.  The pumpkin butternut squash bread we made next as a midterms distraction was even further removed from steamed kale.  And then finally tonight, as I was contemplating how much I would like to make a certain black sticky gingerbread cake, I remembered that it was actually make-cookies-for-Women-in-Physics-night, and gingerbread cake plans were replaced with molasses/ginger cookies.  Fortunately, these cookies aren’t much to look at… which means you can convince your friends that they don’t taste good either and keep them all for yourself.  I tried this once on Peter, but I’m sure most of you could guess how that went (now he counts the cookies and eyes me suspiciously).

Aunt Madge’s Molasses Crinkles (a family recipe from my Grandmother)
3/4 cups butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
4 tablespoons molasses (1/4 cup)
2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons baking soda
Pinch of salt

Like so many family recipes, this one has the simple directions to: “Drop by teaspoonful on greased baking sheet.  Bake in moderate oven.”

In case that isn’t enough direction, start by preheating the oven to 350 degrees F.  Cream the butter until soft and then add and mix in the brown sugar.  I use electric beaters for all cookie-making these days; the rush of whirring metal is addictive.  Next add the egg and molasses and mix in thoroughly.  If you aren’t as averse to dirty dishes as some people in this house, you can mix the remaining ingredients (the “dries”) in a separate bowl before adding them to the sugar-butter mixture, but I just pile everything on top, add a halfhearted mix with one of the measuring spoons (since it’s already dirty) and then, you guessed it, mix everything with the electric beaters until very well-combined.  Now we can return to the original instructions, which say to drop the cookies by teaspoonfuls on a greased parchment-paper-lined baking sheet.  Bake for 10 minutes or until the cookies are set on top; they won’t be entirely solid until they cool, and if you don’t over-bake them, they develop a nice chewy consistency in the middle.  Let the cookies cool on a cookie rack and consume with a large glass of milk.

Madge was my Great Great Aunt.  This recipe came from her sister-in-law who had a bakery and a copy of the recipe was saved by my Grandmother.

Madeleines

I feel as thought I should explain the fact that we have a Madeleine pan in our kitchen.  Normally I try not to accumulate specialty baking equipment of almost any kind due to a lack of appropriately sized kitchen cabinets.  A Madeleine pan is a perfect example of a nearly useless piece of baking equipment: it has only one purpose, to bake cookies in the shape of sea shells.   Of course when I gave it to Peter for his birthday (before I realized it was much more efficient to just ask him what he wanted), I was under the misguided impression that they were one of his favorite cookies.  Which means I have used the Madeleine pan exactly twice for its intended purpose, and one of those times was last week.  Of course there are all kinds of other useful, if totally unnecessary, things one can do with a Madeleine pan: use it as another baking sheet for cookies (as long as you don’t mind their nautical-themed shape), use it to shape ravioli (although the shape doesn’t really hold with such a gooey filling), and use it to freeze pesto (otherwise the pesto liquid could run away).  Anyways, if you decide to make these cookies, eat them while they are still warm.  My ladies in physics didn’t get the fresh-out-of-the-oven experience, but I did dip some of the cookies in chocolate to try to make up for it.

Madeleines (adapted from The Book of French Provincial Cooking)
(Makes about 2 dozen cookies)
3 eggs, separated
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Powdered sugar to dust the cookies and/or chocolate chips for melting

Make the dough:  Begin by separating the eggs.  Put the egg whites in a medium mixing bowl in preparation for being beaten into stiff peaks and put the egg yolks in the main mixing bowl.  Add the sugar to the egg yolks and mix well to combine.  Sift the flour and baking powder on top of the egg yolk and sugar mixture, but don’t mix them in quite yet.  Melt the butter and mix it with the lemon juice and vanilla.  Now as you slowly pour the butter/lemon/vanilla liquid into the main mixing bowl, stir in the flour and baking powder.  Finally it’s time to beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Fold the egg whites carefully into the main bowl; I like to fold in 1/3 of the egg whites initially to lighten up the batter and then add the rest.  Let the dough sit in the fridge for 30 minutes covered with a damp towel or plastic wrap.

Bake the dough:  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.  Coat the madeleine pan with a layer of butter (just in the shell-shaped indentations) and then cover with a light dusting of flour.  I did not butter and flour the pan again after the first batch of cookies.  When the dough is done chilling in the fridge, measure out a heaping spoonful of dough into each shell-shaped indentation in the madeleine pan.  Each shell should only be filled to about 2/3 its volume (the cookies will expand during baking).  Bake the madeleines for 7 minutes at 425 degrees F and then lower the temperature to 375 degrees F and bake for another 7 minutes.  After the first 7 minutes, the cookies should have puffed up and after the second 7 minutes they should be nicely golden with a hint of light brown around their edges. Remove the cookies to a cooling rack carefully after they come out of the oven.  Since I prefer the shell-shaped side of the cookies, I like to place that side up on the cooling rack.

Decorate the cookies:  A simple dusting of powdered sugar once the cookies are at least mostly cool looks wonderful.  You can also melt 1/4 cup or so of chocolate chips in the microwave or oven in a very small bowl (not much wider than the cookies) and dip the ends of each cookie into the chocolate.  The chocolate will harden overnight.

Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

This week I burned half the cookies.  They were black.  Oh so black.  I’m not sure what happened.  Was it that they were on the bottom oven shelf right below the bread stone?  Did I make them too big?  Was the parchment paper on the dark non-stick cookie sheet surface unsuitable? After baking weekly cookies for what feels like forever (but would probably only turn out to be a few months if I were actually keeping track), it was inevitable that something would go wrong eventually.  Here I am, baking new cookie recipes nearly every week, and yet somehow they always come out well.  More than well, absolutely-positively delicious!  Or at least this is what I tell myself as I stare at the pile of blackened cookies in the compost.

In case you were worried that chocolate oatmeal cookies are particularly difficult, they are not.  The second tray of cookies turned out just fine.  Better than fine.  They were of the absolutely-positively delicious category, the perfect blend of crunchy and gooey that I often find lacking in drop cookies.  I’m not sure what else I should have expected, given that the recipe came from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Chocolate Desserts, my baking bible for all things chocolate.  Burning cookies does make one appreciate the art of recipe writing though.  If one is off by even a few minutes, what could have been a tempting chocolate morsel is nothing more than a nugget of bitter carbon.  A fine line between unbaked and burnt.  Maybe this is why I prefer my baked goods moist to the point of almost under-baked: they are simply safer that way.

Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies (from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Chocolate Desserts)
(Makes about 2 dozen cookies)
2/3 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
2 2/3 ounces (5 1/3 tablespoons) butter
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 egg
1/3 cup milk
2 1/2 cups rolled oats

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Cream the butter and sugar and then add the vanilla and egg.  Mix the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt, and cocoa powder) in a separate bowl and add them to the wet ingredients.  Next add the milk and mix the rather soupy “dough” until smooth.  Finally, add the rolled oats.  Spoon the cookie dough onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.  Make the cookie dough balls small, slightly larger than the diameter of a quarter.  Bake the cookies for 15 minutes, but keep your eye on them, since the exact baking time will depend on the size of the cookies.

Molasses Crinkles

It is almost the end of October and still the days are so hot as to drive me indoors during the middle of the day.  While this (what seems like abnormally hot) weather has been a near miracle for all the summer plants I started from seed in August, it does make for quite the shock when Christmas rolls around at just about the same time that my East Coast trained brain thinks it’s the beginning of Autumn.  So this year I’m flexing my holiday muscles by pulling out the molasses and pumpkin spice flavors ahead of schedule, starting with a recipe for molasses crinkle cookies from my Great Great Aunt given to me by my Grandma.

Aunt Madge’s Molasses Crinkles
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks), at room temperature
4 tablespoons molasses
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cloves
2 1/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
Pinch of salt

The original instructions are as follows: “Drop by teaspoonsful on greased baking sheet.  Bake in a moderate oven.”  In case this isn’t quite enough direction, start by preheating the oven to 350 degrees F.  Cream the butter with the sugar and molasses, and then add the egg and mix it in.  Combine the dry ingredients (spices, flour, baking soda, and salt) in a separate bowl or on top of the wets, and mix the wet and the dry to combine.  Now drop the cookie dough in teaspoonsful on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper (or greased, if you prefer) and bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes depending on their size.  Eat with a mug of cold milk and think happy holiday thoughts.

Pecan Sandies

This is another installment in the Women in Physics cookie extravaganza.  Jen requested pecan sandies, and I was only too happy to oblige.  Unfortunately, I made them on a week when she was off gallivanting across California with her parents, so consider this “take 1”.  It’s probably good that I have an excuse to make these again because an accidental substitution of normal granulated sugar instead of powdered sugar had a surprisingly strong effect on the cookie’s structure: instead of adorable cookie mounds, they were flat as a pancake.  Thankfully, covering a cookie of any shape in sugar is a popular move, so no one cared that the cookies were the wrong shape.  Except for me.

This was the first time I could remember even eating pecan sandies, so in case you have suffered from cookie deprivation as I have, let me explain what you’re in for.  Pecan sandies are like sugar cookies, but more moist and with the added interest of buttery pecans.  Add to that a covering of granulated sugar on the outside that sort of caramelizes during baking.  This may be my cookie discovery of the year.

Pecan Sandies (An attempt on the recipe from Buns In My Oven)
1 cup butter (2 sticks), room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar (for less flat cookies, use powdered sugar)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped pecans
1/4-1/2 cup granulated sugar for coating the cookies
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Beat the butter and sugars (not the sugar for coating the cookies) in a medium bowl.  Add the egg and vanilla and beat again.  If you aren’t as lazy as me, you can mix the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt) in a separate bowl and add them to the butter mixture, or, if you’re me, you can pile all the dry ingredients on top of the butter mixture and give them a halfhearted stir before beating everything together.  Chop up the pecans and add them to the batter too.  Finally, roll the dough into balls about an inch wide.  Dunk each ball in the extra sugar and roll it around to coat it in sugar thoroughly.  Place the cookies on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes.  The edges and bottoms of the cookies will just be golden and the smell will be divine.