Get your thumbs ready, it’s thumbprint time

Thumbprint cookies are one of the two cookies that will always appear on my holiday tray. (The other mainstay is pecan sandies.) The centers are filled with jams in golden orange and/or deep red hues, reminiscent of golden topaz or ruby stones. It’s hard to resist picking one up. Give in.

My first memory of falling for these cookies occurred sometime around first grade. I remember sitting at the table, rolling out tablespoons of dough, while my mom stamped her thumb into each one and filled the crevice with a little jam. My dexterity has improved since then, so I now help top the cookies with jam. But my mom still has superior thumb print skills and is the sole stamper to this day. Really, she is doing that as I type this post.

The base is essentially a butter cookie, with almond extract replacing the vanilla. Almond extract has a clean, sweet flavor which adds a je ne sais quois mystery to almost any cookie. The buttery, lightly sweetened base is complimented by a fruity jam and a coating of pecans. Fill these cookies with a jam that tastes like the fruit it’s made with. I grew up with homemade stuff, but you can find quality versions at a farmers market or grocery store–Trader Joe’s low-sugar apricot or raspberry flavors are my picks.

Thumbprint cookies filled with raspberry jam | Cred: Melanie Cohen

Thumbprint cookies filled with raspberry jam | Cred: Melanie Cohen

Thumbprint Cookies

(Makes about 3 1/2 dozen)

Ingredients

  •  1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • 1 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups finely chopped pecans (feel free to toast them prior to chopping, but it’s not necessary)
  • About 1/2 cup red currant, raspberry and/or apricot jam, stirred (I like to use my homemade jam, but Trader Joe’s low sugar varieties are the ideal substitute.)

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer, or stand mixer with paddle attachment, until creamy.  Gradual add sugar, blending well. Add egg yolks and almond extract, beating until blended.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk the flour and salt until thoroughly blended.
  4. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the creamed butter mixture. Beat until thoroughly blended. Chill/refrigerate the dough for one hour. (Hey, I know some of you have ZERO space in the fridge during the holidays. Feel free to chill this outside, covered, if it’s cold enough.)
  5. Shape dough into 1 1/4-inch balls. Lightly beat egg whites.  Roll each ball into the egg whites and then roll in the finely chopped pecans. Place the balls 2-inches apart on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Lightly press thumb into each cookie to make an indentation. Drop 1/4 teaspoon of jam into each thumb print.
  6. Bake for 15 minutes, until the cookies are barely golden brown on the bottom. ( You might sacrifice a cookie to check if they are done.)  Cool 1-minute on cookie sheets; remove to wire racks and let cook completely.
Thumbprint cookies filled with raspberry jam | Cred: Melanie Cohen

Thumbprint cookies filled with raspberry jam | Cred: Melanie Cohen

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Drunken Bundt

I put too much rum in the glaze. Thus, the drunken Bundt was born. It was also born out of necessity: I needed a portable, simple and autumn-flavored dessert for Thanksgiving.

I know, I know. It’s not a pie, the quintessential Thanksgiving dessert. But hear me out before you discard this Bundt as holiday blasphemy.

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Drunken Bundt, from its best side | Cred: Melanie Cohen

After taking a Bundt cake to two birthday celebrations, I realized how much easier it is to transport. My extra large studio lacks space to store a cake carrier. Successfully transporting (usually via metro) a four layer frosted cake with my homemade carrier, aka whatever leftover shipping box I have jimmied into a cake vessel, is a perilous feat that sometimes results in desserts arriving at the destination lopsided and “unpretty.”

With a Bundt there are no layers to cut and you can ice it once it reaches the final destination. A quick covering of plastic wrap is all the cake needs to become instantly transportable. The two minute glaze can be made the day of and transported in a Mason jar or other small container.

Flavor-wise, this cake roars autumn. The cake starts with a sweet potato (or pumpkin) base and then you add your typical fall spices—ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves—making it well-deserving of a spot on your holiday table.

I jazzed (ahem boozed) up the original Washington Post recipe by nixing the dusting of powdered sugar and replacing it with a rum glaze that is then topped crystallized ginger, chopped pecans and unsweetened coconut. First time I made the glaze, I used two tablespoons of rum and WHOA. You’d have thought Jack Sparrow took over my kitchen. If that’s your thing, go for it. If not, use only 1 ½ tablespoons of rum.

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Drunken Bundt | Cred: Melanie Cohen

Did I convince you to forgo the pie this Thanksgiving? Hope so! If not, please do make this cake for another occasion. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. Let me know in the comments.

Drunken Bundt

Adapted from Washington Post

Makes one 10-inch Bundt cake; 12-16 servings

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 rounded teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 rounded teaspoon ground cloves
  • 12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons unsulphured molasses
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 15 ounces canned sweet potato puree (or canned pure pumpkin puree)

Glaze

  • 1 ½ cups powdered sugar
  • 1 ½ to 2 tbsp, for distinctively drunken cake, rum
  • milk, as needed (water will do in a pinch)
  • handful of chopped pecans, toasted if you have time
  • handful of chopped crystallized candid ginger slices (Tip: the candied ginger slices from Trader Joe’s are much easier to slice than the candid ginger cubes.)
  • handful of unsweetened coconut, toasted if you have time (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Coat the inside of a 10-inch Bundt pan with butter and flour or with a butter and flour cooking spray
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves.
  3. Beat butter in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer on medium speed for 4 minutes, or until quite creamy. Make sure to occasionally stop and scrape the sides of the bowl.
  4. Add the dark brown sugar, then beat for 2 minutes. Add the granulated sugar and beat for 1 minute. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing for 30 seconds after each addition, to blend. Blend in the molasses and vanilla extract on low speed.
  5. Add the sweet potato puree and beat on low speed to thoroughly incorporate it. The mixture might look slightly curdled—it’s fine and there’s no need to worry as it will even out later.
  6. On low speed, add the dry ingredients in three additions, stopping to scrape down the bowl after each one and mixing until just combined.
  7. Spoon the batter into the prepared baking pan. Use a rubber spatula to smooth the top. Bake for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in the cake comes out clean. The baked cake will pull away slightly from the sides of the baking pan.
  8. Transfer (in the pan) to a wire cooling rack to cool for 10 minutes, then invert the cake onto a separate cooling rack and remove the pan. Let cool completely.
  9. Make the glaze. Put the powdered sugar in a medium bowl. Add the rum and one tablespoon of milk. Mix until combined. If the mixture appears too thick to drizzle, add milk one teaspoon at a time until it reaches the right consistency. Drizzle glaze over cake and then sprinkle with pecans, candied ginger and coconut (if using).
    (If you transport the cake. Mix the powdered sugar, rum and milk in a Mason jar, and combine the pecans, candied ginger and coconut in a separate jar or plastic bag. Ice the cake once you arrive.)
  10. Store in an airtight container for up to two days.

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Mom’s Lemon Bars, v. 2.0

I fully intended to post this recipe in August. But it’s now September. So I’m bidding adieu to the warmest (and most humid) season with these bright and tart lemon bars.

The original recipe belongs to my mom, who requested more filling. Unlike me, she doesn’t tinker with recipes, so if something needs an update, mom knows who to call. (Me, not the Ghostbusters.)

Being both confident and a risk-taker, I brought my first ‘now with double the filling’ lemon bars to a Fourth of July picnic. “Who made these bars?” was uttered multiple times. Success.

With that I say goodbye summer, and hello autumn. (The crystal ball shows a glazed sweet potato Bundt cake in our near future. I promise that will be posted early in autumn, and not as a farewell fall post.)

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Lemon bars | Cred: Melanie Cohen

Mom’s Lemon Bars, v. 2.0

Ingredients

For the crust:

  • 1/2 pound (two sticks) unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, preferably unbleached
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

For the filling:

  • 8 large eggs at room temperature
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons grated lemon zest (4 to 6 lemons), optional
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 to 2/3 cup all-purpose flour, preferably unbleached
  • ¾ tsp baking powder

Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. For the crust, mix the flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter to the flour mixture. Using a food processor, pastry blender (I have this one from Pampered Chef) or two knives, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles course sand. Press into a 9 x 13 by 2-inch baking sheet or glass pan, building up a 1/2-inch edge on all sides.
    (If using a glass pan, reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees for the crust-only baking and once the filling is added. Baking time remains about the same. You might want to check a minute or two earlier. Why? Science. Glass doesn’t heat quickly, but once a glass pan is hot, it retains heat much longer.)
  3. Chill crust in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. (You can skip this step if you’re running short on time.)
  4. Bake the crust for 15 to 18 minutes, until very lightly browned. Let cool on a wire rack. Leave the oven on.
  5. While the crust is cooling, make the filling. Whisk together the eggs, sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest, if using. Mix the flour and baking powder together, then add this to the egg mixture. Pour over the crust and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the filling is set. Let cool to room temperature.
  6. Cut into 24 or 36 squares and dust with confectioners’ sugar.

(The cooked lemon squares freeze well, that is, if you have any remaining.)

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Lemon bars, now with double the filling. | Cred: Melanie Cohen

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Chewy Double Chocolate, Double Peanut Brownies

If there is a birthday party, I bringing a baked good to it. A few months ago, I asked my friend what he’d like for his birthday. “Any peanut butter and chocolate combo,” was the reply. Now, what I didn’t realize (and what he thought I knew) was that he doesn’t have a sweet tooth.

This could have been one of those birthday gifts you don’t want to receive again. Fortunately, the fudgy brownies—dotted with peanut butter and chocolate chips, plus peanuts topped with flaky sea salt—were an ace.

Now these can be in your kitchen. Or, share the deliciousness and take them to a birthday celebration.

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Double Chocolate, Double Peanut Brownies | Credit: Melanie Cohen

Chewy Double Peanut, Double Chocolate Brownies

slightly adapted from America’s Test Kitchen

Ingredients

  • ⅓ cup Dutch-processed cocoa
  • ½ cup, plus 2 tablespoons boiling water
  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2½ cups granulated sugar
  • 1¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup peanut butter chips
  • Sea salt

Instructions

  1. Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9×13-inch baking pan with foil, leaving about a one-inch overhang on all sides. Spray with nonstick cooking spray. (If using a glass pan, reduce oven temperature by 25 degrees F and bake for the same amount of time.)
  2. Whisk cocoa powder and boiling water together in a large bowl until smooth. Add the unsweetened chocolate and whisk until the chocolate is melted. Whisk in the melted butter and oil (mixture may look curdled—don’t worry, you’re good). Add the eggs, yolks and vanilla extract, and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the sugar until fully incorporated. Add the flour and salt and mix with a rubber spatula until combined. Fold in the chocolate chips and the peanut butter chips.
  3. Pour batter into prepared pan and spread into an even layer. Coat batter evenly with crushed peanuts. Sprinkle sea salt over peanuts. Bake until a toothpick inserted halfway between edge and center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and cool for 1½ hours.
  4. Using the foil overhang, lift the brownies from pan. Place the brownies on the wire rack and cool completely, about 1 additional hour. Cut into 2-inch squares and serve. Brownies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to four days.
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Double Chocolate, Double Peanut Brownies | Credit: Melanie Cohen

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Springtime Breeze Lime Sugar Cookies

“Those cookies are like eating sunshine. Like tasting a warm spring day.” This was the review my friend Bryan gave for a lime cookie recipe I was testing out. He promptly asked for the recipe. “Of course. Just give me a few days to write up the recipe,” was my reply. That was June 22, 2015—11 months ago.

Did I ever mention that I’m perpetually late?

If you are a fan of lime, these cookies are for you. They contain over 1.5 tablespoons of lime zest and the juice of one lime. This is not a typo. The zest and juice add depth to the sugar cookie base to make it a not too sweet, not too tart cookie. (Personally, I find plain sugar cookies bland and saccharine.)

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Springtime Breeze Lime Sugar Cookies | Cred: Melanie Cohen

Bryan, thanks for your patience. Here is your long-awaited lime sugar cookie recipe.

Lime Sugar Cookies

adapted from The Best Light Recipe

(makes about two dozen cookies)

Note: Make your own cake flour by removing one tablespoon of flour from the 1/2 cup and replacing it with one tablespoon of cornstarch.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cake flour (see note)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup, plus 1/3 cup sugar, divided
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1.5 tablespoons lime zest, plus the zest of one lime, divided
  • Juice of one lime, about a 1/2 tablespoon give or take

 Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line two baking sheets parchment paper or silpat.
  2. Whisk the flours, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, mix 1.5 tablespoons of lime zest with 3/4 cup sugar. Best way to evenly combine them is by mixing the sugar and zest with your fingertips.
  4. Cream the butter and sugar/zest mixture together at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 min. Scraping down the sides as needed. Add the egg, vanilla and lime juice and continue to beat at medium speed until combined, about 30 to 60 seconds. Add flour mixture in thirds and beat each third until combined, about 30 to 60 seconds each time.
  5. Refrigerate the dough until firm, about 30 to 60 minutes.
  6. Place remaining 1/3 cup sugar in a shallow bowl and use your fingertips to mix in the zest of one lime.
  7. Roll level tablespoon of dough into balls. Roll the balls in the sugar and place on baking sheet 2 1/2 inches apart.
  8. Bake cookies, one tray at a time until edges are golden and centers are just set, about 8 to 10 minutes.
  9. Cool cookies on the baking sheets for 2 minutes and transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

 

Pecan Sandies—An Unfussy Cookie Recipe

For me, the best way to celebrate—whether it’s for a birthday, job promotion, graduation or simply a good friend who always has your back—is to make someone one of their favorite food things.

Today, I’m celebrating with pecan sandies. What’s the occasion? My mom’s birthday. It’s one of her (and my) favorite cookies.

Pecan sandies are a simple, unfussy shortbread cookie; a crumbly and slightly sweetened mixture of butter, pecans and vanilla. Once baked and cooled, the cookies are rolled in powdered sugar and have the appeared of rounded snowy mountain peaks–likely why they often appear in holiday cookie trays. But being a favorite cookie in my family, they are made year-round.

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Pecan Sandies (before the powdered sugar dusting) | Cred: Melanie Cohen

Because these contain only a few ingredients, you want to use the best quality. Store-brand butter is fine, but use high-quality vanilla and pecans. For the nuts, purchase them from store’s bulk bin versus buying a package. Bulk bins usually have a higher turnover rate, so you won’t find rancid nuts mixed in the bunch.

And if you can find Georgia pecans, this is the recipe to use them in.

You can also make the cookies into crescent or finger shapes. (Remember back when you made snakes out of Play Doh? Channel those skills. And it’s okay to eat this dough.) I am rarely able to roll each one the same width or length and often end up with a good chunk of underdone and overdone cookies in each batch. I’ll stick with the ball shaped version.

PecanSandieCrescents

A rare batch of relatively same-sized crescent shaped pecan sandies. Then I broke one. Oh well, still tastes the same

P.S. Your family may know these by one of their alternate names, which include Mexican wedding cookies and Russian tea cakes. The Los Angeles Times delved into why there are so many names for this one cookie.

 Pecan Sandies

(Makes 6 dozen, can halve recipe)

Ingredients

  • 2 cups butter
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 4 tsp water
  • 4 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups fine chopped pecans
  • Powdered sugar (for dusting)

 Instructions

  1. Cream butter and sugar. Add vanilla and water. Mix thoroughly.
  2. Add half of flour, mix until combined; repeat with second half of flour. Add two cups (all) of the pecans and mix until evenly distributed. Dough will be stiff. Refrigerate dough for one to two hours.
  3. Roll dough into one-inch balls (about a tablespoon) or roll into finger or crescent shapes. (Shaping the dough, no matter which option, is a great way to involve younger bakers.)
  4. Bake on parchment lined ungreased cookie sheet for 17-22 minutes at 325 F. Cookies will be done with the bottom is a light golden brown. The tops may still appear off-white. The bottom color is the key to knowing when this cookie is done.
  5. Let sandies cool completely. Then roll in powdered sugar.
PecanSandiesDressed

Pecan sandies are done. Let’s eat.

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Connie’s Mom’s Mint Bars

Sometimes, even bakers do not want to turn the oven on. Maybe it’s because you baked 22 dozen cookies the weekend before and gave away your half, forgetting you had a cookie swap in seven days. (Guilty.)

This no bake mint bars recipe is for those times. Or, really, any time you have a mint craving.

The bottom layer is a mixture of chocolate, coconut, nuts and sweetened condensed milk. The cool minty part (my favorite) makes up the middle. It’s topped with chocolate mixture that’s as intense as ganache, but not as firm.

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Layered mint bars, aerial shot

The first time I ate these, I was smitten. Sorry peppermint patties, we need to take a break.

This recipe is courtesy of my friend Connie’s mom. Connie tucked them into my goody bag after the aforementioned cookie-making marathon. I ate one and immediately wanted the recipe. They’re a welcome addition to this baking blog.

Thanks, Connie’s mom!

Connie’s Mom’s Mint Bars

Ingredients

Crust

  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter
  • 1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 cup sweetened coconut
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Mint Layer

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 ounces cream cheese
  • 2 tablespoons margarine or butter
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • red or green food coloring (optional)

Ganache

  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • remainder of can of sweetened condensed milk

 Instructions

  1. For the crust: melt unsweetened chocolate, sweetened condensed milk and butter together. Stir in graham cracker crumbs, coconut and chopped walnuts or pecans. Press firmly in bottom of a 9-inch square baking dish. Chill 15 minutes.
  2. For the mint layer: beat powdered sugar, cream cheese and butter together until smooth; stir in peppermint extract and a few drops of food coloring (optional). Spread over chilled crust and chill 45 minutes.
  3. For the ganache: melt chocolate with remainder of the 14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk. Spread over chilled mint layer and chill 1-2 hours. Cut into small bars and keep refrigerated.
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All the pretty layers of mint bars

Let Me Teach You How to Dutch Baby

Growing up my family went to brunch every Sunday. For a few years, we went to Bickford’s and my mom’s standard order was the baby apple pancake, a fluffy baked pancake topped with layers of thinly sliced apples and coated with cinnamon sugar. I usually ordered the Dutch pancake, which is served with a dusting of powdered sugar and lemon.

Photo Cred: Melanie Cohen

Photo Credit: Melanie Cohen

Then a brunch tragedy occurred. BICKFORD’S CLOSED. Those first few brunches afterwards were sad Sundays. But we persevered and found other restaurants and foods to satiate us. We’d always have the memories.

One day (insert a ray of sunshine), I found a recipe for the supposed Bickford’s pancake. I may have squealed. It seemed too easy, too good to be true. I was dubious that such a fluffy pancake only required five ingredients and basic baking equipment.

You guys, it really is that easy.

I tested it out a few more times and made different variations. I started to sound like the Bubba Gump of Dutch pancakes. A Dutch pancake with apples and cinnamon. A Dutch pancake with lemon and powdered sugar. A Dutch pancake with bananas and rum. A Dutch pancake with blueberries and almonds…I think you get the point.

There are myriad ways you could make this. It’s also ideal for when you have friends for brunch because the Dutch pancake requires minimal effort and it has a serious wow factor when you pull that fluffy masterpiece from your oven.

Now, let me to teach you how to Dutch baby…

Photo Credit: Melanie Cohen

Photo Credit: Melanie Cohen

Dutch Baby Pancake (three ways)

(This recipe, and any of the variations, may be cut in half and baked in a 6-inch oven-safe skillet.)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup milk (Any kind works–whole, low fat, etc. I’ve also used coconut milk to make the bananas and rum variation.)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Garnish: confectioners’ sugar, lemon wedges

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. In a medium bowl, sift together flour and salt.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs and milk in a bowl until just combined.
  4. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, stir until just blended.
  5. In a heavy 12-inch oven-safe skillet (preferably cast-iron), melt butter until hot and frothy. Pour batter into skillet and transfer quickly to oven.
  6. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown and puffed. Do not open oven during baking. Serve immediately, topped with confectioners’ sugar and lemon wedges.

Apple Variation:
(Adapted from Yankee Magazine)

Thinly slice one tart apple (e.g., granny smith, pink lady) and put in a small microwave-safe bowl; soften the slices slightly in the microwave. Set aside. Combine 1 tablespoon cinnamon and ½ teaspoon nutmeg with ¼ cup sugar. After adding batter to pan (step four) add apple slices and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Bake as directed and serve with warm maple syrup and/or butter.

Bananas & Rum Variation:
(Make the banana rum mixture while the pancake is in the oven.)

Slice two ripe bananas on an angle, set aside. Heat 2 tablespoons rum, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 tablespoon butter and 2 tablespoons orange juice in a large skillet until the butter is melted. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then lower the heat so the sauce is bubbling gently. Add bananas. Cook until they are softened, about 4 minutes. Keep warm until the pancake is done.

Immediately after removing the pancake from the oven, top with the banana rum mixture. Slice and serve.

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Cheesy Crackers

Confession: I have an addiction. An addiction to Cheez-It crackers. It started in high school and has only gotten worse now that I’m an adult and able to eat whatever I want, whenever I want–meaning Cheeze-Its at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday are totally acceptable.

Fortunately, my friend understands and shares my addiction. Solidarity. Melanie, the one who also struggles with a need for cheesy crackers, decided she was going to make a homemade version. There’s a ton of preservatives in the red box.

A quick internet search revealed a recipe that tastes good and doesn’t require an afternoon of never leaving the kitchen. Seriously. You can make these one night after work and still get your recommended eight hours of sleep. (We all get this every night, right?).

Photo cred: Melanie Cohen

Cheesy Crackers (aka homemade Cheez-Its) | Photo cred: Melanie Cohen

Melanie did not make any changes to the recipe she found online. So this blog post is more of a review saying: Yes, the homemade Cheez-It recipe, (by Kazmataz on Instructactables.com) is a keeper and definitely not a #fail. Enjoy!

Some notes for the crackers:

*Mel’s oven took a lot longer than 20 to 25 minute baking time, so depending on your oven, it could take more time as well. If that’s the check, check every few minutes after the 20 to 25 minutes.

*Make sure to roll out the dough thinly enough for the crackers to taste like crackers and not bread.

*Don’t freeze the dough for too long–because of consistency, it’ll be really tough to roll out if you freeze for longer than an hour.

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Homemade cheesy crackers (left) and Cheez-It crackers (right) | Photo cred: Melanie Cohen

Mel’s Harissa Hummus

My friend Melanie (the same Melanie who takes the blog photos) makes hummus, excellent hummus. It pairs well with crackers–homemade or store bought–or your favorite vegetables for dipping. She’s your guest blogger for this post. [Ed. Note]

Guest Blogger: Melanie Cohen

A few years ago, I became obsessed with learning how to make things that people usually just buy from the supermarket—Larabars, mayonnaise, pesto and even Cheez-Its. My introduction to this kind of food prep has also been my most prominent; I’ve practically become legen—wait for it—dary for my hummus making. I mean, who wants to pay $5 for chickpeas and hydrogenated oil when you can make a purer and tastier version yourself for cheaper?

Here’s the recipe I use to make my hummus; I’ve also included the recipe I adapted it from. (This is why I’m an editor; I’m much better at improving an existing product than creating it from scratch.)

Harissa Hummus |Photo Cred: Mel C.

Harissa Hummus | Photo Cred: Melanie Cohen

Mel’s Harissa Hummus

  • 1/4 cup of tahini
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (a bit less if you use the kind from a bottle, but fresh is preferred)
  • 2 tablespoons of water
  • 4 small cloves of garlic (more if you love garlic like I do)
  • 1 can of chick peas (you could get the dried stuff, but that takes a lot of time and patience–canned chick peas also help the creaminess* factor)
  • Salt to taste (I usually add very little because canned chick peas have plenty of salt already)
  • Harissa to taste

Directions

  1. Add the tahini, lemon juice and water to a food processor. Blend until it forms a “thick, creamy emulsion” (copying from the recipe here–giggles). Then mix in the garlic, chick peas and harissa and blend, adding extra water by the tablespoon for desired consistency. I also like to add a dollop of harissa on top for aesthetic purposes.
  2. If you’re ambitious, you can use homemade harissa, but I usually buy it from the store. My favorite is from Cava Mezze, which isn’t available everywhere, but I’d definitely recommend using fresh harissa over jarred if possible.*Want a tip to get super creamy hummus? In addition to getting canned chick peas, make sure you take off the little skins–it’s a bit tedious, but it’s completely worth it!
Chickpeas with the skins removed. | Photo Cred: Melanie Cohen

Chickpeas with the skins removed. | Photo Cred: Melanie Cohen