Happy New Year!

Hi everyone, A here.

We’re in the midst of packing up our stuff. Our move is in a week, which is a huge bummer, but we also just completed an ENORMOUS baking jag. This was partly due to the fact that J and I like to bake for people around the holidays and we didn’t get to do much of it this year, and we owed a lot of wonderful people overdue holiday presents or “thanks for doing us a favor” presents, or just plain old “we’ll miss you, please eat these cookies” presents.

However, the first of this started with trying to make maple bacon caramels for my sister-in-law as a Christmas present. She is a huge fan of all things bacon, so I thought this would be the perfect present for her, and it was… in theory.

I found a recipe online for maple syrup caramels that was similar to my tried-and-true sea salt caramel recipe, and I thought, “just add bacon… genius!”

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No. This post should probably be entitled “beware random recipes on the internet.” I made one batch, with beautiful applewood smoked bacon from Whole Foods (read: expensive). I got hard toffee. I tried again, with another half pound of bacon and lowering the temp. Toffee again. J suggested I stop wasting money on bacon until I perfected the caramel part. Three more tries, another large container of maple syrup, and lots of anger later, I was ready to give up. I certainly wouldn’t have them ready in time for the holidays, but her birthday and my nephew’s birthday were shortly after Christmas, so I thought that I would try them again after I returned back to my kitchen after the holidays.

A week later, I started off again. Toffee. Lots of maple toffee. I was ready to throw a brick through the window at this point. I decided to switch to another recipe, which I also found on the internet, but only because I was so frustrated. I was up against a birthday party deadline, so I had to use it. It was successful, but not that tasty, in my mind.

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(bacon toffee… looks so good but breaks your teeth!)

I am still in the midst of trying to figure this one out. I calibrated my candy thermometer, so that’s not the problem. The new version was not great- I wanted that caramelized sugar taste, which I didn’t get out of the actual “sucessful” (aka cut-able) batch. I may have to deal with maple extract instead. This will be a long-term project for our new place.

We also baked a ton of cookies. Observe:

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We made chocolate chip cookies with sea salt, ginger quakes, chocolate hazelnut crinkle cookies, and Norwegian butter cookies. We went with recipes that had high yields, because we had a lot of presents to give out. The chocolate hazelnut crinkles were new, but I have been searching for a chocolate crinkle cookie ever since I lived in Brooklyn near Two Little Red Hens bakery— they had such an amazing, brownie-like, chocolate crinkle. These hazelnut ones were great! They are small, cute, and rich in chocolate and hazelnut flavor.

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Chocolate Hazelnut Crinkle Cookies (modified slightly from Epicurious, originally from Gourmet Magazine, December 2006)

  • 1 cup hazelnuts
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 6 oz fine-quality bittersweet
  • chocolate (no more than 60% cacao if marked), finely chopped
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup confectioners sugar

Make dough:
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.

Toast hazelnuts in a shallow baking pan in oven until skins split and nuts are pale golden, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven (turn oven off), then wrap hazelnuts in a kitchen towel and rub to remove any loose skins. Cool nuts completely. Pulse nuts with granulated sugar in a food processor until finely chopped.

Melt chocolate in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water or in top of a double boiler, stirring until smooth. Remove bowl from heat and set aside.

Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.

Beat together butter and brown sugar in another bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until creamy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in melted chocolate until combined. Add milk and vanilla, beating to incorporate. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture, mixing until just combined. Stir in nut mixture. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill dough until firm, 2 to 3 hours.

Form and bake cookies:
Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Sift confectioners sugar into a bowl. Halve dough and chill 1 half, wrapped in plastic wrap. Roll remaining half into 1-inch balls, placing them on a sheet of wax paper as rolled. Roll balls, 3 or 4 at a time, in confectioners sugar to coat generously and arrange 2 inches apart on lined baking sheets.

Bake, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until cookies are puffed and cracked and edges feel dry (but centers are still slightly soft), 12 to 15 minutes total. Transfer cookies (still on parchment) to racks to cool completely.

** a tip for these babies: if you want them to get that snow-white coating on the outside (otherwise, sometimes the confectioner’s sugar gets absorbed by the dough), coat the balls in granulated sugar first so that there’s a buffer between the dough and the confectioner’s sugar. It’s a tad bit sweeter, but keeps them pretty.

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This has been a great year, with the building of this blog and the testing of new recipes. Look out for some changes in the upcoming months. We have a lot of New Year’s Resolutions that pertain to baking and our blog, so stay tuned for our food adventures in our new home!

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