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Sugar & Spice Holiday Cookies

The holidays are fast approaching and all we want to do is hibernate with our new kittens and eat cookies. Fortunately, we’re wise enough to know that when we make batches of things like cookies, brownies, blondies, and other goodies, we either need to give them away, or freeze them and eat them judiciously throughout their lives (we rarely have frost bitten treats).

Gingerbread is classically Christmas. The warmth of ginger and the earthiness of the molasses are ideal for warming you up. While looking for gingerbread inspiration, we came across this nice, lightly spiced cookie recipe from King Arthur. Short a few of the ingredients, but adequately supplied with substitutes – like honey for molasses, coconut oil for shortening, and a little white whole wheat flour in place of the all-purpose – to make them “healthy” sugar cookies – we decide to jump into the recipe.

Day-light savings time really sucks when you’re an afternoon baker attempting to make anything you might want to photograph. This recipe was no exception. At 4:00pm, with less than an hour of sunlight left on a gloomy SF afternoon, we got started. The dough needs to rest in the fridge so after Jason got Steve’s afternoon cookie and tea hopes up, we had to wait another day so that we could capture the finished product in daylight.

A quick and easy smear of chocolate (dark and white) makes for a delicious finishing touch. And be sure to dunk them in your favorite warm beverage. They’re extra delicious after a quick soak in coffee and tea.

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Sugar and Spice Cookies
Adapted from King Arthur flour.

1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) butter
1/2 cup coconut oil
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice or ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
2 tablespoons honey
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour
3 tablespoons cornstarch

In a medium-sized bowl, beat together the butter, shortening, sugars, baking powder, spices, and salt until light and fluffy.

Add the egg and molasses, and beat well.

Mix about half of the flour into the butter mixture. When well combined, add the cornstarch and the remaining flour.

Divide the dough in thirds, flattening each half slightly to make a disk. Smooth the edges by rolling the disk along a lightly floured work surface. Wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 1 hour (or longer), for easiest rolling.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Take one piece of dough out of the refrigerator, and flour a clean work surface, and the dough.

Roll it out as thin or thick as you like. For slightly less crisp cookies, roll it out more thickly. We like to roll these cookies 1/8″ to 1/4″inch thick. Use powdered sugar under and on top of the dough to keep it from sticking to the table or rolling pin.

Alternatively, place the dough on parchment, and put a sheet of plastic wrap or another piece of parchment over it as you roll, pulling the plastic or parchment to eliminate wrinkles as necessary when rolling; this will keep dough from sticking without the need for additional flour.

Transfer the cookies to parchment-lined or silpat baking sheets.

Bake them just until they’re slightly brown around the edges, or until they feel firm, about 8 to 12 minutes, depending on the size and thickness.

Remove the cookies from the oven, and let them cool on the baking sheet for several minutes, or until they’re set. Transfer them to a rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough.

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Double Rye Brownies

Brownies are omni-season treats, perfect for the lunch box as well as the holiday desert buffet. Chocolatey and usually dense and chewy, the brownie comes in as many varieties as there are enthusiasts who bake them. For the originalists, the genesis brownie likely hailed from Chicago and consisted of butter, semisweet chocolate, cake flour, baking powder, eggs, sugar, and crushed walnuts. They were finished with apricot glaze and refrigerated. The brownie was allegedly created at the request of one Mrs. Bertha Palmer who asked the chef of the Palmer House Hotel to make a cake-like treat she and other ladies visiting the Colombian Exhibition could cary with them without getting messy. Considering the time (we’re talking 1890s), Mrs. Palmer and her lady friends likely wore gloves. So it’s hard to imagine a hand-held chocolate brownie with sticky glaze fitting the bill, but who are we to judge?

Our take on the brownie packs a big bold wallop of rye flavor from whisky and flour. We start by soaking cocoa nibs in Bulleit Rye whisky for about a week. The softened cocoa nibs are strained out and used to top off the batter where they retain the delicious, boozy flavor of the rye in spite of the heat of the oven. Rye flour add complexity and deepens the flavor of the dark roasted chocolate. And to guild the lily, we top the brownies with a cocoa crumble before they go into the oven, so every bite has a little crunch.

We use brown sugar and granulated sugar to deepen the brownies’ flavor as they cook and their edges caramelize. Baking brownies individually in mini-muffin or cupcake tins ensures every bite includes both the soft, chewy center of a rich brownie and the crunchy edge that brownies in the center of the pan never develop. They’re also much easier to pick up and eat then those Mrs. Palmer and her lady friends ate.

We served the bites along with Bourbon Apple Blondies (post to come soon) at the 2016 Whiskeyfest in San Francisco at the Bulliet Bourbon Booth. They’re the perfect brownie bite! Or at least we think so.

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Double Rye Brownies with Crumb topping
yield 24

Cacao Nibs and Rye
2 tablespoons cacao nibs
2 tablespoons Bulleit Rye

Crumb Topping
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 cup rye flour
1/8 cup cacao nibs, (drained from the cacao nib and rye concoction)
1 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened

Brownies
6 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons or less Bulleit Rye, (from cacao nib and Rye concoction)
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate (60 to 70 percent cocoa), chopped
3/4 cups rye flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cocoa Nib Rye:
Soak cacao nibs in rye for at least a day and up to a week.

Crumble:
Whisk granulated sugar, all-purpose flour, rye flour, cacao nibs, cocoa powder, and salt in a medium bowl until blended. Work in butter with your fingers to form large clumps.there should be no dry spots. Cover and chill.
Do ahead: Crumble can be made 2 days ahead. Keep chilled.

Brownies:
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and sift cocoa over small muffin tins.

Using a double boiler, or in a metal bowl set over a saucepan containing an inch of simmering water (do not let bottom of bowl touch the water), melt the butter and chocolate, stirring with a heatproof rubber spatula. Add the rye whisky and sea salt. Let cool.

In a separate bowl, whisk together rye flour, cocoa, and baking powder.

Using an electric mixer, beat eggs, granulated and brown sugars and vanilla until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in melted chocolate mixture until smooth. Beat in flour mixture.

Pour batter into prepared mini pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle with crumb top and bake until brownies are mostly firm, but with a very slight wobble in the center, about 13-15 minutes. (Note that a tester inserted in the center will not come out clean.) Let cool in pan 3 minutes before removing.

Allow the brownies to cool completely before devouring.