Category Archives: Desserts

Rellenitos

rellenitos.1There are eight school days left until the end of the year. Eight. Then I will have tackled year one of teaching. And to think some crazy parents out there trusted me with their children for an entire year. Wow.

The end of the school year means summer and summer means a lot of time on my hands. While I have big plans to prepare for next year, I also have big plans to take care of myself. To go to the gym, to cook real dinners, to watch a movie without falling asleep in the middle, to go out for a drink on a weeknight. It will be epically beautiful.

Said time on my hands though, also brings to the surface this uncurable travel itch. Guatemala, Guatemala, Guatemala–the country where I learned to make rellenitos–is calling my name. So begins the epic battle between money and my heart. Even if Guatemala doesn’t end up in my summer plans thanks to my bank account, transporting myself there via these rellenitos certainly will.

Rellenitos

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon cinnamon

4 plantains, cut in half (the peels should be black)

1 cup drain black beans

1/4 cup liquid from beans

3 oz milk chocolate

Fill a pot with 6-8 cups water. Add sugar and cinnamon and whisk until frothy. Gently place the halved plantains in the pot and bring to a boil. Once the water is boiling, continue to boil plantains for another 5 minutes. Using a fork, remove the plantains from the pot. Once they are cool enough to handle, remove the peel. Place the flesh of the plantain in the bowl of a food processor and puree until smooth. (Do not walk away from the food processor as the plantains puree quickly. If they become overly pureed they start to liquify, in which case the only solution is to run to the grocery store, buy more plantains, and start over.)

In the bowl of a food processor (Yes, you need to wash out the bowl between uses. Sorry.), puree the black beans with their liquid until the mixture is smooth. Meanwhile, in a saute pan, melt the chocolate over low heat stirring constantly. (If you have a double boiler, now would be a good time to employ it.) Once the chocolate has melted, mix in the beans until well combined. Remove from heat.

Add vegetable oil to the bottom of a saute pan so that it makes a thin layer. Heat until the oil begins to shimmer. As the oil is heating, take a spoonful of the plantains and spread it in the palm of your hand. The puree should be about a quarter of an inch thick. Add a heaping teaspoon of the black bean chocolate mixture in a line in the center of the plantain puree. Fold the plantains over the black bean chocolate mixture to make an oval shaped dumpling. Place in the hot oil. Fry until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Using a fork or spatula, flip the rellenito and fry for another 2 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the pan and place on a plate. Serve immediately or toss in a 200 degree oven to keep warm.

Continue the process of forming rellenitos and frying until you have used up all the pureed plantains and/or black bean chocolate mixture. You may need to add more oil as you continue to fry.

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Whole Wheat Shortbread with Raspberry, Jalapeno, and Goat Cheese Jam

raspberry.jalapeno.cookie.1Sometimes I make a certain dish or recipe simply because I want to. Other times, I make them – once, twice, three times, tweaking with each rendition – because they tell a story. These cookies tell a story…

I’ve recently been meeting a lot of new people for a myriad of reasons, which I will indulge you in at some future point. For now though, the important thing to note is that, as a result, I’ve been talking a lot about who I am to people who have no basis for understanding me. As I’ve talked about me, I’ve noticed a recurring theme: I spend a lot of time also talking about my dad. Maybe it’s our mutual love for food and the hours we’ve spent together in the kitchen. Or maybe it’s our obsession with the St. Louis Cardinals and our even greater one with Illini basketball. Or maybe it’s just the fact that I’m one of those lucky girls who has the type of dad most only dream of. Regardless, my dad has had an impact on my life more profound than I’ve realized.

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And this impact includes a deep love of shortbread. I have memories of my dad noshing on a box of trefoils, the Girl Scout shortbread cookies that most write off as “boring”, and of my mom making giant batches of the buttery cookies for him. When I saw a recipe for jam shortbread in Bon Appetit several falls ago, I dog eared it with my dad in mind. Then I left it sitting in the back of my head until recently when, knowing I was Czech, my friend Laura asked me to cook for an Eastern European composer focused concert she was performing with her chamber group. I immediately turned to kolachky. Too time consuming though, I decided to whip up a batch of these shortbread and claim them to be some kind of new wave, trendy kolachky with a twist.

The original version had just plain, old raspberry jam in the center. They were good. But good, as we all know, is not great. Luckily, I had quadrupled the recipe and tossed the extra dough in the freezer. I mulled over what I could do with it. Blueberry galette with lemon zest? Cherry tomato tart? Rhubarb anything? Finally, my mind wandered back to the Evanston farmers market, the one I religiously woke up early for each Saturday morning, and the man with the jam.

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Oh, the man with the jam. On my first visit to his stand, he recommended the raspberry jalapeno jam. I was hesitant. It sounded strange. But when he said he liked it spread on toast over cream cheese, my hesitancy disappeared. Done. Done. Done. I bought a jar. The next time I returned, I bought three. Just in case an apocalypse hit or something. You know, better safe than sorry.

That dough in my freezer could be just the perfect canvas for a version of that jam with goat cheese, mostly because I had a giant log in my fridge, in place of cream cheese. So the experimenting began. The rest is, as they say, history. Especially because Jake ate the entire plate in a night. Yes, I helped, because like father like daughter, I love my food.

Whole Wheat Shortbread with Raspberry, Jalapeno, and Goat Cheese Jam

adapted from Bon Appetit and inspired by “the farmers market guy with the jam”

2 cups whole wheat flour

1/2 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

10 1/2 tablespoons salted butter, room temperature

1 large egg, room temperature

1 large egg yolk, room temperature

6 tablespoons raspberry jam

4 tablespoons goat cheese

15-20 grams jalapeno (depending on the amount of heat you want)

Preheat oven to 400°. In the bowl of a food processor combine the raspberry jam, goat cheese and jalapeno. Mix until well combined scraping down the bowl frequently. The mixture should be an even, pink color. Set aside.

Whisk flour, sugar, and baking powder in a large bowl. Add butter; using your fingertips, rub in butter until coarse meal forms. Whisk egg and yolk in a bowl; add to flour mixture; stir just to blend.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Measure dough by 2 tablespoonfuls and roll into balls. Place on prepared sheets, spacing 2″ apart. Make an indentation in center of each ball; fill each with 1/2 teaspoon of the jam mixture.

Bake cookies until golden, 12–14 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

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Roasted Rhubarb and Apples with Earl Grey Tea

I was going to write a beautiful post on graduating. One about moving on, saying goodbyes, starting anew. One in which I reflected on my experience and shared profound words of wisdom. One like this, or as close to that as someone who studied Social Policy and Spanish can get. Then life became a whirlwind. I went from crazy energized camp counselor, to purple robe wearing graduate, to brand new teacher all in one week. In. One. Week.

Lifelong learning was a common theme among the graduation speeches given at Friday’s ceremonies. Suitably, last week, my last week before officially closing out my time at Northwestern, was a week filled with learning. I found myself more stressed than I had ever been in the past four years, maybe minus the time I wrote three fifteen page papers in four days. That was stressful. This was a different type of stress though. I had that feeling of the world caving in on me, like everything in my life was being turned upside down and shaken up. It was like I happened to find myself inside a martini shaker being tossed every which way. It was a stress that even destroyed my appetite. Me, not hungry. Can you believe it? And that was when the learning began, a learning that will continue throughout the summer as I step in front of a class for the first time and into the school year.

Luckily my appetite is back as is my longing for the kitchen. Unfortunately, I’m currently living in a dorm, kitchenless, again. Bummer. Never fear though, I have plenty of posts stored up and will be journeying home regularly to whip up some baked deliciousness. I happen to have more rhubarb sitting in my freezer. For those of you who don’t know me, it’s my new ingredient obsession. I can almost hear it calling my name now. While I’d love to test it out in a new recipe, this one is so good I just might make an unusual repeat. Subtly tart yet gracefully sweet, this roasted rhubarb is perfect served on top of yogurt or ice cream. If you’re like me though, you’ll dig into it on its own. Rhubarb is a vegetable though. In my mind, even with loads of sugar, that means healthy and being guilt free after devouring the entire batch in one night. Great.

Roasted Rhubarb and Apples with Earl Grey Tea

adapted from Food52

I envision this being a springtime, post-farmer’s market recipe as it was for me. For this reason, the quantities are far from exact. I find that often times it can be hard to judge just how much of an ingredient you’re purchasing at a market. So, for this recipe, if your bunch of rhubarb happens to yield more or less than the 2 1/2 cups I used, don’t worry. This recipe is not an exact science. I would suggest the following as general guidelines: Aim for about a 1:1 ratio of rhubarb to apples. If anything, air on the side of more rhubarb. Use about 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar per cup of rhubarb and apple. Remember, there are 4 tablespoons in a 1/4 cup, 16 in a cup.

In terms of ingredients, if you bought your rhubarb from a farmer’s market, make sure to wash it well. There will likely be dirt caught in the ridges. I suggest using a crisp, tart apple. Braeburn, Pink Lady, and Fuji should all work well. Lastly, I ate my rhubarb spooned on top of Greek yogurt. It would also be quite delicious with vanilla ice cream or eaten on its own. The rhubarb can be served warm, but I actually preferred mine cold. After some time in the fridge, the juices will have thickened slightly and the flavors  will have melded together.

2 bags of Earl Grey tea

1 bunch of rhubarb (just under 1 pound), chopped into 1-inch pieces (about 2 1/2 cups)

2 medium sized apples, peeled and chopped into 1-inch pieces (about 2 cups)

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

Juice from 1/2 lemon

Zest from 1/2 orange

Seeds of one green cardamom pod, ground with mortar and pestle

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Boil water in a tea kettle. Pour 3/4 cup boiled water into a measuring cup. Add tea bags and let steep for 3 minutes. Remove tea bags and set aside to cool.

Place chopped rhubarb and apple in a medium casserole dish or oven-safe pot. Add sugar, lemon juice, orange zest, cardamom, and slightly cooled tea. Gently toss. Bake uncovered for 40 minutes stirring halfway through the cooking time. When a fork slips easily into the fruit, it is ready. Let cool for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm or cold. (See notes above).

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Filed under Breakfast and Brunch, Desserts, Fruit, Vegetables

Apple Butter and the Beginning of Holiday Baking

After school and my home, the majority of my childhood was spent at the house of my best friend from those early, yet not too distant, years of my life, Grace. Grace’s family loved food just as much as mine. I remember indulging in the most delicious tacos topped with queso fresco, a cheese foreign to me up to that point in time. I remember eating steak on an average weekday night and digging into a mound of homemade crepes the morning after sleepovers. And I remember being introduced to apple butter. To the elementary school aged Jessica, apple butter seemed elegant and elusive. I associated it with teatime in the South of France and imagined myself eating it straight from the jar in an ironically lady-like manner. But I was a lowly American living in the suburbs of Chicago, which instead of cobblestone streets and scenic nature views, boasted towering, gray skyscrapers and pollution. Apple butter was clearly out of everyday reach…

…until I realized sometime in high school that apple butter was quite easily concocted in the comfort of my home in those same Chicago suburbs where I’d been born and raised. My apple butter kitchen experiments began with a recipe found online that called for a disastrous cup of sugar to every pound of apples. That sounded like apple butter induced diabetes waiting to happen. Regardless, I tried it and realized, yes, it was far too sweet. After tweaking the recipe for several years, I developed my apple butter. This is the apple butter I would package up in mason jars with a red bow and a hand decorated holiday tag for my aunts and uncles one Christmas. (A jar of which I found this summer still sitting in my Aunt Alison’s fridge. Apparently, not everyone loves apple butter as much as I do.) This is the apple butter I make each winter and slather onto thick, toasted slices of the hoska my Grandma brings us from the Czech bakery. And this is the apple butter you should make. Right now. Unless, like me, you’re busily filling your kitchen with mountains of cookies. Then you can wait I suppose.

Today my list of things to cook over winter break reached thirty. Thirty recipes! How in the world am I going to cook, and then eat, thirty different dishes? Of those thirty, ten are for cookies and of those ten I have already tried three: World Peace Cookies, Ginger Sandwich Cookies, and Gooey Buttercake Cookies. If you’re observant, unlike me, you may have notice I’ve only included recipes for the first two in this post. There’s sadly a quite unfortunate reason for that. When whipping up the Gooey Buttercake cookies, a seemingly simple recipe, I made an amateur mistake. I used baking soda instead of baking powder. Me? Make a mistake in the kitchen? Yup. It happens more regularly than I care to admit. And this time it resulted in flat, baking soda flavored cookies. Fail.

While I continue on my cookie-baking quest, perhaps you can take a step back and give them a try for me. If you do, let me know how they are. And maybe even save one for me.

Apple Butter

I usually use a combination of apples. Braeburn, Pink Lady, Fuji, and Gala all work well but there are certainly many more viable options. In general, I’d say go with what’s on sale. Additionally, the sugar and spice quantities can be adjusted to taste. Keep in mind though, I’ve been adjusting this recipe for a while now and this is the best combination of flavors I’ve come up with thus far. Just saying. I also like my apple butter lightly spiced and not too sweet though. If you prefer a different flavor some adapting may be in order.

Makes about 8 cups

5 to 6 pounds apples, peeled, cored and finely chopped

1/4 cup white sugar

1/4 cup light brown sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

¼ teaspoon allspice

1/4 teaspoon salt

Place the finely chopped apples in a slow cooker. In a medium bowl, mix the sugars, cinnamon, cloves, allspice and salt. Pour the mixture over the apples and mix well.

Cover and cook on high 1 hour stirring occasionally.

Reduce heat to low and cook 9 to 11 hours until the mixture is thickened and dark brown. Stir occasionally. 

Uncover, turn off the heat, and let cool for about 30 minutes. Pour the mixture into a food processor and blend until smooth. Transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to one month. 

World Peace Cookies

from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

I added a tablespoon of orange zest to the original recipe to give these cookies a little bit of a holiday flare. The results were highly approved by my family. I’ve made these cookies without the orange zest before though too and they were equally as delicious!

Makes about 36 cookies

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour

1/3 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

11 tablespoons (1 stick plus 3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature

2/3 cup (packed) golden brown sugar

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

5 ounces extra-bittersweet chocolate (do not exceed 85% cacao), chopped (no pieces bigger than 1/3 inch)

1 tablespoon orange zest (optional)

Sift flour, cocoa, and baking soda into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until smooth but not fluffy. Add both sugars, vanilla, and sea salt; beat until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add flour mixture; beat just until blended (mixture may be crumbly). Add chopped chocolate; mix just to distribute (if dough doesn’t come together, knead lightly in bowl to form ball). Divide dough in half. Place each half on sheet of plastic wrap. Form each into 1 1/2-inch-diameter log. Wrap each in plastic; chill until firm, about 3 hours. (Dough can be made 3 days ahead of time if kept chilled.)

Preheat oven to 325°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Using thin sharp knife, cut logs crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick rounds. Space 1 inch apart on prepared sheets. Bake 1 sheet at a time until cookies appear dry (cookies will not be firm or golden at edges), 11 to 12 minutes. Transfer to rack; cool.

Ginger Sandwich Cookies

from Food and Wine

Makes about 20 cookies 

For the Cookie

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 stick plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar

1 large egg, at room temperature

1/4 cup unsulfured molasses

For the Filling

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

2 cups confectioners’ sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350° and position racks in the upper and lower thirds. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon and salt. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the butter and sugar at medium speed until fluffy, 3 minutes. Beat in the egg and molasses. Add the dry ingredients and beat at low speed until incorporated, scraping down the bowl.

Working in 2 batches, drop scant tablespoons of the dough onto the baking sheets, 3 inches apart. Bake the cookies for 20 minutes, until risen and fallen and slightly firm; shift the sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through for even baking. Let cool slightly, then transfer the parchment paper to racks and let the cookies cool completely. Bake the remaining cookies.

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the butter with the confectioners’ sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the lemon juice.

Arrange the cookies in pairs on a large work surface. Spoon or pipe 1 rounded tablespoon of the lemon filling onto the flat side of half of the cookies. Sandwich with the remaining cookies, pressing them together so the filling spreads to the edge.

These can be stored in an airtight container between sheets of wax paper for up to one week.


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Filed under Appetizers and Snacks, Breakfast and Brunch, Cookies, Desserts, Fruit

French-Style Yogurt Cake with Lemon

That’s it. I’m done. Graduated. Never again will I call myself a college student. (Until I go to grad. school, but in that case I’ll be a grad. student. Different. Very different.)

To celebrate, I baked myself a cake. And because, in my humble opinion, lemon always wins the epic lemon v. chocolate debate, it is this beautiful French-Style Yogurt Cake with Lemon, brought to us by Molly Wizenberg, that I decided to bake.

Admittedly, my decision to make this cake might have had mostly to do with the story Molly penned about it in her cookbook, A Homemade Life. The story tells us how some random guy, who lived all the way across the country, emailed her about this very cake. And how she responded, asking just a couple questions, either to appear polite, or perhaps, to slyly keep the conversation going. And then how emails became text messages, which became phone calls, that turned into that first, in-person rendezvous, which led to a relationship, and then a marriage. Maybe that’s how I’ll meet the love of my life, the one my parents seem to think I’m hiding from them. Little do they know, online dating is looming in my future.

Maybe if I bake this cake often enough though, I’ll be able to avoid that fate. I’ll leave my windows open one sunny, spring afternoon and let the intertwined aromas of lemon and sugar drift through the air. The beautiful man, who will just happen to be walking past, will smell the wafting scents and, unable to resist, make an immediate detour for my apartment. “Excuse me, but that cake…I just have to have a piece!”. Alright, so maybe not, but I wouldn’t be entirely surprised. This cake is that good.

Moist and light, the cake itself is delicious. The syrup soaks perfectly into it giving the cake an extra lemony kick. What seals the deal though, is the icing. Oh man, that icing. Gently encasing the cake with a shiny, smooth, sugary shell, the icing adds a simple complexity to the cake, making it at once luxurious and homey. Its sweetness, which flawlessly contrasts the tartness of the lemon, transforms this cake from one that might last a day or so on your kitchen counter to one that is lucky to survive the evening. While you may be tempted to eat this cake, in its entirety, yourself, it is a cake that ultimately must be shared.

And share I did, because, through the endless reflecting that has defined this quarter, I’ve come to one conclusion: What’s made me love Northwestern, love love love, are the people. The random kid I sat next to in class who happened to have the most incredible stories and insights. The casual acquaintance who always gave me the biggest smile and the brightest hello. The best friend who pulled all-nighters with me, taking study breaks to discuss those big question of life that are best confronted when anyone with an ounce of sanity is asleep.

To all my fellow Northwestern students – from the strangers I wish I’d met to the best friends I’ve known since freshman year – you are who I will miss. Thank you for giving Northwestern a special place in my heart. Now, lets eat cake.

French-Style Yogurt Cake with Lemon

from A Homemade Life by  Molly Wizenberg

Molly suggests a couple of variations: “Instead of making a lemon-flavored cake, try orange or tangerine, or Meyer lemon, when in season. You can also try replacing the vegetable oil with a fruity, round-flavored olive oil; it brings a subtly richer flavor and wonderful fragrance. And for an especially delicate, sweetly fragrant cake try replacing 1/2 cup flour with 1/2 cup very finely ground blanched almonds.” Next time I think I’ll try some olive oil and ground almonds. And there will definitely be a next time.

Makes 1 9-inch cake

For the cake

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

Pinch of salt

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

1/2 cup well-stirred plain whole-milk yogurt (not low fat or nonfat)

1 cup sugar

3 large eggs

1/2 cup vegetable oil, such as canola

For the syrup

1/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted

1/4 cup lemon juice

For the icing

1 cup powdered sugar, sifted

3 tablespoons lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan with butter or cooking spray. Line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment paper, and grease it too.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add lemon zest and whisk to mix thoroughly.

In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, sugar, and eggs, stirring to mix well. Add the flour mixture and stir to just combine. Add the oil and stir well. At first, it will look like a horrible, oily mess, but keep going, and it will come together into a smooth, pale yellow batter. Pour into the prepared pan.

Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Do not overbake.

Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Run a thin knife around the edge of the pan, and invert the cake onto a wide, flat plate or pan. Remove and discard the parchment paper. Invert the cake back onto the rack so that it sits upright, with the shinier, slightly domed side facing up. Set the rack over a rimmed baking sheet.

In a small bowl, whisk together the syrup ingredients. Spoon the syrup slowly atop the warm cake. Some of the syrup will run down the sides and onto the baking sheet; don’t worry. Cool completely.

In a small bowl, combine the icing ingredients. Whisk well to dissolve the sugar completely. Spoon the icing over the cooled cake.

Serve immediately–the icing will still be soft and a bit juicy–or wait until the icing has firmed up, about 1 hour. Whichever way you like.

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Filed under Cakes, Desserts, Fruit

David Lebovitz’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

I get to play professor this quarter. That’s right. Professor. And not for your typically math, English, or science class. No, no, no. I get to play professor for one of those elusive higher education subjects. Community building to be exact.

Given the focus of the class, my co-teacher and I made it one of our many goals to establish a strong sense of community within the classroom. And in my opinion, there’s no better way to build community than around food. After all, our adviser for the course has told us repeatedly that community is created out of shared self-interests. And isn’t it in every one’s self-interest to eat a cookie now and then? With my strong belief in the community building power of food – If you doubt me, spend some time on a college campus. At the mention of free food you’ll certainly be faced with a stampede of hungry, poor students coming together under the mutual desire to have a full stomach. – and the requirement we hold office hours, the decision was made that we would try bringing food to office hours hoping that it would be an extra incentive to come.

On the topic of goals, sometime in late August I read a “New York Times” recipe dating way back to 2008 for chocolate chip cookies. The article accompanying the recipe bore the tantalizing title “Perfection? It’s Warm and Has a Secret”. The article described the quest for the ultimate chocolate chip cookie detailing the baking tactics of cookie geniuses, Ruth Graves Wakefield, Jacques Torres, and Dorie Greenspan. Inspired by the “New York Times” and their noble quest I decided to make it my very own goal to find the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe by the end of fall quarter. I had every intention of starting with the Times recipe but had a sudden change of heart after reading David Lebovitz’s version of the chocolate chip cookie, which he claims is even better than that in the Times. Extensive research proved Lebovitz’s recipe was indeed loved by many a baking fanatic. So it was his recipe I knew I would attempt as soon as I had a reason to bake cookies.

And these office hours were my reason. With them, I could kill two birds with one stone. That is, take a step towards achieving that somewhat immeasurable goal of building a strong sense of classroom community and another step towards that perhaps equally immeasurable goal of finding the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe.  (Not to mention, if people actually showed up to office hours I would be able to pawn off my cookies and avoid the danger of having massive amounts of them just chilling out in my apartment. As you probably well know, my self control when it comes to anything remotely sweet is not so good.)

So now you ask, did my belief in the power of food hold true? Did people actually show up to office hours even though they routinely go unattended? I mean, in three years of college I’ve gone to office hours maybe four times. Not something I’m proud of but something that is none the less the truth. My students are either far better students than I am or I have found the missing ingredient to office hour attendance, food. They showed up. They stayed and talked. They ate cookies. Success. Made an even bigger success by the fact that I still have dough sitting in my freezer just waiting to be baked in to the arguably perfect chocolate chip cookie complete with chocolatey, nutty, chewy with a touch of crunchy, outer-edge goodness.

David Lebovitz’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

from Ready for Dessert by David Lebovitz

My family always jokes that I never follow recipes even when it comes to baking. This time though they’d be surprised. I made no changes. That’s right, I followed the recipe to a tee minus the fact that I didn’t bother toasting the nuts seeing as how I have an affinity for burning them. In terms of ingredients, I used pecans for the nuts (although I think walnuts would be equally delicious) and used half semisweet chocolate and half bittersweet. I know it’s more expensive, but splurge for good chocolate. You’ll thank yourself later. Make sure to let the dough chill in the refrigerator for twenty-four hours too. It’s the secret to the texture. Again, you’ll thank yourself later.

Also, the recipe notes that the dough logs can be refrigerated for one week or frozen for up to one month. I sliced all four of the logs as instructed below, rewrapped two in plastic wrap, and stuck them in the fridge. Already slicing them makes it that much easier to pull one out and bake it off!

Makes about 48 cookies

2 1/2 cups (350 g) all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 cup (8 ounces/225 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup (215 g) packed light brown sugar

3/4 cup (150 g) granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large eggs, at room temperature

2 cups (about 225 g) nuts, such as walnuts, pecans, almonds, or macadamia nuts, toasted and coarsely chopped

14 ounces (400 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped into 1/2- to 1-inch (1.5- to 3-cm) chunks or 3 cups (340 g) chocolate drops

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a bowl by hand), beat together the butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, and vanilla on medium speed just until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time until thoroughly incorporated, then stir in the flour mixture followed by the nuts and chocolate chunks.

On a lightly floured work surface, divide the dough into quarters. Shape each quarter into a log about 9 inches (23 cm) long. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, preferably for 24 hours.

Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

Slice the logs into disks 3/4 inch (2 cm) thick and place the disks 3 inches (8 cm) apart on the prepared baking sheets. If the nuts or chips crumble out, simply push them back in.

Bake, rotating the baking sheets midway through baking, until the cookies are very lightly browned in the centers, about 10 minutes. If you like soft chocolate chip cookies err on the side of under baking.

Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets until firm enough to handle, then use a spatula to transfer them to a wire rack. Baked cookies can be stored in an air tight container for up to four days.

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Classic Brownies

My grandma makes the best brownies in the world. (She claims they’re from a box. I don’t believe her.) But these brownies, these brownies might give you a run for your money grandma. The recipe, originally a Cooks Illustrated recipe, I found in the archives of my favorite food blogger, Deb of the Smitten Kitchen. Her recipes are beautiful and have not once let me down. If Deb were a man I would long ago have hopped on a plane to New York and professed my love, a pan of these brownies in hand.

For some reason, unbeknownst to me, I always assumed homemade brownies would not be worth the time and effort. Why bother making brownies from scratch when those Ghirardelli brownies from the box are pretty damn good? Here’s why: they’re easy and delicious. Trust me, I ate seven in one night. For better or for worse, not an exaggeration.

Classic Brownies

adapted from Cooks Illustrated via the Smitten Kitchen

Be sure to test for doneness before removing the brownies from the oven. If underbaked (the toothpick has batter clinging to it) the texture of the brownies will be dense and gummy. If overbaked (the toothpick comes out completely clean), the brownies will be dry and cakey.

Makes 18-24 brownies

1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) cake flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped fine

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into six 1-inch pieces

2 1/4 cups (15 3/4 ounces) sugar

4 large eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 325 degrees. Cut 18-inch length foil and fold lengthwise to 8-inch width. Fit foil into length of 13 by 9-inch baking dish, pushing it into corners and up sides of pan; allow excess to overhand pan edges. Cut 14-inch length foil and, if using extra-wide foil, fold lengthwise to 12-inch width; fit into width of baking pan in same manner, perpendicular to first sheet. Spray foil-lined pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Whisk to combine flour, salt, and baking powder in medium bowl; set aside.

Melt chocolate and butter in large saucepan over medium-low heat, until smooth. (Alternatively, in microwave, heat butter and chocolate in large microwave-safe bowl on high for 45 seconds, then stir and heat for 30 seconds more. Stir again, and, if necessary, repeat in 15-second increments; do not let chocolate burn.)

When chocolate mixture is completely smooth, remove bowl from saucepan and gradually whisk in sugar. Add eggs on at a time, whisking after each addition until thoroughly combined. Whisk in vanilla. Add flour mixture in three additions, folding with rubber spatula until batter is completely smooth and homogeneous.

Transfer batter to prepared pan; using spatula, spread batter into corners of pan and smooth surface. Bake until toothpick or wooden skewer inserted into center of brownies comes out with few moist crumbs attached, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool on wire rack to room temperature, about 2 hours, then remove brownies from pan by lifting foil overhang. Cut brownies into squares and serve. (Store leftovers in airtight container at room temperature, for up to 3 days, or, ahem, in the freezer until your resistance gets the better of you.)

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Filed under Bars and Brownies, Desserts