Personalized Biscoff Sandwich Cookies for Jessica’s Virtual Bridal Shower

“Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.”

One of my favorite quotes, from James Matthew Barrie, truly epitomizes my simply delightful friend Jessica, creator of the scrumptious blog, My Baking Heart. Years back when I first began Hot Oven, Warm Heart and joined the Sweet Melissa Sundays baking group, I had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know Jessica through our weekly correspondence. To this day, I remember how special she made me feel by leaving such thoughtful, kind, elevating comments which I always looked forward to receiving. Upon my return following an extended hiatus from blogging, Jessica reached out to me almost immediately with open arms and it absolutely meant the world. But that’s just Jessica. She’s warm and caring, good-natured and supportive. I’m so lucky to call her my friend, and am overwhelmed with excitement to celebrate her upcoming nuptials! That’s right, Jessica is getting married, and I was granted the opportunity to honor her in a very unique way- a virtual bridal shower.

Organized by the lovely Nikki of Pennies on a Platter, Jessica’s virtual bridal shower is a like an online party, where the guests are a select group of her blogging friends. On October 3rd, each of us will feature a post highlighting a dish that we would bring if everyone could actually get together in person. How neat, right? I was blown away that I was invited to contribute, so I RSVP’d right away, ready to join in on the fun and send best wishes to the bride-to-be!

When it came to selecting my dish, I knew I wanted to bake something sweet, and I decided it was the perfect time to break out two items I was saving for just the right occasion: my Williams Sonoma “Message In A Cookie Cutter” set (a must have for any crazy cookie cutter collector like myself!) and a much coveted jar of Speculoos Cookie Butter Spread (aka Biscoff), which I actually had to go out of state to a Trader Joe’s in CT to get my hands on! I know I’m the last known blogger to gush over the dangerously delectable spread, but I just couldn’t resist jumping on the Biscoff bandwagon. Arguably the Nutella of the new decade, Biscoff can best be described as the ideal amalgamation of peanut butter (in consistency) and cinnamon sugar graham crackers (in flavor). Derived from the much-loved Belgian delicacy, the speculoos cookie, the spread actually has a very interesting back-story. Speculoos cookies are decorative caramelized biscuits traditionally used to celebrate weddings and births (how apropos), commemorate the name day of Saint Nicholas, teach history, and chronicle war in Europe, and they actually make up 20% of all the cookies eaten in Belgium. Already famous overseas, the cookies gained further acclaim when introduced as Biscoff (as in biscuits and coffee) by Lotus Bakeries to North American airline travelers and consumers. So how’d we get from the much-loved spicy crisp cookies to the renowned spread? That’s thanks to the brilliant idea of Els Scheppers, a culinary enthusiast and finalist on the Belgian prime time TV show “De Bedenkers” (The Inventors), who developed a recipe for a creamy spread with the unique taste of the Lotus Speculoos cookies. While she didn’t officially win, she did team up with Lotus to manufacture her creation, and the rest is history. Now Europeans and Americans alike can savor their cookies by the spoonful!

I found a great recipe for homemade Biscoff cookie sandwiches that featured the spread in a luscious, sweet and spicy cream cheese filling. The results were a smashing success: two tender, melt in your mouth, crisp on the outside yet slightly chewy on the inside cookies encasing a light and fluffy, flavor packed buttercream that highlights the best attributes of the silky smooth spread. If you happen to get your hands on a jar, these are a must try!

Homemade Biscoff Sandwich Cookies with Biscoff Cream Cheese Frosting

recipe slightly adapted from Creative Culinary

Ingredients

For the Cookies:

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • *I also added 1/8 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract (*I subbed an equal amount of vanilla bean paste- with which I am officially obsessed!)
For the Frosting: (*I found a half batch more than adequate for my cookies, but it’s so delicious, I highly advise making the recipe in full. Oh, the endless possibilities for the leftovers!)

  • 10 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 5 cups confectioners’ sugar, whisked to lighten
  • 2/3 cup Biscoff spread

Preparation

To Make the Cookies:
  1. In a medium bowl add the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, salt, and baking soda together. Whisk together thoroughly to combine and aerate. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter together with the sugar and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract and mix again.
  3. With the mixer on slow, add the flour mixture a little bit at a time until the dough is fully combined. Make sure to scrape the sides of the bowl often.
  4. Refrigerate the dough for at least half an hour.
  5. When the dough is thoroughly chilled, preheat the oven to 350F.
  6. Lightly flour a large surface and roll out the dough to 1/4″ thick as best you can. Using a small biscuit or cookie cutter of your preference, cut as many cookies as you can out of the rolled out dough.
  7. Combine the leftover dough into a ball again, and roll out again. Only do this once, as reworking the dough too many times will result in tough cookies.
  8. Bake cookies for roughly 9-10 minutes. Watch the oven very closely after the 7 minute mark. Because of the thinness and high sugar content, the cookies are a lot like caramel and can go from perfect to burnt in a flash.
  9. Allow to cool. Enjoy as is or make this Biscoff sandwich cookie using the following icing recipe.
To Make the Frosting:
  1. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy.
  2. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar 1 cup at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl often. Continue to beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes.
  3. Add the Biscoff spread and beat until thoroughly blended.

A big thank you to both Nikki and Jessica for including me in this special event. Don’t forget to stop by Pennies on a Platter to see the round-up of all the guests’ dishes, and of course, check out My Baking Heart, where you’re always in for a real treat! Congratulations Jessica, I’m wishing you and Chris an extraordinary wedding day and a beautiful future together.

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SMS: Spiced Pumpkin Cookie Cakes

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As a special treat, my Mom used to take my big sister Jessica and I to our local bakery, where we were each allowed to make our own selection. While I always hemmed and hawed, usually allured and distracted by the cupcakes topped with a huge pile of frosting meant to resemble Sesame Street characters (to this day I’m baffled by their appeal), I ultimately chose one of two pastries: a half moon cookie (also known as a black-and-white cookie) or a classic whoopie pie. Both featured two contrasting elements, had a soft, tender texture, and were utterly delicious. I have fond memories of savoring every bite of my preferred snack, knowing that I had done something my Mom recognized and appreciated worthy of a sweet reward. To this day, whoopie pies bring back encouraging childhood memories, and yet this recipe marked their inaugural appearance in my kitchen. After completing Melissa Murphy’s Spiced Pumpkin Cookie Cakes, and receiving nothing but glowing reviews from both my family as well as the hospital nursing staff currently caring for Jess (I figured that sharing these pies with her medical providers would be a wonderful way to express my sincere gratitude for all their help), I knew it would not be their final showing in my home this season.

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A whoopie pie, also referred to as a gob, bob, or black-and-white is a type of cookie sandwich composed of two round, mound-shaped pieces of cake, usually chocolate or pumpkin flavored, that are filled with a sweet, creamy frosting. According to Pennsylvania Amish tradition, generations of Amish women would utilize leftover batter to prepare these baked treats, and pack them in their farmers’ lunchboxes. Legend says that upon discovering the cookie cakes in their lunches, farmers would shout with excitement, “Whoopie!”, giving the sweets their unique name. While most renowned in New England, and adopted as a state tradition in Maine, whoopie pies are gaining popularity across the United States.

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Melissa must have missed the memo about the animated farmers’ exclamation, because she titled her recipe “Cookie Cakes”- although it may be a more descriptive name, it’s nowhere near as entertaining to say. Regardless of designation, these delectable little morsels are the ideal antidote to blustery New England weather. Puffy pumpkin cakes accented by warming fall spices and thoughtfully paired with a citrus spiked cream cheese frosting make for an exceptional flavor combination which dances on the tongue. As a New England native, I’m accustomed to the colossal sized saucers sold in bakeries up here that are challenge for one taster to finish without sharing a bite or two. But Melissa’s cakes are of a daintier nature- I made mine a bit bigger than stated in the directions, and my cookies were still only 2½ to 3″ in diameter. The pumpkin imparted a deep burnt orange hue to the cake portion, which contrasted beautifully with the bright white creamy filling. Speckled with finely grated orange zest, the cream cheese, butter, confectioner sugar frosting had that extra punch of bright flavor, a nice twist on the original straight-up vanilla cream. I’ve come to the conclusion that Melissa considers citrus zest one of her secret weapons in the kitchen- elevating the level of sophistication many of her baked goods embody and offering a surprise twist to the classics. In certain applications, I’ve felt it was misplaced and detracted from the overall appeal, however, I feel it gives just the right amount of pep these pies need. I’m even thinking about adding it to my favorite pumpkin loaf recipe- a killer quick bread I will definitely be sharing with you soon!

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I highly recommend you hop over to the kitchen and bake a batch of your own, or bookmark this yummy recipe to serve at your next soiree this season- they’d be the perfect hand held single serve dessert for your Halloween party or even Thanksgiving. If you do whip up some of Melissa’s cookie cakes, I have a few recommendations to expedite the process. Melissa advocates using a pastry bag to pip the batter onto prepared cookie sheets- I found this step unnecessary, and really, if you can avoid the hassle of cleaning out a bag and tip, I say take advantage of the opportunity. I found that my handy dandy small-sized ice cream/cookie scoop worked perfectly, and bonus!- it ensured that all my cookies came out nice and round and exactly the same size, which made for even sandwiches. My scoop distributed about 1 tablespoon of batter per cookie (much more than Melissa’s suggested rounded teaspoon, which seemed kind of measly to me), but the baking time remained the same- mine passed the toothpick test in about 13 minutes. I also ditched the pastry bag for dispersing the frosting- my small offset spatula, which I can’t live without, by the way, worked just fine. I didn’t bother measuring out a specific amount of filling per pie, I simply spread on an even layer that was enough to support the top and leave space between the two halves. A little squish, and you’ll be in business.

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Sending out a big “WHOOPIE!” to Debbie for her fabulous SMS selection. You’ll find the recipe over at Every Day Blessings of The Five Dee’s, in The Sweet Melissa Baking Book, as well as catalogued in my keeper files. And don’t forget to take a peak at the plethora of pies produced by all the other ladies on our blogroll.

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SMS: Snickerdoodles and Operation Baking GALS

Snickerdoodles

A batch of snickerdoodles brought to a staff meeting began my illustrious career as the workplace baker at the YMCA Childcare center. One taste of the sweet, spicy golden cookies, and the other teachers were hooked- they were impressed by my apparent flair for baking, and from that day on, I was the go-to girl for birthday cakes and all other special occasion treats. I was more than happy to undertake that role, but I always found it funny that what convinced them of my talent was one of the simplest goodies ever to emerge from my kitchen.

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A sugar cookie dressed up with a dusting of cinnamon, the snickerdoodle is composed of mere pantry ingredients: butter, sugar, eggs, and flour, and has a much fancier name than makeup. Older recipes for this classic utilize a combination of cream of tartar and baking soda as a leavening agent, which give the resulting cookie its characteristic tang, whereas more current recipes call for baking powder instead. I’ve made them both ways, and in my opinion, you can’t go wrong. Snickerdoodles are deliciously addictive and it’s hard to eat just one!

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Though the etymology is debatable, the name “snickerdoodle” has been traced back to the German word “schneckennudeln.” “Schnecke” means “snail” in German, and according to “Slumps, Grunts and Snickerdoodles: What Colonial American Ate and Why” by Lila Perl, a “shnecke” was also a German name for a cinnamon pinwheel that resembles snails. The development of the name probably reflects the cookie’s history, which dates back to Nineteenth century New England, when cookies were given odd and whimsical names like Graham Jakes, Jolly Boys, Tangle Breeches, and Kinkawoodles. No matter how they were dubbed with such a quirky moniker, most would agree that “snickerdoodles” is as fun to say as they are to eat.

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In a stroke of serendipity, Spike of Spike Bakes selected snickerdoodles as this week’s pick for SMS. I had consulted The Sweet Melissa Baking Book for that very recipe recently when I was assembling my package for Operation Baking GALS. You may have noticed the special icon on the right column of my site that designates my participation in this amazing charitable organization. Operation Baking GALS is a group of volunteer bakers from all across the country who come together each month to collectively send homemade goodies to troops currently deployed overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s a fantastic way to show our support and give these brave men and women a little piece of home.

After my first three rounds of baking, I was inspired to take on a leadership role by organizing a bonus team with a unique mission. Team Oven Loving for the Recovering was born to serve the courageous soldiers who are recuperating from injury at the Army Medical Center in Bethesda, MD. My heart ached for the pain (both physical and emotional) they face every day, but I knew that the wonderful Baking GALS volunteers could help lift their spirits by sending along their thoughtful and delicious care packages. By working with Command Master Chief Wendy Fischer and head Baking GAL Lyndsay Leybold, we developed a plan and a partnership, and I have been proud to lead this extraordinary team for the last 4 rounds of baking. Our packages are incorporated into a special Friday night program, where the soldiers and their families come together to share a delicious home-style meal, ending with cookies and treats galore. I recently received a letter from the Command Master Chief expressing their deep appreciation for our generous contribution, but in truth, it has been my honor and privilege to bake for these admirable soldiers and their families. Operation Baking GALS and Team Oven Loving for the Recovering hold a permanent place in my heart, and I am looking forward to continuing my work with this exceptional organization. If you’re interested in more information or getting involved, please feel free to get in touch with me either right here in the comments section of my blog or via email at joy.d.saunders@gmail.com. And for a little inspiration, here’s a look at the 20+ dozen cookies I’ve sent so far! 🙂

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Thanks again, Spike, for selecting the delectable snickerdoodles– I’m sure they were a hit with the soldiers! Head on over to Spike Bakes for the recipe if you’d like to give them a try!

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SMS: Chewy Peanut Butter Cookies

Chewy Peanut Butter Cookies

I’ve always had a penchant for peanut butter, especially when featured as a foil ingredient in one of many perfect pairings: peanut butter and jelly, peanut butter and banana, and of course, the ultimate combination, peanut butter and chocolate. The first candies consumed from my Halloween loot were usually Reese’s peanut butter cups, and as a Brownie, Thin Mints and Samoas didn’t hold a candle to my favorite girl scout classic, Tagalongs, or peanut butter patties. Despite my preference for peanut butter, I must admit it is an under-utilized item in my kitchen. But with this week’s SMS pick, Chewy Peanut Butter Cookies, I got to grab my jumbo jar of creamy Skippy and mix up a simple yet scrumptious batch of goodies, filling my home with a warm, nutty, comforting aroma that transporting me back to my childhood.

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In these timeless treats, the peanut butter is front and center without any other flavors competing for attention. Charming and unpretentious, they are easy to whip up on a whim, with all the ingredients likely to be in your pantry. A few months ago when my Aunt Maggie and I got together for a baking date, we fell back on PB cookies after eliminating some flashier desserts that required items we didn’t have on hand. We actually used a similar recipe to the variation in the Sweet Melissa Baking Book, and though the differences were subtle, I think I preferred this latest version. Stephanie of Ice Cream Before Dinner mentioned she selected this SMS recipe because it produced a simple and not so fancy cookie that would ultimately be an enjoyable crowd-pleaser. With soft, tender centers, crispy edges, a delicate texture, and predominant peanutty flavor, they definitely live up to their name and expectations.

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Peanut butter cookies are actually a part of American culinary history. George Washington Carver, an African-American agriculturalist who promoted the peanut as a replacement for the cotton crop, compiled 105 peanut recipes from various cookbooks, agricultural bulletins and other sources. In his 1916 Research Bulletin called “How to Grow the Peanut and 105 Ways of Preparing it for Human Consumption,” he included three recipes for peanut cookies calling for crushed/chopped peanuts as an ingredient. Later, in the early 1920s, peanut butter was listed as a primary ingredient in the cookies.

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And did you ever wonder the origin of the traditional criss-cross pattern? Leave it to Pillsbury to establish this characteristic look- the Peanut Butter Balls recipe in the 1923 edition of Pillsbury’s Balanced Recipes contains the first known written instance of instructing the baker to press the cookies with the tines of a fork. Because of the dough’s density, it will not cook evenly without being pressed, and a fork is definitely a convenient tool in every kitchen to complete this job. The cross-hatched marking immediately identifies the peanut butter cookie, distinguishing it from any other variety, and adding to its delightfully rustic appearance.

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These cookies were fun and fast to bake, and would be a great project to do with kids. Since this recipe edges out others I’ve made in the past, I think it will be a permanent addition to my cookie-baking repertoire. Thank you to Stephanie of Ice Cream Before Dinner for her delicious down-home selection, and if you feel like filling your cookie jar with a batch of your own, head on over to her adorable site for the recipe. And you can see all the other SMS baker’s treats by checking out our blogroll, now featuring a few new members (myself included)!

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SMS: Strawberry-Ruby Grapefruit Preserves & Jam Thumbprints

Strawberry-Ruby Grapefruit Preserves & Jam Thumbprints

Throughout my entire childhood, my lunch menu featured one item, and one item only: a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The ingredients evolved as I grew, from the most basic white bread, creamy pb, and grape jelly of my early days to wheat bread, crunchy pb, and strawberry preserves of my adolescence. I’ve probably prepared thousands of this classic over the years, always finishing with a generous smearing of sticky, sweet fruit spread, but I don’t ever remember considering the possibility of a homemade version. The notion that this condiment could be fashioned from fresh fruit and sugar never crossed my mind, but now I can happily say I’ve seen the light! With my first batch of preserves and subsequent canning completed, I’m eager to tackle all sorts of luscious jams and jellies while the bountiful summer produce is at its peak. Without a push from Margot of Effort to Deliciousness, I may never have attempted the Strawberry-Ruby Grapefruit Preserves in The Sweet Melissa Baking Book. Thankfully, her daring SMS selection left me with four jars in my pantry, just calling out to be utilized creatively- and first up, a new recipe for jam thumbprints!

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I must admit, I was hesitant at first to undertake this project, but help from a friend gave me a sense of direction and ultimately put my mind at ease. Steph, of the always fabulous blog, A Whisk and A Spoon, was kind enough to point out an article in this month’s Cuisine At Home Magazine, that is chock-full of valuable at-home jam making and canning information. Armed with a number of essential tips plus the tools and glass mason jars I picked up at Walmart, I set up my pots, supplies, and ingredients with confidence and anticipation. By slicing, juicing, stirring, and boiling, the simple list of ingredients- strawberries, apples, grapefruit juice and zest, and sugar- transformed into a deep, dark, thick, gooey mixture that permeated my kitchen with a bright and tangy aroma. After filling the prepared jars, I “processed” them (or placed them in a water-bath at a rolling boil) in my biggest stockpot lined with a make-shift rack of an open metal steamer basket. I had to wait overnight to see if my efforts paid off, and thankfully, my jars passed the lid-popping test signifying that my first canning adventure was a success.

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With a bit of extra jam left over in the fridge, I decided this was the perfect opportunity to test-drive a cookie recipe I’ve had my eye on. In a few months, I’ll be baking for my cousin Chrissy’s wedding shower, and jam thumbprints were requested to accompany afternoon tea. After some searching, I discovered many positive reviews of Ina Garten’s recipe, so I was excited to see if it was truly a winner. Fortunately, my search ends here- delicate, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth shortbread coated in lightly toasted coconut, and balanced by a bejeweled center of fruity topping- the ultimate thumbprint. If you’re a thumbprint fan, and hey, who’s not?, most definitely give this variation a try. I give it two big thumbprints up! I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist. And bonus- it’s the perfect vehicle to show off your mouth-watering homemade preserves. That is, if you have any left over after you devour the most sophisticated PB&J ever made!

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Thank you, Margot, for going out on a limb, and turning us bakers into jam-makers! Head on over to Effort for Deliciousness, where you’ll find the delectable preserves recipe, and check out what everyone else did with their jam by exploring the SMS blogroll.

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SMS: Double Chocolate Cherry Cookies

Double Chocolate Cherry Cookies

It just so happens that three of the most special women in my life are full-blown, die-hard, absolute chocoholics. When asked about their favorite sweet treat (something I routinely make a mental note of for friends and family), each would most certainly respond “anything chocolate.” To celebrate her granddaughter’s 1st birthday, I surprised my “work mom” Linda with double chocolate cupcakes. I checked with her in advance, wondering what little Maddie might like for her first introduction to sugar, and Linda responded with resounding assurance- that little baby didn’t stand a chance of ever tasting vanilla! Whenever my cousin, dear friend, and baking buddy, Erica, is in town from Philadelphia, I am determined to fill her belly with a goodie that showcases her favorite ingredient- so far the top recipe has been the chocolate swirl sticks, yeasted sweet dough breadsticks twisted with a cocoa-powder, cinnamon, and chocolate chip filling. Let’s just say she and her adorable boyfriend, AJ, fought over the left-overs all the way home. And a care package to my sweetheart gal pal, Elise, would not be complete without something doused in chocolate- most recently chocolate covered espresso beans. Needless to say, I am always on the hunt for dependable, delicious, chock-full-of-chocolate recipes to turn to when I’m tasked with whipping up something tasty for one of these lovely ladies.

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This week’s SMS selection, Double Chocolate Cherry Cookies, definitely makes the grade, and will fit nicely in my super chocolatey baking repertoire. Delicately balanced by dried cherries, these chocolate cookies have a little something different that sets them apart. I was pleased that the depth of their flavor is matched by their concentrated dark brown color, alerting potential tasters that an intense eating experience awaits. While preparing the cookie’s mix-ins, I decided to chop the dried cherries, so they would be more evenly distributed throughout the dough. As with all dried fruits in my baking, I soaked the cherries in boiling water spiked with some vanilla extract to plump each juicy morsel, and ensure adequate moisture after a trip through the oven. Following the advice of some of the other SMS bakers, I watched the cookies carefully, and pulled them out about 1 minute early, which ensured a soft and chewy texture. Although I’m more accustomed to the scoop-and-drop method of cookie baking, The Sweet Melissa Baking Book is making me a slice-and-bake convert. So far, both of the cookies I’ve made using this method have emerged with superlative taste, consistency, and appearance. The chill period might require a bit more time, planning, and patience, but I must say, the results are worth it!

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And believe it or not, these cookies are not only scrumptious, they are healthy for you too! Cherries contain anthocyanins, the red pigment in berries and potent antioxidants that have been shown to reduce pain and inflammation, leading to multiple potential health benefits. Of course, chocolate is also known to contain antioxidants, especially in the cocoa solids or cocoa powder. So go ahead, eat a cookie- I guarantee it will make you feel better inside and out!

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Thank you to Megan of My Baking Adventures for this remarkable SMS pick. Head on over to her site for the recipe, and remember to check out all the other cookies made by the fabulous SMS bakers.

SMS: Butterscotch Cashew Bars

Butterscotch Cashew Bars

Self-described butterscotch hater, my mom was never meant to like this recipe. But one bite into the tender, crumbly shortbread base, topped with lightly toasted cashews, married by a layer of ooey-gooey butterscotch caramel, and she grew weak in the knees. If these Butterscotch Cashew Bars could convert her, then there’s surely hope that you’ll enjoy they’re sticky sweet nutty goodness too! And as long as you have a bag of butterscotch chips nearby, chances are you have all the other simple ingredients you need to make a batch in your pantry.

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Primarily made of brown sugar and butter, the confectionary butterscotch can also contain additional ingredients including corn syrup, cream, vanilla, and salt. While similar to toffee, the main difference is in the preparation- the sugar is boiled to the soft crack stage for butterscotch but the hard crack stage for toffee. Now widely available in most supermarkets, butterscotch chips contain hydrogenated (solid) fats, which allow them to be used in baking like chocolate chips. Instead of having to break out a candy thermometer and whip up a homemade version of butterscotch from scratch, these Butterscotch Cashew Bars utilize the pre-made chips to simplify the process. The chips are melted down along with light corn syrup and water to create the butterscotch caramel layer, and though it takes a bit of patience and some stirring, it couldn’t be easier to create the bars’ confectionary glue.

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A wonderful foil to the chewy and sweet butterscotch center, the cashews are a perfect match for these bars and add a delightful salty crunch. Though considered a nut in the culinary sense, the cashew is not really a nut at all, rather a seed found within the fruit of the cashew tree. A nice change of pace from the more often used pecan, walnut, or peanut, the cashew is a welcome addition to my baking ingredient arsenal, and I hope to utilize it again in many future recipes.

Providing a sturdy base for these scrumptious bars, the brown sugar shortbread cookie bottom contributes a subtle, final textural component and the signature melt in your mouth quality of great shortbread. It couldn’t be simpler to pull together, and once pressed in the pan, spends some time in the oven while the other parts of the bars are prepared. With little prep work and measuring required, this recipe provided a fun stress-free activity for my Saturday morning, and after cooled, set, and cut, they were happily devoured by my tasters as a luscious afternoon snack!

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Thank you to Pamela of “Cookies with Boys” for this week’s Sweet Melissa Sundays selection- I recommend you head over to her site to get the recipe and give these bars are try! Also, don’t forget to check out the SMS blogroll to view all the other baker’s fabulous sweets.

And one quick tip that I found helpful: After cutting these bars and seeing how sticky they were, I decided to cut out little squares of wax paper to wrap around each one and separate them prior to stacking in my container. Worked like a charm, and I avoided a gluey mess of stuck together cookies!

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SMS: Nuts about Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate Chip Cookies with Toasted Almonds

Since the beginning of my baking career, I’ve searched tirelessly for the elusive “ultimate” chocolate chip cookie recipe. Over the years, I’ve tried lots of variations, and though I’ve come close, it feels like there’s always something missing which precludes the bestowal of that superlative designation. While I yearn to uncover my ideal go-to recipe, there is certainly enjoyment in the hunt. Each new tester offers the promise of perfection, and there’s a delectable moment of anticipation when a fresh batch emerges from the oven, glowing, gooey, and golden.

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Developed in 1934 by Ruth Wakefield, owner of the Tollhouse Inn in Whitman, MA, the chocolate chip cookie was born accidentally after Wakefield made a fateful substitution while baking her favorite Butter Drop Do cookies. Finding herself without baker’s chocolate, she stirred in a chopped up Nestle semi-sweet chocolate bar, but instead of melting into the batter as anticipated, the bits merely softened. After gaining popularity, the “Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookie” led to an increase in Nestle’s sales, and the company bought Wakefield’s recipe in exchange for a lifetime supply of chocolate. The chocolate chip cookie craze spread during WWII, when GI’s from Massachusetts received care packages filled with the goodies, shared with their fellow troops, and sent requests for more back home. Today, nearly seven billion chocolate chip cookies are eaten annually and half of the cookies baked in American homes are chocolate chip. As the official state cookie of Massachusetts, my stomping ground, the chocolate chip cookie will forever hold a special place in my heart.

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Fortunately, this week’s Sweet Melissa Sunday’s selection presented another opportunity to test a potential favorite cookie. After mixing up the batter, shaping into logs, and allowing an overnight rest in the refrigerator, I pulled out the dough for Chocolate Chip Cookies with Toasted Almonds this morning, and prepared to assess Melissa Murphy’s tried-and-true recipe. I made one slight alteration, adding a splash of almond extract along with the vanilla, to accent the nutty flavor of the star mix-in. A departure from more common walnuts or pecans, the whole natural almonds offered a surprising crunch and chunky texture to the cookies, and elevated their level of sophistication. The slice-and-bake format of the recipe was a welcome change from the scoop-and-drop method, and I had a tray of equal dough rounds ready for the oven in no time. After 13 minutes, the cookies had spread evenly to a desirable thickness, with thin crispy edges transitioning to plump chewy centers. Ultimately, I was very pleased with their overall eye-appeal, and the delightful scent that permeated my kitchen. Most importantly, the cookies received two thumbs up and the lingering “mmm…” moan of deliciousness from both my tasters. The distinctive nuts charmed my dad, while my mom noted their delicate sweetness and pleasing texture. While I can’t say that I baked the very best version of the chocolate chip cookie, I will certainly be marking this recipe as a fun variation to come back to time and again.

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Can you believe Melissa Murphy herself chose this week’s recipe? Head over to the SMS site to read all about it, and don’t forget to check out the SMS blogroll to see the other baker’s cookies!