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. 

Skeleton and Mummy Cookies

Halloween is just a few days away, and I’ve spent this weekend baking, fulfilling my role of Great Pumpkin. My favorite girls in Maryland – Mo and Margo – will receive these skeleton and mummy cut-outs just in time for the holiday. Will the royal icing stand up to shipping? It’s a fairly dry confection, so I’d hope so. And I suppose if any of the eyes or bandages flake off in shipping, it’ll just add to the Halloween creep factor. Hopefully I’m not going to traumatize the children.

I’m not that experienced with royal icing, and I’ve used the meringue powder version for these treats, rather than the version with a fresh egg white. Royal icing consistency can vary from much more liquid, appropriate for “flooding” sugar cookies, to a sturdier variety more commonly found on gingerbread houses. It’s not exactly tasty, but these cookies have a delicious chocolate flavor that will more than make up for it.

Ingredients

For the cookies

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the royal icing & decoration

  • 1 tablespoons meringue powder
  • 1 1/3 cups powdered sugar
  • About 2-3 tablespoons water
  • Small-sized candy eyeballs

Preparation 

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

In a mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla extract, beating until well-combined.

Slowly add flour mixture, scraping the sides of the bowl often and beating until a very well-combined, soft dough forms.

Gently knead the dough a few times to make sure it comes together; roll dough into a ball and flatten into a disc. Wrap in plastic and chill for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees; line three baking sheets with parchment or foil.

On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut with a gingerbread man-shaped cookie cutter and place on prepared sheets about 1 inch apart.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until edges are set. Remove from oven and cool on cookie sheets for 1-2 minutes, then remove to wire racks to cool completely.

To make the royal icing, combine the meringue powder, powdered sugar, and 1 tablespoon water in a mixer and beat on medium speed using the whisk attachment; your mixture will probably clump together at first, so just dribble in enough additional water to make a smooth consistency. Continue to beat on medium-high speed for a few minutes, until peaks form.

Fit a piping bag with a plain tip and fill with royal icing. For skeletons, pipe eyes, mouths, ribs, and arm and leg bones. For mummies, place a small dot of icing on the back of each eyeball and press it onto the cookie; swap out your piping tip for a flat-style tip (I used a Wilton 47 basket weave tip, because that was as close as I could get; a rose petal tip like a Wilton 104 would also likely work) and pipe bandages across the cookies. Allow icing to harden completely before storing; store between layers of waxed paper in an airtight container at room temperature.

Yield will vary depending on the size of your cutters; my batch yielded about 18 cookies.

Halloween M&M Cookies

Finding Halloween cookies that ship well can be a challenge. Many adorable treats involve icing, frosting, or other decorations that aren’t quite suitable for a trip across the country. Sure, I’d love to bake adorable sandwich cookies with eyes and fangs that look like The Monster Book of Monsters from Harry Potter, or witch hat cookies made with Hershey’s kisses, or even just cute cut-outs frosted to look like ghosts and tombstones, with but such treats don’t hold up in shipping.

Fortunately I found these easy-to-bake, easy-to-ship Halloween M&M cookies at Cooking with Karli. I amended her recipe just a bit by adding two tablespoons of vanilla extract, rather than just one. I also meant to keep some M&Ms out to press into the tops of these cookies but totally forgot, so they definitely look more cookie-from-the-black-lagoon with the M&M lumps in them than I’d intended…but that actually works well for Halloween, right?

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 11.4 ounce package Ghoul’s Mix M&Ms

Preparation

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

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

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar, and brown sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg and vanilla and beat until creamy.

Add flour mixture all at once and beat with the mixer running on low speed; when the flour mixture is about halfway incorporated into the butter/egg mixture, add milk. Beat to combine completely, then stir in M&Ms. Though the original recipe said the dough will be very soft, mine was pretty sturdy.

Using a 1-inch cookie scoop, scoop dough and roll into balls, then flatten the balls slightly and place on the parchment-lined baking sheets. If your dough is softer, you’ll be able to just drop the scoops onto the baking sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until edges are set and tops no longer look shiny. Remove from oven and cool on the baking sheets for a few minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container; if shipping, store between layers of waxed paper. Makes about 30 cookies.

Butter Pecan Shortbread

How do you make shortbread even more delicious? Add some toasted pecans and butterscotch flavor and make it butter pecan shortbread.  I sent these tasty treats to North Carolina for my sister-in-law Kristin a few weeks back, and she sent me a photo of the container with a few crumbs remaining, proclaiming them the best I’d ever made.

So what makes this flavor combination so delicious? My money is on the toasted pecans, because toasted nuts taste far more delicious than raw ones. Toasting brings the oils to the nut’s surface, intensifying their flavor and adding crunch. Pecans are one of my favorite nuts for baking, and they’re a huge hit in these easy treats. If you don’t have butterscotch flavor, you can certainly leave it out and just add some vanilla instead. The flavor won’t be quite as intense, but it will still be delicious.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon butterscotch flavor
  • 2 1/3 cups flour
  • 1 cup chopped pecans, toasted and cooled

Preparation

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Lightly grease two 8-inch round cake pans.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter, sugar, salt, and butterscotch flavor. Add flour and beat to combine completely, then add pecans. You may need to knead the dough a bit with your hands to get the pecans to fully distribute.

Divide dough in half and press into the bottoms of the cake pans, using the palm of your hand to create an even surface. Prick all over with a fork.

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 each round into 16 wedges, then place wedges on a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to about 5 days.

Makes 32 wedges.

Octopus Cut-Outs

A few summers ago, I made some adorable octopus cookies based on a treat I saw at Starbucks. They used an enormous octopus cutter, but I recently found a smaller one that reminded me very much of something my goddaughter Mo and her little sister Margaret would like. Since frosted cut-out cookies don’t ship so well, I decided to tint the dough purple (octopuses can be purple, right?) and add some candy eyes for some fun summer treats.

For a richer color like the purple I used in these treats, I recommend gel food coloring instead of liquid. Most craft stores have a variety of gel colors in the baking section, but you might be able to find it at Target or your regular grocery store. I tinted my dough with the mixer running to fully incorporate the color; you can also mix it in by hand, but this way is less messy.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons princess cake and cookie flavor
  • Purple gel food coloring
  • Small candy eyeballs

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, princess cake and cookie flavor, 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.

Refrigerate until just barely firm, about 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line three cookie sheets with parchment or foil.

Roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness and cut into octopus shapes. Place on baking sheets about 2 inches apart and press candy eyeballs into each cookie.  Bake for 8-10 minutes, until edges are firm. Remove from oven and let cool on baking sheets for about 3 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature. Makes about 2 dozen.

Patriotic Sugar Cut-Outs

Sugar cookies are easy to embellish, and this time I chose to add some princess cake and cookie flavor into my standard dough. The results were delicious; these cookies tasted more like bakery-style sugar cookies, with a rich vanilla flavor and just a hint of citrus. I think this is going to be my go-to sugar cookie flavor from now on.

To make these cookies patriotic, I whipped up a double batch of my grandma Zella’s icing and swapped out the almond extract for more princess cake and cookie flavor, then tinted one-third each blue and red. I’m not much of an artist when it comes to piping, so I went with some basic stars. Once your cookies are frosted, let them stand for a few hours so the icing can set before storing them between sheets of waxed paper. The designs might smudge a bit, but no one will remember once they take a bite.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons princess cake and cookie flavor
  • Double batch Zella’s icing, with 1-2 teaspoons princess cake and cookie flavor substituted for the almond extract
  • Red and blue food coloring

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, princess cake and cookie flavor, 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.

Refrigerate until just barely firm, about 20-30 minutes.

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

Roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness and cut into circles.  Bake for 8-10 minutes, until just golden. Cool on a wire rack before frosting.

Make Zella’s icing and divide into thirds; keep one portion white, and tint the others red an blue. Frost and decorate as you like, then allow the icing to set before storing between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container.

Makes about 2 1/2 dozen.