M&M Cookies

thumbnail_20180203_130745It’s hard not to love M&M cookies — easy, fun, and just plain yummy.

Years ago in a magazine was a recipe for “cookies by the stack” — a single cookie dough recipe that could be used with any number of mix-ins, from coconut flakes and chopped nuts to dried fruit or chocolate pieces. I glued the entire magazine page into my cookbook because it was so useful. I’ve made some of the variations on the page, but I use the recipe most often for chocolate chip cookies (see below).

These are going to taste good no matter what. It’s hard to mess them up! But if you want them to look good, too, there’s a trick: Mix only half of the M&Ms into the dough, and put the rest on by hand before they go in the oven. If you don’t, they won’t show up very well, as you can see here:

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The cookies on the right had all the M&Ms mixed into the dough. The cookies on the left had only half mixed in, with the rest put on by hand.

The food scientist and cookbook author Shirley Corriher, in her terrific book “Cookwise: The Secrets of Cooking Revealed,” explains how shortening and butter can affect the spread of the dough and give you either a flat, crisp cookie or one that holds its shape. Butter melts over a narrow temperature range, so if you use all butter in the recipe, the cookies will spread soon after they go in the oven.

Shortening, on the other hand, stays the same texture over a wide temperature range, she says — so cookies made with part butter and part shortening will hold their shape better than if you use all butter. This recipe uses both in an equivalent ratio. Knowing the difference in fats, you can tweak the recipe how you like — if you want a crisper cookie, use more butter, for instance.

I mentioned chocolate chip cookies earlier. If you’d rather make those, just replace the 2 cups of M&Ms in this recipe with 2 cups of chocolate morsels (semi-sweet). Three other variations are below.

1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 cups all-purpose (plain) flour

Set oven to 375F (190C) degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the shortening and butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add the two sugars and baking soda and beat until fluffy.

Add eggs and vanilla and beat until combined. Stir in flour by hand, then add half the M&Ms.

Drop dough by slightly rounded tablespoons 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet, then place reserved M&Ms on top (crowd them together for best results). Bake 10-12 minutes or until the edges are light brown. Let cool on a wire rack.

*The dough can be kept for up to 24 hours in the refrigerator, or frozen for up to 6 months (thaw overnight before baking).

Variations:

PEANUT BUTTER-CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
Replace the M&Ms with 1 cup peanut butter morsels and 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels. Mix it all in the dough.

COCONUT-WALNUT COOKIES
Replace the M&Ms with 1 cup coconut flakes and 1 cup chopped walnuts.

FRUIT AND OATMEAL COOKIES
Substitute 1 cup rolled oats for 1 cup of the flour. Stir in 1 tsp. ground cinnamon into the flour mixture. Stir 6 oz. of dried fruit bits into the dough.

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Cookie Frosting

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Adapt the decoration on your cookies, or the color of the frosting, for any holiday.

This creamy frosting is a fun, easy way to decorate cookies. It’s not as fancy or sophisticated as icing, which is smooth and glossier, but it’s simple and yummy, and decorations like sprinkles stick to it easily. It’s especially perfect for spreading on sugar cookies.

I got this recipe years ago from a Williams-Sonoma booklet on making Christmas cookies. I keep that booklet in the front pocket of my dessert recipe binder and refer to it often when making any kind of cookie that needs decorating.

This makes about 3/4 cup, or enough to frost 2 dozen regular cookies (about 2 1/2 inches in diameter).

With the brown vanilla extract, the frosting comes out an off-white color. Try a clear extract if you want it pure white, maybe playing around with some flavors of extract to see how it turns out. This can also easily be tinted with food coloring.

2 cups confectioner’s sugar (powdered or icing sugar)
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. heavy cream
Food coloring, if desired.

Sift the confectioner’s sugar into a large bowl about 1/2 cup at a time. Add the melted butter, vanilla, and cream. Using an electric hand mixer, beat on medium speed until creamy and spreadable.

Blueberry Pie

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(Note: I have updated this recipe to include Clear Jel, a thickener that solves the problem of runny fruit pies.)

Whether you’re great at making pies or not, there ought to be at least a few pie recipes in your book that you’re able to make with some confidence. I am no pro at pies and stick mainly to the non-fruit kind, since they’re not so messy — key lime, chocolate pecan, and buttermilk coconut pie are my favorites.

But fruit pies are pretty easy, too, and they’re classic. I make Rose Levy Beranbaum’s apple pie and this blueberry pie. The filling spills all over the place when I serve them, and I’m still working on that (suggestions are welcome), but I seem to be the only one who minds. Everyone always just digs right in.

It used to be so frustrating to spend time making a pie only to have the slices fall apart when I cut them. Was I missing some baking secret or special trick? A couple of online searches for “fix runny fruit pies” yielded a magic ingredient: Clear Jel. It’s a modified cornstarch that is added to the filling before baking and holds the filling together when slices are cut.

Clear Jel is available in big bags online. The smallest bag I found was one pound, and since only a few tablespoons are needed for each pie, I expect it to last a while. If you buy some, look for the instant kind.

Makes one 9-inch pie

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose (plain) flour
3 Tbsp. instant Clear Jel
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
5 cups fresh blueberries
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. butter, melted
2 refrigerated pie crusts
1 tsp. granulated sugar for topping

Preheat oven to 400F (200C) degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the first nine ingredients, tossing gently with a rubber spatula. Fit one pie crust in a 9-inch pie plate according to package directions, carefully cutting off the overhanging crust. (Save the scraps.) Spoon blueberry mixture into pastry shell.

Use the scraps for the lattice on top of the pie. Gather them into a ball, then roll it out to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut into strips and arrange in a lattice design on top of the pie. If you need more strips, use the other pie crust. I cut my strips to fit inside the pie shell; if you have enough dough, you can lay the ends over the edges of the pie shell and press them in. Then crimp or pinch the edge of the pie in whatever design you like.

Sprinkle the teaspoon of sugar on top of the pie, then place in the oven. Bake 40-45 minutes until golden, shielding the edges with strips of aluminum foil halfway through to prevent excess browning.

(Credit for this recipe goes to a lady named Nan Ferguson of Sandy Springs, Georgia, who submitted it to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about 20 years ago.)

Rainbow Birthday Cake

rainbow birthday cakeHere’s a way to dress up a white cake for special occasions. The layers are colored and the frosting is white, so when slices are cut it’s the inside that stands out.

I was inspired by a picture I clipped from a magazine ages ago that showed four layers in graduating shades of blue. There was no recipe, if I recall — just the picture. But it was easy to copy using my existing recipes for white cake and buttercream frosting.

My son requested this cake for his birthday with four layers, each in one of our favorite colors. That was orange, green, red, and pink. I can foresee making this on holidays — shades of red and pink for Valentine’s Day, pastel colors for Easter, or red, white, and blue (maybe with another layer of white containing sprinkles?) for Independence Day.

The white cake recipe above yields two 9-inch round layers. I made the recipe twice to get four layers. Each time I made the recipe, I divided the batter evenly into two large measuring cups and tinted them with gel colors before pouring into the baking pans.

I also doubled the buttercream frosting recipe above.

Now, you’ll see from the picture that the cake is missing the red layer my son requested and has a brown one instead. That one counts as a lesson learned. I decided to use some red beet powder as a natural red food coloring — I had used it before to tint frosting — but this time, the cake turned out the color of whole wheat bread. I looked it up and it seems that the baking process, and maybe a reaction to the baking powder, turned the red beet powder brown. Oh, well. I know for next time.

A note on the frosting: For this cake, you want the colored layers to stand out, so you shouldn’t put a lot of frosting between them. Put just a small amount to act as a glue to hold the layers in place. The thin ribbon of white you’ll see between each layer when you cut the cake is also just enough to show off the colors.

Candied Pecan Popcorn

20170128_162714This is a recipe that could earn you a lot of friends. I brought a container of this to work, and it was soon gobbled up by colleagues who asked me not to bring it in again because they didn’t need the temptation.

The original recipe came from the Food Network magazine, which always seems to have recipes that just simply work. It was the creation of Marcela Valladolid, who called for the addition of chipotle seasoning, but I leave that out in my version. Here is the recipe, with a few more changes from the original.

11 cups popped plain popcorn (very important: inspect carefully and remove all unpopped kernels)
1 cup pecans, roughly chopped
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda

Heat oven to 250F degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and butter the foil.

When oven is hot, put popcorn on the pan and scatter the pecans on top. Place in the oven while you do the next step.

Place the sugar, butter, and honey in a small saucepan and heat over medium-low, stirring occasionally. When the sugar and butter have melted, increase the heat and boil for 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and quickly stir in salt and baking soda.

Remove popcorn from oven and pour the syrup on top, then mix gently with a rubber spatula to coat as much of the popcorn as possible. Bake for 1 hour, stirring with the spatula halfway through to coat more popcorn.

Remove from oven, stir once more, and let cool. To remove cooled popcorn from foil, lift it up at each end, gently moving the foil around to ease the popcorn off.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake

Forget any thoughts of those cookie cakes at the mall, because the only thing they have in common with this recipe is the name. Rather than looking simply like one big cookie (as delicious as that sounds), this is a cookie in a cake pan — thick and chewy in the middle with a crispy, buttery straight-sided crust. The slices could even be eaten with forks. (But don’t do that. Cookies are too much fun to be eaten with utensils.)

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The recipe comes from a recent issue of Southern Living magazine, where it was called a “skillet cookie,” baked in a cast-iron skillet. I swapped the skillet for a 10-inch springform pan, greased it well with butter, and followed the recipe as written.

 

If you ever want to serve cookies for dessert, this is how. And there will be no quibbling about who gets how many.

1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup (4 oz.) butter, softened
1 large egg
3 Tbsp. whole milk
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups (about 9 oz.) all-purpose (plain) flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided

Preheat the oven to 325F (160C) degrees. Lightly coat a 10-inch springform pan with butter.

Beat brown sugar, granulated sugar, and butter with a mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add egg, milk, and vanilla, beating until bended.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Add to butter mixture gradually, beating at low speed until combined.

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Add 1 cup of the chocolate chips, beating until combined.

Spread mixture evenly in prepared pan. Top with remaining 1/2 cup of chocolate chips.

Bake in preheated oven until golden and set, about 50 minutes. Let stand at least 15 minutes before cutting into wedges.

Malted Pretzel Brittle

It’s the salty-sweet combination that is the best part of this quick-to-make dessert snack: crisp, sugary pieces loaded with salty pretzel bits. The malted milk powder adds a touch of creamy sweetness. (And the kitchen smelled like Whoppers malt balls as this baked in the oven.)20160816_003115

As for ease — it’s made in one bowl, baked on parchment (for easy pan clean-up), and it takes less than an hour to make, start to finish. You have to let it cool after baking, of course, but I dare you to wait very long before you start ripping off pieces and gobbling them down.

14 Tbsp. (about 200g) unsalted butter
8 oz. (about 230g) salted mini pretzels, broken into small pieces
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
6 Tbsp. malted milk powder
2 Tbsp. nonfat dry milk powder

Preheat oven to 300F/150C degrees. Cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Melt the butter in the microwave. Place the pretzels in a large bowl and crush (as a rough guide, most of my pieces were between 1/2 and 1 inch). Add both sugars and milk powders and toss to combine. Stir melted butter into mixture until blended.

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Spread mixture in an even layer on the baking sheet and bake 15-18 minutes or until browned. Let stand 10 minutes to cool before breaking brittle apart.

Store between layers of parchment paper in an airtight container.

— This recipe comes from my friend Mel at our local Publix, where we always find her at the demonstration table with great food ideas!