Smoke & Fire Cookies (Vegan!)

I know I’ve waxed poetic about Fix and Fogg before, but really, these guys are my favorite. When I was back in Wellington I made sure to stock up on some of their excellent peanut butter, and when I went to their adorable storefront to buy a jar, the guy working offered me a sample of the new spiced peanut butter they’re making. Spiced peanut butter! It sounds weird, and it is, but it is AMAZING. Needless to say I bought a jar.

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I know what you’re thinking – that’s nice and all, but I’m not in Wellington, so I guess I can’t bake these cookies. Well, no. While I am 100% certain these would be better made with actual F&F Smoke and Fire, I actually made them with regular old chunky peanut butter and an assortment of spices to imitate the real stuff. Because that one jar of spicy peanut butter I brought back? Yeah, I ate all of that. With a spoon. In about a week. And so until Fix and Fogg start exporting (please start exporting!) this is what I have to tide me over.

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Coffee Bourbon & Boozy Mocha Brownies

This is it: the first truly alcoholic post on the blog. I know I’ve mentioned my bar work here before, and I even put up a recipe for bourbon-spiked cookies a while back, but so far this blog has stayed mostly teetotaler-friendly. Not a bad thing, necessarily, but infusing spirits requires a similar skill-set to baking, and it’s fun, too. So here’s my first infusion recipe: coffee-infused bourbon. I stumbled upon a recipe back in December, made a few tweaks, let the stuff sit for a couple weeks, and ended up with something delicious. It’s very strong and pleasantly bitter, but with enough vanilla sweetness to soften the blow.

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I had grand intentions of using the infusion for espresso Manhattans or Old Fashioneds, but in the end my friends and I drank all of it neat at a party. (Which was also a great use of it, don’t get me wrong.) Luckily, not before I managed to use some in a tray of amazing boozy brownies. Both recipes are below. The coffee bourbon takes a couple of weeks; the brownies take less than an hour.

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Salted Chocolate Rye Cookies

Hello again, readers! I’ve been very busy the last couple weeks running around New Zealand and checking out my future home of Melbourne, so despite my best intentions I’m a couple posts behind. Instead I was photographing a friend’s wedding in Wellington and writing for another friend’s blog. And while I did actually bake while I was away, it was only once, and just these old standbys. But I’m back now, and I’ve got a couple cool recipes to share with you.

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These cookies, for starters. I’ve been playing around with a couple recipes from Tartine recently—notably I made a vegan version of these, which for some reason I neglected to photograph—and this was my favorite new find. The rye flour gives these a very distinctive flavor and texture, and while I’ve never been a fan of rye bread, I thought these were delicious.

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Marscapone Brownies

I suppose as a baking blog I’m pretty much obligated to mention Valentine’s Day…as a perpetually single person this holiday is pretty much meaningless to me, but I know a lot of people like to celebrate with chocolate, and so I have a nice, easy, last-minute chocolatey recipe for you all.

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Of course in this part of the world, it’s already February 15th. I spent my Valentine’s Day back in New Zealand at a very unorthodox bachelorette party (no strippers or ridiculous penis-shaped straws/balloons/whatever else; we went wake boarding and had a barbecue) which was wonderful. Also, I’m back in New Zealand, which is a great feeling in and of itself.

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Pain Au Chocolat/Homemade Croissants

Croissants are one of those Intimidating Baking Projects. For a lot of amateur bakers, they go straight into the Too Hard basket and are deemed not worth the effort / better store-bought / both. I’m here to tell you not to panic. Yes, they are a bit finicky. Yes, it’s a long process. And yes, I have ruined an oven-full of croissants before, quite spectacularly, with very little effort. But I have used the recipe I’m going to share with you five times now, and only once have I had a bona fide baking disaster – the time I made the insane rookie mistake of leaving the house during the final, crucial proofing stage only to come home to two full trays of fat, buttery globs. Which I baked and served to general approval, but which were not really croissants.

That was last Easter. This Christmas, I tried again, opting for smaller, chocolate-filled croissants instead. A French girl told me they tasted Parisian, which as far as I’m concerned locks these solidly into my own personal baking Hall of Fame. And honestly? They’re not actually that hard to make.

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Gingerbread Biscotti

Happy 2015 everyone! I spent the first few minutes of the New Year on a beach surrounded by friends, which is also how I spent Christmas, which is the great thing about having December in the summer. To be fair we’ve had a lot of rain, too, but the weather has pulled through on the important days.

Speaking of Christmas, I know I promised you croissants, and they are forthcoming. First, though, something a little simpler. I actually made these purely for the purpose of using up leftover ingredients from my gingersnaps, which makes the recipe perfect for this time of year. They take a bit of time – being biscotti, they do need to be baked twice – but they’re not difficult and they’re very worth your while.

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I halved the recipe below because my oven is small and again, I was really just making these to use up some leftover ingredients. I would highly recommend making a full batch.

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Grasshopper Brownies

Okay, so I didn’t get through quite so many Christmas cookies as I would have liked. I thought about squeezing one more round in, but opted instead to spend my evening making pain au chocolat and baguettes. So not quite so many cookies, but some really lovely breakfast for my friends and if all goes well, a step-by-step croissant tutorial for you guys soon. ‘Tis the season, or whatever. I do have one last holiday recipe for you, because it just didn’t feel right to have Christmas with no mint or white chocolate.

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I actually wanted to make peppermint bark initially, but candy canes do not seem to exist in Byron Bay, so that idea was quickly abandoned. This is a bit of a similar concept, but with an added brownie layer. So you’ve got a chocolatey, fudgy brownie, topped with minty white chocolate ganache, topped with rich dark chocolate ganache. These are very intense and very, very tasty.

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Peanut Cookie Brittle

When I first moved to Massachusetts for college (or “uni,” as I have now been conditioned to call it) back in 2007, I quickly discovered that many things I’d assumed were American turned out to be just Californian. For example, people in New England ate Twizzlers instead of Red Vines (both are weird – I mean who even eats licorice anymore – but Red Vines are obviously superior). The most obnoxiously inescapable song my senior year of high school never even made airwaves out of state (it was called “I Wear My Stunna Glasses At Night,” I hated it at the time, and now that I’ve looked it up I can’t stop listening to it). The famously cheap $2 wine at Trader Joe’s cost (shock, horror) $3 instead. And there was no See’s Candies.

I don’t spend a lot of money on sweets or baked goods, because generally I know I can make them better and more cheaply in my own kitchen, but See’s will always have a special place in my heart. So many options! So many free samples! And best of all, their peanut brittle, which, enormous peanut butter fiend that I am, I completely adore. My dad used to send me a box during finals every year to help get me through. And while I’m sure that it, too, could be made better (or at least as well) and more cheaply at home, I’m really not set up for candy-making in my current kitchen.

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Enter this cookie brittle. It’s got that same caramel-y, sweet and salty taste, and that great, satisfying crunchiness, mixed with the buttery texture of a really nice peanut butter cookie. Plus it’s dangerously easy to make. And it’s a nice change from the endless gingerbread and sugar cookies that you get this time of year.

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Crunchy Gingersnaps

Here’s a fun fact: humidity makes baked goods go stale. My part of Northern California is not a very humid place, and neither is Wellington, and most of my baking back in Massachusetts took place during the colder parts of the year, so I only just found this out today. When my lovely, fantastically crunchy gingersnaps, went soft and chewy overnight. Apparently a slice of bread in the container helps? Or I need better containers? Or I should have just frozen them overnight. I’m not sure. Any advice would be welcome. Regardless, these were a bit of a disappointment the morning after. Still tasty! But I like my gingersnaps almost hard enough to crack a tooth on.

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Still, if you are somewhere less humid, or you have a better storage strategy, or you plan on eating these immediately, you should try this recipe. They are (or, in my case, were) just what a gingersnap should be. Very gingery, not too sweet, a touch of salt, and (did I mention this already?) nice and crunchy. Excellent holiday cookies. Which makes sense because I got the recipe from Alton Brown, and that man knows his cookies.

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Mexican Wedding Cakes

As promised, seasonally appropriate cookies. Well, I say “seasonally appropriate” but of course here in Australia it’s 2000 degrees and everyone is more or less running around naked. Not exactly mulled wine and gingerbread weather, but I’ll make do. Starting with a cookie that was one of my favorites growing up.

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I didn’t know anything about this cookie until I looked up how to make it. Apparently it has about six different names (including Russian Tea Cake and Povlorón) and no one knows why, or what its true origin is. All I know is that one of my neighbors back when I lived in Palo Alto used to give us a box every Christmas and I loved them. I’d never eaten them before and I loved the flavor and the unreasonable quantities of powdered sugar. I haven’t had these for years, and since no one here in Australia seems to have ever had them at all, I thought I should share.

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