Honey Walnut Hamantaschen

As much as I love poppy seed hamantaschen, I wanted a new filling for Purim this year. Fortunately the internet is full of recipes, with all manner of suggestions for fruit, nuts, and even chocolate or Nutella. I found a few nut-based filling ideas on different websites and came up with the recipe below based on those, plus my own addition of cinnamon. The end result, a honey cinnamon walnut encased in buttery orange-flavored dough, is absolutely delicious.

While I did a rough chop on my walnuts for this filling, I recommend chopping more finely and will do that the next time I make these. The filling is delicious, but it would have been easier to work with had the walnuts been chopped finely.

Ingredients

For the filling

  • 1 1/2 cups walnuts, chopped
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

For the dough

  • 1 cup butter, cut into small pieces, softened
  • 2 egg yolks*
  • Zest of 1 large orange
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 ¼ cups flour, plus a few more tablespoons for kneading
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • About 1 1/2 tablespoons orange juice

Preparation

Combine walnuts, honey, water, salt, and cinnamon in a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat until the mixture boils. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens enough for your spatula to leave a clean trail behind it on the bottom of the pan, about 6-8 minutes.

Remove from heat and cool completely before using; I chilled mine overnight.

To make the dough, combine butter, egg yolks, orange zest, flour, and salt in a food processor. Pulse until dough comes together; it will be crumbly.

Add orange juice, about 1/2 tablespoon at a time, and pulse as best you can until the dough becomes smoother – at this point it will probably become difficult to pulse because it will have bunched up on one side of your food processor. That’s okay.

Scrape out the dough from your food processor bowl and turn it onto a lightly floured surface. Knead very gently, adding a few more tablespoons of flour, just until the dough comes together and is no longer sticky. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill in the freezer for 15 minutes before using.

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

Roll out dough to about 1/8 inch thickness and cut into 3-inch circles using a cookie cutter or drinking glass.

Place circles on your cookie sheet, and using the tip of your finger, lightly brush the edge of each circle with water; this will help the dough stick when you form the triangle.

Place about 1 teaspoon of filling in the center of each circle. Fold the bottom up, then fold in the two sides to make the triangle, gently pressing the corners of the triangle to close them and leaving just a bit of filling exposed.

Bake for 15-17  minutes, until cookies are a light golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 1-2 minutes on the baking sheets, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 3-4 days.

Makes about 36 cookies, depending on your cutter size.

Chocolate Charms

My nephew Roman is a big fan of store-bought chocolate cookies like Oreos. While he loves my chocolate cake, these chocolate charms – essentially like a chocolate shortbread, weren’t his favorite. I sent this shipment to North Carolina for his Valentine’s Day gift, and he apparently ate one and said, eh, I don’t like this. Fortunately my brother and sister-in-law both loved them, so it’s not a loss.

The original recipe for these treats comes from the Martha Stewart Living Cookie book and calls for a dusting of cocoa powder before serving. As I shipped these, I left them un-dusted, but I actually thought the next time I make them I’d like to dip them in a cocoa icing. We’ll see how that goes.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preparation

Sift together flour, cocoa powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter on medium speed until fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Add sugar and beat on medium for 3-4 minutes more, then add vanilla extract. Beat in flour/cocoa mixture until dough is just combined, scraping the sides of the bowl a few times. The dough may be just a bit crumbly, but should hold together when you squeeze it.

Turn dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap and flatten into a rough disc, then chill for about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Break off 1-inch pieces of dough and roll into balls, then place on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, rotating the sheet about halfway through. Cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container for about 1 week. If desired (and not shipping), dust with cocoa powder before serving. Makes about 2 1/2 dozen.

Frozen-Inspired Almond Spritz

My goddaughter Maureen will turn 10 this week, and she and her sister Margo love all things Frozen. For her birthday, I wanted to bake a Frozen-inspired treat, but most options – like snowflake sugar cookies frosted with intricate details – weren’t good candidates for shipping. But spritz-style cookies, made with a cookie press, could certainly hold their own in shipping and would look enough like snowflakes to hopefully bring a smile to Mo’s adorable face.

My Grandma Zella always made her famous almond cookies in spritz fashion each Christmas, churning out tree and wreath shapes from her cookie press without batting an eyelash. But for me, the cookie press presented great challenges. Today though, I was determined to master it, and master it I did. Whether this dough counts as actual spritz dough, I’m not sure, but it worked very well for my purpose. Happy birthday, Mo!

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups shortening
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon almond extract
  • Purple gel food coloring
  • Blue gel food coloring

Preparation

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream shortening and sugar until blended. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each. Scrape down your bowl, then add flour and almond extract, beating to combine into a smooth dough.

Divide dough in half; tint one portion purple and the other portion blue.

For purple wreath-shaped snowflakes, fit a cookie press with a wreath disc and fill with purple dough; press shapes onto an ungreased, unlined cookie sheet. Bake for 3 minutes, then rotate the pan halfway and bake for another 3 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet for about 30 seconds, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

For blue swirl snowflakes, fit a cookie press with a sunburst/swirl disc and fill with blue dough. Press shapes onto an ungreased, unlined cookie sheet. Bake for 3-4 minutes, then rotate the pan halfway and bake for another 3-4 minutes, being careful not to let the edges brown (which, in full disclosure, mine did). Remove from oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet for about 30 seconds, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for several days; their flavor becomes stronger after a few days and they do last a while. These are a drier cookie, almost like a biscotti, and are best enjoyed with a nice cup of tea or coffee or glass of milk.

Makes several dozen, depending on which shapes you choose – the recipe can make about 5-6 dozen.

 

Hazelnut Cookies

My dear friend Amanda gave me an awesome cookbook a few weeks back called The Boozy Baker. Each recipe involves alcohol of some kind; cakes made with rum or bourbon, pies spiked with brandy, icings flavored with a range of liqueurs. One recipe that’s suitable for shipping across the country is these hazelnut cookies, which actually featured chocolate chips in their original iteration. But Amanda also gave me a recipe notebook, titled I’m A Whisk Taker, in which to record my own concoctions. And so, I adapted the original recipe to feature more hazelnuts (because can you really ever have too many?) and some salted caramel chips.

The end result is a delightfully delicious hazelnutty creation, and the next time I bake these, I’ll add another cup of salted caramel chips to the dough to pump up the sweetness just a bit. At present these treats are en route to California, where Amanda and her family will hopefully enjoy them.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon hazelnut liqueur
  • 1 1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted, cooled, and chopped*
  • 1 cup salted caramel baking chips

*To toast hazelnuts, place them on a rimmed baking sheet in a 350 degree oven and toast for 5-10 minutes, until fragrant and lightly browned. Remove from oven and place in a kitchen towel, then rub so the skins fall off – don’t worry if you don’t get every last bit of skin from the nuts, as this will add to their flavor. 

Preparation

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

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

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the bowl a few times. Beat in hazelnut liqueur.

Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing just until combined. Stir in hazelnuts and caramel chips.

Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, drop scoops of dough onto prepared baking sheets. Bake for 5 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake another 3-4 minutes; these cookies brown very quickly, so keep an eye on them. You want set edges, but a puffy middle.

Remove from oven and cool on the baking sheets for 2-3 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Makes about 30 cookies.

Evergreen Sugar Cut-Outs

Evergreen trees frightened me as a child. No, really – I thought they looked sharp, like they’d pierce your skin if you got near them. Fortunately my Grandma Zella recognized that if I could see the pine in front of her house as pretty, I might be less intimidated by it. Thus she tied a ribbon around its trunk and helped me see that its needles were in fact soft. I’ve loved evergreens ever since, including the enormous pine at the side of our house. I’ve often told Mike that if the evergreen someday needs to come down I’m just going to sell the house and move, rather than see it felled.

These evergreen sugar cut-outs were originally intended to be fully decorated Christmas trees. But after I piped them and stood back, I liked how pretty they looked plain, like a little forest on my table. And so they remained, a plain little forest for our Christmas cookie dessert.

Ingredients

  • 1 batch sugar cut-outs, made with 2 additional teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Double batch Zella’s icing
  • Moss green and Kelly green gel food coloring

Preparation

Prepare dough and cut out with a tree cutter; bake cookies for about 9 minutes, then remove from oven and cool on wire racks completely before frosting.

Prepare Zella’s icing and add small amounts of moss green and Kelly green food coloring to reach your desired shade of green. Moss green is a muted shade while Kelly is a bright green, and combined they make a nice tree color.

Fit a piping bag with a small star tip and pipe icing onto each tree, moving your tip back and forth to create branch-like shapes.

Allow icing to harden before storing; store in an airtight container between sheets of waxed paper at room temperature. Cookies will stay fresh for about 4-5 days.

Makes about 40 cookies.

Maple Pecan Cookies

I like to bake with seasonal ingredients, and fall is a wonderful time of year for maple. While browsing on Pinterest, I came across this recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction, originally called maple brown sugar cookies. I amped up the pecans just a tad and decided that in my version, they definitely deserved equal billing with the maple.

These are life-changing cookies, my friends. I mean, out-of-this-world, stop-the-presses delicious. Amazing flavor, great texture, all topped with wildly tasty maple icing. Just be sure you use pure maple syrup when baking these, rather than pancake syrup. Pure maple syrup, while pricier, is absolutely worth the cost when it comes to flavor. It also lasts pretty much forever, not that it has a chance in my house.

Ingredients

  • 2 and 1/3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 egg, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon maple extract
  • Heaping 1 cup pecans, chopped

For the icing

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
  • pinch of salt

Preparation

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

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and brown sugar together until very fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add egg and beat to combine, then scrape down the bowl and add maple syrup, vanilla extract, and maple extract, beating to combine completely. Add flour mixture all at once, beating to completely combine; stir in pecans. Dough will be very soft. Chill for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove dough from fridge; using a 2-inch cookie scoop, scoop dough and roll into balls, placing about 2 inches apart on your baking sheets.

Bake for 12 minutes, until edges are set but centers are still puffy. Lightly bang your baking sheet on the counter or your stove top to slightly deflate the cookies; allow to cool on the baking sheets for about 3 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing, place powdered sugar in a medium bowl; set aside. Melt butter and maple syrup on low heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter melts. Pour into powdered sugar and whisk until smooth, then add a pinch of salt to taste. Drizzle over cookies; allow icing to harden before storing.

Makes about 25 cookies.

Mega Chocolate Caramel Cookies

These cookies are massive. Four-inches-wide massive. They’re also made with Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder and stuffed with Milky Way Simply Caramel candy bars. Yep, that’s right: dark chocolate cookies stuffed with caramel candy. Genius, right?

I found the recipe at Life, Love, and Sugar while scrolling through Pinterest for Halloween cookie ideas. While I omitted the sprinkle of sea salt on the top because I didn’t have any sea salt, if I make these again I’ll definitely add it. They smelled amazing in the oven, and they’re now packed safely in a box on their way to my nephew Roman in North Carolina. Next time, I think I’ll cut the candy bars into quarters, rather than just halves, and make smaller versions. I actually made two batches, as the ingredients below yielded 10 cookies for me. I also chilled my Milk Way bars prior to stuffing them inside the cookies, but I’m not sure this was necessary. When I cut one of the cookies in half, the caramel definitely didn’t ooze out the way it appeared to in the original baker’s blog post, but I’m sure they’ll taste great anyway.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 12 tablespoons butter, softened*
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 5 Milky Way Simply Caramel fun-sized candy bars, cut in half

*The original recipe recommended salted butter for this, but I just used regular unsalted. I suspect this may alter the flavor of the cookies, so fingers crossed that mine turned out okay. 

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda; set aside.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Add egg and vanilla extract and beat well, then add the flour mixture all at once. Beat on low, then medium speed, until combined.

Scoop generous, 2-tablespoon-sized scoops of dough and roll into a ball. Break the ball in half and stuff with half a Milky Way; press back together and roll again to seal the candy bar inside. Place on baking sheets several inches apart; cookies will spread as they bake.

Bake for 10-12 minutes; the centers will look puffy, but the edges will be just set. Remove from oven and cool on baking sheet for about 5 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Makes 10 four-inch cookies.

Here we have a cookie sliced in half.