Double Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies with Dried Cherries & Almonds

IMG_3305One of the things I love about these cookies is how much they have going on. I mean, they aren’t just oatmeal cookies loaded with add-ins…they’re chocolate-oatmeal cookies loaded with add-ins. They’re not just chocolate-oatmeal cookies; they’re chocolate-oatmeal cookies stuffed full of dried cherries, chocolate chips, and almonds. And they’re not just double chocolate-cherry cookies because they have oats (and almonds!) as well!

….This game seems to be called how many times can I type the words chocolate, cherries, oatmeal, and almonds in a single paragraph. Looks like I’m winning, whatever that means.

Because I am me, I couldn’t just leave well enough alone so I ended up with these fabulous flavor-packed cookies. I just kept thinking of new additions that would make them even better and finally made myself stop when the recipe title got to 8 words (not counting my sneaky “&” sign). I was quite pleased with the end product though…we’ve got rich, chocolate-based cookies studded with sweet-tart dried cherries, dark chocolate chips (because, duh), and nutty slivered almonds BUT they’re also full of oatmeal to get that hearty, chewy texture that every oatmeal-cookie-lover adores. With all those different textures and flavors going on, you won’t be able to stop reaching for another.IMG_3298

Lucky for me and my arteries, these cookies were baked for my brother’s fellow EMTs & paramedics (upon his request) and were scooted out of the house before trouble, aka my slightly flawed philosophy that crumb calories don’t count, could ensue. (This zero-calorie philosophy also applies to raw cookie dough, pieces of streusel topping, and the chocolatey bits that stick to the knife while cutting brownies. Just so you know.)

My brother’s pleading text went something like this: “If you baked something for the EMS people I’m sure they would all be eternally grateful…They just get short on food this time of the month.”  What was I supposed to do, ignore a bunch of life-saving selfless people who also happened to be working on empty stomachs? Guilt-trip galore…and it worked, of course.

Feel free to play around with this recipe, substituting some add-ins for others, but make sure you try them! The chocolate-oatmeal combination is fabulous, and filling them with dried fruit, nuts, and chocolate takes these cookies to an even higher level of deliciousness!IMG_3316

Double Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies with Dried Cherries & Almonds

Makes about 18 large cookies

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 & 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats

1/2 cup chocolate chips

1/2 cup dried cherries

1/2 cup chopped almonds

Directions:

Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add in the egg and vanilla, mixing until smooth.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt, and oats. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet, mixing just until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips, dried cherries, and chopped almonds. Chill the dough for at least 30 minutes (you can bake right away, but the chilling will prevent spreading and keep the cookies nice and thick).

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon mats. Scoop the dough into balls about 2 tablespoons large and place on cookie sheets, spaced at least 2 inches apart.

Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until edges are set and centers are no longer shiny. They may look slightly underdone but will firm up as they cool. Let the cookies cool on the sheets for 5 minutes, then remove to a cooling rack. Enjoy!

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Sweet Cherry Galette with Almond Streusel

IMG_0679What you see here is our Father’s Day dessert from the other week. My dad has always been a “pie guy,” and cherry pie just might be his favorite dessert in all the world. It is not an unusual occurrence for us all to be sitting around the living room after dinner when my dad moans out that he “neeeds pie.” Since nine times out of ten he’s the one who jumps up and out the door the minute anyone mentions a needed grocery item, oil change, package mailed, etc., we all try to satisfy his pie cravings now and then.

Of course, a sudden “neeeed” for pie doesn’t leave a lot of any time for homemade pie, so we often have to resort to Marie Callender or those horrid plastic-containered grocery store pies found in the bakery section. Since I’m the only one in my family who bakes, my year away from home resulted in far too many of those pre-packaged pies making their way into our refrigerator. Like many bakers, it pierces my heart to see someone eat a slice of that scary-bright-red cherry “pie” with glee and complete ignorance of what they’re missing. Not that people shouldn’t be satisfied with anything other than homemade, but….they’re just different species, store-bought pie and pie from scratch. Not only is the list of ingredients on the back of those packages far too long and scary-sounding for my liking, but the taste of real buttery crust and fresh fruit just can’t compare. No offense if you happen to love pre-made pies (I’ve certainly eaten my fair share), but my heart will always belong to homemade.IMG_0702

Anyway, it saddened me to think that that my poor father had forgotten what real pie tastes like. So for Father’s Day, there was no doubt in my mind that homemade cherry pie (or in this case, galette) would be gracing our table.

This cherry galette is made with sweet, fresh bing cherries rather than jarred or frozen sour cherries, so it has a rather different taste than “regular” cherry pie. I wouldn’t say it’s better or worse; it’s like comparing apples and oranges. While sour cherry pies have that distinct tart flavor and a syrupy filling, this sweet cherry galette is more mild and fresh-tasting. I love both, but I’m partial to fresh, sweet cherries in the spring and summer, so I bought a bag of beautiful bing cherries and got to work. Naturally, as I was in the middle of pitting the cherries (using a hard plastic straw as a makeshift cherry-pitter) I looked down and realized I was wearing a white shirt. I swear, every.single.time I pit cherries I happen to be wearing white. It’s ridiculous, I tell you!

The crust of this galette is tender and flaky, and the secret addition of cornmeal adds a little somethin’-somethin’ to the texture and the flavor. However, in my mind the real star of the show is the cherries, which are combined with minimal ingredients to really let their flavor shine through. I topped the galette with a generous sprinkle of almond streusel, and the almond flavor marries perfectly with the cherry. Each bite of buttery crust, juicy cherries, and crumbly topping will leave you wanting another…and another. I added a scoop of vanilla bean gelato to each piece as well, which only made it more swoon-worthy. The entire galette was eaten up in less than 48 hours (by 4 people, I might add–and I only had a sliver)!

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Being a fruit girl (as opposed to a crust girl), one of the reasons I love galettes is for their greater ratio of filling-to-crust, since a galette is basically an open-faced pie. Another reason I make them more often than pies is for their simplicity: they’re supposed to look rustic (read: messy), and you don’t have to worry about perfectly crimped edges or smooth tops. All you do is roll out a single crust, plop the fruit filling in the center, and fold up the extra crust toward the center. In this case, folds and creases are what you’re going for, which is a total dream-come-true for anyone who tends to avoid making finicky pie crust. Not that I have any personal experience with fears of pie crust, but you know…

Yet another beauty of galettes is their adaptability–you can substitute the cherries for virtually any fruit, and the streusel can be played with as well. You can use all butter instead of the almond paste, use a different type of nut, or leave out the almonds all together and sub in some oats. Still, I must say that we certainly loved this combination of cherries and almond streusel, and it made for one very happy father on his special day!

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Sweet Cherry Galette with Almond Streusel

For the crust:

1 & 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup yellow cornmeal

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup very cold butter, cut into small chunks

1/3 cup cold buttermilk*

For the fruit filling:

1.5 pounds (about 3.5 cups) fresh bing cherries, pitted and halved

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

1/4 teaspoon almond extract (optional)

For the streusel:

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed

1 tablespoon almond paste (you can substitute with butter)

1 tablespoon butter

2 tablespoons sliced or slivered almonds

For assembling:

1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon warm water

Extra sugar, for sprinkling

*You can make your own buttermilk by putting 1/4 teaspoon of vinegar or lemon juice into a 1/3 cup measure, and then filling the cup with regular milk. Let sit for 5 minutes or so, until the milk curdles, then proceed to use.

Directions:

For the crust, whisk together the flour, sugar, cornmeal, and salt in a large bowl. Using a pastry cutter or a fork, cut in the cold butter until the mixture is coarse and crumbly. Slowly pour in the buttermilk, tossing with a fork until the dough holds together. Then pat it into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for at least 45 minutes.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Let the dough stand at room temperature for 5-10 minutes, then turn out onto a floured surface and roll it into a 14-inch round. Carefully transfer the crust onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicon mat, then place in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.

While the oven is preheating and the crust is chilling, make the cherry filling. In a large bowl toss together the pitted cherries, sugar, lemon juice, cornstarch, salt, vanilla, and almond extract. In a smaller bowl, use a fork (or your fingers) to combine the streusel ingredients until they clump together.

Remove the crust dough from the refrigerator and pile the cherries into the center, leaving a 1.5-2 inch border around the edges. Fold the excess dough toward the center, smoothing down the creases where the dough overlaps. Sprinkle the streusel over the top of the cherries. Brush the egg mixture onto the crust and sprinkle the crust with granulated sugar.

Bake the galette for 45-60 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbly. Place the cookie sheet on a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes, then slide the galette directly onto the rack to cool completely.

Slice and serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, if desired.

(Recipe adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod and Kitchenette)

 

 

Blueberry-Almond Crisp

IMG_6478One of my favorite things about summer is the fruit. As fresh strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, peaches, plums, mangoes, cherries, and more start appearing in the produce section I feel much like a kid in a candy store. Since on our tiny island it’s ridiculously expensive (and often impossible) to attain summery fruits throughout most of the year, I always look forward to loading up on all my favorite fruits throughout the spring and summer months.

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Summertime’s surplus of fresh fruit also means some extra-tasty desserts. As convenient as frozen fruit is, there’s nothing like a blackberry pie made with berries picked from the wild tangle of bushes down the lane or a rustic galette filled with sweet, fresh cherries rather than the usual sticky red canned ones. Pies, cobblers, crumbles, etc. are some of my favorite go-to desserts throughout the summer because they allow for sweet, juicy fruits to take center stage.

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This Blueberry-Almond Crisp is the perfect treat for a warm summer evening: plump, sweet blueberries are tucked underneath an oatmeal-almond crumble topping and baked until the top is crisp and golden and the berries are thick and bubbly. I love the combination of blueberries and almond, and this crumb topping packs in just the right amount of almond crunch and flavor to contrast the sweet, juicy blueberries. A warm bowl of Blueberry-Almond Crisp with a scoop of vanilla ice cream tastes like the epitome of summer, at least in my book.

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This recipe has become a summertime favorite in my family. Go pick up a container of fresh blueberries and try out this wonderful crisp for yourself! You don’t want to miss out on this one.

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Blueberry-Almond Crisp

For the fruit filling:

4 cups fresh blueberries (or unthawed frozen blueberries)

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon almond extract (optional)

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

For the crumb topping:

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup old-fashioned oats

1/4 cup sliced almonds

1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) cold butter, cubed

2 tablespoons almond paste

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease an 8″x8″ baking pan; set aside.

Place the blueberries in a large bowl. Add in the lemon juice, lemon zest, vanilla, sugar, and flour. Gently fold the mixture until the blueberries are well-coated. Let the berries sit and macerate while you make the topping.

For the topping, whisk together the flour, oats, almonds, sugars, salt, and cinnamon in a medium-sized bowl. Using two forks or your fingers, cut in the cold butter and almond paste until the mixture holds together into large crumbs.

Spoon the berry mixture into the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Top with the crumb mixture and bake for 40-45 minutes or until the topping is golden-brown and the filling is bubbly. Let the crisp cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature with ice cream or whipped cream, if desired.

(Recipe heavily adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod)

Witches’ Fingers Cookies

To me, there’s no better smell than the inside of a pumpkin.  Except for maybe fresh cut grass…or wild blackberries…or warm chocolate chip cookies…or pine needles…or homemade bread…or new shoes…or apple pie…but yeah, other than those, pumpkin is definitely the best smell in the world!  Every single year, just before Halloween, I carve a pumpkin, and one of my favorite things to do (no judging, please) is to stick my face in the gigantic bowl of pumpkin guts and just inhale.  Stop.  I said no judging.  Pumpkin guts smell like leaves crunching underfoot as I stomped around the pumpkin patch picking out the most perfect, round, orange pumpkin; they smell like arguing with my mom before trick-or-treating as she forced a warm winter coat over my thin costume, claiming that I’d be glad I had it once I was outside in the cold.  Pumpkin guts smell like walking down dark streets with a flashlight in one hand and a plastic pumpkin-shaped bucket in the other, shaking my bucket around so I could judge how much candy I’d collected so far.  Pumpkin guts smell like coming home to a warm house after hours of trick-or treating and dumping my loot onto the rug, sorting my candy into little piles and giving all the raisins and Bit-o-honeys to my mom and dad.   I love pumpkin guts.

In case you couldn’t tell, I’m a sucker for holiday traditions, and one of the best ways to celebrate holidays is through baking, of course!  There are some recipes I make year after year, and each year I also like to try out some new ones.  I’ve eaten witches’ fingers cookies at multiple Halloween parties throughout my life, but last year I tried making them myself.  These are a great cookie to make with kids, and are always a hit at gatherings.  You can tint them green and call them witches’ fingers or leave them whitish and just call them fingers.  Definitely gross either way.  Gross looking that is, because underneath all those bloody fingernails and green skin is a delicious almond sugar cookie.  But please don’t go around telling your guests that these are delicious almond sugar cookies.  I’d go with bloody-cuticled witch claws…much more appetizing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Witches’ Fingers Cookies

Yield: 32 cookies

Fingers:

1/2 cup (8 Tbs) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup powdered sugar

5 Tbs granulated sugar

1 large egg, plus 1 egg yolk

1/2 tsp almond extract

1/8 tsp salt

5-6 drops green food coloring (optional)

2 cups all-purpose flour

Nails:

32 slivered almonds

Red gel food coloring

Directions:

In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugars until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes.  Add in the egg, egg yolk, almond extract, salt, and food coloring; mix well.  Stir in the flour, mixing just until combined.  Form the dough into a ball, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

After the dough has chilled, preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line or lightly grease cookie sheets.  Take one half of the dough out of the fridge and divide into 16 equal pieces.  On a lightly floured surface, use your hands to roll each piece into a finger shape about 4-4.5 inches long.  Pinch each piece of dough in two places to create knuckles.  Use the back of a small knife to lightly score the surface of the knuckles.  Place the cookies onto the prepared sheets.  Repeat with the remaining half of dough.

When all the cookies are shaped, make a small indentation at the tip of each finger.  Squirt a small amount of the red gel food coloring into the indentation and carefully place a slivered almond on top for a nail.  Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until cookies are set and lightly browned around the edges.  Let cool on the sheets for at least 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

(Recipe adapted from Annie’s Eats)