Maida Heatter’s English Gingersnaps

Hi there.  It seems I’ve been missing.  The holiday season flew right by me, Thanksgiving was a bust (well, not totally, but there wasn’t any turkey), and I’m not really sure how all of a sudden it’s Christmas next week.  How on earth did that happen?

pile o' cookies

I guess I’ve been preoccupied with client dinners and wedding planning.  And these scallops had clouded all thoughts of other food.  Wednesday, however, I made a batch of Maida Heatter’s English Gingersnaps, so I hope that counts for something.  I’m betting most of you have your cookie-making planned—or executed—by now, but if you’re like me and haven’t gotten that far yet, these are for you.

Spices

They’re gloriously easy, and delicious to boot.  The spices—lots of them—are sifted with flour and added to butter creamed with dark brown sugar and molasses, and then the dough is rolled into balls and tossed in sugar. That crackly sugar crunch is essential to holiday cookies; I couldn’t imagine a Christmas without it (the thought of one is probably what knocked me into the holiday mode at last). The combination of spices, too—of cinnamon and clove and ginger and allspice and black pepper—-is Christmas to a tee. Don’t let the black pepper scare you: all you’ll notice it some gentle heat that, with the right amount of salt, makes this the perfectly seasoned cookie.

dough

It looks like we’re in for a snowstorm this weekend, so I’ll be baking some more cookies. It’s the perfect time, actually, to fall into the holiday spirit. I’m just not sure which cookies to bake. Any suggestions? Preferably the kind that can be pulled off after a few glasses of eggnog, of course.

ginger cookies

English Gingersnaps

These cookies are from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Cookies, my all-time favorite cookie book, worthy of a spot on any cook’s bookshelf.  Besides having a wide range of recipes, each one I’ve tried has been delicious, with that perfectly seasoned quality I’m so smitten with.

This is a classic recipe for large, dark, semisoft gingersnaps.

2 ¼ cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
6 ounces (1½ sticks) butter
1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1 egg
¼ cup molasses
Granulated sugar (to roll the cookies in)

Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, allspice and black pepper and set aside.  In the large bowl of an electric mixer cream the butter.  Add the brown sugar and beat well.  Add the egg and the molasses and beat for a few minutes until the mixture is light in color.  On low speed gradually add the sifted dry ingredients, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula and beating only until incorporated.

Refrigerate the dough briefly (in the mixing bowl if you wish) until it can be handled; 10 to 15 minutes might be enough.

Adjust two racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat to 375 degrees F.

Spread some granulated sugar on a large piece of wax paper.  Use a rounded tablespoonful of dough for each cookie.  Roll it into a ball between your hands (rubbing your hands with a bit of canola oil helps keep the cookies from sticking ), then roll it around in the granulated sugar, and place the balls 2½ to 3 inches apart on cookie sheets.

Bake the cookies for about 13 minutes, reversing the cookie sheets top to bottom and front to back once during the baking to insure even browning.  The cookies are done when they feel semifirm to the touch. (I found that my cookies, in my electric oven, took about 11 minutes.)

With a wide metal spatula transfer the cookies to racks to cool.

Tava (Cypriot baked lamb and potatoes with cumin and tomatoes).

I had a birthday yesterday.  My 25th.  It went by quickly; I was in a haze all day from the black sea bass with syrah sauce that I had at Daniel the night before.  A swooning, satiated haze. Daniel has recently been redecorated; the white, Greco-Romanish dining room is enough to make you woozy and the 15th anniversary three course with wine pairing event (offered weekdays from 5:30 to 6:30) will without-doubt knock you off your feet.  If you can go, go.  And email me to tell me all about it, please. And order the black sea bass with leek royale and chived potatoes. And don’t worry if it makes you teary-eyed with happiness; I totally understand.  But this has nothing to do with lamb tava, which has nothing to do with my birthday since I made this a few weeks ago, but I just reached a quarter century, and I think that’s worth mentioning, no?

So on to the lamb tava.  The recipe is from Tessa Kiros’ Falling Cloudberries, a deliciously gorgeous book that was featured in Gourmet’s Cookbook Club a month or so ago.  Gourmet called it a memoir, though it’s nothing like the other food memoirs that I love.  There’s not much in the way of food writing; Kiros’ life is revealed through the recipes.  I’ve spent hours reading recipes from all the places that Kiros has lived, or visited, and been inspired by, beginning with Scandinavia and ending with a mélange of worldly dishes from her traveling.

The food is simple but polished—the kind of recipe that seems like it was passed down by generation upon generation of wise old grandmothers, tweaked but never messed with, resulting in the most perfect milk tart, dilled pickles, or lemon-vanilla jam.  They aren’t recipes that you need to follow to the tee, but you’d benefit it you did.

This tava (tava refers to both a kind of round griddle—not used by me here—and a kind of cooking) features lamb chuck (the recession-friendly lamb), whole cumin seeds, and oven-roasted tomatoes (as well as red onion, crispy potatoes, and butter).  It’s easy to put together, you just layer everything in a roasting pan, and once you cook for a few hours the result is a heady combination—very savory, buttery, and scented.  The cumin seeds offer up all their flavor, mixing into the potatoes.  The lamb is tender and falling apart and it also flavors everything else (this is why you shouldn’t substitute another meat for lamb, its mild goatey flavor is important.)

It’s probably the most interesting one-pot meal I’ve ever made; one to serve to guests, maybe with a dressed butter lettuce salad on the side, a glass of wine, and some good music.  We’ve had this a few times now and I’m never disappointed, even if the potatoes don’t crisp up as well as the last try, or if the lamb is not cooked perfectly; it’s one of those if you mess up it’s still good dishes, and who doesn’t need a few of those up her sleeve?

Tava (Cypriot Baked Lamb and Potatoes with Cumin and Tomatoes)

adapted from Falling Cloudberries

2 red onions, chopped roughly
2lb 12 oz new potatoes, quartered
2lb 4oz lamb, cut into chunks
4 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, chopped
3 teaspoons cumin seeds, lightly crushed
1/2 cup olive oil
4-5 ripe tomatoes, sliced
2-3 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 350F.  Put the onion, potatoes, and lamb in a large roasting pan or baking dish.  Season (generously) with salt and pepper, then add parsley, cumin and olive oil.  Using your hands, mix everything up well.  Place the sliced tomatoes on top of mixture, season lightly with salt and pepper, and then dot with butter.  Pour about a 1/2 cup of water around the edge of the pan.  Cover tightly with foil and bake for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, tilting every once in a while to distribute the juices.

Remove the foil and increase the oven temperature to 400F.  Cook for another 45 minutes or longer, until the tomatoes and potatoes are golden browned and the liquid has all but evaporated.  This is delicious served hot or at room temperature.

Almond Olive Oil Cake

Something happened last week that made me literally forget about everything, and move on up to live in a cloud for a few days.  Jim asked me to marry him and as much as I didn’t think I could get any higher over it, you all pushed me further up. Thank you for all the congratulations!  We had no idea that so many of you had been following out little love affair over the past years and were so elated over the response from our engagement post. Thank you!

I hope I can repay you for such goodness with this almond olive oil cake.  It’s not mine, as Gina DePalma created it, and Sassy Radish posted it (and urged me to try) a few weeks back.  And while I can’t actually give it to you, unless you live in the tri-state area and would like to come over for a cup of tea while I bake us one, it’s so easy to make you may be able to do it quickly enough to think it was somebody else working, and not you.  It’s worth the 10 or 15 minutes of prep that you’ll put into it, and then some.  It’s also worth finding some natural almond flour (or making your own) to use in it.

Natural almond flour is almost coarse grain, with specks of almond skins and a nutty, intensely almond aroma.  It brings a great deal to the cake, even unglazed.  Though when the cake is topped with nutty browned butter, the almond flavor is heightened right up onto the cloud with me.  After one bite (and before the many, many bites that followed) I had already deemed this cake my favorite cake, one that may even end up served to a few of my closest family and friends in a year or so, on some certain day.

If you make this cake, don’t skip the browned butter, or the toasted almonds on top.  Besides the natural almond flour, the topping is what turns this cake into a favorite cake.  It’s rich and intensely flavorful, toasty and warm.  The zests add a bright contrast to what can be too much nuttiness otherwise.  I baked mine in a 9 inch spring-form, but I’m sure you could do it in a bundt for an even prettier presentation.  Because for as easy as it is to make, it’s a celebration cake, a wow factor cake, and of course, a thank you for your kindness cake.

[Editor’s Note:  I’ve made this cake again since this post, and the glaze turned out much thinner and soaked into the cake more—something I prefer.  Not sure why the glaze turned out like this in the picture the first time I made it, maybe I let it cool too long or something, but don’t be worried if yours looks different.  And either way, it’s delicious.]

Almond Olive Oil Cake

by Gina DePalma on Serious Eats, via Sassy Radish

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup blanched or natural almond flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • Grated zest of 1 medium lemon or 1/4 a medium orange
  • 1/2 cup orange juice

For the Glaze:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 3 tablespoons whole milk
  • A few drops of fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup sliced, blanched almonds, toasted and cooled

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 9-inch round cake pan or springform pan and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, almond flour, baking powder and salt to thoroughly combine them and set aside.

Crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl and whisk them lightly to break up the yolks. Add the sugar to the bowl and whisk it in thoroughly in both directions for about 30 seconds. Add the olive oil and whisk until the mixture is a bit lighter in color and has thickened slightly, about 45 seconds. Whisk in the extracts and zest, followed by the orange juice.

Add the dry ingredients to the bowl and whisk until they are thoroughly combined; continue whisking until you have a smooth, emulsified batter, about 30 more seconds.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake the cake for 30 to 45 minutes, rotating the cake pan halfway through the cooking time to ensure even browning. The cake is done when it has begun to pull away from the sides of the pan, springs back lightly when touched, and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow the cake to cool for ten minutes in the pan, then gently remove it from the pan and allow it cool completely on a rack.

While the cake cools, make the glaze. Melt the butter over medium heat in a small, heavy saucepan. When the bubbles subside, lower the heat and watch the butter carefully, swirling it in the pan occasionally to distribute the heat. When the butter begins to turn a light tan color and smells slightly nutty, turn off the heat and let the butter sit. It will continue to darken as it sits.

While the butter cools, sift the confectioner’s sugar into a medium bowl. Whisk in the milk until completely smooth but thick, then slowly whisk in the butter. Taste the glaze and add a few drops of lemon juice to balance the sweetness. Stir in the toasted almonds. Spread the almonds and glaze onto the top and sides of the cake and let it sit until set and dry.

Chocolate in the morning.

I’m guessing that no one needs another post about Molly’s french chocolate granola—the recipe that spread like wildfire through the blogging world last spring.  I remember reading it and thinking—oh, my, god—and promptly bookmarking it.  Then, as these things do, I forgot all about it and continued to make do with store-bought granola.

But this weekend, with quitting my job and the consequential worrying about money, store-bought granola suddenly seems an extravagance, as well as (so I’ve learned) down-right silly.  Store-bought granola doesn’t hold a candle to homemade, especially when it’s made with high-quality chocolate.  This chocolate granola, adapted just slightly from Molly’s, makes the perfect breakfast; it’s hardly sweet, with an undercurrent of bittersweet chocolate that echoes caffeine.  It calls to me wake up while at the same time rubbing my back, soothingly, telling me to pamper myself, to eat chocolate in the morning.

So that’s my plan.  I’m going to eat chocolate, in the form of granola, every day while I am in this transition period—while I sort out a few things and decide what’s on my horizon.  But to be honest, I don’t think I’ll stop eating it… ever.

Molly’s Chocolate Granola

adapted from Orangette

  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • ½ cup raw almonds
  • ½ cup raisins
  • ½ cup, or more, finely chopped bittersweet chocolate
  • Pinch of salt
  • 6 Tbsp. mild honey
  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 300°F.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, almonds, raisins, chocolate, and salt. Stir well to blend.

In a small saucepan, warm the honey and oil over low heat, whisking occasionally  until the honey is loose. Pour over the dry ingredients, and stir to combine well.

Spread the mixture evenly on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden. Set a timer to go off halfway through the baking time, so that you can give the granola a good stir; this helps it to cook evenly. When it’s ready, remove the pan from the oven, stir well – this will keep it from cooling into a hard, solid sheet – and cool completely.

When cool, transfer the granola to a large bowl, storage jar, or zipper-lock plastic bag.

Double-Vanilla Pound Cake

I have two bonafide comfort foods: roast chicken and vanilla (not together, though I recently spied a recipe with both).  Either are liable to stop my tears when I’m crying, or calm me out of a panic.  Comforting in a different kind of way than chocolate or soup is—not sick day comforting, or got the blues comforting—but a in-serious-need-of-a-life-change-and-a-hug comforting.

As some of you know, I’ve been needing just that lately.  A big life change has hit me unannounced and I’m still settling into it.  It’s nothing serious, or life-threatening; it may actually be positive in the end.  But for now, I need comfort.  Comfort in the form of double-vanilla pound cake.

This pound cake, from my new favorite baking book, is intensely vanilla.  Not too sweet, the vanilla doesn’t become cloying—like so many packaged sweets and soft-drinks; no, it’s the flavor, the beany, earthy, fragrant sweetness of vanilla that defines this cake.  It’s scattered with black specks of the real thing and vanilla extract sits sweetly in the background.

I’m sad to say that I overcooked the cake by a few minutes (stressful days can do that to you) and it was a touch too tough.  The flavor was all there though, so I couldn’t keep my mouth shut about it here.  I’ll surely make it again.  Everytime I need a hug.

Double-Vanilla Pound Cake

makes one loaf

from Cindy Mushet’s The Art & Soul of Baking

  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 ½ sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups (7 ounces) sifted cake flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¹/3 (3 ounces) sour cream, at room temperature
  • Preheat the oven to 350ºF and position an oven rack in the center.  Lightly coat a loaf pan with butter, oil, or high-heat canola oil spray and fit it with parchment paper to extend up both long sides to the top of the pan.

    Place the sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Use a paring knife to split the vanilla bean lengthwise, then turn the knife over and use the dull edge to scrape the seeds into the sugar.  (Save the pod for another use.)  Blend on low speed until the seeds are evenly dispersed.  Add the butter and beat n medium-high until the mixture is very light—almost white000in color, 4 to 5 minutes.  Scrape down the bowl with the spatula.

    Beat the eggs with the vanilla in a small bowl.  With the mixer running on medium speed, add the eggs to the butter mixture aout 1 tablespoon at a time, allowing each addition to completely blend in before adding the next.  About halfway though turn off the mixer and scrape down the bowl, then continue adding the eggs.  Scrape down the bowl again.

    With a fine-mesh strainer, sift the cake flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl and whisk together.  With the mixer on the lowest speed, add the flour mixture and sour cream alternatively, beginning with one-third of the flour mixture and half the sour cream, repeat, then finish with the flour mixture.  Scrape down the bowl and finish blending the batter by hand.

    Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Baked for 45 to 55 minutes, until firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Transfer to a rack to cool completely.  When cool, remove from the pan, peel off the parchment paper, and serve.

    Printable Recipe

    Austrian raspberry shortbread.

    I’ve been posting cookies lately but can I (please) post one more?  You won’t mind?  I promise, after this one I’ll be posting savory eats for at least a week or two.  Plus, this is not just a cookie—it’s a bar cookie and it’s outstanding.  The most impressive cookie I had to offer this Christmas.  When someone asked what it was, my father chimed in: Who cares what it is! It’s delicious! And my father is the pickiest eater I know.

    It takes a little elbow grease—you need to grate the frozen dough—but it’s the perfect cookie to make for your family, or your boss, or anyone you want to please.  It harkens the good old days when mixes weren’t in any pantries and Betty Crocker wasn’t simply a name on a box.  Don’t forgo the grating and don’t press down on the grated dough when sprinkling it into the pan—it’s all part of the perfect crumbly, almost coffee-cake texture that makes this cookie shine.

    The recipe is from Smitten Kitchen, who got it here.  SK suggests adding some vanilla or lemon (or both) to the dough.  I planned to do just that, but forgot, and I consequentially was glad I did.  I thought the pleasingly simple shortbread dough highlighted the raspberry jam that’s spread between the layers; but of course you should choose for yourself.

    I know that Christmas has past but this cookie is too good to wait a whole year for.  Perhaps New Year’s brunch?  Or maybe you have some house guests to feed?  Even if it’s just you and your dog (or cat or fish), you simply must make this cookie.  It keeps well and freezes equally so.  There’s no excuse—It’s delicious!

    Austrian Raspberry Shortbread

    from Epicurious, a recipe by Gale Gand, Rick Tramonto, Julia Moskin via the Smitten Kitchen

    makes about 36 small squares

    • 1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
    • 4 egg yolks
    • 2 cups granulated sugar
    • 4 cups all-purpose flour
    • 2 teaspoons baking powder
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1 cup raspberry jam, at room temperature
    • 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

    Cream the butter in a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or using a hand mixer) until soft and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and mix well.

    Mix the granulated sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt together. Add to the butter and egg yolk mixture and mix just until incorporated and the dough starts to come together. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and form into two balls. Wrap each ball in plastic wrap and freeze at least 2 hours or overnight (or as long as a month, if you like).

    Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

    Remove one ball of dough from the freezer and coarsely grate it by hand or with the grating disk in a food processor into the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking pan or a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Make sure the surface is covered evenly with shreds of dough.

    With the back of a spoon or a flexible spatula, spread the jam over the surface, to within 1/2 inch of the edge all the way around. Remove the remaining dough from the freezer and coarsely grate it over the entire surface.

    Bake until lightly golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes. As soon as the shortbread comes out of the oven, dust with confectioners’ sugar. Cool on a wire rack, then cut in the pan with a serrated knife.

    Whole-wheat peanut butter cookies with raw sugar.

    The other day, I came across an old cookbook that Jim’s aunt Maria gave me.  Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Cookies, from 1977.  It’s covered in notes from Maria—her favorites, her leave ’ems—with charm that only an old, used cookbook can have.  And it turned out to be a Christmas miracle; every recipe I’ve tried is delicious and practically fool-proof—the perfect pick me-up just as I got cookie fatigue, bored of the regular olds and needing some inspiration.  Maida, who won a James Beard award for this cookbook, makes cookies exciting.

    The whole wheat peanut butter cookie with raw sugar immediately caught my eye—it’s made of whole-wheat pastry flour, and the only sweetener is raw sugar.  It’s probably a cookie conceived in the 60’s, a total hippie-cookie.  What’s even more exciting though, is that it is good. Real good.

    The cookies are crunchy, hardly sweet, and taste mildly of peanut butter.  The nutty whole-wheat pastry flour reiterates the peanut butter flavor, as well as emphasizes the raw sugar’s crunch with it’s grainy texture.  The texture, really, is the best part—at once buttery and crumbly, with crisp edges and a moist but not soft middle.  Cracker-like.

    It’s a very subtle, sophisticated cookie—an adult’s cookie just perfect sitting among the other Christmas chocolate, sugar, and gingerbread cookies.  It could also accompany a cheese plate.  Or—better yet—you could serve these late Christmas Eve, leaving a few with a tall glass of milk for that fat, jolly guy.  Just remember the carrots for his donkeys.

    Whole-Wheat Peanut Butter Cookies

    from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Cookies

    makes 48 cookies

    • 1 ¼ cups unsifted whole-wheat pastry flour
    • 1 tsp baking soda
    • generous ¼ teaspoon salt
    • ¼ pound (1 stick) butter
    • ½ cup smooth peanut butter
    • 1 cup raw sugar
    • 1 egg

    Sift together this flour, baking soda, and salt and set aside.  In the large bowl of a stand mixer cream the butter.  Add the peanut butter and beat until smooth.  Add the raw sugar and beat well, then add the egg and beat well again.  On low speed gradually add the sifted dry ingredients, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula and beating only until smooth.

    Tear off a piece of wax paper about 16 inches long.  Spoon the dough lenthwise down the center of the paper in a heavy strip about 10 to 11 inches long.  Fold the long sides of the paper over the dough and, with your hands, shape the dough into a long, round or oblong roll, 12 inches long.  Wrap the dough in the wax paper.

    Slide a cookie sheet under the dough and transfer it to the freezer or refridgerator until firm (or as much longer as you wish).

    Unwrap the dough and replace it on the wax paper.  With a sharp knife cut the dough into slices ¼ inch think and place them 1 inche apart on unbuttered cookie sheets.

    Bake for 15 minutes or a little longer, until the cookies are lightly colored and semifirm to the touch.  Reverse the sheets top to bottom and front to back to insure even browning.

    With a wide metal spatula transfer the cookies to the rack to cool.

    They are spicy. And they are good.

    These are the spiciest, most molassesy-est cookies I have ever eaten.  And they are good. Perfect, even, for a cold holiday evening with a glass of peaty scotch—a cookie not quite suited for a tall glass of milk, but superb with spirits, eggnog, or hot mulled cider.  I made them to kick-start my first-ever year of cookie-baking for Christmas.  I thought they would be sufficiently holly, jolly, and nice—and would keep me in good spirits throughout a week of cookie madness that I’m sure will bring on many expletives, cookie-cursing, and a bag of coal in my stocking.

    Because not only did I agree to cook the brunt of Christmas dinner at my sister’s this holiday, but I’ve decided to bring dozens and dozens (and dozens) of cookies with me.  So far, so good, though I’ve only made two kinds.  I do have all the recipe-finding and shopping done for the others, and I find that part to be the hardest.  Or at least I’ll say so now, while I’m sipping my morning coffee and gazing out the window towards the river.  Later, when I’m covered in flour and there’s dirty dishes everywhere, I may have a different opinion.

    But I seriously doubt that I’ll ever regret signing on to the dinner (which I’m super excited about, since I hardly ever get to cook for my family) or the cookies.  I mean, when all is said and done (even if there is a mound of dishes in the sink), when you finally get to plop down on the couch, lift your cocoa-powder splotched feet, and award yourself a sample (or 3) of each and every delectable that you’ve just created, how can anyone regret the process?  And I for one am extra lucky, because I have a very weak-willed boyfriend who will do anything, even the dishes, to share in my sampling.

    These cookies in particular are good graft for the weak-willed.  Their heady aroma, of ginger and clove and allspice and molasses, fills the air, even before they enter the oven, as you whip them into a batter.  I based the recipe off on one from Cook’s Illustrated, using 2 sticks of butter instead of 1 ½ because I had mistaken the directions.  I have to laugh at myself now, as I ran to Jim terror-stricken, telling him that I had mucked up everything.  He looked at me like I was crazy—I had put too much butter? And I was upset?  The extra butter of course didn’t muck up a thing, and I like to think it enhanced the consistency, but go by the original recipe if you are like, health-conscious or something.  For the molasses, because I am a sucker for the potency of blackstrap, I used a mixture of it with natural molasses to up the spiciness factor, the result being intense and delicious. They are spicy.  And they are good.

    Dark Spice Cookies

    (slightly) adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, January 2002

    makes about 22 cookies

    • 1/3 cup granulated sugar, plus 1/2 cup for dipping
    • 2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
    • 1/4 teaspoon table salt
    • 16 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened but still cool
    • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar (about 2 1/2 ounces)
    • 1 large egg yolk
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1/4 cup natural molasses
    • 1/4 cup blackstrap molasses

    Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Place 1/2 cup sugar for dipping in 8- or 9-inch cake pan.

    Whisk flour, baking soda, spices, and salt in medium bowl until thoroughly combined; set aside.

    In standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter with brown and granulated sugars at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-low and add yolk and vanilla; increase speed to medium and beat until incorporated, about 20 seconds. Reduce speed to medium-low and add molasseses; beat until fully incorporated, about 20 seconds, scraping bottom and sides of bowl once with rubber spatula. Reduce speed to lowest setting; add flour mixture and beat until just incorporated, about 30 seconds, scraping bowl down once. Give dough final stir with rubber spatula to ensure that no pockets of flour remain at bottom. Dough will be soft.

    Using tablespoon measure, scoop heaping tablespoon of dough and roll between palms into 11/2-inch ball; drop ball into cake pan with sugar and repeat to form about 4 balls. Toss balls in sugar to coat and set on prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Repeat with remaining dough. Bake 1 sheet at a time until cookies are browned, still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft (cookies will look raw between cracks and seem underdone), about 11 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Do not overbake.

    Cool cookies on baking sheet 5 minutes, then use wide metal spatula to transfer cookies to wire rack; cool cookies to room temperature.

    Voilà… a pumpkin bread with prunes steeped in orange tea.

    This pumpkin bread is dotted with prunes that were steeped in Mighty Leaf Orange Dulce tea—and before you run away thinking The nerve! This chick wants me to go out and buy Mighty Leaf Orange Dulce tea for a stinkin’ pumpkin bread recipe give me a chance to explain my case.

    This pumpkin bread is worth every penny you spend on the tea (and if you buy it loose-leaf by the pound, it actually isn’t expensive.)  It’s warm but bright and citrusy.  There’s cinnamon, allspice, orange zest, and pumpkin.  It’s orange and purple, which is totally cool.  It’s different from any other pumpkin bread.  And better, in my opinion.

    I made it this weekend, but it’s been brewing in my brain for a while.  I wanted to bake a pumpkin bread but didn’t want the same ol’ thing… and it was early morning on a gloomy Saturday and I sure as hell wasn’t going to get dressed and go shopping.  Prunes were in the pantry.  But prunes?  Kinda boring, no?  So after brainstorming on what I could do with them—didn’t have Armagnac, no brandy—I gave up and decided to have a cup of tea.  And voilà… a pumpkin bread with prunes steeped in orange tea was born.

    Now, you don’t really need to buy Mighty Leaf Orange Dulce tea for this recipe but I can’t take responsibility if it doesn’t taste as mind-blowingly delicious with Lipton.  The Orange Dulce has notes of vanilla, and jasmine—so if you can, buy a tea with that profile.  The tea, which the prunes are steeped in, flavors the whole bread much more than I thought it might.  The bread is almost deceiving in all it’s flavors—one thinks ones getting a plain ol’ pumpkin bread but is surprised at the floral quality, the bright orange.  I gave a piece to Jim—not telling him what was in it—and he spent a long time guessing at “that wonderful background flavor” before I told him about the tea and orange zest.

    So.  Since we’re a few weeks into the season and you may have baked your fill of pumpkin breads by now—but you still can’t stop the pumpkin season feeling—try this bread.  It’s easy to make but it tastes far from easy. The recipe also yields two loaves.  Put one in the freezer for when you get stuck with relatives during the holidays.  Or you can just nosh on the two loafs for the next two weeks—this bread has a long shelf life since it is super-moist from the pumpkin puree.  Jim (my ex-meth-addict author of a boyfriend) got off 5 years probation on Friday and I plan to serve this bread as a warm comforting Sunday breakfast to the guests who’ve stayed over at our big Jim-Got-Off-Probation-And-We’re-Spit-Roasting-a-Lamb! Party. Should be a blast—Jim and I were planning to go on a heist or commit some crime like that—but his parent’s convinced us to stay home and roast a lamb.  It’s not illegal, but I guess we’ve gone 5 years abstaining from crime—why not another weekend?  (Totally kidding about all of that, Mom.)

    Hope you are enjoying your weekend and not getting put on probation!

    Pumpkin and Prune Tea Bread

    makes 2 loaves

    • 3 cups flour
    • 1 tsp baking soda
    • 1 scant tsp ground clove
    • 1 generous tsp ground cinnamon
    • 1 tsp ground nutmeg (freshly ground if you can)
    • 1/2 tsp salt
    • 2 1/2 cups sugar
    • 1 cup vegetable oil
    • 3 eggs
    • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
    • zest of 1/2 orange
    • 16 ounces (1 can) pumpkin puree
    • 12 prunes steeped in Mighty Leaf Orange Dulce tea (or any other orange-black tea)

    Preheat oven to 350ºF.  Grease and flour two loaf pans.

    Sift flour, baking soda, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.

    Combine sugar and oil and beat with a handmixer or in a stand mixer for about 2 minutes, until well combined and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating all the while, 3 to 5 minutes in total.  Add pumpkin, and orange zest and beat one minute more.

    Add flour mixture in 3 additions.  Once mixed, divide batter between the two loaf pans.

    Drain prunes.  Without drying, add the prunes to the top of the breads.  Make sure to bruise them up a little (without pulling them to pieces) so the juice runs out and into the batter.

    Bake for 60-70 minutes, checking that a toothpick comes out clean when done.

    My favorite cookie.

    This cookie makes me want to have babies.  Well, to be more precise, have kids. A few five-to ten-year-olds who come from my stock of good tastebuds and greedy appetite.  I don’t think about the future of my having children often, or imagine how I’d be with them, but when I cook this cookie, all I think about is doing it with my future offspring, and then sitting around the kitchen table and stuffing our faces.  Chocolate smeared all over our smiles and big mugs of milk.

    This is my favorite cookie.  By far.  And if you like your cookies super-chocolatey and baked thin with crisp edges and chewy centers, then this might be your favorite too.  Because of all the white chocolate, there’s an oreo-quality about the cookie (my imaga-kids love that!) and a wave of creaminess within that rich dark chocolate.  The recipe calls for 12 ounces of the chocolate chips but I must admit that I usually make that a generous 12 ounces.  Like any kid (or any sane person) will tell you, the chips are the best part.

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made these cookies; I lost count a long, long time ago.  But I will say that they are my favorite dessert, my ultimate sweet comfort food.  Just looking at the photos from the batch I made a few months ago makes me feel better.  I made a big batch and froze most of them (they are great for freezing) and over the past weeks Jim and I have slowly and steadily gone through them all.  There’s none left.  I’m telling you this because I’ve been laid up on the couch with a bad back for almost two weeks now and I’m hoping Jim will read this post and bake these cookies because I can’t myself but I would really, really like to eat them. And for that matter, they’d do just fine sent through the mail.  Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. (I’m totally kidding.)

    But in all seriousness, make these cookies.  Feed them to your children if you have them.  And if you don’t have children, these cookies just may put you in the mood to make some babies.

    My Favorite Cookie

    makes about 24//adapted by Dorie Greenspan

    • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
    • 3/4 cup dark cocoa powder
    • 1 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 3/4 tsp baking soda
    • 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
    • 1 cup sugar
    • 2/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar
    • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
    • 2 large eggs
    • 6 ounces milk chocolate chips
    • 6 ounces white chocolate chips

    Preheat the oven to 375 F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda.

    Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with the paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter at medium speed for about 2 minute, until smooth. Add the sugars and beat for another 3 minutes or so, until well-blended and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each egg goes in. **I’m always careful here to make sure the mixture is very fluffy. If unsure, beat a little more. The fluffier the better in my opinion.

    Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients in 3 portions, mixing only until each addition is incorporated. Stop the mixer and fold the chocolate chips in with a rubber spatula.

    Spoon the dough by slightly rounded tablespoonfuls (or with a small ice cream scoop) onto the baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches between spoonfuls.

    Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes, or until they are crisp at the edges and gooey in the center. Pull the sheet from the oven and allow the cookies to rest for 1 minute, then carefully, using a wide metal spatula, transfer them to racks to cool to room temperature.

    Repeat with the remainder of the dough, cooling the baking sheets between batches.