It is Secret Recipe Club day again and I have a new blog to introduce you to! This month I was assigned Feast on the Cheap, written by the mother/daughter team of Mary Anne Rittenhouse and Mariel Rittenhouse Goodson. Mary Anne has been a caterer for many years and has honed her craft. Mariel grew up in a house where simple foods were transformed into works of art, refining her palate early.
One of the intriguing aspects of Feast on the Cheap are what they call “dueling dishes”. It is fun to see how the two cooks interpret the same ingredients and recipes; Mary Anne’s with her more advanced techniques and Mariel’s reinterpreted versions that are less expensive and easy for beginning cooks. There is truly something for everyone on their blog!
For today I chose a wonderful cookie that I know you guys will really enjoy! These are lovely, light cookies on their own, a bit like shortbread with a slightly sandy texture. When you dip them in chocolate it takes on a whole new dimension of texture and flavor. And the toffee bits on top make it a crunchy bite of heaven. Mary Anne and Mariel, you definitely have a winner with this cookie!
When you look at a recipe and it has a short list of ingredients, each one takes on added significance. This is when you pull out the best you’ve got. Use real butter, preferably a European-style – I like Kerrygold, Organic Valley Pastured, and Strauss (if you live in the Bay Area). The higher percentage of fat will make a huge difference in the creaminess of these cookies. And this is where vanilla paste (from Nielsen-Massey or The Vanilla Queen) really shines. Instead of the liquid extract this is a lightly sweetened gel-like mixture with vanilla seeds in it. The seeds burst on your tongue giving you an extra hit of vanilla in every bite.
This is really three cookies in one because you can stop at any stage and serve them as is. Plain they would be the perfect addition to a bowl of ice cream tucked in the side of the dish. With the chocolate dipping, serve them with espresso at the end of a heavy meal – they will be light, the perfect ending to a dinner party. And with the toffee bits on top, a child’s delight in every way. Three winning cookies in one recipe!
I also like that these are essentially homemade slice and bake cookies. All the ease of the ones you buy in tubes in the store, but none of the preservatives or additives. You control the ingredients and know exactly what your family is eating.
I made mine gluten-free of course and they are a bit more delicate than those made with all-purpose wheat flours. But in both cases, having them rest for 4 hours or longer gives the dry ingredients time to fully absorb the moisture giving you a superior tasting cookie.
The technique I give you for melting the chocolate may be unfamiliar, but trust me it is perfect. Alice Medrich, the doyenne of chocolate, has used this technique for years. Did you know that steam is hotter than simmering water? Yep it is, so when you use a double boiler set up you are actually melting the chocolate at a much higher temperature than if you set the bowl directly in the water! There is little to no chance of scorching the chocolate because there is no direct heat. Just pour it into the bowl, place the bowl in the water and walk away!
I can see this as a beautiful addition to my holiday cookie platters, adding an easy black and white combination that will contrast perfectly with many of the traditional cookies. You could use a variety of toppings like gold or silver dragees or edible glitter for a little sparkle, nonpariels, colored jimmies, etc. There is no end to the fun you can have creating treats your family will love.
Thank you Mary Anne and Mariel for a wonderful recipe that will definitely be made again and again in our household!
Happy Chocolate Monday everyone!
Many toffee bits are gluten-free, but double check the labels or look online to make sure they are safe before using.
- 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 1 tsp orange zest, optional
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract or paste
- 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour or 300g gluten-free flour blend
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp cold water
- 2 oz chopped Heath Bars, toffee bits or chopped nuts
- 8 oz bittersweet, semisweet, or milk chocolate
- 2 tsp coconut oil
- Tear off 2 sheets of plastic wrap about 14-inches long for wrapping the dough and leave them on the counter while you mix the dough.
- Mix the Dough: In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, place the butter and sugar. Mix on low until combined, then increase the speed to medium, creaming them together until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla, beating well to incorporate.
- Turn the mixer off; add the flour, salt, and water and mix on Low until just combined and no streaks remain. Do not over-beat.
- Divide the dough in half and place one piece on each of the two sheets of plastic wrap. Form the dough into 2 (12-inch-long) logs, approximately 1-1/2 to 2 inches in diameter. Wrap the dough logs tightly with the plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to 4 days, or freeze for longer storage.
- Bake the Cookies: Preheat the oven to 375°F and set out 2 baking sheets and line with parchment paper. Using a very sharp serrated bread knife, cut each log into 1/4-inch thick slices. Place slices about 1-inch apart on prepared baking sheets. Note: If you are baking one sheet at a time, refrigerate remaining dough until ready to bake.
- Bake the cookies until the edges are golden, about 15 minutes. Transfer to cookie racks to cool.
- Prepare the Toppings: Line a clean baking sheet with parchment paper (you can reuse the sheet you used to bake the cookies). Pour the toffee bits or nuts into a small bowl; set next to the baking sheet.
- Set a skillet on the stove and add 1 to 2 inches of water. In a heatproof bowl, place the chocolate and coconut oil and set the bowl in the water. Bring the water to a simmer, turn off the heat, and leave the chocolate to gently melt for about 5 minutes. Stir to start blending the chocolate and coconut oil; leave in the water until the chocolate is fully melted. Stir until smooth; do not splash any water into chocolate or it will seize.
- Decorate the Cookies: Dip each cookie halfway into the chocolate. Drag them back and forth which pushes the chocolate higher, covering more of the cookie. Allow excess chocolate to drip back into the bowl. Transfer the dipped cookie to the parchment-covered baking sheet. Immediately sprinkle the chocolate with the nuts or toffee if desired. Repeat until all of the cookies are dipped and topped.
- With the coconut oil in the chocolate (which helps keep it thin to make dipping easier), it takes longer to dry than chocolate melted alone. Refrigerate dipped cookies on the baking sheet until the chocolate sets, about 1 hour. Store in sealed airtight containers, layered between sheets of parchment, for up to 1 week. Keep the cookies chilled because the chocolate gets soft very quickly.
- The dough needs to rest for at least 4 hours, so plan ahead.
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Let’s connect! If you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, need to alter a recipe for gluten-free, or want recipe suggestions, don’t hesitate to contact me. Thanks for reading and welcome to The Heritage Cook family!