Double Dark Chocolate Cupcakes

We spent spring break at home last week, and I have to admit I dreaded it a tiny bit. My kids usually have a gang of friends in our neighborhood to hang with, but it seemed like they all flew south for a taste of warm sun, leaving my brood in a state of social withdrawal. I imagined long rainy days stuck inside while their boredom escalated to deafening levels.

Fortunately, my sister-in-law L flew in from Portland to entertain and play with us – happiness all around!

I came home one afternoon to find her in the kitchen with the kids, applying lashings of creamy frosting to the tops of just-baked little chocolate cupcakes, something I know an attentive Mrs. Cleaver might attempt with her family, but I never seem to. That must be what aunts are for, I think.

The cupcake recipe is from Dorie Greenspan’s fantastic book Baking: From My Home to Yours. Dorie is a perfectionist, and her recipes are crafted to a precise “T”. Perfect recipe instructions are especially important in baking recipes; those chemical reactions that happen in the oven rely on exact measurements of ingredients, time and temperature.

These cupcakes are no exception; they turned out just as promised – dark, moist, not too sweet – glazed with a shiny, bakery-like chocolate frosting. L sprinkled some colored candy sprinkles on the cupcakes, reserving a few with a sprinkle of sea salt, a just reward for the adults in need of a chocolate fix.

Lemon Pine Nut Biscotti

My Italian grandmother never made biscotti for me, but if she did I imagine that they would taste a lot like these, gently crunchy and sweet with lemon.

Biscotti are my favorite cookies to make because they don’t require much; no fussy rolling resting or cutting, which is the sort of process that makes me start to feel restless and fidgety – not the way I like to operate in this endlessly busy season.

And here’s another bonus – they’re perfect for holiday gift giving because they keep so well in a covered container. Bake a batch and stash away; when you need something for that last minute cookie tray you can take a deep, cleansing breath…one less thing on your holiday to-do list.

Lemon Pine Nut Biscotti

Yield: about 3 dozen

Ingredients

  1. 3 large eggs, separated
  2. 1 1/2 cups sugar
  3. 1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
  4. 1 cup pine nuts
  5. 1 teaspoon lemon extract
  6. 2 tablespoons freshly grated lemon zest
  7. 3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  8. 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  9. 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  10. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  11. Beat the egg yolks with 3/4 cup of the sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer until pale and thickened, about 3 minutes. Whisk the egg whites in a separate bowl with remaining 3/4 cup sugar to form soft peaks.
  12. Stir in the melted butter, pine nuts, lemon extract and lemon zest.
  13. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl.  Add half the flour mixture to mixing bowl and stir; add the beaten egg whites, followed by the remaining flour. Stir on low speed until the dough is firm and slightly sticky.
  14. Divide the dough in half and form each half into a log approximately 2 inches in diameter and 1 inch thick. Arrange the logs side by side on the baking sheet and bake 20 - 25 minutes or until light golden brown.
  15. Remove from the oven and cool the logs for about 10 minutes; transfer to a cutting board and cut into 1/2-inch wide diagonal slices with a very sharp knife.
  16. Arrange the slices cut-side up on the baking sheet and bake 5 minutes on each side or until gently browned and crisp.
  17. Makes about 3 dozen.

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Beat the egg yolks with 3/4 cup of the sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer until pale and thickened, about 3 minutes. Whisk the egg whites in a separate bowl with remaining 3/4 cup sugar to form soft peaks.
  3. Stir in the melted butter, pine nuts, lemon extract and lemon zest.
  4. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl.  Add half the flour mixture to mixing bowl and stir; add the beaten egg whites, followed by the remaining flour. Stir on low speed until the dough is firm and slightly sticky.
  5. Divide the dough in half and form each half into a log approximately 2 inches in diameter and 1 inch thick. Arrange the logs side by side on the baking sheet and bake 20 - 25 minutes or until light golden brown.
  6. Remove from the oven and cool the logs for about 10 minutes; transfer to a cutting board and cut into 1/2-inch wide diagonal slices with a very sharp knife.
  7. Arrange the slices cut-side up on the baking sheet and bake 5 minutes on each side or until gently browned and crisp.
http://familystylefood.com/2009/12/lemon-pine-nut-biscotti/

Toffee Oatmeal Chip Cookies

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I don’t know why I don’t bake cookies more often – they are such an excellent tool for bribing the kids to do the small, important jobs that happen to appear on their weekly chore lists, but for some reason don’t actually get done.  Like walking the dog.

We adopted Poppy, our little Jack Russell-mixed mutt, almost a year ago and since then she’s been keeping our family busy, taking us for walks and arranging playdates. So very busy.

How was I to know that the same dog who greeted us for the first time by docilely flopping down at our feet, presenting us with her soft, pink underbelly would turn out to rival Perez Hilton in her intense need to meet, greet and butt-sniff every dog in the neighborhood?

I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy the walking – it’s great exercise and all, but after a few trips around the block in a day I prefer to delegate the job.

I pulled a few pans of these Toffee Oatmeal Chip cookies from the oven and set them on the counter to cool, and like magic my children began to float around me like happy, dizzy dust motes. It occurred to me that I was in the position of ultimate power: Alpha Mom with Treats. Oh, you’d like a cookie? Walk the dog first.

Bingo! The lead was on Poppy’s collar and she was flying out the door with a child attached in two seconds flat.   A win-win for all parties. I love that!

Heidi Swanson was the inspiration for this particular cookie recipe. Her healthy cooking blog 101 Cookbooks is one of my favorite sites, and my copy of her cookbook Super Natural Cooking has pages falling out from over-use. One recipe I’d flagged and have been meaning to try is Mesquite Chocolate Chip Cookies. I was intrigued by the recipe because it calls for an ingredient that I’d never heard of or seen before (gasp!) – mesquite flour.

It turns out that mesquite flour can be difficult to track down. Commonly used as a staple among Native Americans of the Southwest,  mesquite flour (also labeled mesquite powder or meal) is made from the ground fruit pods from mesquite trees and is said to be super-nutritious.  What got me interested is Heidi’s description of its flavor; smoky, malty, sweet and chocolate-like.

I didn’t get my hands on some until just recently; my friend L brought some back after scouting it out at the super-duper Whole Foods flagsip store in Austin. (An online source for mesquite meal is the Raw Guru site.)

I made a batch of the cookies, and really liked the toffee-like quality the mesquite flour added. Since Heidi recommends substituting an equal amount of flour in place of the mesquite,  I tweaked her recipe a bit to make it a bit more accessible – I realize that most (sane) people don’t go to such lengths to find an unfamiliar ingredient.

These cookies have a similar texture and taste, perfectly good bait for anyone you need to gently influence – wink.

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Toffee Oatmeal Chip Cookies

Adapted from Heidi Swanson

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup stone-ground whole wheat flour

1/2 cup malted milk powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

2 sticks butter, at room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup light brown sugar

3 eggs, at room temperature

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2 cups rolled oats (not instant)

1 cup chopped toffee (I used Heath brand)

1 cup chocolate chips (I like dark but use whatever you like)

Heat the oven to 375 degrees for at least 30 minutes before baking. Line 2 or 3 rimmed baking sheets with parchment or reusable non-stick sheet like Silpat.

Combine the flours, malt powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.

Beat the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer until fluffy. Gradually add the sugars, starting with the granulated sugar, beating until incorporated before adding the brown sugar. Beat in the eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla. Gradually add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until a thick dough forms.

Lower mixer speed to “stir” and add the oats, toffee and chocolate chips until evenly mixed. The dough should be dense and moist.

Drop heaping tablespoons of dough onto the prepared sheets, about 2 inches apart to allow cookies to spread. Bake one sheet at a time for about 13 minutes, or until evenly golden brown. Cool on the pan 10 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely, or until it’s time to walk the dog.

Yield: 3 – 4  dozen cookies

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