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

Save

Save

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.)

LimeSugarCookies_websized

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.

PecanSandiesNaked_CredMel

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.

Save

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies+Pink Sea Salt

Often, my recipes are inspired by friends. They like to eat, and I like to bake–it’s wins all around.

Last week, my friend Sheila made a cookie request–actually, a cookie challenge. (One thing you’ll learn about me is that I always accept baking challenges. This is why at 6 a.m., I’ll end up with one eyebrow streaked with buttercream, flour dusted across my cheeks–aka baker’s blush–and 125 cupcakes to frost with my friend’s wedding a few hours away.  But I digress.  Back to the cookies.)

Sheila’s exact order was: “Do you have like an idiot-proof recipe for some cookies that even someone like myself can pull off? Something peanut buttery, maybe?”

I know she loves peanut butter cookies, so this ingredient was not a maybe. It was a requirement.

There’s a lot of simple peanut butter cookie recipes out there. But whenever I make them, it’s like Goldilocks and porridge–hard to find the right one. Too dry. Too grainy. Too sweet. This doesn’t even taste like peanut butter. But after three tests, I found the “this is just right” version.

Creamed Peanut Butter

Peanut Butter Cooki with Sea Salt

Here’s how I fixed the too-dry, too-grainy and too-sweet cookie dilemma. Solving the dry and grainy problem was simple: Use all light brown sugar instead of white. Light brown sugar added moisture to the dough, and it’s smoother than granulated white sugar. I fixed the too-sweet problems by increasing the amount of peanut butter. Most of the flourless (yes, this recipe is naturally gluten-free) peanut butter cookie recipes have a one-to-one ratio of peanut butter to sugar. Increasing the peanut butter by a quarter cup while keeping the amount of sugar at one cup provided the proper PB flavor and kept them from being too sweet.

Sheila and all the other peanut butter cookie fans, this recipe is for you. Enjoy.

Peanut Butter Choc Chip Cookies with Himalayan  Pink Sea Salt

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies + Himalayan Pink Sea Salt | Photo credit: Melanie Cohen

Simple Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chunk Cookies + Pink Sea Salt

I did get a little fancy and sprinkle the cookies with Himalayan pink sea salt. Don’t have it? No worries; use whatever coarse sea salt you have. Or if you’re not a fan of the salty and sweet combo, leave the sea salt out. You can also leave out the chocolate chips and have a delicious, pure peanut butter cookie.

Makes 36 cookies (Or 35 if you’re like me and consume one cookie’s worth of raw dough. Sampling batter is a must.)

  • 1 ¼ cups creamy peanut butter (I used Skippy Natural. I haven’t tried this with natural peanut butter, yet. I’ll do that soon and let you all know how it works out.)
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 5 ounces bittersweet, dark or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (optional)
  • Himalayan pink sea salt, for sprinkling  (optional)

Directions

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a mixing bowl, add the peanut butter and baking soda. Beat on medium-high speed until it looks a bit fluffy; about one minute if you’re using a stand mixer and about two minutes if you’re using a hand mixer. Stop when the color of the peanut butter is a light tan.
  3. Add the sugar, egg and the vanilla and almond extracts to the peanut butter mixture. Beat on medium speed until the ingredients are fully incorporated and the mixture smooths and is no longer gritty. Stop to scrape down the bowl as necessary.
  4. Using a rubber spatula or large wooden spoon, fold in the chocolate chunks.
  5. Using a one tablespoon cookie scoop, form the cookies into balls and drop them onto a Silpat or parchment lined cookie sheet. Place the cookies about 1.5 inches apart.
  6. Using your hand or the bottom of a glass (a shot glass is the best size), flatten the dough balls and, with the tines of a fork, make a cross pattern on the cookies.
  7. Sprinkle the raw cookies with Himalayan pink sea salt. (I had to do this by hand. Grinding the salt directly over the cookies made them too salty, according to my taste-testers. I trust them.)
  8. Bake the cookies for six to seven minutes or until edges are a light brown and tops are barely set. It’s OK  if the centers appear slightly underbaked. (The cookies firm up as they cool. Bake them too long and you’ll get a peanut butter cookie that crumbles after the first bite. Plus, it won’t taste a good. )
  9. Let the cookies hang out on the baking tray for 30 seconds to one minute. Then, transfer them to a rack to finish cooling. This will take about five to seven minutes.
  10. Cookies will keep airtight at room temperature for up to five days, or in the freezer for up to four months.
  11. Alternatively, unbaked cookie dough can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to five days. To  freeze the dough, form the cookies into balls, place them on a cookie tray(don’t let them touch) and let them harden in the freezer, about an hour.  The dough will keep in an airtight container or freezer bag for up to four months.

Save

Hawaiian Oatmeal Drop Cookies

The idea for this blog came to me on my way to the January 2013 presidential inauguration. The day was cold—not just D.C. anything less than 50 degrees requires a parka cold, but actual 20-degree weather winter cold. While shiver-walking to the Capitol, I found $20 on the sidewalk. Not knowing how to locate the owner, I made a deal with myself: The money would go toward something other than my bank account. A website to share all my baking tales and recipes? YUP.

I bought this domain, tested out the Hawaiian Oatmeal Drop cookie and proudly told everyone my blog was under construction. An “it’ll be ready in one month” blog turned into a 1 1/2-year construction project. (I’m an excellent procrastinator.)

Why this cookie? I wanted to connect it to the inauguration. President Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, so a cookie with tropical elements—coconut and pineapple—sounded appropriately delicious.

This oatmeal cookie is crisp on the outside with a chunky but soft inside, thanks to the pillows of melted chocolate. And I don’t use the world chunky lightly; look what’s jammed into these!

July9HawaiianOatmealDrop

ALL the things will fit into the batter and you’ll end up with this cookie. It’s perfect for picnics or for dunking in a cold glass of milk. Because let’s be honest, you are never too old to dunk.

Hawaiian Oatmeal Drop Cookie

Hawaiian Oatmeal Drops; Photo Credit: Melanie Cohen

(If you’re interested in baking, give a few friends the title of “taste tester.” You’ll benefit from having a variety of people providing recipe feedback. Shoutout to my test-tasting crew—your tastebuds help make this blog possible.)

Hawaiian Oatmeal Drop Cookies

Makes 60ish cookies. Recipe can be halved.

  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups oats, old fashioned (not quick cooking)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 8 tablespoons, one stick, unsalted butter; melted and cooled
  • 2 large egg
  • 4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or chop three to four ounces of chocolate into chunks (I prefer chunks because, unlike chips, they melt in a way that gives cookies craters of gooey chocolate.)
  • 1 cup whole toasted pecans, chopped
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut
  • 1 cup diced unsweetened or low sugar dried pineapple, about 4 ounces

Directions:

1) Melt butter and set aside to cool.

2) Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or use a Silpat liner.

3) Whisk the flour, oats, baking soda, nutmeg and salt together in a medium bowl; set aside.

4) Mix the chocolate chips or chunks, pecans, unsweetened coconut and dried pineapple in a medium bowl; set aside. It will look like a lot, but this is okay. Trust me—it all fits into the batter.

5) In a large bowl, whisk the melted butter, egg and vanilla together for 30 seconds. If you’re using a stand mixer, mix for 15 seconds on medium.

6) Stir in the brown sugar until smooth, smearing any clumps against the side of the bowl. If you’re using a stand mixer, mix for 15 seconds on medium. Wait one minute, then stir or mix again for 30 seconds. Repeat this one more time. You’ll do the mix/rest combo a total of three times.

7) Add the flour, oat and nutmeg mixture in thirds. Make sure each third is fully incorporated into wet ingredients before adding more flour.

8) Add half of the chocolate and nut mixture into the dough. Stir until it’s well incorporated. Add the remaining half of the chocolate and nut mixture, and stir until it’s evenly distributed.

9) Using level tablespoon of dough each time, roll dough into balls and place on cookie sheets about 2 1/2 inches apart. You can also use a cookie scoop. Seriously, if you like to make cookies, buy one. I purchased the small scoop from Pampered Chef.

10) I like to freeze my cookie balls before baking them. If I make them at room temperature, they always spread too much during baking. (I also live an apartment that’s a minimum of 70 degrees with no heat on in the middle of January). So this step is optional. I suggest baking one batch at room temperature and baking another batch frozen to see which you prefer.

11) Bake one tray at a time until edges are golden and centers are just set, eight minutes or nine to 10 if using frozen dough. Do not overbake.

12) Cool the cookies on baking sheets for one to two minutes, then transfer to a wire rack or serve warm. If you eat them warm, your mouth will be greeted a crunchy outside and warm melted craters of chocolate on the inside.