Chocolate Cherry Cookies Plated

Chocolate-Chocolate Cherry Cookies

Pretty Much Always on Hand

Pretty Much Always on Hand

     Cookies are the favorite dessert in my house.  No question.  Hands down.  My family certainly enjoy other desserts; but when asked, they want a big plate of cookies set at the center of the table.  And dishes of ice cream for good measure.

     I am a longtime fan of David Lebovitz.  I enjoyed his desserts when he was pastry chef at Chez Panisse; and now his cookbooks and blog bring his recipes straight into my kitchen.  When it comes to chocolate, he’s masterful.  You can bet on rich, deep chocolate flavor.

     These cookies are very chocolate-y, soft and have a burst of brightness from the dried tart cherries.  They come together very quickly, with typical staples you may have on hand.  You will be rewarded within an hour of commencing the recipe with these endearing cookie bites.

A few advance tips:

  • Use quality chocolate. That’s the predominate flavor here.  I use Guittard, conveniently packaged in baking wafers for easy melting.  And easier snacking—that’s a clue by the way, the chocolate must taste good to you on its own!
  • Do not over bake these cookies. They may seem under-baked when you pull them from the oven, but they will firm up as they cool.  You are aiming for soft, fudgy cookies.
  • By all means experiment with other dried fruits; and add some chopped nuts if they’re your thing.
  • I halved the original recipe here, so it will double perfectly if you’re in need of greater quantities.

Chocolate Cherry Cookies Cooling Close

Chocolate-Chocolate Cherry Cookies

Adapted from David Lebovitz, Ready for Dessert

Makes about 30, 2-inch cookies

  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped or baking wafers
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/ 4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/ 4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/ 8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 7/ 8 cup (1 cup minus 2 tablespoons) granulated sugar
  • 1/ 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 3/ 4 cup dried, tart cherries, cut into pieces about the size of the chocolate chips

Instructions

  1. Combine the bittersweet chocolate and butter in a large, heat-proof bowl.  Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring occasionally until melted and smooth.  Remove the bowl from the heat.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  3. Combine the eggs, sugar and vanilla in a large mixing bowl.  Using a hand mixer (or stand mixer with the whisk attachment), beat at high speed until the mixture forms a well-defined ribbon when the beaters are lifted, about 5 minutes.  Adjust the mixer speed to low and mix in the melted chocolate-butter mixture until thoroughly incorporated.  Use a spatula to stir in the flour mixture, followed by the chocolate chips and dried cherries.
  4. Cover and refrigerate the dough until it is firm enough to handle, about 15 minutes.
  5. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat the oven to 350° F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
  6. Drop the dough in generous tablespoonfuls onto the baking sheets, spacing them evenly, about 2-inches apart.  Gently flatten the dough to an even thickness.
  7. Bake for about 9 to 10 minutes, rotating the baking sheets midway through baking, until the cookies feel just slightly firm at the edges.  Baking time will vary slightly based upon the thickness of the cookies.
  8. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets until firm enough to handle, then use a thin spatula to transfer them to a wire rack to continue cooling.

Note:  The dough can be refrigerated for 1 week or frozen for up to 1 month.  You will have to bring the dough back to room-temperature to scoop the cookies.

Flatten the cookie dough for quick, even baking

Flatten the cookie dough for quick, even baking

Baked cookies do not spread much

Baked cookies do not spread much

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Broccoli Apricot Salad

four-salad-ingredients     In the deep of winter, this broccoli salad will surely brighten your plate and palate both.  By now I’m hard pressed to face yet another serving of winter greens with much enthusiasm.  This salad is a spark to brightness and crunch – and it’s been seeing a lot of “plate time” at our house.

     The genesis of this recipe was a plan to both simplify and lighten up traditional broccoli salad, using ingredients that are my son’s favorites.  Broccoli, check.  Apricots, check.  Marinated red onion, check.  Balsamic vinaigrette, check.  Yes, even as a young boy, my son’s favorite vegetable was broccoli!

     Too often broccoli salads involve a long list of ingredients and are laden with a heavy, mayonnaise-based dressing.  I was after a version that would be more refreshing and an antidote to the heavy foods of winter.  And wanted to incorporate the apricot flavors of warmer days!salad-ingredients-sliced

     This is salad, not science.  I encourage you to fiddle with it and make it your own winner.  But by all means use this as a proven starting point – even if your adaptation is into a kale salad!

A few advance notes:

  1. I used a specialty white balsamic vinegar infused with Blenheim apricots.  Naturally this amplifies the apricot-i-ness of the salad.  I get it at Amphora Nueva, in their original shop in Berkeley.  If you are in the Bay Area, they have expanded into San Anselmo in Marin County and Lafayette, Contra Costa County, too.  You can find them online and order. (I’m a huge fan and I hope you’ll check them out!)
  2. Substituting in plain white balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar or rice vinegar will also produce delicious results.
  3. I prefer slicing the broccoli by hand to control the size of the broccoli florets. You want them small, bite-sized, but still recognizable and not a mass of mush-buds.
  4. Using the broccoli stalk provides important crunchy texture, and their sweetness helps to offset the potential bitterness of the florets. And they are good for you!  Be sure to use a vegetable peeler to remove any tough outer layer of the stalk.
  5. Select an extra virgin olive oil that tastes “fruity”; and avoid ones that are too “peppery” or “grassy”.
  6. Plan in advance to serve this salad. It requires several hours of marinating to bring out the best flavor.  So prepare in the morning for dinner, or even the night before.  It’s all good.

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Broccoli-Apricot Salad

INGREDIENTS

Salad

  • 4 cups broccoli florets, cut into bite-sized pieces, about 3/ 4”-ish
  • Approximately 1 cup of tender broccoli stalk, sliced into 1/ 8” x 3/ 4” strips
  • 1/ 2 cup red onion, diced
  • 1/ 2 cup dried apricots, cut into about 1/ 2” pieces
  • 1/ 2 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Dressing

  • 3 tablespoons Blenheim apricot-infused white balsamic vinegar, or see advance notes
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, a “fruitier” one, not a “peppery” one. (I use less as I like more acidity for this salad.)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Prepare the salad dressing.  Combine the vinegar, lemon juice and mustard in a large bowl.  Slowly whisk in the olive oil until well-incorporated and hopefully slightly holding together (emulsified).  Add salt and pepper and taste.  You will want this dressing to be acidic to spark up the broccoli.
  2. Add the diced red onions and broccoli to the dressing and stir to combine.  Cover and let marinate in the refrigerator for several hours minimum.
  3. When ready to serve, toss in the dried apricot pieces and toasted almonds.

Note:  The easiest way to toast sliced almonds is on the stove top, over medium heat, in a small , shallow pan.  It will only take about 4 to 5 minutes.  Begin stirring constantly once the almonds begin to brown; and toast until most are a nice golden hue.  Reduce the heat to low if they are browning too quickly or unevenly; and stir more frequently.  Do not step away from the pan during this toasting process.

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Spicy Sweet Glazed Nuts

New Crop Tree Nuts from California

New Crop Tree Nuts from California

     Did you know California accounts for about half of the nation’s nuts?  (Yeah go on, have a giggle with the double entendre…)  And tree nuts are the number one export for our Golden State.  A short drive outside of our Bay Area urban neighborhoods will plop you into any number of nut tree orchards, so it’s small wonder there are plenty of varieties and options of “new crop” nuts currently available at our local farmers’ markets.

     As it turns out, almonds are the top valued crop in California.  Yes, they overtook grapes a couple years ago!  Following almonds, walnuts and pecans are most popular.  So this recipe features the Top Three placers.  (I’m also partial to pistachios, which are also prolific in our area.)

     All this is a wind-up to an easy and rewarding preparation that’s perfect for the season to enjoy at home or as a much appreciated hostess or holiday gift.  Really, it’s dead simple to prepare.  I’m often asked for the recipe and after seeing it reposted recently by David Lebovitz, I figured it was time to spread the joy.

Glazed Nuts Ready for the Oven

Glazed Nuts Ready for the Oven

     If you’ve been following my posts for a while, you know what comes next:  I hope you’ll make this your own!  Top of mind variations include taking this in a South-of-the-Border direction with ground ancho, guajillo or dried chipotle chiles and finely grated lime zest added to the mix; or take a curry twist with the cumin, cinnamon, turmeric, ground ginger and coriander.  Well, you get the idea…

     And of course, follow Lebovitz’ original version and add pretzels or other crunchy bites.  I look forward to learning of your versions!

Advance Tips:

  • By all means, taste the nuts for freshness before proceeding with the recipe. The high fat content in nuts makes them susceptible to rancidity.  This is especially important if you are purchasing nuts from pretty much any place other than the farmers market.  There is no amount of spice that can mask the unpleasant taste of nuts gone off.
  • Store nuts in the freezer to keep them fresh longer.

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Spicy Sweet Glazed Nuts

Adapted from David Lebovitz, The Sweet Life in Paris

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 cups mixed, raw nuts; any combination of whole almonds, walnut halves, pecan halves, whole hazelnuts, whole cashews, etc.
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/ 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/ 2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3/ 4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1-1/ 2 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon flaky sea salt or kosher salt

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or foil.
  2. Spread the nuts on the lined baking sheet and toast for 10 minutes, stirring once for even toasting.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix together the melted butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, cumin, cayenne, salt and maple syrup.
  4. Add the warm nuts and salt, stirring until they are evenly coated.
  5. Spread the mixture back onto the lined baking sheet and return to the oven for 12 – 18 minutes, stirring twice during cooking. Remove from oven and cool completely, separating the nuts as they cool.
  6. Once cool, the nuts can be stored in an airtight container for up to a week. Good luck with that!

Note:  Do not fail to line the baking sheet; otherwise you will have a heavy task in chiseling off the baked on, caramelized spices.

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Pumpkin Chocolate Snack Bars

pan-of-pumpkin-chocolate-bars     Stay with me here, as we jump into the already crowded field of pumpkin-mania…This entry is a keeper.  I knew I was onto a winner when the batter tasted like pumpkin pie filling, before it’s baked.  With an intentional light hand with the spices, there’s plenty of pumpkin flavor.  And when highlighted by chocolate chips, you have one of my favorite pairings.

     The sugar content is dialed down to a mere half cup.  The addition of walnuts steer it toward a slightly healthy-ish direction.  Hence I’ve dubbed these “snack bars” rather than a cookie or cake.  Clever me!  The bars are plenty sweet enough to qualify for “treat” status, but enjoy them anytime.

     I envision a future batch with a streusel topping to land it into breakfast territory; or a drizzle of melty chocolate frosting to fancy it up a bit.  The batter is sturdy enough to hold a handful of dried cranberries for a festive, seasonal version.  By all means, do with it what you will.

     P.S.  I see a very easy, direct substitution of mashed, ripe bananas in place of the pumpkin puree.  This idea comes to me as I stare upon about six very speckled bananas on the counter.  Of course then we call them Banana Chocolate Snack Bars – another favorite pairing.

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Anytime Pumpkin Chocolate Snack Bars

Makes one 9 x 9-inch pan

Ingredients

  • 3/ 4 cup pumpkin puree; canned is fine
  • 1/ 2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 1/ 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/ 4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/ 4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/ 2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)

Instructions

  1. Line a 9 x 9-inch pan with aluminum foil and butter lightly. The easiest way I’ve found to do this neatly is to invert the pan and cover it with a 12 x 12-inch sheet of foil.  Carefully fold the corners as if wrapping a gift box.  Gently lift the foil off of the pan, turn the pan right-side-up, and then tuck the perfectly molded foil neatly into the pan.
  2. Place an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
  3. Measure the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl; stir or whisk to combine. Set aside.
  4. Combine the pumpkin and sugar into a large bowl and mix to blend. Either a sturdy hand whisk or electric mixer does the job.  Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix well to incorporate into the batter.  Add the spices, mixing until they are evenly distributed.  Add the melted butter and mix until smooth.
  5. Slowly add the flour mixture and mix until fully incorporated. When the batter is smooth, taking care to not over-mix it, add in the chocolate chips and nuts.  Stir to combine well.  Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan.
  6. Bake for about 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for at least 20 minutes before cutting.  I cut into 16 bars, each about 2-1/ 4 inch square, but I’ll leave the particulars to you!
Thanks to my taste-tester Grant. He approves.

Thanks to my taste-tester Grant. He approves.