South Carolina: A sesame seed favorite, Benne Wafers make unique Christmas cookie

bennewafers3Jeremy and I continue our tour of the 50 states, searching for the most interesting Christmas cookie for each.  This week, I am baking a recipe from Charleston, South Carolina, Benne Wafers.

If you have been following our blog, my last stop was  Indiana.  I made Springerle coolies, and they were not too good, but it was entirely baker’s error.  I need to re-visit that recipe because I think I missed a unique cookie.   I have baked my way through New JerseyAlaska, Colorado, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Alabama.

This week’s recipe was not difficult to find, but I did have to wait a day or two for my order of sesame seeds from Amazon.  The Olde Colony Bakery in Charleston has the history of the Benne wafers, originating in Colonial times with slaves arriving from Africa.

sesameseedsThe seeds are lightly toasted before making the simple recipe. I’m a careless kind of cook, so I concentrated on those sesame seeds for 10 minutes, making sure they were perfectly browned.  Overall, the resulting cookie was thin, crisp and tasty, but not my favorite.  My version was considerably darker than the cookies pictured on the Old Colony Bakery web page, so I suspect I could have taken them out of the oven a little earlier.  My crunchy cookies may have had more crunch (over-baked) than crisp (just right).

I found an easy recipe on SimplyRecipes.com.  I think I should change my approach to bake each cookie recipe twice.  I think if I did this again, I could do better.

Benne Wafers Recipe

by Steve-Anna Stephens

  • Prep time: 25 minutes
  • Cook time: 20 minutes
  • Dough chilling time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: Makes 2-4 dozen, depending on the size of your spoonfuls

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sesame seeds, toasted
  • 1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 4 tbsp. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 F. Cover cookie sheets in parchment paper. Toast the sesame seeds in a heavy skillet over medium heat until they are golden brown.

Beat the brown sugar and butter together in a medium-sized bowl for several minutes until fluffy. Beat in the egg. Whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder, then add these dry ingredients to the butter, sugar, egg mixture, mix well. Stir in the toasted sesame seeds, vanilla extract, and lemon juice.

Chill the dough for 30 minutes in the refrigerator. This makes it easier to drop the cookies on the sheets.

Drop by teaspoonful onto prepared cookie sheets, leaving space for the cookies to spread. Bake for approximately 15 minutes, or until the edges are slightly brown. Cool for a minute or two on the cookie sheets, then transfer to a rack to continue cooling.

Indiana: German Springerle cookies inspired by a rolling pin

If you are just joining this 2017 adventure, Jeremy and I have challenged ourselves to produce one terrific cookie recipe from each of the 50 states.  Each week, we draw a state name and go off in search of an interesting cookie recipe.  This week, I added Indiana to my group of states.  I have baked my way through New JerseyAlaska, Colorado, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Alabama.

My choice to bake Springerle cookies was a no-brainer.  Joanne, my co-worker and a German teacher, had surprised me with the gift of a wooden Springerle rolling pin just the week before. When I drew “Indiana,” my first internet search referenced two religious organizations that make traditional Springerle cookies:   I had never heard of the cookies; although, when I searched online, I recognized the unique designs.  Springerle cookies are white, rectangular cookies that have an embossed design–Springerle means ”little jumper” or “little knight,” because of the commonly represented design.

In Indiana, there are several bakeries, including one at the Sisters of St. Benedict of Ferdinand, Indiana, that make the cookies.  There is a bakery that specializes in all things German, including a huge collection of gnomes:  The Heidelberg Haus.  I may decide to order the cookies so I can see what they are supposed to take like.

I set out to make these traditional cookies.  I started by ordering “Bakers Ammonia,” a pre-baking soda era item because several recipes called for that.  I didn’t use it, though, because there were many recipes that didn’t require the traditional item.  Here’s the problem. There are two types of Springerle cookie recipes:  easy and difficult.  I chose easy.  Easy did not taste great.  I suspect that the cookies must be made with a lot more love than I devoted to them. Unfortuantely, mine were crunchy and nearly inedible.

Here’s Martha Stewart’s recipe.  I did not use this one, but if I were to try again, I would try this one.

Here are some recipes on All Recipes.  (The cookies were not light and delicate, but I suspect that is not the fault of the recipe–I need a tutorial.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Jersey: Pignoli cookies bring out my inner Italian

This headline was misleading, since, according to my DNA, I am  <1% Italian; however, the smell of these cookies baking took me to the evenings I’ve visited Vaccaro’s Bakery in Baltimore’s Little Italy.

If you are just joining this 2017 adventure, Jeremy and I have challenged ourselves to produce one terrific cookie recipe from each of the 50 states.  Each week, we draw a state name and go off in search of an interesting cookie recipe.  This week, I added New Jersey to my group of states.  I have baked my way through Alaska, Colorado, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Alabama.

Before my research on cookies from New Jersey, I had never heard of a pignoli cookie.  (Pignoli is pronounced: peen-yo-lee and means “pine nuts.”)  Also, I could not imagine a delicious sweet made with pine nuts, which are usually relegated to annoyingly healthy salads or pesto–savory, not sweet.

I landed on the Carlo’s Bakery page.  Although I do not watch TLC’s Cake Boss, I learned that the show is filmed in the Hoboken bakery.  Digging a little deeper, I figured out that the charismatic Buddy Valastro also has a huge repertoire of cookies, including the Italian pignoli.

I picked up 7 oz. of almond paste (a first for me–had no idea this existed) and 8 oz. of pine nuts.  Almond paste was $8.99 at Martins, and the pine nuts set me back another $8.00.  The recipe I used produced 14 cookies–that’s more than $1.00 a cookie.  Valastro advertises these cookies at $14.95 a lb.

With my usual disregard of baking directions, I didn’t see that I would be making the dough in a food processor–mixing took less than 5 minutes.  I did like the surprising ease of directions, but if a person didn’t have a food processor, it would be hard to create the consistency needed.

I rank the flavor of these cookies at the top of my list so far, but the price tag would keep me from producing these as gifts.  If I can find a more reasonable source of these two ingredients, I am making these in December.

Bon-Appetit Recipe for Pignoli Cookies:

MAKES 14 COOKIES

  • 1 7-ounce tube almond paste (not marzipan), coarsely crumbled
  • ⅔ cup powdered sugar
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup pine nuts

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°. Pulse almond paste and powdered sugar in a food processor until combined. Add egg white, honey, and salt and pulse until a smooth, thick batter forms, about 1 minute.

Place pine nuts in a small bowl. Working one at a time, scoop tablespoonfuls of batter onto pine nuts and toss gently to coat. Roll lightly with your hands to form pine nut-covered balls. (Note to Reader:  It is a sticky dough–I wasted at least a cookie’s worth of dough stuck to my fingers–“flouring” my hands and utensils with powdered sugar would have helped this process.) Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake cookies until golden brown and edges are firm, 16–19 minutes. Let cool.

Do Ahead: Cookies can be made 5 days ahead; store airtight at room temperature.

 

 

Alabama: Southern spice – Turtleback cookies make great Christmas gifts

Our 50-state Christmas cookie challenge continues.  Between now and December, Jeremy and I are trying to bake on cookie representing each of the 50 states, with the idea that these will make excellent personalized gifts. I’ve baked c0okies representing Alaska, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Colorado.  I drew Alabama this week.

Let me digress a minute.  In second grade, I had to produce the dreaded “science fair project.”  My mom and dad helped me to combine my love of baking with science.  I made the traditional Tollhouse chocolate chip cookie recipe, but each time I baked them, I left out one ingredient.  My final display explained the chemical influence of each of the ingredients in the cookie.  I was proud of the project and remember sharing my display in the cafeteria/gymnasium of our elementary school.

Fast forward to Saturday. I was in a hurry, and I decided that Turtlebacks would be a great cookie to make for a party I was hosting a few hours later. With my grandson, we began mixing and measuring.  I was temporarily thrown off by the 20 tbsp. of unsalted butter required but continued mixing with my typical abandon.

I was stopped in my floury tracks when I read that the dough had to be refrigerated for 24 hours.  Oh well.tra I put the dough in plastic wrap, cleaned up the kitchen, baked two trays of chocolate chip cookies from a boxed mix and went out the door.

On Sunday, I returned to the cookies, determined to finish them.  The frosting began with the instruction, “Whisk REMAINING cinnamon and salt. . .”  That’s when I realized that I had not measured several of the main ingredients correctly the day before–I put ALL the cinnamon, salt, butter, brown sugar and vanilla in the dough.  That was an epic error. Remembering my elementary school project, I knew that my cookies would be flat, dark brown, and inedible.

So I doctored the dough with flour and baking soda and moved on.

The frosting for the cookies is out of this world delicious.  I could have eaten it with a spoon out of the pot. Ok.  I confess.  I ate it with a spoon out of the pot.

The cookies–if you mix the ingredients correctly–are delicious.  What I like about them, too, is that they are not your average oatmeal, chocolate or sugar cookie.  The flavor is maple and spice.

I shared the cookies with family and friends.  My German teacher friend, Joanne, remarked that they taste a lot like the traditional spice cookie, lebkuchen.  Lebkuchen means “gingerbread” in German.  That gives me more reason to believe that these cookies would be an excellent gift at Christmas.

Turtleback Cookies

(based on the recipe from Traeger’s Bakery in Demopolis, Alabama).

MAKES 32 COOKIES

Ingredients

1 12 cups all-purpose flour
12 cup chopped pecans
1 14 tsp. ground cinnamon
12 tsp. baking soda
12 tsp. ground cardamom
12 tsp. kosher salt
34 cup brown sugar
12 cup granulated sugar
20 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1 12 tsp. vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 12 cups confectioners’ sugar
3 tbsp. heavy cream

Instructions

(Ingredients in bold are the ones I didn’t measure correctly–pay attention!) Combine flour, pecans, 1 tsp. cinnamon, baking soda, cardamom, and 14 tsp. salt; set aside. Combine 12 cup brown sugar, granulated sugar, 16 tbsp. butter, and 1 tsp. vanilla in a large bowl; beat on medium-high speed with a hand mixer until smooth and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition; add dry ingredients; beat on low speed until just combined.
Cover the dough and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, whisk remaining cinnamon and salt, plus the powdered sugar in a bowl; set aside. Place remaining butter and brown sugar in a 2-qt. saucepan over medium, stirring constantly; boil. Remove from heat and stir in remaining vanilla and the cream. Using a mixer, add the powdered sugar mixture and blend until icing is completely smooth.
Heat oven to 350˚. Roll dough into 1 12” balls and flatten into circles about 12” thick. Bake for 25 minutes, until browned around the edges; cool. Top each cookie with a thin layer of icing, spread almost to the edge (about 1 tablespoon of icing should suffice). Allow the icing to harden completely before serving.
Traeger’s Bakery is no longer in business, but it was the mainstay of Demopolis, Alabama for over 70 years.  A description of the cookies and the bakery appeared in Saveur online magazine in April 2015.

Colorado: Bake these amazing Cowboy Cookies

Our 50-state Christmas cookie challenge continues.  We’re into week 7 of our adventure.  I’ve baked c0okies representing Alaska, Illinois and Wisconsin.  I drew Colorado this week.img_9239

It’s tough to research the Christmas cookie profile of Colorado without landing on some marijuana-related gifts.   Fortunately, Colorado Cowboy Cookies are an oatmeal and chocolate chip based cookie that requires no mind-altering substances.  They are delicious all on their own.

I found this recipe on several sites, but I am linking it to the Epicurious recipe online.

I had my first experience toasting walnuts, and, I think that the crunchy walnut flavor greatly enhanced the cookie, but it might not be a flavor that everyone loves.  My toasted walnuts were two seconds from charred, so I would not let them toast quite as long next time.

I mixed up a batch and made a dozen for my son and his wife.  Then, I left some of the dough (enough for a dozen) at my parents’ house for them to bake later.  I visited my neighbors and baked a dozen for them.  I wrapped up my Cowboy cookie tour with a dozen at home.  If I had followed the recipe and made super-sized cookies, there would have been 20; however, I was able to make about four dozen “regular” sized cookies.

Everyone agreed these are delicious.  They would make great gifts as oversized cookies wrapped in a bandana or some similar cowboy theme–I’ll have to work on that idea.

YIELD

Makes about 20 cookiesimg_9240

INGREDIENTS

    • 2 cups all purpose flour
    • 2 cups old-fashioned oats
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
    • 3/4 cup sugar
    • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (packed) dark brown sugar
    • 2 large eggs
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
    • 1 cup chopped toasted walnuts (about 4 ounces)

PREPARATION

    1. Whisk first 5 ingredients in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat butter and both sugars in large bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla, beating to combine. Add dry ingredients and beat until just blended. Stir in chocolate chips and walnuts. Cover dough and chill 1 hour. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled. Let soften slightly before continuing.)
    2. Arrange 2 racks in center of oven; preheat to 350°F. Butter 2 baking sheets. Form dough into balls, using 1/4 cup dough for each. Place on prepared sheets, spacing 2 inches apart. Flatten with hand to 3 1/2-inch rounds. Bake 10 minutes, then rotate sheets. Bake until cookies are golden brown around edges and firm in center, about 4 minutes longer. Cool on sheet 5 minutes. Transfer to racks to cool completely. (Can be made 1 week ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.)

Wisconsin (take two): Famous Wisconsin State Fair Cranberry Cookies

Cranberry White Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Cranberry White Chocolate Chunk Cookies

My husband Roger benefits from the state cookie project, so he didn’t put up a big fuss when I decided to give Wisconsin a second chance.  If you read my post last week, my Apple-Cheddar cookies were not a big hit.  These cranberry cookies, though, are going to be made and gifted many times over.

I invited my neighbors in to chat after work, and we stood around the oven eating them hot off the trays.  #norestraint.

In case you are landing here for the first time, my Yule Log partner in all things Christmas, Jeremy, and I decided we work best under extreme pressure.  We set up a challenge to bake a cookie representing each of the 50 states–one state each week–until Christmas 2017.  Each of us draws a state and then searches cook books, the internet and advice from friends, to bake a representative cookie.

When I found this recipe, I also learned my geography lesson of the day:  Wisconsin grows over half of the world’s cranberries, and it’s the largest fruit crop in the state.  I admit.  I thought cranberries had to be raised near the ocean, in flooded fields–I guess that’s the Massachusetts Ocean Spray influence.

I found this recipe in the archives of the  Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s cooking pages, “Fresh.”  The same recipe is on the Wisconsin Cranberry Growers Association recipe pages.  There are many, many more cranberry recipes, so I may branch out in the future.

I tweaked a couple of ingredients.  (See the recipe below.) Also, these were very good–2 1/2 dozen is not enough–I will double the recipe next time.

Oatmeal Cranberry White Chocolate Chunk Cookies

  • 2/3 cup butter Softenedimg_9105
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1-1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 1-1/2 cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 (6 oz) package sweetened-dried cranberries (The bag I purchased was an 8-oz bag, and I used the whole bag.)
  • 2/3 cup white chocolate chunks or chips (I admit to using  1 cup of white chocolate chips–and next time I may explore the taste of chocolate chunks.)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Using an electric mixer, beat butter or margarine and sugar together in a medium mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs; mix well.

Combine oats, flour, baking soda and salt in a separate mixing bowl. Add to butter mixture in several additions, mixing well after each addition. Stir in sweetened-dried cranberries and white chocolate chunks.

Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Makes 2 -1/2 dozen cookies.

Wisconsin: Cheddar-Apple cookies incorporate Wisconsin cheddar

applecheddarIn our quest to find the perfect cookie for each state, I have chosen three possibilities for Wisconsin.  Jeremy and I are trying to bake one cookie representing each state throughout 2017. Every two weeks, we each draw a new state from a jar. My selection this cycle is Wisconsin.  I love cheese, so it was a no-brainer to check out recipes on the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board website.

The upside of Cheddar-Apple cookies is the batter–I began by tasting the Wisconsin cheddar cheese as I shredded it.  Then, I tasted a little brown sugar and the creamed sugar/cheese/butter blend.  (I was surprised how good that tasted.)

Cream the brown sugar, butter and cheddar cheese.

Cream the brown sugar, butter and cheddar cheese.

The batter was marvelous, and I admit to licking my fingers throughout the cookie-baking process.  The baked cookies, however, are not my favorite.  I tend toward more sweet, and these are a little less sweet.  I didn’t hesitate to eat two or three (on top of my tummy ache from all the raw dough), but I wouldn’t sneak these in the middle of the night.  I think it’s more a matter of personal taste.

The cookies were light brown and the perfect size.  If I adjusted the recipe and made these again, I might add a little cinnamon and sweetened applesauce.  (We had only unsweetened in the cupboard.)

Cheddar-Apple Cookies

Servings:  3 dozen (Our recipe made a few more.)

INGREDIENTS

1 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 pound (1 stick) butter, unsalted
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup (2 ounces) Wisconsin cheddar cheese, shredded
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup prepared applesauce
3 cups rolled oats
COOKING INSTRUCTIONS
Heat oven to 350°F. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg. In a large bowl, cream the butter, brown sugar, and cheese. Beat in the eggs and vanilla extract. Stir in the flour mixture. Add the oatmeal and applesauce, stirring well. Drop small spoonfuls of batter onto a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.

I’m moving on to two other Wisconsin recipes before I leave the state.  I’ll keep you posted.