Day 6: Caramel Squares
Caramel squares have been served during the holidays in my family for as long as I can remember. This recipe was passed down several generations, stemming from my Scottish great grandmother. I’m pretty sure the name “caramel squares” was invented by my mom when we were kids, as she liked to simplify names of things for us into what they actually were. (This name change wasn’t as bad as soda being called “bad soda” and cereals other than Cheerio’s being called “sugar cereals” in my household. You can only imagine how kindergarten went when I asked if I could have a “bad soda” at a friend’s house. Thanks Mom, brainwashed).
The actual name for these cookie bars is Millionaire’s Shortbread, which I learned while in the UK when I found them at a bakery and excitedly called my mom to tell her that the UK sold her famous caramel squares. I always thought they were just a family recipe, but even Starbucks in London serves millionaire’s shortbread. Turns out the UK has been feasting on these treats all along. However, none I sampled were as good as our family recipe.
These have always been my mom’s signature dessert, requested for any pot luck, holiday party or gathering. Growing up, everyone knew about Mrs. D’s caramel squares. They make great finger food, and they’re very rich so all you need is one little bite. The layers include a shortbread base, homemade caramel center and dark chocolate topping. They will easily impress your guests, but aren’t terribly hard to make.
Day 5: Brownie Cookies
My guilty pleasure is opening up my computer and looking at pictures of amazing food. My almost-on-a-daily-basis routine goes something like this: I sit down in front of my computer, type in “foodgawker.com,” and let the scrolling/food trolling begin. I don’t know how the photo curators over at the site do it, but they somehow manage to make me want to click on every recipe and food item they post. In fact, I usually end up getting hungry half way through my food picture stalking ritual that I get up and go grab a snack. Today’s snack? Leftover brownie cookies.
Though this was only my first time making these cookies, I can easily tell they will be one of my favorites. At first I was a little skeptical … I mean, how can a recipe so perfectly combine the crunch factor of the cookie with the density and moistness of the brownie? Easy. It essentially takes frozen brownie batter, plops it on a lightly greased baking sheet and bakes for 10-13 or so minutes.
Though this recipe is incredibly simple, here are a few tips I picked up along the way:
- This looks (and tastes) like brownie batter, so do not skip freezing the dough. In fact, I found that I had to refreeze the dough while I was baking batches in order to ensure the cookie dough would be firm enough to roll into balls.
- Do not under bake. Sure, if you under bake with other cookies, you’ll end up with a cookie with a crunchy exterior and a nice, gooey center. If you under bake with this recipe, you end up with one, goopy, hot (and delicious) mess.
- Microwave your chocolate. Not only is it less of a hassle than using a double boiler, it’s a time saver. All you need to do is melt the chocolate with a few slabs of butter, remembering to stir occasionally. If you are afraid of causing the chocolate to seize by overheating, just add a few more slabs of butter.
Brownie Cookies (recipe adapted from Food & Wine Magazine)
12 Oz of Semisweet Chocolate
4-6 Tbsp. of Butter
4 Eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 Cups of Sugar
1 Tsp. of Vanilla Extract
1/4 Tsp. of Salt
1/2 Cup of Flour
1/2 Tsp. of Baking Powder
2 Cups of Semisweet Chocolate Chips
Melt 12 ounces of chocolate chips with the butter in 30 second spurts, remembering to stir the chocolate between each spurt. Melt until the chocolate is a liquid. Set aside briefly.
Using a stand mixer on a medium speed, combine eggs and sugar until pale and thick (around five minutes). Add the vanilla and salt. Lower the speed to a slow speed and fold in the melted chocolate. Then, add the flour, baking powder and remaining chocolate chips. Freeze for at least an hour, or until the batter is cold enough to form a ball in your palms.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Using your hands, form balls of brownie dough about the size of a golfball and place on a greased cookie pan. Bake for around 10-13 minutes, or until the cookies start to crack on top and look dry around the edges. If it looks like the cookies’ centers look moist, bake for another couple minutes, or until the cookies are fully baked.
Makes approximately 24-30 cookies.
Day 4: Yo-yo “Biscuits”
Yo-yo’s have become a staple in my Mom’s holiday cookie rotation since a summer spent in Australia way back in 1998 while my dad was working in Melbourne. We found them everywhere, and couldn’t get enough. One of our last days there my mom asked our favorite Melbourne bakery for the recipe, and they obliged. Miraculously, 16 years later, yo-yo cookies are still being baked at my parents home with the original recipe.
For years I have watched my mom bake her array of cookies during the holiday season, but only became seriously interested in cooking and baking myself a few years ago. I used to be tasked with the sole job of spreading the icing in-between the two sandwiched cookies. I took a stab at these cookies from start-to-finish for the first time this year, and they were surprisingly easy. I guess I had been paying attention all of these years after all!
The secret ingredient in these cookies is Bird’s custard powder. It gives the cookie a very unique taste that is hard to put your finger on, but is a necessity for the recipe and cannot be substituted. I imagine this powder is easy to find in Australia, but you may need to go to a larger supermarket or specialty store if you’re in the U.S. At home we have a higher end gourmet supermarket that carries it, as do some large supermarkets. Online stores like Amazon may work as well. Enjoy these delicious sandwich “biscuits” from Australia. (Fun fact: Australians call cookies “biscuits”)
¾ Pound Butter, Room temperature
3 Cups Unbleached Flour
½ Cup Icing Sugar
1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
½ Cup Birds Custard Powder
Preheat oven to 350 Deg F. Cream butter and icing sugar together until light and fluffy. Add vanilla. Soft flour and custard powder together, and mix sifted ingredients into the creamed mixture. Roll teaspoons of mixture into balls and place on a cookie sheet. Flatted each ball by pressing down the dough with a fork. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on a rack.
½ Pound Butter, softened
1 Cup Icing Sugar, sifted
4 Tbsp Bird’s Custard Powder
Beat all ingredients together until well combined. Spread a generous portion of icing between two cooled biscuits and sandwich together.
Welcome to Day3: Gluten-Free Coconut Flour Chocolate Chip Cookies. Though Hailey might not approve of these cookies (as you could probably tell by her aversion to coconut macaroons versus her love of macarons in yesterday’s post), this has to be one of my favorite cookie recipes this year. In fact, every time I’ve made these cookies, they’ve been a hit.
The last time I made these cookies was for a movie night hosted by one of my coworkers. There were suppose to be around eight or ten of us attending, so I decided to double the batch (to 24 cookies), just to be on the safe side. That said, I still thought I would have a couple leftover for
a snack breakfast the next day. Boy, was I surprised. The cookies were gone in a snap. In fact, people raved about them days after the movie night. I still sometimes get asked for the recipe.
Here’s why I love these cookies so much: 1) They are incredibly easy to make, and only take about 20 minutes from prep time to finished product. Whenever I’m craving something sweet but don’t want to put in the work, I turn to this recipe. 2) For being a member of the dessert category, these cookies are moderately healthy. 3) These cookies are bite-sized (read portion control!), making these the perfect accessory for the holiday season.
Gluten-Free Coconut Flour Chocolate Chip Cookies (Recipe adapted from The Detoxinista)
1/3 Cup of Coconut flour
1/4 Cup of Coconut Oil, Melted
1/4 Cup of Maple Syrup
1 Tsp. of Vanilla
1/4 Tsp. of Salt
1/3 Cups of Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
3-4 Pinches of Toasted Coconut Flakes
Mix together the flour, oil, maple syrup, vanilla, salt and eggs until the batter starts to come together. *Note: the batter will appear to be very wet.* Mix in the chocolate chips and coconut flakes. Using two spoons, shape the cookie dough roughly into a ball and drop onto a cookie sheet. Use one of the spoons to gently flatten the cookie. **Note: as these are gluten-free, the cookies won’t spread on their own. Keep that in mind while shaping and flattening the cookies.** Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 10-12 minutes or until the bottom edges turn golden.
Makes 12 cookies.
I have a confession: I am a Francophile. The name of our blog was no accident– I have a bad addiction to everything French, from wine to cheese to fashion to language to…pastries. It’s no wonder that I call the macaron my favorite cookie. I have a strong aversion to coconut, and I previously stayed clear of French macarons because I confused them with American macaroons, which are quite coconut-y. (Notice: the French version has one “O,” and the two are quite different). The first time I remember trying a true French macaron was 4 years ago when I was studying abroad during college in Bordeaux, France. They were literally everywhere I turned, in every bakery and patisserie. (It’s ironic that by the time I came back to the US the trend had suddenly caught on and I was able to find macarons all over LA, too). I finally tried a salted caramel one from Baillardan, a sweet shop famous for caneles de Bordeaux, but also makes great macarons. One bite and I was hooked.
Macarons are basically two dense meringue cookies sandwiched with some sort of flavored filling like raspberry buttercream or salted caramel. One great benefit is that they are naturally gluten-free. I was a little nervous to tackle these on my own for quite some time, since they look super fancy and hard to make. Plus they sell at around $3-$4 a pop (pretty much one bite…), so I thought they must be very difficult to make, right? Sort of right. Cathy and I ended up taking a macaron making class in Santa Monica last year at the Gourmandise School of Sweets and Savory, which is a fantastic cooking and baking school. Macarons would be fairly easy for someone familiar with meringue (like my Mom, for instance) and following a recipe would be sufficient, but I personally was not. The class we took was worth-while for me to see the subtle techniques like folding the egg whites slowly without mixing, etc. However, I would say after taking this one class, I don’t blink twice.
The ingredients and recipe are actually quite simple, and once you’ve made them one time, it’s easy to become an expert and begin experimenting with flavors and colors. As much as I like experimenting, plain vanilla bean macarons remain my favorite flavor. I also haven’t perfected adding food dye, so the vanilla bean macaron cookies end up having the best texture. So here they are, plain and simple vanilla bean macarons. Put them in a cute box and it makes a great holiday gift!
Vanilla Bean Macarons (Recipe from The Gourmandise School)
4 Egg Whites
1/2 Tsp Cream of Tartar
2 Scant Cups Almond Flour
2 Cups Powdered (Icing) Sugar
A pinch of Salt
6 Tbsp Sugar
1 Vanilla Bean (you will use half for the cookie and half for the filling)
Place almond flour, powdered sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse several times. Set aside. Measure the sugar into a small bowl and add 1/2 of the vanilla bean (cut bean lengthwise and in half, and scrape the insides). Mix together and set aside.
In a stand mixer, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Slowly add the vanilla sugar remaining on medium-high speed until stiff peaks are formed. Remove from the mixer. Sift 1/3 of the almond flour mixture into the bowl and carefully fold the mixture until just combined. (Note: use a spatula and scrape the bowl in circular movements, occasionally cutting through the center). Add the two remaining thirds one at a time through the sifter, and repeat the same slow combining motion until a ribbon forms.
Spoon batter into a piping bag (or corner of a ziplock bag with the corner cut off), and pipe even circles onto a parchment paper lined tray. (Place piping bag end close to parchment, squeeze and lift). Let set for about an hour.
Pre-heat oven to 300 deg. F and cook for about 12-15 minutes.
Italian Meringue Butter Cream:
5 Egg Whites
1 Cup Sugar
Pinch of Salt
1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
1/2 Vanilla Bean
1 Pound of Butter at room temperature, cut into pieces
Fill a medium saucepan 1/3 with water and bring to a simmer. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk egg whites, sugar and salt over the saucepan until mixture is warm to the touch. Remove from heat and place on the stand mixer. Whisk until stiff peaks form and the bowl is completely cool to the touch (*This is very important for the butter not to curdle). Continue to whip on medium-high speed and add the butter, one chunk at a time until combined. Add the vanilla extract and vanilla bean, and whip until smooth.
Once macaron cookies have completely cooled, pipe a dollop of the butter cream in the center of a cookie. Add another cookie on top, gently pressing down to spread the buttercream. Macarons keep great in the freezer (remove 5-7 minutes before eating).
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