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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Toffee Pecan Rookie Cookies

I first made these cookies for a cookout with friends, then for co-workers at my new job.

When I worked at the Akron Beacon Journal, a colleague told a new hire -- tongue-in-cheek -- that she had to bring cookies during her first two weeks on the job. She did, and the tradition of Rookie Cookies was born. Thereafter, all newbies were told to expect this duty. I don't remember any of them even questioning it. Later we came up with Deserter's Dessert (this came back to haunt me when I took a voluntary layoff nearly two years ago) and Boomerang Brownies for those who came back to the paper. I just realized we should have demanded something from those returning from maternity or paternity leave. A missed opportunity!

This recipe is from the wonderful cookbook The Good Cookie by Tish Boyle. They are as addictive as the author warns. As a matter of fact, hold on a second. . . . OK, I feel much better. Darn, crumbs on my keyboard.
Anything in parentheses is my comment or change.

Toffee Pecan Cookies

2 1/4 cups flour*
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup or 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups English toffee bits, such as Skor or Heath (I used Heath bits with chocolate)
1 3/4 cup pecans, toasted and chopped

Position a rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with foil (or parchment paper) and spray with nonstick cooking spray.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugars at medium-high speed until light, about 2 minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Beat in the vanilla. The dough will look a bit curdled, which is fine. At low speed, add the flour mixture a little at a time, mixing just till blended. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the toffee bits and pecans (I just dumped them in and turned the mixer on for a few whirls. Wood doesn't go in the dishwasher, after all).

Drop the dough by rounded tablespoons (a cookie dough scoop works fine, too) onto prepared baking sheets, spacing the cookies 2 inches apart. Bake, one sheet at a time, until cookies are starting to turn golden brown around the edges, 14 to 16 minutes (Important: In my oven, it took about 10 minutes, so check them early!). Do not overbake. Let cookies cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes, then carefully transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.

(* NOTE: The first time I made these, the cookies were sticking to the sprayed foil. After ruining a few that then had to be consumed immediately, I found I had to pry them off carefully and slowly with a metal spatula to keep them whole. I discovered one solution, if you don't have the time or patience to deal with the prying, is to add 1/2 cup flour to the batter at the start, and bake on sprayed parchment paper. The flavor is the same, but the cookies are a little puffier and the consistency is firmer and less lacy, therefore easier to remove. Either way, they are very tasty. I think I prefer the lacier version that's more work. Of course.)


Friday, September 19, 2008

Quick open-faced bagel lunch

I needed to make a fast lunch, so I grabbed bagels my sister rescued from our freezer (among many other items) during a three-day power outage earlier in the week and slapped some salami, cheddar and Gorgonzola on top and broiled them. Then I peeled back the topping and stuffed in some fresh spinach. Yum. They'd be even better with more meat and cheese, but we ate too much butter kuchen (a German yeast coffee cake topped with a sugary butter stuff that oozes over the side when you cut it. The package top warns, "Do not tip!") in Kentucky on our trip.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Buttery, crisp shortbread

I made these shortbread cookies this week when it was our turn to host our church group. The recipes are from a great little book, Shortbread, 30 sweet+savory recipes, by Jann Johnson. Both flavors were great, but I have a weakness for chocolate shortbread that just sort of melts in your mouth. So does my friend Brenda, who was loving enough not to curse me for making them. To ensure that melt-in-your-mouth experience, use real butter. It makes a difference in shortbread.

Mexican Chocolate Shortbread

10 tbsp. (1 stick plus 2 tbsp.) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
3 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. almond extract
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup finely chopped almonds (optional)
1 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Lightly butter or spray an 8-inch round pan, preferably one with a removable bottom, or use an ungreased or parchment-lined baking sheet.

In a medium bowl, with an electric mixer on low speed or with a wooden spoon, beat the butter till light in color, about 1 minute. Mix in the brown sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, salt and extracts, and continue beating till mixture is smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Gradually mix in the flour and almonds, if using, until just combined.

Press the dough evenly into the pan or pat into an 8-inch circle on baking sheet and flute or score the edges. Prick the dough attractively with a fork.

Bake in the center of the oven for 45 minutes (start checking at 30!) or till just set and firm to a light touch. Place pan on a wire rack and let cool completely. Transfer shortbread from pan to a cutting board and cut into 12 wedges (or smaller squares) with a sharp, thin knife.

Note: If you omit the nuts, use 1/4 cup additional flour.

Java-Honey Shortbread

1 tbsp. instant coffee granules
1 tsp. hot water
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
Pinch cinnamon
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup honey

In a medium bowl, dissolved the instant coffee in the hot water. In a medium bowl, with an electric mixer on low speed or a wooden spoon, add the butter and beat until light in color, about 1 minute. Mix in the brown sugar, salt,and cinnamon and beat until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Gradually mix in the flour until just combined.

Divide the dough in half and roll each portion into a 5-inc-long log. Cover with wax paper or plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Slice the dough 1/4-inch thick and place cookies 1 inch apart on ungreased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Press with a cookie stamp or pierce with fork.

Bake in center of oven for 12 to 15 minutes (Start checking at 8 minutes), or till firm to a light touch. Let cookies cool.

In a small saucepan, heat honey to boiling and cook JUST until honey begins to darken (if it gets too dark it will be bitter). Immediately remove from heat. Be careful; honey will be very hot. Let it cool a bit and brush warm honey over each cookie. It will dry to a shiny, slightly tacky finish. High humidity will cause stickiness. Don't stack the cookies.

Makes about 40.

Note: Cookie dough also can be rolled out to 1/4-inch thick, cut with hexagonal cutters, and stamped.