Hazelnut Chocolate Sandwich Cookies (Baci di Dama)

I’m a really lazy cook. If I’m going to make dinner, I want the easiest recipe possible. The fewer the ingredients and lighter the prep, the better.

But baking…well, that’s a different story. I am game to make whatever looks delicious, even if that means dozens of ingredients or dozens of steps.

IMG_3517Take these Baci di Dama. Baci di Dama are hazelnut sandwich cookies with a rich chocolate ganache filling. The steps are pretty simple… but there are a lot of steps! You have to toast hazelnuts, make dough, make a filling, assemble. But I promise the effort is worth it. The cookies are near-crumbly in texture, with a wonderful nutty flavor. When you chomp down you get a satisfying bite of hazelnut, complemented by the smooth ganache.

I stumbled on this recipe when I was looking for something to bring to a birthday party. I’d asked my friend to name her top 5 flavors, and hazelnut made the cut. I love hazelnut, but I’d only ever baked with it in Nutella form. Clearly I’ve been missing out! I loved how these turned out, and am glad I gave them a try.

IMG_3507I’d do a couple small tweaks if I baked these again. First off: I’d use bittersweet or dark chocolate for the filling rather than semisweet. It tasted good, but I think a stronger chocolate would boost the flavor. And second: I ground my hazelnuts for just a tad too long, so I basically ended up with hazelnut butter. I was a little nervous about whether my dough would turn out ok! It did, but still…I’d try to do it right next time 🙂  

Hazelnut Chocolate Sandwich Cookies (Baci di Dama)

Original recipe: As Easy As Apple Pie. I’ve rewritten things a bit and added commentary. 

Yield: ~20, but your yield will depend on how big you make the cookies

Suggested equipment: Food processor, mixer

Total Time: ~3 hours, but that involves a lot of waiting for things to chill!

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients

For your dough:

  • 2/3 cups hazelnuts, toasted and skinned
  • 3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 3.5 ounces unsalted butter cut into small cubes, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon granulated sugar

For the filling:

  • 1/3 cup bittersweet or dark chocolate, chopped into bits

Directions

Prep your hazelnuts

  1. Throw your hazelnuts onto a baking sheet
  2. Toast the hazelnuts at 320F until they’re a golden brown color. This took me around 15 minutes. Pay close attention, because you don’t want burned nuts!
  3. Take your hazelnuts out of the oven, and rub them until the skins come off. This might take a bit of elbow grease!
  4. Let the hazelnuts cool completely before moving onto your next step

Make your cookie dough

  1. Put the cooled hazelnuts into your food processor, and pulse the processor until the nuts resemble sand. This is where I messed up, and my nuts ended up more like a butter consistency. Don’t be like me 🙂
  2. Move the hazelnuts to a bowl, and mix in your flour, butter and sugar. You want to mix the ingredients until the butter is evenly dispersed throughout the bowl of dough, and your dough is smooth
  3. Divide your dough into 4 pieces and roll each piece into a log
  4. Place the logs on a baking sheet, and stick it in your fridge
  5. Chill the dough for an hour

Make your dough balls

  1. Take one dough log out of the fridge, but leave the rest in the fridge until you’re ready to use them so they stay cold
  2. Cut equal-sized pieces from your log, and roll them into tiny balls between the palms of your hands. Since these are sandwich cookies, it’s important to keep your sizing consistent! The original recipe writer suggested making your balls about 8 oz of dough each
  3. Place your dough balls on a greased or lined cookie sheet, then move onto the next log of dough
  4. Put your dough balls back in the fridge for another hour

Bake your cookies 

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 320F
  2. Bake your dough balls for 15-20 minutes. Take them out when they’re set to the touch, and a light golden color. Mine took closer to 20 minutes
  3. Let the cookies cool completely before you fill them

Fill your cookies 

  1. Melt your chocolate until it’s smooth
  2. Place a dollop of chocolate on one cookie, and place another cookie on top. Press the two together, and you have a sandwich!
  3. Let the cookies firm up on a cooling rack for a bit so your chocolate sets

And finally: ENJOY! These will last in an airtight cotnainer for about a week, but I doubt they’ll make it that long!

Mint M&M Brownies

I debated saving this recipe for another day since my last post was also a chocolate mint recipe. But, thanks to St. Patrick’s Day, I kept seeing minty green treats pop up all over my feeds. And every time I did, I started thinking about these brownies again. So, I think it’s only fair I share these brownies today, while mint and shades of green are on your brain.

IMG_3308Mint M&Ms are pretty incredible. They taste a bit like Andes Mints, and a bit like those pastel mint candies some restaurants keep in a dish at the hostess table. They have a nice crunchy shell, and then a deliciously smooth, chocolate mint center. Plus, they come in a variety of green hues, so they add a fun bit of color when you bake with them.

I bought these M&Ms a while ago without a real plan, and decided they’d taste great mixed into brownies. I turned to a trusty brownie recipes from Sally’s Baking Addiction and simply mixed in my M&Ms instead of chocolate chips. These are very fudgy, dense brownies, with a rich chocolate base. They were the perfect base for Mint M&Ms!

These are a one bowl recipe and pretty quick to whip up, so they’re a great “brownies on a whim” recipe too. And if you don’t happen to have Mint M&Ms on hand, you could just use chocolate chips or swap in any other baking bits you like. I bet you Reese’s Pieces would be awesome–or caramel bits!

Mint M&M Brownies

Original recipe:  Sally’s Baking Addiction. I’ve made some swaps and rewritten things a bit. 

Yield: 30 brownies

Total Time: ~50 minutes 

Cook Time: ~30-36 minutes 

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 oz of a semi sweet chocolate bar, coarsely chopped (you need 4 ounces total, but add the chocolate in two increments at two different points!)
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup unsweetened natural or dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 oz of a semi sweet chocolate bar, coarsely chopped
  • 1 and 1/4 cups Mint M&Ms, chocolate chips or any other mix-in!

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350F
  2. Grease a 9×13 pan with foil or parchment paper, leaving a little hanging over the sides so it’s easier to pull them out later
  3. Use a microwave safe bowl to melt your butter and 2 ounces of chopped chocolate. Melt in 30 second increments, whisking after each increment to make sure the ingredients to make sure the ingredients are mixed together. Do this until your mixture is smooth but be careful not to go too far–chocolate can burn!
  4. Whisk in your sugar until the mixture is completely combined
  5. Whisk in your eggs and vanilla. At this point the batter will be light brown
  6. Add in your cocoa powder, flour, salt and the other 2 ounces of chopped chocolate. Fold it all together with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula
  7. Mix in your M&Ms or other baking bits. Do this gently with your spoon or spatula, and be careful not to overmix the batter
  8. Pour your batter into the prepared pan. It will be super thick so you’ll need to use your spatula to spread it around and even it out
  9. Bake your brownies for about 30-36 minutes. Check on them as soon as you smell that telltale smell of brownies float through your kitchen, even if it hasn’t been 30 minutes yet. Use a toothpick in the center to check if they’re done. You’re looking for a few moist crumbs on the toothpick. If there is still wet batter on the toothpick, keep the brownies in the oven a bit longer. Mine took 35 minutes altogether
  10. Let the brownies cool completely on a wire rack before you cut them. If you try to cut brownies before they’re cool, they tend to crumble all over the place!

These will keep in an airtight container for about a week. Or, freeze them!

 

 

Biscoff Gooey Butter Cake

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: gooey butter cake is one of America’s most underrated desserts. Its name actually makes total sense: the bottom layer is cakey, and the top layer is gooey. That texture combo makes every bite interesting… and the ingredient list makes every bite yummy, too. Gooey Butter Cake definitely lives up to its name, and you just have to try it to understand.

file_0032And then once you try it… what’s next? Experimenting with flavors and mix-ins, obviously. I found this Biscoff Gooey Butter Cake recipe by a stroke of luck. I was planning to bake for a birthday and someone suggested I use cookie butter. I do that pretty often and didn’t want to make a repeat, so I turned to Pinterest for some new ideas. Up popped this recipe that marries my love of cookie butter with my love of gooey butter cake.

There are a few types of Gooey Butter Cake recipes out there. This one uses a pretty standard cake base, and I liked it more than some yeasted versions I’ve tried in the past. You mix cookie butter straight into the “gooey” layer, giving it that signature almost-caramelized, sort-of-gingery taste. Every bite rewards you with a decadent gooey start and a soft, cakey finish.

Biscoff Gooey Butter Cake

Original recipe: Butter Baking. I’ve rewritten things a bit and added commentary. 

Yield: ~30 bars

Suggested equipment: Mixer

Total Time: ~1 hour

Cook Time: 35-40 min

Ingredients

Cake layer:

  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Gooey layer:

  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten (beat them before you even use them!)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup Biscoff spread, or other brand of cookie butter (ex. Trader Joe’s sells one)
  • 16 oz powdered sugar

Directions

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 350F
  2. Line a 9×13 inch pan with parchment paper
  3. Start with your cake layer: mix your flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl
  4. Add your egg, butter, milk and vanilla, then stir until it’s just combined
  5. Pour your cake layer into the prepared pan, and smooth it out so it’s nice and even
  6. Then comes the gooey layer. Start by beating your cream cheese until it’s smooth
  7. Add eggs, Biscoff and vanilla, then beat it again until it is completely smooth and looks creamy
  8. Add your powdered sugar in small batches, a bit at a time. Beat each batch at a low speed until it’s combined
  9. Pour your gooey layer over the cake layer, and spread out evenly
  10. Bake for 35-40 minutes (mine took the full 40 minutes). Your edges will look golden. The center may look a bit underdone, but it will set as the pan cools. The top should look a bit shiny–mine ended up flaking quite a bit, but it didn’t affect taste at all!
  11. Once the pan is cool, cut it up into bars

Sour Cream Cut Out Cookies

There’s something so delightful about cut out cookies. The mere act of using a cookie cutter gives cookies a little something extra–a dash of personality, if you will. I always want to buy cookie cutters, but tell myself it’s a bad idea since my kitchen is already crammed to the brim. For now, I own exactly two cutters: a heart and a bow, both pilfered from my mom. Since Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, it seemed like the perfect time to take out my cutters and whip up some cut out cookies.

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I’ve tried several cut out recipes over the years, including one that I tracked down from my 5th grade teacher. The recipe I’m sharing today is pretty standard. They’re basically sugar cookies, but sour cream adds moisture and makes the cookies especially soft and chewy. This frosting is pretty sweet, so I used a thin layer rather than slathering it on thick. You could swap in a different frosting, of course…. I won’t tattle.

Make sure to allow at least six hours for your dough to chill before you bake. The recipe says you can freeze unfrosted cookies, but I preferred these fresh out of the oven. It seemed like something changed texturally when I froze extra cookies.

You can obviously use any cutter you’d like, for any occasion. I especially loved my heart cookies (the bows were a little puffier than I expected). They’re perfect for school parties, your Valentine… or a little self-love for yourself.

Sour Cream Cut Out Cookies

Original recipe: Chocolate with Grace. I’ve rewritten things a bit and added commentary.

Yield: About 50 cookies (original recipe says 60 but it obviously depends on your cookie cutter)

Suggested equipment: Mixer

Total Time: 2 hours to make the cookies, at least 6 hours to chill the dough 

Cook Time: ~12 minutes

Ingredients

Cookies

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 5 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup sour cream

Frosting

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 2-4 tsp milk or heavy cream, at room temperature

Directions

Make your dough 

  1. Cream the butter and sugar together until it’s light and fluffy
  2. Beat in the eggs and vanilla
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk your flour, salt and baking soda
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, alternating each dry addition with some of your sour cream. This is when things got messy, so I recommend using a mixer guard if you have one
  5. Stir the ingredients until they’re fully combined
  6. Chill your dough at least 6 hours–overnight is better if you can!

Bake your cookies 

  1. Preheat your oven to 325F
  2. On a well-floured surface, roll out your dough to about 1/3 inch thick. Make sure to keep things floured up, since this is a pretty sticky dough. Keep extra dough in the fridge until you’re ready for it
  3. Cut out your cookies, and place them on a lined cookie sheet
  4. Bake your cookies 9-14 minutes. Bake time will depend on your cutters: my hearts baked quicker than my bows. The cookies will still be a little pale when they’re done, so be careful not to overbake
  5. Let the cookies cool for a minute on the sheet, then remove them to a rack so they cool all the way

Frost your cookies 

  1. Beat your butter 2-3 minutes, until it’s fluffy
  2. Beat in the powdered sugar and vanilla, plus enough milk or cream to achieve your desired consistency. I used two teaspoons of milk
  3. You can tint your frosting if you’d like, but I chose not to
  4. Frost your cookies and decorate as you’d like!

Fudgy Chocolate Ricotta Muffins

Every January 1st, I make sure to have a special breakfast. It’s a relic of childhood tradition–and a delicious tradition, at that. Growing up, we went to the Rose Parade every single New Year’s Day. We’d get up at the crack of dawn and drive to Pasadena to make sure we got a great spot on the route. The parade is a fabulous spectacle of floats and entertainment. The floats are an incredible sight: often quite complex, and completely decorated with seeds, nuts, fruits and plants.

Our tradition didn’t stop at the parade. Naturally, there were traditional foods, too. Every December 31st my mom would bake up a storm so we’d have plenty of treats to enjoy the next day. The annual menu included zucchini bread, applesauce bread and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. We’d start nibbling on the goods as soon as we sat down at the parade route, and it definitely helped time fly by as we waited for the parade to start. Beautiful floats, great bands and cookies. What’s not to like?!

 

I haven’t been to the Rose Parade in years, but I still think January 1st deserves a special breakfast. This year, it’s going to be these delicious, fudgy chocolate muffins. They’re img_2245-2simple and don’t require any special equipment… so you could probably make them even if you’re in a, well, less than perfect state come the morning of January 1st. Or, make them the day before! These keep pretty well thanks to the moisture ricotta brings to the batter.

These muffins definitely don’t fall into the genre of “muffins pretending to be healthy” (though they do use whole wheat flour). They taste a lot like cake, and look a lot like cake too. They’re dense, fudgy and moist. You add ricotta right into the batter, along with a heap of cocoa. And a streusel topping adds a crumbly bit of sugar and cinnamon to every bite.

If you can’t get to these for January 1st, fear not. They’re a great “just because” breakfast whenever you have the craving for something a little special to start your day.

Fudgy Chocolate Ricotta Muffins

Original recipe: Vegetarian Adventures. I’ve rewritten things a bit and added commentary. 

Yield: ~24 muffins. The original recipe says it yields 16 but I got way more muffins out of this! 

Total Time: ~45 minutes 

Cook Time: 17-20 min

Ingredients

Batter 

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup whole ricotta cheese
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract

Streusel topping 

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Dash of salt
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter

Directions

Get ready

  1. Preheat your oven to 350F
  2. Line a couple muffin tins

Make your batter 

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together your flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, salt and cocoa powder
  2. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. That means you want to create a little crater in the middle, so you can pour other ingredients in there–see pic below
  3. Fill your well with the melted butter, ricotta, eggs, milk and vanilla
  4. Whisk the wet ingredients within the well, until they’re mixed together
  5. Then, slowly start whisking your wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Definitely pay heed to the “slow” direction here so cocoa doesn’t land all over your counter! Whisk just until the ingredients are mixed–overmixing leads to tough muffins (which sounds like a great rock band name, but you don’t want actual tough muffins)

Make your streusel 

  1. Whisk together the brown sugar, cocoa powder and salt
  2. Using your hands, work the butter into the dry ingredients until a wet crumb has formed. The mixture should be wet and crumbly when you’re done mixing

Bake your muffins 

  1. Fill each muffin cup 3/4 full with batter
  2. Sprinkle topping onto each muffin. I didn’t use all of my streusel but you definitely could if you put more streusel per muffin than I did
  3. Bake your muffins for 17-20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean from the center of a muffin. Mine took 17 minutes
  4. Transfer the muffins to a cooling rack, and let cool completely before you eat them. I liked these a lot better cooled vs. hot because the texture and taste settled a bit

 

Gingerbread Brownies

Looking for something a little different for your holiday dessert tray? Have I got the treat for you!

These Gingerbread Brownies combine the best parts of their namesake baked goods. You get the molasses depth of gingerbread, and the richness of chocolate. This is basically a brownie recipe, with molasses and brown sugar in there to create a new take on gingerbread. It’s a simple recipe, too: you just use a single saucepan to create these beauties.

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Remember how I waxed poetic about the spicy dough in last week’s gingersnap recipe? This recipe is pretty much the opposite take on gingerbread: molasses is now the star. The molasses flavor is pretty intense, so be warned if you don’t actually like how molasses tastes! You can use light brown sugar instead of dark to tone it down a bit, if you want… but I didn’t. Mine turned out super chewy and dense with an amazing chocolate start, and a deep, molasses finish.

I made these the night before a holiday event, and they kept just fine in an airtight container. The flavor got more intense over time. I didn’t mind that, but you might want to make these the same day you plan to serve them (or freeze them ’til you’re ready to enjoy!). While these aren’t cookies, you could probably get away with bringing them to a cookie exchange with some sort of logic about how gingerbread often IS a cookie. I don’t think people will reject your logic once they take a bite!

Gingerbread Brownies

Original recipe:  I heart eating. I’ve rewritten things a bit and added commentary. 

Yield: 16-25 depending on how you cut your brownies

Total Time: ~55 minutes

Cook Time: 30-35 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 oz bittersweet chocolate
  • 1/3 cup molasses (not blackstrap)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed (dark brown for more intensity, light brown if you want to dial down the flavor a bit) 
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350F
  2. Use a large saucepan to melt your butter and chocolate together. Use low heat for this, and stir the mixture frequently so it’s properly mixed
  3. Once it’s fully melted together, remove the saucepan from the heat
  4. Add in your molasses, granulated sugar and brown sugar. Try to use a whisk, but be careful not to scratch your pan! I used a rubber whisk to play it safe and you’d probably be fine with a wooden spoon, too
  5. Whisk in your eggs until fully combined
  6. Add your flour, salt, cinnamon and ginger, then whisk again until the dry ingredients are just incorporated
  7. Grab a 9-inch square pan and grease it so your brownies don’t stick
  8. Pour your batter into the pan
  9. Bake for 30-35 minutes, depending on your oven
  10. Let cool fully in the pan
  11. Dust with powdered sugar right before you serve the brownies. If you do it too early, the sugar will dissolve and you won’t even see it!*

*I literally carried around a bag of powdered sugar all day so I’d have it to dust my brownies right before putting them out at an afternoon party. The things I do for baked goods…

 

Cookie Swap Tips and Tricks

Cookie swaps are one of my favorite parts of the holiday season. What’s better than seeing friends and eating cookies at the same time? I’ve hosted a few cookie exchanges over the years, and hope the tradition continues. But this isn’t Martha Stewart’s cookie swap: my take on this classic event is light on rules, and heavy on flexibility.

I host a few potluck-like events every year and my approach is pretty much always the same. I want to make it as easy as possible for people to come, enjoy themselves and want to come again. I’d rather someone show up to my party than worry about bringing the right dish for a theme, or following the right rules for cookies. So, I keep it simple.

Here are my tips for a fun holiday exchange with less stress… but lots of dessert.

It’s about nibbling, not gifting: Martha tells you to bring a dozen cookies per swap attendee so they can take home lots of cookies, and maybe even re-gift them later. That’s a lot of batches! Instead, I tell people to simply bring 1 batch of whatever they decide to bake, regardless of the yield. Trust me: there are always enough cookies to go around. And there are always extra cookies, too, which usually end up at my office the following Monday (you’re so welcome, team!).

old-cookie-swapMake it easy to contribute: I make sure to clarify that any kind of treat will do: homemade, semi-homemade or even purchased. No snobbery allowed! For some people, this is the only time they bake all year and they get really excited. Other people think baking sounds terrible, or they just don’t have the time– and I want them to come, too.

Label your goods: I put out paper so people can label their cookies. I don’t write out the full ingredient list, but of course you could. I do write if something is allergen-free, though, so those people know what’s safe to eat. This year we had a couple people who don’t eat dairy so I made these rosemary chocolate chip cookies with dairy-free chocolate, and labeled the batch “dairy free.”

swap-meat

Tons of cookies… and meat

Ask some people to NOT bring cookies: My first year hosting a swap, I only bought one party-sized bag of Chex Mix to accompany all the cookies. Rookie mistake! You need to have some savory snacks on hand to balance all the sweetness. This year we specifically asked people to sign up for savory things to make sure we had a good mix–and people brought everything from jicama to hummus.

Help people get their cookies home: I’ve been providing baggies so people can take cookies home, but I do think Martha is right here, and boxes are better. Next year I’ll get boxes so the cookies aren’t smushed in transit.

Eat lots of cookies: This is obviously the most important rule! You don’t have to eat a full cookie of every single type. We usually end up cutting cookies into pieces and sharing them so we can try more varieties.

And one extra tip if you plan to bake a lot–plan, plan plan: Whenever I host an event, I contribute a lot of food. I made 5 different recipes for this year’s cookie exchange, so I carefully planned ahead. I am super organized about it, and think through the right order of operations  based on things like equipment needed, time to bake, prep needs, etc. I also look at which doughs have to chill, which cookies can be made the night before, etc.

Here are the recipes I made for this year’s cookie exchange, plus some past favorites:

And if you want even more recipe ideas, check out my Cookie Swap Season board.

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This year’s bounty