Desserts

Sweet treats, involving sugar; likely cakes and cookies, and things that make people happy.

Lemon Bar, Lemon Bar Recipe

My Magnolia Lemon Bars

Lemon Bar, Lemon Bar Recipe

Delicious lemon filling reminiscent of a Hostess Lemon Pie. 

It is no exaggeration to say that my father shaped me culinarily. My love of spicy, International foods comes from him, as does my insatiable curiosity for anything in a bottle with a foreign language on it.  (This has led to an unsustainable refrigerator door problem, but more on that later).

Many a morning there was a demonstration of this hot sauce, that salami, France’s most popular caper, and and perhaps the breakfast of champions.   He had an artisan’s palate but also a taste for the common thing,  like a taco, slice of pizza or a Hostess lemon pie.

As a family, we obsessed for decades over the Hostess Lemon Pie.  Why? Probably because of its inside, which contained a near-perfect lemon meringue filling, its flavor straddling the razor’s edge between the sweet and sour line and its outside: a sugar-glazed crunchy and soft pie crust that never crumbled.  (That was 35 years ago– I make no claims for today’s product).   Trying to recreate that taste and mouth-feel of the lemon filling (less so the crust) has been a goal of mine for quite a while.

This recipe makes lemon bars that come pretty close, although it’s up to you whether you want to take some sugar out or add some lemon for extra tartness.  In my last attempt, I used a combination of bottled organic lemon juice and fresh squeezed.  You must have a lemon squeezer to even attempt this. I recommend this one because years of fishing out bitter lemon pits has taught me it’s a best practice.

After looking through about two dozen recipes, many in really old cookbooks, I stopped at the Magnolia Bakery cookbook. Since I have daughter named Magnolia and she is my junior sous chef, it seemed appropriate to appropriate their recipe. I misread the recipe though and made the crust they envisioned for a jelly roll pan in my 9 x 13 pan.  So, too much crust (as the photo above reveals).  I want more lemon filling than crust, so I have conveniently halved their recipe here.  (For pop-tart like crusts, you can try the hand pie recipe)

Also, I found that I needed not only more lemon but some vanilla and salt to add depth of flavor to the bars; I want the filling to delight, not just amuse you.

Crust

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, soft
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • 1/4  tsp salt
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest

Lemon

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 6 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • ~6 teaspoons lemon zest

Directions

It’s simple: make the crust and cook it.  Make the filling while the crust is cooling and add it.  Then bake everything together.  Then try not to eat it while you’re waiting for it to cool.  You can’t do it.

  • Preheat the over to 350 degrees.
  • Line a 9×13 pan with parchment paper; spray with PAM.
  • Combine crust ingredients and when combined, press down with wax paper/cling wrap or a sprayed-with-pam spatula to form crust of consistent height.
  • Bake for about 13 minutes or until golden brown.
  • Remove from oven and begin working on filling.
  • Beat all “Lemon” ingredients together in the bowl of an electric mixer.  When fully incorporated, pour over baked crust.  (There is another lemon filling like pudding that involves stovetop hijinks but this isn’t it).
  • Bake new combined crust and lemon filling at 350 for 25-30 minutes or until filling is set.
  • Let cool in pan, and then if there’s any left, chill for 30 minutes.
  • Sift powdered sugar over remains before serving.
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Blueberry Muffins…et tu?

Blueberry muffins with a sugar top

Summer in Massachusetts means berries (it means other things but this is a baking blog). Because strawberries aren’t great for casual baking (except for Strawberry Rhubarb pie, which is how all of this got started) it’s all about Blueberries.  Blueberry Muffins are so common that I wouldn’t blame you if you weren’t excited about them.  Your standard blueberry muffin at a Starbucks, Panera, etc. is basically a mechanism for the delivery of sugar.   Even if the muffin (read: cake) is good, the blueberries themselves whether fresh or frozen, have all the taste profile of a winter tomato.   Which is to say they are nothing but blue in color, gel in texture and zip in flavor.   Some bakers avoid this by using frozen blueberries (picked at peak season) or wild Maine blueberries but it rarely makes an appreciable difference.   For this reason if I have to eat a muffin I usually go for the corn or coffee cake.

But it’s July and there are incredible blueberries around and blueberry pie isn’t my favorite and blueberry pancakes are great but labor-intensive and a caloric car-crash (especially when you add the bacon and maple syrup) so it’s blueberry muffins.  It’s a regional obligation.   But how to avoid the problems of blueberry muffins of the past?  Especially perhaps the New England legend of Jordan Marsh?  The answer was found in another recipe, by Sally’s Baking Addiction.  Starting with King Arthur’s Department Store recipe, I found ways to shore up its shortcomings with Sally’s.    Neither of them in my opinion, used enough sugar (it’s more than a cup, but I’ll leave that to you– probably 1 and 1/4 cups) and each suggested milk where I think buttermilk is better.  Of course I always use a tablespoon of vanilla where they call for a teaspoon and you can probably always go north on the salt.  Lastly, I felt that lemon zest is a great addition to anything that might be ‘cloyingly’ sweet and a little bit of nutmeg should nearly always accompany cinnamon.

Three last things:

  1. CRISPY TOPS ARE AWESOME. Sally’s Baking Addiction had the world-rocking suggestion to bake the muffins at a higher temperature for a short period of time— this has a ‘searing’ effect, like in cooking meat.  That plus the course sugar result in a crispy top– not the soft top that years of sprinkling a sugar-cinnamon topping have resulted in.
  2. TOSS YOUR BERRIES. I also made note that in an interview with Jordan Marsh’s muffin man WCVB anchor Maria Stephanos reported that you must toss the blueberries in flour so they don’t sink to the bottom.  Her piece here.
  3. DON’T OVERMIX. Don’t overmix ever but especially after you’ve combined wet and dry ingredients and then you go to fold in the blueberries.  Don’t overmix!

INGREDIENTS

 

  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8-1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1-1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 1/2-3 cups blueberries (washed, dried and tossed thoroughly in flour)
  • Sparkling sugar for topping  (sparkling sugar is coarse and different from other sugars you might use in cooking– it looks like kosher salt.  I have a rock-vanilla sugar and several colors that I picked up on sale but most commonly King Arthur and other fine baking supply companies have white coarse sugar that is excellent).

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Lightly grease a standard 12-cup muffin tin and line the tin with papers.
  2. Beat together the oil and sugar until well combined.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time.  
  4. Add the vanilla.
  5. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, salt.
  6. Combine wet and dry ingredients; fold in the blueberries. DON’T OVERMIX.
  7. Scoop the batter into the tins; knock the muffin pan to eliminate air pockets.
  8. Sprinkle sparkling sugar on top.  Use a lot, it’s worth it.
  9. Bake the muffins for 5 minutes at 425; then for 25 minutes at at 375, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of one of the center muffins comes out clean (of batter, it almost certainly will be blue).
  10. Remove the muffins from the oven, and let them cool for five minutes in the tin.
  11. Yield: 12 muffins.

Perfect Rice Krispy Treats!

Rice Krispy Treat ChocolateIn this blog, we always strive to make the routine extraordinary, and Rice Krispy treats are a case study.  No one would argue that they are not a decades-old fan-favorite,  a staple for the egg and gluten-free and probably the most popular ‘bring-your-own’ at PTAs and bake sales across the country.    There are a few issues that nearly always affect the enjoyment of these ubiquitous ‘baked’ treats.  Such as:

  1. Bad mouth feel: Made with stale cereal
  2. Too hard: Not enough marshmallow
  3. Boring: Zero flavor; or a tiring homogeny of flavor
  4. Greasy: too much butter
  5. Loose: too much marshmallow

I confess, in my years of making these I have encountered (i.e. caused) all of the above problems.   There are slight differences in recipes on the Rice Krispy box and the Stay-Puft marshmallow bags, not to mention the Internet.  Everyone has different “twists” and tweaks to make but I wanted something that was not just good but PERFECT.   I did briefly experiment with using Cocoa Krispies and Fruity Pebbles once for a tri-fecta of different kinds and different flavors, but I found that the artificial flavors of these cereals created a terrible aftertaste.

Also, there a number of different marshmallows on the market ranging from the Stay-Puft brand to Vegan-friendly types, and of course, if you have patience, lots of sugar, time and a candy thermometer, it’s not that hard to make them on your own. But I digress.

The Breakthrough: I found that mixing in chocolate (Specifically this) cereal, the treats had a varied, and better flavor profile.  Of course if you are a reader of this blog you know that I added vanilla and salt as well.  And of course, used more marshmallows.  Lastly, I have an aversion to making anything in an 8×8 pan, though I can’t explain why, but it leads me to only want to make things in a 9×13 pan.

Ingredients:

  1. 4.5 cups of Rice Krispies cereal
  2. 2 cups of Chocolate Koala Crisp cereal
  3. 60 StayPuft marshmallows (that’s 1 1/2 bags)
  4. 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter
  5. At least one tablespoon of McCormick natural vanilla extract
  6. A pinch, or up 1/8th tsp of salt to taste

 

Directions:

  • Spray a 9×13 pan with PAM or the equivalent.  Add parchment paper.
  • In a large bowl, completely combine Rice Krispies and Chocolate Krispies.
  • Melt the butter in a dutch oven.
  • Add 60 marshmallows; stir until completely melted.
  • Add salt; vanilla, turn off heat, or turn to low (depending on your stove)
  • Add krispy mix, one cup at a time.   (It’s helpful to have two people doing this).
  • When desired consistency has been achieved, turn out contents of dutch oven into 9 x 13 pan.
  • Spray a spatula with pam and level the mixture.
  • Cool
  • Turn onto a cutting surface and cut into small squares; this will allow people to eat more of them which is better than people eating one and longing for more.
  • Place extras in a ziploc bag.  Add to lunches or bring to office as necessary.

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Vanilla Maple Frosting

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes
Though Ireland is rich in heritage, I must say that my experience with both the nation and the holiday has been limited to savory experiences.   Needing to come up with something for an office pot luck, I turned to the world of baking to find something good to bring.   Apparently, putting Guinness Stout in cakes and bread is done quite widely, or at very least, lots of people write recipes about this combination.   Having read quite a few of them, I determined two things. One, I needed to buy some stout (and had no idea if that would be challenging on the eve of Saint Patrick’s Day, but then I remembered I live in Boston) and two that I was probably going to make cupcakes, not a cake.    I figured since beer-baking was new, I’d want to try it out before I shared it with a crowd.  You don’t really want to start slicing a cake just to see if tastes good.  In any case, they came out wonderfully and even my wife said they were as good or better than my signature best chocolate cake ever, which for me, was liking finding a pot of a gold at the end of rainbow. 

Ingredients/Cupcakes

Makes 24 Cupcakes.

  • 1 cup Samuel Smith Chocolate stout
  • 10 tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup dark unsweetened cocoa 
  • 1/2 cup regular unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 + 1/4 cups superfine sugar
  • ¾ cup sour cream
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1.5 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2+1/8 tsp of salt

Ingredients/Frosting

  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 2-3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 5 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon of salt, to taste
  • 1 tsp maple extract or a tablespoon of maple syrup

Directions

For the cupcakes: preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray cupcake pan and use liners.

  1. In a saucepan, combine stout and butter, melt and then cool.
  2. Whisk together sifted cocoa and superfine sugar and add to stout-butter combo.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine sour cream, eggs and vanilla; mix well.
  4. Add to stout mixture.
  5. Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt.
  6. Add to stout mixture.
  7. Whisk or just combine; use a #2 scoop to fill your cupcake trays.
  8. Whack your tray to reduce air pockets, place in oven for 22 minutes

For the frosting:Make sure ingredients are at room temperature

  1. Cream butter and cream cheese together.
  2. Add confectioner’s sugar.
  3. Add vanilla, maple syrup extract and heavy cream, add a pinch of salt.
  4. Mix until smooth.

Transfer frosting to piping bag (or equivalent) and frost cupcakes.

Oatmeal Cookies: Third Time’s a Charm

oatmeal cookie dough on a cookie sheetMany of my readers know about my white-whale like obsession with making an oatmeal cookie like those found at Petsi’s, a bakery in Somerville, MA.  I have detailed in previous cookie recipes I have written here and here.  In those recipes I discuss how I discovered the missing ingredient was butterscotch extract (heartbreakingly discontinued by Frontier Co-op). However good the cookies may have been, they were not EXACTLY right for some reason.  This is despite soaking cranberries, using bread flour, and so much more.  Baking has brought out my inner competitive spirit, so I cannot rest until I have cracked the code, and I think I have finally cracked the code.

How? Unlike the other recipes, I started again from the beginning, and by that I mean I did not use my own previous recipes as a base, but experimented with others— I started with the Cook’s Illustrated/Baking Illustrated recipe for “Chewy Oatmeal-Raisin Cookies.” Of course, I changed it a lot since I like cranberries instead of raisins and completely reject their assumption that cinnamon should be jettisoned in favor of nutmeg. And of course, I added Frontier Coop Butterscotch extract, which was the best butterscotch extract anyone makes anywhere.  Aside from that, I had to make the following three changes:

  1. Ground Oatmeal! One thing that was stopping me was the use of whole oats.  All of the recipes and recipe writers that I respect say to use whole oats because they are better for you and have a better texture.  Those things are true, but after sampling and resampling Petsi’s cookies (what I do for you, readers) I realized that the cookie texture did not seem like mine, ergo not whole oats.   So, I ground whole oats in the cuisinart (not till dust, but no longer whole).  Bingo! Added a great flavor and texture that didn’t feel like someone trying to make me eat oats but not telling me!
  2. More Fat! Their cookies are soft in the middle and crispy outside.  I figure they have some other liquid or fat besides butter.  Oil?  Cream cheese?  Lard? Coconut oil? Many of these things were appealing thoughts, but ultimately they all changed the texture or flavor too much.  Through research I came across a solution: Sour cream.  Doesn’t change the flavor, but added a textural note that was heavily desired.
  3. Vanilla Paste!  Oatmeal cookie recipes NEVER have vanilla in them, but I don’t know why.  Vanilla makes everything better and my love has deepened when I found Vanilla bean paste, which is great for when you don’t want to add a tablespoon of liquid to your recipe but a plasma like paste is perfect.

Then I was ready.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 16 tablespoons butter (softened)
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 cups quaker whole rolled oats, ground by pulsing them in a food processor
  • 1/4 tsp butterscotch extract
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla paste
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

 

Directions 

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Whisk your dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and set aside.
  3. Chop or grind walnuts, add them and cranberries to flour mixture.
  4. In a stand mixer, cream your butter and sour cream about three minutes.
  5. Add both sugars and mix until fluffy.
  6. Add the eggs, one a time.
  7. Add the vanilla paste and butterscotch extract.
  8. Add dry  ingredients to the wet ingredients until just combined.
  9. Use a 2-inch scoop to form your cookies.
  10. Bake for about 22 minutes, until the edges are just browned.
  11. Let cool for five minutes.

 

Oatmeal Cookie

 

Chocolate Macaroons

img_2061Of course, there were always coconut (plain) and chocolate macaroons for Passover when I was growing up and I always loved chocolate better until I discovered home-made coconut macaroons dipped in chocolate that were so much better.

Taking a page out of a recipe from the Barefoot Contessa, I added some chocolate to a half batch of regular macaroons I had made.  After they came out it just so happened that I had some Ghiradelli White Melting Chocolate and a bit of coconut oil which I melted and dipped them in.

I just barely got the picture taken before they all dissappeared.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 (14-oz.) bags sweetened flaked coconut
  • 1 (14-oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 tbsp. sour cream
  • 1 tbsp. heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 12 oz. bittersweet (and milk) chocolate, mixed and melted.
  • Tiny bit of salt, perhaps less than an 1/8th of a tsp
  • 2 Egg whites
  • 1/8th tsp cream of tartar
  • 2 tablespoons of non-sweetened cocoa powder, sifted

FOR MELTING

  • White chocolate (for melting)
  • Coconut oil (for making the chocolate easier to dip)

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients (except egg whites and cream of tartar) until thoroughly combined.
  3. Place two egg whites and cream of tartar in a stand mixer until you can see foamy peaks. Fold into other mixture.
  4. Press dough into a soup spoon or small ice cream scoop or ball in your palm and place on baking sheet.
  5. Bake for 20-30 minutes until lightly brown. If you want them crispy on top, it will be more like 30 minutes.
  6. Remove from oven; let cool.
  7. If possible, submerge (dip) the macaroon in melted chocolate and place on a tray lined with wax paper. (Don’t even start me on tempering the chocolate, that’s a whole other thing).
  8. Refrigerate for 20 minutes before serving.
Ginger cookie, triple ginger cookie, ginger three ways cookie

Ginger Cookies, Three Ways

img_1866

Delicious, crinkled ginger three ways cookies.

A good friend of mine had hipped me to my winning ginger snap/molasses spice cookie recipe and for me, that meant the end of tweaking.  Even though I am a chronic recipe tinkerer, when something gets high marks, is asked for repeatedly, I leave it alone.  Until another good friend suggested that there was a cookie of equal, if not greater merit by the Canyon Ranch called Triple Ginger Cookies.  I made it and though I must say it was a very, very, very good cookie, I was missing some of the flavors from the other cookie that I loved, namely cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.   So just for fun, I added them in to see whether or not it would make it better.  It did.  Know what else made it better? Full-fat cream cheese (the original recipe calls for low-fat cream cheese, which is gross).

Of course, playing with ingredients and fat means adjusting the baking time.  The original recipe calls for a 9 minute baking time, but I found using small balls (1 inch scoop as a go-by), I needed about 16 minutes to get these to the right texture.   Now that’s a subjective matter based on whether or not you like them pudding-soft or or teeth-breakingly crisp, or somewhere in between.
Ingredients
  • ⅓ cup unsalted butter
  • ⅔ cream cheese
  • 1½ cups brown sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • ⅓ cup black strap molasses
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ tsp himalayan sea salt
  • ¾ cup white whole-wheat flour
  • 1½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • ½ tsp ground cloves
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • 2 Tbsp peeled and minced fresh ginger root
  • ½ cup minced crystallized ginger
  • 1/2 cup sugar, for rolling.
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter, cream cheese and sugar on low speed with an electric mixer. Add egg yolk and molasses and mix on low until just combined.
  3. Combine dry ingredients, whisk thoroughly.
  4. Add to wet ingredients.
  5. Mix briefly by hand, and a brief mix with the stand mixer (I find this is necessary).
  6. If possible, wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or over night.
  7. Using your hands or smallest scoop, create balls.
  8. Dip and roll in sugar.
  9. Add to a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper.
  10. Bake for about 15 minutes.  Cookies should have a crinkled look and be relatively flat.
  11. Cool for five minutes and serve.

Maple Pecan Oatmeal Scones with Maple Vanilla Coffee Icing

Maple Pecan Oatmeal Scones

Maple Pecan Oatmeal Scones, just browned and drizzled (well, covered) with maple-vanilla-coffee-cinnamon icing

I did not drink coffee in college, and it was only in my mid-twenties that I started going to a coffee shop every morning on my way to work.   There happened to be an incredible and locally-owned coffee shop near me in Washington Square called Beans, which served incredible coffee and homemade (if you can call commercially rendered products that) baked goods including what turned out to be my go-to order, a maple oatmeal scone.   Beans closed, and though I ordered a few more scones in my life, I figured my maple oatmeal days were gone.   However, Starbucks began offering them, and in doing so, caused a propagation of hundreds of copycat recipes all over the Internet.   Looking through a bunch of them, I was surprised by how much STUFF they all had in them– I seem to remember scones being simple– made of flour, salt, baking powder, butter and maybe a bit of milk or water.

I didn’t like any of the recipes, so I was forced to improvise one from a few different sources.  Some recommended using quick oats instead of regular, and some suggested grinding the oats– I left ’em whole.

I noted some used maple syrup extract and some used maple syrup.   I had both, so I figured why not?  I like the addition of pecans, but not on top, I thought they needed to be crushed.  Also, where’s the vanilla?

All the recipes do say- don’t overmix,  and cut it into 8 pieces (pizza style).  I did that I did find that they were beautiful, but I also found them to be way too big– for one serving, anyway.

As for the icing, though I am committed to the low arts, I did allow myself to ‘kitchen-sink’ it a bit– I did throw in a bunch of stuff.  But it does taste really good.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup quaker oats
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 cup crushed pecans
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 Sticks) cold butter, cut
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp maple extract
  • 2 eggs

Icing

  • 5 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter (salted)
  • 2 tablespoons Dave’s all-natural coffee syrup
  • 2 teaspoons maple extract
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup whole mil (+ up to 1/4 cup of milk to make the icing “pourable”)
  • 1/6 tsp of cinnamon

 

Directions:

In a bowl, combine your dry ingredients– flour, oats, pecans, baking powder, sugar and salt.  Add the cubed butter and use a pastry blender to mix.   Everyone says stop when you have just a few pea-shaped pieces of butter left but I often large malt-ball size pieces left, so I say stop when it gets to a cohesive place where you can likely lift it as one piece.

Assemble your wet ingredients in a 2 cup measure– buttermilk first, maple syrup, then eggs, vanilla and maple extract.  Whisk to combine and add to the dry ingredients DO NOT OVERMIX.   Shape into a pizza and cut 8 slices.   If too large, cut on the diagonal and make more, or if you had the presence of mind, make two round discs and cut into pizza slices.

Heat oven to 400 degrees and bake for about 20 minutes on parchment paper or slipat.   Take out and let rest for 5 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.  When cooled,  create icing by combining ingredients and using milk to ensure the icing is not hard but pourable.

I wanted to create an artistic drizzle, but instead I just painted the thing like it was Benjamin Moore Eggshell white and I had a roller.   If you’re disciplined, you can pipe on your icing, but whatever you do, try to let them cool and set.   Try to save some for morning coffee.

 

 

Best Gingerbread Ginger Snaps / Spice Cookies

PA-based spice cookie

Ivan’s Famous Spice Cookies, my childhood in a cookie

Thanksgivings of my childhood were spent with my maternal grandparents and almost always it meant a trip to Pennsylvania and Ivin’s Famous Spiced Wafers.   My cousins and I loved these cookies so much that even with all the food and family it always what we talked about in January.  “Why can’t we get more spiced wafers?”  They were addictive, and seasonal.  So we’d have to wait 11 months until our next fix. (They’re now available at Amazon.com)  When I started to bake, I never thought about making a spiced cookie, because I didn’t really know what it was.  Turns out, it’s pretty much a Ginger Snap cookie, also sometimes called a Molasses Cookie, depending on which of the bevy of spices (cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg) or sugars (white sugar, brown sugar, molasses) is most prominent in your flavor.  I tried lots of recipes, some with real ginger, candied ginger, or even pepper in them.   Most of them were not very good.   Then my friend Carolyn (last name withheld to protect her secret) shared with me her “go to” ginger snap recipe and I was hooked.  Most of the recipes I post here are versions of other people’s recipes where I felt they could be improved, and so I improved them.  This is one of those rare recipes where there is nothing I can do to add to this recipe.  It is just about the most perfect recipe there is.  Of course, I’m a little heavy-handed with the butter, molasses and white sugar, but otherwise, it’s pretty much as written below.    The original recipe calls for a frosting, which I determined was not necessary and actually detracted from the cookies.

Whenever I make these, they always disappear, whether I cook them perfectly, or too long.   They are just that good.   I do make sure to do a few things, though.

  1. I always use Kate’s unsalted butter.  You may have a favorite, but that’s mine.
  2. Get your one egg to room temperature.
  3. Freshly grate your nutmeg, and don’t use powdered nutmeg.
  4. Make sure your spices are fresh.  If you don’t know if the company that made your spices is still in business, it makes sense to go shopping.
  5. Chill your dough before you roll it, and keep the cookies small.  They better “crack” that way, which gives them a distinct and pleasing look.

 

 

gingerbread cookies, molasses cookies, spiced cookies

Ginger bread cookies– chilled first, then rolled and baked, have distinct ‘cracked’ look.

  • 1 cup sugar (for cookies), plus more for rolling
  • 3/4 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons molasses
  • 2 cups flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. In a stand mixer, combine 1 cup granulated sugar with unsalted butter until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in egg and molasses.

2. In a separate bowl, sift flour, baking soda, and spices. Incorporate by whisking well.

3. Add to butter/molasses mixture and mix only until blended.

4. Chill dough if possible (leads to a better ‘cracked’ look in my opinion)

5. Fill a shallow bowl with granulated sugar. Break off pieces of dough and roll into balls; roll balls in sugar. Place on parchment paper on a cookie sheet and bake about 9-10 minutes for soft, ‘ginger bread’ cookies and 11-13 minutes for ‘ginger snap’ cookies.   Let cookies set on a cooling rack (which is nearly impossible).   The dough freezes pretty well, but they generally don’t ever see a freezer.

Final note— I have experimented with using brown sugar and it doesn’t do anything for the cookies, so don’t bother.   I find blackstrap molasses is the best kind, and it should flow pretty freely from the bottle.

World's Best Apple Cake topped with Confectioner's SUgar

World’s Best Apple Cake (The best dessert that’s not chocolate or ice cream)

  • World's Best Apple Cake topped with Confectioner's SUgar

    The World’s Best Apple Cake, baked, and topped with confectioner’s sugar

    World's Best Apple Cake with Streusel Filling and Topping

    Apple Cake before baking–bundt pan and streusel showing

Of all the things people ask me to make, and I oblige, the World’s Best Apple Cake is at the top of the list (second only to the World’s Best Chocolate Cake).   Many apple baked goods suffer from a lack of cohesion— apple pies (and their ilk) often feature hard or brittle crusts with soft sugary apples in them.   When the crust and pie filling aren’t married (but crash into each other) there is a discordancy that I find highly unsatisfying.    On the other hand, the term apple cake brings up the idea of some kind of bad grandmotherly offering– some kind of dry, crumbly thing that has as much apple flavor as a dry martini has vermouth.

On the other hand, this cake has it all– deliciousness, moistness, crunchy yummy streusel topping, and of course, rich and real apple flavor. It comes from the The Cookie Shop and the original recipe is here.  Many recipes called “the best” aren’t even close, but this one really takes the cake (:]).  Seems like that recipe was adapted from an original Martha Stewart recipe (who got it from someone else) which confirms that everything has been done, but still it’s a great recipe.

However, as always, I found it necessary to make a few tweaks.

  1. I use slightly less cinnamon and more vanilla, salt and sugar.
  2. I only use Honey Crisp apples (in a pinch I’ll use Pink Lady or Fuji, but I try to stay on Honey Crisp).
  3. I added a streusel layer that I added to the bottom, the middle and the top (see recipe below).
  4. I have consistently found that baking time maximum is 75 minutes (the original recipe says 75-90 minutes).

Ingredients

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (the original recipe calls for 1 tablespoon but I can’t fit the tablespoon measure in the bottle of cinnamon, so I just take the easy way out).
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/3 cups canola oil
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3-4 honey crisp apples (you can substitute your favorite apple, but HCs are the perfect balance of sweet-tart), chopped. [Editor’s note: probably three or four cups of chopped apples is the right amount]
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Recipe

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 12-cup Bundt pan with cooking spray; set aside (you’ll have to empty it out after a while if it pools on the bottom)
  2. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream vegetable oil, sugar, and eggs; mix on high speed until satiny and lemon-colored, about five minutes.
  4. Add dry ingredients until just incorporated.
  5. Chop the apples by cutting the apple’s sides off and then dicing finely; you should end up with three-five cups of diced apple. (I leave the pieces rather large, but the size is up to you and your knife skills.   The apples cook all the way through so don’t worry about crunch factor).
  6. Add apples to batter; mix to combine. Add vanilla, mixing until incorporated.
  7. Pour batter into prepared pan, and bake until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 75 to 90 minutes.
  8. Remove from oven, and cool slightly on a wire rack.
  9. Invert cake onto rack; turn cake right-side up to cool completely on rack
  10. When cool, sift powdered sugar on top.  (Cookie shop shows the cake with sugar on top but doesn’t list it as a step or an ingredient; I have been asked to top the cake with cream cheese frosting but so far have refused).
Streusel Topping*:
1/4-1/2 cup pecans
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1/8 cup butter
pinch of salt
1/4-1/2 tsp vanilla
1/8-1/4 tsp cinnamon
Combine pecans, flour, brown sugar, vanilla and unsalted butter and salt, to taste, in the Cuisinart or equivalent.
Grind to till combined, paste-like but not paste.
Lay in the bottom of the bundt pan; pour on batter about 1/3 full.  Add another “stripe” of streusel.”  Fill the bundt pan with the remaining batter, then top with the rest of the streusel topping.
*This is totally improvisational, and all amounts are approximate.  I usually don’t measure at this part, so you’ll have to find the amounts that work for you.  I find it hard to get it wrong.