Christmas Cookie Roundup

sugar & spice

sugar & spice

Even though today is Christmas Eve Eve, it’s not too late to make some Christmas cookies. Here are some of my favorites that I’ve made over the past few years. (Click on the photo for the recipe.)

Hello Dollies (aka Magic Cookie Bars) – so many delicious layers

check out all those layers

check out all those layers

Cream Cheese Spritz Cookies – get your (cookie) gun

cream cheese spritz

trim the tree

No-Bake Chocolate Clusters – there’s literally no baking involved; just melt, mix and set

no-bake chocolate clusters

no bake, no fuss

Merry Christmas, everyone!


What The Fluff?! Cookies

WTF cookies

holy $#%&

What the F#@$ is in these?!

Yep. That’s pretty much the response from everyone who’s tried these cookies. I think that’s pretty accurate considering they have some unusual ingredients. Originally based on a Momofuku Milk Bar recipe (that famous bakery in NYC known for putting weird things like breakfast cereal into their cookies), I changed it up by replacing mini marshmallows with Fluff.

What’s Fluff, you ask?

It’s that gooey, marshmallow-y concoction that got it’s start in Union Square, Somerville (just a stone’s throw from where I now live) almost 100 years ago. In fact, the annual Fluff Festival was this past weekend. Nowadays, most people use it to make fudge or frosting or a Fluffernutter sandwich. Unlike regular marshmallows, Fluff is vegetarian friendly. And when mixed into cookie dough, it bakes up all ooey-gooey-wonderful, resulting in cookies that are both crispy and chewy. And 100% irresistible.

WTF Cookies (aka Cornflake & Fluff Cookies)
1 ½ cups of flour
½ teaspoon of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of salt
1 cup (2 stick) of unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup of sugar
2/3 cup of packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
½ teaspoon of vanilla
3 cups of cornflakes
½ cup of milk chocolate chips
½ cup of peanut butter chips
3/4 of a 7.5 oz jar of Marshmallow Fluff

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla, and beat for about 4 minutes, scraping down the side as needed. Add the flour mixture a little at a time until well combined. Beat in the cornflakes a little at a time, and then stir in the chips and the Fluff. Cover and chill the dough for at least 3 hours, or overnight. It’s very important you do not skip this step. The dough needs to firm up before baking.

WTF cookies bowl

stirring in the magic ingredient

Heat your oven to 375º.

Roll golf ball-sized balls of dough and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet a few inches apart. Pay attention to this too, as these cookies spread a lot. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the cookies have flattened and the edges are browned. Let cool completely on the baking sheet, and then enjoy.


Pecan Turtle Power

pecan turtle cookies

cowabunga!

Everybody knows what turtles are, right? No, I’m not talking about those shelled reptiles, regular and/or the mutant ninja variety, although those are all pretty awesome. I mean those incredible chocolate-covered clusters with caramel and nuts. It’s the type of treat usually found at quaint candy shoppes alongside homemade fudge and peanut brittle. But if you don’t live near one of these shoppes, they can be hard to find. So in a totally radical move, I decided to reinterpret those candies into cookie form. And add peanut butter, toffee and – since it’s National Pecan Month! – some pecans. Dude, I know. I have a slight obsession with making cookies that include every flavor under the sun. I also made my very own salted caramel sauce because, well, why not? It’s way easier than you could imagine, and makes for a bodacious treat all its own.

Pecan Turtle Cookies
For the cookies:
½ cup of unsalted butter, softened
½ cup of sugar
½ cup of brown sugar
2/3 cup of chunky peanut butter
1 large egg
2 cups of all-purpose baking mix
1 cup of milk chocolate toffee bits
1 cup of salted caramel sauce (see below)
1 cup of pecan halves
2/3 cup of semisweet chocolate chips, melted

For the salted caramel sauce:
1 cup of sugar
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter, softened and cut in pieces
½ cup of whipping cream
2 teaspoons of Maldon flaky sea salt

Heat your oven to 350º.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter, sugars and peanut butter until light and fully. Add the egg and beat until smooth. Add the baking mix a little a time until well combined, scraping down the sides as needed. Stir in the milk chocolate toffee bits.

Roll the dough into tablespoon-sized balls, place on an ungreased cookie sheet and then flatten with the bottom of a glass (or your fingertips). Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Meanwhile, make the salted caramel sauce. Place the sugar in a saucepan and cook over medium-high heat. When the sugar starts to melt (keep an eye on it – it could burn quickly), whisk to remove any clumps. When the sugar turns a deep amber color, carefully whisk in the softened butter. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the cream until smooth. Then whisk in the sea salt. Let the caramel cool to room temperature, and then place in the fridge to cool completely. The sauce will thicken as it cools, but should still remain sticky and liquidity. (Any unused sauce can be kept covered in the fridge.)

Once the cookies are cool, pour a spoonful of salted caramel sauce over each one and top with one or two pecan halves. Drizzle with melted chocolate chips and let set.


Peanut Butter Somebody Up Today

peanut butter toffee cookies

love is peanut butter cookies & milk

It can’t be St. Whatever-tine’s Day without showcasing something everybody loves: peanut butter. Ohhh .. I bet you thought I was going to say chocolate. Gotcha! (There’s some of that in these cookies too, so don’t worry.) Throw in some milk chocolate toffee bits and they’ll really know how much you care.

Peanut Butter Toffee Cookies
¾ cup of flour
¼ teaspoon of baking soda
⅛ teaspoon of salt
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup of sugar
½ cup of smooth peanut butter
1 large egg
1 8oz bag of Heath milk chocolate toffee bits

Heat your oven to 350º.

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fully. Add the peanut butter and egg and beat until smooth. Add the flour mixture a little a time until well combined, scraping down the sides as needed. Stir in the milk chocolate toffee bits – as little or as much as you like, but save some to sprinkle on top.

Roll the dough into balls and place on a cookie sheet about 2 inches apart. Flatten with the bottom of a glass (or your fingertips) and then sprinkle each with a few chocolate toffee pieces. Bake for 16 to 18 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Then share with someone you love.


Grape Expectations

peanut butter & grape jelly blondies

have a grape day

You might remember that last fall, my cousin Kevin’s wife Wendy and I had an apple bake-off. She made an apple cake, and I made apple oatmeal cookies. The winner … is still up for debate. So rather than spend another year taunting each other, we decided to combine our baking efforts to create one awesome dessert. Our special ingredient this time: grapes! This made sense when we were supposed to visit a grape festival in Naples, New York, but at the last minute we decided not to go. However, we did get some fresh Naples grapes at a local (ie: closer to their house) farm, where we also rode a tractor and ate pumpkin fry cakes and orange & black half-moon cookies. The only hitch: the grapes we got had seeds, but more on that later.

What’s the perfect companion for fresh grapes? Peanut butter of course! Who didn’t love PB&J as a kid? Or as an adult for that matter? If you don’t love PB&J, well, then you won’t like these blondies. They literally taste like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, only in bar form. And if you put them in the fridge to chill — wow! — even better.

Oh, so back to those seeded grapes. You could use boring store-bought grape jelly for these blondies, or go the extra mile and make your own sauce using fresh grapes. Just cook them down with a little grape juice, butter, sugar and lemon juice. As for those pesky seeds? They’ll pop right out of the grapes as they cook, and then you can strain the mixture to easily separate them and some of the tougher skins from the amazingly grape-y sauce you end up with. Really, it’s awesome. So grape-y and flavorful, and not sticky-sweet like jelly. Wendy & I actually stood over the simmering grapes for a bit, picking out the seeds with a small spoon before we smartened up and opted for the much simpler strainer method. But it made for some fun bonding time, which is always grape. I mean, great.

Peanut Butter & Grape Jelly Blondies
For the grape sauce:
– 1 ½ cups of Naples grapes
– 2 tablespoons of sugar
– 2 tablespoons of grape juice
– 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter
– 1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice
– ¼ teaspoon of vanilla
– Pinch of salt

For the blondies:
– ½ cup (1 stick) of unsalted butter
– ¼ cup of creamy peanut butter
– 1 cup of brown sugar
– 1 large egg
– 1 ½ teaspoon of vanilla
– 1 ¼ cups of flour
– ¼ teaspoon of salt
– ⅓ cup of creamy peanut butter
– ⅓ cup of grape sauce

To make the grape sauce, put the grapes, sugar, grape juice, butter, lemon juice, vanilla and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and then simmer over medium-low heat for 20 minutes, occasionally stirring, until grape skins fall off, the seeds pop out and the liquid thickens. Pour through a mesh strainer into a bowl and discard any remaining skins and seeds. Cover and let chill in the fridge until ready to use.

Heat your oven to 350º.

Line an 8×8 pan (or similar) with aluminum foil, spray with cooking spray and set aside.

In a large microwave safe bowl, melt the butter, about 45 seconds. Add ¼ cup of creamy peanut butter and heat for an additional 45 to 60 seconds to soften. Stir together until the mixture is smooth. Add the brown sugar and stir to combine. Whisk in the egg and vanilla, and then add the flour and salt and stir until just combined. (Do not over-mix.) Pour the batter into the baking dish and lightly smooth out with a spatula.

Top the batter with tablespoon-sized dollops of the remaining creamy peanut butter, and tablespoon-sized dollops of the grape sauce. Using a knife or spatula, marble the peanut butter and grape sauce in a zig-zag pattern, lightly moving back and forth until they’re dispersed across the top of the batter. (Do not over-do it or it will look muddy rather than marbled.)

peanut butter & grape jelly blondies

how grape is that?

Bake for 22 to 27 minutes, or until the edges begin to slightly pull away from the edge of the pan, the center is set and golden, and a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool for at least 45 minutes before slicing and serving. Drizzle with the remaining grape sauce for more grape flavor.


Bring Home the Bacon (Cookies)

bacon & chocolate peanut butter cookies

sooooo-weet!

How many times you have thought: You know what would make these cookies better? Bacon. Well, now you’re in luck! These cookies are a flavorful trifecta, with peanut butter, chocolate chips and bacon. It’s pretty much everything you could ever hope for in a cookie, and yet so much more. Note that this recipe only makes a dozen, so stash a few away before you put out a plate of them.

Bacon & Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies
– 5 slices of bacon
– 1 ¼ cups of flour
– ¼ teaspoon of baking soda
– ¼ teaspoon of baking powder
– ⅛ teaspoon of cinnamon
– Pinch of chili powder
– ¼ teaspoon of salt
– 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter, at room temperature
– ½ cup of creamy peanut butter
– ½ cup of sugar
– ½ cup of light brown sugar
– 1 large egg
– 1 teaspoon of vanilla
– ½ cup of roughly chopped peanuts
– ⅓ cup of semisweet chocolate chips

Heat your oven to 350º.

Fry the bacon slices until crisp in a large skillet. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to cool and then roughly chop. Reserve 2 tablespoons of bacon grease and set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, chili powder and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and reserved bacon grease on medium-high speed until smooth. Beat in the peanut butter until combined. Next, beat in the sugars until creamy, about 4 minutes, and then add the egg and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the flour mixture a little a time until just combined, scraping the sides as needed. Stir in the peanuts and all but 2 tablespoons each of the bacon and chocolate chips.

Roll the dough into 12 balls and arrange on two parchment-lined baking sheets. Flatten with your fingers (the cookies will not spread out as they bake) and top each with a few extra pieces of bacon and chocolate chips. Bake until golden, 12 to 14 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through. Let the cookies cool a few minutes on the baking sheet and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.


Trick or Chocolate Peanut Butter Treats?

choco & peanut butter sandwiches

Who doesn’t love chocolate and peanut butter? And, who doesn’t love a good Oreo cookie?

Did you know that Oreo has dozens of varieties now? Mint crème. Golden. Strawberry. Double, triple, quadruple stuffed. It blows my mind.

Also, did you know that you can make your Oreo cookies at home? It’s not a trick. It’s true. They’ll make for a great birthday or Halloween treat, too.

What inspired me to make these treats was a new cookbook I got a few weeks ago. I’m a huge fan of Cooks Illustrated, so when I got a deal on Baking Illustrated, I snatched it up. It’s over 500 pages of amazing recipes for breads, cakes, tarts, pastry and something called icebox cookies. Icebox cookies are crispy, wafer-like cookies that get their name because you form the dough into a log, chill it in the fridge and then slice it before you bake. You can eat the cookies just like that, or make a filling and create fun little sandwich cookies. Or, your own Oreos if you will.

These cookies are easy, but there are several steps that do take some time, especially the chilling part. And if you decide to fill them, the cookies should be completely cool. I made these over the course of three days. It could have been done in one day, but I needed them for a Friday night party and that pesky thing called “work” prevented me from baking all day.

Chocolate & Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies
For the cookies:
– 2 cups of flour
– ¼ cup cocoa powder
– ½ teaspoon of salt
– 2 sticks of unsalted butter, at room temperature
– ¾ cup of sugar
– ½ cup of powdered sugar
– 2 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted & cooled
– 2 large egg yolks
– 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

For the filling:
– 1 cup of smooth peanut butter
– 1 cup of powdered sugar
– 4 tablespoons (½ stick) of unsalted butter)

Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder and salt in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugars together. Add the yolks, vanilla and semi-sweet chocolate. Add the flour mixture a little at a time and beat on low until dough forms. Scrape the sides of the bowl and the beaters with a rubber spatula because the dough might clump together. The dough should be soft but not sticky, almost like Play-Doh. (If it’s sticky, chill it for 10 minutes.)

Divide the dough in half. Working with one half at a time on a clean surface, roll the dough into a 6 inch long log, about 2 inches thick. Wrap each log in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 3 days.

When you’re ready to bake, heat your oven to 325º.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.  Unwrap the logs one at a time and cut the dough into ¼ inch slices. To prevent the dough from flattening, roll the dough an eighth of a turn after every slice. Place the sliced dough on the baking sheets. Bake one sheet at time for 14 to 15 minutes, rotating tray halfway through. Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for a few minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

You could eat the cookies as is — or make a real treat by filling them with peanut butter cream.

i'm sure this is just how oreos are made

To make the peanut butter filling, beat the peanut butter, powered sugar and butter until fluffy. Add a small amount of filling to half of the cookies. Place another cookie on top and gently press the two cookies together. Repeat until all sandwich cookies are made.

wendy's private stash

Because I made these for my friend Wendy’s birthday, I put them in a glass jar so she could have her own private stash. The rest of our friends at her party got to enjoy what was left, and they seemed to be a hit. I even used some orange gel icing to decorate them. The chocolate cookie was crisp but not hard, and the peanut butter filling was sweet and creamy. I think I could eat a bowl of that just by itself.

Happy Birthday, Wendy! And, Happy Halloween, people!