Pumpkin Spice Shortbread

I had to, you see. Less than 24 hours into fall, and I had to bake something pumpkin-themed. These pumpkin spice shortbread cookies, adapted from a recipe from The Cafe Sucre Farine, sounded too delicious to pass up.

While the original recipe called for adding a candy pumpkin (the delicious cousins of candy corn) to each baked cookie, I chose to leave mine plain, with just the recommended coating of Demerara sugar for a lovely, crunchy texture. You could use turbinado sugar if you don’t have Demerara, but I highly recommend Demerara for its large crystals. You can find it in most grocery stores in the baking aisle. I also highly recommend eating candy pumpkins!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin spice*
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Demerara sugar, for rolling

*You can make your own pumpkin spice by combining 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon each ginger, allspice, and nutmeg. This makes more than 1 1/2 teaspoons, so just save whatever you have left in a small jar. 

Preparation

In a medium bowl, combine flour, pumpkin spice, and salt; set aside

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter, brown sugar, and vanilla extract. Add flour mixture and beat until completely combined.

Chill dough for about 15 – 20 minutes, allowing it to firm up slightly. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line three baking sheets with parchment paper. Place Demerara sugar in a small bowl.

Using a 1-inch cookie scoop, scoop dough and roll into balls, then dip each ball into Demerara sugar. Place about 2 inches apart on the baking sheets and bake for 14-16 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow to cool on baking sheets for about 5 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Makes about 30 cookies.

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Lemon Poppy Seed Shortbread

My friend Carrie has had a challenging time lately. And because I show love and support to the folks in my life through baked goods, I made her these lemon poppy seed shortbread cookies. As women of Eastern European descent, we have a mutual appreciation for poppy seeds. Carrie is also a fan of tea, and I thought these treats would make a comforting addition to her daily cup.

The base of this shortbread is simple; just five ingredients. Add some lemon zest, lemon extract, and poppy seeds, and you’ve got a fancier version of a basic treat. Next time, I’d like to add a zest lemon drizzle icing to these for an extra flavor kick.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
  • zest of 1 small lemon
  • 10 ounces (about 2 1/3 cups) flour
  • 1 tablespoon poppy seeds

Preparation

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Lightly grease two 9-inch round baking tins.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter, sugar, salt, extracts, and lemon zest until light and fluffy. Add flour and beat until completely combined; the dough will pull away from the sides when it’s ready. Stir in poppy seeds.

Divide dough in half and press into the bottom of each cake pan, using the palm of your hand to create an even surface.

Bake for 32-35 minutes, until the edges are golden brown. Remove from oven and gently loosen the sides, then allow to cool in the pans for 5 minutes. Gently flip onto a cutting board and slice into 16 wedges, then place wedges on a wire rack to cool completely. Note: shortbread must be cut when it’s still warm, otherwise it will break.

Store at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Honey Cookies

Shanah tovah, friends! Rosh Hashannah begins tonight at sundown, and I’m getting ready with some honey cookies. Although I grew up Catholic, I love the belief that our fates for the next year are written at Rosh Hashannah and sealed in the Book of Life on Yom Kippur. Honey and other sweet foods play a big part in Rosh Hashannah, as we wish friends and family shahah tovah, or a sweet new year.

My friend Inbal, who grew up in Israel, shared her mother-in-law’s honey cookie recipe with me, and it turned out incredibly well. I cut the original recipe – which called for five cups of flour – in half, but now I wish I’d made the whole version. These treats are absolutely delicious, and I can see why the original recipe included a line that read “this makes a lot of cookies, but they go fast.”

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 6 tablespoons vegetable oil*
  • 1/2 cup honey*
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon coffee
  • zest of half a small lemon

*Note: I poured my vegetable oil into a glass measuring cup, then added it to the bowl for the liquids, so that I could use the same measuring cup for the honey and have it slide out easily. This is a great trick. 

Preparation

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and cloves. In another bowl, stir together vegetable oil, honey, melted butter, eggs, coffee, and lemon zest; it works well if you use a fork instead of a spoon.

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until completely combined and no dry streaks remain. The dough will be very soft, but that’s normal; don’t add more flour or the cookies will turn out hard. Chill dough for 1 hour in the refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 365 degrees. Remove dough from fridge and line three baking sheets with parchment paper.

Break off pieces of dough about the size of a walnut and roll into balls, then place on baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until cookies are just golden.

Remove from oven and allow to cool on the baking sheets for a few minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature. Makes about 3 dozen.

Apple Sugar Cut-Outs

It’s back to school time. Even those of us without children feel it, that change in rhythm from summer to fall, a time of promise and preparation. Each morning I see our neighborhood kids waiting for the bus, remembering what it was like when life revolved around the months of September throughMay.

My goddaughter Mo went back to school very recently, and her little sister Margo just began preschool. I know everyone says “oh, they grow up so fast,” but it seriously feels like about five minutes ago that Mo learned to crawl and that Marg wanted her mom, and only her mom, to hold her. These fun apple sugar cut-outs are on their way to my favorite little girls in Maryland; I hope they enjoy them, and that everyone has a good school year.

Ingredients

  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla
  • Red sugar
  • Green sugar

Preparation

Stir together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.

Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add egg and beat well. Add vanilla and about half the flour mixture, beating until combined; beat in remaining flour. Form dough into a ball, then flatten out into a square; refrigerate until just barely firm, about 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line several baking sheets with foil or parchment.

Roll dough to about 1/4 inch thickness and cut into apple shapes; place cookies on baking sheets about 1 inch apart. Using a 1/4 teaspoon measuring spoon, scoop red sugar onto each cookie and fill in the apple part, then scoop green sugar onto the leaf part. Note: I left my stems plain, but you could use brown sanding sugar if you have it.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until just golden. Cool on a wire rack.

Makes about 2 dozen.

 

 

Butterscotch Crunch Cookies

Corn flakes in a cookie? Yes, and they are delicious. This week’s treats combine an almost thumbprint-like dough with butterscotch chips and crushed corn flakes, creating a delightfully crispy texture. While King Arthur Flour calls them golden crunch cookies, I found them to be so packed with butterscotch flavor that I couldn’t leave that out of their name after adapting the recipe just a bit.

KAF recommends 12 ounces of butterscotch, cinnamon, white chocolate, cherry, or peanut butter chips in the original version, along with a full 12 ounces of chips and “lightly” crushed flakes. I used an 11-ounce bag of chips and crushed my flakes to a finer texture so they’d be more evenly distributed throughout the dough. This is definitely a recipe worth repeating with other flavors; I look forward to trying a cinnamon version, perhaps with some nutmeg as well.

Ingredients

  • 12 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 cups crushed corn flakes
  • 11 ounces butterscotch chips

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line three baking sheets with parchment.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Add flour and beat to combine, then add crushed corn flakes and butterscotch chips. Use your hands to fully incorporate the flakes and chips into the dough.

Using a 1-inch cookie scoop, scoop generous portions of dough and roll into balls, then place about 2 inches apart on the baking sheets. Bake for 15-17 minutes, until edges are golden brown. Remove from oven and place immediately on wire racks to cool.

Makes 30 cookies.

Lemon Poppy Seed Layer Cake

Today I turned 41. And while it feels like I was 17 years old about five minutes ago, I’ve never been intimidated by getting older. Not everyone gets to get older, right? And so to celebrate entering my “early forties,” I baked myself this lemon poppy seed layer cake.

This past week I weighed my birthday cake options, considering a caramel cake, a lemon raspberry cake, and a spice cake with maple buttercream. Then yesterday, Mike mentioned something about a lemon poppy cake, and here we are. It’s one of my favorite cakes I’ve ever made. And being a proud Pittsburgher, I do love that it’s black and gold.

Ingredients

For the lemon poppy seed cake

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • dash of salt
  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract
  • zest of 1 small lemon
  • 6 tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 tablespoon poppy seeds
  • About 1 cup poppy seed filling*
  • About 1/2 cup lemon curd*

For the lemon curd buttercream frosting

  • 6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon lemon curd
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

*Truth: I used bottled filling this time, because I’ve never made my own poppy filling and my homemade lemon curd went awry. Even experienced bakers have mishaps in the kitchen, my friends. 

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two 6-inch round cake pans, line each with a parchment circle, and lightly grease the parchment.

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until very well-blended. Add eggs, vanilla extract, lemon extract, and lemon zest and beat well to combine, scraping the sides of your bowl a few times.

Add flour and milk alternatively in two batches, beginning and ending with the flour and beating until completely combined. Stir in poppy seeds.

Pour batter into prepared pans and bake for 18-22 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow cakes to cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then carefully turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the frosting: in a mixing bowl, beat butter on medium speed for 1-2 minutes. Add 2 cups powdered sugar and beat on low, then medium speed, until the sugar is fully incorporated into the butter. Add lemon curd and beat on medium speed for about 2 minutes, then slowly add remaining cup powdered sugar and vanilla extract. Beat on medium speed for another 2-3 minutes; you want a spreadable consistency that is not too soft or firm.

To assemble the cake:

Slice each cake in half lengthwise to create four layers. Place the first layer on your cake stand – I anchored my cake with a blob of buttercream to help it stay in place. Spread about 1/2 cup poppy seed filling on the first layer, leaving about a 1/4 inch border at the edge of the cake; some of your filling will spread further once the other layers are added.

Top with the second layer, then spread that layer with lemon curd, again leaving a bit of a border around the edge. Repeat with the third layer, topping it with poppy seed filling, then place the final layer on the top of the cake.

Frost the entire cake with a thin crumb coat and refrigerate for 15 minutes. Remove from the fridge and frost to completely cover the crumb layer; you don’t need to put the frosting on too thick, as it will take away from the flavors in the cake itself. I chose to add some flower decorations to the top of my cake because I had a bit of frosting left over.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Amaretto Brownies

Chocolate and almond are great flavor friends. So when I found a little bottle of Disaronno in our liquor cabinet, I thought brownies with amaretto sounded like a great idea.

The funny part about this is that Mike and I aren’t big drinkers. He enjoys a good whiskey or bourbon, and I can manage a small glass of wine without getting a migraine so long as I drink tons of water with it. But we’re really not the kinds of people who have fully stocked liquor cabinets; when I need specific types of alcohol for baking, I usually buy miniature bottles from the state store. I have no idea where we got the amaretto, but it inspired these treats, which accompanied Mike to his masonic lodge meeting tonight. I imagine the masons – especially our friend Kevin – will enjoy them.

Ingredients

For the brownies

  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons amaretto
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons almond extract
  • 1 1/4 cups Dutch process cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

For the frosting

  • 5 1/3 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons amaretto
  • 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons almond extract
  • 2 cups powdered sugar

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 baking pan.

In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add sugar and stir to combine, then heat until the mixture is just hot, 110 to 120 degrees, but not bubbly.

Pour sugar mixture into a large bowl and add amaretto, vanilla extract, and almond extract. Add cocoa powder, salt, and baking powder, stirring to combine. Add eggs and stir until smooth. Add flour and stir to combine, until no dry streaks remain. Stir in chocolate chips.

Pour batter into baking pan and bake for 30-35 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs. Cool brownies completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, combine butter, amaretto, and 1 tablespoon almond extract in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed for about 1 minute; mixture will be clumpy, but it will smooth out once you add the powdered sugar. Add powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating until smooth between each addition. Add remaining 1/2 to 1 additional tablespoon almond extract to taste.

Spread frosting over cooled brownies; cut into 24 squares. Store, covered, at room temperature for up to 3 days.