The Final Cookie Recipe

Here it is, folks. The last cookie recipe you’ll ever need. I mean, unless you want something different, like molasses cookies. Or snickerdoodles. Or butter cookies.  But for a totally versatile, crowd-pleasing, go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe (plus variations), this is the one. It’s one of the top recipes on allrecipes.com under the title “Award Winning Soft Chocolate Chip Cookies” and these cookies did indeed win my heart.  In fact, sharing the recipe has been a bargaining chip in more than one circumstance.

The original recipe will make 6 dozen cookies, which is more cookies than I ever need at one time, so the recipe below is cut in half for a more reasonable yield. The best thing about the recipe is that it’s very versatile. You can use any combination of instant pudding and mix-ins, like pistachio pudding with pistachio nuts and chocolate chips, or coconut pudding with chocolate chips, or chocolate fudge pudding with Reece’s Pieces (see photo). I’ve also used French Vanilla, Cheesecake, Oreo Cookie (not as good as I’d hoped), and Caramel pudding. Sometimes I include nuts, sometimes I don’t. They’re terrific.

 

The Final Cookie Recipe

1 cup butter, softened

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 (3.4 oz) box instant pudding mix (the powdered mix, not a Snack Pack!)

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

2 1/4 cups flour

1 tsp baking soda

2 cups chocolate chips (or other mix-in)

1 cup nuts (optional)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 Deg F. Cream butter and sugars together until fluffy, and then beat in the pudding mix until blended. Stir in eggs and vanilla. Add flour and baking soda and then stir until mostly combined, and add in your mix-ins and…. mix in. Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet (I recommend parchment paper, but you can go commando too) and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until edges are golden brown. Cool on wire racks and use as bribes in business and personal settings.

Pumpkin Bourbon Cheesecake

This is my entrance fee to every Thanksgiving meal I attend. I’m no cheesecake expert, and this is the only one I ever make- haven’t had it miss yet. A friend forwarded me the recipe from Epicurious (http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/bourbon-pumpkin-cheesecake-108770) and assured me that I could make a delicious cheesecake, even without a stand mixer. (I’m still a hold-out.)

The only changes I made were swapping out half of the graham cracker crumbs for crushed ginger snaps and adjusting the topping recipe. It always made way too much, and it wasn’t thick enough to really pile on the cheesecake. I haven’t had anyone be able to identify the bourbon flavor, but I put it in anyway just in case. Maybe it’s just a case of depth and complexity.

Pumpkin Bourbon Cheesecake

Crust:

1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs

1/2 cup crushed ginger snap cookies

1/2 cup chopped pecans

1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Filling:

1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin (make sure it’s pure pumpkin and not the pre-sweetened, pre-spiced pumpkin pie filling)

3 large eggs

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

2 tbsp heavy cream

1 tsp vanilla

1 tbsp bourbon

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 tbsp cornstarch

1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp ginger

1/2 tsp salt

3 (8-ounce) packages of cream cheese, room temperature

Topping:

1 cup sour cream

2 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp bourbon

pecan halves or pieces for garnish

 

Directions:

Line the bottom of a 9″ springform pan with parchment paper and grease sides generously. Mix crust ingredients together (or pulse in a food processor) and press into the bottom of the pan and a little bit up the sides. (I use the bottom of a measuring cup to get a nice smooth crust.) Chill crust while you make the filling.

Preheat oven to 350 and use middle rack.

Whisk together pumpkin, eggs, brown sugar, cream, vanilla, and liqueur (if using) in a bowl until combined.  Stir together granulated sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and salt in large bowl. Add cream cheese and beat with an electric mixer at high speed until creamy and smooth, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium, then add pumpkin mixture and beat until smooth.

Pour filling into crust, smoothing top, then put springform pan in a shallow baking pan, in case the springform leaks. Bake until center is just set, 50 to 60 minutes. (Start checking at 50 minutes, but be prepared for it to take longer. After an hour my center is still not soft, so I usually end up baking it an extra 20 minutes or so.) Don’t worry if the top cracks- it’ll be covered by the topping. Transfer the cheesecake to a cooling rack while you make the topping.

Whisk together sour cream, sugar, and bourbon in a bowl until smooth, then spread on top of cheesecake and bake another 5 minutes.

Cool the cheesecake on a rack for at least three hours, and then transfer to the fridge to chill completely. Run a knife around the edge of the springform to loosen it before removing the ring. Allow the cheesecake to come to room temperature before serving (if you can possibly wait that long).

Coconut Cashew Meringues

Trader Joe’s sells coconut cashews that are delightfully sweet, and while trying to figure out some way to use them in a recipe, I remembered some cashew meringue cookies I used to make. The recipe was in a booklet called Better Homes and Gardens Homestyle Cookies. (At least I think that was the title… it’s been without a cover for about 15 years after I spilled almond extract all over it.) Here is the original recipe: Cashew Meringues

These cookies are a bit labor-intensive, but they always make an impression. They are light and crisp on the outside but chewy on the inside, and are delectably sweet without being heavy or cloying.

I used the TJ’s coconut cashews in the cookies, and also subbed in some shredded unsweetened coconut. Because the coconut cashews are on the sweeter side, I suggest using roasted salted cashews on top. The saltiness cuts the sweetness of the caramel drizzle and keeps things balanced. (I bought TJ’s salted cashew pieces for this purpose, but when I tried a handful I found that they’d been roasted in some sort of oil that gave them an odd taste. If you can find straight-up roasted salted cashews with no added oils, I highly recommend those, even if it means chopping them yourself.)

IMG_6405No matter how many times I try, I’ve not been able to make a batch of these without some or most of them cracking open during baking. As they cool, the insides settle down while the outside stays crisp, and when I spy the glittering confectioner’s sugar through the cracks, it makes these cookies look like geodes. Don’t worry about the cracks- these are still delicious. As I’m drizzling the caramel over the top, I use the cracks as a guide and put a few extra cashew pieces on top, and by the end you can barely tell.  And as usual, the ugliest ones become my quality control checks. My slightly modified recipe is below.

 

 

Coconut Cashew Meringues

4 egg whites at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
4 cups sifted powdered sugar
1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1 1/2 cups Trader Joe’s coconut cashews
12-15 caramels, unwrapped
1 tbsp milk
1/2 cup roasted salted cashews, chopped

 

1. Put the shredded coconut and coconut cashews into a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped and uniform. (I like have some finely chopped bits in there, but maybe that’s why my cookies crack.) Set aside.

2. Add vanilla and cream of tartar to egg whites and beat at medium speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add the powdered sugar, about 1/4 cup at a time, beating on medium just until combined. The mixture should be glossy but not forming stiff peaks.

3. Gently fold in the nuts and coconut with a spoon or spatula- try not to overmix, as the meringue will eventually start to deflate.

4. Drop by rounded teaspoon two inches apart on a cookie sheet either greased or lined with parchment paper. (If you’re not yet using parchment paper for cookies, I highly recommend it! Easy cleanup, no added oil flavors, and cookies slide right off.)

5. Bake in 325 Deg F oven for 15-17 minutes or until edges are very lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack.

6. Heat caramels and milk in a small saucepan over low heat until melted, stirring frequently. Drizzle the caramel over the cookies and sprinkle with the salted cashew pieces while the caramel is still sticky.

The recipe says this makes 60 cookies, but I usually get about half that (perhaps another reason mine crack). Store these in an airtight container, with parchment or wax paper between layers to prevent sticking.

Cinnamon Bits

Little pockets of cinnamon goodness for your baked goods

Little pockets of cinnamon goodness for your baked goods

 

I’ve always loved those little bursts of cinnamon in scones, cinnamon rolls, and sweet treats, but the so-called cinnamon chips in the grocery store are NOT the same. They have all kinds of fillers to make them smooth and shapely like chocolate chips, and probably some emulsifiers so that they melt nicely, and fake cinnamon flavoring.

Imagine my glee when I started searching for a recipe purely out of frustration and found one right away! Even better, the output was precisely what I’d been wanting. These bits have strong cinnamon flavor with just a little sweetness, they hold together well (I like to cut mine into very small pieces), and they keep just fine in the cupboard. They are terrific in scones, quick breads, cookies (I’m looking at you, Snickerdoodles), smoothies, and even make just-add-water pancakes seem like a special treat.

I found the recipe here: http://www.mind-over-batter.com/diy-situations/diy-cinnamon-chips/ and do not make any alterations, except that I use a chef’s knife to cut the bits into tiny cubes and then let them dry out for a few hours on my counter. They aren’t crunchy (you could easily mash them with the back of a spoon) but they don’t stick together and will not melt at room temperature. Simple and delicious!

Cinnamon Bits At Home

Ingredients:
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons ground cinnamon (I prefer a dark, toasty cinnamon like Saigon)
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 200F. Butter a sheet of parchment paper and place on a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan. Set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients. Mix with fork until the mixture is uniform and crumbly. Spread on parchment lined baking sheet, flattening with your hands to about 1/8 inch thick. Bake until mixture is melted and somewhat bubbly, about 35 minutes.

3. Cool completely, and then cut into small pieces.

Makes about 2 cups. Store in airtight container.

Rice Whiskey Treats

Childhood nostalgia with a grown-up twist

Childhood nostalgia with a grown-up twist

My journey to rice whiskey treats started with a request for bacon desserts, actually. I tried making the classic Rice Krispie Treat recipe with chopped bacon stirred in (and bacon fat in place of the butter), and while they weren’t BAD, they weren’t great, either. They had two distinct flavors, bacon and marshmallow sweetness, at the same time but not at all married together. My boss suggested a hint of liquid smoke, which I worried would overwhelm the other flavors, and someone else suggested a bit of bourbon. Bourbon! Now we were on to something.

When I googled it, I discovered this was already A Thing. Whiskey in Rice Krispie Treats!?! I made them straight up, no bacon, to test the idea with my coworkers. This is the recipe I used: Makers Markmallow Treats

They were a HUGE hit. No one even cared about the bacon any more… They just wanted more rice whiskey treats. As soon as possible. The original recipe had one minor drawback, which was a change in consistency due to the extra liquid from the whiskey. They tended to be a bit too sticky and soft, so they fell apart at room temperature. Don’t get me wrong- it did not take long for these to go from plate to mouth, so no one was complaining, but I still wanted something that would hold together better.

I played around and found a few different methods of alleviating this problem. When I make them now, I do some combination of these options:

  1. Reduce the butter called for in the original recipe.
  2. When melting the marshmallows, put them over medium heat instead of low and allow them to get hot enough to actually bubble. (If you’ve ever done this by accident when making RKT, you’ll recall you ended up with incredibly hard, brittle, nearly inedible treats. Mixing in a little more liquid helps to break up the hard sugar chains forming when the marshmallow gets that hot, so they end up in that happy medium consistency.)
  3. When adding the whiskey to the melted marshmallow goo, scrape a path in the marshmallow so that the whiskey hits the bottom of the hot pan as you pour it in. The whiskey will sizzle and burn off some of the alcohol, which both reduces the liquid you’re adding and also reduces the alcohol burn in the flavor of the final treats. (My coworkers like that full boozey assault, so when I’m making treats for them, I pour the whiskey over the top of the marshmallow and mix it in slowly to minimize the burn off. Then to make sure the treats hold together, I’ll do options 1 and 2 above.)

Rice Whiskey Treats:

10 oz bag of mini marshmallows
3 tbsp butter
1/4 tsp cinnamon (if you have several types, I think Saigon is better than Ceylon here)
2 tbsp whiskey/whisky/bourbon
6 cups crispy rice cereal

  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the marshmallows, stirring constantly, and heat until melted and just starting to bubble. Remove pan from heat.
  2. Stir in cinnamon and whiskey (see note 3 above about how much alcohol burn you want in your treats)
  3. Add rice cereal and stir/fold until evenly coated.
  4. Pour into greased casserole dish or onto a sheet of parchment paper and press firmly with another sheet of parchment paper. Strong, even pressure also helps these treats keep their shape, so if you’re pressing between two parchment sheets, use one hand to hold the edge vertically while your other hand presses down. (I could have sworn that when I was a kid, my mom used to press RKT between two sheets of wax paper, but when I tried that, the wax paper stuck to the treats and shredded, and I ended up eating more wax paper than I would have preferred.)
  5. Chill in the fridge until firm before cutting. If your knife get sticky while cutting, try swiping each side of the knife with a stick of butter before cuts.

Variations:

Rum/Toffee: For crunchy rum treats, replace the whiskey with an aged rum, leave out the cinnamon, and sprinkle 1/4 cup Heath bar pieces (or other butter toffee bits) into the mix when you add the cereal.

Mocha treats: Replace the whiskey with coffee liqueur, replace the cinnamon with instant espresso powder, and mix in 1/3 cup mini chocolate chips when you add the cereal.

Carmelitas

Back in elementary school, before rampant food allergies and organic panic, kids used to bring treats on their birthdays to share with the class. What a great idea!  “Today is my special day, so here’s something delicious to make you happy.” In that same vein, I made these to celebrate my birthday in February. This is the recipe I started with: Buzzfeed’s Carmelitas

My notes: While gooey caramel oozing out when you bite down makes for a very sultry photo opp, it also makes the carmelitas a little hard to eat with dignity, so I used a little less heavy cream. I also added a generous sprinkling of coarse sea salt over the melty caramels, although my tasters were split on if they could detect the salt or not.  I would recommend buttering/spraying up the sides of the pan in addition to the parchment, and also pressing the final sprinkling of chocolate chips into the oatmeal topping to anchor them.  I used the mini chips and after the carmelitas were baked and cooled, a lot of the chips ended up just rolling off.

Carmelitas

2 cups quick oats*
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt, plus additional if you like your caramel salted
1 cup melted butter
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
50 soft caramels, unwrapped (this always takes longer than I expect!)
1/3 cup heavy cream

*If you don’t have quick oats, you can briefly buzz half of the old-fashioned oats in a blender or food processor and then stir the pieces back in with the whole oats. That’s what I did for the carmelitas in the photo.

1. Preheat oven to 350˚F.
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine oats, flour, brown sugar, baking soda, 1/4 tsp salt, and melted butter. Mix with a fork until combined and crumbly.
3. Line a 9×13 baking pan with parchment paper and lightly coat paper and sides of dish with a nonstick spray.
4. Pour about 1/2 of the oat mixture into the pan and press with the back of a spoon or spatula until it’s firm.
5. Pour 1 and 1/2 cups of chocolate chips over the oat mixture and spread them out evenly. Save the 1/2 cup for the top.
6. In a saucepan over low heat, melt the soft caramels into the heavy cream until it becomes smooth.
7. Pour melted caramel over the chocolate chips and oat mixture. Carefully spread the caramel until it covers the chocolate, and sprinkle with coarse sea salt if desired.
8. Pour the rest of the oat mixture over the caramel and spread out evenly.
9. Add the other 1/2 cup of chocolate chips on top and press lightly into the oats.
10. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the crust has turned a golden brown.
11. Allow to cool and cut into bars.
Yield: 24 bars, although I cut about half of them into smaller pieces because these are quite rich.