Lemon Drop Cookies

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to all of my friends who are celebrating tonight!  I’ve decided to share one of my favorite cookie recipes that I tried this season in order to celebrate!

In my experience, refrigerator cookies always turn out the best.  Thanks to refrigeration strengthening the molecular bonds of the dough before it is introduced to heat in the oven (which alters them yet again by breaking these same bonds, but at a slower rate thanks to refrigeration), they turn out pillowy, yet rich and golden brown.*  For this exact reason, when I came across the recipe that inspired this one, I knew I’d love them.

If you know me well, you’ve probably heard me mention in the past few months that my Grandma bought me the Taste of Home 2016 Christmas Cookbook.  Anything that my Grandma gets for me is precious to me, but this gift was especially precious since Grandma is one of my cooking role models.  In light of this, I promised myself that I’d try some of them (I’ve been notoriously guilty of not trying recipes in the cookbooks that I’m given or buy).  And I’m thankful I did, because that’s exactly where I found the recipe that inspired this one, originally titled “Lemon Slice Sugar Cookies”.

The first time I made it, they were all out of lemon pudding at the store, but I had recently scored some lemon extract on sale, so I thought I’d give vanilla pudding a shot instead.  After trying it both ways, it turns out that I think the vanilla is even better than the lemon—providing it with an extra depth of flavor and sweetness.  Keeping Grandma—who has been diabetic for quite a few years now but still likes to indulge in sweet treats from time to time—in mind, I’ve also slightly reduced the sugar (and you can even swap out the pudding for sugar-free vanilla pudding if you need to, as well).  And, since I’m the queen of substitutions, I’ve included other substitution suggestions as well.

I liked this recipe so much that I included it in my holiday cookie gifts this year.  I hope that you enjoy this citrusy treat as much as me!

*For more on this, http://www.theelevatedkitchen.com/guides/science-proteins is a great, quick read.

 Lemon Drop Cookies

Ingredients:

Cookies

1 pkg vanilla pudding (could also use lemon; if using lemon, omit lemon extract)

1/3 C granulated sugar (you can increase to ½ C sugar if you’d like a sweeter cookie)

1 ½-2 ½ tsp lemon extract (use less if you want them to be sweeter, more if you want them to be more lemony)

½ C (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

1 egg

2 Tbsp milk

1 ½ C unbleached flour (bleached is fine if that’s all you have)

1 tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

Icing

½ C confection sugar

2-4 Tbsp fresh-squeezed lemon juice (could also use lemon extract if you don’t have any, but use 1tsp extract:2 tsp water in order to dilute; you can also substitute lemon juice for grapefruit juice if you’d like to introduce a more unique citric dimension to the cookie)

lemon-drop-cookies-1

Directions:

Combine vanilla pudding, sugar, lemon extract, and butter in a large bowl by mixing until fluffy.  Add egg and slowly mix in milk until combined.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt.  Gradually incorporate dry mixture into wet mixture.  Mix until combined.

Divide dough in half.  Lay out dough on plastic wrap and shape into a log (no shorter than 5”, no longer than 7”). Cover with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 375* F.  Take dough out of refrigerator and cut into 1/2” slices.  Line baking sheet with parchment paper or grease pan (if not non-stick).  Place cookies on pan 2” apart.  Bake 8-10 minutes, or until light golden brown on the bottom of the cookie.

Remove the cookies from oven and place on cooling rack.

Combine confection sugar and lemon juice in bowl.  Drizzle cookies with icing once cool, leaving them on the rack to dry once more after icing.  Enjoy!

Yields about 2 dozen.

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Honey Ginger Snaps

Honey Ginger Snaps

Growing up, baking cookies with my Mom and Grandma was something that I always looked forward to doing each holiday season.   Thinking back, I can still smell all of the sugar and spice, and even feel the sticky dough caught between my fingers and underneath my nail beds (probably one of the reasons my parents called me Messy Jessie growing up).  I always went into a day of baking with excitement, but would quickly grow bored and want to move on to the next task.  Even in the face of my petulant impatience, my mother would lovingly, patiently finish each batch by herself, never complaining that I didn’t help her finish.  Each cookie was and still is baked with love, and this, she has always said, is the secret ingredient—a truth much more profound than I could have ever known as a kid.  It is these kind of memories that I relish in.

Fast forward years later, and I still look forward to it, which is why this year, I decided to come into the season prepared.   After all, there are endless possibilities with cookies, and I wanted to make sure those that I chose to bake were worth it. While I was trialing recipes, I came across this twist on a classic that I won’t exclude from my repertoire again.   Two of my favorite things about this recipe are how easy it is to make and how versatile it is—and for these reasons, I know they’ll become one of your favorites as well. Whether it’s for a holiday cookie gift or not, this cookie is sure to please year-round.  They’re best enjoyed with hot tea (I’d recommend black) or black coffee (I’d recommend a mild, Central or South American coffee.  I’ve been enjoying my batch with some washed Colombian coffee).

Ingredients:

2 C unbleached all-purpose flour

1 Tbsp ground ginger

2 tsp baking soda

1/8 tsp salt

1/4 tsp ground cloves

½ C vegetable shortening (I used 1/4 C with the batch pictured, which is why they turned out more round and less flat, but if you’d like a flatter, more rich cookie, use 1/2 C)

¼ C butter, divided

¾ C sugar

¼ cup honey (I used neem honey for a more robust flavor, but any honey will do!)

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla

honey-gingersnaps-3

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350*F.  Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper (I prefer parchment).  Combine dry ingredients in a medium bowl.

In a large bowl, beat shortening and butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth.  Gradually stir in the sugar until it is blended, increasing the speed to high until light and fluffy.  Beat in honey, egg, and vanilla.  Once fluffy, gradually stir in the flour until it is combined.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls and place on prepared cookie sheets 2 inches apart.

Bake 10 minutes or until golden brown.  Let stand for 5 minutes, and then carefully place cookies on wire rack to cool.  Store in airtight container up to one week.

Yields 3-4 dozen

All-Natural Pumpkin Puree

Pie pumpkins are on sale at a local store (Woodmans) for only $0.99, so I figured why not try to make some homemade pumpkin puree?

(My recipe is adapted from Alton Brown’s Pumpkin Puree Recipe, which is made with only pumpkin and salt)

Ingredients:

1 small pie pumpkin (3-5 lbs.)

pinch of salt

1/4 C water

2 Tbsp. pure maple syrup

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

about 1 in. finger fresh ginger

Roasting Pie Pumpkin

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400F.  Wash pumpkin thoroughly after removing stem.  Carefully cut pumpkin in half from top to bottom.  Remove seeds and gooey fiber with a large metal spoon.  Set seeds aside for other use (you can roast washed, partially dried seeds sprinkled with salt at 325F on a baking sheet lightly sprayed with cooking oil for about 15 minutes for a crunchy snack or topping). Sprinkle pumpkin halves with salt.  Place the halves flesh side down on a pan lined with parchment paper. Roast in oven for about 45 minutes, or until a knife can easily be placed in and removed from the pumpkin without the flesh sticking to it. Remove from oven. After the pumpkin has cooled down enough to handle (30mins-1hr), remove the flesh from the skin with a spoon. Put cooked pumpkin flesh in a blender (or food processor, if you have one) with water, maple syrup, cinnamon, and ginger. Blend until smooth. Yields about 3-4 cups. Refrigerate up to 1 week. Enjoy in smoothies, with yogurt, or in recipes as a substitute for canned pumpkin puree!

I Can’t Believe It’s Whole Wheat Zucchini Bread

On our way home from a wedding over this past weekend, we stopped at a roadside farm stand and picked up a HUGE zucchini (for only $2!!!), and as it’s gotten a little chilly over the past few days, I figured that baking zucchini bread was the natural thing to do with it.  As I browsed the ingredients that I needed to buy in the baking aisle, I thought, “Why not try whole wheat?”  So I looked up a recipe that sounded good, and modified it to how it suited my taste…and it turned out even better than I thought it would!  I had actually never baked with whole wheat flour before, but after this success, I’ll definitely try making other things with it (and other alternate flours) in the future, and even tweaking this recipe!  (Note: I preferred the bread in the muffin format over the loaf!)

zucchini

You can make adjustments where you see fit, as well, which I have mad suggestions for below! (Substitute whole wheat flour for white, or some wheat flour for white, chocolate chips for cacao nibs, white sugar for raw cane sugar, etc.)
Ingredients:
3 C whole wheat flour
1 ½ Tbsp. cinnamon
1 ½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
3 eggs
¾ C coconut oil (vegetable or canola oil will do as well), slightly melted for easy stirring
¼ C raw acacia honey (but any variety of honey will do!), slightly melted (make a simple syrup and add about 1 Tbsp. or less very hot water and stir, which will break down the sugar and turn the honey into a liquid)
¼ C raw cane sugar (in place of white sugar, which you could use instead if preferred or if that’s what you have available to you) **
1 ¼ tsp. vanilla
3 C grated zucchini (try to remove any large seeds)
¼ C cacao nibs (or about ½ – ¾ C dark or semisweetened chocolate if you don’t have any cacao nibs or want something a little bit sweeter), optional (I tried all three ways, and the semisweet is definitely the sweetest, but the other two are delicious as well!)

**You can also add more sugar if you would like, as I have kept the sugar content pretty low in this recipe, which is surely not suited for all palates.
Directions:
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F. In the meanwhile, grease your loaf and/or muffin pans. (When I made this particular batch, I made 1 loaf and 10 muffins). Next, add all of the dry ingredients except the chocolate together and stir. In the center of the bowl with the dry ingredients, make a well and pour in all of the wet ingredients except for the zucchini. Stir just until mixed, making sure not to overmix. Fold in the grated zucchini and chocolate chips or cacao nibs (reserving half of the chocolate for topping). Pour batter into greased loaf pan(s) or muffin holders and top with remaining chocolate pieces. Bake about 15-20 minutes for muffins and 30-60 minutes for loaf pans, or until a tooth pick or fork come out clean.

Enjoy!

Top with butter or coconut oil for an extra tasty treat!!!

Recipe adapted from Lisa Leake of the 100 Days of Real Food blog’s Whole Wheat Zucchini Bread: http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2010/06/25/recipe-zucchini-bread/