Orange Shortbread

orangeshortbreadTo me, a basic shortbread recipe is like a blank canvas: you can add whatever you like to create your masterpiece. I’ve adapted the Essential Shortbread recipe from King Arthur Baking countless times, adding citrus zests, chocolate chips, toasted pecans, maple extract, almond extract, whatever struck me as a good idea. This week’s treat is a simple orange shortbread made with about a teaspoon of the leftover orange zest from the walnut torte I baked on Monday. Citrus zest will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days before losing its flavor, so you can make the most of your zests when you only need a small amount for a recipe.

Rather than baking this in a round tin as I usually do, I chose to scoop out my portions and roll them into balls, then roll them in sugar and press them down using the pretty pattern on the bottom of a glass. They remind me a bit of the kind of cookie you might see at a wedding or other special event, something simple but elegant that tastes great and makes you want the recipe.

Ingredients

  • 8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • About 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 5 ounces flour (1 cup plus 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons)
  • Sugar for rolling

Preparation

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line one baking sheet with parchment paper. Place sugar for rolling in a small bowl and set aside.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter, salt, sugar, vanilla extract, and orange zest until light and fluffy. Add flour and mix to completely combine. Using a 1-inch cookie scoop, scoop dough and roll into balls, then roll in sugar. Place on the baking sheet about 2 inches apart and press down using the bottom of a glass – I used a pretty crystal highball-style glass from a set my mom brought back for us from her trip to Ireland many years ago.

Bake for 30-32 minutes, until edges are just golden. Remove from oven and cool on the baking sheet for about 2 minutes, then place on a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature. Makes 16.

Sparkling Under the Sea Cookies

sparklingundertheseacookiesDo cookies ship well? I certainly hope so. I send them around the country to various friends and family members, and I sincerely hope they all arrive in one piece. Some cookies, like sugar cut-outs, are more conducive to shipping if you coat them in sugar instead of frosting them. Especially in summer, I wouldn’t trust frosted cookies to fare well through the mail.

These treats are for Mike’s friend Jackie, who lives in Maryland and has been perusing my blog with her little boys. Enjoy, Jackie and family!

Ingredients

  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla
  • White, aqua, light blue, dark blue, and orange colored sugar
  • Miniature chocolate chips, for eyes

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.

Note: if your dough is too crumbly, you can add just a bit of water or another ¼ teaspoon of vanilla.

Knead just slightly until dough sticks together, then flatten into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate until just barely firm, about 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness and cut into desired shapes – I used crabs, whales, sharks, octopuses, and starfish and chilled my dough a second time after I cut my shapes, because it’s quite humid here today and the dough was more fragile than usual.

Place colored sugar on a plate and carefully dip each cookie into the sugar, pressing so the sugar sticks (this provides better coverage than sprinkling the sugar on top, but you could do that too if you prefer). I used dark blue for the crabs, light blue and white for the whales, aqua for the sharks, and blended aqua and light blue for the octopuses. Carefully place cookies on parchment-lined baking sheets and add chocolate chip eyes.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until edges are just golden brown. Remove from oven and cool on baking sheets for about 4-5 minutes, then place on a wire rack to cool completely.

Quantity varies based on the size of your cutter; this batch yielded about 24 cookies because the crab, whale, and shark cutters are fairy large. I also recommend baking similar-shaped cookies on each baking sheet – for example, crabs on one, whales and sharks on another, starfish on another – to keep them from browning at different rates.

Maple Cinnamon Pecan Sandies

maplecinnamonpecansandiesMost baking books include a recipe for pecan sandies, sometimes called sand tarts, a lovely shortbread-type cookie made with chopped pecans. Because I love to experiment with flavors, I wondered what would happen when a pecan sandie met a maple cinnamon shortbread. The end result is absolutely delicious, something I know I’ll make again.

I used maple sugar in this recipe, and you can likely buy at Whole Foods and from many retailers online. I typically buy mine from High Country Creamery & Market in Granstville, Maryland, just a short trip from Deep Creek. The market features local maple sugar and maple syrup, and I pick up a package whenever we visit. If you don’t have maple sugar, you can use regular and just add a bit more maple flavoring to make up for the taste. 

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup maple sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon maple extract/flavoring
  • 2 1/3 cups flour
  • 1 cup pecans, toasted, cooled, and finely chopped

Preparation

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter, salt, maple sugar, and maple extract until fluffy. Add flour and mix to combine, then stir in pecans.

Using a two-inch cookie scoop, scoop dough and roll into balls. Place about 2 inches apart on baking sheets; you should have 10 cookies per sheet. Flatten slightly with your hand. 

Bake for 15 minutes, then rotate the baking sheet and bake for another 15-17 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 2-3 minutes on the baking sheets, then place on a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for several days. Makes 20.

Chocolate Walnut Cookies

chocolatewalnutcookieInterested in a cookie that tastes like a brownie? Look no further than these treats, which reminded me so much of a brownie I almost called them brownie cookies.

The original recipe from King Arthur Baking was called Mocha Walnuts, but to me, they’re far more chocolate than mocha – the espresso powder adds depth to the chocolate flavor without really making these taste of coffee. I adapted the original recipe to use mini chocolate chips, finely chopped walnuts, and just a one-inch cookie scoop for my treats, yielding a batch of about just about three dozen. The end result has a lovely brownie-like flavor and nice crunchy edge with a soft center, one of my favorite types of cookie textures.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups miniature semisweet chocolate chips
  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons espresso powder
  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, finely chopped

Preparation

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

Melt 1/2 cup of the miniature chocolate chips; set aside. In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter, sugars, baking soda, and salt until very light and fluffy. Add egg and beat to combine, then add melted chocolate and espresso powder. Stir in flour, walnuts, and remaining 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips.

Using a 1-inch cookie scoop, drop scoops of dough onto baking sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until edges are just set and tops are still puffy. Remove from oven and cool on the baking sheets for a few minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Makes about 36.

Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies

bananachocolatechipcookieMike and I had some sketchy-looking bananas on our countertop a few weeks ago, and I’m just getting around to blogging what I made with them. Behold, banana chocolate chip cookies! Yes, those leopard-like bananas can be made into much more than bread. Not that there’s anything wrong with banana bread, of course. It’s a classic, easily adapted to include walnuts, chocolate chips, or whatever else you may like. 

I found this recipe over at Mom in Time Out and adapted it to include just chocolate chips, rather than the original chocolate and peanut butter chip combination, at Mike’s request. He loved them, and now I have a new go-to recipe when our bananas go south. If you’re looking to add some crunch, I’d suggest stirring in a half-cup of chopped walnuts or pecans to your batter. 

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 2 medium ripe bananas
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups milk chocolate chips 

Preparation

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, corn starch, and salt; set aside.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, bananas, and sugars until combined, then add vanilla extract and mix to combine. Stir in flour mixture, then chocolate chips. Cover and refrigerate the dough for about 15-20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Using a two-inch cookie scoop, drop scoops of dough on prepared baking sheets, about 2 inches apart.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, until very light golden brown. Remove from oven and cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for about 3 days. Makes about 2 dozen. 

Peanut-Chocolate Cookies

peanut-chocolatecookiesI’ve often wondered who first combined chocolate and peanut butter, and why. Was it an accident, like in that Reese’s commercial from the 80s where someone holding a chocolate bar collided with someone holding an open peanut butter jar? Probably not, but think of all the treats that have come about as a result.

These cookies were a huge hit in Mike’s office last week, with one colleague remarking that they were her favorite thing I’ve ever baked. High praise, indeed! They are quite tasty, though I would recommend doubling the chocolate coating. The original recipe, from King Arthur Baking, didn’t make enough to coat all of my cookies, or get close to the half-moon style I’d hoped to achieve.

Ingredients

For the cookies

  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter (you can also use smooth)
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup peanut butter chips

For the chocolate coating

  • 1 cup semisweet  chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons light corn syrup

Preparation

Preheat oven to 375. Line two baking sheets with parchment.

In a mixing bowl, cream together butter, brown sugar, salt, vanilla, and baking soda. Add egg and beat until light and fluffy, then add peanut butter and beat until combined. Stir in the flour and peanut butter chips, mixing slowly until the dough comes together.

Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, drop scoops of dough onto the baking sheets. Lightly spray your hand with cooking spray and press each cookie to flatten it slightly. Bake for 8-10 minutes; you want them to be soft, still puffy-looking in the center, but set at the edges. Remove from oven and cool on baking sheets for about 4 minutes, then place on a wire rack to cool completely before coating.

To make chocolate coating, melt butter and chocolate chips over low heat, stirring until completely smooth. Stir in corn syrup.

Dip each cookie into the chocolate coating and place on parchment-lined cooling racks to set. Allow chocolate to set completely before serving; store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days. Makes about 3 dozen.

Sparkling Sugar Hearts

sparkingsugarheartFor some, Valentine’s Day brings the opportunity to go all out with romantic gestures and elaborate plans, while others grumble that it’s a made-up holiday meant to sell cards, candy, and flowers. For me, Valentine’s Day usually means baking something heart-themed, and this time it was a simple batch of sugar cut-out cookies coated in sparkling red sugar for my favorite Maryland girls, Maureen and Margaret.

Sugar cookies are one of my favorite things to bake, though they didn’t used to be. I found them a challenge until I came across a good recipe, the one below, and have adapted them for many a holiday using a range of decorations. I usually top sugar cookies that will ship somewhere in sugar, instead of frosting, for durability. I also find that pressing the cookie into the sugar, rather than sprinkling the sugar on top, provides a more even coating and allows the sugar to stick better.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1-2 teaspoons water
  • Red sanding sugar

Preparation

Stir together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside. Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs and beat well. Add vanilla and about half the flour mixture, beating until combined; beat in remaining flour. If necessary, add 1-2 teaspoons of water for a less crumbly dough; you’ll need a more pliable dough to roll and cut later.

Divide dough in half and knead each just slightly until dough sticks together.  Form each half into a disc and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate until just barely firm, about 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper, then place red sanding sugar on a plate or in a shallow dish.

Roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness and cut into heart shapes, then press the tops of each cookie into the sugar to coat. Place on baking sheets about 1-2 inches apart – they don’t spread much when baking, but you don’t want to crowd your baking sheets.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until just golden. Remove from oven and allow to cool on cookie sheets for 2-3 minutes before carefully transferring to wire racks to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 3-4 days; if shipping, pack between layers of waxed paper. Makes about 4 dozen 3-inch cookies.

Lemon Poppy Seed Sandwich Cookies

lemonpoppycookiesFlavor pairings always interest me, and lemon and poppy seed is probably one of my favorites. Today’s lemon poppy seed sandwich cookies are inspired by the fact that I had some lemons in my fridge I needed to use and that I wanted to make something vaguely black and gold, in honor of my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers and their miraculous presence in the playoffs. I’ll be waving my Terrible Towel this evening against Kansas City, for sure.

Black and gold baking can present a challenge if you’re not interested in using black food coloring, which I tend to shy away from for its propensity for staining one’s lips and tongue a rather ghastly color. While these are much more black and yellow (cue the Wiz Khalifa song!) than black and gold, they are absolutely delicious. Next time, I’d bake my cookies for a minute or so less so they’re just slightly softer and the filling won’t squish out quite as much when you take a bite. In any case, here we go Steelers!

Ingredients

For the cookies

  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg, at room temperature
  • zest of 1 small lemon
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons poppy seeds

For the filling

  • 4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • zest of 1/2 lemon (or use more zest to taste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 1 tablespoon milk

Preparation

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

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg, lemon zest, lemon juice, and vanilla extract and beat to combine. Scrape down your bowl and add the salt, baking powder, baking soda, and flour and mix on low to combine completely. Stir in poppy seeds.

Using a 1-inch cookie scoop, drop scoops of dough onto prepared baking sheets. Bake for about 9-10 minutes, until edges are set and tops no longer look shiny. Remove from oven and cool on the baking sheets for about 1 minute, then place on a wire rack to cool completely.

To make filling, combine butter and powdered sugar in a mixer and beat on low speed until the sugar is fully incorporated into the butter. Add lemon zest, lemon extract, and milk and beat to fully combine. Place filling in a piping bag for easier cookie assembly.

To assemble, flip cookies over and pipe a dollop of filling into the center of half of the cookies, then top with a second cookie and press gently to spread the filling. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days. Makes 17.

Super Chewy Oatmeal Cookies

honeyoatmealraisinMy cousin Barb and her family gave me a lovely baker’s gift set from Penzeys, including vanilla sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, and a lovely surprise called baking spice, for Christmas this year. Baking spice is a combination of two types of cinnamon, anise, allspice, mace, and cardamom – it is a delicate flavor that I now know can be used a bit more generously in various baked goods, and I plan to mix it into various muffins, quick breads, and cakes in the future.

These treats are adapted from a “make-it-mine” recipe base in the Better Homes & Gardens Baking book, where you choose your ingredients and flavorings to create whatever you like. The honey in this recipe definitely gives it the ultra-soft, super-chewy texture, so if you’re looking for a crispier cookie I’d recommend using brown sugar or a combination of brown and white instead. Also, I used a combination of rolled and quick-cooking oats because that’s what I had on hand, but you could go with just one or the other if you like.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 cups old-fashioned/rolled oats
  • 1 cup quick-cooking oats
  • Optional: 1 cup golden raisins

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a mixer, cream together the butter, sugar, honey, baking soda, baking spice, and salt until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla and beat to combine, scraping the sides of your bowl well. Add flour and mix on low to combine, then stir in oats.  If using, stir in raisins – alternatively, you can make a few batches of plain cookies, then add the raisins later, which is what I did.

Using a one-inch cookie scoop, drop generous scoops of dough onto the baking sheets. Bake for 9-10 minutes, until edges are just golden but centers still look puffy and slightly. Remove from oven and cool on baking sheets for about 4 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 3-4 days. Makes about four dozen.

Danish Butter Cookies

buttercookieMy grandma Zella, an excellent cook and baker, taught me most of the foundational aspects of baking when I was growing up. But she also appreciated the convenience of certain store-bought treats, including Little Debbie snack cakes and that iconic blue tin of Royal Dansk butter cookies. You know them well – your grandma had them, too. The cookies were a lovely mix of shapes; swirled like a wreath, round, rectangular, and my personal favorite, the pretzel. 

There are several copycat recipes out there; some use cake flour, while others use all-purpose. I went the all-purpose route and appreciated how simple they were to prepare. A note about the dough: nearly every recipe I found claimed that you could pipe this dough through a star tip, but I’m here to tell you that unless you’re a power lifter, you’re unlikely to be able to do so. I tried, and I failed…so I decided to go the easy route and just scoop out dough, roll it into balls, flatten them, and sprinkle them with sugar. They are absolutely, positively one of the best cookies I’ve ever made. Now if only I had a blue tin around here somewhere…

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, at room temperature 
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • Coarse sugar, for topping

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a mixer, beat butter and sugar together until very light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Add salt, egg, and vanilla extract and beat to combine. Add flour a few tablespoons at a time, mixing well, scraping the bowl often. Once all the flour is added, stir with your spatula a few times to ensure that the flour is fully incorporated into the dough.

Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, scoop portions of dough and roll into balls; place on the baking sheets and flatten with your hand. Sprinkle with coarse sugar and bake for 15-20 minutes, until edges are just golden brown. Remove from oven and cool on baking sheets for a few minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to one week. Makes 26.