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- Des, The Grommet
I opened the bottle of your vanilla extract last weekend to bake some cookies and the difference in taste is extraordinary." – Judy

Cookies

White Chocolate Macadamia Cookies

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This is a spinoff of the World’s Best Cookies, but worthy of its own recipe. It’s a reliably good cookie, keeps well because of the relatively high-fat level (though they don’t usually last long enough for that to be a problem), and you can switch out white chocolate for milk or dark chocolate, as well as the nuts. Part of the appeal of these cookies is the slight crunch from the cornflakes and slightly chewy thanks to the oats.

Russian Tea Cakes

Whenever I think about holiday baking, Russian Tea Cakes (aka Mexican Wedding Cookies) are at the forefront of my mind. What’s not to love about the buttery, crumbly deliciousness of these cookies. with their fragrant toasted nuts and powdered sugar spilling everywhere? Okay, the powdered sugar part can be annoying. What I do love about these cookies is that they’re pretty much popular worldwide with essentially the same ingredients though some come with a few special touches.

I recently found a unique version of these cookies in Sunset Magazine. Created by Yigit Pura of “Tout Sweet Patisserie,” they are noted for their extreme crispness and toasty-brown butter flavor. I also like that they’re made with vanilla bean paste. The recipe calls for 1 tablespoon cognac or brandy. Prefer a different alcohol or want to substitute a liqueur? Why not? And, if you don’t want alcohol, you can substitute milk.

Yigit suggests creating cookies 1-1/2 tablespoons each. I personally prefer these cookies smaller because the powdered sugar can be overwhelming with big cookies. Just like the alcohol used, you get to decide on the size you’d like to make the cookies. Just remember to adjust the bake time accordingly.

Although the photo of these cookies was taken with a holiday theme, whether we call them Russian Tea Cakes, Mexican Wedding Cakes, or by any of their many other names, they are always a welcome cookie, no matter the time of year.

Russian Tea Cakes
A fresh spin on an iconic favorite
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Ingredients
  1. 1 cup (140 g) hazelnuts (can substitute different nuts)
  2. 1 cup plus 6 tablespoons (310 g) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch chunks, at cool room temperature
  3. 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  4. 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  5. Scant 1 tablespoon (10 g) vanilla bean paste
  6. 1 tablespoon cognac or brandy
  7. 3 cups plus 2 tablespoons (435 g) flour
  8. About 1-1/2 cups powdered sugar for rolling
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Toast hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet until light golden brown and skins start to split, 8 to 10 minutes. Rub warm nuts in a kitchen towel to remove most of the skins (it's okay if some stick). Let cool and chop coarsely.
  2. Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment (or a handheld mixer with beaters; cookies will be slightly crumblier), beat butter, granulated sugar and salt on medium speed until evenly mixed and fluffy, 4 to 5 minutes.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together vanilla bean paste and cognac. Scrape into butter mixture and mix to incorporate.
  4. On low speed, gradually mix in flour, scraping bowl as needed. Add hazelnuts and mix 30 seconds more.
  5. Immediately scoop cookies into 1-1/2 tablespoon (25g) portions and roll into balls. Chill, covered, at least 4 hours and up to 2 days.
  6. Preheat oven to 325 degrees with racks in upper and lower thirds. Stack a baking sheet on a second sheet (to help cookies get evenly golden brown). Repeat with 2 more baking sheets. Line top sheet in each stack with parchment paper and set chilled cookie portions on parchment about 1 inch apart.
  7. Bake cookies 20 minutes. Switch positions of pans and rotate each 180 degrees; then bake until medium golden brown, almost like biscotti, 25 - 30 minutes more. Slide parchment with cookies onto cooling racks and let cool completely.
  8. Put powdered sugar in a large, wide bowl, then roll cookies in powdered sugar. Repeat, lightly pressing sugar onto cookies to form a thick, fluffy coat.
Notes
  1. Pura recommends weighing ingredients on a kitchen scale as it's more precise.
  2. Make ahead through step 5 up to 2 days, chilled airtight, or 2 months, frozen (thaw overnight in fridge before proceeding). Baked cookies, 2 to 3 days, airtight at room temperature, or up to 2 months frozen.
Adapted from Yigit Pura -- Tout Sweet Patisserie
Adapted from Yigit Pura -- Tout Sweet Patisserie
https://vanillaqueen.com/
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Persimmon Cookies with Lemon-Vanilla Glaze

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Whenever I’ve been fortunate enough to score persimmons, I’ve always made Persimmon Puddings (the word for dessert in the UK but, in the US, it’s actually cake). My mother always made it for Thanksgiving and served it with a lemon sauce instead of a hard sauce. I discovered it was worth “gilding the lily” by serving whipped cream on the side.

Simply Fabulous Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Oatmeal Choc Chip

Like most of us who were raised on chocolate chip cookies, I’m crazy about them. However, I find a lot of ccc’s boring because they’re a little too bland and sugary. Kind of the “white bread” version. That’s why I like them with toasted oats and nuts.  But what makes these cookies most interesting is the chocolate. Chocolate chips are fine, but most of the brands contain paraffin so they don’t melt easily and become gooey. If you can find them, I like Guittard’s pistoles, which are chocolate discs that have a lower melting point and are quite tasty. I chop them coarsely. They come in an extreme milk chocolate at 38% or bittersweet at 66%.

Vanilla-Scented Madeleines

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Madeleines are the quintessential French tea cake, with a mouth-pleasing crisp exterior, and a dense cake-like interior. If you enjoy serving beautiful desserts, it’s worth investing in Madeleine molds, as the molds give them their distinctive hump in the middle and pleasing texture. When you’ve dusted them with powdered sugar, they’re gorgeous and sophisticated.

Here are a couple of “Madeleine secrets.” 

The World’s Best Blondies

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Move over brownies. The World’s Best Blondies are gaining popularity one bite at a time! A meringue-like top, chewy bottom and really delicious!

You can use chocolate in blondies if chocolate isn’t an issue.  I like chopping chocolate from a large bar and include all the little pieces as they melt into the dough, though chips work fine as well. You can substitute butterscotch chips, peanut butter chips, even chopped Heath bars. Or, keep it simple and just use chopped nuts.  If you are adding chips, however, you may or may not want a whole cup of toasted nuts — it’s your call.

Gluten Free Chocolate Peppermint Crisps

Chocolate peppermint crisps

This time of year it’s impossible to miss all the cute Girl Scouts selling their cookies on every corner, and no cookie sells better than the traditional Thin Mints. While the Girl Scouts are starting to offer gluten free options, not all of the girls carry them and they’re not yet available in every variety of cookie. We think these Gluten Free Chocolate Peppermint Crisps, are a good runner up to this American classic, and when you make them at home you can enjoy them year ’round!

Grismelli – Vanilla Scented Cornmeal Cookies

Grismelli-Cookies

Years ago Earl Darny was the pastry chef at Bay Wolf Restaurant in Oakland, one of my favorites in an area filled with amazing restaurants. Earl gave me this recipe saying, “This is one of my favorite cookies.” He later went on to open his own bakery.

I finally made them for the first time this afternoon; they’re fairly addictive.

Chocolate Peppermint Meringues

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 A great way to use up leftover egg whites, especially during the holiday season. If you have leftover candy canes or peppermint candies, use them. However, if you are making these cookies during the Christmas season, look for the miniature candy canes. They have the most pink surface area. The color contrasts well with the white of the meringues.

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For an update on the 2016 vanilla shortage, please see "Why is Vanilla so Expensive?"

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