As the arguments rage as to whether it is too early for decorations and carols, cookie club members have already begun to pore over their most cherished drops and squares, seeking that which will make other bakers beg for the recipe.
So let’s get cookie season started with a couple of my treasures.
Ultimate hazelnut fudge brownies
These are not your average dry cakey brownies. The flavour is deep and intense and the texture perfect.
As you read through this you may assume that two tablespoons of vanilla should be two teaspoons, but you are wrong. Trot out the good stuff — you won’t be wasting these on anyone who doesn’t know the difference, so indulge here.
I don’t generally care for finicky recipes that call for extra bits of oil or half-eggs, but this one is worth the effort and won’t come out chewy if you mess with the measurements.
To toast the hazelnuts, place in a dry pan in the oven for 5 minutes at 350 F or until you start to smell them — keep an eye open so they don’t scorch.
If you bought the kind with the skin still on, rub them briskly while they are still warm from the oven against the holes of a colander or in a clean kitchen towel to remove the brown husk.
Other nuts will work in the recipe. I’m partial to pecans and walnuts, but choose anything that goes with chocolate — then again, what doesn’t?
If you don’t care for the taste of coffee, substitute boiling water.
You won’t need icing or chocolate glaze with these, but a warning on the box might be warranted.
1/3 cup cocoa
2 oz. chopped unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup boiling hot coffee
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted (no other)
2 eggs plus 2 egg yolks
2-1/2 cups sugar
2 tbsp. vanilla
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup coarsely chopped toasted hazelnuts
1/2 tsp. salt
Place cocoa and chopped chocolate in a large bowl and pour coffee over them. Stir until melted and smooth. Whisk in oil and melted butter.
Cool for a few minutes if still hot — although it probably won’t be by this time. Whisk in eggs and egg yolks; mixture will not be completely smooth but don’t worry about that.
Whisk in sugar and vanilla to create a smooth although slightly granular batter. Combine flour, hazelnuts and salt and fold into chocolate mixture.
Place two strips of foil in opposite directions in a 9 x 13-inch pan, leaving the long edges to drape over the sides. Grease or coat liberally with non-stick cooking spray.
Spoon in the batter and push it into the corners. Smooth the top and bake at 350 F for 30 minutes or just until a tester in the middle comes out with a few moist crumbs still attached.
Cool in the pan for 2 hours before using the foil to lift out the whole thing. Cut into 24 squares and serve.
One more thing: place one (or two) of these delectable brownies in a pretty bowl, top with a scoop of good quality vanilla ice cream, a squirt or two of chocolate sauce, and maybe a sprinkle of chopped nuts for an out-of-this-world dessert.
Blueberry jam oat bars
Here’s an old standby dressed up just a little. Take licence with the variety of jam — plum, apricot or raspberry would be equally delicious — but do make the trip out for those large-cut old-fashioned rolled oats.
6 oz. room-temperature cream cheese (3/4 of an 8-oz. package or 2 3-oz. packages)
1/4 cup soft unsalted butter (no other)
1-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup large-cut old-fashioned rolled oats
1/3 cup firmly-packed dark brown sugar
1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
1/4 tsp. each baking soda and salt
1/8 tsp. nutmeg (freshly grated if possible)
1 cup blueberry jam
1 tsp. lemon juice
Beat cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Whisk together flour, rolled oats, brown sugar, lemon zest, baking soda, salt and nutmeg and beat into creamed mixture on low speed, until well combined but crumbly.
Reserve 1 cup of this crumb mixture for the top.
Place two strips of foil in opposite directions in a 9-inch square baking pan, leaving the long edges to drape over the sides. Grease or coat liberally with non-stick cooking spray. Press remaining crumb mixture into bottom of pan and bake at 350 F for 20 minutes.
Combine blueberry jam and lemon juice and spread on hot base. Sprinkle reserved 1 cup of the crumb mixture evenly over the top — it will not completely cover the jam. Bake 15 minutes or until top is golden brown. Cool completely in pan on a wire rack then lift out using the overhanging foil strip. Cut into 16 bars.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in
St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her
c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.