Nowhere is the phrase “necessity is the mother of invention” truer than in recipe development. And, for me, at no time is it truer than during Lent. These Espresso Sugar Cookies were born out of a little bit of culinary and spiritual necessity.
Let me explain.
In the 40 days of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving that we Catholics observe this time of year, it’s customary to make sacrifices that unite us with the sufferings of Jesus in some small way. It may sound lame or insignificant, but this year one of my sacrifices is giving up chocolate.
But mannnnn I want chocolate so. bad. every. day. I’ve had a few Reese’s pieces, which technically don’t contain any chocolate, but my husband claims that’s cheating. And hey, maybe having any sweets might be considered cheating, but for me, relinquishing chocolate for six weeks is sacrifice enough. I’m okay continuing to eat other, non-chocolatey dessert foods here and there.
That said, it’s kinda tough to find desserts I actually like that aren’t chocolate. In my efforts to scare up something a little bit like chocolate, but not chocolate, in the last nine days since Ash Wednesday, I thought I might turn to the flavor of coffee. After all, chocolate and coffee often pair together, and according to The Flavor Bible, they’re complementary tastes.
Plus, I happened to have some espresso powder hanging around from when I recently made this totally indulgent, craaaaazzy layer cake for a friend’s husband’s birthday. Why not give espresso powder a spin in non-chocolatey cookies?
Trouble is, almost every baked goods recipe on the internet that uses coffee also calls for chocolate. I mean, mocha is KING in cookies, pies, cakes, cheesecakes, and more. So it was up to me to create my own espresso sugar cookies! I’m so glad I did!
These cookies are chewy and light, with just a hint of crispiness around the edges. They taste like coffee, of course, but not in an overpowering way. They’re the perfect accompaniment to an afternoon or after-dinner cup of joe. Leaving chocolate out of the equation actually allows the espresso flavor to shine through all on its own.
So, believe it or not, I kinda love that these cookies don’t include any chocolate! Who’da thunk?
Espresso Sugar Cookies
- 1/2 c. butter, softened
- 1 1/4 c. white sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 2 c. all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 tsp. espresso powder
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 3-4 Tbsp. milk
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease two cookie sheets.
- In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Add vanilla and egg and mix.
- Mix in flour, espresso powder, baking powder, and salt. Slowly add milk, t tablespoon at a time, and mix until the batter holds together but isn't visibly wet.
- Drop cookies by the tablespoonful onto the greased cookie sheets. Bake 12-14 minutes or until set. Store in an airtight container.
Even if you’re not gluten-free, you’ll love the rich, chocolatey flavor of this Flourless Chocolate Hazelnut Torte. Serve with fresh whipped cream!
Ready for Christmas yet? I’ll admit, even though it’s only three days away, I’m not exactly prepped for the big day. I still have a couple of gifts to buy and wrap and I’m still not 100% sure of my Christmas dinner menu. What can I say, it’s been a crazy year, right? (If there’s one upside to the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s the fact that we can all point to it as an excuse for just about anything…including not being ready for Christmas. At least that’s the story I’m sticking to.)
Even in the midst of this surreal year, I’m fortunate that my family’s Christmas won’t look too much different from our norm. We’ll celebrate Mass the afternoon of Christmas Eve, where I’ll be singing soprano in the choir (in the parking lot because #socialdistancing). Then we’ll go out to dinner at our favorite seafood restaurant, come home, and snuggle by a fire watching A Muppet Christmas Carol. Singing Muppets never get old.
However you’re celebrating the holidays this year, it’s entirely possible you’ll be eating with folks with food restrictions. (Or perhaps you have some yourself.) Among my own family and friends, I can count dozens of people who don’t eat one thing or another–and the most common no-no seems to be gluten. Fortunately, for those living the GF life, there are plenty of tasty ways to get around gluten, even when it comes to my favorite course of the holiday meal: dessert.
I made this gluten-free flourless chocolate hazelnut cake back at Thanksgiving for my GF sister-in-law–and, who am I kidding, for myself because it’s DELISH. It was definitely a hit among all the eaters gathered at my husband’s family’s holiday dinner. With 12 ounces of bittersweet chocolate, it’s super dense and rich, meaning a little bit goes a long way. I also love that it’s flavored with liqueur (chocolate liqueur or hazelnut, like Frangelico, does the job). Fresh whipped cream on the side is optional, but I’d say more or less necessary, as its fluffiness helps cut the cake’s rich texture.
Regardless of your food allergy or sensitivity status, this dessert is sure to please. Hazelnuts are, in my opinion, a totally underrated nut with plenty of fiber, magnesium, and vitamin B-6, plus a little iron. (And, yeah, ok, quite a bit of fat…but at least it’s mostly the healthy monounsaturated kind!) Besides, they’re always an excellent flavor match with chocolate. Check out their full nutrition facts here.
Wishing you a very merry Christmas filled with delicious food! Tell me if you make this Flourless Chocolate Hazelnut Cake as a last-minute dessert!
Flourless Chocolate Hazelnut Cake
- 12 oz. 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate, chopped or chocolate chips
- 3/4 c. butter, cut into chunks
- 6 large eggs
- 1 c. packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 c. hazelnut or chocolate liqueur
- 1 c. hazelnuts, ground in the food processor
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- Optional: Fresh whipped cream, for topping
- Preheat to 350°F. Spray a 9-inch-diameter springform pan with cooking spray, then line bottom with a parchment paper round. Wrap the outside of pan tightly with 2 layers of heavy-duty foil.
- Combine chocolate and butter in a medium metal bowl or double boiler. Bring a small saucepan of water to a simmer and place the bowl on top. Whisk until the mixture is melted. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, brown sugar, chocolate or hazelnut liqueur. Whisk in the chocolate mixture until smooth, then stir in ground hazelnuts and salt.
- Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan. Fill a roasting pan halfway with boiling water and carefully place the pan in the center (so that water reaches about halfway up the sides of the springform pan). Tent the top of the springform pan loosely with foil and bake about 90 minutes. The top will still look shiny but should be dry to the touch.
- Remove the springform pan from the roasting pan and cool. Refrigerate about 3 hours before serving, then enjoy with fresh whipped cream!
Cashew butter puts a unique spin on the expected in these chewy Cashew Butter Oatmeal Cookies.
Not too long ago, I received an assignment from one of the publications I write for about the nutrition of cashew butter. Having limited experience with this particular nut butter, I was basically starting at square one. I’m your typical American when it comes to nut butters–as in, peanut butter is my gold standard. When our family lived in Germany a few years ago, the lack of this grocery staple in stores led to much weeping and gnashing of teeth (until my mom arrived from the States bearing some precious PB).
Doing a bit of research for my article led to some interesting revelations about cashew butter. Even though it has a teeny bit more calories than peanut butter, its fats are 80% unsaturated (aka the healthy kind). Plus–how weird is this?–certain antioxidant compounds in cashews have been associated with improved vision and eye health. You can read my full article with all cashew butter’s health benefits here.
Coincidentally, I happened to receive a few samples of cashew butter shortly after writing my article. One of which was this intriguing salted caramel variety.
Up until now, I’ve been noshing it slathered on graham crackers and as a dip for green apples. (Not sure if it’s giving me superhuman vision yet, but it sure is tasty.) With its creamy texture and comparable flavor to peanut butter, I figured I could put it to work in some of the other vehicles I’d normally use PB for…like cookies!
These Cashew Butter Oatmeal Cookies are a twist on the usual peanut butter oatmeal cookies. They’ve got the craveable crispy-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside you know and love in the best peanut butter oatmeal cookies, with a slightly different taste. I especially enjoyed the hint of salted caramel in the variety I used, but you can easily use any kind of cashew butter here.
I guess I’ve come full circle on my cashew butter journey. Now that I know a bit more about it and have used it in several ways, I’m all aboard on the nut train. And I’m pretty sure if you try these cookies, you will be, too.
Cashew Butter Oatmeal Cookies
- 1/2 c. butter, softened
- 1/2 c. cashew butter
- 1/3 c. brown sugar
- 1/2 c. white sugar
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 egg
- 1 1/2 c. old fashioned oats
- 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- generous 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a large baking sheet with cooking spray.
- In a large bowl, combine butter, cashew butter, brown sugar, white sugar, vanilla, and egg. Blend with a hand mixer until well mixed, 1-2 minutes.
- Add oats, flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Mix by hand until combined.
- Form into balls and drop onto greased baking sheet. Bake about 12 minutes until tops of cookies are set. Cool 10 minutes and store in an airtight container.
Yellow grapefruit bars are lemon bars’ mellow yellow cousin! Try this refreshing baked dessert with fresh-squeezed juice!
My husband calls these yellow grapefruit bars a “sleeper dessert.” You know the kind: the food you don’t think you’re gonna like that much or doesn’t seem that tasty at first…and then it grows on you. And I have to say, I think he’s right.
When I first whipped them up as a last-minute Easter dessert, I wasn’t sure what to expect of them, either. They were mainly an excuse to use up some of the many yellow grapefruits I’d been gifted from my mom’s over-producing citrus tree. Besides, with the coronavirus situation, I really don’t want to go to the store any more than I have to right now…so using up ingredients I have on hand sounded like a solid plan.
I’d made Ina Garten’s lemon bar recipe recently, with delicious results, and was thrilled to have finally found one that didn’t end up runny on top, squishy on bottom. (If you’ve ever made an unsuccessful attempt at lemon bars, you know what a miracle it is to find a great recipe.) Could this tried-and-true recipe hold steady with a substitution of grapefruit juice–and a few other tweaks?
Why, yes, it could–and it did!
These grapefruit bars turned out yummy at first, but as their flavor deepened over 24 hours or so, they got even tastier. (Hence their “sleeper dessert” status.) Their flavor isn’t as tart as lemon, but if you’re not a fan of pucker-up acidity, that may be just fine for you. The shortbread crust holds together beautifully with the help of a splash of milk, since I always find shortbread needs a bit of extra moisture to keep from crumbling. And their fruity, gooey filling? Perfectly smooth AND doesn’t stick to the knife when you’re trying to haul them out of the pan.
If you need a springy sweet fix (and who couldn’t use a little something sweet in these tough times?) a pan of these will do the trick.
(P.S. Did you know there are at least five different types of grapefruit?) I can’t say if this recipe would work with any of the other interesting varieties, but it’s certainly worth a try!)
For the crust:
- 1 c. butter
- 1/2 c. sugar
- 2 c. all-purpose flour
- 1/8 tsp. salt
- 1/2 Tbsp. milk or half and half
For the filling:
- 6 large or extra-large eggs
- 2 3/4 c. sugar
- 2 Tbsp. grated yellow grapefruit zest
- 1 c. fresh yellow grapefruit juice
- 1 c. all-purpose flour
- powdered sugar, for topping
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9 x 13 inch baking dish.
Make the crust:
- In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add flour and salt and mix. Add milk and stir until dough holds together. Press into the bottom of prepared pan evenly. Bake 25-28 minutes or until lightly browned.
Make the filling:
- Wipe out the bowl you used to make the crust. Whisk together the eggs, sugar, grapefruit zest, grapefruit juice, and flour. When the crust is done, pour this mixture over it and return to the oven for another 30 to 35 minutes.
- Cool and dust with powdered sugar. Cut into squares.
It may only be October, but it’s definitely NOT too early to start thinking about Christmas cookies. In fact, in my house, it’s apparently not too early to think about anything Christmas-related, especially presents. All of my kids have already made their Christmas lists, all of which basically read like Target ads. My middle son actually wrote “all items sold at Target” in large font at the top of his list. Got it, thanks, buddy.
As for me, though I thoroughly enjoy all things fall, I’m also excited about Christmastime. One of my favorite things to look forward to is our annual white elephant Christmas party, celebrating its 15th year this year! I love putting together a vibrant, eclectic menu to serve our guests, and I’d like to think it’s partly the food (and not just the terrible sci-fi DVDs, clown paintings, and poo-scented candles) that keeps people coming back year after year.
Probably my favorite portion of the menu to plan is the dessert spread–for which I believe these Apricot-Rosemary Thumbprint Cookies are a strong contender. I usually like to plan a mix of bars, candies, cookies, possibly a pie or trifle, and at least one show-stopping cheesecake for the event. Past favorite cookies have included mint chocolate candy cane cookies and pumpkin chocolate chip. But the unique hint of savoriness is where I think these apricot-rosemary thumbprints really shine, either on their own or as part of my larger holiday cookie combo.
These don’t take many ingredients, but fresh rosemary is essential. (I’m fortunate enough to have some in my garden, but if you don’t, you can always freeze it if you end up with too much from another recipe!) Also, as you’re making these, you may think, “Holy saturated fat, that’s a lot of butter for such a small batch.” And you’re right. But these come out sooooo perfectly rich and fluffy, I’d say they’re worth the hefty dose of butter. Combine that richness with the earthiness of the rosemary and the fruity sweetness of the apricot jam and you’ve got a Christmas cookie that will disappear fast.
Got a party coming up this holiday season? I’d love to hear if you try these thumbprints!
Apricot-Rosemary Thumbprint Cookies
- 1 c. all-purpose flour
- 1/2 c. cornstarch
- 2 tsp. snipped fresh rosemary
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 3/4 c. butter, softened
- 1/3 c. powdered sugar
- 1/8 tsp. almond extract
- 1/3 c. apricot jam
- extra powdered sugar for dusting
- In a small bowl stir together flour, cornstarch, rosemary, and salt. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, beat butter with a hand mixer for 30 seconds or until fluffy. Add the powdered sugar and almond extract and beat again.
- Beat in as much of the flower mixture into the butter mixture as you can with the mixer. Work the rest in with a wooden spoon.
- Collect the dough into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate one hour.
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove dough from fridge and form into about 16 balls, placing them 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Press a divot into each cookie with your thumb or a spoon and fill in with a little apricot jam.
- Bake about 14 minutes. Cool, then sprinkle with additional powdered sugar.