Drunken Fig and Honeyed Walnut Sundae

As I type this, I am sitting in my parents’ backyard, at a table in what I’ve been calling their “redwood grove,” sipping a glass of prosecco and thinking about vacation. I think there are a few different levels of vacation, and with them come differing levels of indulgence. The good old “staycation,” a concept that has been around for decades but which only became an official word in the Oxford English Dictionary in 2010, seems to call for something humble – homey – perhaps a slice of pound cake with some berries or a smear of jam and not much else. A heavy-duty vacation – the kind that requires airline travel or a passport – requires something more indulgent. On a voyage up and down the East Coast that N. and I took a number of years ago, we unexpectedly ended up in a first class train cabin on a leg from Boston to New York City, and as we sat back and wondered at our luck, an attendant suddenly, unexpectedly, dropped off two gleaming glasses of lush, impossibly light chocolate mousse. That’s a big vacation dessert. Indulgent. Rich. Not the first thing you’d choose from a cookbook. Big vacations are opera cakes and crème brûlée and napoleons.

But there are also in between vacations: those that require only a day trip, or when you lie around in your rented beach-house-for-the-weekend with no agenda besides thinking all day about what will be for dinner, and then scrapping all your plans and going to get tacos instead. There are the ones that consist of living with friends for a week because you only get to see them once a year, or dropping by the family’s house for a few warm evenings to shake off the spent semester, or grabbing a hotel room unexpectedly because the glory of the afternoon wore on so long you can’t bear the idea of the drive home, and besides, you’re on vacation.

This dessert is for one of those in between kinds of vacations. The idea came from Judy Rodgers’ red wine figs in her Zuni Café Cookbook, a thick tome spilling with interesting combinations that I’m still working my way through, and a garam masala laced bowl of walnuts I whipped up for a last minute happy hour a month or two ago. The result is a glorious trifecta of textures and temperatures: ice cream, chewy figs steeped in warm, orange-spiked red wine, and toasted walnuts tossed in spiced honey. It’s a very adult sort of sundae – no sprinkles, no bright berries, no whipped cream or chocolate of any sort. Yet it’s also indulgent – wine-drenched figs intense enough you’ll only want a few, and warm walnuts dripping with honey, so reminiscent of baklava, slowly melting the rich, cold, sweet ice cream underneath. And if you are lucky enough to choose an ice cream that is studded with dozens of tiny, crunchy seeds scraped from that precious pod, well, all the better.

And now that you have this on a Monday, you’ve got something to dream about (and get going: the figs need a few days to steep and soak up that wine) until you get to your weekend, and whatever kind of vacation it holds.

Drunken Fig and Honeyed Walnut Sundaes
Makes 4 sundaes
About 40 minutes active time, plus at least 2 days for figs to steep
For Drunken Figs:
1½ cups red wine
2 tablespoons orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier
2 bay leaves
1 strip of orange zest, about half an inch wide, taken from stem end to navel end of orange
8 ounces dried black mission figs
1-2 teaspoons honey
For Honeyed Walnuts:
1 cup walnut halves or pieces, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons honey
¼ – ½ teaspoon salt (we found ½ teaspoon was right on the edge of being too much)
½ teaspoon garam masala
To serve:
Vanilla bean ice cream, about two scoops per person

 

  • To make the drunken figs, heat the wine and orange liqueur in a small saucepan with the bay leaves and boil until it has reduced to ½ cup. This will take around 20 minutes.
  • While the wine reduces, stem and halve the figs (cut from stem end to belly end to expose all of the seeds) and place them in a 2 – 4 cup vessel with a tight fitting lid. Add the strip of orange zest.
  • When the wine has reduced, stir in the honey, then pour over the figs and zest. Cover and shake, “leave to swell for a few days,” shaking periodically (for me, this ended up being 2 days), then refrigerate until ready to use. Serve at room temperature or slightly warm.
  • To make the honeyed walnuts, preheat the oven to 300F and scatter the walnuts on a baking tray. Bake until lightly browned and fragrant; 10-15 minutes. While they toast, combine the honey, salt, and garam masala in a small bowl with a whisk. When the walnuts come out of the oven, immediately scrape and pour the honey over them and toss to coat. The hot walnuts will heat and thin the honey, making it easier to combine.
  • To serve, place two scoops of ice cream into a dish of your choice. Scoop and drizzle about ¼ cup of the walnuts over the top, then add 5-6 fig halves plus a little remaining liquid, if there is any. Eat immediately.

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Zucchini Crepes with Mascarpone Almond Cream

food-blog-february-2017-0288There is no way I can connect this recipe with Black History Month. I’ve tried. The transition just isn’t there. But when this issue of The New Yorker showed up on our doorstep, with this beautiful new imagining of the iconic Rosie the Riveter staring confidently back at me on the front, I wanted to make sure you saw her. Clearly a response to the Women’s March, she is also a powerful image of intersectional feminism, replacing the white WWII era working woman with an African American marcher, pink pussy hat and all. And though the cover doesn’t bear Rosie’s original accompanying phrase – “We can do it” – there’s no way to divorce that message, with all its connotations, from this new version.

There is so much to do, but we can do it.

food-blog-february-2017-0260These started not as crepes but as a desire to modify my favorite zucchini spice bread recipe into a pancake (I told you there was no transition. I just wanted to show you my magazine cover and remind you about the history we should be celebrating this month). There would be nutmeg and cinnamon, there would be caramelized crisp edges, there might be golden raisins… and then I made the mistake of searching for “zucchini bread pancakes” online, and of course the first hit was Deb’s recipe, deepening, as ever, my intense love-hate relationship with her and her site. Let me be clear, before you start emailing me: I adore Smitten Kitchen (look, Deb, I’m even giving you traffic!). I have the cookbook, I went to a signing and thoroughly embarrassed myself, and I trawl through her archives all the time, because she has tried everything! But there’s the hate part (or, at least, the jealous part): she’s tried everything! I certainly wasn’t going to make zucchini bread pancakes if she already had the consummate version (which, of course, I just automatically assume she does. Being a jealous fan-girl is weird).

food-blog-february-2017-0263food-blog-february-2017-0267So I had to go with something different, and somehow something different became crepes. I wasn’t sure how they would work, given the sodden heaviness large quantities of shredded zucchini often contribute to a dish, but the zucchini were already in the fridge and the milk on the door was begging to be used, so the experiment had to move forward.

food-blog-february-2017-0255I’m calling these crepes, but they don’t share ratio or ingredient quantities with other crepe recipes. My grandfather called them Swedish pancakes, probably more because he was Swedish than due to any recipe authenticity. They are a bit moister than some crepes – a little less papery around the edges, maybe a bit heavier, and we’ve never been particularly fussy about getting them wafer thin. Here, the addition of the zucchini makes these qualities important, since the batter has to be substantial enough to hold up to the extra weight of the vegetation.

food-blog-february-2017-0268food-blog-february-2017-0272As I always yell at food competition contestants when they scrunch or tear or mangle their first crepe, the first one probably is going to be ugly. Maybe the second one too. But you have to persist. Crepes require a bit of a rhythm – you have to get a feel for how much batter goes into the pan, how steeply to tilt your pan while you swirl to get an even coating of batter, and how long it really does need to cook before you can flip that delicate, eggy circle. And ultimately, really, it’s okay when that first one rips, because now you get to eat it surreptitiously and make sure it’s good. Cook’s prerogative.

food-blog-february-2017-0277These were indeed good. The zucchini is mild, so don’t worry if it’s not your very favorite vegetable flavor, but it cooks so quickly that every bit of grassy rawness was gone. They could go in a sweet or a savory direction, but I opted for sweet, whisking mascarpone cheese with some honey, some lemon, and roughly chopped toasted almonds for a bit of crunch. Lemon and zucchini play well together, as do zucchini and almonds, and it’s nice to have some texture in with the softness of the cheese and the pliable delicacy of the pancake.

food-blog-february-2017-0280We had these for dinner as a decadent response to a rainy day, but they would make an indulgent breakfast or a superb brunch course as well. You can fold the crepes up into a triangular, handkerchief-like packet with a mound of cheese inside, or you can roll up into a cylinder, which is what my family has always done. I found I liked a few almonds sprinkled over the top, and an extra drizzle of honey as well. Any extra crepes keep fine covered in the fridge for a day or two, until you take them out, reheat them with a bit of salted butter, and smother them with cinnamon sugar, because some days require that kind of solid self care, so you can get out there and keep going.

food-blog-february-2017-0293

Zucchini Crepes with Mascarpone Almond Cream
Makes 10-12 crepes in a 10-inch skillet
30-40 minutes
For the filling:
½ cup whole raw almonds
8 ounces mascarpone cheese
1 tablespoon heavy cream
2 tablespoons honey
zest of one lemon
1-2 teaspoons lemon juice
additional honey, to drizzle
For the crepes:
2 cups shredded zucchini, from 2 medium zucchinis
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons melted butter
3 eggs
1½-1¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
⅛ teaspoon salt

 

  • First, make the filling. Preheat the oven to 350F. While it heats, roughly chop the almonds – it’s okay to have some uneven sizing. Spread them out on a baking tray and toast in the oven 10-15 minutes until they are golden brown. Start checking at 10 minutes; keep in mind they will continue to cook after you take them out of the oven.
  • In a bowl, whisk the mascarpone cheese and the heavy cream together until light and fluffy (I used the whisk attachment of my stand mixer). Add the honey, the lemon zest, and the lemon juice, whisk again and taste for seasoning – you are looking for something lightly sweet, and rich but not overwhelming. When the almonds cool, fold ¾ of the amount into the mascarpone mixture, reserving the remainder to sprinkle atop the crepes.
  • To make the crepes, shred the zucchini in a food processor or with the large holes on a box grater. Collect them on a clean kitchen towel and squeeze to remove as much liquid as possible. Let it sit for 2 minutes, then squeeze once more.
  • Warm the milk slightly in a bowl or large glass measuring cup and add the melted butter, stirring to incorporate. This ensures the butter will integrate evenly, rather than hardening back into chunks. Let cool to room temperature and whisk in the eggs, then 1½ cups of the flour, the sugar, and the salt. Finally, whisk in the zucchini shreds. You should have something like a thin cake batter, probably thinner than your average pancake batter. If it seems too liquid, add the remaining ¼ cup of flour.
  • To cook the crepes, heat about 2 teaspoons butter in a 10-inch skillet or crepe pan over medium-high heat. Pour in about ⅓ cup of batter, turning and swirling the skillet as you do so to allow for a thin layer of batter to coat the entire surface. Try to spread out the zucchini a bit – it has a tendency to clump up in the middle, which results in uneven cooking.
  • Cook 1-2 minutes per side, until golden and almost dry. Don’t be alarmed if the first crepe tears or is otherwise mangled – they are delicate, and you have to get a rhythm going. After every two crepes, add another few teaspoons of butter to the skillet.
  • As you finish cooking each crepe, remove from the skillet to a covered plate to keep them warm. They won’t stick together – there’s enough fat in them to prevent clinging.
  • To serve, spread out one crepe on a flat surface and spread a few tablespoons of the mascarpone and almond mixture in a line a bit to the left of the center. Use the tines of a fork or your fingers to lift the edge of the crepe over the mascarpone filling, then continue rolling up into a tight burrito shape. Remove to a serving plate and continue with remaining crepes and filling. Sprinkle the finished rolls with the remaining almonds, and if desired, drizzle with more honey before serving.

Almond Raisin Roasted Cauliflower

2015 Blog September-0517This week, Los Angeles finally had some mercy on us and allowed the temperatures to drop just a bit. My building at work turned off the air conditioning in our offices. I didn’t change into shorts immediately upon getting home. In fact, I actually – and you might be shocked here, so get ready for it – I actually put on a sweatshirt and wore it quite comfortably for several hours. I dug my bedroom slippers out from the dust-bunny-laden corner of the closet and slid grateful, almost chilly, feet into their old embrace.

2015 Blog September-0501Of course, since this relief might not last very long, I did the only sensible thing I could, which was to buy a head of cauliflower and shove it into a high-temperature oven. Cauliflower and I were never friends in childhood, but Mark Bittman changed all that for me by offering a high-heat roast, rather than a steam or a boil, as the plan of attack. In fact at this point, I think N. and I would happily eat a tray of roasted broccoli and cauliflower three or four nights a week, without much to accompany them.

2015 Blog September-0502On occasion, though, a bit of accompaniment is nice. Though my typical procedure is just salt, pepper, and plenty of olive oil, I wanted to give the cauliflower some friends to play with as it bronzed slowly over the flames. The vegetable itself has such a mild flavor that it can easily go in a sweet or a savory direction, and I decided I wanted to play with these borders. Adopting a vaguely Mediterranean direction, after the first blast of roasting I scattered a handful each of golden raisins and sliced almonds over the cauliflower. Back it went just long enough for the florets to brown and the almonds to toast, but not quite long enough to burn the nuts or the delicate raisins. On the contrary, the raisins plump up a bit as they suck in some of the oil and moisture released from the cauliflower. A quick shower of chopped parsley as the tray leaves the oven, and the dish is ready.

2015 Blog September-0506The flavors here are perfect, and it’s hard to describe perfection, but my unexpected favorite thing about this dish was the play of textures. The cauliflower gains an almost-crisp crust on its exterior, but the inside is meltingly soft in an entirely pleasant way. The raisins don’t stay plump for long after exiting the oven, but they provide a subtle chewiness I enjoy, and the almonds are a perfect crunch.

2015 Blog September-0509I usually try to give you pairing suggestions, and while I think this would be good with everything from turkey to lamb, I feel no shame in admitting that, since I was dining solo, I just ate the whole tray and called it a night.

2015 Blog September-0511

Almond Raisin Roasted Cauliflower
Serves 2-3 as a side, 1 as a main
45-50 minutes, mostly unattended
¼ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 medium head of cauliflower
generous ⅓ cup golden raisins
generous ⅓ cup sliced untoasted almonds
¼ cup roughly chopped fresh parsley

 

  • Preheat the oven to 450F with a foil-lined 9×13 inch baking tray inside. We want to preheat the cooking surface as well as the oven to start the cooking process immediately.
  • While the oven heats, whisk together the olive oil, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Cut the cauliflower into medium florets (a large bite-size) and toss in the seasoned oil for even coating.
  • Carefully remove the preheated baking tray from the oven and dump on the oiled florets, arranging them in a single layer. Return to the oven and roast for 20 minutes, during which time you can assemble and prep the remaining ingredients.
  • After 20 minutes, take the tray out of the oven and, using tongs, flip over the florets. Yes, each one. Yes, it’s tedious, but it will make for a better end product. Push them back into the oven and roast for another 10 minutes.
  • Remove the tray from the oven again and scatter the raisins and then the almonds over the cauliflower. This protects the raisins a bit and ensures the almonds toast nicely. Back into the oven once more for a final 10 minutes, then remove, scatter with chopped parsley, and serve hot or warm.

 

 

Carrot Ginger Soup with Coconut and Turmeric

I threw away my bathroom scale today. Before you applaud me, this isn’t some kind of new-year-new-me-self-acceptance resolution. No, it’s because unless we have had a 46 pound ghost living in our bathroom for the last month, the scale has stopped working. No amount of fiddling with the dial on the bottom has had any effect, aside from bulking up our imaginary squatter to 77 pounds.

Food Blog January 2015-0205Though I realize there are probably many videos, tutorials, and step-by-step Pinterest boards devoted to fixing this problem (how to evict your imaginary scale-ghost!), I decided it was easier to just throw it away. Then I went out and had chicken and waffles for lunch.

Food Blog January 2015-0210All that being said, it is the time of year when, if we’re invested in this sort of thing, we tend to pay a lot of attention to what our bodies look like and what we put into them. Usually that involves eating less and eating lighter, which is ironic and unfortunate, because so many places in the country this January are having such a harsh winter. We need comfort, we need warmth, we need rich food to sustain us through snow and low temperatures (well, perhaps not in Los Angeles).

Food Blog January 2015-0199The answer to both of these problems seems, to me, to be vegetable soup. I don’t mean a minestrone type concoction, with chunks of various veggies floating in broth, but a pureed soup, featuring a single vegetable star, with minimal back-up supporters and just a bit of spice to keep things interesting. After a recent episode of Top Chef on which one of the contestants made a deep, sunset inspired roasted carrot soup, I knew what my star would be.

Food Blog January 2015-0201Carrots work well with many flavors, but ginger is a particularly nice pairing; carrots are sweet and hearty, and ginger is a warm, spicy kick that keeps it bright. Rather than chicken stock, which I find can muddy flavors a bit, I opted for water as my liquid, with a generous splash of coconut milk to add some richness. Then, on a whim I’m pleased I followed, I sprinkled in a good teaspoon or two of turmeric, which bolstered both the orange glow of the carrots and their earthy flavor.

Food Blog January 2015-0213As I watched my pureed mixture burble in a pot, I started thinking about texture. I’d stopped short of pureeing the carrots to total velvet smoothness, but I still wanted something crunchy to break up the potential monotony of my soup. During the pumpkin madness of autumn, I experimented with some yet-to-be-perfected turmeric-spiced pumpkin bars that featured a pistachio and walnut crumble topping. Pistachios seemed like a good choice again here, and to play with the hint of citrus flavor they carry, as well as add a slight sourness the soup might benefit from, I tossed the nuts with lemon zest before sprinkling them over my vivid orange lunch.

Food Blog January 2015-0209Despite our less-than-wintery weather, this was a comforting, warming bowl. Roasting the carrots brings out their sweetness and concentrates their flavor, but the spices keep it dancing between decadent richness and brightly refreshing. I used some leftover naan to mop up the edges of my bowl, but a crusty piece of baguette or hot pita would, as you might expect, be just as nice.

Food Blog January 2015-0214This is a thick soup – almost passable as a vegetable puree, and you can play with it as you please. Add more or less liquid, replace the pistachio and lemon topping with another toasted nut, or lime zest rather than lemon, or maybe even fried sage and crumbled gingersnaps, to play with the fresh ginger in the soup. My quantities here produce an assertively gingery mix – reduce to just a teaspoon or two for a milder spice.

Food Blog January 2015-0207

Carrot Ginger Soup with Coconut and Turmeric
Serves 2-3
1 pound carrots, tips and tops removed, peeled if desired (I usually don’t – just scrub them off)
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon grated ginger (or less, to your taste)
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 cup light coconut milk
1 cup water
2 teaspoons sugar
additional salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup roughly chopped, toasted pistachios
2 teaspoons lemon zest

 

  • Preheat the oven to 425F while you prep your carrots. Remove their tops and tips, then split down the center for two long half cylinders. On an aluminum foil lined baking sheet, toss the carrot halves with the olive oil and the ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper for a gleaming, even coat. Roast in the 425F oven for 40 minutes, until nicely browned and quite tender. Set aside to cool slightly.
  • For a standard blender: add the roasted carrots, coconut milk, water, grated ginger, and turmeric to a blender and blend until the mixture reaches your desired consistency. As noted above, I chose to leave mine with a little texture, but you can blend until completely smooth if desired. Pour the mixture into a medium pot.
  • For an immersion blender: add the roasted carrots, coconut milk, water, grated ginger, and turmeric to a medium pot with high sides (otherwise the soup spatters a bit during blending) and blend with an immersion blender until the mixture reaches your desired consistency. As noted above, I chose to leave mine with a little texture, but you can blend until completely smooth if desired.
  • For both methods: once the soup is your desired consistency in the medium pot, place it over medium-low heat until it is heated through. Be careful – because this mixture is thick, if it comes to a boil it will spit.
  • Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve topped with a scattering of chopped pistachios and lemon zest.

Brownie Chunk Cookies

Despite my self-effacing proclamations of cookie-production-failure last week, earlier this week I pushed through my grading, closed down the semester (email? What email?), and made another batch of cookies. These, while not Christmas or holiday themed, per se, are a cookie I’ve been playing with for some time now, and the final result is so big, so decadent and comforting and butter laden and jammed with chocolate, that not including them on a holiday cookie platter feels unacceptable. Unless, of course, that’s because you ate them all before you had a chance to assemble that platter. In which case, carry on. I think you’ve got the right idea.

Food Blog December 2014-0972I found the original recipe for these cookies in an old issue of Bon Appetit magazine – a contribution from a place called Sweet Pea Bakery and Catering – and was bowled over by the concept: brownie chunks folded into walnut-spiked, brown-sugar forward cookie dough, baked into a, what? Brownkie? Cooknie? It means two separate baking projects, but really? If the end result is two casual, much beloved hand-held desserts in one thick, golden, oversized package, I’m willing to put in the extra time.

Food Blog December 2014-0961Food Blog December 2014-0962And yet, as I played, I wanted more. The recipe already calls for walnuts; I wanted mine toasted for that extra, almost bitter buttery richness. The deep chocolate-y squidge of the brownies, on the fudgy side (as opposed to cake-y, as you might expect), is good, but baked into the cookies they don’t have that same melty purity as chocolate chips or chunks might. Easy solution. A handful of chopped bittersweet chocolate joined the party. I replaced some of the all-purpose flour with bread flour to give the cookie some extra chew. And as a final coup de grace, a sprinkle of coarse sea salt over the top of each innocent not-so-little scoop of dough. Chocolate and salt are old friends, suitable for mergers beyond that classic dipped pretzel business. (Seriously, try it. If you don’t like a little salt sprinkled atop a chocolate chip cookie, I’m not sure we can be friends.)

Food Blog December 2014-0966Food Blog December 2014-0967This is a big cookie. I like it that way, because it means the brownie chunks and shards of chopped chocolate inside can be big enough to retain structural integrity. I will admit, though, that devoting almost 1/2 a cup of batter to each cookie makes for a large serving. If you were so inclined, I’m sure you could chop the additions smaller and scoop out more petite dough balls. I just… haven’t. Though I will admit to having thought hard about the opposite: smashing a scoop of vanilla ice cream between two of these monsters and giving up on eating any other food ever again. Because hey, holiday.

Next week I’ll be back with my final sauce offering for the year, and some concluding words on that project. But for now, I’ll keep it short, and wish you joy, warmth, and food as gorgeous on the tongue as it was on the plate. Or maybe more. Happy holidays, friends, no matter what you celebrate.

Food Blog December 2014-0976

Brownie chunk cookies
adapted from the Sweet Pea Bakery and Catering, via Bon Appetit magazine

 

Old Fashioned Brownies
Makes a 1/2 inch slab of about about 10×15 inches
5 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped (unless you’re lazy like me)
½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick), cubed (see parentheses above)
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 large eggs
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour

 

  • Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil, leaving at least an inch overhang on all sides to lift with.
  • Create a double boiler by filling a medium pot about half full of water and setting a glass or metal bowl over the pot, being sure the bottom of the pot doesn’t touch the water. Add the chocolate and butter to the bowl, and bring the water in the pot to a bare simmer over medium heat. Stir frequently until chocolate and butter are smooth, glossy, and completely melted. Set aside to cool for at least 15 minutes.
  • When chocolate is barely warm to the touch, whisk in the sugar and vanilla. The mixture will become clumpy. Add the eggs and salt; whisk firmly until fully combined. Switch to a spatula and stir in the flour until no white streaks remain.
  • Dump and spread the batter over the prepared pan to create a thin, even layer. You may have to manipulate it quite a bit to get it to spread that far.
  • Bake in the preheated oven until a cake tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs; about 20 minutes. Cool in pan, then cover and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.
  • To remove from the pan, lift using the foil overhang and reserve 3/4 of the slab for the cookies. Use the remainder for your own devious purposes.

 

Brownie chunk cookies
Makes 2½ – 3 dozen
1½ cups room temperature butter (3 sticks)
1 cup sugar
1½ cups brown sugar
1½ teaspoons vanilla
3 eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cups bread flour
1½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt, + more for sprinkling
1½ cups walnuts, toasted, then chopped
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped in chunks
¾ old-fashioned brownie slab, cut into 1-inch chunks

 

  • Preheat oven to 325F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper
  • Cream the butter in a large bowl until it is light and fluffy. Add the sugar and the brown sugar and cream again until well integrated – be sure there are no errant chunks of butter.
  • Add the vanilla and eggs to the creamed butter and sugar and mix well to combine, scraping down the sides to create a homogenous mixture.
  • Stir in the flours, baking soda, and salt to form a soft dough. Add the walnuts and chopped chocolate, stirring well to combine. Finally, gently fold in the brownie chunks – we don’t want to break them up too much.
  • Spray a ⅓ – ½ cup ice cream scoop or measuring cup with non-stick spray and use it to scoop the batter into rounds on the prepared cookie sheets, spacing them about 2 inches apart (this allowed me to fit six balls of dough on each sheet). Once spaced, press down with two fingers to flatten each ball slightly.
  • Sprinkle the top of each cookie sparingly with coarse or flaky sea salt and bake in the preheated 325F oven for 18-20 minutes, until edges of cookies are starting to turn golden and the middle is set but still very soft.
  • Cool on cookie sheets for 5 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Apricot Ginger Thumbprint Cookies

Food Blog December 2014-0956Up until I was in college, almost every year my family received a heavy box a week or two before Christmas. As soon as we tore through the tape we could smell them: Nana’s cookies. Ladylocks or cream horns, nut-rolls, pizzelles, thumbprints, sometimes chocolate dipped apricots or seven layer bars; everything nestled in its own individual wrapping and ready to be devoured. And she didn’t just send them to us, but to the families of her other two children as well, and who knows who else. I’m sure she saved a few for herself and Pap – who was quite the cookie fiend – to eat as the holidays approached.

Food Blog December 2014-0943I never thought about it when I was a kid, but this must have taken her weeks to do. I can only imagine the organization that went into it – I’m sure dough was made ahead of time and frozen until she was ready to bake, and what a baking day(s) it must have been! How many cookie sheets would that be, all rotating in and out of the oven? How many measuring spoons and bags of flour and sugar and butter?

Food Blog December 2014-0941I had big plans this season. I was going to give you with a week of cookies, presenting my favorite holiday offerings with which you could grace your own dessert bar (and if you have one of those, I politely demand to be invited over). Just one cookie recipe a day, and you and I would both be set for the whole season.

Food Blog December 2014-0944Alas, as usual, that whole having a day job thing took over. Amidst the stacks of papers, however, one cookie managed to sweet talk its way through: a modest tray of thumbprints that, offered up in my department’s mailroom, disappeared in less than two hours. My people are cookie people.

Food Blog December 2014-0946Thumbprints were always included in Nana’s Christmas cookie box. Somewhere between a sugar cookie and shortbread, but with brown sugar rather than white, the soft dough gets rolled into a ball, dunked in egg whites and then coated in chopped nuts. A gentle squash in the middle of the ball gives the cookie its name, and provides a little receptacle for more sweetness – after baking, Nana always filled the little cavity of the cookie with pink or blue royal icing.

Food Blog December 2014-0948I hadn’t thought about thumbprint cookies in years, but at some point this summer, something reminded me of these pretty little sweets and I knew I wanted to make my own version. None of my relatives – good bakers all – had a copy of Nana’s recipe, but one of my aunts told me to start with Betty Crocker, and gave me a few hints about how Nana might have adapted her version. In mine, I’ve replaced the margarine I’m almost sure Nana used with butter, and gone with a fruit-based jammy chutney for the center rather than the sweet icing she favored. Apricot and crystallized ginger, chopped fine or pulverized in the food processor, cooked down with some water, some sugar, and some lemon zest create a beautiful glossy compote reminiscent of those tubs of candied fruit that show up in grocery store produce sections this time of year, but with fresher, cleaner flavor.

Food Blog December 2014-0949It has been a long time since I tasted one of Nana’s thumbprints, but my first bite of these, still warm from the oven, told me I was close. The cookie itself is buttery and crumbly, both features enhanced by its walnut coating, and not overly sweet. The apricot and ginger filling give it a spicy-sweet character that went as well with the walnuts as I’d hoped, and they are actually tastier the day after baking. My recipe wound up making a mere 2 ½ dozen cookies, which doesn’t sound like a pittance, but when I brought home an empty tray after making my offering at work, N. and I wished we’d saved more than the four cookies I’d laid aside for us.

Food Blog December 2014-0952As a friend shocked me by revealing last night, it’s only ten days till Christmas, and Hanukkah starts tomorrow already. I hope your plans are going well, and if you do have the urge to bake something sweet for someone you love, this little gem of a cookie should be hard to resist.

Food Blog December 2014-0955

Apricot Ginger Thumbprints
Adapted from Betty Crocker
Makes about 2 ½ dozen cookies
For the filling:
1 cup dried apricots
¼ cup crystallized ginger
Zest of one lemon
¾ cup water
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Pinch salt
For the dough:
½ cup brown sugar
1 cup butter, soft but not melted (2 sticks)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 egg yolks
2 egg whites
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ – 2 cups finely chopped walnuts

 

  • Make the filling first, since it will need time to cool after cooking.
  • With a sharp knife or a food processor, chop the apricots and ginger until very fine.
  • Place apricot and ginger bits in a small pot with lemon zest, water, brown sugar, and the pinch of salt. Bring to a bubble, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until the mixture becomes thick, 15-20 minutes. Stir occasionally.
  • When mixture is a thick, jammy consistency, remove from heat and set aside to cool completely.
  • While apricot ginger mixture cools, preheat the oven to 350F and make the cookie dough.
  • Cream the butter until light and fluffy – about 2 minutes.
  • Add the brown sugar and cream together another 2 minutes, until this, too, is light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and vanilla, and mix well to combine.
  • Sprinkle in the flour and salt, mix well to combine into a clumpy dough approximately the consistency of wet sand.
  • If at this point the dough is too soft to work with, stow it in the fridge for 15 minutes or so to let the butter harden up a bit.
  • While the dough chills, use a fork to lightly beat the egg whites, reserving them in a small bowl.
  • Chop or process the walnuts into small crumbs.
  • When you are ready to form the cookies, use a spoon or your fingers to portion out and roll 1-inch balls of dough. Dunk each ball in the egg whites, then roll in the walnuts until well coated.
  • Place each ball on a greased or parchment-lined cookie sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart.
  • When your cookie sheet is full, use your thumb or finger to push down into the center of each cookie ball, making a depression. That’s the thumbprint!
  • Bake at 350F for 15 minutes, until cookies are lightly golden and have swelled up.
  • Upon removing the cookies from the oven, use the back of a spoon to lightly press down on the depressed area again, as it may have puffed up during baking.
  • Let cool on cookie sheet for 1 minute, then remove to a wire rack. While still warm, fill the center with apricot ginger mixture – each cookie should fit about ½ a teaspoon of the fruit filling.
  • Cookies are best cooled completely, and only get better the second day, though I suspect they won’t last much longer than that.