Nosh: Black Forest Cookies

No holiday cookie tray is complete without something chewy and fruity.  I think that’s how fruitcake has managed to hold on for as long as it has, despite the fact that it’s inherently creepy.  (Note to home fruitcake makers: I’ve never had a fruitcake that isn’t commercial, and gross.  I’m willing to give homemade cakes the benefit of the doubt.  And I digress.)

Thank you, but… No.
Image from jbinghamoc.wordpress.com

Never fear, good people!  I have the solution!  Plus, you get to mainline chocolate in the process and when is that ever bad?  Right.  Never.  Presenting: the Black Forest Cookie.

A take on the traditional black forest cake, the nominal cookie is made from dense, rich chocolate and is loaded with…what should ideally be entirely cherries, but you know…we’ll get to that in a minute.  This drop cookie is uncomplicated and comes together fairly quickly, so it’s going to find itself in my reserve of go-to recipes.  I got this recipe from one of those mini-cookbooks you can impulse-buy at the cash register of your local supermarket (because I impulse-bought one).  It’s a Martha Stewart recipe, which pains me because I have no love for her, and yes, I realize she’s crying over that all the way to the bank.  But more importantly (for our purposes), it’s readily available online.  Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup packed dark-brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 package (about 12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chunks
  • 1 1/2 cups dried cherries

Get the butter and chocolate going in a double-boiler.  If you don’t have a dedicated double-boiler, then do what I do and put a mixing bowl over a pot of boiling water.  There is one caveat: don’t let the bowl touch the water, because then you might scorch the chocolate, and who wants that?  You don’t need much water in the pot to get the job done, maybe just an inch or two.  And don’t bother chopping the chocolate (which, for some reason, I haaaaaaate to do); just break it into chunks and let heat do the work for you.

Behold the awesome power of buttery chocolate goodness!

Behold the awesome power of buttery chocolate goodness!

I promise you, if you keep it over the steam heat rising from the water in the lower pot, the butter and chocolate will melt.

While this morphs into a beautiful mass of buttery chocolate, measure out your dry ingredients and keep them handy, because you’re going to be mixing them all at the same time.

Measured and a'waitin'.

Measured and a’waitin’.

BUT FIRST!

When the chocolate is entirely melted, take your melting vessel (mixing bowl, top pot of the double boiler) off the heat and whisk in the eggs, one at a time.  Give yourself a minute between removing the chocolate from the heat and adding the eggs.  The chocolate mixture will cool slightly and you’ll run less of a risk of ending up with chocolate-covered scrambled eggs (which can happen if the chocolate is too hot when you add in the eggs.  See: don’t scorch the chocolate).  And, as always, add the eggs one at a time by cracking them into a separate cup first so you can retrieve any rogue bits of shell that end up in your egg.

Just a tiny bit of patience pays off in this step. Big time.

Just a tiny bit of patience pays off in this step. Big time.

Whisk that together, then dump in all your dry ingredients and give that a mix.  Don’t overmix, just incorporate.  You’ve got more mixing to come and you don’t want to toughen up your cookies from overmixage.

The next step is to add the bag of chocolate chips (yes, a whole bag, no real measuring required) and the cherries.

Ahhh…the cherries.

So I went into this recipe thinking, I have a giant bag of dried cherries (local peeps: that I got at the Natural Food and Garden Store), no need to check how much I have.  Conveniently forgetting, of course, the handful I would snack on with each trip into the pantry.  I pulled out the bag of dried cherries and…

Rut ro.

Nowhere near enough.  I had a moment of panic and then I thought…you know…here’s a golden opportunity to use those spare ends of bags of fruit I’ve had hanging around, and turn this into sort of a kitchen-sink cookie.  So.  In went the cherries, and some currants, and Craisins, and then raisins to top it off, until I reached my 1 1/2 cup mark.

Batter has become secondary. The chunky bits are all that matter.

Batter has become secondary. The chunky bits are all that matter.

Fold this all together with your trusty rubber spatula until it becomes a glorious riot of nuggety goodness and smooth, rich batter.

It's so hard to not just eat it like this.

It’s so hard to not just eat it like this.

Then cover this with plastic wrap and put the whole thing in your fridge for at least 30 minutes.  This is where you could park it for a while (up to overnight) if you don’t have the time to finish them.  Or, you could preheat your oven to 350° and line your cookie sheets with baker’s parchment and, after half an hour, take it from the fridge and get to spoonin’.  The dough becomes a pretty solid mass as you leave it in your refrigerator to set up, so it can be hard to scoop to the proper size, especially if you have not-necessarily-the-strongest measuring spoons.  Like mine.  So.  Use a heavy spoon to dig the first two tablespoons of dough’s worth of cookie out and measure that into a measuring spoon.

Use the resources available to you.

Use the resources available to you.

Then? Use that as a scale model to measure out the rest of your cookies.  It goes much more easily that way, instead of fighting with measuring spoons that would bend and/or break (I mean, look at them, they’re so thin).  Before you know it you’ll have…

Mmmmm...

Mmmmm…

…row after row of dropped chocolate cookies.  Put these beautiful tastebombs in your hot oven and bake for 11-13 minutes, until the edges look nice and firm.  Rotate them once halfway through bake time if you think it’s needed, then remove them from the oven and let them cool on the trays for five minutes, and then on racks until they’re thoroughly cool.  Bonus, holiday bakers: these cookies freeze well, so you can make them early and stick ’em in the freezer until you’re ready to load them on gift trays.

Side note: is it possible to experience an independently generated smell memory?  Because there’s nothing baking in my house and I swear I can smell their chocolatey goodness right now.  Anyway.

Once they’re cool and ready to eat…don’t forget to have them with some milk.

Yay!

Yay!

Two things…  1) This cookie is little more than a hand-held chocolate delivery system with occasional pockets of fruit, and that’s not a bad thing.  EVER.  And 2) I enjoyed this cookies-and-milk photo op way more than I probably should have.  (No, I think we need another shot…TAKE TEN!)  (I’m only partially joking.)

Enjoy!  And happy baking.

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Nosh: Peppermint Palmiers

OK, I admit it, cookie friends.  Palmiers have always kind of intimidated me.  Why?  Oh, you know…They have curlicues, they look elaborate.  But what is the thing we do when things scare us?

No, “run away” is not the correct answer.

We face our fears!  We go to the mountaintop!  We make the sodding palmiers!

Peppermint, please.  Here’s the recipe.

Readers, bear this in mind: this recipe calls for three tablespoons of creme de menthe liqueur.  If you do not want to use any sort of alcohol, please feel free to substitute peppermint extract for the creme de menthe.

First things first: whip your butter for thirty seconds, and then mix it in with brown sugar, granulated sugar, baking powder and salt.

Butter, sugar. Yeah, we're starting on the right foot.

Butter, sugar. Yeah, we’re starting on the right foot.

Then add the wet stuff: eggs, creme de menthe, milk, vanilla.

Whipping things up in central PA.

Whipping things up in central PA.

Then mix in your flour.  I was able to mix all the flour in for this dough with the blender since it’s a pretty soft dough that is ultimately supposed to be bendy.  Mold it into  a rectangle, wrap it in plastic and stick it in your fridge to firm up.  The recipe recommends at least three hours and so do I; it needs to be firm enough to handle being worked on and I can’t stress enough that it’s a soft dough and will become sticky fairly readily once it warms up.

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To the fridge with ye!

Now, start on your filling.  The first thing to do is crush your peppermints.  I thought about using a food processor, but I worried that the heat from the motor would melt the candy into useless goo.  (If anyone has suggestions about this, I’d love to hear them.)  There’s always the “put ’em in a bag and whack ’em with a frying pan” method, but I prefer to have a slightly more precise method of control.  What I found worked?  A mortar and pestle.  And six standard-sized candy canes.

Crush. To smithereens.

Crush. To smithereens.

Then mix in all your filling ingredients in a nothin’ fancy kind of way, including a few drops of food coloring, until everything is blended and appropriately pink.

Pinkness achieved.

Pinkness achieved.

And then let that hang out in your fridge until you’re ready to roll out your dough.

The next series of steps is best conveyed by pictures rather than by text, so keep your eyes peeled for the visual feast.

Cut your dough in half.  Put one half on a well-dusted workspace, and re-wrap the other half to stay in the fridge until you need it.

IMG_0043

Soon to be a cookie.

Cut into a 12×8 rectangle.  Achieve this through the clever use of measuring tools.

Measure twice, cut once.

Measure twice, cut once.

Put half the filling in the prepared doughy rectangle.

Make sure you leave about a half-inch border around your dough.

Make sure you leave about a half-inch border around your dough.

And then roll the sides in.

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And roll.

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And roll.

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Once you get to this point, seal the seam of your cookies with some water, wrap in plastic and place it in the freezer overnight.  Yes, the freezer.  Then repeat with the other half of the dough.

Twenty-four hours later…

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, preheat your oven to 350°F, and take one frozen roll out of the freezer.  Cut it into quarter-inch slices.

Again with the clever use of tools.

Again with the clever use of tools.

You’ll get individual slices that look something like this.

Hello, beautiful.

Hello, beautiful.

Give them some space on the baking sheet because they will expand when they bake, and repeat with the second frozen cookie roll.  Work quickly!  They’ll soften up if you don’t and become nearly impossible to cut.

The recipe said to bake for ten minutes (remember to rotate the pans at least once during baking), but I let mine go longer.  Significantly longer; they were in for about fifteen minutes.  But it worked.  By the time the bottoms were done I had a batch of beautiful, delicate, minty cookies that–though were admittedly time-consuming–weren’t that difficult at all.

Feast.

And what are you having?

Enjoy, everyone!

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