A Tradition of Crinkles

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When it comes to Christmas in our house, and probably yours too, certain things just scream ‘tradition’. They are so much a part of the holiday that it’s as though Christmas would not come if they didn’t take place, and that is especially true (for us, anyway) of food traditions. And the one that screams the loudest?

Cookies. Definitely the cookies.

Now, when my family was young, they were not exactly cookie deprived—not even close! I baked every week, often more than once.

A day.

But of all the cookies that ever came from my oven, the one they asked for the most—and ONLY got at Christmas—were Chocolate Crinkles.

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These are cookies I have been making since I was twelve years old. It was probably the first recipe I ever wrote down, copied from a young mom whose children I frequently babysat for. She was baking them one day when I went over to their house, and I was smitten—not for the first time—by a cookie. I copied her recipe, finished helping her bake them, and I have baked them every Christmas since then, always following the copy printed in my pre-teen hand.

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Chocolate Crinkles have hallowed status in our home. There are rules governing their appearance and consumption…

They are the first of the Christmas cookies to be baked.
They must not be made before Thanksgiving—not even the dough.
The dough only gets made once—even if it means cracking a dozen eggs and melting almost a pound of chocolate to make sure there is enough dough on hand to ensure a steady supply of Crinkles throughout the holiday.
Other cookies can come and go from the Christmas tradition, but the Crinkles stay.
There are no bad Crinkles. Over-baked ones are dunked in hot chocolate or cold milk. Under-baked ones are best eaten as a frozen treat.
When Christmas is over, Crinkle season is over. Begging will get you nowhere.
(It may get you brownies, but no more Chocolate Crinkles will appear until the following Christmas season.)

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As cookies go, these are fairly humble, so I don’t know what makes them so wonderful and begged for, unless it’s that deep chocolate flavor.

Or the way they are chewy and melt-y at the same time.

Or the way they make the house smell.

I do know that they are super simple to make, and that if you can stand the sticky hands, kids love to help roll the balls of chocolate dough in the powdered sugar. (Don’t worry about the sugar on the kitchen floor, that’s what you have a dog for.)

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If traditions are part of the glue that bonds the individual personalities of a family into a blended whole, then our family is stuck together with a fine coating of powdered sugar.

It works.

I hope your family loves these cookies as much as mine does. Thank you for taking the time to visit, and I hope your days right now are merry and bright!
Lorrie

P.S. Jane, wherever you are, my children thank you!

Chocolate Crinkles*
½ cup vegetable oil
4 oz unsweetened chocolate
2 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs
2 tsps. vanilla extract
2 cups flour
2 tsps. salt
1 ½ tsps. baking powder
2 cups powdered sugar, placed in a wide, shallow bowl
Melt the chocolate in the microwave or over hot water. Let cool for a minute or two.
While the chocolate is cooling, whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder in a small bowl, then set it aside.
In a large bowl, mix the oil, chocolate, and granulated sugar.
Beat in the eggs one at a time, blending thoroughly after each one.
Add the vanilla, then stir in the flour mixture, mixing it in completely.

Chill the dough for at least an hour. (I often leave it in for a few days, baking a few dozen as needed.)

Preheat your oven to 350 F

Roll walnut-sized chunks of dough into balls, and roll them in the powdered sugar.
Place them on a greased baking sheet, or line the sheet with parchment paper.
Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until just set. They should still be glossy on the tops, but not wet.
Let the cookies set for a minute on the baking sheet before removing them to a rack to finish cooling.

*This recipe is easily doubled.

Chocolate Apologies

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It’s been so long since I’ve written for my blog, I’ll probably have to re-learn the format when I go to post this.

It’s not that I haven’t been cooking—I have—just not as much as I would like. There was a lot going on in the garden this summer as well, with plenty of pictures to prove it. There were field trips both near and far, filled with plunging waterfalls, vibrant farmer’s markets, tapestries of vineyards, joyous artwork, and loads and loads of flowers! I even took photos at almost every place I went, so I could share with you at a later date. Really, I did. But somehow, writing slipped off of the priority list, and nothing ever made it to print.

The road to a very warm place is paved with good intentions, or so I’ve been told…

So, to get the old blog ball rolling again, there’s nothing better than cake.

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It could be just me, but I think there is nothing like cake for most apologies things—especially if it’s chocolate cake—and since everyone needs a good (and simple!) chocolate cake recipe in their arsenal, here is my favorite.

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Rich, moist, dark, and fragrant—it has been my ‘go-to’ cake for many more years than I care to admit to. With the accompanying frosting recipe, it bakes up in a hurry. This cake is best though, if you can make and frost it the night before you actually plan to serve it, as a few extra hours gives the flavor a chance to develop and deepen.

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Enjoy! Oh, and thanks for coming back—I’ve missed you!
Lorrie

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Quick Dark Chocolate Cake

1 ¾ cups un-sifted flour
2 cups granulated sugar
¾ cup cocoa powder
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

2 eggs
1 cup milk
½ cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup boiling water. I actually replace most of the water with coffee.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease and flour two 9 inch or three 8 inch round pans.

In a stand mixer or large mixing bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients.
Add the eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla and beat at medium speed for two minutes.
Carefully stir in the boiling water. The batter will be very thin.

Pour into the prepared pans and bake 30-35 minutes for 9 inch pans, 20-25 minutes for 8 inch pans. Be careful NOT to over-bake. Let the layers rest in the pan for 9 minutes, then remove to racks to cool completely before frosting.

Simple Dark Chocolate Buttercream

1 and ½ sticks of room temperature butter (12 Tblsp)
1 cup cocoa powder
5 1/3 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup milk

Cream the butter until it’s fluffy.
Beat in the cocoa, sugar, and milk, dividing up and alternating between each.
Beat in the vanilla

This will make more frosting than you need for this cake, but you can freeze the leftover and use later for brownies, frosted graham crackers, or just sneaking out of the container when you’re desperate for chocolate. Of course, I’d never do that.

Sleepless Nights and Wild Blackberry ~ Nectarine Tarts

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I’ve always been a light sleeper—sensitive not just to things that go bump in the night, and subtle noises from the children’s room—but to things like the breeze shifting directions, stars falling, or one less katydid chirping in the fields outside our bedroom window. I would always wake at these times; identify the origin of the sound, and then settle back to sleep.

It’s different now. The past few years have brought a major shift in my sleeping patterns, and not just because I no longer wake to the sound of a child’s temperature rising. Regardless of my level of weariness, I can’t count on falling to sleep much before eleven or so. And to compound the frustration, if I wake up after I’ve drifted off (and I do, repeatedly), there is no guarantee that I will go back to sleep—at least for an hour or two.

I seem to go in random cycles of sleeping well, or barely sleeping at all. At present, I’m in one of the latter. Oh well, it’s not a perfect world. If it were, I wouldn’t be a ‘morning’ person, even during time of sleep deprivation.

I do put the time spent waiting for sleep to good use—I like to think through the process of things that I am planning—an addition or change to the garden, a dinner-party menu, a creative project, or an up-coming trip. I suppose that the orderly ‘thinking through’ of the steps involved in these things helps distract and lull me back to sleep.

Monday night—really, it was obscenely early yesterday morning—as I was lying in the dark waiting for sleep to return, I started thinking about how I missed my oven. It’s been an extremely warm summer, and I don’t bake often when the temperatures climb above the mid 8o’s. I knew that the following few days were going to cool off a bit, so I began a mental inventory of what was currently residing in my kitchen, begging to be cloaked in pastry or wrapped in sugar, butter and flour.

I thought about the wild blackberries.

I thought about the plump little nectarines.

I remembered the mound of pastry dough tucked away in the freezer, left over from a rich, creamy lemon tart that I’d made for a dinner party in February.

A Lemon Curd Tart for the fabulous ladies at Northwest Dental Clinic!

A Lemon Curd Tart for the fabulous ladies at Northwest Dental Clinic!

I think I fell asleep to the thought of a beautiful tart made from summer fruit, and in the morning, when the garden chores were all done, I headed back into the kitchen.
(Hellooo, happy little oven! Wonderful to see you, tart pan and rolling pin! I’m so excited that we’re together—we’ve been apart too long!)

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It was definitely time well spent, both for the creative process and the resulting tart, which was EVERYTHING I’d hoped it would turn out to be—gorgeous deep-summer colored fruit in a buttery, crumbly shortbread crust, each bite bursting with the perfect blend of lush, dark, berries and the bright–tart sweetness of the nectarines.

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And since a little gilding of the lily never hurt anyone, a spoonful or two of homemade vanilla-bean ice cream nestled against the side made for one of those dessert-nirvana moments.

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Sometimes when I can’t sleep at night, I think about having a small inn, with just a few tables. I plan the rooms, the gardens, the kitchen and the breakfast and dinner menus (you’re on your own for lunch). This tart will be on the summer dessert menu, although you can have it for breakfast if you’d like—I won’t tell!

Here’s the recipe my friends, and thank you so much for visiting!
Lorrie

Wild Blackberry and Nectarine Tart

Tart Shell
2 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter
2 large egg yolks, beaten
2 to 4 tablespoons cream or cold water

Pulse the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor* until it’s combined.
Add the butter and pulse until it makes a coarse meal.
Add the yolks and 2 tablespoons of cream, mixing until the dough just comes together.  If the dough is too crumbly, add the remaining cream or water 1/2 tablespoon at a time until it is the right consistency.

Divide the dough in halve, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for about an hour  While the dough is chilling, mix the ingredients for the filling and set to the side.

Berry Filling
4 cups blackberries
4 medium nectarines
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour

When the pastry dough is chilled, roll it to a thickness of 1/8 inch on a floured surface. Press it into the bottom and up the sides of a 10 inch tart pan with a removable bottom.  Pierce the bottom and sides with a fork, and trim the edges.  Refrigerate the shell until firm, about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 F.
Pour the filling into the chilled shell, and put it on a baking sheet to catch any spills.
Bake for 40 minutes

Let the tart cool completely before removing it from the pan.  It will need to set an additional hour or two before slicing.

*Using a food processor makes this tart crust super simple and fast.  You can do just fine without one though, using a pastry fork or two knives

 

Farewell to the Lavender

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Shearing the lavender always makes me feel sad–a wistful sort of melancholy awareness that summer cannot last forever.  I leave the faded stalks on the shrublets far longer than I should, because though the flowers have long since dried, the hummingbirds are hovering in it, searching out the last bits of purple for nectar.

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Even now, it releases its dreamy, soothing fragrance as I walk through it–shears slicing carefully so that I don’t disturb the bees that dance in it still.

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Adieu Lavande…à bientôt!

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Tuesday Snippets

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Cooking, baking, and working on recipes (and alas, eating) have taken a back seat to work and the garden. It probably doesn’t help much that I’m kind of an ‘all-or-nothing’ girl–whatever is my obsession du jour dwarfs whatever is not. Right now, my thoughts are all about the garden!

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And cake. I think about cake a lot lately too.

Summer is definitely here–though it may rain because I have my first day off tomorrow in the last seven–so I’ll be doing battle with the little weeds that have sprouted up in my absence, along with a myriad of other garden chores and projects that I really am excited about!  Of course, if it rains, I’ll have a reason to stay indoors and bake a cake.

I did manage to get some Limoncello made, though it won’t be ready for another week or two.

 

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I’ve already thought of a cake that I want to make with it.  More than one, if I’m brutally honest.  And wouldn’t it be beautiful with these Nasturtiums to decorate it with?

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And, oh my goodness!  I just realized while writing this post, the June 13th will be my little blog’s first anniversary, and one fabulous reason to make a cake!

So, until the next post, which will probably be about cake, here are some bits of what’s going on in my garden and kitchen…

The grapevines are blooming--and they smell so lovely!  Who knew??

The grapevines are blooming–and they smell so lovely! Who knew??

Pretty Nigella about to bloom.

Pretty Nigella about to bloom.

What’s happening in your world?  What are you growing (or baking) that you are excited about?

Thanks so much for visiting,
Lorrie

 

 

 

Food, or Flowers ?

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As much as I love to be in the kitchen, I never love grocery shopping. While I’m grateful for the abundance that I have, and the ability to purchase more when the need arises, I’d still rather just open the pantry or fridge and have whatever ingredients I need miraculously appear.
Also, there are days when being outdoors is a far more attractive option than the kitchen, and I want to spend every moment of the day out in the garden.

Yesterday was one of those days, and I was hit with the double whammy! It was the dreaded day-before-shopping-day (so not a lot of in-house options, gastronomically speaking) AND, it was a sparkling, warm, sunny day—abundant with birdsong and roses—begging for me to be out in it!

There were bumblebees working furiously in the catmint, goldfinches waiting to furrow up my newly planted basil seed, and so much meltingly warm sunshine that all thoughts of anything not garden-related were fast disappearing.

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When the two of these realities collided, suddenly there was the possibility that the husband would come home to something-not-his-idea-of-dinner. And though he doesn’t complain, it’s not his favorite way to end the day.

So what’s a pantry-challenged, gardening girl to do? How to maximize the time in the garden without compromising dinnertime? (And no, pizza delivery was not an option, although peanut butter and jam sandwiches might have been. I just haven’t figured out what wine goes with PBJ yet…)

The first thing I had to do—and what I hope to encourage you to do, is to…

GET CREATIVE!

Be brave and fearless in the kitchen! After all, the very worst thing that could happen is that your creation fails. Then you just send out for pizza, or make PBJ’s, or popcorn! (Well, I suppose the worst thing is that you might set your kitchen on fire, but I’ve never had that happen. The living room, yes, twice, but that’s another story, unrelated to cooking. Oh, and the garage wall—that one WAS related to cooking, but I digress.)
As I was saying, don’t be afraid to get creative! Of course, it helps if you have a few ‘staples’ on hand (like peanut butter) but the most important thing is to have some courage and imagination! Don’t worry about failing—nobody in your house will starve.

One caveat thought—I don’t recommend this approach when you have dinner guests coming unless (A) you don’t want them to come back, or (B) you are very adept in the kitchen.

Here’s how I solved my dining dilemma. I had dinner done, stowed away in the fridge, and was back out to the garden in twenty-five minutes! It would have been twenty, but I stopped to shoot a few photos first.

Since this is not a post about provisioning a kitchen, I won’t go into the whole inventory of what’s always on hand in my kitchen, but because it’s not possible to create something out of nothing, a few of the basics that I try NEVER to be out of—

Some type of pasta
olive oil
an onion
garlic
olives (I keep a large jar of kalamatas in the fridge)
a couple of different vinegars
flour
sugar
peanut butter

It’s actually a slightly longer list, but this gives you a little idea of what I keep on hand so that I always have something to fall back on.

Now here’s where the creative part comes in.

After considering my options (and the speed with which I wanted to get back outside) I decided on a ‘main-dish’ salad to have out on the patio, one that would go with one of my prizes from last Friday’s field trip to Hood River and the Gorge.

A quick re-con of the fridge and pantry yielded half a bag of shell pasta, olives, artichoke hearts, half a red onion, some almost forgotten but still redeemable celery, a third of a head of romaine lettuce, half of a red bell pepper, and the most remarkable treasure—a pint jar of home canned albacore that a friend had given me some time ago—forgotten about because it was cleverly hiding behind some buckwheat flour.

Out it all came, and while the pasta was boiling, I chopped the onion (saving some for another use), olives, artichokes, celery and a couple of cloves of garlic.

Next I prepped the last of the lettuce for a tossed salad, adding some paper-thin slices of red bell pepper and the remnant of red onion. I tucked it away in the fridge with a damp paper towel on top, and at dinner-time all it would need would be the addition of a ‘must-be-eaten-today’ avocado and some balsamic vinaigrette (another thing I make each week and keep on hand).

When the shells were done and drained, in went the chopped vegetables together with the albacore, some olive oil, white wine vinegar, salt, fresh cracked pepper, a few red chili flakes, and…
Voila! Dinner!

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These two salads, accompanied with something crisp, minerally, and white to drink (I chose a beautiful white blend of Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris from COR Cellars, appropriately called ‘AlbaCOR) came together for a fine meal. I know it wanted a bit of crusty bread, but there was no way I was going to bake. I could have taken the stale baguette from several days ago and turned it into crostini, but I didn’t come in from the garden in time.

Here’s my guide for last night’s creation;

½ a bag of small shell pasta (or whatever pasta you have—even grains would work)
1 pint jar of albacore (or can of tuna, or left-over chicken, steak, or no meat at all)
½ cup Kalamata olives, roughly chopped (or any other olive)
½ cup artichoke hearts, chopped
½ a red onion, chopped fine (or any other color onion, or chives, or shallots)
2 ribs of celery, chopped fine
2 cloves of garlic, minced

Olive oil (or mayonaisse or some other oil)
White wine vinegar (or another vinegar, mustard, or lemonjuice)
kosher salt
fresh pepper
red chili flakes (or other seasonings – your only limits are what’s in your cupboard!)
or some other type of dressing—be as creative as you need to!

There are no amounts on the dressing ingredients, because I didn’t set out with the idea that this would be posted. I only want to encourage you to be confident with what you have on hand.  Add the dressing ingredients in conservative increments, then adjust them to suit your tastes. You can always add more, but you can never take them out once they’re in!

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I hope your day is lovely, and that you only have peanut butter for dinner if that’s what you really want!
And please, comment on what some of your ‘must-haves’ in the pantry are, and how you use them to get dinner quickly!
Thanks for coming to see me. And now, off to the garden I go (as soon as I grocery shop).
Lorrie

Field Trip Friday!

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Good Morning my friends!
It’s the dawning of what promises to be a gorgeous late–spring Friday—a mid 70’s, sunshine, top-down (on the car), day-off kind of day—so I’m abandoning my garden

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and headed out shortly for an adventure with friends to Hood River, Oregon. We’re visiting wineries, gardens, shops and cafés in what I hear is an exceptionally lovely town, so I’m dashing this off as I throw together the essentials for the day—including my camera, which I am notorious for leaving behind.
I love ‘Field-Trip-Fridays’, and though I used to have them frequently, it’s been awhile since I’ve set out to explore a new place. I’m anticipating a glorious day of food, friends and fun!
By the way, if you’re off adventuring on a Friday this summer and you’re in the eastern Willamette Valley, come visit at Alexeli Vineyard and Winery. I’ll be there through the summer—out in Heidi’s beautiful vineyard garden—pouring the lovely Malbec (as well as Muller-Thurgau, Reisling, Gewurz and of course—Pinot Noir) for you to taste.

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Happy Friday to you all, my friends! Enjoy this day and whatever adventure it brings your way!
Lorrie

Forecast: Rain, Followed By Cookies

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Yesterday there was bright, warm sun.  With it came plenty of activity (and distractions) in the garden.

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Seedlings to plant.
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Birds to watch.
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Kitties to follow and cactus to watch grow.
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Honeysuckle and heifers.
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And today it rains, with no let-up in sight for a few days.
I took advantage of the wet weather to run into town and pick up a few necessities. (Really what I wanted to do was bake cookies.) I’m not a fan of grocery shopping under normal circumstances, and when it’s sunny, we’re apt to run precariously low in the pantry. The house falls into neglect too, but since we’re outside, no one really notices.

Hmmm— house-clean…shopping…house-clean…shopping…

When I came home, it was raining even harder. I still wanted to make cookies, but I made soup instead—our favorite Beef and Barley soup that my grandmother always made from her friend Sylvia’s cookbook.
It’s still raining.
I’m making cookies now.
These cookies.
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Trust me. You want them.

Deep, buttery flavor. Crisp on the outside, chewy in the middle. And I don’t know exactly what’s going on when all that melty butter hits the brown sugar and blends with the white and dark chocolate, but whatever it is, it makes me forget about all the rain.
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I think it’s the cinnamon.
Trust me.

This recipe was tucked away on one of my Pinterest boards. I guess I was saving it for a rainy day. It’s from a delightful blog called “The Café Sucre Farine” (The Sugar and Flour Café) and the author calls these “I Want to Marry You” cookies.

Now that I’ve made them, I can see why. Or, if you’re not the marrying type, I think they could be the start of a very serious relationship.
I guess you’ll just have to trust me.

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Have a lovely day, even if it’s raining where you are.  Remember, you can always bake cookies!
With love,
Lorrie

If you’re going to make these “I Want to Marry You Cookies” (Chris Scheuer; Café Sucre Farine) you’ll need:
• 1 cup butter, melted
• 1 ¼ cups brown sugar
• ½ cup granulated sugar
• 1 egg
• 1 egg yolk
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 2 cups flour
• 1 cup uncooked rolled oats
• ½ teaspoon baking soda
• ½ teaspoon kosher salt
• ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1 cup white chocolate chips
• 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
• 1 cup coarsley chopped pecans

Method
1. Put both sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer (or large bowl if mixing by hand).
2. Melt the butter completely (microwave or stovetop)
3. Pour the melted butter into the sugars and stir until mixture is blended and smooth. Chill the mixture for 10 minutes. I know you’ll be tempted to skip this step, but don’t. Trust me.
4. In a separate medium bowl, mix together the flour, oats, soda, salt, and cinnamon, and set to the side.
5. After 10 minutes, remove sugar mixture from the fridge, and stir in the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla.
6. Mix in the dry ingredients.
7. With a wooden spoon, stir in the white chocolate chips, chocolate chips, and pecans.
8. Roll by hand into medium-size balls or use a scoop, and place on sheet pans lined with parchment paper. Chill on baking sheets for 30 minutes.
9. Don’t skip the chilling step this time, either.
10. Preheat the oven to 325˚F. Remove the cookies from the refrigerator and bake for 14-18 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow to cool for several minutes on pan, then transfer to cooling rack.
11. If you can, let them cool completely before you tear into them. This will give the flavors time to deepen and develop.
Trust me

36-ish cookies, depending on size
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I Couldn’t Help it…

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I realize that I’ve broken all the ‘rules’ of bread-baking by cutting into this loaf the moment it came out of the oven, but I couldn’t help myself.

Maybe it was that ‘all-is-well-in-the-world’ aroma of fresh-baked bread cloaking the kitchen.

Maybe it was that cheery sound of the thick, crisp, crust as it popped and crackled–cooling on the rack under the window.

Maybe it was the jar of fresh strawberry jam, taunting me with it’s near-by presence.

Of course, it’s also possible that I can’t blame it on anything other than my lack self-control where hot, crusty, french bread is concerned.

I think though, that instead of being hard on myself for cutting up this loaf prematurely, marring it’s chewy insides and not allowing it’s flavor to develop, I shall congratulate myself for not eating the entire thing in one sitting!

Happy weekend, and thank you so much for stopping by!
Lorrie

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