Archives for category: cookies

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Last month marked the three-year anniversary of the passing of my grandpa (Pepaw).  My sister and our families had dinner together to remember him and reflect on the wonderful life he led.  A few days later in an email thanking us for continuing to share the memory of my grandfather, my grandma said “…it is so important for children to feel the support of past generations”.  This struck me as a simple yet poignant idea.

I love the idea that the decisions, mistakes, lessons-learned, love affairs, careers, and laughs of the past lay the foundation of a family and offer new generations guidance, tradition, and comfort.

Food is a wonderful way to see, feel, and taste your family history.  After reading my grandmother’s email and anticipating the holiday season, I recently had the urge to investigate a recipe that has been a part of my family’s Christmas tradition for many generations.

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For as long as I can remember my great-great cousin Zelia (my grandmother’s first cousin) would give us a bag of Lebkuchen every Christmas while my family and I were visiting my grandparents in Missouri.  I’m sorry to say, that growing up, I was never a fan of these traditional German Christmas cookies and their distinctive smell was always an unwelcome (and lingering) passenger in the car on our drive back to Texas when my dad would enjoy them for a snack.  My idea of a cookie at the time only involved the words chocolate and chip and Lebkuchen (or Leb or Lep cookies), full of musky molasses, bitter black walnuts, and raisins did not fit into my close-minded view of a good cookie.

In fact, I had never seen or heard of another Leb cookie, which made me even more suspicious of them, until I was shopping at the Dutch Bakery in Tipton, Missouri.  Interestingly, Tipton is the town where my Swiss family eventually settled and built a farm after immigrating to the States by way of Wisconsin.  So, I decided to give them another try and they weren’t nearly as bad as I remember them being…in fact…they were quite good.  As an adult, I have found the flavor of molasses to be quite a treat and raisins are no longer so terrifying.

In this December’s Food and Wine magazine, I was surprised to find a recipe for Lebkuchen and began to research other recipes as well.  I was even more surprised when the majority of my internet searches led me to other mid-Missourians talking about their family’s Leb cookies.   Every version seems to be different in terms of ingredients and proportions, but similar in it’s sentiment to family tradition.

It only seemed appropriate to give my family’s recipe a try.  Having never actually made my family’s Leb cookies or even seen the recipe, I went right to the source, my cousin Zelia, to get the recipe and more background on these special cookies.  I learned that our original Lebkuchen recipe was brought to America from the Swiss Alps by my great-great grandmother Anna Schneider and was passed from her to my great-great Aunts (Anna and Ida) and Zelia’s mother.  They get better with age, wooden spoons don’t stand a chance against the hefty dough, and the recipe makes A LOT of cookies…even a half recipe.

Below is an excerpt of Zelia’s wonderfully written email to me that explains  the Leb cookie and their place in our family better than I could in my own words.

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“I am delighted to tell you what I know about Leb Cookies.  I’m sure that Grandmother Anna Schneider Zulauf brought the basic recipe with her, but the move to Missouri from Wisconsin brought about the changes of the cookie into the one we all know.  The cookies have been with me all my life (81 plus years).  I first knew them at the farm southwest of Tipton, where Grandpa Zulauf brought his family, and where my father and mother went to live for a time during the depression in 1933-35.  The usual baking time was in November, and the cookies lasted into the Spring.  I don’t know how they managed to keep them that long, for when I make them they disappear by the first of January.  I don’t think they ever made the whole recipe, but it might have been possible.  Present day users make half the original recipe which begins with 1/2 gallon of molasses, 1 1/2 pounds of butter, and so on.  The half recipe makes about 15 dozen 3-inch cookies.  
    Adjustments which Grandmother made for items found in Missouri for those not available are:  molasses instead of honey, black walnuts instead of hazelnuts, cinnamon, all spice, and cloves instead of anise.  If you research the lebkuchen found in Europe, you’ll find those are the ingredients used more frequently.  For our family we search for sorghum molasses and the black walnuts early in the season, because they are not as common as they used to be even in Missouri.  
    The cookies bring many warm memories of occasions when they are being baked.  An early one was the race to be first to get the cookies baked each holiday season, with either my mother or Aunt Anna or Ida telephoning to report the accomplishment when they had baked the cookies for the year.  Also going to Aunt Anna and Ida’s and snooping in the pantry to see if there were any cookies still in the stone jar where they were stored.  They do get better with age, and were a real treat at Eastertime.  After Mother and Dad were empty nesters they froze the cookies, and when we would visit we often left with a container of the cookies. 
[…]Mixing the cookies is quite a job–Howard has broken a few wooden spoons in the process of  adding flour “till the nuts pop out.”  I know Aunt Anna had Uncle Bill help her during her later years.  There are other stories about the cookies–the year the soda was left in the cup after the cookies were set aside, the year Howard and I tried using blackstrap molasses (much to our daughters’ distress), and your grandfather John’s repeated critique ‘not enough nuts.’  Let’s just say, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Leb Cookies made by ‘THE RECIPE.'”

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I am so grateful to Zelia for sharing this piece of our family history with me and I am thankful for the generations past for passing along recipes, stories, and the support I will always feel when I eat this cookies.

Missouri Leb Cookies

Recipe courtesy of Zelia Bell (adapted and scaled down from the original recipe from Anna Schneider, Anna Zulauf, and Ida Zulauf)

Makes about 15 dozen cookies

Note:  My cousin Zelia recommends using sorghum molasses and black walnuts if you can find them.  I used regular walnuts which produces a milder cookie – both ways are good!  The recipe says to “add flour until the nuts pop out”.  This means mix until a stiff dough forms and the nuts come to the surface and almost begin to become loose from the dough.  My cousin says she usually omits the salt, but I am a great believer in adding salt while baking, so I kept it in my recipe.

Leb cookies are not a crumbly cookie like a traditional chocolate chip cookie – they are almost a cross between a cookie, biscuit, and cake.  They stay soft even as they age.

1 quart molasses

1 pint brown sugar

1 sticks (3/4 cup) butter flavored shortening

1/3 cup water

1/2 lb raisins

1/2 lb dried currants

1 quart (2 lbs) walnuts (preferably black)

1 tablespoon each – cinnamon, cloves, and allspice

4 teaspoons salt

3 cups buttermilk

1/4 cup baking soda

Flour to make stiff dough (about 5 lbs)

Cream butter, brown sugar and molasses in a large bowl.  Mix nuts, raisins, and currants with one cup of flour in a medium bowl and set aside.  Mix baking soda with buttermilk.  Add spices to 1 sifter flour [I took this to mean 1 cup of flour] and add along with buttermilk-soda mixture to creamed molasses mixture.   Add nuts and fruit.  Add flour “until nuts pop out”.  Set dough in a cool place.

Roll on floured board until 1/4-inch thick and cut with a 2 1/4-inch biscuit cutter.  Bake in 325-350 degrees oven for about 15 minutes.

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Last year, someone decided that French macarons were the new “cool kids” in pastry.  I was definitely not this person.  In fact, if given the choice between one of these airy, chewy, colorful, gems, and a chocolate chip cookie, the chocolate cookie would always win.

Yet, I have a soft spot for these flashy, expensive, sandwich cookies.  Maybe it’s because they are so eye-catching, or because customers at the bakery always get a big smile on their face when they see them, or maybe it’s because, last year, I had to spend countless hours teaching myself to make them to perfection in the midst of the hottest, most humid, Houston summers ever (to keep up with said trend).

Mostly, I secretly admire macarons because they play hard to get.  Humidity must be low, the egg whites should be aged just long enough, the almonds must be ground to the precise consistency, you mustn’t over-beat the meringue or over-mix the batter, your piping must be exact and consistent, they need their beauty rest, and finally (whew!) your oven has to stay at temperature.  And even if you can get all those things right, for the ten minutes the suckers are in the oven, you anxiously hold your breath hoping that when you open the door you find a batch of cookies equal in size with smooth, shiny, domed tops and delicate airy feet (or pied) circling their base.

I’m no scientist, and despite having taken 5 semesters of chemistry in college, I am still relatively clueless when it comes to why certain reactions happen and the science that makes baking possible (although Alton Brown and this amazing book do help out a lot).  For me, baking is about feeling and gut instinct.  This worried me when beginning my quest for macaron perfection and was the reason I had never bothered making them before.  Over and over I had heard how precise everything had to be (see above) and while that is true, I found that being patient, failing a few times, and becoming familiar with how recipes look and feel (yes…get your hands dirty!) is a science in itself.

So, bear with me on this recipe.  I created it based on flavor, appearance, and feel.  I want you to have fun and enjoy the process (don’t get frustrated if it takes you more than one try, I have ruined an entire speed rack full of these buggers, just brush it off and try again).

Macarons are also exciting because there are endless flavor possibilities.  I have made everything from açaí to pumpkin spice to hatch chili (be creative!).  I thought grapefruit would be great this time of year, when citrus is so bountiful.  I flavored the cookie with grapefruit zest and made a quick buttercream with even more zest and freshly squeezed grapefruit juice.  The result, a refreshing, zesty, floral cookie!  Enjoy.

Grapefruit French Macarons

Makes about 30 sandwich cookies

Cookie recipe loosely based on my work at Central Market, but with many adaptations.

Note:  At the bakery, we use almond meal as it makes our lives a lot easier, however when making smaller batches at home, I prefer to grind my own blanched almonds.  This results in a slightly coarser meal which I feel results in more consistently beautiful cookies.  You can buy either at most grocery stores.

As for the egg whites, fresher is not better.  I would recommend using egg whites that have been in your fridge for 3-4 days (I have heard that French bakeries us 7 day old whites that have been at room temp the whole time…not so sure about that), for some reason the older they are the better the cookie.  Bring them to room temperature for a few hours before you make the cookies.

If you want to be super precise with your meringue you can use a food thermometer.  When the egg white/sugar mixture has reached about 250°F, it is ready to whip.  I, however, use my finger.  If the mixture has reached the point where it is too hot to touch for more than a second, its ready (works every time…for me).

Lastly, you will need some special equipment.  A kitchen scale, a stand mixer with whisk attachment, an 18″ pastry bag, #806 round pastry tip, and parchment paper.

Whew!!! Now have fun!

For the cookie:

8 oz granulated sugar

6 oz (liquid) egg whites at room temperature, separated (see note)

8 oz finely ground blanched almonds or almond meal

8 oz confectioner’s sugar (sifted if clumpy)

1 heaping tablespoon grapefruit zest, from 2 large grapefruit

2 very small drops red food coloring (optional)

2 very small drops yellow food coloring (optional)

1-2 tablespoons finely ground, unsalted pistachios for decorating (optional)

For the grapefruit buttercream:

3 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature

1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar

2 teaspoons grapefruit zest

5 tablespoons freshly squeezed grapefruit juice

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Make the macaron cookies:

It’s best if you have everything measured and ready to go before starting and have 3 half-sheet baking sheets covered in parchment.  Bring about an inch of water to a boil in a medium sized saucepan.  Combine granulated sugar and 3 oz of egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and place over boiling water.  Whisking constantly, cook egg whites until hot (see note above), sugar is completely dissolved, and mixture is frothy.  Remove from heat and place on stand mixer with whisk attachment.  Whisk for approximately 5 minutes, on high speed, until mixture has cooled and medium-soft peaks have formed (you want them to be more firm that soft peaks, but not extremely stiff as this will result in a cracked/dry cookie).

While meringue is mixing, combine granulated sugar, ground almonds, and grapefruit zest in a large mixing bowl.  Mix with your hands until well combined and any clumps of zest have been evenly distributed.  Add remaining 3 oz egg whites and food coloring (if using) and mix with hands or a spatula until well combined.  Once meringue is finished, add in three additions to almond mixture until combined, but not mixed too much as you do not want to deflate meringue completely.  It typically takes me 2-3 minutes to mix properly.  Mixture should be sticky and loose, but not extremely liquid.

Fill pastry bag with some of the macaron batter.  Piping completely vertically (i.e. bottom of pastry tip should be perpendicular to pan), pipe batter into 1/2-inch rounds (once they spread they will be close to an inch in diameter) leaving about an inch between each cookie (I was able to fit about 20 cookies on each tray).  The cookies should spread and be perfectly smooth on top, if you are left will a little peak, dip your finger in some water and gently tap down peaks.  Sprinkle each cookie with a small pinch of ground pistachio, if using.  Allow cookies to rest for about 45 minutes, until they feel tacky and a little dry when touched and they have a slightly matted appearance.  While cookies are resting, heat oven to 350°F and place an oven rack in the center of the oven.

Working with one tray at a time, bake cookies for 10 minutes.  Don’t be tempted to open the oven to take a peak, this will drop the temperature and could deflate the cookie.  Repeat with the remaining cookie sheets.  Allow baked macrons to cool for one hour.

Meanwhile make the buttercream (and wash pastry bag,tip, and mixer bowl as you will need them again):

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter on medium high speed for about 1 minute.  Stop mixer and add confectioner’s sugar.  Mix on high speed until mixture is light and fluffy and sugar has dissolved completely.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add grapefruit zest, grapefruit juice, and vanilla extract.  Beat for another minute.  Taste buttercream, if you would like more grapefruit flavor add more zest and/or juice to your taste.

Assemble cookies:

Flip half of the macarons onto their backs and pipe a small dot of buttercream on the center of the cookie (about 1/2-1 tablespoon).  Find a good match (in terms of size) for each cookie and gently sandwich the two cookies together with buttercream in the center.  Repeat with all the macarons (you should end up with about 30 total).  Macarons will keep for about 3 days at room temperature.

I don’t know how I let this happen, but after being preoccupied for years with baking all sorts of delectable treats, I just made my first batch of oatmeal raisin cookies two weeks ago.

I have made hundreds of batches of chocolate chip cookies, but despite having what I now know is probably the best recipe ever staring me in the face most mornings while whipping up some oatmeal, I never gave oatmeal raisin cookies a chance to win me over.

I was about to make my go-to chocolate chip recipe, when I suddenly had the urge to dump a bunch of oatmeal into the batter.  Instead, I grabbed my canister of trusty Quaker Oats and gave their classic Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookie recipe a try.  Oh…my…gosh!  What have I been missing?!?!  Chewy oats, sweet raisins, and cinnamon meld to create a flavorful cookie that is both soft and crunchy.

To be honest, while cookies are one of my favorite desserts, I primarily make them to eat the dough.  Bad?  You know you do it too.  Then I eat one cookie and ship the rest off with my husband to take to work.  This pattern continued with the oatmeal cookies, but I ate more dough, ate two cookies, and was rather sad to see them go.

So, I made them again…and once more they disappeared, leaving me itching to bake them yet again.

To keep the Vanishing Oatmeal Cookies from vanishing too quickly, I made my own personal batch of healthy banana oatmeal raisin bars that entice me, but keep a certain significant other focused on their own batch of cookies.  No, these aren’t exactly like the Quaker recipe, but they boast the same oat-y cinnamon-y goodness with the added benefits of whole wheat flour, natural sweeteners, and are low fat and vegan.

I see many oatmeal cookies in my future and it never hurts if they are healthy too.

Chewy Banana Oat Bars

Makes about 24 bars or cookies

Adapted From Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero

Note:  You can either make these as bars like I did (in a 9×13 baking pan) or as large cookies by dropping 1/4 cup portions of batter onto cookie sheets (bake cookies for only 14-16 minutes).

2 medium ripe bananas, well mashed

2 tablespoons ground flax seeds

1/4 cup almond milk

1/2 cup canola oil

1/2 cup pure maple syrup

1/4 cup agave nectar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cups old fashioned rolled oats

1 cup walnut halves, toasted and roughly chopped

1 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Line a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, combine banana, flax seeds, and almond milk and mix until smooth.  Mix in the oil, maple syrup, agave nectar, and vanilla.  Add all-purpose flour, whole wheat pastry flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, and salt and mix to form a moist batter.  Fold in oats, walnuts, and raisins.  The dough will be moist yet thick and sticky.

Dump batter into prepared pan and spread evenly.  Bake for 25-30 minutes until slightly puffy and golden brown.  Cool completely and cut into squares.