Tag Archives: cookies

Papaya Cheesecake Bars

Papaya Cheesecake Bars - Cut Bars & Pan

The Polar Vortex killed our papaya tree. Poor little guy. We just planted him last summer, so we barely knew him. To make matters worse, we’re having trouble finding another papaya tree to replace him. Not that we’re interviewing or anything, but the nursery doesn’t have any. Which is a round-about way to say The Complete Package bought a fresh papaya last weekend that was bigger than my head so he could germinate the seeds in an attempt to grow papaya trees. That’s great, but it left us with a gallon of diced papaya. Thatza lotta papaya.

What does one do with a gallon of fresh papaya? Not much, apparently. I searched the internet for ideas, but recipe choices were mainly limited to smoothies. After two or three of those, I was done. Then I saw a recipe for papaya jam, and that really got me thinking. Surely I could so something with papaya jam, right? Enter Papaya Cheesecake Bars.

Papaya Cheesecake Bars - In the Pan

Sometimes I come up with an idea that actually works. Surprising, I know.

NanaBread’s Papaya Cheesecake Bars:
(makes two 8″ x 8″ square pans or one 13″ x 9″ rectangle)

For the papaya jam:
4 cups fresh papaya – peeled, seeded & diced
1/2 cup orange marmalade
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup sugar (optional, or add to taste)
2 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 3 tablespoons cold water

In a heavy-bottom saucepan, combine the fresh papaya, marmalade and orange juice. Simmer over medium-low heat until the papaya is soft and the mixture begins to thicken a little. Taste to determine if sugar needs to be added. If so, add up to 1/4 cup of sugar (to your taste) and cook until the sugar dissolves. Whisk in the cornstarch slurry and continue to stir constantly until the mixture thickens. Place a strainer over a mixing bowl, and pour the papaya mixture into the strainer. Using a flexible silicone spatula, press the papaya mixture through, straining out any fruit fiber or lumps. Allow the strained mixture to cool completely. While it’s cooling, you can start your shortbread crust.

For the shortbread crust:
1 cup Bob’s Red Mill coconut meal
1 cup Bob’s Red Mill almond meal
6 tablespoons brown sugar
a pinch of salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, cold & cubed

Pre-heat your oven to 375F. In a food processor, combine all of the shortbread ingredients. Pulse until well combined and the texture of course sand. Line your baking pan(s) with parchment and add the shortbread mixture (it will be crumbly). Shake the pan to distribute the crumbs, then tap it flat on the counter a few times to help settle them in an even layer. Cover with a sheet of parchment and use a rolling-pin or heavy glass to roll the crumbs into a solid, compact layer. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the edges start to brown. While the crust is baking, mix up your cheesecake filling.

For the cheesecake layer:
1 package (8 ozs.) cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 egg yolks
1 whole egg
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract

In a mixing bowl, combine the cheesecake ingredients. Whisk until the mixture is completely smooth. Pour over the baked shortbread crust, tapping the pan on the counter to remove any air bubbles. Pop it back into the oven for 10-12 minutes, or just until you can shake the pan gently and the cheesecake doesn’t jiggle. Remove from the oven and allow it to cool completely. Once cooled, top with papaya jam, spreading it into a smooth even layer. Chill for at least 2 hours before serving. Keep refrigerated.

Papaya Cheesecake Bars - Cut

Truth in Marketing Moment: I dusted mine with powdered sugar, but it really served no purpose other than adding texture to the photographs. The sugar dissolved almost immediately into the papaya jam and vanished. Feel free to skip that step unless you’re also photographing your papaya bars, in which case it’ll look pretty and everybody loves pretty desserts.

That papaya jam? It’s supremely tasty, so I’ll be canning more of that.

Remember when people used to ask “If you were a crayon, what color would you be?” I’m changing my answer. It used to be Cornflower Blue, but now it’s Papaya Orange. That color just screams SASSY.

Papaya Cheesecake Bars - Horizontal

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31 Days of Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter? Let’s make that 32.

Dark Chocolate Dreams PB Cookies & Salted Caramel Ice Cream Sandwiches

Dark Chocolate Dreams Peanut Butter. It’s the stuff dreams are truly made of, especially if you love chocolate and peanut butter like I do. Peanut Butter & Co makes one that blows my skirt up every single time I crack the lid. I’ll eat it on anything – crackers, toast, bagels, cake, waffles, a spoon, or even my finger. (Hi. My name is Jeanne, and I’ve been a peanut butter addict since forever.)

Keep reading all the way to the bottom, people. This is going to get good!

Dark Chocolate Dreams Peanut Butter Close-Up

Oh, baby. This is the good stuff. It’s my super-duper favorite. For real.

Dark Chocolate Dreams Peanut Butter - One Glorious Spoonful

This week Peanut Butter & Co released a new cookbook titled 31 Days of Dark Chocolate Dreams‘. As a newly minted member of Peanut Butter & Co’s Yum Squad, I was thrilled to receive an advanced copy as well as a 28-ounce jar of Dark Chocolate Dreams to play with. Man, I love these guys. Great company, great products, and always such fun to work with. (Hi, Adam!)

Dark Chocolate Dreams Box - Instagram

The cookbook is amazing. As I flipped through it, I kept squealing “Oooo! I’ll make that! I’ll make THAT, too!” So many drool-worthy recipes to choose from. I’m seriously thinking of trying the dark chocolate peanut butter flourless cake first. Then maybe the marble pound cake. Or maybe ALL OF THEM.

First, though, I jumped in to make a batch of my new favorite peanut butter cookies. They’re made with coconut oil instead of butter (I know… I know… I love butter, too) but the coconut oil adds great flavor and I love the texture of these. Even better, you can stuff them with Häagen-Dazs Salted Caramel Gelato and BAM! – ice cream sandwiches to die for. Let’s start with the cookies first.

Dark Chocolate Dreams PB & Coconut Oil Cookies - Ingredients

Dark Chocolate Dreams Peanut Butter & Coconut Oil Cookies
(Original recipe credit to AverieCooks.com)

3/4 cup Dark Chocolate Dreams Peanut Butter
1/2 cup organic coconut oil, softened to room temp
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 jumbo or large egg
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup + 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Pre-heat your oven to 350F. Make sure your coconut oil is softened to the consistency of softened butter (I had to microwave mine for 12 seconds). It sounds insignificant, but making sure your coconut oil is not too firm or too melted is key to the texture of these cookies. When you’re there, combine the peanut butter and coconut oil and beat for 3-4 minutes with an electric mixer. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the vanilla extract, and beat for 30 seconds more.

Stop the mixer and again scrape down the sides of the bowl. In a small mixing bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch & baking soda and whisk to combine. Add the flour in one batch to the peanut butter mixture, then on LOW speed, mix until flour is starting to incorporate and then turn the speed up to medium and beat just until the flour mixture is well combined and the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl. It should look like this:

Dark Chocolate Dreams PB Cookie Dough - Perfect Consistency

If the mixture is too dry and crumbles easily, add a little more coconut oil and beat it again. If it seems too sticky and doesn’t easily form into a ball, add more flour – 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time – until your dough is the consistency of a new can of Play Dough. When it’s ready, grab a medium ice cream or cookie scoop and your baking sheets. I recommend using silicone baking mats for most baking projects. They guarantee your hard work won’t stick to the pan, causing violent bouts of cursing or childish hissy fits (or so I’ve heard).

Dark Chocolate Dreams PB Cookie Dough - Perfect Scoop

That, my friends, is a perfect scoop. To get it, I simply drag the scoop through the dough then scrape it up the side of the bowl as I remove it. See how the dough presses perfectly into the scoop? That’s when you know it’s the right consistency. Scoop onto lined baking sheets, 2″ apart so you can press them.

Dark Chocolate Dreams PB Cookies - Perfect Scoops

Note: if you don’t want to press these cookies flat for ice cream sandwiches, you can leave them like they appear in the above photo. They will take 2-3 minutes longer to bake, but result in a thicker, brownie-like cookie. For ice cream sandwiches, I pressed them with the bottom of an old glass candy dish.

Dark Chocolate Dreams PB Cookies - Pressed

I love the pattern this makes in the cookies. If you don’t have a fancy cookie press, I highly recommend flipping over old decorative bowls or glasses. If there’s a great pattern in the bottom, it can be used as a cookie press. Be adventurous and try it!

Bake at 350F for 9-10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow the cookies to cool completely before removing them from the pans. Because I was making ice cream sandwiches with mine, I let the cookies cool completely on the pan, then popped the entire pan in the freezer to make sure they were super cold.

Dark Chocolate Dreams PB Cookies & Salted Caramel Ice Cream Sandwiches - Close-Up

For ice cream sandwiches:
Grab a pint of your favorite ice cream or gelato and let it sit out on the counter until it starts to get nice and soft (about 5 mins). I happened to have a pint of Häagen-Dazs Salted Caramel Gelato in my freezer (lucky girl!), but Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia or Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz Buzz, or any flavor you love will work.

Dark Chocolate Dreams PB Cookies - When the Magic Happens

Using the same scoop I used for the cookie dough, I placed a row of cookies ‘bottoms up’ on my tray, then placed a scoop of softened gelato in the center of each. With a flat metal spatula, aka pancake flipper, I flattened each scoop of gelato into a smooth, even layer.

Dark Chocolate Dreams PB Cookies - Topped with Gelato

Top with a second cookie and immediately wrap in plastic wrap. Pop them back into the freezer for at least 2-3 hours, or until they are frozen solid. To eat, just unwrap and dig in. If you plan to nibble them one at a time, place the wrapped ice cream sandwiches into an airtight container with a tight-fitting lid. They should keep for at least 4 weeks in your freezer. This recipe makes 16 individual cookies approximately 3″ in diameter, or 8 ice cream sandwiches.

Of course, you can also use a small cookie scoop and make these more bite-size for portion control. Or you can double the recipe and keep the baked cookies in the freezer in an air-tight container so you can enjoy them plain or build ice cream sandwiches on demand. Or just eat the cookies and wash them down with a glass of milk. That works, too. But I recommend the ice cream sandwiches. Because more is more, or something like that.

Dark Chocolate Dreams PB Cookies & Salted Caramel Ice Cream Sandwiches - Stacks & Jar

Now for the best part of this post – Peanut Butter & Co has generously offered to ship a copy of ’31 Days of Dark Chocolate Dreams’ and a 28-ounce jar of Dark Chocolate Dreams peanut butter to one lucky reader. To participate, simply leave a comment. It could be “I love peanut butter!” or “Peanut Butter & Co is awesome!” or even “I’m a cookbook hoarder.” One reader will be chosen at random, and Peanut Butter & Co will ship this tasty prize pack directly to their door. The deadline for this drawing is Friday, February 7th at 12:00 midnight, Central Standard Time, so jump on it now. Right now! What are you waiting for?!

Dark Chocolate Dreams Cookbook

If you don’t win or can’t wait to get your hands on the cookbook, you can purchase it online by clicking HERE, along with other Peanut Butter & Co goodies and peanut butter products. The Cinnamon Raisin Swirl blows my mind and Mighty Maple is both creamy and dreamy.

Disclaimer: This is not a paid post. Peanut Butter & Co sent me an advanced copy of the cookbook and a jar of peanut butter to play with, as stated above. I am a member of their Yum Squad, which is also unpaid. Put simply, I love their products, and they have occasionally sent me peanut butter to experiment with. For example, check out my ‘The Heat is On’ Spicy Peanut Butter Shortbread Cookies made with their spicy chili-laced peanut butter. As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way by the company. I just love the quality of their stuff, and enjoy sharing that joy with you.

UPDATE: Congratulations to Linda (comment #4), winner of the Peanut Butter & Co prize pack giveaway. Thanks to all who participated, and high five to Linda. You’re going to love the cookbook AND the peanut butter! -jeanne

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Caramel Week: Chocolate Alfajores

Chocolate Alfajores for Caramel Week - Inside NanaBread's Head

Definition: Alfajores (Al-fa-ho-res) are a South American type of shortbread sandwich cookie that are filled with dulce de leche (caramel filling). These delicious cookies can trace their origin back to the Moorish occupation of Andalusia, Spain and the great culinary traditions of the Mediterranean Basin.

Caramel Week Logo

To celebrate Caramel Week, I tried a new twist on a traditional favorite – a chocolate version filled with homemade salted vanilla bean caramel, both in the traditional scalloped round shape and a less traditional square.

Chocolate Alfajores Close-Up - Inside NanaBread's Head

Chocolate Alfajores: The Cookie Dough (makes 3-4 dozen)

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups cornstarch
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 eggs + 2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste (or 2 tsp. vanilla extract)
Dulce de leche caramel (recipe below or store-bought)
powdered sugar & cocoa for dusting

Cream the butter & sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs and egg yolks one at a time, mixing after each addition, then beat in vanilla bean paste or extract until well blended. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, salt and cocoa; sift to remove all lumps. Turning the mixer to low speed, gradually add the flour and beat until it just starts to come together; turn the mixer to medium and beat 10-15 seconds. Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead the dough into a smooth ball; pat into a disk and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator for an hour or until firm.

Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Line several baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking mats and set aside. Lightly flour your work surface and roll the dough to 1/4″ thick, making sure the dough doesn’t stick to the counter or board. Using a 2″ cookie cutter (round & fluted is traditional), cut out the cookies and carefully transfer them to the baking sheets, about 1″ apart.

Place the cookie sheets into the freezer and allow the dough to chill for 15-20 minutes, or until very firm. Once firm, pop them into the oven for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the tops are firm to the touch. Cool on the baking sheet for 10-15 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.

You can save time by buying a jar of dulce de leche caramel (Trader Joe’s has a great one) but if you want to tackle it from scratch, here’s mine.

Salted Vanilla Bean Caramel: (makes approximately 2 1/2 cups)

2 cans ( ozs. each) sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 to 2 cups heavy whipping cream, as needed
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
1/8 teaspoon sea salt

In a large heavy bottom saucepan, heat the sweetened condensed milk until it comes to a boil, stirring often. Once the mixture comes to a boil, reduce heat to medium and cook, whisking constantly, until it turns a golden tan color. If the mixture starts to thicken, add heavy cream 1/2 cup at a time, whisking constantly. Continue to cook until the caramel turns a light brown shade, adding cream to thin it out some as needed. The finished caramel should coat a spoon thickly, but still pour from the spoon easily. When it reaches that stage, remove it from the heat and add whisk in the vanilla bean paste and sea salt. Allow the caramel to cool completely before using.

To Assemble the Alfajores:

Lay the cooled cookies out in rows so you can work quickly. I like to place one row ‘bottoms up’ and the next ‘face up’ so I can keep my pairs matched. Scrape the caramel mixture into a piping bag with a star tip and twist it until the caramel is compressed into the bottom of the bag. Pipe a generous layer of caramel onto the bottom side of half of the cookies. Using the remaining cookies, put a lid on each alfajor and gently press to make sure it’s seated. Once all cookies are filled, dust them lightly with powdered sugar or, as I did, a combination of powdered sugar and cocoa powder. Then try not to eat them all at once.

Chocolate Alfajores by Inside NanaBread's Head

If alfajores have piqued your interest, please drop by my friend Kirsten’s blog at Comfortably Domestic. She baked up a batch using her favorite shortbread recipe and a deep, dark caramel that will make your mouth water. Pinky swear.

Recipe Source: The caramel shown is my own recipe. The alfajor cookie dough was adapted slightly from Vianney Rodriguez at Sweetlifebake.com, who used the recipe from The Cookiepedia cookbook by Stacy Adimando. If you’d like to see Vianney’s traditional vanilla alfajor dough, CLICK HERE.

Chocolate Alfajores with Salted Vanilla Bean Caramel - Inside NanaBread's Head

For more Caramel Week goodies, visit our other Theme Weavers:

MONDAY:
Kirsten at Comfortably Domestic – Crock Pot Dulce de Leche Caramel

Madelyn at La Petite Pancake – Caramel Banana Bread Pudding

Rebeka at Kvetchin Kitchen – Caramel Apple Pie

TUESDAY:
Allison at Decadent Philistines – Salted Caramel Pork Loin with Shaved Brussel Sprout & Apple Salad

Carrie at Bakeaholic Mama – Chewy Milk Dud Brownies

WEDNESDAY:
Jeanne at Inside NanaBread’s Head – Chocolate Alfajor Cookies (that’s me!)

Kirsten at Comfortably Domestic – Vanilla Alfajor Cookies

Haley at The Girly Girl Cooks – Almost Famous Fairground Caramel Sauce

Lauren at Climbing Grier Mountain – Dulce de Leche Milkshakes

THURSDAY:
Kat at Tenaciously Yours – Caramel Popcorn Crunch Sundae

Beka at Kvetchin’ Kitchen – Red Wine Caramel Sauce

Christina at Buffy and George – Butterscotch Pudding

FRIDAY:
Megan at Country Cleaver – Pear & Caramel Mini-Cheesecakes

Madeline at Munching in the Mitten – Caramel Cake

SATURDAY:
Kirsten at Comfortably Domestic – DIY Dulce de Leche Caramel Coffee Creamer

Katie at The Hill Country Cook – Salted Caramel Pie

Caramel Week Logo

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Bake Sale for Beka – join the party!

UPDATE: The Bake Sale for Beka is closed. Thanks a million to Cindy C. who placed the winning bid on my dark chocolate cherry pecan cookies at $60. WOW – $60 for my cookies! I promise not to disappoint, Cindy! Thank you also to all who visited the bake sale and to those who helped raise funds more than $1,700 for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America and Camp Oasis. Great cause, great people and a great bake sale. Congrats, Megan & Beka!

My good friend Megan at CountryCleaver.com is hosting a Bake Sale this weekend in honor of her best buddy Beka. Proceeds will benefit the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America, Camp Oasis, and Beka’s first half-marathon where she’ll be racing for the cure. You can join the party by participating!

Megan will be joined by 25 of her blogging buddies (myself included) as we bake fabulous goodies for an on-line auction this Sunday & Monday. We’re talking good stuff like Pumpkin Peanut Butter Brownies, Nutella-Stuffed Cinnamon Sugar Muffins, Coconut Oil Poundcake with Almonds & Lime, Chipotle Butter Toffee, Cheddar & Olive Biscuits, Coconut Maple Granola, Passionfruit Chili Pepper Palmiers, Neapolitan Cupcakes, Mud Hen Bars, Death By Chocolate Cookies and more!

I’ll be baking my Dark Chocolate Cherry Pecan Cookies for one lucky bidder. They’re gooey, they’re loaded with dried cherries & nuts, and they are sinful as H-E-doublehockeysticks. And the best part is four dozen of them can be YOURS if you place the winning bid. Did I mention they’re really delicious?

But wait! There’s more! In addition to this plethora of baked goods, the following sponsors have joined in to donate these incredible auction items:

Chobani – donated a party pack of good-for-you flavored yogurts

Kerrygold – donated one month’s worth of their high quality butter & cheese

Star Fine Foods – donated a basket of their olive oils & Mediterranean classics

Le Creuset – donated a 4.5 quart Dutch Oven in a lovely cassis color

America’s Test Kitchen – a copy of their new Quick Family Cookbook AND the new Cook’s Country Complete Series Cookbook

To see these fine products and read more about the Bake Sale for Beka, go to www.CountryCleaver.com. One look and you’ll see what we all see – that life is precious, cookies are delicious, and nothing beats the love and support of our friends and family. Now mark your calendar for Sunday, grab your wallet, and bid on something yummy! {please & thank you}

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Dark Chocolate Cherry Pecan Cookies

Dark Chocolate, Dried Cherries & Toasted Pecans – all in one cookie!

Years ago, during a visit to Seattle, I fell in love with Chukar Cherries. More specifically, I fell in love with their dried cherries. So much so, I may have been gently escorted away from the free sample basket at the Pike Place Market.

Since then, I have tried to incorporate more dried cherries into my life, especially (it seems) when paired with dark chocolate. I made these cherry chocolate chip scones back in 2010. They were really tasty.

But the tide took a turn last year when my friend Kirsten sent me a box of Michigan cherries. Dried cherries. That’s when I took a step back and said, “Hold on. Michigan grows cherries, too?” That’s when Kirsten confirmed that yes, Michigan does indeed grow cherries. Really spectacular, gorgeous tart red cherries. And I fell in love all over again.

My first box of Michigan cherries – from The Cherry Republic

Last month, as part of our One Kitchen Many Hearts box exchange, Kirsten struck again by including another bag of dried cherries from Shoreline Fruits. They’re from her neck of the woods. Have mercy! They are world class – with a perfect balance of tart and sweet, dried yet plump. Now I’m not trying to start a war between the states, but I think Michigan cherries may just edge out Washington state cherries. Granted, it has been a few years since I’ve had a Washington dried cherry, and if the fine folks at Chukar want to send me a box just to settle this once and for all, I’m open to a side-by-side tasting. Until then, here’s my latest ode to the dried cherry. Paired with chocolate; as it should be.

NanaBread’s Dark Chocolate Cherry Pecan Cookies:
(makes approximately 36 cookies)

2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup good quality cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup extra-dark chocolate chips (I prefer Guittard)
1 cup toasted pecans, chopped
1 cup dried cherries, chopped

Pre-heat your oven to 350F. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Using a mixer, beat the butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla and almond extracts until fluffy. Gradually add the flour mixture, beating until well combined. Reducing the mixer to low speed, blend in the chocolate chips, toasted pecans and dried cherries. If you’re using a hand mixer, you may want to stir them in by hand, as the dough will be thick.

Oh, that dough… this would be great as brownies, too.

I like to bake cookies on those silicone baking mats, but if you don’t have them, line your baking sheet with parchment paper. I also like to use a medium-size ice cream scoop to shape my cookies. I absolutely love how perfectly uniform they turn out with a scoop. Don’t worry; you can also use a spoon. Drop golfball-size dough balls onto prepared sheets, approximately 3″ apart.

The key to perfectly uniform cookies – an ice cream scoop.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, depending how ‘done’ you like them. For soft chewy cookies, bake closer to 10 minutes. For cookies that are soft in the center and crispy around the edges, bake closer to the 12 minute mark. Remove from the oven, allow to cool on the pan for 10-15 minutes, then remove to parchment or waxed paper to finish cooling.

From there, you’re just a cold glass of milk away from a perfect cherry-laden fudge bliss cookie coma.

Do you have a favorite dried fruit you cook with? Coconut, blueberries, pineapple, figs, prunes or something tropical? I’d love to hear what inspires you. Feel free to include links to recipes in your comments. I’m always looking for something new to try or Pin. Please do share!

Recipe adapted from: http://zestycook.com/a-taste-of-heaven-double-dark-chocolate-cookies/

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Cranberry Pecan Shortbread Blondies

NanaBread's Cranberry Pecan Shortbread Blondies. Wish you could smell them!

If that name sounds a little confusing, I’m with you. The truth is, this recipe is a combination of two of my favorites – buttery shortbread and soft, chewy sugar cookies. And you know what? It works. It has all of the glorious flavor of butter shortbread with the soft chewy texture of a good sugar cookie. Throw in some dried cranberries and some toasted pecans, and you have what I’m calling Cranberry Pecan Shortbread Blondies. Works for me!

Here’s how to make them for your family:

2 sticks (8 ozs.) unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 extra-large or jumbo egg
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste (or extract)
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup dried cranberries, chopped
1 cup pecans, toasted & finely chopped
1/3 cup turbinado sugar, for sprinkling on top

Pre-heat your oven to 350F, then line a 13″ x 9″ baking pan with parchment paper. I like to leave some hanging over each side, making a sling which allows the cooled cookies to be removed from the pan more easily. Set the pan aside.

In the large bowl of a stand mixer, combine the softened butter and granulated sugar; beat slowly until combined, then turn to med-high speed and beat until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat just until combined. In a separate bowl, sift together the salt and flour. Stir in the cranberries and nuts and toss to coat them with flour.

Turning the mixer to low speed, add the flour mixture and beat just until well combined. The dough will be thick. Using a spatula, turn the dough out into the baking pan. Using another sheet of parchment or waxed paper, cover the dough and using your hands, press the dough out to each side, smoothing it into a uniform thickness (mine was about 3/4″ thick). Once your cookie dough is smooth and even, remove the top sheet of paper.

Score your cookie dough & sprinkle with turbinado sugar crystals

Using a bench scraper or metal spatula (I grew up calling them pancake flippers), score the dough as you would for shortbread. Sprinkle the turbinado sugar evenly over the cookie dough. Place on the middle rack in the center of your oven and bake 30-40 minutes, or until the cookies have that fabulous browned butter smell and are a light golden brown. When I bake buttery shortbread cookies, I always know when they’re done by the smell. If you know what I’m talking about, raise your hand. It’s such a heavenly aroma.

A bench scraper is the perfect tool for shaping & cutting these cookies

Once done, remove the cookies from the oven and allow them to cool completely. Using the same bench scraper or spatula, cut the cookies along the score lines. Now all you need is a cold glass of milk or a hot cup of tea. Then treat yourself. Sit back and savor the contrast of flavors and textures – tart cranberries paired with buttery shortbread; soft chewy crumb with a crunchy sugar topping. Maybe I’m playing favorites, but I think this cookie has it all.

Soft and chewy; buttery and tangy; and totally addictive

I apologize for all the sugar on the blog for the past week. I promise I’ll make it up to you next week with something savory or a craft tutorial. Deal? Awesome!

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Cookiepalooza – man, that was fun!

Snowmen. Made out of Nutter Butters. Adorable!

I had 7 friends over yesterday to bake holiday cookies. Cookiepalooza – that’s what we called it. Instead of the standard cookie exchange, we decided it would be fun to spend an entire day together baking, visiting and playing cards. Turns out having 8 ladies in one kitchen making 9 different treats doesn’t leave much time for games. But don’t let that fool you. There was NO shortage of fun. There was no shortage of sweet treats, either. We made over 750 pieces of sugar-laden goodness yesterday. And my house smelled fantastic. Cookiepalooza rocked.

With Christmas carols playing in the background, we tackled cookie recipes one or two at a time until they were baked off and cooling. Then we would rotate in the next two recipes and work through them, and so on and so on. In all, we baked for 7 hours. We made 7 types of cookies and two treats in the ‘other’ category – Rolo & Pretzel Turtles and Nutter Butter Snowmen. I’ve made the Rolo Turtles before, but they seemed a lot cuter made from star-shaped holiday pretzels. Those 5-pointed little stars look like arms, legs and heads. Plus, they’re a snap to make. {Get it… snapping…turtles}

Rolo Turtles made with star-shaped holiday pretzels

The Nutter Butter Snowmen were new for me. I knew when I saw them on the Brown Eyed Baker’s Blog that I would make these. I couldn’t resist. They’re just too cute! Thanks to Jonah Bear, my 5-year-old grandson, I knew the wonders of fruit roll-ups, so I grabbed a box to add a decorative touch – scarves! Tip #1: use the multi-flavored striped roll-ups and cut them into strips with a pizza cutter. Tip #2: dip the Nutter Butter cookies one half (or end) at a time. The scarves get tied on at the center, so the dip line doesn’t show. Tip #3: to attach the scarves, wrap around the middle and twist like you would a twist-tie when buying produce. Then press gently on the twisted portion to stick them down. Tip #4: those tiny tubes of frosting in the baking aisle make perfect faces.

Striped fruit roll-ups make great snowman scarves
Some truths cannot be denied, and one of those truths is that my friend Kaki doesn’t bake much. Yesterday, she pulled a rabbit out of the hat that had us all shaking our heads. She made the most incredible homemade gingersnaps I’ve ever eaten. I’m not kidding. If there hadn’t been people around to see me do it, I could have eaten an entire tray with a 1/2 gallon of cold milk. Then she dipped them in white chocolate, and I passed out. Must have been the excitement and novelty of it all. Or maybe it was because they were so gosh-darned good and made my kitchen smell like heaven. Well played, Kaki. Well played.

Kaki's Homemade Gingersnaps

But wait! There was so much more. Here’s the rundown:

Linda – made a family recipe for pecan cookies
Pat – made her old-school orange slice candy cookies
Sheriee – made cowboy cookies, then dipped them in chocolate
Cindy – made chewy chocolate krinkle cookies
Judy – made buttery oatmeal coconut cookies
Cindy & Kaki – paired up to make those Rolo pretzel turtles

And I made coconut shortbreads from Cookie Week (from the Cookies for Kids Cancer Best Bake Sale Cookbook) and the Nutter Butter snowmen (with help).

I’d like to say the best part was all the cookies we made, but I can’t. There was no best part. It was ALL fabulous. We had a blast making all the cookies. We had a hoot decorating and dipping things in chocolate. We loved helping each other and watching timers and washing dishes and generally having each other’s backs all day long. No cookie went untouched or unloved by anyone. It was truly a group effort, the scale of which has never before been seen in my home. I’m not joking when I say we used every square inch of tabletop space in 4 different areas – the kitchen, the breakfast nook, the formal dining room, and even the foyer. Think I’m joking? Here’s my formal dining table as a cooling station:

Judy's coconut oatmeal cookies & turtles cooling in the dining room

And that’s just the dining table. This buffet table along the dining room wall was also used to cool cookies as they came out of the oven (hence the old bath towels layered under the waxed paper). And the cookies just kept piling up.

Chocolate Krinkles & Orange Slice Cookies by the dozens

But that’s not all. We cleared the stuff off the top of the table in my entry foyer and used it to stage cookies once they were cooled, bagged and tagged. This photo only shows less than half of what was made. It was insane, folks!

Cookies waiting to go home for the holidays

I wish my house could smell like this forever. I wish I could invent ‘scratch-N-sniff’ computing so you could smell it, too. And I wish you could all know my friends – they’re a fabulous bunch. And I also wish you could have joined us, but then I’d need a MUCH bigger kitchen. And a whole wall of ovens. And cookie tables in all my bedrooms, which I’m not entirely opposed to.

Cookiepalooza was so successful, there was immediate talk of making this an annual affair. I think that’s a great idea. The question is which of my friends would like to host; but we’ve got 12 months to think about that. Happy holidays, everyone. I wish you love and peace and joy, now and in the coming year.

Buh-bye now! Don't forget to grab a bag of cookies on your way out!

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