Maple Oatmeal Cookies with Pecans, Chocolate Chips, and Cacao Nibs

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I love that in the weeks leading up to Christmas day there are so many gatherings. There’s a certain effort made to be with one another, and calendars are filled with forthcoming dates of dressy evening parties, candlelit dinners, tea parties, maybe even a get-together created for the all-important purpose of showing off everyone’s prized tacky sweaters. December also brings with it flocks of travelers; (like wise men!) family and long-time friends drive many miles back and forth to visit one another, bursting through front doors with rosy cheeks as they lug mysterious bundles.

I also relish in all of the traditions of Christmas, the stuff that never seems to grow old, as it only comes around once a year. Lately, out of curiosity, I’ve been in a groove of asking my friends what their favorite family rituals are around Christmas. Lots of common themes here: bringing home and decorating the perfect tree, watching classic Christmas movies, caroling for the neighborhood, annual family outings to see Santa or have brunch or go ice skating. And of course, half of all traditions seem to revolve around food!

My baking-obsessed self is always excited for our family’s massive cookie tray that we put out on Christmas Eve after dinner for all to enjoy (and then snack on the leftovers for days). Every year, twin sis Maggie and I are prepared for our grandmother to look over at some point in the evening, and give us the go-ahead smile, signaling that the hour has come for our appointed task. It’s always been our job to deal with the cookie tray as the adults clean last dishes, stoke the fire, make coffee. We do our best to carefully unearth the festive cookie tins that hold a dozen or so varieties nestled in wax paper, line them on the counter, and tastefully arrange the assortment onto my grandmother’s three-tiered platter.

This year, I’m excited to contribute some of my own adaptations of cookie recipes to the spread. Of course, nothing can beat the classics, the cookies that show up every single year because they’re so darn good. (My personal favorites: snowball cookies and peanut butter blossoms.) However, I always like to bring at least one new cookie to the party—hey, the more the merrier, am I right? This year, I know I’ll be bringing at minimum my new favorite oatmeal cookies; they’re flavored with maple extract (WOAH that stuff smells amazing) and filled with pecans, chocolate chips, and cacao nibs.

I’ll go ahead and explain about the cacao nibs, just in case anyone has yet to cross paths with these beauties. Cacao nibs are basically just cacao beans that have been roasted and broken into pieces, with a similar texture to a roasted coffee bean. They aren’t sweet, but they have a rich, bitter chocolate flavor that works great against the sweetness of the cookie dough and regular chocolate chips. They also add a nice crunchy, textural element that I love. I definitely recommend! You can find them in most health food sections of grocery stores.

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What’s great about the cookie dough base itself is that it holds its shape. I find that lots of times, oatmeal cookies spread too thin and crispy as they bake, leaving me with massive cookie disappointment. These, however, stay thick and puffy due to some added cornstarch and a perfect ratio of flour to liquid ingredients.
To top it off, the cookie dough is flavored with two awesome power ingredients: maple extract and molasses. I decided to leave cinnamon out for the sole purpose of letting the maple/molasses plus pure butter flavor shine through. Shocking move for me, because I’m a total cinnamon fiend—I sprinkle it on my coffee, hot chocolate (Once Upon a Time anyone?), yogurt, oatmeal. . . Nevertheless, I wanted to skip on the spice in this case. The flavors are still so complex!
For all Christmas cookie bakers, I highly encourage that you whip these maple-flavored, mix-in filled, chocolate-y goodness of an oatmeal cookies together. Your family will likely down them as quickly as mine did.
I bid everyone the merriest of Christmases! May your days be merry and bright. And may all your cookies, be, uhhh, a delight. 🙂

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Maple Oatmeal Cookies with Pecans, Chocolate Chips, and Cacao Nibs

*adapted from Liv for Cake*

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Makes 24-28 cookies

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Total Time (includes chilling): 1 hour and 50 minutes

Ingredients:

¾ cup flour
1 ½ cups rolled oats (not quick oats)
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cornstarch
½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons molasses
1 egg, room temperature
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ teaspoon maple extract
½ cup chopped pecans
6 tablespoons cacao nibs
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Coarse sanding sugar, for sprinkling (optional)

Directions:

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, oats, baking soda, salt, and cornstarch. Set aside.

2. In a separate larger bowl, beat butter on medium speed for a minute. Add both the light brown and granulated sugar, and beat for two more minutes until light and fluffy, scraping down sides as needed. Add the molasses, egg, vanilla extract, and maple extract and beat on low speed until fully incorporated.

3. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in three separate additions, beating each time until just incorporated and scraping down the sides as needed. Fold in the chopped pecans, cacao nibs, and chocolate chips by hand.

4. Chill the dough for at least an hour in the refrigerator. (This is important, don’t skip this step! It helps them retain a soft, puffy shape.)

5. When ready to bake cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Form balls of dough about the size of a tablespoon, placing around 12 balls on each baking tray lined with parchment paper. Bake for 10 to 11 minutes, until edges are slightly browned but center is still slightly softer or unset. (The cookies will continue to bake and firm up even out of the oven as they sit on the hot baking sheet.)

6. After cooling for 10 minutes on the baking sheet, remove cookies to cool fully on cooling rack.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.

Pecan Shortbread Cookies

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Imagine this scene: you’re kicked back on your porch accompanied by good friends and some lazy afternoon sunshine.  Also brought to the party are little pink glasses or raspberry spritzer (With mint leaves! Because it’s cute!) and a tray of toasted pecan shortbread cookies.  Sounds like summer right?

I hold a firm belief that shortbread is equally appropriate in the winter or summer (or whenever)–it all depends on what it’s paired with.

Another combination that would be great with these cookies? Lavender.  Whether you threw in a few teaspoons or so of dried edible lavender to the dough, or served them with lavender lemonade, or lavender iced tea, it would be a match made in heaven.  And it would be so perfect, again, for warm weather.  In fact, I realized this after cleaning the counters when I was testing the recipe…  The pecan cookie scent was still lingering because they had just been taken out of the oven,  and I sprayed some lavender scented cleaning spray on the counters and then promptly flipped out.  It was a-mazing.  I am going to have to try that lavender variation.  Yay for discoveries made…when cleaning?

Anyways, enough about flavor combinations.  These cookies by themselves are so darn good that simply eating them straight out of the oven will result in happy taste buds.

These shortbreads are firm without being overly crispy (however, if you have a taste for much crispier cookies, just leave them in the oven for another minute or two).  Toasting the pecans before adding them to the dough is key because it brings out so much of their flavor.  So. Good. Try them!

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Pecan Shortbread Cookies

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Makes 20 cookies

Prep time 30 minutes

Total time 2 hours

Ingredients:

1 cup raw pecan halves

2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup (two sticks) unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.  Toast pecans for 5-7 minutes until slightly colored.  Take out and let cool.
  2. Meanwhile, combine flour and salt in a medium bowl.  When pecans are cooled, take about five pecan halves and chop into fine pieces.  Take the remaining pecans and break more coarsely into pieces with hands.  Add to flour and salt mixture and stir to combine.
  3. In a large bowl, cream the butter with a mixer on medium-high speed until smooth and pale in color.  Add a few tablespoons of sugar and beat on medium speed, scraping down the sides of bowl as needed, to combine.  Continue to add sugar gradually until all of it is incorporated into the butter.  Add vanilla and beat until combined.  In four stages, add the flour mixture while beating on low and then medium speed.  Be careful not to overmix—stop mixing as soon as dough is combined.
  4. Divide the dough into two, place both halves of dough on plastic wrap and form disks.  Refrigerate for a minimum of one hour *see baker’s note (a)* (they can be refrigerated for up to two days before baking).
  5. Take one disk of cookie dough out of refrigerator and, with lightly floured hands, make about ten evenly sized balls.  Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, flattening down slightly with the palm of your hand to create disks that are about ½ inch tall.  Make sure cookies are evenly spaced apart.  Bake for 13-16 minutes until cookies are lightly browned.  Remove from oven and let cool for at least 10 minutes before removing to a cool on a wire rack.
  6. Repeat process with other disk of dough.

Baker’s Notes:

a.) Make sure not to skip refrigerating the dough.  If you don’t refrigerate it, the cookies will spread and become too flat.  Any moisture in the dough will seep out of the sides.  I can’t stress this enough.

b.) Cookies will last for a week when stored at room temperature in an airtight container.

Soft-Baked Flourless Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

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So let me just get this straight. Chocolate and peanut butter is pretty much my favorite flavor combination EVER. I love it. You can find me on just about any given day sneaking a spoonful of peanut butter with dark chocolate chips on it from the pantry as a quick treat. If I had to choose one last meal, (but um, let’s hope I don’t have to) it would probably consist of some sort of peanut butter chocolate dessert.

I’m telling you, I’m obsessed with the stuff.

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Now let’s talk about these amazing cookies. They are sooooooo soft and bursting with peanut butter and chocolate chips. They’ve even got a sprinkle of coarse salt on top, because who doesn’t love a little sweet and salty?

Also, did I mention that they are naturally GF? So if you can’t eat gluten, or you’re baking for someone who can’t eat gluten, these are the way to go! Not to mention the fact that they’re made in just one bowl, which means less clean up time (always a winner for me). AND, there aren’t any weird flours you have to drive to a health store to find—it’s just eight simple ingredients that you probably already have on hand.

Okay, enough with the sales pitch—let’s get on to the recipe.

First things first, cream the peanut butter with some dark brown sugar. The dark brown sugar has about twice as much molasses content as light brown sugar, lending it a deeper flavor and making the cookies even moister. Then add an egg, vanilla, milk, baking soda, and cornstarch. Yes, cornstarch in cookies. You may think it’s strange, but it’s my favorite trick to making soft and puffy cookies!

After that, you just stir in some chocolate chips, form the dough into balls, and bake for ten minutes. When they come out of the oven, sprinkle them with sea salt and then let them sit for a good ten minutes so they set. (They’ll fall apart if you try and move them before then.) Then you can dive in to that peanut-buttery, melty chocolate, soft-baked goodness!

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Soft-Baked Flourless Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Makes 12-14 Cookies

Prep Time 15 minutes

Total Time 25 minutes

Ingredients:

¾ cup plus 2 Tbsp creamy peanut butter, such as Jif or Skippy *see Baker’s note (a)*

½ cup dark brown sugar *see Baker’s note (b)*

½ tsp baking soda

1 large egg

1 ½ tsp vanilla extract

¾ tsp cornstarch

1 ½ tsp milk

½ cup semisweet chocolate chips, plus more for topping

Coarse salt for sprinkling

  1. Position middle oven rack and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Cream peanut butter and dark brown sugar in a medium bowl with a mixer on medium speed until combined. Add baking soda, egg, and vanilla and mix on low speed to combine, scraping down the sides as needed. Next, add cornstarch and milk, beating until combined. Stir in ½ cup chocolate chips.
  3. Drop dough by rounded tablespoon onto a tray lined with parchment paper, leaving at least 2 inches of room between each ball. Press a few extra chocolate chips onto the top of the balls if you like—I think it makes them much prettier. Bake for exactly 10 minutes, then remove from the oven. The cookies will look underdone, but as they sit they will set. Sprinkle lightly with coarse salt and let the cookies sit on the tray for at least ten minutes—if you try to move them before that, they will fall apart! After the 10 minutes, remove to wire racks and let cool completely.

Baker’s Note:

a. For these cookies, you should make sure to use a creamy peanut butter brand such as Jif or Skippy.  Other peanut butters that are too oily will not work in this recipe.

b. I recommend using dark brown sugar because it has a higher molasses content which creates more moisture and flavor than light brown sugar.  However, you can substitute light brown sugar in a pinch: the finished product will just be slightly different.

c. Store cookies in an airtight container for up to 3 days.