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.

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St. Patrick’s Day Cupcakes

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Happy spring, people! Well, technically spring doesn’t start until March 20, but who cares? It feels like spring to me!  I went on a nice evening run today as the sun was setting, and I saw loads of pear tree blossoms, cherry tree blossoms, daffodils—even plenty of the so-called “weeds” growing on our lawn.  Do any of you just love those tiny flowers that start growing around this time but are actually considered weeds? Because I do! Ah, technicalities again.

And now it’s St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow! It’s really crept up quickly this year. (Um, wasn’t it just Valentine’s Day?) Anyways, I had time after school today to work on a recipe just for this everything-green occasion. And let me tell you, it is very much so, at the point of almost being over-the-top, in the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day! Cupcakes with swirls of green frosting, green and white sprinkles, and a surprise rainbow inside (channel the leprechauns’ path to gold pots)—could it get any more festive and cute?

It’s quite simple, really: creamy vanilla frosting tinted green, vanilla cupcake batter tinted five different shades and layered before baking.  These cupcakes turn out so moist due to all the buttermilk and melted butter!  Trust me, they are so worth the time to make when comparing them to store-bought or boxed-mix cupcakes.  These cupcakes are anything from bland or dry, and the flavors aren’t masked by an excess of sugar either.

So this is the run-down of the recipe: Make the batter.  Along with the dry ingredients, you’ll use melted butter, buttermilk, an egg yolk, three egg whites, and plenty of vanilla.  Hold up! You may be thinking, Why egg whites? Well, the egg whites are really just an extra step in the process to making these supremely fluffy cakes.  You whip them up at the end, and then fold them gently into the batter.  Extra air, extra fluff. That’s all!

Next you will divide the batter into bowls, color them, and further divvy into cupcake liners—more details on that when you read the recipe.

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While they’re baking, you’ll make the frosting: starting with cold butter, which will allow for the heavy cream to whip up when you add it later on.  The only other ingredients in the frosting are a little bit of salt to balance the sweet, some vanilla, and powdered sugar.  You can tint it your desired shade of green and then prepare the piping bag.

When you’re piping, be sure to pile that frosting on there.  No one likes cupcakes that have been skimped out on frosting! It may be messier to eat, but that’s okay—hey, if you wear your green frosting on your face nobody can pinch you! 😉

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St. Patrick’s Day Cupcakes

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Makes 12 cupcakes

Prep Time 55 minutes

Total Time 70 minutes

Ingredients:

For the Cupcakes

1 ¼ cups cake flour

1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 egg yolk and 3 egg whites, separated and at room temperature

¾ cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

½ cup melted unsalted butter

½ cup buttermilk at room temperature

Assorted food coloring

For the Frosting

2 sticks unsalted butter, cold

3 cups powdered sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons heavy whipping cream, cold

Green food coloring

Sprinkles for decorating

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place 12 paper cupcake liners in cupcake tray.
  2. Make the batter: Melt the butter in the microwave, set aside to let cool. Whisk together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.  In a large bowl, mix the egg yolk, granulated sugar, and vanilla on low speed for about thirty seconds, scraping down sides of the bowl as needed.  Add the (now around room temperature) melted butter and mix until combined.  Being careful not to overmix, add half of the flour mixture and mix on low speed until combined, scraping down sides as necessary.  Add half of the buttermilk mixture and mix until combined, and so forth with the rest of the flour mixture and then the rest of the buttermilk.  In a separate medium bowl, beat the egg whites on medium-high speed for about three minutes until fluffy.  Fold whites gently into the rest of the batter with a spatula until combined.
  3. Divide the batter into five separate small bowls, with about 2/3 cup batter in each bowl. Color each bowl with food coloring as desired, adding more drops to increase the intensity of color.  However, you don’t want to overmix the batter, so minimize stirring as much as possible.  (I did one bowl colored red, one yellow, one green, one blue, and one purple.)  Starting with the coolest color (for me it was purple), divide the bowl’s contents into the 12 cupcake liners.  You will use around 2 teaspoons of the given color in each liner.  Continue to add the other bowls of batter on top of the initial layer in the backwards rainbow order, until all the batter is used up.  (The second layer for mine was blue, then green, and so on.)
  4. Bake the cupcakes for 13-16 minutes until a toothpick inserted comes out clean and the top springs back when touched. Let cupcakes cool in pan for several minutes and then remove to cool completely on wire racks.
  5. Make the frosting: Cut the butter into cubes and place in a large bowl. Beat the butter on high speed with a hand-held mixer or paddle attachment for 5-7 minutes until pale and fluffy.  Add 1 ½ cups of the powdered sugar and mix on low speed until combined.  Add the salt and vanilla and mix until combined.  Next, add the remaining 1 ½ cups powdered sugar to the frosting and beat for 3-4 minutes on high, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.  Add the whipping cream and mix for another 4-5 minutes to beat air into the frosting, and then beat in the green food coloring to desired shade.
  6. Frost the cupcakes: Place frosting in piping bag with desired tip. (I used a star-shaped one to acquire the ridges in the swirls.)  Pipe the frosting onto the cooled cupcakes by starting from the inside, and then swirling out and up to form a slight peak.  Top with sprinkles.

 

Baker’s Notes:

a. Frosted cupcakes, if to be served in the next 24 hours, can be left at room temperature in an airtight container. Otherwise, frosted cupcakes will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, and should be taken out of the refrigerator an hour before serving to bring back to room temperature.

b. Unfrosted cupcakes can be stored at room temperature for up to three days in an airtight container. Frosting can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator for up to two days.  Bring it back to room temperature and beat it for 5 minutes again before piping onto cupcakes.

c. If serving at an outdoors event, make sure to keep cupcakes out of direct sunlight and heat as the frosting will melt.