Apricot and White Chocolate “Thank You” Cookies

I love a great many things about my job. Being a community college professor is rewarding in a number of ways, and my biggest fears: that it would be just an amplified version of high school, and that there would be limited opportunities to make lasting connections with students, have proved fairly unfounded. In fact, more students follow me from class to class and contact me semesters and even years after they have left our campus than anyone at the university level ever did. It’s gratifying.

The thing I didn’t expect to miss, though, was a big library. Coming from a research university to a large community college, where the focus shifted from scholarship with teaching on the side to teaching with occasional, non-required research, was a big change for me, and it’s sometimes hard to access the materials I need. Yes, my library helps me get interlibrary loan materials, and I have a library card for UCLA’s massive collection, but sometimes things are missing. Sometimes things are checked out, or libraries say no. So I turn to other options: my research assistants. Funny enough, I probably have more unofficial, unpaid, unaware “RAs” than I would were I at a research university. And they aren’t RAs, really; they are just lovely people who sometimes help me access materials.

Most recently, I branched out from my usual RA – my sister – and got some help from E., who sent me a few chapters of a book no one local could or would loan me. I’d found an electronic version of the parts I needed through Google’s book preview which, oh so helpfully, didn’t have any page numbers! How’s a responsible prof to cite her sources, if her sources won’t cooperate?

So in thanks to E., who is revising his dissertation and clearly has much more important things to do than scan and send book chapters to his needy friend across the country, in spite of his loud insistence no such action was necessary, I decided to mail him a box of thank you cookies.

I’d considered this combination a month or so previous: dried apricots and white chocolate in an oatmeal based dough sounded different and delicious, and my sister and I had talked about playing with its clear granola resonances and adding, say, flaked coconut, and maybe chopped, toasted nuts or seeds.

For this version, though, I decided to keep it simple (though I did add guesses for quantities of coconut and nuts to the recipe, if you want to experiment). For the dough, I used an adaptation of my favorite oatmeal chocolate cookie recipe, one that Ghirardelli used to print on its semi-sweet chocolate chips bags, but has since changed to include both less butter and less flour. The products of that original recipe used to come with me, in great, craggy, unevenly shaped mounds, to field show competitions when I was in high school. After the first time or two, they never made it past the table at the entrance to the band room.

But anyway, egregious quantities of barely soft butter (thought it does make a lot of cookies, so don’t despair), heaps of rolled oats, and a generous dosing of both white chocolate chips and meaty, moist dried apricots get mounded into tablespoon-sized heaps and baked until they are barely cooked through – they come out still quite soft and a little raw looking in the middle – and set up as they cool. The butter should be malleable but still cool from the fridge, never melted, and the dough should be stowed back in the fridge to keep the butter cool in between baking each batch; as with pie crust or biscuits, this keeps the cookies from flattening out as they cook. In high school I used margarine instead; if you do this they will stay puffy, but I prefer the flavor and make-up of butter. The oats should be of the old fashioned rolled variety, not quick cooking, for texture in the final cookie.

When I sampled the first one, still quite hot from the oven, I thought it was good but a touch too sweet. But then I found myself eating another one, and then had to slap my own hand to prevent myself from downing a third in a row, so I figured I had to be on to something. Cooled, they lost a little of that initial saccharine hit, and considering that several dozen lasted all of two hours in my department mailroom when I brought them in last week, I’d say they were a reasonable success.

Oh, and my primary reason for baking? I won’t embarrass him by revealing how many he told me he ate at one go, but I will say they had a good reception and I’m glad they are there to comfort him as he plows through his dissertation revision process. A little cookie comfort in the middle of that trying process, especially when that is happening as only part of the weirdness and horror of the world right now, is so necessary.

Apricot and White Chocolate “Thank You” Cookies
Adapted heavily from the old Ghirardelli’s Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe
Makes approximately 4 dozen
About an hour
3 sticks unsalted butter, medium soft
¾ cups brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 cups rolled oats (not quick cooking oats) OR 2 cups oats and 1 cup unsweetened flaked coconut (note: this is an approximation; I did not use coconut in mine)
12 ounces white chocolate chips
1 cup diced dried apricots
optional: ¾ cups roughly chopped unsalted toasted nuts, like walnuts or pistachios (note: this is an approximation; I did not add nuts to mine)


  • Preheat the oven to 375F and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  • In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment or a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the butter until it is broken down a bit. Add the sugars and cream on medium speed until very light in color and texture, 3-4 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl at least once to ensure even integration. When the mixture is pale and fluffy, add the egg and vanilla and mix at low speed until incorporated.
  • At low speed, mix in the first ½ cup of flour with the salt, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg. When it has incorporated a bit, add another ½ cup flour, mix to incorporate (don’t forget to scrape down the sides of the bowl), then the final ½ cup flour. This ensures you don’t get flour everywhere.
  • If you are using an electric mixer, switch now to a sturdy spatula or wooden spoon and prepare to work out your upper arms. If you are in a stand mixer, continue at low speed. Stir in the oats until well incorporated, then the fruit and white chocolate chips just until mixed in.
  • Scoop the dough in rounded tablespoons onto the prepared cookie sheets. I did 8 per sheet, to ensure no overcrowding. Bake in the preheated 375F oven for 9-10 minutes, storing the remaining dough in the refrigerator while each batch is in the oven. When they come out, the cookies will look underbaked in the centers. Take them out of the oven anyway, and let them sit on the cookie sheet for 3-4 minutes to set up, then remove to a rack to cool for at least another 2 minutes before scarfing.


Apricot Goat Cheese Biscuits

2016 Food Blog May-0756One of my first big Sandra Lee-type triumphs in the kitchen was with biscuits. At the time, I was using Bisquick, and after a number of successful productions, I decided there was no reason I shouldn’t make the fluffy little drop biscuits more interesting by adding herbs, or green onions, or cheese, and then that my creations would probably be better with buttermilk rather than skim milk, and then at some point, with contributions from Mark Bittman and Michael Ruhlman, the Bisquick box disappeared altogether and the biscuits got fluffier, and higher, and packed densely with all kinds of interesting additions.

2016 Food Blog May-07262016 Food Blog May-0728There are probably enough biscuit recipes on this site – adding another seems superfluous. But they are so tasty, and so comforting, and so simple, and they accept additions that drive them into the realms of sweet or savory so well, that they keep popping up on my list of food ideas. This time, with half a bag of dried apricots in my pantry and a partial log of goat cheese in my fridge, there were no excuses for a special weekend breakfast.

2016 Food Blog May-07332016 Food Blog May-07362016 Food Blog May-07382016 Food Blog May-0743Biscuits are a comforting baked item because they are easy. No yeast, so no long rise times or careful shaping or temperature concerns. No special flours or long ingredient list, and you don’t even have to have actual buttermilk to make buttermilk biscuits; you can just add a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice to regular milk, stir it up, and let it sit for two minutes, and you suddenly have perfectly serviceable “buttermilk” to work with. Mine are complicated just a tiny bit by a lazy-person’s adaptation of Michael Ruhlman’s method for lots of moist, fluffy layers, much like those beautifully sodden pillows from the can that you have to rap on the edge of the counter – you know what I mean – but this only entails a few extra folds and rolls of the dough before punching or cutting out your biscuit shapes.

2016 Food Blog May-07482016 Food Blog May-07532016 Food Blog May-0750Most magical of all, biscuits survive freezing spectacularly. Once mixed and rolled and cut, you can stow them in the freezer overnight, which means hot, fresh, flaky biscuits for breakfast can be yours in just over twenty labor-free minutes – time easily used to start the coffee, or find your slippers, or get some Lou Reed going to groove breakfast to.

2016 Food Blog May-0761

Apricot and Goat Cheese Biscuits
Makes 10-12 biscuits (2-3 inch diameter)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon raw sugar (I use turbinado)
2 tablespoons baking powder
¾ cup chopped dried apricots (chop to your desired size – I like a mix of rough and fine)
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into chunks
½ cup crumbled goat cheese
6 ounces cold buttermilk (or faux buttermilk: stir one tablespoon white vinegar or lemon juice into the milk and let it sit for 2 minutes before using)


  • Line a baking tray with parchment paper. If you are cooking the biscuits immediately, preheat the oven to 400F. If you are cooking the biscuits the next day, clear some space in your freezer.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, sugar, baking powder, and dried apricots until well combined. Tumble in the butter and the goat cheese and, with a pastry blender, a fork, or two knives (I’ve never mastered this method, though), work in the chunks until well distributed in small pebbly bits throughout the mixture.
  • Now, pour in the buttermilk and, using a fork, turn and mix and work until a clumpy, wet dough forms. Dump this out onto a well-floured board and, with lightly floured hands, work it into a ball.
  • Use your hands or a floured rolling pin to flatten the dough ball you’ve formed into a rectangle or oval about 1 inch thick. Then, fold up the flattened shape into thirds, turn it 90 degrees, and flatten again. Repeat this process of folding, turning, and flattening twice more. When the biscuits bake, they will rise high with lots of fluffy layers.
  • With your folded and flattened dough back at about 1 inch thick, punch out biscuit rounds by pushing a biscuit cutter or the lip of a glass straight down through the dough. Don’t twist! Twisting disrupts all the layers you’ve just made and the biscuits won’t rise as high or as evenly.
  • When you have punched out all the biscuits you can, gather the dough back together into a ball, knead gently once or twice, and then flatten out again and punch remaining biscuits. You should be able to get 10-12 out of this amount, depending on the diameter of your cutting tool.
  • Space your punched-out biscuits at least half an inch apart on your prepared baking sheet. If you are baking immediately, place the loaded tray into your preheated oven and bake for 12-14 minutes, until the biscuits are just golden on top. If you are waiting, shove the tray straight into your freezer. The next morning (or whenever you need freshly baked biscuits), remove the tray from the freezer, preheat the oven to 400F, and bake for 18-20 minutes. There’s no need to defrost first – the extra time in the oven will do the job.
  • Either way, serve steaming. We like ours with butter and honey.

Apricot Coffeecake Ring #TwelveLoaves

Food blog July 2014-0388Things get a little lax in the summer. Example: you’re not getting a sauce this month. What can I say? I’ve been on vacation! I’ll make it up to you in August, though, along with a slew of other delectable options I’ve got pending. I was determined, however, not to fall behind in my Twelve Loaves baking. In my haste to stay on schedule, I merely glanced at the beautiful apricots gleaming up from Lora’s bread this month, and assumed these gorgeous fleshly globes were the theme of July’s assignment.

Food blog July 2014-0362Food blog July 2014-0364Food blog July 2014-0365Turns out the theme was “summer fun.” Well. I think I’m still glad I went with apricots. Their beautiful swelling cheeks and slight fuzzy skins remind me of a healthy summery glow. After a week of beaches and bronzed bodies, the peachy simplicity of apricots seemed like the right move.

Food blog July 2014-0366I’ve been auditioning yeasted coffeecake recipes for a while now, sometimes ending up with a stunner, sometimes with something that merits a revisit, and sometimes with something that wasn’t a yeasted coffeecake at all. But for this, I turned to the place I should have looked from the very beginning: Baking Illustrated. This hefty volume from the brains and kitchens of the Cook’s Illustrated crew does all the heavy lifting for me, and if I’m ambitious enough to read the whole story, tells me why and how each item came to be, from a food science, aesthetics, and taste-bud angle.

Food blog July 2014-0356Food blog July 2014-0358Food blog July 2014-0367Food blog July 2014-0369This loaf is slightly adapted from their yeasted coffeecake recipe with an orange-apricot filling. I omitted the orange, used fresh rather than dried apricots, and opted to forgo the heavy streusel and icing in favor of a light sprinkle of almonds and a bit of coarse sugar for an appealing crunch. I took their suggested horseshoe shape and swung it all the way into a circle for a pretty golden ring oozing jammy splotches.

Food blog July 2014-0371Food blog July 2014-0373When this came out of the oven, I – forgive me the overshare – just about drooled right on it. The apricot filling escapes in spots, bubbling and thickening like the filling at the edges of a pie. The dough itself, crusty on top with its sugared almond adornments, is burnished and soft and puffy and gorgeous. Describing the creation to his parents the evening we sampled it, N. called it a giant bearclaw, and though the loaf is a bit denser than a doughnut, the effect of the snipped dough with caramelized filling oozing through is similar.

Food blog July 2014-0374Are you sold? Let me tell you one more thing. This cake is essentially a two-day project. I’m serious. But don’t run off just yet! This is actually an advantage for a summer loaf. Because it has so much butter in it, and a pair of eggs to boot, it takes this dough a long time to rise. For the same reasons, it has to be chilled after its initial rise before you can really work with it at all. It’s quite similar to brioche in that way. But this is an advantage because it means you are not switching on the oven in the middle of the day, when your hair is already plastered to your forehead and you cannot bear to be in the kitchen another instant. It’s a mix in the morning, a long rise in a preheated house, and then you can shove it in the fridge and ignore it until early the following morning, when you finally bake. It means a little planning ahead, but I think it works out better in the long run.

Food blog July 2014-0378Besides, when you taste this, with its sugared crunch and soft elastic chew and golden sunshine-y tart-sweet apricot, I think you’ll decide it was worth it.

Happy midsummer. I wish you heaps of fun.

Food blog July 2014-0400

Apricot Coffeecake Ring
Adapted from Baking Illustrated
Makes one 8-10 inch ring
Note: this is, unless you are willing to get up very early in the morning, a two day baking process. I think it’s totally worth it, but be sure to give yourself sufficient time to execute it.
Note: because this is a very rich dough, it is also very soft and sticky. It will be difficult to work with by hand, so I’m only including directions for a stand mixer.
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 tablespoons warm milk
¼ cup sugar
2 large eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla
2 – 2½ cups bread flour (you may not need the entire amount)
1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick, or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened but not melted, cut into small chunks
Apricot filling:
1½ cups peeled, chopped apricots (for me, this was 5 apricots)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon rum, optional
1 egg white
1 teaspoon milk or cream
2-3 tablespoons raw sliced almonds
1-2 tablespoons coarse sugar (I used turbinado)
  • Sprinkle the yeast and a pinch of the sugar over the warm milk in the bowl of your stand mixer, stir to dissolve a bit, and let sit for 5-10 minutes until the yeast is bubbly.
  • Add the remaining sugar, the eggs, and the vanilla, and mix on low speed with the paddle attachment until combined.
  • Now, add the salt and 1 ¼ cups of the flour, and again mix on low speed until the flour is incorporated.
  • Increase the speed by one notch so you are at medium-low, and begin adding the butter one chunk at a time, beating until each chunk is incorporated before adding the next. This will take a few minutes, but it allows them to disperse evenly into the dough. When all the butter is incorporated, the mixture will look like thick cake batter.
  • With all the butter incorporated, replace the paddle attachment with the dough hook and add 1 cup of flour. Run the mixer at medium-low for about 5 minutes, kneading until the dough is soft and fairly smooth. If it looks disastrously sticky or does not seem to be coming together, you can add the remaining flour a tablespoon or two at a time, but be sure you knead thoroughly between each addition. This is supposed to be a soft dough.
  • After you’ve kneaded for 5 minutes on medium-low, increase the mixer speed to medium and knead an additional 2 minutes. According to Baking Illustrated, this tightens up the dough a bit.
  • Cover the dough tightly with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm spot until it doubles in size. This should take 3-4 hours (it’s a rich, heavy dough; it will take the yeast a while to work through all that butter!).
  • When the dough has doubled, punch it down by depressing your fist gently into its center, replace the plastic wrap, and stow it in the fridge overnight (Baking Illustrated’s precise instructions are “at least 4 or up to 24 hours”).
  • When you are ready to make the filling, which also needs to chill thoroughly before being added to the dough, heat a medium pot of water to boiling. Score the bottoms (flower end, not stem end) of each apricot by cutting a shallow x through the skin and just barely into the flesh with a sharp knife. Plunge the scored apricots into the boiling water and leave them for about 60 seconds. Then, remove them, drain them, and set them aside until they are cool enough to handle.
  • Using a small knife, carefully peel back the skins of the apricots starting at the x you’ve scored into the bottom. The skins may already be peeling away, and should separate from the flesh easily. If they prove particularly stubborn, stick them back in the boiling water for another 30 seconds.
  • Remove the pits and chop the peeled apricots, then put them into a pot with the brown sugar and rum, and cook over medium heat for 5-7 minutes, until they collapse into a glorious pulpy mess. Remove from heat and pulse the mixture in a food processor until almost smooth. Or, if you are lazy like me, mash it up with a potato masher. Either way, once your apricots are almost smooth, stow them in the refrigerator until quite cold.
  • When you are ready to shape the coffeecake, remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and gently dump and scrape it out onto a well floured board. Pat the dough out into a roughly 6×5 inch rectangle, lightly flour the top, then use a rolling pin and some elbow grease to flatten the dough into a smooth, 15×9 inch rectangle (it will be about ¼ inch thick).
  • Spread the cold apricot filling over this large rectangle of dough, leaving at least a ½ inch border on all edges.
  • Using both hands and starting with one of the longer edges, roll the dough up tightly into a long log. Seal the seam securely by pinching the dough, then coax the log into a circle and pinch the ends together to join them in a ring shape. During this process some of the filling will likely ooze out; don’t worry too much about it.
  • Transfer the ring of dough to a parchment paper lined baking sheet. With a pair of kitchen scissors, snip about halfway through the log at 2-inch intervals. Again, you will get some lovely orange ooze. No worries; this will get lovely and caramelized when it bakes. Just drape some plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel over the whole thing and let it rise again until slightly puffed; about 90 minutes.
  • 30 minutes before you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350F with a rack in the middle.
  • When the loaf has risen again, beat the egg white and milk together and brush it over the exposed dough evenly. Sprinkle the sliced almonds and coarse sugar over the loaf, and then slide it into the oven and bake until deeply golden and registering around 190F on an instant-read thermometer. This should take 25-35 minutes.
  • Cool at least 20 minutes on a wire rack (just slide the parchment straight from sheet tray to cooling rack) before slicing and serving.
  • This cake is amazing warm or cold, and though I suspect it would last a week wrapped in foil and refrigerated, we scarfed it within 3 days.