Happy 4th of July! Here are Some Blondies

A very happy and festive 4th of July, American readers! Everyone else: hey, it’s still Friday, right? Win!

Chocolate-Chip Butterscotch Toffee Pecan Blondies

In case you’re looking for a last-minute sweet treat for your picnic or cookout (except this stupid Hurricane Arthur is really throwing off our festive groove, no?), here are the blondies that I have probably made more times in my life than any other dessert. They’ve accompanied me to birthday parties, holiday parties, high school theater rehearsals, dances, sleepovers, etc. etc., and I’ve probably made them more times than I can count. This is a formative dessert in the history of my baking career, is what I’m trying to say. Mom invented them while trying to use up some pantry leftovers, and we’ve never looked back, because why mess with perfection?

Chocolate-Chip Butterscotch Toffee Pecan Blondies

Chocolate Chip-Butterscotch-Toffee-Pecan Blondies

1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c. dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 c. granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 1/4 c. all-pupose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
2/3 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
2/3 c. butterscotch chips
2/3 c. toffee bits or crushed Heath bars
1 c. raw pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease a 9 x 13″ Pyrex baking pan.

Combine butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 4-5 minutes.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, followed by the vanilla extract.

Sift together the dry ingredients. With the mixer running on low speed, gradually add the dry ingredients until fully combined, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed.  Beat on medium speed for 1 minute.  Stir in the chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, toffee bits, and pecans until evenly mixed.

Spread the mixture in a prepared pan, smoothing the top. Bake in preheated oven for about 30-35 minutes until the top is golden and a tester inserted in the center of the pan comes out clean.  Allow to cool at room temperature for at least 1 hour before slicing and serving.

Makes around 40 blondies.

*****

For our lingerie pairing, I decided to branch out to swimwear, because in theory it would be lovely if we were all spending a festive 4th of July keeping cool by the pool, but, alas: hurricane.

Modcloth: Esther Williams Beach Blanket Bingo Swimsuit in Red

Modcloth: Esther Williams Beach Blanket Bingo Swimsuit in Red (Plus)

I love these polka dotted swimsuits from Esther Williams (via Modcloth).  The size range is fantastic: styles are available from size 4 to 26, and y’all know I can’t resist a polka dot, especially in swimwear. Add in red, one of my absolute favorite colors, and one that’s totally on-point for July 4th? Perfection, just like Mom’s blondies.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate-Orange Buttercream

You know those chocolate oranges? I used to get them at Christmas ever year. They are some of my favorite things in the entire world, and I can’t buy them for myself unless I plan to share with other people, because I will eat a whole orange in a day. There is something about the combination of orange and chocolate that just GETS IT RIGHT. Chocolate really is a wonder ingredient: great on its own, but fantastic in combination with literally almost anything else: citrus, berries, caramel, nuts, salt, toffee, cheese…oh chocolate. I love you.

This is seriously one of my all-time favorite recipes. I gave up dessert for Lent (I know, who am I, and what have I done with the real Sweets?), but I made these cupcakes for an event one recent Sunday and froze the leftovers. After this coming Sunday (happy Easter to those who celebrate!) I’ll be savoring every sweet, sweet, bite. The cake bakes up moist and dense, the frosting is smooth and fluffy and rich, and… wait, let me show you:

Chocolate Cake with Chocolate-Orange Buttercream

I don’t need to say anything else, really.

This recipe makes 1 two-layer cake or about 20-24 cupcakes. If you go the cupcake route, you will probably have a TON of leftover frosting, so feel free to frost generously. And then lick the bowl, of course.

Lavender-Scented Chocolate (Cup)Cake(s) with Chocolate-Orange Buttercream
this recipe comes from the March 2004 Bon Appétit, by way of Epicurious, and I didn’t change a danged thing

For the Cake:

4 oz. (1/4 lb.) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. coarse kosher salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 c. whole milk, room temperature
1/2 c. plain whole-milk yogurt (I used thick Greek yogurt, because that’s what I had in the fridge), room temperature
1 1/2 c. (packed) brown sugar
3/4 c. (1 1/2 sticks or 12 tbsp.) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons dried lavender blossoms (yep, I still have so much lavender), finely ground in spice mill or coffee grinder (this is optional, but it does add a really nice light flavor)
4 large eggs, room temperature

For the Buttercream Frosting

8 oz. (1/2 lb.) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
7 tbsps. (or more) water
1 1/2 c. (3 sticks or 3/4 lb.) unsalted butter, room temperature
4 c. powdered sugar, divided
1 tbsp. grated orange peel
2 tsps. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. coarse kosher salt
1 tbsp. Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur (optional)

Make the cake:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. If making a layer cake, line the bottom of two 9″ round cake pans with parchment paper, then lightly spray with cooking spray. If making cupcakes, line muffin tins with paper liners.

Melt 4 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate in a double boiler (or as I do, in the microwave, because I’m impatient) and stir until smooth. Allow chocolate to cool until lukewarm but still pourable.

Sift the flour, 1/2 c. cocoa powder, baking powder, salt, and baking soda over a piece of waxed paper; set aside.

Whisk together milk and yogurt; set aside.

Beat butter, brown sugar, and lavender (if using) together in the bowl of an electric mixer at medium speed until smooth, light, and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the sifted dry ingredients and the milk/yogurt mixture to the batter alternately in three additions. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, then mix again on medium speed for 30 seconds until fully combined.

Divide batter evenly between cake pans, or, if making cupcakes, fill each cup nearly to the top. Bake the cakes in preheated oven, about 30 minutes for layer cakes and 20-25 minutes for cupcakes, until a tester inserted in the center of a cake comes out nearly clean (being careful not to overbake). Allow cakes to cool at room temperature for 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack and let cool completely.

Chocolate Cake with Chocolate-Orange Buttercream

For the buttercream frosting:

Melt 8 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate over low heat in a double boiler or microwave and stir until smooth. Set aside at room temperature to cool until lukewarm but still pourable. Whisk together seven tablespoons of water and 1/2 c. cocoa powder in a small saucepan over low heat. Continue to whisk until mixture is thick and smooth, adding more water a spoonful at a time if necessary. Allow cocoa mixture to cool to lukewarm.

Beat butter, grated orange peel, and 1/3 c. confectioner’s in the bowl of an electric mixer at medium-high speed until smooth, light, and fluffy.  Add melted chocolate, salt, and vanilla extract and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Beat in the cocoa mixture. Gradually beat in the remaining 3 2/3 c. confectioner’s sugar until completely combined. Beat in Grand Marnier, if using.

If making a layer cake, spread a generous cup of buttercream evenly on top of one cake layer. Top with the second cake layer, and spread remaining frosting over top and sides of assembled cake.  If making cupcakes, fill a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip with buttercream and pipe generous swirls atop each cupcake. Just before serving, garnish with strips of orange zest.

Chocolate Cake with Chocolate-Orange Buttercream

Nom.

If you’re not serving the cake the same day you make it, refrigerate, covered, for up to two days. Allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.

Enjoy!

*****

What better lingerie to pair with totally decadent cupcakes than the totally decadent “Amelie” collection from Miss Mandalay?

Amelie Miss Mandalay Paprika/Black

“Amelie” by Miss Mandalay in Paprika/Black (£46). Available in sizes 28 – 38 E-GG (UK cup sizes). Matching brief (£28) and thong (£30) in sizes XS-XL.

I am still so, so sad that my budget didn’t allow me to snatch up the black/navy version while H-cups were still in stock, because sadly this sassy new version only runs up to a GG. Still, it feels churlish to complain, because Miss Mandalay makes some of the loveliest D+ bras out there. This UK-based indie full-bust brand revels in bold colors and thoughtful details, in this case gleaming satin and elegant black stretch lace. I got to try this bra on at Journelle in almost-the-right-size, and it is PHENOMENAL: a narrow, upfront, centered shape with a totally luxurious feel. I have loved this brand for years now, and I think they just keep going from strength to strength. If you’re a fan too, be sure to check out Kiss Me Deadly’s most recent collections, which will feature suspender belts designed to go with Miss Mandalay lingerie. A great chance for D+ ladies to have a full Kiss Me Deadly ensemble!

Bittersweet Chocolate Pudding

I really think February is just the worst month.  I know it’s a short one, but it drags on FOREVER.  In the Northern Hemisphere it’s still cold and dark, and this year has been particularly full of ice and wet and slush and snow and also the COLD, goodness gracious.  The major holidays are over, and we’ve all returned to business as usual, and yet Spring is still in the distance.  I’ve also been single for every Valentine’s Day of these my 29 years on Earth, and even though it’s a totally manufactured holiday and I’m happy hanging out with me (and Gus and Ruby) and I don’t need love to define my life etc. etc., this month is usually still kind of terrible.

WHICH IS WHY I’M MAKING IT BETTER.  With pudding.

Bittersweet Chocolate Pudding

This pudding is so many of my favorite things rolled into one.  It’s pure, unadulterated comfort food, yet it’s also sophisticated.  And simple, rich, decadent, creamy, dense, and a whole host of other delicious, delicious qualities.  It’s like pudding meets custard meets heaven. While it packs a serious punch on its own, thanks to bittersweet chocolate with a dash of cocoa and espresso powder, you should really experiment with some different toppings, because they make it absolutely transcendent.

If you DO happen to be celebrating Valentine’s Day with a loved one this year, might I suggest you do so with chocolate pudding?  According to legend chocolate is a powerful aphrodisiac, the texture of this bad boy is SINFUL (dear god it is LUSH), and the best part?  It’s make-ahead, y’all.  Who wants to get a romantic dinner going only to have to pause to do the dishes or put a soufflé in the oven?  No one.  Just pull the serving dishes out of the fridge, add a topping of your choice, and enjoy!

Bittersweet Chocolate Pudding
(adapted, barely, from Bon Appetit)

6 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 c. heavy cream
2 c. whole milk
4 egg yolks
1/2 vanilla bean
1 c. granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
2 tbsp. cornstarch
2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tbsp. instant espresso powder (optional)
1 tsp. vanilla extract

To garnish:

1/2 c. heavy whipping cream
1 tbsp. confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
1/2 vanilla bean

Choice of:
Mini pretzels
Chopped peanuts
Chopped chocolate-covered espresso beans
Ground cinnamon
Chopped toasted or candied nuts: walnuts, pecans, pistachios, almonds, etc.
Maraschino cherries
Caramel sauce
Raspberry coulis
Dessert liqueur: Bailey’s, Nocello, Kahlúa, Crème de Menthe, etc.

For the pudding:

Melt the chocolate (either in the microwave at 20-second intervals, stirring well after each interval, or in a double-boiler over medium-low heat), stirring until smooth.  Set aside and allow to cool slightly at room temperature.

Whisk together the cream, milk, and egg yolks.  Scrape in the seeds from half a vanilla bean (save the other half for the whipped cream garnish), whisk, and then add the vanilla bean pod.

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the sugar, salt, cocoa powder, cornstarch, and espresso powder (if using), then slowly add the cream/egg mixture, whisking until smooth.  Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking frequently to avoid clumps.  Once the mixture boils, reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook for about four minutes, until the custard is quite thick and smooth.  Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the vanilla extract and melted chocolate.  Pour the pudding through a fine-meshed strainer into a large bowl or measuring cup.  Transfer the pudding to individual bowls and cover with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap against the pudding’s surface.  Chill for at least 4 hours.  Makes 6-8 servings, depending on the size of your serving dishes.

Bittersweet Chocolate Pudding

Clockwise from top left: raspberry coulis and maraschino cherry, pretzels and peanuts, chocolate-covered espresso beans and a dash of cinnamon, toasted walnuts and Nocello liqueur.

Now comes the fun part!  While this pudding is insanely decadent on its own, it’s also a fantastic base recipe to indulge in a little creativity.  I think a dollop of lightly-sweetened homemade whipped cream flecked with vanilla beans is a must, but beyond that, the sky’s the limit!

For a fun salty-sweet crunch, sprinkle over some chopped pretzels and peanuts.  For a bit of sophistication, add a drizzle of your favorite liqueur, like Nocello (this is the bottle of walnut liqueur that WILL NEVER DIE, so you’re going to keep seeing it turn up until I can figure out a way to get rid of it all), Kahlúa, Crème de Menthe, Bailey’s, etc.  To get your heart racing (literally), add some chopped chocolate-covered espresso beans and a dash of ground cinnamon (you can also up the amount of espresso powder in the pudding itself).  For a sweetly retro look add a maraschino cherry and a drizzle of rasberry coulis!  To make a raspberry (or mixed berry) coulis, let 1 c. of frozen raspberries thaw, then pulse in a blender with a teaspoon of granulated sugar and a teaspoon of fresh lemon juice until fully liquefied.  Strain the mixture through a fine-meshed sieve to remove the seeds, and then pour a spoonful over your favorite dessert.

Bittersweet Chocolate Pudding

Seriously, this one tasted like a cinnamon-spiced mocha latte.

These are the few variations I tried, but there are so many others!  What about shards of nut brittle, or a drizzle of caramel sauce (like this lovely Lavender Blossom Caramel Sauce, for example), or some crushed Oreos, or even a few simple mint leaves?  OR BACON?  Feel free to get creative, but don’t garnish until just before you serve: part of the deliciousness comes from the play of different textures, and if you garnish ahead of time all your crispy/crunchy bits will get soft.

*     *     *     *     *

Bravissimo does holiday lingerie so, so well.  I love this year’s Hearts Amour collection, in a rich, deep red with black embroidered swirls and tiny pink hearts.

"Hearts Amour" collection by Bravissimo.  Half cup bra (£34.00) in sizes 28-38 DD-HH, brief (£16.00), thong (£14.00), and suspender belt (£16.00) in sizes XS-2XL

“Hearts Amour” collection by Bravissimo. Half cup bra (£34.00) in sizes 28-38 DD-HH, brief (£16.00), thong (£14.00), and suspender belt (£16.00) in sizes XS-2XL

I really like that this set feels “special”, with its wine color and subtle pink hearts and sassy suspender belt, but it’s still so totally wearable.  As much fun as sweeping robes and, like, marabou puffballs and sassy sheer babydolls can be, there’s no need to save this set solely for special occasions.

Enjoy!

Crispy Chewy Coconut Macaroons

Lately it seems that the French version of the classic macaron/macaroon cookie is getting all the love.  Don’t get me wrong: les macarons are crazy delicious– delicately flavored, tender, chewy, and light-as-air confections.  That’s all well and good, but those suckers can be super finicky to make at home.  There’s nothing especially complicated about them– egg whites and sugar and almond flour, and no super-fancy technique, but they can be fussy as regards temperature and climate and oven rack position, and, well, my oven and I are still in the midst of a come-to-Jesus over them.  I will triumph in the end, I’m sure.

Crispy Chewy Coconut Macaroons.  Recipe at www.sweetnothingsnyc.com

While that’s happening, what about poor, neglected, amazing, coconut macaroons?  Sure, they don’t seem quite as sophisticated or polished as their chic French sisters, but they’re sweet and chewy and slightly crispy at the edges and satisfying and toothsome and lovely.  They’re also wheat-free and dairy-free, which is possibly a first for Sweet Nothings– sorry about that, my dairy-and-wheat-free brethren.  This recipe comes by way of Alice Medrich, one of my chocolate and baking idols, and she (and I) strongly recommend seeking out large flakes of unsweetened coconut, sometimes called coconut chips (I’ve found them at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s).  They’re less cloying than the regular sweetened shredded coconut you find in the baking aisle, and they make the texture so much more decadent and interesting.  I also strongly recommend topping each fresh-out-of-the-oven macaroon with a disk of dark or milk chocolate and letting it melt while the macaroon cools.  Luscious.

Adapted not even a little bit from Alice Medrich’s New Classic Macaroon recipe

4 large egg whites
3 1/2 c. unsweetened dried flaked coconut (also known as coconut chips) OR 3 c. sweetened, dried shredded coconut
3/4 c. sugar
2 tsps. pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
Dark or milk chocolate disks or fèves (optional)

Whisk the egg whites, sugar, salt, and vanilla together in a metal mixing bowl, then fold in the coconut.  Place the mixing bowl directly into a skillet full of simmering water (medium-low heat).  Cook the coconut goop (technical term), stirring with a silicone spatula so the mixture doesn’t burn.  Once the mixture is hot to the touch and the egg whites have become slightly more opaque (about ten minutes or so), remove the bowl from the skillet.  Let the mixture sit at room temperature for about thirty minutes, so that the coconut has time to soak up the goop.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Chewy Crispy Coconut Macaroons at www.sweetnothingsnyc.com

Portion gobs of the coconut mixture in tidy heaps on the parchment-lined baking sheets, about one heaping tablespoon per cookie (or you can use two tablespoons for larger treats, just increase the baking times a bit).  Bake the cookies for 5 minutes in the top and bottom racks of the oven, rotating the sheets and switching them on their racks halfway through the baking time.  Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, rotating and switching the pans again halfway through, until the macaroons are cream-colored in the center with golden, crisped edges and coconut tips that are dark brown.  Remove from the oven and top with chocolate immediately, if using.

Chewy Crispy Coconut Macaroons at www.sweetnothingsnyc.com

Allow the macaroons to cool completely before removing from the sheets.  Makes about 25-30 macaroons.

Crispy Chewy Coconut Macaroons.  Recipe at www.sweetnothingsnyc.com

*     *     *     *     *

For our lingerie pairing, I’m thrilled to present this lovely creamy set with dark accents by new brand Lulu Tout, exclusive to Figleaves.com.  The brand debuts with three beautiful collections, with bras in A-DD cups and DD-H cups.  The ivory, grey, and green colorways feel fresh and pretty, and while the style is reminiscent of Figleaves’ Midnight Grace “Paige” style, the size range has expanded!  I’m always excited to see new styles in such wide size ranges, especially at such modest price points.  I can’t wait to try this lovely new brand!

"Fleur Rose" bra and short by Lulu Tout.  Bra ($38) available in sizes 30-36 DD-H, short ($25) and thong ($24) in sizes 8-18 (UK sizes).

“Fleur Rose” bra and short by Lulu Tout. Bra ($38) available in sizes 30-36 DD-H, short ($25) and thong ($24) in sizes 8-18 (UK sizes).

Chocolate-Cranberry Mascarpone Tart

A chocolate cookie crumb crust, vanilla-scented mascarpone cream filling, and a tart, spicy cranberry topping?  Okay then.

Chocolate Cranberry Mascarpone Tart

Seriously, this is SUCH a holiday-friendly dessert.  You make everything ahead of time and scatter some crystalized ginger over the top before serving, meaning you don’t have to be running around the kitchen frantically before dessert; you can just linger and enjoy your evening.  It’s red (festive!), it shines (the cranberries) and sparkles (the ginger), and it feels decadent and fancy without being heavy or complicated.  I made it for Thanksgiving this year, during which my friends Agent Sidney Bristow and her husband Jackie Chan and I watched Game of Thrones and gave thanks that we were none of the characters therein.

Cranberry Topping:

1/2 c. unsweetened cranberry juice (not cranberry juice cocktail), divided
1 tsp. unflavored gelatin
1 12-oz. bag fresh or frozen cranberries
3/4 c. granulated sugar
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
1 tsp. grated peeled fresh ginger
Pinch of salt
4 tbsp. finely chopped crystallized ginger

Crust:

1 1/4 c. chocolate wafer cookie crumbs (made from about 6 1/2 oz. cookies, finely ground in a food processor. You can use Nabisco chocolate wafer cookies, if you can find them, but I could only find chocolate Teddy Grahams, which worked out just fine)
1/4 c. sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
5 to 6 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

Mascarpone Filling:

1 8- oz. container mascarpone cheese, room temperature
1/2 c. powdered sugar
1/2 c. chilled whipping cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Thin strips of crystallized ginger (optional garnish)

Make the topping first:

Pour 1/4 c. of the cranberry juice into a small bowl or ramekin and sprinkle the gelatin over it.  Set aside for 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, combine the cranberries, the remaining 1/4 c. cranberry juice, sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, grated ginger, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.  Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring frequently.  Reduce the heat to low and allow the mixture to simmer for 5 minutes.  Strain the juice into a bowl, reserving the cranberries.  Stir the gelatin mixture into the hot cranberry juice, then add the cranberries back into the mixture and stir.  Cover and chill for at least 8 hours, and up to 2 days ahead of time.  Once the mixture is cold and thickened, stir in the chopped crystallized ginger.

Chocolate Cranberry Mascarpone Tart

For the crust:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl, stirring until the coookie crumbs are thoroughly coated with butter.  Press the mixture into the bottom and up the sides of a 9″ tart pan with a removable bottom.  Bake for about 14 minutes until set, then cool completely at room temperature.

Chocolate Cranberry Mascarpone Tart

For the mascarpone filling:

Combine the mascarpone, powdered sugar, whipping cream, and vanilla extract in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Beat on medium speed until thickened and soft peaks form (note: this takes less time than you think, and you’ll want to watch it carefully, because if you over-beat it the mixture will curdle.  Go slow and stop to test it frequently).

Chocolate Cranberry Mascarpone Tart

Spread the mascarpone filling in the cooled crust, smoothing the surface.  Spoon the cranberry mixture over the mascarpone and gently spread evenly.  Chill the tart for at least 2 hours and up to 6 hours before serving.  Top with thin slices of crystallized ginger, if desired.  Serves about 8-12.

Chocolate Cranberry Mascarpone Tart

Mmmmm.

*****

For our lingerie pairing, I have to tip my hat to both Undie Gamer and That Je Ne Sais Quoi for bringing the amazing label Fortnight Lingerie to my attention.  This Canadian lingerie brand has an amazing look all its own that feels both retro and incredibly modern and chic.  Beloved by women with petite busts, there are several styles that are also available in the smaller end of the full-bust size range.  While there are some truly stunning pieces in the new holiday collection, like this lovely soft silver and lace bodysuit and this stunning slip featuring my beloved navy/black lace combo, I adore Fortnight’s non-wired longline bras with all my being.

"Vega" Longline Bra and Brief in Wine by Fortnight.  Available in sizes 32-36 A, 30-36 B-DD, 30-34 E, and 30-32 F.

“Vega” Longline Bra and Brief in Wine by Fortnight. Available in sizes 32-36 A, 30-36 B-DD, 30-34 E, and 30-32 F. [Note: many reviewers have commented that these bands are quite firm and slightly small, so you may want to size up in the band]

“Vega” in Wine is available at LynnSteven Boutique.  Other pieces are available at Journelle, Lille Boutique, Sugar Cookies, Brooklyn Fox, and Secrets from Your Sister (Toronto), among others.

Pie To Go: Chocolate-Chip Nut Bars

Chocolate Chip Walnut Bars

Thanksgiving!  Parties!  Christmas Dinners!  New Year’s Day feasts!  Usually by this point in the year I have, oh, several hundred holiday dessert recipes bookmarked, but this year I’m feeling oddly uninpsired (although it’s still early yet– I might get get over it (I’ll probably get over it)).  Instead of finding a trendy ingredient or an elegantly over-complicated version of some show-stopping dessert, I can’t seem to get good old-fashioned pecan pie out of my mind.  The colder, darker evenings at this time of year always make me faintly nostalgic for the woodstove and warm blankets from my childhood house, and in turn I’m feeling nostalgic for one of the first grown-up desserts I ever had: pecan bourbon pie.  Pumpkin pie and cheesecake and other classic holiday desserts seem heavy and gloppy to me right now: I want a sliver something with a bit of crunch, something salty-sweet, maybe even something with a hint of booze to end my evening.

This year I’ll be in New York for Thanksgiving, celebrating with friends, so rather than make one large cake or pie, I decided to think about creating a travel-friendly, easily-shared version of the beloved classic.  This weekend I did a test-run, and as I had an oddly large stash of walnuts, I swapped in walnuts for the classic pecans.  I added chocolate chips, becuase DUH, and I swapped Irish whisky in for the bourbon, because that’s what I had in the liquor cabinet.  This recipe is pretty user friendly: I’ll provide the ingredients and amounts I used, but feel free to make it your own!  Don’t like walnuts or pecans?  Try hazelnuts or peanuts!  Don’t want chocolate cloying things up?  Leave out the chocolate chips!  Don’t like bourbon or whisky, or want something booze-free?  Add or leave out any kind of spirit you want!  We’ve all been there: you’ve been cooking for hours, and you’re on your last holiday recipe, and you realize you have to go to the grocery store yet AGAIN.  My mother, bless her, went the grocery store about two or three times in a single day last year.  It got to the point where I’d be cooking along, and she’d see me freeze and my face fall, and she’d reach for her wallet and coat.  Sorry Mom!  Hopefully you can wing these with ingredients you already have on hand and wind up with a caramelly-nutty-chocolatey-confectionary-style deliciousness served on a shortbread crust, no melting of sugar or chilling of pastry dough required.

20131117-200019.jpg

Chocolate-Chip Nut Bars
(adapted, barely, from Martha Stewart)

For the shortbread crust:

1 c. (2 sticks, 8 oz.) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 c. packed brown sugar (either light or dark will work)
1/2 tsp. salt
3 c. all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. Nocello, a walnut-flavored liqueur (this is SUPER optional; I just had some leftover from a previous baking project.  If you use it, add an additional tablespoon or two of flour.  PS- it’s CRAZY DELICIOUS; if you add it to hot chocolate or beat it into whipped butter and spread it on waffles or pancakes you will be a happy camper)

For the nut filling:

1/2 c. (1 stick, 4 oz.) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
1/4 c. plus 2 tbsp. honey
2 tbsp. granulated sugar
2 tbsp. heavy cream
1/4 tsp. salt
2 c. walnuts or pecan halves, toasted
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 c. chocolate chips (optional)
3 tbsp. bourbon, Irish Whisky, or spirit of your choice (optional)
sea salt, for finishing (optional)

20131117-200033.jpg

For the crust:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease a 9 x 13″ baking pan.  Beat the butter and brown sugar together in an electric mixer on medium-high speed until well-mixed and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.  Mix in the salt.  Add the flour one cup at a time, beating well after each addition, stopping the mixer every once in a while to scrape down the sides of the bowl.  The mixture should form a slightly crumbly dough.  Press the dough into the prepared pan and smooth evenly to about 1/4″ thick.  Prick the dough all over with a fork so that steam can escape.  Chill the dough for 20 minutes until firm, then bake in preheated oven for 18-20 minutes until golden brown.  Allow to cool completely at room temperature.

For the filling:

Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  Combine the butter, brown sugar, honey, granulated sugar, and heavy cream in a medium saucepan.  Cook over medium-high heat, stirring until butter is melted and sugar dissolves, then bring to a boil.  Allow the mixture to boil for about 1 minute, stirring constantly, then remove from heat.  Stir in the salt, nuts, vanilla extract, and bourbon (if using).

Sprinkle the chocolate chips across the cooled crust, then pour the warm walnuts (or pecans) over the crust, spreading evenly.  Sprinkle with a pinch of grated sea salt, if desired.  Bake for 18-20 minutes, then allow to cool completely at room temperature before slicing (otherwise you will have an incredibly gooey mess).  Slice into bars and serve, possibly accompanied by ice cream?  That sounds right to me.

Chocolate Chip Nut Bars

*****

Fall and Winter tend to be my favorite seasons: I love the crisp chill in the air, I love the clothes, I love the feeling of wrapping up in a blanket, and I love it when the cats get cold and decide they need to snuggle me ALL THE TIME.  This year has seen some really lovely autumnal pieces, but I really like the unusual bronze colors I’ve seen this year.  The Eveden brands in particular seem to have really gotten into the spirit, with Freya’s glittering Ooh La La collection and Elomi’s gorgeous Imogen collection.  For our lingerie pairing, I present to you the Fan-Tastic set by Freya, just released this month.

Fan-Tastic plunge balcony bra and thong by Freya, available in sizes 28 D-GG, 30 D-H, 32-36 B-H, and 38 B-G.  Thong, Short, and Brief in sizes XS-XL.

Fan-Tastic plunge balcony bra and thong by Freya, available in sizes 28 D-GG, 30 D-H, 32-36 B-H, and 38 B-G. Thong, Short, and Brief in sizes XS-XL.

I love the unusual bronze/black stripes, paired with a whimsical fan print that almost looks like falling Autumn leaves.  I really kind of wish they’d committed more to the potential for silliness here, instead of making everything so relatively subdued.  Come on, to me, fans and bronze/black stripes SCREAM 19th century old-timey saloon hall.  I’d love to have some ruffles or oversized silk bows or woven ribbon or a suspender belt or something a little more playful, maybe even a longline bra or a basque.  Go full steampunk on us, Freya!

I also wish the campaign images from this season didn’t exclusively feature models who look at best like they’re bored and at worst like they’re stoned.  Or sick with the flu.  Lingerie is fun, you guys!

Freya Fantastic Campaign image

Seriously, she could not look more displeased with her underwear.

Nevertheless, it’s a nicely sophisticated color scheme for Freya, available in the same padded half cup and plunge balcony shapes as the popular “Patsy” style.   Fan-Tastic is available at Figleaves and Nordstrom.

Nutella Swirl Bread

Nutella Swirl Bread

I’ve had the idea for this bread brewing in the back of my mind for MONTHS.  I stopped at a coffee shop in Grand Central one morning a while back to get a cup of decaf, because I live life on the edge, and the bakery display case had slices of a pound-cake-like something labeled “Nutella Swirl”, and I am only human, so I took a slice up to the office with me for a mid-morning snack.  Imagine my disappointment when I took a bite and … blah.  It was just … sweet.  Sugary and slightly greasy and tasting not at all of chocolate or hazelnuts.  If you’re going to take the name of the almighty Nutella in vain, you need to do a bit better.

I wanted it to taste like, you know, Nutella, not just sugary echoes of something vaguely chocolatey.  I decided that if I tried to up amp up the Nutella in an already super-rich cake we’d all be in trouble, so I turned to breakfast rolls, pains au chocolat, and chocolate brioche as my inspirations instead.  I have a great cinnamon bun recipe in my repertoire that’s (relatively) low on sugar– no goopy icing or caramelized pecans here– and high on flavor.  With a few modifications it yielded a soft, yeasty pull-apart bread laced with melty blobs of Nutella.  As far as yeasted breads go, it bakes up fairly quickly– one 25 minute rise, roll out and slice the buns, one 15 minute rise, 20 minutes in a hot oven, and boom: breakfast heaven.

Nutella Swirl Bread
Adapted from How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson

4 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/3 c. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
3 1/4-oz. packets rapid-rise yeast (that’s three of the quarter-ounce envelopes)
1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 2/3 c. plus 3-4 tbsp. whole milk, room temperature
2 eggs, room temperature
1 13-oz. jar Nutella
1 egg, beaten, for glaze
about 1/2 c. toasted, finely chopped hazelnuts (optional)

Whisk the dry ingredients together in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Whisk 1 2/3 c. milk, the melted butter, and the eggs together and then pour over the dry ingredients.  Mix on medium speed with a dough hook attachment, occasionally stopping the mixer to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.  When the dough is fully mixed, smooth, and slightly springy, turn it out into an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Set the bowl aside and allow the dough to rise for 25 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line a 10 x 13″ (approx.) roasting pan, or two 9″ round cake pans, with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, whisk the Nutella and 3-4 tbsp. milk together until the Nutella thins and is easier to spread.

Nutella Swirl Bread

Take about 1/3 of the risen dough and roll or stretch it out to fit the bottom of your pan (or pans).  This will form the bottom of your buns and keep the filling from oozing out all over the place.  Press the bottom layer into the prepared pan and set aside.

Now, look: every time I use this recipe my dough is SUPER sticky.  I mean, incredibly soft and goopy and sticky, almost to the extent that I suspect there may be an error in the original recipe.  That being said, even though it’s messy, the super soft dough bakes up into a tender, moist bread that is very, very lovely indeed.  If you want a final product that’s firmer and closer to cinnamon buns than to pull-apart breads (like monkey bread), you may want to go ahead and knead in an additional 1/2 to 3/4 c. flour.  I, on the other hand, just keep flouring my work surface and rolling pin as carefully as I can, using only as much flour as I need to keep the dough from sticking.  It’s messy, sure, but I really like the softer, more yielding texture of the final product.  Feel free to be as stingy or as generous with flour as you please.

Nutella Swirl Bread

I tried to drop blobs of Nutella straight from the jar onto the dough, but as the dough is significantly softer than the Nutella, it could only spread so well. I’ve updated the recipe to make it a bit easier on you, because I care.

Roll out the remaining dough on a floured work surface until you have a rectangle that’s about 10″ x 20″.  Drop the Nutella/milk mixture over the dough by the spoonful and use an offset spatula to spread it out to within 1/2″ of the edges.  Sprinkle the chopped hazelnuts over the Nutella (if using).

Beginning at one of the long ends, roll up the dough into a log, working slowly and flouring as necessary to keep it from sticking to your work surface and tearing.  Again, you’re going to get more of a long blob than a perfectly round log, on account of the softness of the dough, but don’t worry: you’re doing great!  Using a sharp serrated knife, slice the roll into 20 slices, each about 1″ wide.  Position the slices, swirly cut-side up, atop the rolled-out dough in the prepared pan(s), 20 in the roasting pan or 10 in each cake pan.  Brush the tops of the rolls with beaten egg and allow to rise for about 15 minutes.  They should puff up and smoosh into each other a bit more.

Nutella Swirl Bread

Bake in a hot oven for 20-25 minutes until the tops are golden brown.  Allow to cool for about 10 minutes, then lift out of the pans using the parchment paper.  Set on a cooling rack for about 10 minutes more.  To serve, simply tear off warm, fragrant, melty pieces and devour greedily, with coffee on the side.  Makes 20 servings.

Nutella Swirl Bread

*     *     *     *     *

Even though the recipe is originally based on a Norwegian cinnamon roll, the brioche-like texture and divine pastry-shop smell make me think of one thing: a good Parisian patisserie.  When I came back from a trip to Paris with Julia Lambert a few years ago I remember trying to keep my Parisian breakfasts going with my New York lifestyle for as long as I could, but alas, the desire to sleep 15 extra minutes won out, and it was back to a hurried bowl of cereal before I knew it.  Let us imagine, however, that we are sophisticated, put-together ladies who take a leisurely breakfast over our morning e-mails.  Hot-from-the-oven Nutella Swirl Bread, a cup of espresso, and this pretty fluttering robe by Eloise would get any morning off to a great start.

fluttered paisley robe anthropologie

By Eloise. Image via Anthropologie.

I love how this robe has volume and ruffles without seeming overly fussy or froofy.  Y’all know I love a good froofy robe, but I love how modern, fresh, and comparatively simple this feels.

fluttered paisley robe anthropologie

By Eloise. Image via Anthropologie.

Bon appétit!

Nutella Swirl Bread

Chocolate Mint Ice Cream Sandwiches

Otherwise known as “savoring summer as long as possible, in spite of the magazine covers that are telling me to stock up on boots and sweaters.”

Chocolate Mint Ice Cream Sandwiches

For the Fresh Mint Ice Cream:
(adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz)

1 bunch fresh mint, preferably organic
2 c. heavy cream
1 c. whole milk
3/4 c. granulated sugar
pinch of salt
6 egg yolks
5 oz. semi-sweet chocolate (optional)

Rinse the mint leaves and pat dry, then remove the stems. Tear the leaves and measure out 2 cups of leaves, lightly packed.

Bring the milk, sugar, salt, and 1 c. of cream to a bare simmer over medium heat. Add the mint leaves, remove from heat, cover, and let steep at room temperature for 1 hour.

Pour the remaining 1 c. cream into a medium bowl (or a quart-size measuring cup, which is how I roll) and set a mesh strainer on top. Whisk the egg yolks in a small bowl and set aside.

Strain the mint leaves out of the milk/cream mixture, pressing on the leaves to extract as much flavor as possible. Discard the mint and return the milk/cream to saucepan. Reheat over medium heat until just barely simmering. Whisk the hot milk into the egg yolks in a thin, steady stream, whisking constantly to keep the egg yolks from scrambling. Pour the custard back into the saucepan and return to heat, stirring and cooking until the mixture is thickened and begins to steam lightly. Pour the custard through the mesh strainer into the reserved 1 c. cream and stir to combine. Chill the custard mixture for several hours until very cold, and then process in an ice cream maker.

Optional:  To make mint-chocolate-chip ice cream, as I did, melt 5 oz. semi-sweet chocolate over low heat (or in 20-second intervals in the microwave) until just barely melted, and then stir until smooth. When the ice cream is in the last few minutes of churning, slowly drizzle the melted chocolate directly into the ice cream maker. The chocolate will freeze on contact with the ice cream, and then break up into chips and flakes as the mixture continues to churn.

Transfer the semi-frozen ice cream to an airtight container, pressing a sheet of parchment paper directly onto the surface of the ice cream. Freeze for at least two hours until firm.

Chocolate Mint Ice Cream Sandwiches

For the Chocolate Cookies:
(adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman)

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/3 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
3/8 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 stick (1/2 c., 4 oz.) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 c. granulated sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Cream the butter on medium-high speed in an electric mixer until smooth. Add the sugar and beat for 2-3 minutes until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla extract (confession: I can’t remember the last time I actually measured my vanilla. I usually just add a hearty slug of it and continue on my way. Has anyone ever said “gosh, if only this had less vanilla in it?”) and beat for 2 more minutes. Sift the flour, cocoa, salt, and baking powder directly onto the wet ingredients, then beat on low speed until thoroughly combined. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Chocolate Mint Ice Cream Sandwiches

Allow the dough to rest at room temperature for about ten minutes, then roll out on either a lightly floured work surface or a sheet of parchment paper. Try to roll it out as thin as possible– my cookies are around 1/4″ inch thick, but they’re better for ice cream sandwiches at around 1/8″ inch. Cut out cookies and transfer to cookie sheets lined with parchment paper, about 16 per sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes until set. Cool on sheet for five minutes and then transfer to a wire rack.

Chocolate Mint Ice Cream Sandwiches

Now, so, here’s where I’m gonna help you make sure that your sandwiches look a lot better than my first batch did: put a plate in the freezer, and once the cookies are completely cool, freeze them for an hour or so as well. I initially put just-churned ice cream on top of room-temperature cookies on a room-temperature plate, and when I peeked in the freezer an hour later I had some ice cream sandwiches sitting in a frozen lake of melted/re-frozen ice cream. It didn’t look so great. Make sure your cookies, plate, and ice cream are all completely frozen (although you may need to let your ice cream soften if it’s rock-hard) before placing scoops of ice cream on half the cookies and topping the scoops with the remaining cookies.

Chocolate Mint Ice Cream Sandwiches

These taste great right away, clearly, but if you wait a day or two and leave the ice cream sandwiches well-wrapped in the freezer, the cookies will soften slightly and the whole thing will be less messy to eat.  Enjoy!

*     *     *     *     *

I’ve spent the last month and a half helping my friend, Agent Sidney Bristow, train for her honeymoon, during which she and her husband will climb Mount Kilimanjaro.  It’s been great, because we’ve gotten to hang out a lot, and exercising is always more fun with a buddy, and I can tell I’ve gotten a lot stronger and my cardio endurance has really improved, but I gotta tell y’all, my legs are KILLING me tonight.  Yowza.  So I’m going to pair our ice cream sandwiches with a soft, snuggly PJ set from Eberjey and imagine that I am wearing said PJs collapsed in my bed nursing an ice cream sandwich, some ibuprofen, and a glass of water.  Sweet dreams!

Gisele Short PJ Set in Spearmint by Eberjey

Gisele Short PJ Set in Spearmint by Eberjey

Cherry-Chocolate Swirl Ice Cream

Obviously this baby needed a recipe post.

"Cherry Fling".  28 E-J, 30-38 DD-K.

“Cherry Fling” by Bravissimo. 28 E-J, 30-38 DD-K.

The denim/gingham bow/cherry embroidery combination reminded me of classic summer desserts: berry shortcakes and cherry pies and bright red snowcones. That reminded me of this wonderful, tiny snowcone stand in Virginia where we used to go on our days off when I was a camp counselor that offers “stuffed snowballs”: a snowcone layered with soft service ice cream. It sounds bizarre and is indescribably delicious, and my favorite was a “chocolate-stuffed-cherry snowball”: cherry snowcone layered with chocolate soft serve. This reminded me of ice cream sundaes, with cherries on top. So I came up with some lovely cherry ice cream that would taste luscious on its own, in a hot fudge sundae, or whirled into a tall, cool milkshake.

Cherry Chocolate-Swirl Ice Cream

For the fudge swirl:

1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. water
1/3 c. corn syrup
6 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Combine sugar, water, corn syrup, and cocoa in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, whisking to dissolve the sugar and cocoa. Continue to whisk until mixture begins to bubble. Cook at a low boil for one minute, then remove from heat. Whisk in the vanilla extract. Chill until ready to use.

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For the cherries:

About 3/4 lb fresh cherries, pitted (about 2 c.)
1 tbsp. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Pulse cherries, sugar, vanilla, and almond extract in a food processor until chopped, but not perfectly smooth. Chill.

For the ice cream:

2 c. heavy cream, divided
1 c. whole milk
3/4 c. granulated sugar
pinch of salt
6 egg yolks

Pour 1 c. of the cream into a medium bowl and set a mesh strainer on top. Combine the remaining 1 c. cream, milk, sugar, and pinch of salt in a saucepan over medium heat. Warm the mixture, whisking to dissolve the sugar, until it begins to simmer gently. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Pour the hot cream mixture into the eggs yolks in a very, very thin stream, whisking all the while to avoid scrambling the eggs. Once the eggs and cream are fully combined, return the custard to the saucepan and continue to cook, until the mixture thickens and begins to steam gently. Pour through the mesh strainer into the remaining 1 c. cream, add the chilled cherry mixture, and stir to combine. Chill the ice cream base until very cold, at least a few hours or overnight. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Layer some of the cold fudge ripple mixture in a container, then transfer some of the semi-frozen ice cream to the container. Continue to layer fudge ripple and ice cream, stirring once or twice only (you want to keep distinct ribbons of fudge, rather than mixing it in. I…did a terrible job). Place container in freezer until frozen solid. For best results, serve topped with a dollop of whipped cream and a maraschino cherry.

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Cherry Fling Bra by Bravissimo:

Note: I purchased Cherry Fling with my own money through my personal email account (not my Sweet Nothings account). All opinions are my own.

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but there’s some kind of magic in Bravissimo’s own brand non-padded balconette and plunge bras that makes it feel like they were MADE for me. The moment I saw Cherry Fling in the summer release, I knew I wanted to try it. I’ve never seen a bra like this for the full-bust market in my life. A three-part balconette cup, the two lower parts are a laminated, denim-print fabric that offers phenomenal uplift and support, while the top part of the cup features bright, bold cherries embroidered in red on white mesh, with gingham bows trimming both bra and brief. The bra features fully-adjustable straps, and my size closes with three columns of three rows of hooks-and-eyes.

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I really adore this bra. The shape and construction are similar to Boudoir Beau and Lola Luxe, offering lovely deep, narrow cups with a gently rounded, natural shape. It’s a perfect example of an amazing everyday bra, taken to a new level of awesome with the delightful, slightly kitschy denim-and-cherry design. I read some reports online that the cups ran slightly small, so I ordered a cup size up from what I wear in Eveden/Panache. It’s slightly big, and I suspect if I lose even a little bit of weight I’ll notice it more, but for right now I’m pretty happy with the fit. If you’re between cup sizes, definitely order your larger size.

The coordinating shorts are magnificent– size-wise, they run comparably to Eveden, so I ordered a size down and they fit perfectly. The rise is a sweet spot between a bikini and a high-waist brief, and they suit the sweet retro design beautifully. As someone with a bit of a belly, I ADORE these– they are incredibly flattering, emphasize and/or create an hourglass shape, and they don’t roll down or dig in. More, more, more please!

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In the interest of full disclosure, my bra developed a fault after only a few wears and two washes:

photo (5)

SORROW.

The net at the seam of one cup has come unstitched, despite my following all of the lingerie-washing rules. Bravissimo has responded exactly the way they should: I received a prompt email response, even on a Saturday, with a link to a prepaid returns label (well, that’s disappointing: it doesn’t work in the US) and a promise to examine the bra and address my concerns. Hopefully a new cherry bra will find its way back to me soon.

 

Peanut Butter Chocolate Hearts

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Fact: Heart-shaped cookie cutters make everything infinitely more adorable. Everyone at work cooed when I brought these in.

It’s amazing how much I accomplished this weekend without a computer (or a sense of security) to distract me.  I mean, I went DOMESTIC on my apartment.  Seriously.  So much laundry and cleaning and clearing and organizing and planning and shaking out the bad juju.  The place is gleaming.  I polished wood furniture.  I hung pictures.  I tidied my desk (a little).  I cleaned out the fridge.  When 7:00 p.m. rolled around Sunday night, I looked at my shining, spotless, never-been-cleaner kitchen, and I immediately wanted to mess it up.

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I confess I also wanted to use my heart-shaped cookie cutter. Just because I hate manufactured/mandatory seasonal displays of affection doesn’t mean I’m immune to cute.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies
from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman

1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c. creamy peanut butter
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar, packed
1 egg
2 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda

8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
3 tbsp. creamy peanut butter
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
pinch of flaky sea salt

1 cookie cutter, shape of your choosing.  Pick one towards the smaller end of the size spectrum, otherwise you’ll wind up with A LOT of cookie.

For the cookies:

Beat butter in an electric mixer until smooth, light, and creamy, about three minutes.  Add the peanut butter and beat until smooth, then add the sugars.  Beat the mixture for about 2-3 minutes until well-combined, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl (is there anything that smells better than brown sugar and peanut butter combined?  Well, yes, but not in this moment).  Add the egg and mix until combined.

Set a sifter on tip of the mixing bowl and measure the dry ingredients into it.  Sift the dry ingredients into the wet, and mix on low speed until combined.  Dump the dough out onto a sheet of parchment paper or plastic wrap, gather into a loose ball (it will be very crumbly), flatten into a thick disc, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line 2-3 cookie sheets with parchment paper.  Lightly flour your work surface and break out the rolling pin.

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You know it.

Unwrap the chilled dough and place on floured work surface.  Deb, in her book, tells you that the dough will be crumbly, and you’ll be all “psh, I am an EXCELLENT baker, I got this,” and then the dough will crumble all over the place, just like Deb said it would, and you will be humbled.  I actually recommend using your fingers to press the dough out and then using the rolling pin towards the end to smooth and level things out.  You want the dough to be about 1/4 inch thick.  Cut out cookies and transfer them carefully to the prepared cookie sheets.  An offset spatula or dull knife will help with this process, although there will still be some crumbling.  Just press the cookie back into shape, and the oven will fix everything.

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Bake the cookies for about 10-12 minutes, until the tops are set and the edges are ever-so-lightly browned.  Allow to cool while preparing the filling.

For the chocolate peanut-butter ganache filling:

In a double boiler or a heat-proof bowl set over simmering water, combine the butter, peanut butter, chopped chocolate, and sea salt.  Stir over heat until chocolate and butter are completely melted and the mixture is smooth.  Remove from heat and let cool until thickened and spreadable.  I confess that I got bored/impatient and used the refrigerator to hurry things along, but you must keep an eye on it so that it doesn’t solidify.

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Assemble the cookies:

Transfer the cooled ganache to a pastry bag, or do as Sweets did and use a ziplock bag with one of the bottom corners snipped off.  Pipe a generous teaspoon (or more, depending on the size of your cookies; I probably used about a tablespoon for each of mine) onto one cookie, top with a second cookie.  Repeat.  Allow cookies to sit at room temperature about 30 minutes until set.

Share with a loved one, receive pledge of eternal devotion.

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I am always single around Valentine’s Day. Always. 28 years of single Valentine’s Days. Fellas, behold what you’re missing.

This is a cookie that is full of delightful contradictions.  It’s tender yet sturdy, light yet rich.  The flavors are classic and nostalgic, the execution refined.  My lingerie pick is perhaps unexpected, yet it perfectly captures the cookie’s many moods, and it’s so, so appropriate for Valentine’s Day.  Behold, from Dottie’s Delights:

Bricolage Longline Bra, Garter Belt, and Knickers, Long Sheer Dressing Robe.  All by Dottie's Delights.  Bra ($225) 32-34 A-D, Garter Belt ($125) and Knicker ($85) XS-XL, Robe ($170) One Size.

Bricolage Longline Bra, Garter Belt, and Knickers, Long Sheer Dressing Robe. All by Dottie’s Delights. Bra ($225) 32-34 A-D, Garter Belt ($125) and Knicker ($85) XS-XL, Robe ($170) One Size.

Sophisticated, elegant, retro, and sexy as hell.  I will have a robe like that one day, as God is my witness.