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linzer cookies

It’s been quite a couple of years. We haven’t been posting recipes — or doing much of anything — during the pandemic, but cooking, being the necessity that it is, has been the exception. One could argue cookie-making is not much of a necessity, but I got a stand mixer for Christmas (after 3-and-a-half years bereft of one, my old one having broken midway through making my wedding cake) and trying it out was an imperative. Oh, how I missed having a stand mixer! I can make brioche again! I can cream butter and walk away from the mixer! I am once more whole.

I was compelled to commit this recipe to the internet out of fear that I might lose the paper printout I’ve been using for years (dated 12/17/10; this was back in the days where all my recipes were Food Network and Epicurious printouts, this one being the latter). It lives stuffed inside of the front cover of my copy of Bravetart and comes out every year the week before Christmas. It’s one of my most-made recipes, and I look forward to it every year. In fact, I’ve made very few other linzer cookies in my life mainly because I don’t have any reason to, as these include my favorite nut (hazelnut) and are perfect in every way: tender, with a soft, warm flavor cut by the brightness of raspberry jam. Not to mention they last half a month in the fridge and get better with age!

I follow the OG Epicurious recipe nearly exactly for the dough, and I used to just use store-bought jam for the filling, but this year I couldn’t find raspberry jam anywhere and decided to buy some frozen fruit and make my own. After this year, I am never going back: not only is the jam dead simple, but it elevates the cookies to a whole different plane. You can, of course, still use store-bought jam, but if you’re going to go to the trouble of cutting dozens of windows in finicky cookie dough, you might as well go all out, right?

buttermilk biscuits

Despite spending the first quarter of a century of my life in Arkansas, I must admit I didn’t really get into biscuits until I was around 20 years old. Part of this is a result of my upbringing (though I grew up in Arkansas, my parents’ food habits were more similar those of the upper midwest that they grew up with), and part of it is a result of where in Arkansas I grew up (Northwest Arkansas, which in a lot of ways is more midwestern than southern, culturally speaking). Regardless of the reason, the only biscuit I really remember eating as a kid was from Cracker Barrel, and it left little impression on me.

At some point it occurred to me to make biscuits — I’m not sure if it was the result of Nathan waxing poetic about the biscuits of his youth, or if I was really craving bread one day and didn’t have the strength to wait 4+ hours for a yeast bread to be ready — but once I started making biscuits at home, it became an almost weekly thing. I’ve made many recipes over the years for biscuits, trying out different ratios, ingredients, and techniques, and over time I began to craft what has become my go-to recipe. The key is in the ratio: a 3-2-1 mix of flour, buttermilk, and butter that turns out consistently excellent biscuits time and time again. These biscuits are best fresh out of the oven, but they’re not too bad a couple of days later heated up in the oven, too.

cookie cake

Several years ago, on the day before I was to graduate from college, I had an intense craving for cookie cake.

Not just just any cookie cake, but cookie cake from Great American Cookies, the cookie cake of my childhood. There was (and still is, I think) a Great American Cookies in the mall in my hometown, and as a kid every single time we went to the mall* I remember demanding I get either a slice of cookie cake, or, even better, a Double Doozie, always with M&M cookies.

That day, I convinced Nathan to take me to the nearest Great American Cookies (which was only about 10 minutes away, fortunately), and when we were there, we asked for a cake, which they were able to make (and decorate to our specifications!) right there on the spot. I wish I still had a picture of it, but I think it said something like “Happy Graduation” or something to that point.

That was on May 10, and it was the best day ever. We enjoyed that cookie cake so much that we declared May 10 to be Annual Cookie Cake Day, and since then, we’ve had cookie cake in some form every year on that day, give or take a few days.

About three years ago for Annual Cookie Cake Day, rather than buy cookie cake like we usually did, I wanted to see if I could try to make my own. It took me a while to come up with a recipe, because regular chocolate chip cookie dough pressed into a sheet pan, while delicious, didn’t create the cookie cake texture I was looking for. I wanted a cookie cake that was more soft and limp and chewy than regular cookies, like the cookie cake of my childhood. I’m not totally sure how Great American Cookies does it, but I’m guessing there may be some sort of hydrogenated oils/ingredient wizardry going on to keep the cake so dense and so moist and soft. But I didn’t want to start using shortening instead of butter or turn my kitchen into a science lab, so I started thinking about ways I could change the ratio of a basic chocolate chip cookie dough to get the texture I wanted.

The key ended up being using a larger-than-normal ratio of butter to the rest of the dough, and using melted rather than softened butter, which creates a very dense, soft, and oily cake. This is not the recipe I would use to make drop cookies (although I doubt they’d be bad!), but for cookie cake it is perfect. And an added bonus of using melted butter means the entire recipe comes together in one bowl without the need to cream any butter. (Ever since my stand mixer died, this is even more of a plus than normal.)

You could certainly add nuts to the dough (or M&Ms; I’m trying that next), but I love it simple with plain semisweet chocolate chips. Topped with piped dots of American buttercream, the cake is as close to the cake of my childhood as I think I’m going to get.

This year I only used vanilla frosting, but in years past I have added cocoa powder to half the icing to make a black-and-white cake.

*This is excluding my brief Dippin’ Dots phase, where for a few months I eschewed my usual Double Doozie and instead opted for a cup of Cookies ‘n Cream “ice cream of the future” when a Dippin’ Dots stall opened up in the mall. Yes, I have always been obsessed with dessert.

simplest pancakes

As a notorious homebody (married to another notorious homebody), I knew that upending our lives by moving from Arkansas to New York was going to be tough.

Five-and-a-half years in our last Arkansas apartment was the longest either of us had lived in one place since we had lived with our parents, and when we finally moved out last December, the firmly ingrained carpet dents throughout the empty space were both literal and figurative.

Without a doubt, we were ready for a change. But were we ready to live in Airbnbs and sublets for three months?

At the outset, I said yes — “It’ll be fun! Like an extended vacation! We’ll get to see so many different neighborhoods of NYC as we haul our suitcases in and out of every subway station!” — and, now that we’re settled, I would probably say the same thing. It was fun, while maybe not so much like a vacation as I would have thought, and it was incredibly interesting to live in so many different neighborhoods throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn for three months. But after countless weeks of sleeping in other people’s beds and using other people’s towels and worrying that I was going to leave water rings on other people’s furniture, I was, without a doubt, homesick, not for Arkansas, but sick to have a home of my own.

The thing that made me the most homesick was not baking anything for months. At first this was no big deal — we were in New York after all, and I was happy to eat my way through the city’s finest bagels, donuts, black and whites, and cheesecakes. But after a while, even in greatest food city in the US, I still wanted to bake myself.

I remember when we finally moved into an Airbnb with a kitchen in late January. I was SO excited to finally get to bake, and Nathan was so excited to finally get to cook. But then I realized that not only did the Airbnb not have any baking pans, sheets, or anything I would remotely feel comfortable sticking in an oven, it also had no measurement tools apart from 12 Ikea juice glasses and two wine glasses. It was a major disappointment, and I was resigned to continue to go out for all my baked goods until I woke up one morning with an insatiable craving for pancakes.

I have never been a pancake person. They were always the last thing I’d order at a restaurant, and, similarly to donuts, were something that I never understood why people went so gaga about. Similarly to donuts, however, something in me changed the moment I moved to the Northeast, and now I too am obsessed. I can’t tell you why I didn’t like them before, and I honestly can’t tell you why I like them now, but I love them both now. Perhaps I’ll never know what happened.

But I digress. I was craving pancakes, and I didn’t want to go out for pancakes, and our Airbnb DID have a frying pan and a mixing bowl, but no whisk and no way to measure ingredients besides said juice and wine glasses. But I was intent on making it work.

I took a look at a number of recipes for pancakes on the internet, and boiled them down into simple ratios. It seemed like the key was equal parts milk and flour, and then for every cup of milk, one egg and about two or three tablespoons of butter. I realized that those juice glasses appeared to be about 8 ounces each, and with a leap of faith, measured out equal parts by volume of milk and flour, mixed everything with a fork, and heated up the frying pan.

And the results? They were fantastic! Even though I put in an arbitrary amount of baking powder and salt, and mixed everything together with a fork, and had only make pancakes a handful of times in my life. I was shocked.

Since then, I’ve made this “recipe” more times than I would care to admit, and every single time it has worked out. When we moved out of that Airbnb and into a sublet with some actual measuring tools and a whisk, I made the recipe again, actually measuring this time, and the pancakes were great. And once we moved into our amazing brownstone apartment, I made the recipe again, measuring out the ingredients by weight this time, and whisking with my trusty balloon whisk, and the pancakes were again great. I definitely recommend you measure your ingredients when following the below recipe, but even if you are in an Airbnb with nothing to measure, as long as you get the 1-1 ratio of milk and flour right, you should be golden.

caramel ice cream

Ice cream is, without a doubt, my favorite food. Our ice-cream maker is one of my most-used appliances, and there is almost always a quart of homemade ice cream in our freezer. Winter or summer (or spring or fall), I’m either making ice cream, eating ice cream, or thinking about the next time I’m going to be making or eating ice cream.

When I first started making my own ice cream, I adhered strictly to the bible that is David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop. I’ve made almost all the ice cream recipes in that book, many of them multiple times, and they are all fantastic.

After making dozens of batches of ice cream from recipes, though, I began to get the hang of the basic proportions needed, and learned the subtle differences that occur when increasing/decreasing the proportion of cream, milk, and eggs in a recipe. Nowadays, I rarely look at a recipe when making ice cream, but my classic ice-cream ratio is quite similar to Lebovitz’s standard vanilla recipe in the book. It’s rich, but not indulgently so — the perfect base on which to experiment.

This caramel ice cream was something I threw together when I had one of my regular cravings for ice cream a few days ago. I had made caramel ice cream in the past, always following a recipe of some sort, but I never quite got what I wanted; the ice creams never had quite the right sweet/salty/rich/creamy balance. I really was just throwing things together while making this ice cream, but I think my lack of over-thinking in this case helped me finally attain caramel ice cream perfection, with the perfect blend of sweetness and salt, and with a texture that stands on its own but doesn’t overwhelm when accompanying something like apple pie. There is a bit of standing-over-the-stove, making-sure-your-caramel-doesn’t-burn time at the beginning, but after that the recipe is basically foolproof.

shokupan (japanese milk bread)

I knew when we went to Japan that I would fall desperately in love with the food, but I didn’t anticipate that one of the foods would be bread.

Our first meal in Japan (not counting the late-night convenience store onigiri we had when we first arrived) was espresso and toast from a little cafe in Asakusa, Tokyo, called February Cafe. Nathan and I were on the hunt for the first (of many, we soon discovered) good cup of coffee of our trip, and I was excited to see they had food on the menu, too.

toast and coffee at February Cafe

Toast!, I thought. How unique!

What we soon figured out, however, is that toast was not so unique; it is everywhere in Japan. And it’s a specific kind of toast: fluffy, enriched but not brioche-esque, as thick as Texas toast, and topped with anything from butter and jam (delicious!) to more adventurous offerings like omelette (also delicious!) to anchovy butter (probably delicious, but didn’t try). I got hooked on my first toast (with just butter) in Asakusa, and after that I couldn’t get enough.

Shortly after becoming toast-obsessed, the owner of the guesthouse we stayed at in Tokyo told us that February Cafe, the place where we got our first (and perhaps best) toast, sourced their bread from a bakery just down the street called Pelican Bakery. We didn’t manage to get to the bakery before we left Tokyo to head for Kyoto and beyond, but on the final leg of our trip we had one final day back in Tokyo, during which I forced Nathan to make a stop with me at Pelican.

Pelican Bakery, Asakusa, Japan

The bakery was very much not a cute-little-cafe kind of bakery; it was a spartan-looking commercial bakery. I read in reviews that they often refuse to sell to the general public, and I figured that with our obvious gaijin appearances and lack of Japanese skills that they probably weren’t going to sell to us. But I was feeling bold, so I walked in (Nathan trailing behind) and somehow walked out with a loaf of bread.

Combined with several other baked goods from another bakery (yes, I admit to my bread obsession), our carry-on luggage was a bit, uh, puffy, but we somehow managed to transport the loaf from Tokyo to Arkansas. Once we were home, we enjoyed Japanese toast (along with Japanese coffee) for a few days until we ran out.

After that, bereft of my Japanese toast, I was determined to figure out how to make it myself.

Some Google searches for Japanese bread turned up recipes for Hokkaido milk bread, which, I discovered, is delicious, but a bit more sweet and brioche-like than the all-purpose toast I was searching for. I finally realized that what it was that we had in Japan was shokupan, a word which literally translates to “eating bread,” which is the most perfect description ever.

shokupan loaves in pan

I found a great recipe for shokupan from a blog that has a lot of other great Japanese recipes, but after making it few times I began to change things here and there. What resulted is my master shokupan recipe, a recipe that only takes a few hours from start to finish and is one I make more often than I probably should. It makes two loaves, so you can eat one immediately and freeze one for later (it freezes incredibly well). To be honest, I’ve only eaten it lightly toasted with butter and jam, though I’ve been meaning to try more adventurous toppings. When something is so perfect as it is, though, it’s so hard to try anything different.

shokupan toast with butter

golden multigrain muffins

Muffins are the best, because they can be whatever you want them to be.

A chocolate “muffin” that’s actually just a cupcake in disguise.

A high-rising, perfectly domed buttermilk muffin studded with fresh berries.

A hearty, multigrain muffin sweetened with only unrefined sweeteners? Given my propensity for muffins on the “pure dessert” side of the healthiness spectrum, I’m surprised that this kind of muffin is the first one I’m sharing on this blog. But even though I love sweets, I’m definitely more of a savory breakfast person. And with lots of whole grains and only a hint of sweetness, this muffin is a good compromise between a savory breakfast and a sweet treat.

golden multigrain muffins

Hearty and wholesome (thanks to a mixture of whole grains), with a well-rounded breakfasty flavor (thanks to maple syrup and cornmeal) and only a hint of sweetness, these muffins are what I’m craving when I’m not eating biscuits or eggs or other savory things for breakfast.

cardamom cream cheese crumb cake

I love breakfast, and it’s a shame because Nathan is not a breakfast person. At first I considered his defect something to be overcome — get used to eating breakfast every day, and eventually you’ll want to eat breakfast every day, right? — but after a few years together, I realized, like any person in a long-term relationship eventually does, that there are some things about people you cannot change, morning eating habits included.

That said, nowadays I’m not unhappy being the sole breakfast eater in our household; I cherish it. Having an entire meal every day eaten only by me means I get to choose what’s for breakfast every day! I can have eggs! I can have oatmeal! I can have biscuits and toast and yogurt and granola and even leftover birthday cake, if I want to. It’s great.

Because breakfast is “me time” and I don’t have to worry about pleasing anyone but myself, I often make things that I know Nathan doesn’t like. Eggs, onions, and plain yogurt drizzled with honey are all on that list, as is cream cheese, which is what this recipe is all about.

Cream cheese frosting is one of the greatest culinary inventions of all time — sweet yet tangy, fluffy yet dense — and it’s my icing of choice for any number of carrot cakes, spice cakes, red velvet cakes, and the like. The issue with cream cheese frosting, for me, is that 1) Nathan’s not a huge fan of it, and 2) it’s a bit of a stretch to justify eating it for breakfast.

But regarding issue No. 2, I realized something a while back: cream cheese frosting is wholly unacceptable for breakfast, but cream cheese “frosting” baked inside of a breakfast cake or muffin? Perfectly all right, somehow.

This recipe takes a basic streusel-topped coffee cake, loads it up with cardamom and espresso powder (it is for breakfast, after all), and then layers it with a lightly sweetened cream cheese “filling.” You can easily remove two of the five “c’s” from the recipe and make the cake without the cream cheese filling (Nathan will thank you for it), but I don’t think it’s as special that way; not only does the tangy cream cheese provide an excellent contrast to the cardamom cake, but it’s a fun way to treat yourself for breakfast. You can tell everyone it’s a filling, but you and I both know what we’re really eating.

double apple bundt cake

Many times, what I decide to bake is determined by some insatiable craving, or it’s an attempt to recreate something I had in a restaurant, or it comes to me by some other form of divine inspiration.

Other times — more often than I care to admit, really — it’s because I found some old thing in my pantry/fridge/freezer that I needed to use up.

This time it was apples. As usual, when apple season rolled around last fall, my eyes were bigger than my stomach and pie pan combined, and we ended up with a big bag of beautiful, juicy Arkansas Black apples that we just could not get through. They began to ripen a bit more quickly than I anticipated, and right when they were on the brink of rotting, I peeled, cored, and sliced them all, stuck them in the freezer, and promptly forgot about them.

When I discovered the frozen apples in my freezer, in January, I decided to make an apple crisp out of some of them, which turned out, well, all right. The apple flavor was exceptional (Arkansas Black apples aren’t my favorite for nothing), but I realized I had waited too long before freezing the apples, and as a result they were very mealy.

I still had one-and-a-half pounds of apples left, and I knew I needed to use them in some way where the texture would be a non-issue. The only thing I could think of was to make applesauce, but that didn’t seem very exciting.

So I decided to turn to one of my baking heroes, one with a penchant for apple recipes, and see if she had any ideas.

I’ve owned Dorie Greenspan’s Baking From My Home to Yours for years now, but I still haven’t even gotten close to getting through all 300 recipes in the book. As I was perusing the apple section, looking for a recipe that would use up one-and-a-half pounds of apples, ideally in a way that pulverized them before they were baked, I came across her recipe for Double Apple Bundt Cake. The “double” apple component came from adding both a cup of store-bought apple butter and two grated apples to the batter. I was drooling already, but I realized I could kill two birds with one stone, improving the recipe AND getting rid of my frozen apple stash, by making my own apple butter.

To be honest, I had no idea what actually went into apple butter before I started this. What made it so creamy? Does it actually have butter in it? But then I looked online and realized that apple butter is super simple to make at home, as long as you’re OK with being tethered to the stove for a while. All it is, basically, is applesauce that’s been blended until it’s silky-smooth and cooked down for a long time.

I threw one pound of my apples (along with some water, sugar, vinegar, cinnamon, and salt) into a saucepan and hoped for the best. When my apple butter was done, it seemed as if I had performed some sort of arcane alchemy. My mealy apples had morphed into the smoothest, silkiest substance with the most unbelievable apple flavor. It took a lot of willpower not to just eat all the apple butter up with a spoon, but this apple butter had a defined purpose.

I followed Dorie’s cake recipe almost to the letter (although I did weigh out my dry ingredients), but I went in a totally different direction for the icing. The original recipe calls for a lemon glaze, but I didn’t have any citrus fruit on hand except for limes, so I threw together what ended up being one of the simplest icings I’ve ever made. Containing honey, confectioner’s sugar, and melted butter, the icing is warm-flavored and sweet, with a honey flavor that’s present but not over-the-top. You can, of course, make the cake sans icing (a dusting of powdered sugar would be perfect), but I’m almost always of the opinion that an “optional” icing is not actually optional.

brownie meringues

If you know me, this won’t come as much of a surprise to you, but if you don’t, it’s important to know: I love ice cream.

It is my favorite food; it is the greatest food, one that I wouldn’t mind eating every single day. (Even in the winter. Who says you can’t eat ice cream in the winter?) My ice cream maker and I are inseparable; I buy heavy cream every time I go to the grocery store; my copy of The Perfect Scoop is one of the most dogeared cookbooks I own. There aren’t any ice cream recipes on the blog yet, but just you wait — I have a million of them.

One of the main benefits of making ice cream all the time is, not surprisingly, getting to eat ice cream all the time. One of the main disadvantages, however, is all the egg whites I am eternally stuck with.

Egg whites are like the flavor packet that comes with a package of ramen noodles: sometimes you want them both, sometimes you just want the noodles, but you never really want it by itself. Sure, there are lots of cool things that egg whites can do, like make flavorless cakes and substandard omelettes and a big mountain of foam that deflates when you look at it, but really, it’s the yolk — the fatty, flavorful, nutritious yolk — that is the real star.

I’ve slowly been coming up with ways to use up egg whites, because as lame as they are, I hate the idea of them going to waste. When I’m feeling fancy, I’ll use the egg whites to make ice cream cones (recipe coming eventually), but that’s a lot of work and something I’m definitely not doing every time I make ice cream. Coconut macaroons are also good, as is angel food cake (kind of), but after that I was at a loss. What else am I going to do with egg whites — make meringues? Those chalky, chewy, flavorless hunks of technicolor sugar masquerading as a “fancy French cookies”? Certainly not.

But then I got to thinking. What if there was a way to use up lots of egg whites and make meringues that are actually, craveably good? After that challenge to myself, I became obsessed. How does one make a meringue that one is genuinely excited to eat? My initial thoughts:

  1. Chocolate. Definitely chocolate. Lots of chocolate.
  2. Instead of piping them out into delicate, colorful shapes, make them ugly. Pretty food is annoyingly deceptive. Ugly food is almost always tastier.

I decided to go with my instincts and concocted a recipe for the ugliest, chocolatiest meringue cookies imaginable. When I pulled them out of the oven, boy, were they ugly. But considering the ingredients (sugar, cocoa, egg whites, that’s all??), I didn’t have much hope for their taste.

And then I bit into one.

It tasted exactly like a brownie. How on earth could it taste exactly like a brownie?? It didn’t have any butter, or flour, or any of the things that made brownies or other baked goods delicious. It defied logic. It defied science. It defied everything I thought I knew about egg whites.

Perhaps I’ve been too harsh on them.