Easter Cookies, Continued

Cut-our sugar cookies decorated with rolled fondant, royal icing, and coarse sanding sugar

Cut-our sugar cookies decorated with rolled fondant, royal icing, and coarse sanding sugar

Although Easter Sunday has passed, many of us continue to celebrate the Easter season for nearly another 50 days (through Pentecost). If we are to maintain the celebratory mood for that long, it certainly helps to keep some decorated cookies on hand.

Here is another variation of my cut-out sugar cookie. Cut out rolled fondant using the same cutters you chose for the cookies, and then ornament them further with royal icing and/or sanding sugar. Stored in cellophane bags or airtight re-sealable bags, these cookies keep well for weeks.

Colorful Easter Cookies

Pastel-colored chicks are the perfect addition to any Easter basket.

Pastel-colored chicks are the perfect addition to any Easter basket.

Decorated cookies are a delightful and special addition to any Easter basket, but these vibrantly colored treats elevate the confection even further. Using my trusted sugar cookie dough as the base, I simply color the dough with food coloring (I like Wilton Icing Color, available at local craft stores), cut out my desired shapes, and then bake them.

Serve these cookies plain, or add additional flourish with piped royal icing and a sprinkling of clear or colored sanding sugar.

About 30 three-inch cookies

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon sea salt

Pinch of baking powder

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 large egg

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

Food coloring paste or icing, such as Wilton Icing Color

Royal icing for decorating (optional)

Colored sanding sugar for decorating (optional)

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

Put the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and begin beating on medium speed. Add the sugar and beat until the mixture is very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

Drop in the egg and add the vanilla and mix just until incorporated. Gradually spoon in the flour, mixing on medium-low speed, just until the dough comes together.

If coloring the dough with a single color, add the Icing Color in small amounts, about 1/8 teaspoon at a time (a little goes a long way), mixing until evening distributed. Add more as needed. If using more than one color, divide the mixed dough into as many parts as colors you are using and mix in by hand or in the mixing bowl, cleaning the bowl and paddle in between colorings.

Transfer the dough (or each piece of colored dough) to a large sheet of plastic wrap, bring together to form a disc, and wrap well. Set in the refrigerator to chill and rest, at least 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Using about half of the dough at a time, roll on a lightly floured work surface to about ¼ inch thick. Cut into desired shapes and arrange about 1 ½ inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Set in the refrigerator to chill until firm, at least 20 minutes. (The cutouts can also be arranged on a plastic wrap-lined board or baking sheet, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, and frozen for up to 1 month. When ready to bake, arrange the frozen cutouts on parchment-lined baking sheets and bake as directed below.)

Bake the cookies (depending on the size) until light golden brown and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool on the baking sheets for several minutes before transferring them to the racks to cool completely.

Decorate with royal icing and sanding sugar, if desired.

Revelation Dried Fruit-Carob Rounds

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Another year has passed, and we are again about to enter Holy Week. Although many of us have our minds and spirits focused on spiritual enlightenment and reflection, I’m sure there are more than a few among us with Lenten palates anticipating the resurrection of chocolate in our culinary repertoires.

Yes, I will be providing plenty of chocolate bunnies and cream-filled Easter eggs, among a multitude of other pretty little confections, in my children’s Easter baskets. And in the interest of full disclosure, I will most likely be nipping at those bags of store-bought treats myself.

Even during this celebratory time of year though, we don’t have to completely abandon our commitment to healthy eating. Here is a delicious revelation befitting the season–a satisfying “chocolaty” goodie that is not only nourishing enough to enjoy throughout the year, but also pretty and sweet enough to share this Easter.

A chewy combination of walnuts, dried fruit, carob powder, almond butter, coconut, and cinnamon, these mahogany-colored rounds are nutrient dense and not too sweet—the perfect little grab and go treat to quell hunger throughout the day or even to enjoy as dessert.

These rounds are delicious just as they are, but to make them even spiffier, coat them in melted dark chocolate or carob and then roll in shredded unsweetened coconut.

¼ cup toasted or raw walnuts

1/3 cup raisins

1/3 cup pitted dates

1/3 cup dried apricots

¼ cup dried cranberries, cherries, or golden raisins

¾ cup almond butter

¼ cup shredded unsweetened coconut

¼ cup carob powder

¼ cup brown rice crisp cereal, coarsely crushed

3 tablespoons maple syrup

1 heaping tablespoon raw sesame seeds

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pinch of sea salt

Melted chocolate or carob for coating (optional)

Shredded unsweetened coconut for coating (optional)

Put the walnuts in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade attachment and pulse until chopped to a texture resembling very coarse breadcrumbs. Set aside in a medium bowl.

Return the food processor bowl to the machine, fit with the metal blade attachment, and add the raisins, dates, apricots, and cranberries, pulsing until coarsely chopped. You don’t want the mixture to become a paste; chopped bits are best. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of walnuts.

To the nuts and fruit, add the almond butter, coconut, carob powder, cereal, syrup, sesame seeds, cinnamon, and salt. Using a rubber spatula or your hands, fold the ingredients together until well combined. The mixture will be quite thick.

Using a tablespoon or a good quality, sturdy metal scoop (I like one that holds about 2 teaspoons), shape the mixture into about 32 rounds and then roll into balls. The rounds can be served immediately or stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.

If you wish to coat the rounds with melted chocolate (or carob) and coconut, chill the rounds until firm. Drop into melted chocolate and then roll in coconut. Set aside at room temperature or in the refrigerator until set. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.

Chou-Chou Granola Bars

Granola bars are perfect for dessert or snacking any time of day.

Granola bars are perfect for dessert or snacking any time of day.

Here is a nourishing but sweet treat to celebrate the first weekend of spring, as well as the launching of my new confections company, Chou-Chou. Pronounced “shoo-shoo,” the term is not only French for sweet little thing, but it is also my son’s nickname. These granola bars are sure to become a signature item in my line-up of goodies—some purely sweet and decadent, and others based on healthful whole foods, such as my Dried Fruit and Nut Squares (published below).

These bars contain a goodly amount of flavorful and healthy ingredients, but they come together quickly and easily. After a relatively short time in the oven and a cooling rest, they cut nicely into semi-soft bars that satisfy a sweet tooth, as well as an empty tummy rumbling for a “good-for-you” snack.

Makes eighteen 1 ½-by-3-inch bars

2 cups rolled oats

½ cup slivered blanched almonds

½ cup raw pumpkin seeds

½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1/3 cup raw sesame seeds

½ teaspoon sea salt

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ cup golden flax seeds

1/3 cup toasted wheat germ (optional)

About 1 ½ cups chopped dried fruit, such as pitted dates, stemmed figs, cranberries, cherries, raisins, golden raisins

2 tablespoons canola oil

1/3 cup maple syrup

1/3 cup molasses

¼ cup packed dark brown sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Stir together the oats, almonds, pumpkin seeds, coconut, sesame seeds, salt, and cinnamon on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until just fragrant and beginning to color lightly, about 10 minutes.

Remove from the oven and transfer to a large bowl. Stir in the flax seeds, wheat germ, if using, and the dried fruit.

Reduce the oven temperature to 300. Line a 9-by-2-inch square baking pan with 2 sheets of parchment paper, long enough to drape over the edges by about 1 inch. Hold the paper in place over the edges with small binder clips.

Stir together the canola oil, maple syrup, molasses, and brown sugar in a small saucepan and bring just to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.

Pour the hot syrup over the oats mixture and stir to coat evenly. Pour into the prepared baking pan and, using the back of a damp spoon or damp fingers, press into the pan until flat and firm.

Bake until the granola is golden brown and fragrant, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and set on a wire rack to cool completely in the pan, at least 3 hours or overnight.

To cut the granola bars, remove the binder clips from the pan and hold onto the parchment paper to lift out the entire square of granola. Using a large chef’s knife, cut into 18 even rectangles. Store the bars in an airtight container, separated by small sheets of parchment paper, or in re-sealable bags at room temperature for up to 5 days or in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Dried Fruit and Nut Squares

Dried Fruit-and-Nut Squares

Dried Fruit and Nut Squares

These comfortingly sweet confections certainly seem like special treats, but they are, in fact, satisfying and nourishing as well. Prepared with organic dried fruit and nuts and gently spiced with warming ground cinnamon and ginger, they are the perfect snack, treat, or mini dessert.

I use silicone molds here, as they make removing the squares incredibly easy and foolproof. If you don’t have such molds, though, line a mini muffin pan (one with at least 16 cups) with plastic wrap before pressing the sticky mixture into them. Simply using a nonstick pan could work, as well.

Makes 16

½ cup packed pitted dates

½ cup packed stemmed and roughly chopped dried Calimyrna figs

1 cup packed dried apples

1 cup walnuts

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground ginger

Generous pinch of freshly ground nutmeg

Pinch of sea salt

Combine all of the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade attachment. Process until the mixture forms a coarse paste that holds together when you squeeze a bit in your hand.

Press into silicone molds or mini-muffin pans. (Each cup in the mini molds I use holds about a generous tablespoon of the mixture.) Cover with a sheet of plastic wrap and set in the refrigerator to chill for at least 1 hour.

Lift each piece out of the mold and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Snow Day Honey-Roasted Peanuts (and Peanut Butter)

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Early yesterday morning, the mid-Atlantic unwittingly received remnants of the blizzard much of the mid-West had been battling for most of last week. Thank you for sharing! The snow fell so hard and fast, my family didn’t make it to church, let alone the supermarket. And after spending much of the day trying to keep the children from tearing the house apart and bouncing off the walls, by the afternoon I was in need of a snack. I was craving peanut butter. Not just any peanut butter–honey-roasted peanut butter. I admit I have developed a slight addiction to the freshly-ground nut butters available at Whole Foods. I guess the fact that I had just finished a ¼-pint of the honey-roasted variety is testament to my newest food craving. So, as anyone in need of a very particular sort of sustenance would do, I decided to create my own.

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I perused several recipes online and then settled myself in the kitchen to concoct my own version. As luck would have it, the only honey I had in the pantry was a ¾-full jar of Manuka honey I had purchased at Whole Foods last week. I have been eating this very special New Zealand honey for its healthy and healing attributes (possibly more on that later in another blog), but at $32 a jar, I decided to look further in the cupboard for an alternative. I decided to make use of the agave nectar we use as a daily sweetener. Unlike honey, this syrupy condiment doesn’t require heating to thin it, which saved me a recipe step. In addition, for those interested in a lower glycemic alternative to honey, the nectar might be just the ticket.

Tossed with the honey, a bit of sugar, and a sprinkling of salt, these sweet-salty peanuts required very little time in the kitchen, and the payoff was great, indeed. They really hit the spot on a snowy afternoon. To fully satisfy my craving, I decided to complete the entire task and whizzed some of the nuts in a mini food processor to make peanut butter. It was a success. After a few nibbles, I cared much less about the living room looking like a bomb of miscellaneous puzzles and train parts had hit it. I’m even thinking that in the future, I might not be making as many trips to the machines at Whole Foods as I used to—even when the weather isn’t so challenging.

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Snow Day Honey-Roasted Peanuts (and Peanut Butter)

Makes about 2 cups roasted peanuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Toss together 8 ounces of peanuts (they can be raw or, even better, already roasted), about 2 tablespoons room temperature agave nectar or honey (warmed first for about 10 seconds in the microwave until smooth and syrupy), about 2 teaspoons of raw or regular granulated sugar, and a light sprinkle of sea salt on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for about 5 minutes until fragrant. Remove from the oven and toss, somewhat separating the nuts. Bake until caramelized, another 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and set on a large wire rack to cool on the baking sheet. When cool, break the nuts apart as desired. Store at room temperature in an airtight container.

To make honey-roasted peanut butter, put as many peanuts as desired in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Process until the nuts transform into butter, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl, as necessary. If the peanut butter doesn’t emulsify and become as smooth as you wish, drizzle in a bit of neutral oil, such as canola, until it is the consistency you desire. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container.