Life is never dull. I have ripped up my Wisconsin roots, and have been transplanted to California. I envisioned this, dreamt about being here closer to my sister, and perhaps even romanticized it. But the truth is, I miss home and feel out of sorts. I think that has been the theme for me, but, I have certainly learned about myself and this world we live in. And also about how much I love a cup of coffee with frothy almond/coconut/soy milk. I miss a lot of “things” from home, but this feeling of newness is not…new? In between moving 6 times and three different jobs over the last year, I feel that a perspective shift is in order to go along with my physical shifts.
I have been meditating on the daily. I have been surrounding myself with people that I love, both physically and virtually (Jess Lively podcasts are amazing for life flow advice, Mimi Ikonn inspires me to take care of myself, and my favorite blogs have been picking up my less-than-creative feet the last few months; I even had the opportunity to meet Deb at a book signing here in Berkeley-so cool! We had a brief chat about caramel…I am sure I blushed a lot, and didn’t get a coherent sentence out, but still!)
It is time to turn things around (damnit!), and I hope that energy of perseverance, love, courage, warmth and generosity fills your holiday season. Also, I hope cookies do too. Whether you are avoiding the gluten, not diggin’ the dairy, or just love ALL OF THE BUTTAAAAH and traditional things (ahem, me lately-traditions and simplicity bring comfort in turbulent times!), I present to you my 2017 holiday cookie round-up. Cookies that a) I love to make and eat and share or b) look, smell and taste pretty darn amazing, and will likely grace my holiday baking line-up this year.
But really, this cookie became one of my favorites in grad school, when one of the amazing undergrads, who is a spectacular baker and up-and-coming food scientist, brought these in to the lab one day (I think) in July when I was knee-deep in grad-skool-stressful-things (research, 3rd degree burns from caramel, Karl Fischer titrations, etc), and found deep enjoyment in nomming the shit out of a few of these cookies for a break with coffee. The korova is sure to please you and your loved ones and your co-workers and anyone really. The korova cookie is a classic shortbread, enriched with brown sugar, intensified with cocoa powder, and made just *that* much more indulgent by flakes of chopped dark (dark! I mean it! like at least 70% cocoa solids, and chopped-not chips or chunks!) chocolate. Punctuated by a flakey sea salt top, these are just…magical! These cookies are fairly forgiving as they are delicious (see note below for my only pieces of advice, namely avoiding over baking and volume measuring of flour and cocoa…and then, for the last time, go and get yourself a scale for baking!! I own this one and love it, and my sister has this one and it is also a fine piece of kitchen equipment).
Perfect for a host/hostess gift, a care package to be shipped across the country (they are surprisingly sturdy), for nibbling on with your early morning cup of chilly weekday/weekend coffee/coffee after lunch at work when you’re evading reviewing labels/etc, etc. Rich, sweet, salty and full of chocolate. Seriously, happy holiday baking, friends. Find some of my favorite, tried-and-true cookies below that I love to have around for the holidays, along with a few of my tips for holiday cookie bliss!
Notes: to help prevent the dreaded overbake with the korova, you want to take the cookies out even if you *think* you are pulling them out of the oven too soon-they will still appear to be moist and will be very soft fresh out of the oven, so be sure to let these guys sit a few minutes to cool and to finish their bake on the hot sheet pan. Your patience and fearless confidence with these cookies will be rewarded with a dense, yet delicate, cookie. And when in doubt, if they are still a little too soft after cooling a few minutes on the pan, just put them back into the hot oven for 1-2 minutes to help finish the bake. My last note is to urge you to use a scale for weight measurements for these cookies (I own this one, and my sister has this one, and both work very well for baking as well as coffee making!), especially with the dry ingredients. If you *must* use volume, be sure to fluff your flour and cocoa powder before scooping into your measure cup, and level off the top without compacting. Also, I urge you to sift the dry ingredients, especially the cocoa powder, as lumpy cocoa powder can be game-over for these cookies.
Last note, to help life be easeful, which is really welcome around the busy holidays for many of you: you can pre-make these cookies, roll into the logs, wrap in plastic wrap and freeze or throw in the fridge until you’re ready to slice and bake. The dough will last in the fridge for a few days, and in the freezer for a few months. In fact, I think these guys are actually easier to slice when cold and firm; if baking from the freezer, try to remember to take the logs out to soften a bit, either overnight in the fridge or a hour or so on the counter at room temp.
Now, some tips that I find useful for holiday cookie baking (and cookie baking in general):
-Pre-mix batters and doughs for cut-out/sliced/drop cookies; freeze whole logs (as in the korova recipe I share below) or cookies already portioned and rolled into balls. You can even pre-coat gingersnaps with demerara sugar when you freeze them (see picture below!), place into a bag, and label with the baking time and temperature. Thaw logs of cookies overnight in the fridge, and bake pre-balled frozen cookies straight from the freezer (you may need to add a minute or two to the baking time, but seriously, this frozen cookie magic works beautifully!). Note: I have also had success with freezing polvorones already rolled in powdered sugar, too, but just beware that like all things involving powdered sugar, it may just get…everywhere…heh…
-Bake a few batches of biscotti at a time and freeze. They freeze beautifully, and are also quickly “freshened” by a quick trip (5ish minutes) in a 350F oven.
-Parchment paper. Do I need to say more? Unless you like to clean sheet pans. I do not.
-Sea salt. It adds a crunchy, contrasting flavor to many cookies…yes, even on the classics like oatmeal! I love Maldon (also take note of the 3.3lb tub of it…ha!) If you question paying $6-$8 for a box of salt, know that a box lasts for a few months at a time, and pinching the lovely crystals between your fingers and scattering them all over everything will bring you immense joy and pleasure! I promise!
-Gift bags and boxes. I love to use simple clear cellophane bags (like these), twisted shut with a twist tie (go figure!), and optionally made more “festive” with ribbon. If you’re like super-Martha, you could even pre-make bags of baked cookies and store in the freezer.
-Cookies easily sub for a wonderful gift, host/hostess thank-you, and even a dessert if you’re slated to bring “something” to a gathering. Who the hell ever said “no” to a holiday cookie assortment and a bottle of wine?
-Cookies have been proven* to boost morale; bring a tray to work, leave it in the break room, and feel good about the fact that you’re spreading that holiday cheer (just be sure to label with gluten, nuts, dairy, etc…because that is just the right thing to do!)
-Cookies are acceptable for breakfast. Anytime, but especially around the holidays.
*just really speculating here, based on qualitative observation, but I think we can at least be 95% confident that this statement is more than likely true.
Korkova Cookies (aka: World Peace Cookies) // Recipe from Pierre Herme, via Dorie Greenspan // Makes about 30 cookies //
- 1 stick plus 3 TB (150g) unsalted butter, room temperature*
- 1 1/4 cups (175g) all purpose flour
- 1/3 cup (30g) natural cocoa powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp sea salt (or, 1/2 tsp flakey sea salt, like Maldon)
- 2/3 cup (120g) light brown sugar (pack the cup full if using volume measure)
- 1/4 cup (50g) granulated sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract, bourbon or coffee liquer
- 5 oz (150g) (which is about 3/4 cup) chopped bittersweet (or darker chocolate as desired), no larger than 1/3″ pieces
*room temperature butter can be achieved by letting your butter sit at room temperature for at least a few hours, ideally overnight; the texture of the butter is fairly critical for this recipe, so don’t try that microwave-softening trick…you know it doesn’t work, right?
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, or a large bowl that will accomodate beating vigorously with a hand mixer, place the room temperature butter and beat for 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl, and add the sugars, salt and vanilla extract (or bourbon or coffee liquor). Beat again for 2 minutes, at which point the mixture will be fluffy.
2. Weigh and sift the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa powder, baking soda), pressing out any lumps through the sifter. If you are using volume measurements, be sure to fluff the flour and cocoa with a fork prior to scooping into the measuring cup, and leveling off without compacting, prior to sifting (see notes above).
3. Gently mix the dry ingredients into the butter and sugar mixture, starting at the lowest speed on your mixer at first to avoid a flour/cocoa explosion, then mix on medium for a count 5 seconds, then stop and scrape down the bowl. Continue to mix until a crumbly dough comes together (it will be crumbly-don’t be alarmed), taking care to not over mix (I repeat: crumbles are ok!). Scrape down the bowl again, add the chopped chocolate, and mix briefly until the dough looks consistently moist (but it will still be a bit crumbly).
4. Using your hands, bring the mixture together into a crumbly but cohesive ball; divide into 2 portions, and roll each into a log that is 1 1/2″ diameter (this is about 12″ long). Do not stress about perfect logs here, as you can roll into a more even log once the dough is in plastic wrap if you wish. Roll in plastic wrap, taking a few seconds to make the logs more even if desired. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or up to 3 days (or put into the freezer for up to a few months; thaw overnight in fridge before slicing and baking).
5. Preheat oven to 325F. Taking the logs straight from the fridge, using a sharp non-serrated knife, slice into 1/2″ segments. Each log should yield about 15 1/2″ rounds. Crumbles will happen, so gently press and encourage the dough back into rounds. Place about 1″ apart on baking sheets, optionally lined with parchment or Silpat. Sprinkle the tops with flakey sea salt if desired. Bake for 12 minutes, at which point the cookies will look quite moist, but this is normal; allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet until just warm to the touch, then cool on racks. If after cooled the cookies are underbaked, simply return to the 325F oven for 2 minutes longer, and again allow to cool until just warm to the touch.
6. Enjoy fresh, or hoard at room temperature for up to a few days. The baked cookies can also be frozen, and enjoyed straight from there will be firm, crunchy and delightfully chewy. Dunking into hot coffee is encouraged!
On the sheet, sprinkled with sea salt (I love Maldon), ready to bake.
Success is sweet, chocolate-y and sea salt-y. Mmmm.
Ready the coffee, tea, gift bags and/or boxes. These guys are amazing to share, savor and delight in. Enjoy!