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The closest I’ve ever come to making, or even eating, rugelach is spreading jam on scraps of pie dough, rolling them up, sprinkling them with sugar, and baking them. So pretty close actually. Except that it never occurred to me to add chocolate, so I’ve been missing out.

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Dave loves jam+scraps of dough, so I was confident that he’d enjoy these. I was right, and he was not pleased when I sent the first batch to a soldier in Iraq. That gave me a great reason to make them again, with a few changes I had in mind.

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Dorie practically insists that we play with the filling recipe, so I took it upon myself to do so. For the first batch I followed the recipe exactly, and it was no bad thing. However, they were, if such a thing is possible, too chocolately. Not that they weren’t still delicious, but I happened to know that I added all sorts of other tasty things in the filling, and I wanted to taste all of it!

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For the second batch, I cut the chocolate in half and reduced the jam a little, since so much of it oozed out from the first batch. And in a weird reversal, after months of replacing Dorie’s raisins with other dried fruit, I ran out of currants and substituted raisins. Still good. So many flavors playing along nicely together.

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The recipe, chosen for TWD, can be found on Grace’s site. Changes I made include cutting the amount of chocolate in half, reducing the jam to ½ cup, and increasing the cinnamon to ¾ teaspoon. I also found that it was best to cut the dough into triangles before adding the chunks of chocolate, which blocked my pizza cutter when I added it before cutting.

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decorated sugar cookies

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Decorated sugar cookies are a basic recipe that every established baker needs in their arsenal. I’ve got the frosting down, but I’ve haven’t quite found the right cookie.

It’s a tall order. I want a sugar cookie that’s super tender with only, maybe, if absolutely necessary, the smallest bit of crispness to it, just on the edges. I want it to be flavorful enough to eat on its own, but made that much better by frosting. I want it to be easy to roll out. And I want it to use butter and no shortening.

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These cookies were described as soft and chewy with great butter flavor, so it seemed like a good recipe to try. Except that they weren’t soft. Damn it. The recipe specifically says bake for 6-9 minutes or they’ll be crisp, and it’s possible that I, um, didn’t bother to set a timer. In my defense, I took them out of the oven when they were just showing a bit of browning on the bottom edge; the bottom of each cookie is a nice light gold.

copy-of-img_8923Whether they’re overcooked or not, I have a feeling this isn’t my ideal sugar cookie recipe. My problem is actually that the dough doesn’t need to be refrigerated before being rolled out. For the dough to be unsticky enough to be rolled without chilling, it has to have quite a bit of flour in it. I think the flour contributes to the crispness of the cookie, and of course it detracts from the butter and sugar flavors that cookies are all about.

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If you have the perfect sugar cookie recipe, please let me know! In the meantime, I’ll be making this one with a half cup less flour. And then trying not to eat frosting by the spoonful.

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Update 11.4.08: I still had dough in the fridge after I posted this entry.  After reading bakingblonde’s comment below, I tried rolling it thicker and was careful to bake the cookies for only 6 minutes.  They were so much better – soft and tender.  I do think next time I’ll reduce the flour just a bit, and I’ll add some lemon zest.  I also plan on going through all of the recipes everyone recommended below (which, from my initial glance at each, are quite similar to this one) and taking my favorite aspects of each.

Famous Sugar Cookies (adapted from bakingblonde)

2¾ cups (13.75 ounces) flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) butter, very soft
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 375F. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and baking powder.

2. Beat butter until smooth, about 1 minute. Add sugar and continue beating until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg and vanilla and beat until combined, about 30 seconds. Add dry ingredients and beat at low speed until just combined, about 30 seconds, scraping down bowl as needed.

3. Place dough on floured work surface and roll to ⅓-inch thickness. Use cookie cutter to cut desired shapes.

4. Place cookies on baking sheets and bake for 6-9 minutes, until cookies are beginning to brown on bottom and around edges. Don’t overbake or they will be crisp.

5. Transfer to wire racks to cool. Cool completely before frosting.

I decorated the cookies with Easy Vanilla Buttercream.

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Dave loves biscotti, especially almond biscotti, so he was really happy about Gretchen’s pick for TWD this week. I do like biscotti, but I have trouble figuring out where it should fit into my routine. They’re too snack-like for dessert, but too unhealthy for a snack. Plus they’re kind of a hassle to make, with the slicing and the double-baking and all.

Ah, but almond extract, how I love it. The dough for this biscotti tasted really good.

There was some confusion among TWD members about what Dorie meant by “standing the biscotti slices up like a marching band” for the second baking, but looking at it now, I’m thinking she means that they should bake on the flat non-cut side of each slice. I laid them on a cut side instead, oops. I didn’t bother to flip them, but both sides seemed evenly browned regardless.

There is a reason why I do a lot of side-by-side comparisons of recipes. Not only is it the best way to spot small differences, but Dave, who is actually pretty good at picking out subtle differences in recipes, has a very bad memory for food. Whenever I ask him how one recipe compares to another, he says he’d need to taste them side-by-side.

Not so this biscotti. He knew immediately that he preferred the last biscotti recipe I made, even though I hadn’t made it in over 6 months. He likes that the other recipe is crunchier. Dorie’s biscotti were more tender than most that I’ve tried, which I don’t necessarily mind, but I’m not the main biscotti-eater around here. The reason for the difference is easy to see from a quick comparison of the recipes – Dorie’s uses almost twice as much butter.

So it looks like I’ll be sticking with my old biscotti recipe for now. If you’d like to check out Dorie’s recipe, Gretchen has it on her blog.

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Just about every week, I’m reminded of why I enjoy being a member of TWD so much. The Chocolate Chunkers Claudia chose this week are no exception. I am always impressed by Dorie’s creativity.

That being said, Dorie and I do often differ on taste preferences. For example, what is with all the raisins? She puts them in everything. I do not approve. Also, peanuts. I like them, but I rarely want them in dessert. Also, this phrase: “You’ll have more crunchies than dough.” But…I love dough. Even more than crunchies.

This recipe is far more involved than my normal cookie recipes. It has quite the substantial ingredient list, and a good number of those ingredients need to be prepped in some way. At least I was able to use up my little-bits-of-leftover-chocolate stash.

She doesn’t call these “chunkers” for nothing. More crunchies than dough indeed. There’s just enough of the brownie-like batter to hold the mix-ins together. But – it works. Yes, I’d rather have a plain, rich, moist, perfect brownie, but for something super-fun and different, I like these cookies.

Claudia has the recipe posted. I substituted dried cherries (which I chopped up a bit) for the raisins and walnuts (not toasted, but they should have been) for the peanuts.

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The Whopper cookies that Rachel chose for TWD are such a fun idea, and I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a recipe like this from any other source. With cocoa and malted milk powder in the dough and chopped Whoppers and chocolate chips as mix-ins, this recipe is pure Dorie.

It became clear to me right off the bat that chopping something as small and perfectly spherical as Whoppers would drive me to distraction. So instead, I dumped them in the food processor. It was risky, because food processors are far better at pulverizing than chopping, but it seemed worth it.

I was a little worried by the texture of the cookies right after they came out of the oven, because they seemed gummy. Had my partially powdered Whoppers ruined an entire batch of cookies? Fortunately, they improved greatly once they cooled, becoming pleasantly chewy and rich.

I compared batches baked right after the dough was made and baked the next day. Dave and I agreed that the batch chilled overnight was oh-so-slightly chewier with a more even texture, but that the difference was so subtle that the wait wasn’t worth it.

I thought it was a fun cookie – definitely a different idea, and a good one. Dave said they were nice, but not thrilling. Damned by faint praise.

Rachel has the recipe in her blog.

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I didn’t realize how picky I was about cookies until they started getting chosen for TWD recipes. First the all-too-nutritious granola grabbers, and now Stefany chooses oatmeal cookies. I’m not sure why I have a prejudice against oatmeal cookies, but I suspect it’s the raisins. I don’t hate raisins, but I don’t want them where chocolate chips should be.

But, these cookies do have chocolate chips instead of raisins. And they have peanut butter, which is never a bad thing.

What do you know, these were great! I’m think I’m over my oatmeal prejudice – there was absolutely nothing unpleasant about the oatmeal in these cookies. I also loved how the peanut butter flavor was noticeable but not overpowering.

Ever since the NY Times article about chocolate chip cookies, I’ve been experimenting with chilling cookie dough overnight before I bake it. This recipe especially lent itself to a comparison in resting-before-baking times because Dorie encourages the baker to chill the dough for 2 hours before baking. I expected ugly flat cookies from those that were baked immediately, but I was surprised to see that they baked up perfectly. Dave and I actually didn’t notice a significant difference between the cookies baked immediately and those chilled for 2 hours. In contrast, the cookies from the dough that was chilled overnight were more evenly chewy. I preferred the chewier cookies, but Dave didn’t agree with me. We don’t remember any noticeable difference in flavor.

Whether baked immediately or from chilled dough, these offer fun variety from my routine of more traditional cookies. The recipe is provided on Stefany’s site.

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No classic cookie recipes have been chosen for TWD since I joined. I like making cookies, so I was looking forward to Michelle’s choice for this week.

With all of the ingredients in this recipe, I thought at first that they’d be similar to Magic Cookie Bars. And then I looked closer at the recipe – 3 cups of granola and almost 3 more cups of other healthy-ish stuff compared to only 1 cup of flour. These were some sort of melding of granola bars and cookies. Hmm…that sounds…healthy.

And it tasted healthy. Too much granola! Too many raisins (any raisins in cookies is too many), too many nuts. I added 1 cup of chocolate chips to the recipe, and it was the saving grace. It also might have caused some problems – the cookies were a little crumbly, I think because there was just too many add-ins, and not enough dough to hold them together.

Dave and some other friends are going backpacking this weekend, so I baked (most of) the cookies as bar cookies, which hold up better with being squashed at the bottom of a pack. Unfortunately, in a rare move for me, I made the whole recipe. I was only able to pawn about half of that off on the backpackers, so I threw the rest in the freezer until further notice. I have a feeling they’re going to get sent to Iraq, which I feel kind of bad about, but I just don’t know what else to do with them. They’re not bad, they’re not good enough to bother eating. Plus, they’re not healthy – they just taste like it.

If you’d like to check out the recipe, Michelle has posted it.

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I’m helpless in the face of recipes with names like Deep Dark Chocolate Cookies, even when I already have a deep, dark chocolate cookie recipe that I’m very happy with. I was intrigued by the lack of flour, butter, and egg yolks in this one. It seemed like that would produce a texture similar to a meringue cookie, but the recipe specifically refers to the cookies as dense and chewy.

Although the recipe was published in Bon Appetit’s fast and easy section, I’d say that the amount of work involved in on par with other cookie recipes. Chocolate is melted in one bowl, egg whites and sugar are beaten in another, and the dry ingredients – sugar and cocoa with just a bit of cornstarch and salt – are mixed in a third. The contents of the three bowls are blended together with an additional handful of chocolate chips. I considered it a good sign that the recipe contained chocolate in three forms.

The recipe states that once all of the ingredients are mixed together, the dough will become very stiff, and should then be rolled into balls and coated in powdered sugar. My dough was not “roll into balls” consistency. It was more like a really fudgy chocolate frosting than cookie dough. I simply scooped out a spoonful of dough, dropped it in powdered sugar, and pushed it around until it was evenly(ish) coated.

While the cookies were nice and chocolately, and I suppose dense and chewy, I considered the texture a bit off from what I prefer. There was indeed a similarity to meringue cookies, especially around the edges. I also thought the cookies were too sweet, which would be easily remedied by reducing the powdered sugar.

I definitely prefer my other recipe for chocolate cookies. However, these are the best gluten-free cookie I’ve ever eaten, with none of the “off” flavors that can sometimes occur in cookies based on gluten-free flour mixes. The cookies are also a bit healthier than your average cookie. The only fat in the recipe is chocolate, and once the sugar is reduced a bit (I’d say to ¾ cup in both the egg white mixture and the cocoa mixture instead of 1 cup), there’s about 100 calories per cookie, about 25% less than my favorite chocolate chip cookies.

Deep Dark Chocolate Cookies (from Bon Appetit June 2008 )

BA note: Made without butter or flour, these dense, chewy cookies will satisfy even the most intense chocolate craving.

Bridge note: I’d reduce the powdered sugar to ¾ cup (3 ounces) each in the egg white mixture and in the cocoa mixture. I also baked the cookies for 8 minutes.

Servings: Makes about 24

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1½ cups bittersweet chocolate chips (about 9 ounces), divided
3 large egg whites, room temperature
2½ cups (10 ounces) powdered sugar, divided
½ cup (1½ ounces) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 400°F. Spray 2 large baking sheets with nonstick spray. Melt 1 cup chocolate chips in glass bowl in microwave, stirring twice, about 2 minutes. Cool slightly.

Using electric mixer, beat whites in large bowl to soft peaks. Gradually beat in 1 cup (4 ounces) sugar. Continue beating until mixture resembles soft marshmallow creme. Whisk 1 cup sugar (4 ounces), cocoa, cornstarch, and salt in medium bowl to blend. On low speed, beat dry ingredients into meringue. Stir in lukewarm chocolate and ½ cup chocolate chips (dough will become very stiff).

Place ½ cup (2 ounces) sugar in bowl. Roll 1 rounded tablespoon dough into ball; roll in sugar, coating thickly. Place on prepared sheet. Repeat with remaining dough, spacing 2 inches apart. Bake until puffed and tops crack, about 10 minutes. Cool on sheets on rack 10 minutes. Transfer to rack; cool.

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One of my favorite aspects of Dorie Greenspan’s Baking is that she gives twelve brownie recipes. There’s so much discussion about the best brownie recipe that it seems like sometimes the variety between brownies gets overlooked. Not only are there different add-ins – turtle brownies, espresso brownies, creme de menthe brownies – but there are different textures, and one isn’t necessary better than another. Di’s TWD choice of French Chocolate Brownies was the first of Dorie’s brownies recipes that I tried.

Dorie tells a story of how these brownies were intended to be a rich chocolate cake, but her guests mistook them for brownies, and she didn’t correct them. I can see the confusion. The ingredient list is classic brownie, but the mixing method and resulting texture bridge the line between brownie and cake. Beating the eggs and sugar together until they’re thick creates a light, airy confection that is at the same time tender and moist and far less dense than most brownies.

Dorie calls for the unusual addition of flambéed raisins to the brownies, which most members of TWD weren’t excited about. I considered leaving that step out altogether, but didn’t want to miss out on the fun of flambéing. One of my favorite dessert combinations is raspberries and chocolate, so I used fresh raspberries. It was perfect. I think I’ll always add the raspberries to this recipe.

My only disappointment with these brownies was that they weren’t as chocolately as I would prefer, but I don’t blame Dorie for that. She says she prefers bittersweet chocolate over semisweet, but of course those words don’t have any official meaning in the US. I usually bake with Ghirardelli, whose bittersweet chocolate is 60% cacao, but this time I used Sharffenberger, whose semisweet is 60%, so I bought the semisweet. I probably should have used their bittersweet. On top of that, I read a Cooks Illustrated’s review of dark chocolates, and their comments for Sharffenberger included “lacked choco-oomph.” So perhaps it wasn’t the best choice of chocolate for this recipe.

But regardless, I’m nitpicking (again). I savored every single bite I took of these brownies, and I was sad when I finished each serving. I love that they’re chocolately and rich, but also unique for a brownie in their cakelike tenderness. And, an added bonus for a middle-brownie lover? There’s really no difference between the edges and middle. Every single serving is moist and light.

French Chocolate Brownies (from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours)

16 brownies

Bridget note: I substituted about ½ cup fresh raspberries, halved, for the raisins. Instead of boiling them in water as in step 2, I gently heated them in a small skillet before adding the rum and continuing with step 2.

Update: I made these again, this time using a Pyrex dish instead of the metal pan I used for the original entry.  I don’t know if things bake faster in glass or what, but I must have overbaked them, because the brownies were too dry.   So check for doneness early!

½ cup all-purpose flour
⅛ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
⅓ cup raisins, dark or golden
1½ tablespoons water
1½ tablespoons dark rum
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1½ sticks (12 tablespoons; 6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into 12 pieces
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sugar

Getting ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 300°F. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with foil, butter the foil, place the pan on a baking sheet, and set aside.

1. Whisk together the flour, salt and cinnamon, if you’re using it.

2. Put the raisins in a small saucepan with the water, bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until the water almost evaporates. Add the rum, let it warm for about 30 seconds, turn off the heat, stand back and ignite the rum. Allow the flames to die down, and set the raisins aside until needed.

3. Put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl and set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Slowly and gently melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally. Remove the bowl from the saucepan and add the butter, stirring so that it melts. It’s important that the chocolate and butter not get very hot. However, if the butter is not melting, you can put the bowl back over the still-hot water for a minute. If you’ve got a couple of little bits of unmelted butter, leave them-it’s better to have a few bits than to overheat the whole. Set the chocolate aside for the moment.

4. Working with a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until they are thick and pale, about 2 minutes. Lower the mixer speed and pour in the chocolate-butter, mixing only until it is incorporated-you’ll have a thick, creamy batter. Add the dry ingredients and mix at low speed for about 30 seconds-the dry ingredients won’t be completely incorporated and that’s fine. Finish folding in the dry ingredients by hand with a rubber spatula, then fold in the raisins along with any liquid remaining in the pan.

5. Scrape the batter into the pan and bake 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top is dry and crackled and a knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and allow the brownies to cool to warm or room temperature.

6. Carefully lift the brownies out of the pan, using the foil edges as handles, and transfer to a cutting board. With a long-bladed knife, cut the brownies into 16 squares, each roughly 2 inches on a side, taking care not to cut through the foil.

Serving: The brownies are good just warm or at room temperature; they’re even fine cold. I like these with a little something on top or alongside-good go-alongs are whipped crème fraiche or whipped cream, ice cream or chocolate sauce or even all three!

Storing: Wrapped well, these can be kept at room temperature for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.

I’m out of town this week, building sand castles and burying nephews in the sand. I’ll be back next week to catch up on comments and other blogs!

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I hemmed and hawed about whether to try Tara’s choice of madeleines for this week’s TWD recipe. I don’t have a madeleine pan, and I’m feeling stubborn about buying a pan that has such a specific use. I found out that a mini-muffin pan can be substituted, but I don’t have one of those either. Some people tried baking their madeleines in spoons, but my spoons aren’t very rounded and I wasn’t keen on putting them in the oven. It was suggested that those of us without the proper equipment blog about a previous TWD recipe that we missed instead, and I was all ready with a Snickery Squares entry.

But once the Snickery Squares were eaten, I decided to try out the madeleines anyway, in a regular muffin pan. The recipe says that it makes 12 madeleines, so I planned to divide the batter evenly between the 12 muffin cups. (Actually, I halved the recipe and made six.) I lined the bottom of the muffin cups with cookie press stamps to add some decoration to my tea cakes. I figured that I had nothing to lose if things didn’t work out – the recipe is neither work nor calorie intensive.

I have to admit that this is my first madeleine experience; not just making them, but eating them as well. That means that I have no basis for comparison for how this recipe compares to others and how the muffin madeleines compare to the traditional shell shapes. However, I can make some judgments about what I want from a tea cake.

The muffin pans seemed to work well enough, although I didn’t get the characteristic and elusive hump that’s so desired. But I didn’t feel that my madeleines were tender enough. Honestly, I think there’s too much butter in them, and the batter just couldn’t support and incorporate all of it. I’m also a little surprised by how coarse my crumb was; I must not have beat the eggs and sugar long enough.

Overall though, I’m pleased by the idea of a cookie-sized cake. While I doubt that there’s a madeleine pan in my near future, I might try out some other shapes to see if I can come up with the light and tender tea cake that I want.

Traditional Madeleines (from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours)

⅔ cup all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
½ cup sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¾ stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Working in a mixer bowl, or in a large bowl, rub the sugar and lemon zest together with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the eggs to the bowl. Working with the whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar together on medium-high speed until pale, thick and light, 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in the vanilla. With a rubber spatula, very gently fold in the dry ingredients, followed by the melted butter. Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the batter and refrigerate it for at least 3 hours, or for up to 2 days. This long chill period will help the batter form the hump that is characteristic of madeleines. (For convenience, you can spoon the batter into the madeleine molds, cover and refrigerate, then bake the cookies directly from the fridge; see below for instructions on prepping the pans.)

GETTING READY TO BAKE: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter 12 full-size madeleine molds, or up to 36 mini madeleine molds, dust the insides with flour and tap out the excess. Or, if you have a nonstick pan (or pans), give it a light coating of vegetable cooking spray. If you have a silicone pan, no prep is needed. Place the pan(s) on a baking sheet.

Spoon the batter into the molds, filling each one almost to the top. Don’t worry about spreading the batter evenly, the oven’s heat will take care of that. Bake large madeleines for 11 to 13 minutes, and minis for 8 to 10 minutes, or until they are golden and the tops spring back when touched. Remove the pan(s) from the oven and release the madeleines from the molds by rapping the edge of the pan against the counter. Gently pry any recalcitrant madeleines from the pan using your fingers or a butter knife. Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool to just warm or to room temperature.

If you are making minis and have more batter, bake the next batch(es), making certain that you cool, then properly prepare the pan(s) before baking.

Just before serving, dust the madeleines with confectioners’ sugar.

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