Chocolate Sandwich Cookies with a Twist

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I have a favorite chocolate sandwich cookie that I make every so often. It started out as a basic cookie, until I tinkered with the recipe. I increased the cocoa and decreased the flour. Later, after more taste testing, I replaced some of the cocoa with some black, extra dark cocoa I had ordered from King Arthur Flour. Perfection. Darkly chocolate, slightly crunchy cookies surrounding creamy vanilla filling that tastes slightly of butter. After a day or two in an airtight container the cookies get slightly softer, which I really like.

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If you don’t want to buy special cocoa for these, they are perfectly good with only natural cocoa powder. I have seen a few different kinds of darker cocoa in the grocery store, next to the regular cocoa. I have only used natural cocoa and a little of the black cocoa, as noted in the recipe, but feel free to experiment. If you use only natural cocoa your cookies might be a lighter brown than the pictures, but they will still taste fabulous.

The last time I made the cookies, we were brainstorming different fillings we could try. We came up with cinnamon, cherry and bacon. Cherry and bacon were a little more complicated than we wanted to mess with that day, so we decided to try cinnamon. I will tinker with the bacon and cherry possibilities some day soon.

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I wanted some cookies with plain vanilla filling, so I divided the filling in half and added cinnamon. I started with ¼ teaspoon, but it was barely discernable. So I doubled it. The cinnamon flavor was stronger, but I thought it might get lost against the dark chocolate of the cookies. So I added another ¼ teaspoon. Perfection – richly cinnamon without straying across the line into too spicy.

I started out dolloping a tiny portion of filling onto the middle of a cookie and then gently squishing the filling flat with a second cookie. While this made a pretty cookie, with smooth edges on the filling, there wasn’t enough filling. I went back to my old method of smearing the filling on and adding the top cookie. Not as neat, but definitely a better ratio of cookie to filling.

I could have pulled out a piping bag to pipe the larger amount of filling into the middle of the cookies, but that was way more complicated than I wanted to get. Full disclosure: I have used my piping bag just a handful of times over the 10 years I have had it. Maybe someday I will get inspired to use it more often, but I’m not holding my breath. If you want picture perfect cookies, you can certainly use a piping bag. But I’m in favor of saving the time and cleanup and eating my slightly less-than-perfect cookies that much sooner.

Download or print just the recipe.

 Chocolate Sandwich Cookies
Adapted by The Cook’s Life
From 365 Great Cookies and Brownies
Makes 45 small sandwich cookies

If you want to bump up the chocolate flavor a bit, you can substitute 2 tablespoons of dark or black cocoa for 2 tablespoons of the natural cocoa. This is totally optional, but really good.

Cookies:
½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1½ cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
½ cup natural cocoa powder (see headnote)
¼ teaspoon salt

Vanilla Filling:
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar
1-2 tablespoons milk, approximately

Cinnamon Filling:
1½ teaspoons cinnamon for the full recipe
¾ teaspoon cinnamon for half the recipe

Do not preheat the oven. The dough needs to chill before baking.

Beat the ½ cup butter and granulated sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat again until well combined and light. Add the flour, cocoa powder and salt and mix on low speed until dough is smooth.

Divide dough in half and shape each half into a long log, about 1¼ inches in diameter. Make the logs as smooth and uniform as possible so your cookies will be uniform. Wrap the dough logs in parchment paper or plastic wrap and freeze for at least 30 minutes.

While dough chills, make the filling. Beat the 2 tablespoons butter until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract and powdered sugar and beat on low speed until combined. Add milk, a teaspoon at a time, until the filling is light and fluffy.

If you are making the cinnamon filling, add the cinnamon now. Use 1½ teaspoons cinnamon if you want to make all the filling cinnamon. If you want half vanilla and half cinnamon, divide the filling in half and use ¾ teaspoon cinnamon in one half. Beat the cinnamon filling until uniform in color with no lighter streaks. Cover the filling(s) and leave at room temperature until ready to use.

When the dough is chilled preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or lightly grease.

Work with one log at time, leaving the other one in the freezer until ready to slice. Use a sharp knife to cut the log into ¼-inch, or slightly thinner, rounds. Try to keep them uniform so they all bake at the same rate. Place the rounds fairly close together on the prepared baking sheets. They do not spread or rise very much at all.

Bake cookies, one pan at a time, for 5-6 minutes, or until they are firm to the touch, but not hard. The cookies will not change color, but they will puff very, very slightly.

Remove baked cookies to racks for cooling. When cookies are room temperature, spread 1-2 teaspoons of filling on the flat side of one cookie. Top with another cookie and gently press the cookies together. Leave filled cookies on the wire racks until the filling dries and sets up a bit, at least an hour. Store cookies in an airtight container for several days, or freeze for longer storage. The cookies will soften slightly after the first day.

Note: If you want to make the dough ahead of time, make four shorter logs and slip them into a ziploc bag. If it is tightly wrapped, you can freeze the dough for a month or so before using. Slice directly from the freezer and bake as directed.

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Get the Scoop on Chilling Your Dough

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The weeks leading up to Christmas are cookie-baking time around our house. We give cookies for presents, take them as our contribution to potluck holiday parties and package them up for hostess gifts. We have done this since the first year we were married, and I don’t see us ending the tradition any time soon.

We make about twelve different kinds of cookies every year. Most of them are drop cookies, or the kind you roll into balls before baking. Some of them require a little more effort, but none of them are complicated or time consuming. As I write this, I realize many of our favorites are the roll-into-balls recipes – gingersnaps, Russian teacakes, chocolate chip doodles and snickerdoodles. The recipes instruct, “chill the dough before forming into balls for baking.” This often ends up with me using my forearm muscles of steel to scoop rock hard, chilled cookie dough.

The other day, when I was fiddling around, fixing my Russian teacake mistake, I had a revelation. If I scooped the dough balls first and then chilled the dough I would be getting the best of the process. I could scoop soft, creamy dough with ease and then chill the balls. Then, when I was ready to bake, the heavy lifting (so to speak) would be done and I could just place the balls on the pans and bake.

It works beautifully. Mistakes lead to innovation. And no, I’m not comparing myself to an inventor of say, rubber or the Slinky. It did kind of rock my cookie-baking world, though.

Try the method with any dough that calls for an hour or two of chilling. Portion out the dough right after you mix it and then chill the balls in an airtight container for up to a week. You can freeze them if you want to make them further ahead.

Oh, and in the free time that you will have if you use my revelatory method, you can kill some time on the internet. Try typing, “mistakes that led to inventions,” into any search engine and you will get some interesting reading.

Buttery Cream Wafers

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I first had these cookies several years ago. I was teaching a bread baking class to friends from church and their friends. While we were waiting for the bread to rise we snacked on some of the cookies one of the women had brought to share.

The cookies were rich and buttery, but not very sweet. Most of the sweetness came from the filling sandwiched between the shortbread-like cookies. I immediately asked for the recipe. And then I didn’t make them until now. That is how baking goes sometimes.

I did change the original directions just a bit. They were cut-out cookies, which I really don’t like making. I just don’t have the patience for the process. And the re-rolled scraps are never as good as the rest of the cookies. I prefer to make logs and slice off the cookies – faster and easier.

Just one note: if you follow my directions, the edges of the cookies aren’t quite as neat as  cut-out cookies would be. I’ll take a few ragged edges for the ease of slicing the logs. We sliced and baked the cookies in about twenty minutes. If you really want perfect edges, you can certainly roll out the dough.

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The original recipe has a simple butter and sugar combination for the filling. I added cinnamon to half the filling mixture. I liked the subtle spiciness next to the delicate buttery flavor of the cookies. I included the cinnamon variation in the recipe.

I also like the cookies unfilled. They are a nice contrast to sweeter cookies on a cookie platter. Sometimes butter and cream can do the job all by themselves.

Print the recipe here.

 Buttery Cream Wafers
From the Cook’s Life
Makes about 25 sandwich cookies

You can fill these your favorite icing if you prefer.

Dough:
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
⅓ cup heavy cream
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup granulated sugar, approximately

Filling:
¼ cup (½ stick) butter, room temperature
¾ cup powdered sugar
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract

Cinnamon Filling Variation:
Add ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon to the filling. Beat until it is uniformly mixed, with no streaks of cinnamon.

Don’t preheat the oven. The dough needs to chill before baking.

Beat the butter until creamy. Mix in cream and flour.

Divide the dough in half and place each half on a sheet of plastic wrap. The dough should be relatively easy to handle, though greasy. Shape each half into a log about 1 inch in diameter. You don’t have to be exact. Try to keep the logs uniform so your cookies will all be about the same size.

Wrap the dough logs in the plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours until dough is firm. You can refrigerate the dough for several days, or freeze for up to a month. If you are storing for the longer period of time, slip the plastic covered logs in a plastic bag or airtight container to keep them from drying out.

When ready to bake preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Place granulated sugar on a large plate or piece of waxed paper or parchment. Slice the logs into ⅜ to ½-inch thick rounds. Press each flat side into the sugar and place on ungreased baking sheets. Prick the top of each with a fork a few times.

Bake 7-9 minutes, or until firm, but not browned. Cookies are fragile. Let them cool a few minutes on the pans before transferring them to wire racks.

While cookies are cooling, beat filling ingredients together until light and creamy. Spread filling in a thin layer on half of the cookies and top with the remaining cookies.

Store in an airtight container for several days. Freeze for longer storage.

Three Dessert Inspirations

I must say that I rarely need inspiration when I am deciding on a dessert to make. But just in case you have dessert baker’s block, I am highlighting three of my favorite desserts that say Fall and Halloween to me. And no, none of them have anything to do with pumpkin. Today is all about chocolate, and maybe a little vanilla. What’ll it be – brownies, cookies or flourless chocolate cake?

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Spicy S’mores Brownies

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2012-09-28 15.48.16Flourless Chocolate Cake

Chocolate Wafers

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I know I sometimes take the homemade thing to excess. There are times when I wonder what I am doing  – taking the time to make something that I could pick up at the store. Other times I stand by my homemade goodies, because they taste so much better than the commercial version. This is one of those times.

Rich found a recipe for a chocolate tart that he wanted to try last weekend. It called for chocolate cookie crumbs for the crust, and suggested chocolate wafers ground in the food processor. I debated if I wanted to go to the store to buy some, then I decided to make my own. The store wafers, or the ready-ground chocolate crumbs, are fine, but they do have a certain taste to them that I wanted to avoid. I didn’t want to take the time to make a decadent dessert, with butter, cream and good quality chocolate and have the crust taste like commercial cookies. Does that make me a cookie crust snob?

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I decided to make the cookie crumbs from a chocolate sandwich cookie recipe I have developed. Since I was going to make crumbs, I pressed the whole recipe of dough into a sheet pan and baked it in one big piece. I had it mixed before the oven preheated and it baked in just over five minutes.

I cut the big wafer into pieces and ground about half of the recipe to make crumbs for the tart crust. We ate the rest. The cookies are darkly chocolate, slightly buttery and beautifully soft. They really resemble a commercial chocolate cookie not at all. And I am fine with that.

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I made the recipe again so I could take pictures, and so we would have more cookies to eat. I debated rolling out the dough and cutting out rounds before I baked them. But it was hot in the kitchen and I wanted to make them quickly, and with as little work as possible.

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I decide to try cutting them from the baked cookie, right after it came out of the oven. It worked beautifully. And it was so much quicker than rolling out raw dough and cutting and re-rolling the scraps. Yes, the edges are a little apt to make crumbs, but I can live with that to have fresh chocolate wafers, made with real butter in less time than it takes me to go to the store.

We are going to make ice cream sandwiches with some of the most recent batch of wafers. We will sandwich a few more with whipped cream. I will try to save enough to make another batch of crumbs to make the chocolate tart again (it was really good). I do have a feeling if I want enough cookies to make crumbs, I am going to have to bake another batch – this batch is mysteriously disappearing rather quickly.

Download or print the recipe here.

Chocolate Wafers
From The Cook’s Life
Makes one 12 by 17 inch sheet,
24 2-inch rounds or 30 rectangles

Use this dough to make chocolate cookie crumbs for cheesecake or tarts. Or cut round or square wafers for other desserts. These make great ice cream sandwich wafers.

½ cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 egg
1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 12 by 17 inch half sheet pan or two 9 by 13 pans. Set aside.

Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and egg and beat again. Add flour, cocoa powder and salt and mix until thoroughly combined. Dough will be stiff and slightly dry.

Press dough into a thin layer on the prepared baking sheet(s). It is easier to get it even if you dollop it out in about 10 globs before you start pressing. Try to get the dough in a layer about ⅛-inch thick. Don’t obsess over it, especially if you are making crumbs with it later.

Bake the dough for 5-7 minutes, or until set and slightly shiny on top.

If you are making rounds or rectangles, cut the shapes with a cookie cutter or sharp knife as soon as you take the pan out of the oven. By the time you get done cutting, the wafers will have firmed up enough to move them to a wire rack to cool.

If you are making crumbs, cut the wafer sheet into rough rectangles and use a spatula to move them to a wire rack to cool. Once the wafers are cool, process them in a food processor until crumbs form.

Store wafers or crumbs in an airtight container until ready to use. The cookies are very soft, but good keepers. After a few days, they will start to dry out slightly. Freeze to keep them at their freshest if you aren’t using them within 3-4 days.

Triple Chocolate Cookie Bars

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I have been on kind of a cookie bar kick lately. I tend to make them more in the summer, when I want to get any necessary baking done as quickly as possible, to keep the house cooler. And yes, there is such a thing as necessary baking – baking for parties, baking for friends and baking because it has been too long since we have eaten something laden with butter and sugar. Okay, that last one doesn’t happen ever often around here, but it probably does for some people.

Just about any cookie recipe can be pressed in a pan and baked as bars. Recipes that use a cup of butter, about two cups of sugar and about three cups of flour will usually fit in a half sheet pan (or two 9 by 13 pans) and make beautiful bars. Cookie recipes vary, of course, but those ratios are pretty close to what most cookie recipes make. If you are experimenting with a larger or smaller cookie recipe, just take into account the depth of the dough and adjust the baking times accordingly.

Calvin and I made triple chocolate cookie dough the other day. Well, actually, Calvin made the dough and I washed the dishes. He was all for baking them as cookies, but we were crunched on time and I didn’t really want to have the oven on for that long on a hot summer’s day. I pressed them in a half sheet pan and had them baked off in ten minutes. Then we went on our merry way, running errands while they cooled.

I cut them later, while Calvin was at a friend’s house. I had to try one, because, well, it was a triple chocolate cookie bar. Does there need to be any other reason? I was blown away by how good they were – velvety, deep dark, chocolate punctuated by gooey pools of melting chocolate chips. I ate three before I came back to the real world. The original cookies were fabulous, but I think the cookie bars might be better. They might just be the best cookie bars we have ever made. And I don’t think I am exaggerating much.

Download or print the recipe here.

Triple Chocolate Cookie Bars
From the Cook’s Life
Makes 5-6 dozen cookie bars

The whole wheat gives a fuller flavor to the cookie bars and will be that “mystery ingredient” in your cookies. You can use all-purpose flour instead, if you prefer.

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate, melted and cooled
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1½ cups semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Set out a 12 by 17 inch half sheet pan or two 9 by 13 inch pans. If you only have one 9 by 13 pan, you can bake half the dough at a time.

Using an electric mixer, beat butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, vanilla and melted chocolate and beat until well combined. Add flour, cocoa, salt and baking soda and mix on low speed until well combined. Add chocolate chips and mix on low or by hand.

Spread and press dough evenly into pan(s). Lightly sprinkle the top of the dough with flour if it sticks to your hands.

Bake 9-10 minutes, or until just set in the middle, but still soft. Cool in pan on a metal rack until just warm before cutting into small squares. Store in an airtight container for several days, or freezer for longer storage.

Snickerdoodle Bars

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Me: How can we stage a different kind of picture of snickerdoodle bars?

Rich: [long silence] We have to make them first.

Why the snapshot of an inane conversation in our kitchen at 11:30 on a Saturday night? Mostly because I found Rich’s truly serious answer to be hilariously funny. Don’t judge me – it was way past my bedtime. And because there isn’t a whole lot I need to say about snickerdoodle bars. They are delicious. They go together in no time. And did I mention that the cinnamon sugar perfectly sets off the buttery goodness that is a snickerdoodle? Snickerdoodles in a bar, ready in less than half an hour. Enough said.

P.S. We didn’t make the cookie bars that night. But I did make them in the morning, after breakfast and before we left for church. They really are quick.

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Download or print the recipe here.

Snickerdoodle Cookie Bars
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 60-80 bars, depending on size

Cinnamon sugar:
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Dough:
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
1½ cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and lightly grease a 12 by 17 inch pan or two 9 by 13 inch pans. Mix the cinnamon and sugar together in a small bowl. Sprinkle about half, or a little less, evenly on the greased pan(s). Set aside remaining cinnamon sugar.

Beat butter and sugar together until completely combined and no longer gritty. Add eggs and beat again until light and fluffy.

Add flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt. Mix well.

Press the dough in an even layer in the prepared pan(s).  You may have to flour your hands so the dough doesn’t stick. Sprinkle the top of the dough with the remaining cinnamon sugar. You may not use it all – the rest is tasty on buttered toast.

Bake for 8-10 minutes or until the edges feel firm and are just starting to turn golden brown. The middle may not be completely set, but it shouldn’t be completely raw.

Cool in pan on a rack for a few minutes before cutting into squares. Store in an airtight container – these dry out faster than regular cookies. Freeze if you aren’t going to eat them within a couple of days.