Apr 202014

Oatmeal chocolate-chunk cran-pecan cookies

Do you remember that chain letter than went around in the wee days of the internet? The one with the recipe for Neiman-Marcus cookies? It’s probably still circulating, but I came across it almost twenty years ago (woah — time flies!) and every bloody time I walk into a L’Aroma Bakery in Anchorage I think of that email. You see, I’m difficult to impress when it comes to bakery cookies. Most are too huge and way over-baked. Plus, in what is likely a cost-cutting measure, the cookies are usually missing something delicious and they fall flat on their faces on the palate.

But L’Aroma is different.

I’m also not usually a huge fan of oatmeal cookies, but their version — which uses cranberries instead of the archetypal raisin — will sucker-punch you with their sheer deliciousness and you won’t even mind.

So, the point is that many of us have a list of “I want this recipe for my very own” from our various favorite haunts. L’Aroma’s oat-cran cookie is definitely on the short list. (Oh, the other stuff on the short list? The triple-berry scones from — of course — L’Aroma* and the chocolate-chip cookies from A Sweet Affair in Walnut Creek, CA.) Would I pay $250 for the recipe? Well, given that The Hubs and I are prone to taking foodcations to Anchorage every year and we certainly spend more than that on just getting there, it doesn’t seem unreasonable. And since we can’t go this summer (which is killing me), maybe I should just cajole them into selling their recipe instead — it would be cheaper than a trip up there.

Failing that, I have this recipe. No, it’s not exactly the same as my L’Aroma favorite since there are pecans and chocolate and the flavor is a bit different, but these cookies are almost as good. But let me tell you, this is almost the recipe That Never Was. For some reason, I had to do battle with these cookies FIVE TIMES before I finally got the better of them. I referred to one of my failures — attempting to make brown sugar at home — already, but the other failures generally had to do with forgetting how to read a measuring cup and over-baking (which really surprised me, given that these sorts of errors don’t usually happen in Cook’s Illustrated recipes, especially when they have an admonishment that says “Do not over-bake!”). But I have emerged on the cookie gauntlet successful, after learning to stock my freaking kitchen with the right kind of sugar, rembmering that fluid ounces and tablespoons are NOT the same thing, and pulling out every trick I know to maximize a cookie’s chew. Now that I’ve done the behind-the-scenes work, I implore thee: go out and bake these too!

* When we were last in Anchorage last summer, The Hubs and I pulled off The Great Scone Heist, in which we hit every singe location in the city that sold the scones and bought them out so we could freeze them and take them home with us. If you understand how quickly each morning the residents and tourists buy out those scones, you’ll be impressed by our feat. Also — and this is a total digression here — whenever I go to the Kaladi Brothers Coffee (Alaska’s far-superior answer to Starbucks) in Seattle, I’m always slightly disappointed that they don’t carry L’Aroma pastries like their more northerly locations do.

Click for the recipe →

Jun 092013
Crevasse cookies

Crevasse cookies: see into their depths!

I’m not much of an arm-chair athelte. Why would I watch a bunch of people on TV play a sport when I could go out and play it myself? There’s too much awesome stuff in the world to see with your own eyes. This helps explain my love of hiking and backpacking, but it leads into the one exception of my “I’d rather be a participant than an observer” credo: mountaineering.

Specifically, the crazy kind of mountaineering that takes you above 8,000 meters (aptly, however cheesily, called the death zone). I cannot get enough of reading, watching, and hearing about others’ experiences on the world’s fourteen highest mountains. As gung-ho as I am about getting into nature and not seeing but experiencing sights for myself, I am perfectly content to let other people climb these mountains for me, so long as I get to live vicariously through them. I think it has something to do with the insane death rate among the people who do. What possesses someone to climb a mountain that has a 37% death rate??? Or be involved in a day where twenty people try to summit and eleven of them die???

Crevasse cookies

No self-arrest with your ice-axe will save you if you fall into this crevasse.

There are a zillion things that can kill you: unexpected weather, your body eating itself, hypoxia, hypothermia, hypoxic hypothermia (yes, the ailments are ganging up on your now), becoming incapacitated to the point you can’t descend, high-altitude edemas (pulmonary or cerebral: take your pick!), avalanches, getting crushed by calving seracs and glaciers, the common cold (your immune system is useless in the death zone), frostbite (on second thought, that’ll probably just maim you), falling off the mountain, or getting swallowed up in a crevasse. That last one is what happens when the glacier decides to eat you!

So, given the hazards, I think that these little confections are going to be the closest I come to summitting (or dying on) the likes of K2 or Annapurna. These chewy chocolate meringues are my attempt to make fabulous cookies sans dairy and soy and conveniently use up the egg whites left over from my aioli-making binges. You certainly couldn’t take them up the mountain with you because they would be smooshed in half a second (just picking them up can be enough to make them collapse) but their jagged, cracked-open surface would be a constant reminder of the perils you face. Their delicacy also serves to keep the fragility of those crevasse-coverings in the forefront of your mind. One must tread carefully in such an environment. Luckily, I’ve yet to hear of anyone killed while tackling these cookies, so if you’re like me and you like to leave the crazy mountaineering to other folks, these will feel right at home next to you as you’re curled up on the couch with your nose stuck in your favorite tale of disaster, bravery, and heroics above 26,000 feet.

Crevasse cookies: ready to yawn open at the slightest provocation

Crevasse cookies: ready to yawn open and swallow you whole at the slightest provocation

Click for the recipe →

Mar 242013

Browned-butter cookies!

The quest for the ultimate chocolate-chip cookie is a bit of a thing for people like myself. Sure, you could go with the back-of-the-chocolate-chip-bag one, but while there’s nothing wrong with it per se, there’s nothing special about it. And even though the chocolate-chip cookie is the standard, that doesn’t mean it has to be boring. It appears that others agree, so a zillion recipes and versions abound, which leaves you with a conundrum: how do you find the best? And what are your criteria for the best? Some people like chewy cookies, some like crispy, some like super-sweet, others like excessively-chocolatey. And some weirdos even like nuts in them. And I certainly have more than one recipe that I adore. The point is: if you can think of a cookie characteristic, you can find someone who thinks that it’s absolutely necessary and a recipe that corresponds to that criterion.

Luckily, this recipe can please just about everyone.

Chewy in the center, a bit crisp on the edges, warm and gooey flavors of toffee throughout (and yes, you weirdos can add nuts if you please), this cookie is simply made of magic. The secret is in the browned butter and extra egg yolk, and the seemingly-fussy mixing-method gives results unlike any I’ve ever seen before. And in theory, these cookies are perhaps even better the next day, but really, do you think they’re likely to survive that long?

Browned-butter cookies!

Click for the recipe →

Oct 232009

I hardly ever make apologies for my cooking for any reason whatsoever. I take great pride in what comes out of my kitchen and get great joy from sharing that food with others.
With these delectable little cookies, however, apologies might be in order. Don’t get me wrong – they’re excellent, it’s just that they’re so rich that unless your ovaries have taken you hostage and are demanding nothing less than a chocolate IV now, indulging in more than, say, two, might be out of the realm of possibility. Even if you find yourself in the midst of a hostage crisis, a chaser of milk (preferably straight from the carton!) is still necessary.

Chocolate chopped up for cookie delights!
Nikon D50

Richness aside, these suckers are delicious. So sinfully delicious, it’s said, that if everyone in the world had these, conflict and war would no longer be issues. I’m inclined to agree – these cookies can cure what ails you. Well, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually at any rate, if not physically (unless butter and chocolate are agents of healing now).

Ready to go in the oven
Nikon D50

As for the world peace bit, I’m doing my part. I’ve sent these cookies throughout the world, including war zones, as gifts that are meant to bring comfort and happiness to those who needed it, whether it was because they were missing their families or because they had just had their hearts broken. They’ve also done good domestically, be it by bringing a bit of cheer to shift workers on a dreary Monday or by raising money for charities in need.

Ready to eat!
Nikon D50

I should confess that I’m not totally altruistic with these cookies. Not every batch is for a good cause (see previous statement about ovaries taking a certain person hostage) – because, really, sometimes you just gotta keep some of the riches that flow from your kitchen to yourself. Even if you’re impeding world peace by doing so, I don’t think anyone will blame you!

Ready to eat!
Nikon D50

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Jan 112008

Telltale scenario #538: How to know you married the perfect man:

Your hubby has come up for a visit and, alas, you have to go to a boring lunch for work. You’d pleaded to get out of it, and even your “but I only get to see my husband every three months” argument had fallen on deaf ears. So you go, you eat some awful food, and before long you’re back home and you find that not only has he mown the lawn, he has made you a batch of your favorite chocolate chunk cookies.

True story!

Sorry ladies, he’s off the market.

The stash: yummy yummy chocolate
Nikon D50

Now, these cookies that my wonderful husband made for me hold a special place in my heart. It’s not for any sentimental reason, it’s just because they’re so chock-full of really good chocolate. Perhaps I haven’t made it totally clear in this blog thus far, but I’m a total chocolate freak. Not for crappy mass-produced Hersey’s, but for the good stuff – as is evidenced by my chocolate stash (yes, all of those striped packages are Scharffen Berger). I’m by no means exclusive in my smittenness – I give my love not to just one but to a select few.

Chocolate all chunked up
Nikon D50

So, unsurprisingly, cookies like this that use good chocolate and a lot of it are right up my alley. I made these cookies last week and gave them away and have been tormented by their memory since – why oh why was I feeling so altruistic???

I wasn’t so tortured the first time I made them and they were part of the care package that I sent to Jeremy when he was studying for the Bar. He rated these as an A- and said “as plain old boring chocolate chip cookies go, they’re superb.”

Cookie says: 'I love you!'
Nikon D50

A-, in my mind, is about right. I’ve already made them better than that batch – I originally used Lindt Swiss bittersweet and Ghirardelli milk but in my most recent batch, Scharffen Berger 70% bittersweet and 41% extra rich milk was the chocolate I chose. They’re still not absolutely perfect and they could use a small improvement. To give these cookies just a tad more texture and complex chocolate flavor (but not more sweetness), I think they would benefit from some cacao nibs being stirred in.

It could be that those little nibs will be the key to finally getting that A.

A most delectable bite
Nikon D50

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Oct 092007

Pumpkin spice cookies

This recipe is one that’s been near and dear to me for nearly my whole life. My Mom originally clipped it out of a newspaper and it’s grown up with me, going through different changes as I changed too.

Originally we made these cookies huge and round with little pumpkin stems and lavished icing and sprinkles upon them like festive, sweet, sticky jack-o-lanterns. Needless to say, they never lasted long.

My copy of the beloved recipeYears later as my brother and I grew out of the whole Halloween thing, these cookies stuck around (of course!) Now that having a good smooth icing canvas was no longer necessary, chocolate chips made their way into the cookies. They marred the formerly glasslike (well, for a cookie) surface but dude, it was chocolate. Yum! My parents would send these cookies to me in my care packages at college, and they brought back memories of childhood the way that only really good comfort foods can do.

They just might be the best cookie ever.

Click for the recipe →

Jul 122007

Who doesn’t love biscotti? This Italian twice-baked crispy cookie is wonderful with a cup of espresso or an after-dinner cordial, but let’s admit it: sometimes we get tired of the usual almond or lemon flavor.

Enter the humble cranberry and pistachio, the two secret ingredients that make the flavor much brighter and crunch more satisfying. I like this recipe so much that when I recently learned my friend Jeremy was studying for his impending bar exam, I resolved to make him some yummy treats for a morale package. Cookies were a given, but what else to add? And it occurred to me: Jeremy is probably drinking lots of coffee right now, so biscotti were the logical choice to add to the list of goodies. Using this recipe was a no-brainer. I mean, we all love chocolate and I make a mean chocolate-almond biscotti, but I ended up eschewing this because Jeremy doesn’t like almonds in cookies. Surely he has access to lots of great biscotti (he lives in Seattle!) so needed a departure from biscotti boredom.

He, it seems, agreed. They were the highest-rated of the three types of baked goods I sent him, and he called them “exceptional.” The bonus? These are relatively healthy (for a cookie, at least), so feel free to indulge in an extra one or two the next time your nose is stuck in a book and your hand is cramping from all of the essays you’re writing.

Cranberry and pistachio biscotti

Click for the recipe →

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