M&M Blondies

Sometimes I do things like bake basil into cupcakes. Other times…I just want something simple.

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Such delightful color!

These bars are certainly simple, but they’re also incredibly good. Brown sugar makes for an excellent blondie base, and Mini M&Ms add a bit of chocolate to every bite. The M&Ms also add a nice burst of color—which is never a bad thing.

This is an easy recipe that comes together quickly, but you’ll want to allow for a couple of hours of chill time. That helps the bars firm up and locks in the flavor so you get the best blondie possible. I won’t tell anyone if you sneak some extra M&Ms while you wait for the bars to cool…

M&M Blondies

Original recipe: Inside BruCrew Life. I’ve rewritten things a bit and added commentary. 

Yield: 30 bars

Suggested equipment: Mixer

Total Time: 3 hours (includes a couple of hours for the bars to fully cool and firm up)

Cook Time: ~22 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 cups Mini M&Ms

Instructions 

  1. Preheat your oven to 350F
  2. Beat the butter and brown sugar together until they’re creamy
  3. Add the eggs and vanilla, then beat the mixture again
  4. Measure out a cup of the M&Ms, and mix them into the batter by hand
  5. Spray a 9×13 baking dish with nonstick spray
  6. Pour your batter into the dish
  7. Sprinkle your remaining M&Ms over the top of the batter
  8. Bake 22-24 minutes. They’ll look a little under-done when you pull them out, but will firm up as they cool
  9. Let the bars cool for a couple hours, then cut them into squares. Bars keep well in a covered container.
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Strawberry Basil Cupcakes with Basil Buttercream

A couple of months ago, we had a cooking challenge at work. There was only one rule: you had to use basil. People tried all kinds of recipes, from pesto to pizza. But the minute I heard the challenge, I knew I had to bake with basil, rather than cooking with it.

IMG_4381I’d baked with basil before, and loved these lemon basil chocolate chip cookies from a bit ago. So, I had good faith in basil as a baking ingredient. Now I just needed the perfect recipe. Given that 1) I work at Pinterest and 2) I’m obsessed with Pinterest, it felt pretty appropriate to turn to Pinterest for ideas. I stumbled on this recipe for basil cupcakes, and knew I’d found my winner.

And this recipe was a winner in every sense of the word. The cupcakes turned out great….and I won the cooking challenge, too! I ended up submitting two entries, and will share the other recipe another time (hint: it involves tangerine).

For now, let’s talk about these cupcakes. When you bake with herbs, you have a few options. You can throw the herb directly into batter, infuse it into an ingredient, or mix it into an ingredient. This recipe takes the latter route, and you mix bits of basil into regular sugar for the cake, then powdered sugar for the frosting.

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Basil sugar

I loved the cupcakes the minute I tasted them: strawberry’s sweetness balances nicely with basil’s earthiness. And since the basil is mixed into the sugar, you don’t get distinct bites of basil as you chomp on the cake. At first, I wasn’t so sure about the frosting, though. I tried a bit of it on its own and couldn’t decide if it was distinctly delicious, or too salty, or too basil-y. I figured the only way to know for sure was to slather it on some cupcakes, and pass them out to taste testers.

Readers, let me tell you: do not doubt the basil buttercream. It was the perfect complement to the strawberry cupcakes, and worked really well once you took a bite of cake and frosting together. It’s super hard to explain what it tastes like, but every bite of cupcake gives you a really nice range of flavors. You get a bit of saltiness, then herb-ish flavors, and then the sweetness of the strawberry cake.

You’ll need to try this recipe to see what I mean! It’s probably not a cake flavor you’ve ever dreamt of before…but trust me, you should give it a shot.

 

Strawberry Basil Cupcakes with Basil Buttercream

Original recipe: Cupcake Project. I’ve rewritten things a bit and added commentary. 

Yield: 24 cupcakes

Suggested equipment: Food processor, mixer

Total Time: ~1 hour, 15 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 1 cup basil sugar (Make this first; you’ll need 1 cup sugar and 1 handful fresh basil leaves)
  • 1 3/4 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup greek yogurt (plain)
  • 1/4 cup canola oil or vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup fresh strawberry puree (I used 7 strawberries)

For the frosting 

  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups basil powdered sugar (you’ll need 2 cups sugar, and 2 handfuls of basil)
  • 2 cups regular powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

Make your cupcakes

  1. Preheat your oven to 350F
  2. Make your basil sugar, following the link above in the ingredient list
  3. Use a medium mixing bowl, and mix your basil sugar, cake flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt
  4. Add butter, then mix until it’s fully combined
  5. In a small mixing bowl, whisk your eggs, yogurt, oil and vanilla until the mixture is smooth
  6. Add your egg mixture to the flour mixture. Mix until it’s all just combined
  7. Fold in your strawberry puree, and mix until just combined
  8. Add in your milk, and mix until it’s just combined
  9. Line a cupcake pan with liners, and fill ’em up about 3/4 of the way
  10. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until the cupcakes bounce back a little when you touch the tops. Mine took 19 minutes on the dot
  11. Let cupcakes cool completely before you frost them

Make your frosting 

  1. First, whip up your basil powdered sugar using the link in the recipe list above
  2. In a mixing bowl or mixer, beat your butter until it’s light and fluffy. It should take just a few minutes if you use a mixer on high speed
  3. Add your basil powdered sugar in increments, mixing in between each addition
  4. Mix in your regular powdered sugar in increments, mixing in between each addition
  5. Add in your salt, and mix thoroughly to make sure it’s evenly distributed
  6. Frost your cupcakes!
  7. Wow people with this totally unexpected-but-amazing flavor combo 🙂

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip S’Mores Bars

As I assembled this six-layer dessert, I literally said “this is ridiculous” out loud.

And it’s true—these bars are utterly ridiculous. Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip S’Mores Bars are a fun, indulgent riff on s’mores. Think chocolate chip cookie bars, but with layers of goodness inside. You’ve got peanut butter,  chocolate, graham cracker and marshmallow fluff in there. That all adds up to six insanely delicious layers.

IMG_4709I found this recipe during one of my s’mores-inspired recipe hunts. I’m a little obsessed with s’moresinspired treats, and constantly add more recipes to my collection.

The original recipe calls for store-bought dough, and you could certainly do that—there’s so much happening in these bars, you probably wouldn’t even notice the difference between store-bought and homemade dough. Still, I decided to make mine from scratch, and used the dough from my Gooey Chocolate Chip Fudge Bars. It worked out great: the dough was sturdy enough to keep the bars together, and the original recipe’s yield scaled perfectly to what the s’more bar recipe required. Whether you buy dough or make it, pay attention to measurements: you’ll need two 9×9 layers of dough to make this recipe work!

I was so excited to try these, and anxiously waited for the bars to cool so I could cut them up. My patience was definitely rewarded. Every bite of these bars is a trip down Delicious Lane. You get a bite of cookie, then a nice hit of chocolate, a spot of peanut butter, a spot of fluff…and more cookie. The graham cracker crumbs add a bit of texture, and help break up the fluff a bit.

My coworkers agreed that these bars were ridiculous, but in a totally amazing, have-to-eat-more way. We kept sneaking more bars from the kitchen all afternoon!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip S’Mores Bars

Original recipe: Cookie dough comes from Back from Seconds; Six Layer S’Mores recipe from Cookies and Cups. I’ve rewritten things a bit and added commentary. 

Yield: 25 bars

Suggested equipment: Mixer

Total Time: ~3 hours, including chill time

Cook Time: ~25 minutes

Ingredients

For the cookie dough

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 1/3 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

For assembly  

  • 4 standard Hershey chocolate bars (I used dark chocolate)
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 5 graham crackers, crushed into crumbs
  • 7 oz of marshmallow fluff (about 1 1/2 cups)

Directions

Make your dough

  1. Use your mixer to cream together the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar until it’s light and creamy
  2. Add eggs, vanilla and salt, then mix well
  3. Add baking soda and flour. Mix until combined
  4. Stir in your chocolate chips

Assemble and bake

  1. Line and spray a 9×9 pan
  2. Take 1 1/4 of your cookie dough, and press it into the bottom of the prepared pan. Try to make the layer as smooth as you can
  3. Top your cookie dough with a single layer of chocolate bars
  4. Spread peanut butter on top of the chocolate. This might get tough: I ended up “finger-painting” with the peanut butter to make it work!
  5. Sprinkle your graham cracker crumbs on top of the chocolate
  6. Use a spoon to put dollops of fluff all over the graham crackers, then use an offset spatula to smooth it into a single layer
  7. Use your remaining cookie dough for the final layer. It’s easiest to just put bits of dough on the top, and then smooth them out with your fingers so it’s a single layer
  8. Bake for 22-25 minutes, until the top is golden. Mine took 24 minutes. It’s a little hard to tell if they’re done since there are so many layers…make sure to use a toothpick to test if the insides are baked through
  9. Allow the pan to cool for 2 hours on a wire rack. Then, transfer them to the fridge to cool completely.
  10. A little before you want to cut the bars, take them back out of the fridge. Use a shape knife to slice them up!

Note that these are a little tough to cut: it’s too hard when the bars are gooey, but also too hard to cut if they’re super chilled. So I suggest chilling them to let the bars set, but taking them out of the fridge about 30 minutes before you want to cut and serve.

These bars last nicely in an airtight container, and are best within 3 days of baking.

 

 

And a handy Pin for the Pinners out there:

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Lemon Cucumber Cake with Lemon Frosting

A couple of years ago, I saved a recipe for a kale and apple cake. I mean…kale in a cake!? I figured I had to try it.

…I’ve still never tried it. But turns out that kale cake was a gateway to an awesome baking blog. Veggie Desserts is full of creative recipes, from parsnip cakes to cauliflower popsicles. I got hooked on the blog, and dreamt of the day I’d surprise my friends with vegetables in a cake.

IMG_3753And finally, that day arrived! I made four types of cake for my birthday this year, and simply had to include a veggie cake in the mix. As I pored over all the recipes I’d saved from Veggie Desserts, this Lemon Cucumber Cake caught my eye. It sounded intriguing, refreshing and delicious. It also sounded like it’d go well with cocktails—an important consideration when you’re hosting your birthday at a bar.

Making this cake was so much fun. I couldn’t predict quite what it’d taste like, but figured cucumbers are somewhat sweet, and would complement lemon. The cake turned out great, with a really nice texture and a sunny, tangy flavor. There’s a little bite from the lemon, complemented by cucumber puree.

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Cucumber puree

My friends really loved this cake! No one could quite place the flavor, but lots of people said the cake reminded them of a summery cocktail. I also learned that people were very open to the idea of a cucumber cake. That’s not always with the case with my more experimental recipes…and sometimes I just don’t tell people what’s in something before they take a bite 🙂

I only made one layer cake, then got some cupcakes out of the extra batter. The original recipes calls for gin in the frosting, but I omitted it and still thought the lemon frosting came out great.

Lemon Cucumber Cake with Lemon Frosting

Original recipe: Veggie Desserts. I’ve rewritten things a bit and added commentary.

Yield: One 9-inch cake, two 7-inch cakes or three 6-inch cakes

Suggested equipment: Mixer

Total Time: 75 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

For the cake

  • Half a cucumber, keep the peel on (about 200g)
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 2/3 cup butter, softened (150g if you can weigh it)
  • Zest of half a lemon
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder

For the frosting

Note that this recipe assumes you’re making a “naked cake” with just the tops frosted. If you want to frost the sides, double the frosting. 

  • 1/3 cup butter, softened (75g or about 6 tbsp butter)
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice OR gin

Directions

Make your cake

  1. Preheat your oven to 325F
  2. Wash your cucumber, then cut it in half lengthways. Scrape out the seeds inside the cucumber. Then cut the cucumber into chunks, and puree until smooth
  3. Stir your lemon juice into the cucumber puree, and set that bowl aside
  4. Use your mixer to cream the butter, lemon zest, sugar and vanilla for a few minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy
  5. Add your eggs one at a time, beating in between
  6. In a separate mixing bowl, mix the flour and baking powder together
  7. Stir 1/3 of your flour mixture into the butter mixture. Then, add in 1/3 of the cucumber puree. Repeat this process until all of your ingredients are combined (puree, wet ingredients, dry ingredients)
  8. Pour your batter into a lightly greased cake tin
  9. Bake 25-30 minutes, depending on the size of your cake tin. Mine took 28 minutes for a 9-inch tin.
  10. Let the cake cool completely before frosting
Make your frosting
  1. Beat the butter, powdered sugar and lemon juice/gin together until it’s smooth and fluffy
  2. Frost away! Store any extra icing in the fridge until you’re ready to use it

 

Gooey Chocolate Chip Fudge Bars

Plain and simple, these bars are crowd pleasers. What’s not to like? Delicious, chewy chocolate chip cookie bars with a gooey, fudgy middle layer. Every bite oozes with chocolate and buttery cookie dough.

IMG_4445I made these bars for a “Cookies and Cocktails” event I hosted with a friend a couple weeks ago. It started from a joke: the friend had asked when I’d host my next cookie party. But you know: why not? So we invited a bunch of our friends to this cool new cocktail bar in Hayes Valley, I made a ton of cookies, and we had a fabulous afternoon.

I ended up making 5 type of cookies for the party, and wanted a mix of “simple” recipes and “surprising” recipes. I’d saved this recipe on Pinterest a while ago, and it seemed like the perfect pick. These bars technically fell into the “simple” category, but they’re still a twist on the classic chocolate chip cookie.

These are easy to make, but make sure you allow time to chill them when you’re done. You’ll need to let the bars set for a couple hours before cutting into them…or you’ll end up with a gooey mess, rather than gooey centers!

Our Cookies and Cocktails party was outside, and I was a little worried the centers would melt in the sun. The bars kept their texture just fine but I live in San Francisco, where hot is relative and it’s never really that sunny. I’d be careful bringing these outside on a super sunny day in other parts of the world!

Gooey Chocolate Chip Fudge Bars

Original recipe: Back for Seconds. I’ve rewritten things a bit and added commentary.

Yield: I got 40 bars out of this, but I didn’t make them all even! Your yield depends on sizing, but you should expect around 32 bars

Suggested equipment: Mixer

Total Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes (includes 2 hours of “chill time” so the bars firm up)

Cook Time: ~25 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 1/3 cups flour
  • 4 cups chocolate chips (some for the dough, some for the filling)
  • 14 oz sweetened condensed milk (typically one can)

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350F
  2. Line a 9×13 pan with foil, then spray it lightly with nonstick spray so it’s easy to remove the bars later
  3. Use your mixer to cream together the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar until it’s light and creamy
  4. Add eggs, vanilla and salt, then mix well
  5. Add baking soda and flour. Mix until combined
  6. Stir in 2 cups of the chocolate chips
  7. Press 2/3 of your cookie dough into the lined pan and set the pan aside
  8. In a microwave-safe bowl, melt the condensed milk and the other 2 cups of chocolate chips. Use 30 second increments, and stir the mixture in between each run in the microwave. Keep doing this until the chocolate is entirely melted and smooth. You might want to shorten the increments near the end so you don’t burn the chocolate
  9. Pour your fudge over the cookie dough, and smooth it with a spatula
  10. Use your hands to make a cookie dough top layer. Take a portion of dough, flatten it with your hands, and press it on top of the chocolate. Repeat until the fudge layer is entirely covered in dough
  11. Bake 22-25 minutes. When it’s done, the top will look golden and the edges will pull away slightly from the sides of the pan. Mine took 24 minutes
  12. Let the bars cool completely on your counter. Then, pop them in your fridge to firm up for a couple hours. Once they’ve set, cut the bars with a sharp knife
  13. Store the bars in a covered container. I left mine in the fridge and took them out an hour before serving, because I wanted to make sure the fudge layer stayed firm.

 

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Chocolate Chip Pretzel Cookie Bars

Looking for a party-ready, easy treat? I’ve got you covered.

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These Chocolate Chip Pretzel Cookie Bars are a salty sweet treat that’s easy to whip up, and super easy to scarf down. The prep is really simple: just make some cookie dough, mix in your pretzels and chocolate, and throw it in a pan. No other prep, no chill time…you don’t even need to roll the dough into balls! These are a great pick for events outdoors since they’ll keep nicely in hot temperatures and they’re easy to transport.

I’ve made these a few times, and they’re always a crowd pleaser. The actual cookie dough is delicious on its own, and the pretzel/chocolate combo takes it up a notch. The original recipe also includes a chocolate and peanut butter drizzle, but I’ve never tried that part and the bars certainly don’t need a drizzle to be delicious!

Chocolate Chip Pretzel Cookie Bars

Original recipe: Brown Eyed Baker. I’ve rewritten things a bit and added commentary. 

Yield: 32 bars

Suggested equipment: Mixer

Total Time: ~45 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1½ sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 12 oz bittersweet chocolate chips (or semisweet, if you prefer)
  • 1½ cups mini pretzel twists, coarsely chopped

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350F
  2. Whisk your flour, baking soda and salt
  3. Using your mixer, beat the butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar at medium speed until it’s light and fluffy (it will take about a minute)
  4. Beat in your eggs and vanilla
  5. Switch the mixer to low speed, then beat in the flour mixture until it’s just incorporated
  6. Stir in your chocolate chips and pretzel pieces by hand
  7. Spray a 9×13 inch pan with cooking spray
  8. Pour your batter into the pan and use a spatula to make sure it’s evenly spread
  9. Bake for about 30 minutes, until golden brown
  10. Let the pan cool completely, then cut into squares and enjoy!

Caramel-Stuffed Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies

I have an informal recipe rating scale that goes from “Woah, I can’t stop thinking about that” to “Well, that was inedible.” Most recipes fall somewhere in the middle: they taste good and I’d make them again, but I don’t think about them much in between bakes.

This recipe? 100%, undeniably a “Woah!!!”

What does it take to get a “Woah!” rating? It’s sort of hard to explain, but you know it when you taste it. Certain recipes are just perfectly balanced. The concept is strong to begin with: a good mix of flavors, ingredients that complement each other, etc. The texture is spot on: a perfectly chewy cookie or just the right kind of fudgy brownie. And there’s just some sort of other pizazz that you get when you take a bite. I think that pizazz comes from an optimized recipe: the recipe author clearly spent time getting the details right. Just the right amount of salt. Just the right technique. A clear recommendation for whether to chill the dough or not, whether to use a mixer or a spoon…etc. Details can make all the difference in baking, and you can tell when someone got it right.

IMG_2742These Caramel Stuffed Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies are an all-around winner. As you know, I adore stuffed cookies, and a caramel center is one of my favorite tricks. But what really makes these cookies stand out is the incredibly flavorful, chewy base dough. You don’t even need the caramels or chocolate to eat this cookie. I’d be happy eating the dough on its own. And that, my friends, is the sign of a WOAH!

I’ve tried this dough a couple of ways so far. First, I stuffed the cookies with Kraft caramels so there’d be a ooey gooey caramel center. The second time, I didn’t have any of those caramel candies sitting around… but I did have three bags of caramel bits (Sigh… such a pantry loader). So I decided to just make Chocolate Chip Caramel Bit Cookies instead of stuffing them. The Caramel Bit Cookies are actually a bit more balanced, since caramel is scattered throughout rather than concentrated in the middle. But whichever caramel iteration you choose…you’re definitely in for a treat!

Caramel-Stuffed Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies

Original recipe: Grandbaby Cakes. I’ve rewritten things a bit and added commentary. 

Yield: ~20 large cookies

Suggested equipment: Mixer

Total Time: ~3 hours, including 2 hours of chill time for the dough

Cook Time: ~13 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar (I used light brown sugar here)
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 additional egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • For caramel-stuffed cookies: 20 caramel candies. Make sure they’re the soft kind! I cut mine in half before stuffing the cookies
  • For caramel bit cookies: 1.5 cups of caramel bits
  • Sea salt for sprinkling

Directions

Make your dough 

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together your flour, cornstarch, salt, baking powder and baking soda
  2. Using your mixer, cream your butter with the granulated sugar and brown sugar. You should cream it for about 3-4 minutes on high, until the mixture is light and fluffy
  3. Add in your egg, and beat the mixture. Then add your egg yolks, one at a time, and beating in between each addition
  4. Add your vanilla, and beat the mixture until it’s smooth
  5. Turn the mixer to low. Add your bowl of dry ingredients in three intervals, beating after each addition until it’s all well-combined
  6. Stir in your chocolate chips with a wooden spoon. This is also when you should stir in caramel bits if you’re using them!
  7. Chill your dough for at least two hours. I chilled mine overnight to break up prep

Bake your cookies

  1. Preheat your oven to 350F
  2. If you’re making caramel bit cookies: Scoop your dough and place it on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Proceed to step #4!
  3. If you’re making stuffed cookies: I  like to cut my caramel candies in half so the centers are a little smaller. Scoop a tablespoon-sized ball of dough, and place a caramel candy on top of it. Then, cover up the caramel with another scoop of dough. You’ll want to pinch your dough around the edges so the dough covers the caramel entirely. I usually end up rerolling the cookie a little too, to get it more round. Place all of your dough balls onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet, at least 1 1/2 inches apart so they have room to expand
  4. Bake the cookies 11-14 minutes. Mine took 13! They might look a little underbaked when you take them out of the oven, but they’ll firm up as they cool
  5. Place your cookie sheet on a cooling rack, and sprinkle your cookies with sea salt

Enjoy!