Cocoa Nib Pecan Shortbread Cookies

Have I mentioned before that Alice Medrich is one of my favorite cookbook authors? She focuses on desserts– chocolate specifically– and her book “Bittersweet” was one of the first cookbooks I ever made a point of buying. It’s full of great recipes for both standard and unorthodox uses of chocolate, and introduced me to cocoa nibs.

What are cocoa nibs? They’re roasted cacao beans– the base ingredient of chocolate– so they have a toasty chocolate flavor, but none of the sweetness of processed chocolate. They’re kind of like a cross between chocolate and nuts when used in cookies. This shortbread recipe combines cocoa nibs with pecans, both of which make for a subtle but flavorful cookie.

I admit that I gilded the lily a bit and sandwiched my cookies with a ring of chocolate ganache and a salted butter caramel center. The ganache actually overpowered the caramel a bit, but overall the effect was decadent.

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Autumn Leaf Tuiles

Despite my penchant for making decorative desserts, for some reason I’d never made tuiles before! This past Thanksgiving I figured it was time to remedy that, so to top a cake I decided to make a set of autumn-leaf tuiles. They turned out beautifully, so here’s the recipe. They’re not only beautiful, but they’re delicious as well!

One thing I noticed was that in order to get them really crisp, you need to let them bake long enough to brown slightly– otherwise they stay a bit soft and that’s not what you’re going for. Plus, the browning helped make my otherwise bright colors into more autumnal shades. At the end, I traced veins with edible paint made from gold highlighter dust and vodka, but you could use melted chocolate, or a mixture of cocoa and water, or really anything you like.

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Chocolate Chip Tahini Oatmeal Cookies

I was looking at recipes the other day when I came across a recipe for tahini-oatmeal cookies– it billed itself as being vegan, gluten-free, and whole-grain, which ordinarily wouldn’t be in its favor, but it occurred to me that I probably had some leftover tahini in the fridge, so I decided to give it a shot. Sure enough, I had about an inch of tahini left in my jar– just enough to eke out the 1/3 cup necessary for the recipe– plus a few spoonfuls of almond flour leftover from my aquafaba macarons, so it was clearly fate!

Since there was no additional fat in the recipe the dough went together quickly, though it didn’t spread at all in the oven so the resulting cookies ended up a bit too doughy to qualify as “cookies” in my book. I think next time I’ll flatten them out a bit more and hope they crisp up around the edges. I do appreciate the tahini flavor, though, which (as I’ve said before) goes excellently with dark chocolate, and is helped along by a healthy dose of salt. Oddly enough, the combination of tahini and oats reminds me a bit of walnuts, which would also go excellently in these cookies if you so desired.

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Aquafaba Macarons

I love macarons. They’re beautiful, delicious, and lend themselves to all kinds of flavor combinations. Unfortunately they also take a bunch of egg whites, which I rarely have available without wasting yolks, and I hate waste. Which is why, after I made a chickpea dish the other night, I saved the chickpea brine to make something out of.

What do macarons have to do with chickpea brine, you ask? Everything. Because apparently (and this is something I only recently discovered, though it’s been a thing for a while) you can treat chickpea brine like egg white and it will whip up into a meringue! Amazing! You do have to reduce the brine by 50% first to get it to fluff up properly, but that part is easy.

I will note right now that to make the macarons with my aquafaba, I used my standard macaron recipe, which you can find here.

Anyway, I reduced my brine, chilled it, and it whipped up beautifully, making a perfect meringue.

It also made a lovely magma-like macaron batter.

That being said, when I followed the directions of several tutorials and baked my macarons at a very low temperature (250 degrees F) to avoid making the tops crack (apparently a danger with aquafaba macarons), the macarons themselves turned out rather flat. No feet!

I tried my last pan at my usual macaron temperature (350 for 2 minutes, then crack the oven door and bake for another 8-10 minutes) and they got feet, but they also rose unevenly and cracked, so I guess the correct temperature is something around 300.

I’ll have to try again at some point, but for now you can at least be assured that these will be smooth on top at the lower temperature.

Once they were baked and cooled, I sandwiched the shells with my latest chocolate fudge frosting and a dollop of Nutella, then let my daughter roll the sides in sprinkles and paint the tops with food coloring.

Okay, I admit that I kept a few to paint myself so they’d be extra-pretty, but I always do that when I have little helpers in the kitchen! The results were delicious– just like normal macarons!– so I will definitely be trying these again the next time I make something with chickpeas in it!

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble Bars

I think I’ve determined that the perfect picnic dessert is a bar cookie. Usually quick and easy to prepare, they slice up into conveniently-square-shaped bars that fit nicely into packing containers, plus they are generally sturdy and don’t need refrigeration, plates, or forks. So when I had a picnic to attend recently, I eyed my stash of frozen rhubarb and decided to make strawberry-rhubarb bars to bring along!

I admit that I made a few tweaks (both intentional and unintentional) to the recipe I found online, but I think they worked out just fine.

Like many of the recipe reviewers, I doubled the recipe and par-baked the crust for 10 minutes just to ensure that the bottoms of the bars were firm and sliceable– those were the intentional changes. Unintentionally, however, I put in 2 tablespoons of cornstarch instead of 2 teaspoons, which I worried would make the filling too chewy but which turned out fine. The bars held together well even when not refrigerated, and were really delicious.

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Pink Peppercorn Cake with Raspberries and Rose Buttercream

So this was one of the treats I brought with me to my casting session for The Great American Baking Show. Given the timeframe I really only had a day or two to come up with the idea, but the flavor profile had been marinating in my head for a while, so it only remained to figure out how to implement it!

After some experiments with flavoring I concluded that rose-flavored cake was only mediocre and the pepper didn’t come through all that well in the frosting, so I used crushed pink peppercorns (which are really not peppercorns but are an unrelated berry) in the cake batter and made a buttercream flavored with rosewater to set it off. The floral notes really complement each other well (pink peppercorn cake may be a new favorite of mine), and adding fresh raspberries really added a punch of flavor to make it light and refreshing. I really, really like this cake as a whole, and will totally be making it again at some point.

I confess that out of paranoia over flavor and texture, I eventually made no fewer than four different versions of my cake layers for the big day, deciding at the last minute which one to use (the first one– go figure). And then my favorite cooked-flour frosting was too loose to properly frost the outside of my cake, so I had to make a second batch of frosting, this time with powdered sugar, for the outside. And while I made my initial batch of meringues with freeze-dried raspberry powder, the resulting grayish-purple color was very unattractive, so I made a second batch that was plain vanilla. So to summarize, there was a LOT of stuff leftover from making this perfect-looking cake!

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No-Bake Oatmeal/Coconut (Wookie) Cookies

wookies

So remember how I made the porg rice balls for at May 4th Star Wars party? I also made these Wookie Cookies. Mostly they were an excuse to use up some of the quick-cooking oats in my pantry (I’ve decided that they’re too gluey to make oatmeal out of), but they turned out really well, especially for a no-bake recipe. They’re extremely sweet (to be expected) but they have a great texture and are kind of addictive.

Unlike what appears to be the “standard” no-bake oatmeal cookie recipe, these do not have peanut butter in them, and they include marshmallows (melted in to give a chewy texture). I’m not sure if I’d prefer the original recipe– I’ll have to try it sometime– but these were good and I particularly liked the addition of coconut to add some dimension to the vaguely chocolate-y flavor of the base cookie. Admittedly, the chocolate chips didn’t really make them look all that much like Wookies, but they were close enough.

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