Skip to main content

The Journal Gazette

  • Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post | Cardamom and Currant Snickerdoodle Skillet Cookie

  • Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post | Brown Butter Blondies

  • Neapolitan Nice Crispy Bars. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post.  

  • Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post | Biscochitos    

  • Hazelnut and Caramel Squares. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Jennifer Chase for The Washington Post.

  • Toasted Marshmallow Brownie Krinkles. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post.  

  • Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post | Neapolitan Nice Crispy Bars  

  • Biscochitos. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post.    

  • Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post | Cranberry Divinity  

  • Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post | Chestnut Cookies With Pomegranate Glaze

  • Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post | Nutella Stuffed Skillet Cookie

  • Ginger Ginger Cookies. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Jennifer Chase for The Washington Post.

  • Beer and Pretzel Truffles. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post.  

  • Chestnut Cookies With Pomegranate Glaze. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Jennifer Chase for The Washington Post.

  • Lemon Ricotta Buttercream Sandwich Cookies. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Jennifer Chase for The Washington Post.

  • Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post | Pecan Sandies

  • Brown Butter Blondies. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Goran Kosanovic for The Washington Post.

  • Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post | Strawberry Clouds

  • Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post | Lemon Ricotta Buttercream Sandwich Cookies

  • Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post | Ginger Ginger Cookies

  • Smoky S’mores Bars. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Jennifer Chase for The Washington Post.  

  • Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post Beer and Pretzel Truffles  

  • Strawberry Clouds. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Goran Kosanovic for The Washington Post.

  • Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post Toasted Marshmallow Brownie Krinkles  

  • Nutella Stuffed Skillet Cookie. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Jennifer Chase for The Washington Post.

  • Pecan Sandies. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Goran Kosanovic for The Washington Post.

  • Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post | Hazelnut and Caramel Squares

  • Cranberry Divinity. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post.  

  • Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post | Smoky S’mores Bars  

  • Cardamom and Currant Snickerdoodle Skillet Cookie. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Jennifer Chase for The Washington Post.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017 1:00 am

Easy cookies to impress this holiday season

Even if you bake only for special occasions, this is the time of year you're most likely to preheat the oven and stir up some doughs. Here are some cookies to whip up for the holidays.

Bettyanne's Florentines

These buttery-tasting, crispy-crunchy cookies couldn't be easier to make. Some folks coat the florentine bottoms with dark or white chocolate, but we like these just as they are.

You will need a nonstick, 12-well muffin pan, or you can use a regular muffin pan and foil baking cup liners.

MAKE AHEAD: Store between layers of parchment or wax paper in an airtight container at room temperature. These freeze well, for up to 3 months; bring to room temperature before serving.

8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

1/3 cup honey

1/3 cup heavy cream

4 1/2 cups skinless sliced blanched almonds

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the sugar and honey; stir until dissolved and smooth. Stir in the heavy cream for a few minutes, forming a light caramel. Turn off the heat. Stir in the almonds until they are all well coated.

Use about a third of the mixture to fill the bottoms of the muffin wells, compacting each portion into a disk. Bake (middle rack) for 8 to 9 minutes, until bubbling and just golden brown at the edges.

Let cool in the muffin pan for 7 to 10 minutes, then use a small offset spatula or table knife to release each florentine; some may still be a little flexible. Transfer to a sheet of parchment or wax paper to cool and set completely.

Repeat with the remaining almond mixture. If you are using foil liners, replace with new ones for subsequent batches.

Makes 36 to 40 cookies.

– From Winnipeg, Manitoba, home baker Bettyanne Hershfield

- - -

Beer and Pretzel Truffles

The ganache for chocolate truffles is typically made with heavy cream, but beer is used here instead - adding a rich, deep flavor.

MAKE AHEAD: The truffle mixture needs to be refrigerated for 2 to 3 hours, so it sets up firmly.

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

1 cup stout

2 ounces salted pretzels

Place the chopped chocolate in a large shallow heatproof bowl. Pour the stout into a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes, or until it has reduced by half. Pour it over the chocolate. Let it sit for 2 minutes, then gently stir until smooth. Cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours, until set.

Seal the pretzels in a zip-top bag. Crush them to the consistency of coarse crumbs.

Line a quarter baking sheet (13-by-9-inch) with parchment paper.

Use a melon baller to scoop out 1 1/4-inch wide balls of the truffle mixture (14 to 16) then coat each one with the crushed pretzels, arranging the truffles on the small baking sheet. If the truffle mixture becomes soft as you work, pop it back in the refrigerator until it is well chilled again.

Cover and refrigerate the truffles to firm them up; for best flavor, let the truffles sit at room temperature for 20 minutes before serving.

Makes 14 to 16 pieces.

– Adapted from "Baker's Royale: 75 Twists on All Your Favorite Sweets," by Naomi Robinson (Running Press, 2017).

- - -

Biscochitos

These not-too-sweet, anise-flavored Mexican treats happen to be New Mexico's official state cookie. Lard makes for an especially crisp and light texture, but vegetable shortening can be used instead.

You'll need one or two 2-inch cookie cutters, preferably stars and half moons. You may get an even greater yield depending on which shapes you use.

MAKE AHEAD: The dough needs to be refrigerated for at least 1 hour, and up to 1 day in advance. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week, or frozen for up to 1 month. You may have cinnamon sugar left over; it's not tough to find ways to use that up.

1 1/4 cups lard, at room temperature (may substitute vegetable shortening)

1 cup sugar, plus 3/4 cup for sprinkling

1 large egg

2 tablespoons orange-flavored liqueur such as Grand Marnier or Triple Sec

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Finely grated zest of 1 navel orange

3 cups flour, plus more for the work surface

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2 to 4 tablespoons water

2 teaspoons anise seed

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Combine the lard and cup of sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer or use a handheld electric mixer; beat on medium-high speed for about 3 minutes, until lightened. Add the egg, liqueur, vanilla extract and zest; beat on medium speed until well incorporated. Stop to scrape down the bowl.

Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder onto a sheet of parchment or wax paper. On low speed, gradually add the flour mixture to the bowl, then just enough of the water to form a dough. Add the anise seed and beat (low speed) just until well distributed.

Divide the dough into two equal 1-inch-thick disks. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, and up to 1 day.

Position oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat to 350 degrees. Line a few baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.

Lightly flour a work surface. Unwrap and roll out one disk of dough to a thickness of 1/4 inch. Use the cookie cutters to cut out shapes, transferring the cookies to the baking sheets and spacing them about 1 inch apart. If the dough is still fairly chilled/firm, it can be rerolled a few times; otherwise, gather together and refrigerate for 15 minutes before rerolling scraps.

Stir together the remaining 3/4 cup sugar and the cinnamon in a bowl. Sprinkle some of the cinnamon mixture over each cookie cutout.

Bake (upper and lower racks) for 10 to 12 minutes, until just set and lightly golden, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely before serving or storing. Repeat with the remaining disk of dough.

Makes 60 to 72 cookies.

– From the December 2001 issue of Martha Stewart Living.

- - -

Brown Butter Blondies

Here, brown butter boosts the blondies' caramel flavor.

To decorate these for the holidays, you could press red and green or blue and white M&Ms into the dough before baking.

MAKE AHEAD: The blondies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days; to freeze them for up to 3 months, wrap individually in plastic wrap, then stash in a large, freezer-safe zip-top bag.

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for the pan

1 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup packed light brown sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use a little butter to grease an 8-inch square baking pan.

Melt the 8 tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. It will foam; continue to cook until the melted liquid smells nutty and turns brown. Watch closely to avoid burning or scorching, and reduce the heat as needed. Pour through a fine-mesh strainer into a heatproof bowl; let cool.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.

Add the brown sugar to the cooled brown butter, whisking until smooth, then add the egg and vanilla extract. Whisk until well incorporated. Stir in the flour mixture to form a smooth, soft dough. Transfer to the baking pan and smooth into an even layer. Bake (middle rack) for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool for 15 minutes before cutting into 12 equal pieces. Makes 12 pieces.

– Adapted from a recipe at SeriousEats.com

- - -

Cardamom and Currant Snickerdoodle Skillet Cookie

This recipe combines the snickerdoodle spice so many people love with the ease of a skillet cookie.

MAKE AHEAD: Wedges of this skillet cookie should be cut as soon as you can, rather than storing the uncut slab from the skillet.

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

2 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (a scant 1/2 cup) dried currants

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk together 1/4 cup of the granulated sugar, all the cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon of the cardamom in a medium bowl. Sprinkle half this mixture in an 8-inch cast-iron skillet.

Combine the butter, the remaining 1/2 cup of granulated sugar and the brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer or use a handheld electric mixer. Beat on medium-low speed until well incorporated. Add the eggs one at a time, then the vanilla extract. Stop to scrape down the bowl.

Add the flour, cream of tartar, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of cardamom, the baking soda and salt; beat on medium speed to form a dough that gathers together. Reduce the speed to low; add the currants and beat until just evenly distributed.

Gently press the dough into the skillet in an even layer, trying to keep that bottom coating of spiced sugar in place. Sprinkle the remaining spiced sugar mixture evenly over the top. Bake (middle rack) for about 40 minutes; if it seems like it's browning too quickly, lay a large piece of aluminum foil over the top.

Let cool in the pan (where it will continue to bake a little) for at least 15 minutes before cutting into wedges.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

– Adapted from a holiday recipe at TheFeedFeed.com.

- - -

Chestnut Cookies With Pomegranate Glaze

The deep, seasonal goodness of chestnut plus spelt flour make this vegan cookie especially rich-tasting. The glaze adds a nice sweet-tart aspect to every bite.

You'll need a 3-inch, or slightly larger, round cookie cutter.

Freeze-dried raspberries are available in the dry-goods section of grocery store produce departments.

MAKE AHEAD: The chestnuts can be roasted several days in advance. The decorated cookies can be stored between sheets of wax paper in an airtight container for up to 10 days. You may have glaze left over, which can be used on banana bread or even on pancakes.

For the cookies:

1 cup (about 3 ounces) vacuum-packed peeled chestnuts

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttery vegan spread, such as Earth Balance

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or extract

2 1/2 cups spelt flour, plus more for the work surface

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground allspice

For the glaze and toppings:

About 3/4 cup confectioners' sugar, or more as needed

2 tablespoons pomegranate juice, or more as needed

Freeze-dried raspberries, finely chopped (optional; see headnote)

Handful pomegranate seeds (arils; optional)

For the cookies: Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat to 425 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.

Arrange the chestnuts on a baking sheet and roast (middle rack) for about 10 minutes, or just until fragrant and lightly browned, being careful not to burn them. Let cool, then crumble or chop them. Reserve a few tablespoons for the topping; see below.

Combine the butter substitute, sugar and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer, or use a handheld electric mixer; beat for about 5 minutes, until creamy. Reduce the speed to low, then add the spelt flour, the chestnut pieces, cinnamon and allspice, beating until just incorporated.

Lightly flour a work surface with more spelt flour. Transfer the dough there and roll it out to an even 1/4-inch thickness. Use the cookie cutter to cut out as many rounds of dough as you can, then reroll and cut more, spacing them on the baking sheets at least 1 inch apart. Bake (upper and lower racks) for 10 to 15 minutes, rotating the baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through. The edges of the cookies should be just starting to brown. Transfer the cookies to wire racks (with wax paper or parchment paper under them) to cool completely.

Meanwhile, make the glaze: Whisk together the confectioners' sugar and pomegranate juice in a deep medium-size bowl until smooth, adjusting those amounts as needed to yield a fairly thick and dark pink glaze.

Dip one half of each cookie into the glaze, letting the excess drip off. Return to the wire rack; immediately sprinkle the glaze with the bits of freeze-dried raspberries, if using, and the reserved crumbled/chopped chestnuts or some pomegranate seeds, if desired. Let set before serving or storing.

Makes 16 to 18 servings.

– Based on a recipe from the Little Plantation blog, in collaboration with TwiggStudios.com.

- - -

Cranberry Divinity

This creamy sweet confection first appeared in the 1950 edition of "Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book." Chopped pecans are typically mixed in, but we've used dried cranberries instead for a festive Christmas touch.

You'll need an instant-read or candy thermometer.

MAKE AHEAD: The divinity can be stored between sheets of wax paper in an airtight container at room temperature for a week or two; it will become chewier over time.

2 large egg whites

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup light corn syrup

2 cups sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup dried cranberries, chopped

Line two baking sheets with wax paper.

Beat the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer (paddle attachment) or use a handheld electric mixer on high speed until soft peaks form.

Combine the water, corn syrup, sugar and salt, if using, in a large saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Cook, without stirring, for 8 to 10 minutes or until the temperature of the mixture registers 250 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.

While the egg whites are being beaten on high speed, gradually add the syrup mixture. Beat for a total of 9 or 10 minutes, or until stiff peaks form. The surface of the meringue mixture will turn from glossy to textured.

Use a spatula to fold in the vanilla extract and dried cranberries by hand, then quickly create 24 to 30 rounded teaspoonfuls on the baking sheets. Let stand for about 30 minutes, or until completely set, before serving or storing.

Makes 24 to 30 pieces.

– Adapted from "Betty Crocker Lost Recipes: Beloved Vintage Recipes for Today's Kitchen" (Betty Crocker, 2017)

- - -

Ginger Ginger Cookies

These slice-and-bake cookies are crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside. They have the added zip of crystallized ginger.

We found that chilling a wrapped log of dough seated inside a cardboard tube (from a paper towel roll) that has been split open end-to-end will ensure the logs keep their rounded shape.

MAKE AHEAD: The logs of dough need to be refrigerated for a total of 3 hours, or up to overnight. The logs also can be frozen for up to 3 months; defrost frozen logs for 3 hours in the refrigerator, or overnight. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 cup canola oil

1/2 cup molasses

1 cup packed dark brown sugar

1 large egg

4 tablespoons granulated sugar

1/2 cup crystallized ginger, coarsely chopped

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg in a medium bowl.

Combine the oil, molasses, brown sugar and egg in the bowl of a stand mixer, or use a handheld electric mixer; beat for about 20 seconds on medium speed until smooth. Reduce the speed to low; add the flour mixture, beating just long enough to form a dough with no trace of dry ingredients.

Divide the dough in half, and place each portion on a large piece of plastic wrap. Shape each one into a 12-inch log, then sprinkle 1 1/2 tablespoons of the granulated sugar over each one, rolling it back and forth until evenly coated. Next, use half the chopped crystallized ginger to sprinkle over the logs; roll them back and forth to press in and coat evenly. Wrap in plastic wrap and seat each log inside one of the split cardboard tubes. Refrigerate for 3 hours, or up to overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a few baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.

Unwrap the logs. Cut each one into 12 equal slices, spacing them on the baking sheets at least 1 inch apart. Sprinkle them with the remaining granulated sugar and the remaining chopped crystallized ginger. Bake (middle rack) one sheet at a time, for 10 minutes, until they flatten a bit and cracks form on the tops. Let cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes, then transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes 24 cookies.

– Adapted from "Slice and Bake Cookies: Fast Recipes From Your Refrigerator or Freezer" by Elinor Klivans (Chronicle, 2013)

- - -

Hazelnut and Caramel Squares

Smart idea here: By baking cut and topped squares of dough, you get cookies that have better coverage, with less crumbling. The nut topping caramelizes while it's in the oven.

If you can't find whole hazelnuts that are skinned, it's pretty easy to do it yourself. See the NOTE, below.

MAKE AHEAD: The dough needs to be frozen for 30 to 40 minutes. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.

2 1/2 cups whole skinned hazelnuts (see NOTE)

1 cup flour

3/4 cup sugar

8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1/3 cup heavy cream

1/4 teaspoon fleur de sel or flaky sea salt, such as Maldon brand

Line an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper, with some overhang. Crumple the paper a few times so it becomes soft enough to fit into the corners.

Combine 1 cup of the hazelnuts, all the flour and 6 tablespoons of the sugar in a food processor; process for about 2 minutes, or until finely ground. Add the butter; process for about 1 minute, or just until a ball of dough forms. Press the dough evenly and smoothly into the lined pan.

Coarsely chop the remaining 1 1/2 cups of hazelnuts, aiming for mostly halves and leaving some whole.

Combine the remaining sugar and the heavy cream in a small deep saucepan over medium-high heat; cook, stirring for at least 3 minutes or until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat; add the coarsely chopped nuts, then spoon the mixture evenly over the dough in the pan, pressing them in gently. Sprinkle the salt over the surface. Freeze the dough, uncovered, for 30 to 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

Lift the frozen dough out of its pan; cut it into 5 equal strips in each direction to create 25 squares. Arrange as many as will fit on the baking sheet, with at least 1 inch between them. Return the remaining squares to the refrigerator.

Bake (middle rack) for about 30 minutes, or until the tops are caramelized and the hazelnuts are golden brown. Let cool for 10 minutes before transferring the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely before serving or storing. Repeat with the remaining dough.

NOTE: To skin hazelnuts, bring a few inches of water to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add about 1 teaspoon of baking soda and then the hazelnuts. Boil for several minutes, until the water turns dark brown and the skins begin to easily peel off the nuts. (You can test one by removing it from the pot, running it under cool water and seeing how well the skin slips off.) Drain the nuts from the water.

Makes 25 cookies.

– Adapted from "The Artful Baker: Extraordinary Desserts From an Obsessive Home Baker" by Cenk Sonmezsoy (Abrams, 2017)

- - -

Lemon Ricotta Buttercream Sandwich Cookies

The best of sweet and tart flavors work together here, in the glaze on top and the whipped filling sandwiched between tender, lemon-infused cookies.

MAKE AHEAD: The sandwich cookies can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 3 days; for longer-term storage, we recommend keeping the single cookies (half of them with glazed tops) stored separately at room temperature for up to 10 days, and refrigerating the ricotta buttercream filling for up to 1 week; assemble just before serving.

For the cookies:

2 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 cups granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 tablespoon finely grated zest plus 3 tablespoons juice (from 1 lemon)

For the filling:

16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons heavy cream

7 ounces whole-milk ricotta cheese

Scrapings of 1/2 vanilla bean

For the glaze:

3/4 cup confectioners' sugar

1 tablespoon finely grated zest plus 3 tablespoons juice (from 1 lemon)

For the cookies: Position oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat to 400 degrees. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Combine the butter and granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer, or use a handheld electric mixer; beat on medium-high speed for about 3 minutes, until lightened. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the lemon zest and juice, beating to incorporate. Stop to scrape down the bowl.

On low speed, gradually add the flour mixture until just incorporated. Transfer the dough to a large piping bag fitted with a 1M open star tip; alternatively, fill a gallon-size zip-top bag with the dough and cut off one bottom corner. Pipe a dozen 2-inch rounds on each baking sheet, and the remaining 6 rounds on the third baking sheet, spacing the rounds at least 2 inches apart (these cookies will spread). Bake (upper and lower racks) for 12 to 15 minutes, rotating the baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through. The cookies will be pale and barely golden at the edges. Repeat with the remaining dough to create a total of 60 cookies.

For the filling: Combine the butter and confectioners' sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a balloon-whisk attachment, or use a handheld electric mixer; beat on medium-high speed until creamy. Stop to scrape down the bowl. Add the heavy cream, ricotta and vanilla bean scrapings, then beat on low speed until well incorporated.

For the glaze: Whisk together the confectioners' sugar, lemon zest and juice in a medium bowl, until smooth.

When ready to assemble, invert half the cookies. Spread a heaping tablespoon of the filling on each one. Top with the remaining cookies. Use a pastry brush or your clean finger to coat the top of each sandwich cookie with the glaze. Wait for it to set before serving or storing.

Makes 30 sandwich cookies.

– Adapted from "MasterChef Junior Cookbook: Bold Recipes and Essential Techniques to Inspire Young Cooks" (Clarkson Potter, 2017)

- - -

Neapolitan Nice Crispy Bars

Just a few store-bought ingredients upgrade no-bake, crisped rice bars into tri-color treats.

You'll need an 8-by-4-inch or 9-by-5-inch loaf pan, preferably with square corners.

MAKE AHEAD: The slab of bars needs to be refrigerated for 1 hour before cutting. The bars can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Freeze-dried strawberries can be found in the dry-goods section of grocery store produce departments.

3 cups gluten-free crisped rice cereal or brown rice cereal

3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup freeze-dried strawberries, crushed to a powder (see headnote)

Cooking oil spray or liquefied coconut oil

3/4 cup corn syrup, such as Karo brand (may substitute brown rice syrup)

1/4 cup honey

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Sea salt

2 tablespoons strawberry jam

Place 1 cup of the cereal in each of two medium bowls. Add the chocolate chips to one bowl and the strawberry powder to the other bowl. Use cooking oil spray or the coconut oil to grease the loaf pan; alternatively you could line it with parchment paper.

For the bottom layer: Combine 1/4 cup of the corn syrup, 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of the honey, 1/2 teaspoon of the vanilla extract and a pinch of the salt in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Once it comes to a full boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and stir for 3 minutes, or until thickened. Turn off the heat; stir in the chocolate chip-cereal mixture, until well blended, then transfer it to the loaf pan and spread it to cover the bottom evenly. Cool for 2 minutes, then use your lightly greased hands to press it into a firm, even layer.

For the middle layer: Rinse and dry the saucepan. Combine 1/4 cup of the corn syrup, 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of the honey and 1/2 teaspoon of the vanilla extract in the saucepan. Add a pinch of salt and the strawberry jam. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low and stir for 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the strawberry-flavored cereal mixture until well incorporated (and pinkish). Spread this evenly to cover the previous layer. Cool for a few minutes, then use your lightly greased hands to press into a firm even layer atop the chocolate layer.

For the top layer: Rinse and dry the saucepan. Combine the remaining corn syrup, honey and vanilla extract and a pinch of the salt in the pan, over medium-high heat. Once it comes to a full boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and stir for 3 minutes, or until well thickened. Turn off the heat and stir in the remaining cup of cereal (without flavoring). Cool for 2 minutes, then use your lightly greased hands to press the mixture into a firm, even layer atop the strawberry layer.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or until quite firm. Cut into 12 to 16 bars of equal size before serving or storing. Makes 12 to 16 bars.

– Based on a recipe from "Yum Universe Pantry to Plate: Improvise Meals You Love - From What You Have/Plant-Packed, Gluten-Free, Your Way!" by Heather Crosby (The Experiment, 2017)

- - -

Nutella Stuffed Skillet Cookie

Skillet cookies are popular for a reason - there's little or no portioning of dough, and the resulting wedges are fun to serve.

We recommend using a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet here, or an ovenproof nonstick skillet. The dough can also be assembled by hand.

If Nutella isn't your thing, use fudge or caramel instead.

MAKE AHEAD: The cookie is best served when barely warm, but once it's completely cooled, it can be transferred to a plate, covered with aluminum foil and stored at room temperature for a day or two.

16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into cubes, at room temperature

1 cup packed light brown sugar

1 cup granulated sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 large eggs

2 1/4 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup Nutella or other chocolate-hazelnut spread (see headnote)

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Have a 10-inch cast-iron skillet at hand.

Combine the butter and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer, or use a handheld electric mixer; beat on medium speed for about 5 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract. Reduce the speed to medium-low; add the eggs one at a time, beating until fully incorporated. Stop to scrape down the bowl.

Add the flour, baking soda and salt. Beat on medium-low speed to form a firm dough, then add the chocolate chips and beat on low speed just until evenly distributed.

Press half the cookie dough into the bottom of the skillet. Spread the Nutella evenly over that dough, leaving a 1/2 inch margin around the edge. (This is easy to do with an offset spatula.) Top with the remaining cookie dough, making sure to cover the Nutella completely at the edges - sealing them, if you can.

Bake (middle rack) for about 25 minutes; the edges will be golden brown, and the top will look slightly underbaked, yet it should be fairly firm to the touch. Transfer to a wire rack to cool; the residual heat from the pan should continue to cook the cookie for a bit. Let sit for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Makes 10 to 12 servings.

– Adapted from "Cast Iron Gourmet: Amazing Recipes With Less Fuss and Fewer Dishes," by Megan Keno (Page Street Publishing, 2017)

- - -

Pecan Sandies

The combination of sweet toasted nuts, butter and sugar is a winner; the VARIATION included below adds smoky bits of bacon! This is an egg-free dough that doesn't need chilling time.

If you decide to use bacon, be sure to use a good-quality brand, such as Nueske's or Benton's.

MAKE AHEAD: The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 5 days, or frozen for up to 1 month.

Demerara sugar is a raw, coarse-crystal brown sugar that delivers nice exterior crunch and color. It is carried in most supermarkets.

1 1/4 cups raw pecan halves

18 tablespoons (2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 teaspoons water

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour

Sea salt, for sprinkling

Demerara sugar, for sprinkling (see headnote)

Preheat the oven 325 degrees. Line a few baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.

Spread the pecans on one of the sheets; toast in the oven (middle rack) for 10 to 12 minutes, checking on them after 8 minutes. They should be fragrant and lightly browned. Cool completely, then coarsely chop to pea-size.

Combine the butter and granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer or use a handheld electric mixer; beat on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until creamy and lightened. Stop to scrape down the bowl.

Add the water and vanilla extract, beating (low speed) to incorporate, then add the flour and chopped pecans. Beat until evenly incorporated.

Scoop the dough into 1-ounce portions (or use 2 tablespoons' worth) to roll into 24 equal balls. Arrange them on the baking sheets, pressing each ball slightly with the palm of your hand. Space the balls at least 1 1/2 inches apart.

Sprinkle each portion with a little of the salt and a liberal amount of Demerara sugar. Bake one sheet at a time (middle rack) for 16 to 18 minutes, until light brown on top and golden brown on the bottom. Transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

VARIATION: Cook 3 slices of bacon, starting in a cold skillet over medium heat. Drain on paper towels, then chop into 1/4-inch pieces. Add to the dough along with the chopped pecans.

Makes 24 cookies.

– Adapted from "Zingerman's Bakehouse" by Amy Emberling and Frank Carollo (Chronicle, 2017)

- - -

Smoky S'mores Bars

These may evoke campfire memories for you - with easy assembly. The smoky flavor comes from a sprinkling of smoked sea salt.

MAKE AHEAD: The slab needs to be refrigerated for 1 to 2 hours, until firm, before cutting into bars.

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs, plus 2 cups broken graham cracker pieces (7 to 8 sheets)

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

1 cup milk chocolate chips

2 cups heavy cream, heated to just below a full boil

4 cups mini marshmallows

3/4 teaspoon smoked flaked salt, such as Maldon brand

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

Combine the graham cracker crumbs, melted butter and kosher salt in a mixing bowl, stirring until evenly coated, then press them evenly into the baking pan. Bake (middle rack) for 15 to 20 minutes, to form a lightly golden crust. Let cool.

Combine the bittersweet and milk chocolate chips in a separate, heatproof mixing bowl. Pour the heated heavy cream over the chocolate chips; let sit for 5 minutes (so the chocolate melts), then whisk to form a smooth ganache.

Add the mini marshmallows and graham cracker pieces, stirring to coat well. Pour this mixture over the baked crust, then sprinkle the top with the smoked salt. Cover loosely and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours, until firm, before cutting into 24 pieces.

Makes 24 bars.

– Adapted from "Delightful Desserts: The Secrets to Achieving Incredible Flavor in Your Sweet Treats" by Jane Soudah (YC Media, 2017)

- - -

Strawberry Clouds

These are called clouds, Deb Perelman says, because they are not as sweet as meringues and they look like pink-tinged clouds at sunset.

In testing, we found that making the clouds small yielded a better result, in cookies that didn't deflate once cooled.

Freeze-dried strawberries are typically located in the dry-goods section of a grocery store produce department.

MAKE AHEAD: The clouds will stay crisp in an airtight container at room temperature for a day or two; they will soften over time.

2/3 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

2 tablespoons (15 grams) freeze-dried strawberries, ground to a powder (see headnote)

2 large egg whites, at room temperature

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.

Stir together the sugar, salt and strawberry powder in a small dish.

Beat the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a balloon-whisk attachment, or use a handheld electric mixer on low, then medium-high speed to form soft peaks. Gradually add the strawberry powder mixture, beating until the mixture has stiffened, then add the lemon juice, beating just until incorporated.

Drop 17 teaspoonfuls of the cloud mixture on one baking sheet and 18 on the other, spacing the dollops at least an inch apart. Bake (upper and lower racks) for 22 minutes, then turn off the oven. Let sit in there for 10 minutes, then transfer to the counter top to cool for another 10 minutes before serving or storing.

Makes 35 pieces.

– Adapted from "Smitten Kitchen Everyday: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites" by Deb Perelman (Knopf, 2017)

- - -

Toasted Marshmallow Brownie Krinkles

As much as we love chocolate crinkle cookies, topping them with marshmallows that get melty and chewy makes these classic treats even better.

MAKE AHEAD: The dough needs to be refrigerated for at least 30 minutes, or up to overnight. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

4 large eggs, at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 3/4 cups flour

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-processed

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon flaky sea salt

1/2 cup canola or sunflower oil

1 3/4 cups granulated sugar

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped and melted

1 cup confectioners' sugar

35 to 42 marshmallows (not mini)

Whisk together the eggs and vanilla extract in a liquid measuring cup; whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and both salts in a medium bowl.

Combine the oil and granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer, or use a handheld electric mixer; beat on medium speed to blend well, then add the egg-vanilla mixture in 3 additions, and the melted chocolate. Stop to scrape down the bowl.

Add the flour mixture; beat for about 30 seconds on low speed, or just long enough to form a dough that looks like brownie batter. Do not overmix. Gather the dough together, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or up to overnight.

Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat to 350 degrees. Line a few large baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners. Sift the confectioners' sugar into a quart-size zip-top bag.

Working with 4 or 5 at a time, drop heaping tablespoonfuls of dough into the bag (or use a #40 disher), then shake gently until thoroughly coated. Shake off any excess sugar, then arrange them on the baking sheets spaced 2 inches apart. Press on the tops of each one to form a large thumbprint/indentation, then press a marshmallow into that indentation. Bake (upper and lower racks) for 8 minutes, then rotate the sheets from top to bottom and front to back; bake for 4 to 6 minutes, or until the cookies develop cracks (crinkles) and the marshmallow deflates and browns a bit.

Let cool on the baking sheet for 2 minutes, then transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely before serving or storing. Repeat with the remaining dough and marshmallows.

Makes 35 to 42 cookies.

– Adapted from a Mindy Segal recipe in "America the Great Cookbook: The Food We Make for the People We Love From 100 of Our Finest Chefs and Food Heroes" edited by Joe Yonan (Weldon Owen, 2017)