Spiced Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

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Some friends of our were getting together for a Sunday evening get together, nothing fancy, but of course we wanted to bring something tasty. Since it’s technically autumn (even though it’s 85 & humid here in SC), spiced cookies sounded delicious and with chocolate, you can’t go wrong, right? Spiced desserts are fun to make because we get to bake with some of our favorite spices like cardamom & cinnamon. Cardamom is used quite often in Turkish desserts, coffee, and chai, imparting a distinctive aromatic flavor that reminds us of being in Turkey a couple of years ago. Here’s a little piece of culinary trivia: cardamom is the 3rd most expensive spice behind vanilla and saffron.

The cookies themselves aren’t super sweet, but once you put that chocolaty goodness between two of them, lookout, they’ll go fast. Consider baking these and bringing them to Thanksgiving or Christmas, we know they’ll work well for either one. Also, have fun with cookie cutters, especially for holiday cookies. We don’t have any so instead we used the rim of a small wine glass.

Spiced Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

Ingredients: 
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp ginger
  • 2 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • 1/8 tsp allspice
  • 6oz unsalted, room temperature
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 jar chocolate almond/hazelnut spread (or any other delicious spread you prefer – ie Nutella)
Instructions: 
  1. Preheat oven 350 degrees.
  2. Sift together all of the dry ingredients, except for sugar (flour through allspice) and set aside.
  3. In a stand mixer or with a handheld mixer, cream together the butter and sugar.
  4. Next add the vanilla, followed by the 2 egg yolks.
  5. Then slowly, add the dry ingredients.
  6. Once well combined, form into a big ball of dough. Knead briefly, then divide into four equal portions.
  7. Roll each into a ball and then flatten into a pancake, roughly 1/2 inch thick. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. (You can refrigerate as a ball, but may need a little longer to cool completely.)
  8. Using a rolling pin, roll out to 1/6th of an inch thick.
  9. Using cookie cutters or the mouth of a glass, cut into individual cookies. [We made fairly small cookies, given that once they were sandwiches, you’d really be eating two cookies! Our were 2 1/4 inches in diameter, but you do you!]
  10. Bake, on a silpat or parchment paper on a cookie sheet, for 7 minutes.
  11. Remove to a drying rack and allow to cool completely.
  12. While cookies are cooling, boil a few cups of water. Remove from heat once boiling and then set the jar of chocolate-almond spread (still in the jar!) into the pot. Don’t submerge the jar entirely! Let it sit for a few minutes until the spread warms a bit and is more easily spreadable.
  13. Once cookies are cooled and spread is warmed, spread a generous dollop of the chocolate almond spread in between two cookies. Set aside to cool again.
Makes 2-3 dozen sandwiches, depending on size
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Honey Baked Peaches

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You know those word association games/tests that psychologists (at least on TV) use to gain deep insight into your psyche? You know the one – they ask you to say the first word that pops into your mind when they say something seemingly innocuous like “mother” and then learn a lot about you depending on whether you reply with “love,” “lipstick,” “lazy,” or “laundry.” (Side note: this is not to say that those are my first four words for my mother; I was just going for some alliteration for your Sunday evening!) Well somehow I got to thinking about this in terms of dessert. If you were said imaginary psychologist and prompted me with “dessert,” these would be my words: “baking,” “oven,” “chocolate,” “sugar,” “sweet,” and “timer.” In my own self-psycho-analysis, I’ve concluded that I somehow only associate dessert with baked goods and a time-consuming process. This is, of course, not true at all. The moral of my story is that I need to branch out a little bit. (I played this game with Selim, and when I offered the word “dessert,” he immediately responded with “chocolate.”)

Tonight’s dessert is a perfect example. The prep-work is literally 2 minutes long, and you’re eating your dessert barely after you even thought about it! All you need is a couple peaches in your fruit bowl and a few standard pantry ingredients, and voila! You have a delicious dessert! Also, I think this is the perfect dessert to bridge summer and fall, aka the month of September. You’ve got the last of a your juicy summer peaches, but baked with some of your favorite fall flavors!

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Honey Baked Peaches

Ingredients: 
  • 2 peaches
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • Pinch of salt
  • Honey
Instructions:
  1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Slice peaches in half and remove the pit.
  3. Place cut side up on a foil-lined pie pan.
  4. Drizzle each peach half with some honey.
  5. Stir together all dry ingredients and then sprinkle over top each of the peach halves.
  6. Bake for 20 minutes.
  7. After removing from the oven, drizzle with honey again!
  8. Serve as is or top with some vanilla ice cream or whipped cream!
Serves 2-4

 

Strawberry Streusel Bars

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As we’ve mentioned before (see Mint Chocolate Bars), we like to bring a treats in for the staff when we finish a rotation. It’s the least we can do for the people who spend their time and effort training us! We’re not the only one’s who do this – but we do try to have the best treats! This means a little bit of variety from the standard brownies and chocolate chip cookies. It also mean a little bit of thinking, because I’m like everyone else – when I think of easy treats that everyone loves, my mind also immediately jumps to brownies and chocolate chip cookies! I’ve never made anything remotely like this before. (See previous comments about being intimidated by baking.) I found them to be fresh and summer-y. I think they’d be a great addition to a summer-time picnic or BBQ.

And they were a hit at the hospital today. I got rave reviews from everyone who tried them – hopefully they weren’t just being nice 😉😉 Side note – I ate mine chilled as they were after being cut, but I was informed by a few people that they warmed theirs back up before eating and highly recommended it!

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Strawberry Streusel Bars

(Adapted from this recipe here)
Ingredients: 
  • Base layer
    • 8 tbsp butter, softened
    • 1/4 cup sugar
    • 1 cup flour
    • 2 tsp cornstarch
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • 1/4 tsp salt
  • Strawberry layer
    • 2 cups chopped fresh strawberries
    • 1 tbsp sugar
    • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • Streusel layer
    • 4 tbsp cold butter, chopped into small cubes
    • 1/3 cup brown sugar
    • 1/2 cup flour
    • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
    • Pinch of salt (omit if using salted butter)
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

  2. Line an 8×8 inch square baking pan with aluminium foil or parchment paper. Spray lightly with a cooking spray.

  3. First make the base layer: Using a hand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until well combined in a large bowl.

  4. Now slowly add the flour, cornstarch, vanilla, and salt until combined. (It may look a little crumbly, but it’ll be

  5. Press the mixture firmly into the bottom of the pan using your hands.

  6. Bake for 15 minutes.

  7. While the bottom layer is baking, make other two layers.

  8. For the strawberry layer: Stir together all ingredients for this layer and set aside.

  9. For the streusel topping: Using the hand-held mixer, mix all of these ingredients together. The mixture will be uneven.

  10. Once the bottom layer is done, remove the pan from the oven and turn up the oven to 350 degrees. Let it sit for just a few minutes before topping.

  11. Using a large spoon, layer the strawberry layer evenly over the base.

  12. Top with the streusel layer. This should look a bit messy/uneven.

  13. Bake for 30-35 minutes.

  14. Refrigerate until all the way cooled prior to slicing and serving.

Mint Chocolate Bars

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I had a great month of May in terms of a rotation I was doing for school. I loved it and learned so much! On my last day, I wanted to bring a little treat for the staff who taught me and worked with me for the past few weeks. I couldn’t decide what to make, but ruled out cookies because the hospital frequently provides trays of cookies that are pretty darn good. And I’m generally exhausted during the middle of the week, so I wanted to make something pretty simple. I came up with the idea for these, essentially extrapolating from a thought of Rice Krispy Treats! These are so easy to make and are delicious!! You can’t go wrong. You could easily throw these together for some sort of last minute get-together or other situation.

(Also. I forgot to take pictures. So all you get is a quick shot of the 2 bites I saved for Selim.)

Mint Chocolate Bars

Ingredients: 
  • 1 standard sized box of Mint Oreos
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 1 bag of large marshmallows (5 cups)
  • 20 pieces Andes candy, chopped
Instructions: 
  1. Place the Oreos in a large plastic bag and smash with a mallet. Don’t smash them too finely.
  2. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large saucepan over low heat.
  3. Once butter is melted, add the marshmallows and cover. Keep on low heat.
  4. Remove the lid every 3-4 minutes and stir. The marshmallows will melt and eventually combine with the butter.
  5. Once the butter and marshmallows are melted and combined, pour in the crushed Oreos. Working quickly, stir to coat the cookies in the marshmallow/butter. Remove from heat.
  6. Lastly, add the chopped Andes candy. They will quickly begin to melt. Stir ASAP to get the candy spread throughout.
  7. Scoop the mixture into a glass baking dish (8×8). Spread out evenly.
  8. Allow to cool entirely. Once cooled, slice with a sharp knife.
  9. Try not to eat them all before you share with friends!
Makes ~25-30 bars, obviously depending on how large you cut them.

Baklava

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Filo dough can be very intimidating to work with.  It’s hard to find, not used in American cuisine, and requires patience to handle.  We learned that filo dough originated in the kitchens of Topkapı Palace, where the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire once lived.  When people think of filo dough, most think of decadent sweets like baklava, but filo dough is also be used for savory snacks like borek (filo layered with spinach & feta).  We haven’t made borek yet, but trust us, it’ll be on the blog soon enough.

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Gate to Topkapi Palace

Naturally, when we started to make baklava, we had to call my father, Baba (Turkish for father), since he’s our resident Turkish food expert.  He loves the blog and hopefully will love the shout out as well.  He gave us some tips for how to make the best baklava possible and include how finely to grind the walnuts, how thick the walnut layer should be, and also that the best baklava sets for a couple days to really absorb all the sweet syrup.  Baba also shared a great story from when he was a child and my Babaanne (father’s mother = grandmother) would make baklava, she would have to lock the finished baklava in another room so my father and his siblings wouldn’t eat it all before it was perfectly set.  Of course, we had to try it as soon as we poured the syrup over it… but when we tried it again for breakfast the next day, we both agree that it only gets better as it sets for a day or two.

We hope you enjoy this decadently sweet treat, your sweet tooth will thank us.

Baklava

(Adapted from the cookbook Sultan’s Table, by Ozçan Ozan with tips from Selim’s father)
Ingredients: 
  • 2 cups cold water
  • 3 cups + 2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 3 cups (~300g) walnuts
  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted, clarified butter
  • 40 sheets of filo dough (usually 2 packages)
Instructions: 
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. (If you have clarified butter, melt the appropriate amount. If you only have regular butter, melt it in a saucepan and then skim off the foam and slowly pour the liquid into a bowl making sure to not transfer solid milk fats which are at the bottom.)
  3. Prepare the syrup: combine cold water and 3 cups of sugar in a medium saucepan. Boil for 5 minutes, then lower heat to a simmer. Continue cooking for another 15 minutes.
  4. Stir in the lemon juice and allow to cool.
  5. Meanwhile, combine walnuts and 2 tbsp sugar in food processor. Process until “medium” ground – don’t let it get too fine.
  6. Now brush the inside of a large cookie sheet with clarified butter.
  7. Place a sheet of filo dough in the pan. Brush with another little bit of clarified butter. Continue in this pattern until you’ve placed half of the sheets (~20) of filo dough in the pan.
  8. Now spread the walnut mixture onto the top layer of filo dough. Drizzle with more clarified butter.
  9. Return to the pattern of layering dough and clarified butter until you use all of the rest of the filo dough sheets. Brush the top layer and the edges with clarified butter.
  10. Take a very sharp knife and dip it into hot water. Slice down halfway through the height of the dough into the size and shape of baklava pieces you want at the end.
  11. Bake for 25 minutes in the center of the oven.
  12. Lower heat to 325 degrees and bake for another 20 minutes.
  13. Allow to sit for 10 minutes.
  14. Slice all the way through, along the lines you previously made.
  15. Pour the syrup over top, along the cut lines.
  16. Top with additional ground nuts if desired.

Challah

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So the other evening, I tried to flip the ceiling fan on (after Selim told me not to because he thought it was broken, but I forgot ok?!), and instead blew a fuse. I tried to flip the breaker back and it sent blue sparks at me. So I quit doing that. I may not be the most savvy girl in the world when it comes to things like that, but I know that blue sparks + no electricity = call an electrician.

What does this have to do with challah? Everything and nothing. Unfortunately for my TV and internet addicted self, the fuse I blew covered our whole living room – where our TV and internet router are. Sure we could’ve moved them I guess, but it just seems sad if you can’t live without the Netflix and Hulu for a whole day. So instead of wasting my life on mindless TV, I baked instead!

I’d been thinking about challah because Passover was last week (and because it’s the best bread ever). I honestly never thought about making it before because its gorgeous appearance made it seem out of my league in terms of baking ability. Plus I figured the Jewish grandmas had some secret that they weren’t sharing with the rest of us. Turns out I was wrong – even I can make gorgeous challah! It’s actually way less complicated than I thought and you probably have all the ingredients on hand. (I did, hence spur of the moment baking afternoon.)

Since I don’t have a Jewish grandma handy, I got this recipe from one of my favorite corners of the internet – The Kitchn. Check them out if you want to learn how to do anything culinary related. Their step by step guide to making challah worked perfectly for me and is nearly verbatim what I’ll be sharing in this recipe. Thanks guys!! 👋🏼

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Challah

Ingredients: 
  • 2 teaspoons active dry  yeast
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 4 cups flour + extra for sprinkling
  • 1/4 cup sugar + a pinch
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • A third egg, divided into yolk & white
  • 1/4 cup neutral oil
Instructions: 
  1. Dissolve the yeast into the water. Stir and then allow to sit until yeast causes frothing on the top.
  2. Meanwhile, sift together the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, salt) in the bowl of your stand mixer.
  3. In another bowl, whisk together the remaining wet ingredients except for the egg white (eggs, egg yolk, oil).
  4. Pour the bowl of wet ingredients into the dry ones. Begin to mix together with a large spoon. Follow with the water/yeast.
  5. Attach a dough hook to the stand mixer. Turn on low-medium and knead for 6+ minutes. [If the dough is to sticky, slowly add flour by the teaspoon. If too dry, do the same with water.]
  6. Oil a large bowl. Place the ball of dough in the bowl. Cover with a damp towel and let rise for two hours.
  7. Now that the dough has doubled in size, divide it into six equal chunks.
  8. Roll each piece of dough out into long ropes.
  9. Lay the six dough ropes next to each other. Pinch the ends of all six pieces together at the top. Then braid together, taking the right-most strand and pulling it over the nearest two strands, under the next, over the remaining two, and then laying it down at the far left. OVER two – UNDER one – OVER two. (Check out The Kitchn’s lovely pictorial in their post for a visual!) Once you can go no further, pinch the ends together.
  10. Sprinkle dough with a smidge of flour. Place on a cooking sheet lined with parchment paper (or a Silpat if you have one). Re-cover with your damp towel and let sit for another hour.
  11. Brush the dough generously with the leftover egg white.
  12. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  13. Bake for 30 minutes. When done, the challah will have a gorgeous deep brown crust and be warm and fluffy on the inside.
Makes a large loaf.

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Spiced Blueberry Pie

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So confession. We’re not really the big Valentine’s Day types. I feel like I’m a middle-of-the-road kind of girl when it comes to this. I don’t hate Valentine’s Day or go on long rants against the commercialism of the day. But I also don’t really love or expect a dozen red roses with a heart-shaped box of chocolates. No offense to those who fall in either camp! To each their own…

But the moral of my story is that I wanted my sweet-tooth husband to have a Valentine’s Day treat, without falling into a cliché. I preferred to make him something myself, so here we are! (Don’t judge me that it’s in fact two days after Valentine’s Day… We’ve been on opposite schedules – him working long days and me working nights.)

If you’re running late on your Valentine’s Day celebration, or maybe doing something smart like waiting for the weekend, here’s your alternative to a box of chocolates for your sweetheart (or Galentine’s Day girl’s night). This blueberry pie is a lot easier than I expected it to be. Pies intimidate me! (And all desserts, for that matter. I think I’ve mentioned that once or twice.) The dough was super-easy to make and the filling was just a matter of stirring a few times. This recipe was based on one in the mouth-watering cookbook Pie Love. Mine isn’t quite as pretty as the ones in those cookbook photos, but we’re here for the taste right? Tasty > pretty. Plus, I think this is the first pie I’ve ever made. I’ll perfect the prettiness maybe by the 50th.

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Spiced Blueberry Pie

(Recipe adapted from the cookbook, Pie Love)
Ingredients: 
Piecrust:
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 10 tbsp cold, unsalted butter
  • Ice water (6-8 tbsp)
Filling:
  • 5 cups blueberries
  • 2/3 cup Grade A maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • Additional brown sugar for sprinkling
Instructions: 
  1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
  2. To prepare the dough, initially place the flour, sugar, cinnamon, and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer. Stir together.
  3. Add the butter in small pats. Turn on the stand mixer and mix until the ingredients begin to form crumbs.
  4. Add the water, tablespoon at a time, while the mixer remains on. Continue until the dough comes together and begins to form a ball.
  5. Turn the ball of dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Separate into two different sections, roughly 1/3 and 2/3 of the original ball.
  6. Take the 2/3s ball and roll it out into a round piece of dough, approximately 12 inches in diameter and 1/8th of an inch thick. Fit this piece of dough into a greased 9-10 inch pie pan.
  7. Chill the pie pan and the additional ball of dough (wrapped in plastic) in the refrigerator while preparing the filling.
  8. Rinse your blueberries and drain.
  9. Place berries and maple syrup in a large pan. Turn heat on to medium. Stir in the spices, and salt. Add the butter in pats. As the butter is melting, slowly stir in the flour. Ensure it is well combined.
  10. Cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring nearly continuously. The mixture should slowly bubble and begin to thicken.
  11. While the filling is cooking, remove the pie pan from the refrigerator and bake for 5 minutes.
  12. Roll out the remaining piece of pie dough and slice into long strips.
  13. Pour the blueberry mixture into the piecrust.
  14. Top with the long strips of dough. {Try to do it better than I did ;)}
  15. Whisk together the egg and the vanilla. Brush over top of the pie.
  16. Sprinkle additional sugar over the top.
  17. Bake for 30 minutes. You should be able to see the filling bubbling.
  18. Allow to sit out for an hour prior to slicing and serving.