GOD-DESS

Simple! Sensible! Sensational!®

December 2003
© 2003 by Bret S. Beall

SWEETEN YOUR LIFE!

I’m not a big fan of sweets, but I do have an occasional sweet tooth. Specifically, I’m a real cookie monster. This month, I’ve provided two of my favorite basic cookie recipes that have hundreds of variations. Additionally, I enjoy quick breads as a quick breakfast, or as a simple dessert, sometimes topped with ice cream or whipped cream or a fruit compote. Once you understand the basic quick bread recipe, you can adapt it in a variety of ways for a variety of purposes.

During the month of December, my kitchen oven is in overdrive as I bake cookies and quick breads as gifts for friends. No one really needs more “stuff,” but some delicious home baked goods are almost universally welcomed (FYI, I don’t have any low-carb diet friends, which makes my life easier).

So, bake, eat, give, share! These Simple! Sensible! Sensational!® Sweets will add a little extra joy to your life!

BRET’S CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

These chewy cookies were inspired by some sensational cookies created by Elaine Zeiger, with whom I worked during my paleontological days at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History. She is one of the best bakers I have known, and she shared her recipe, which I have adapted as follows. By the way, the recipe calls for 18 oz of chocolate chips, which is about 1.5 bags; I calculate that 3 bags of chips will make two batches of cookies, but you can go ahead and use the full 2 bags if you are feeling flush (as Elaine does).

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cream butter and sugars until smooth. Add the eggs and molasses (if using), and then use the vanilla and warm water to get the extra molasses out of the measuring spoon and into the mixture. Stir until well blended. Add the flour and salt, and stir to incorporate. Add the chocolate chips and nuts, and stir until evenly distributed (this is a very chunky mixture). Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet, leaving 1” to 1.5” between mounds. Bake each batch for 7-9 minutes, depending on the heat of your oven, the size of your cookies, and the degree of softness you desire. The bases should be just brown when they are ready. Cool on folded tea towels.

Variations:

This is just a great basic cookie, especially if you like them chewy and moist. You can substitute the semi-sweet chocolate chips with milk chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, chunks of chocolate you’ve broken off of a larger piece (ie, semi-sweet baking chocolate or some extra candy bars you have on hand), M&M’s, or go more exotic with peanut butter chips, butterscotch pieces (especially with toasted pecans), or any mixture of the above. For yet another unusual variation, try substituting all of part of the vanilla with almond extract. Finally, something that worked beyond my wildest expectations was the substitution of up to 3 c chopped dried fruit (rehydrated with hot water just to cover; add soaking liquid to the mix), such as prunes, raisins, craisins, apricots, or your favorite, for the chocolate chips.

Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Cookies: Follow the recipe for Bret’s Chocolate Chip Cookies, but add ¼ c good quality cocoa powder (preferably Dutch process; unsweetened; I happen to like Droste) and ¼ c water to the mixture before adding the flour. Some people prefer a sweeter cookie, so you can add up to ¼ c additional sugar during the initial creaming. Continue as for the recipe (as an added note, these are particularly good with chopped macadamia nuts, and one 6.5 oz jar will yield about 1.5 c of chopped macadamias … but the chopping ain’t fun!). Dry roasted peanuts are also a delicious addition to this particular recipe, but use whatever nuts you have available (pecans and walnuts are also great). White chocolate chips are also very delicious and attractive against the dark chocolate matrix of these cookies.

Chocolate Chip-Peanut Butter Cookies: To any of the above versions, add ½ c peanut butter (smooth or chunky, to your preference) to the wet ingredients before adding the flour; also add an additional ¼ to ½ c water to loosen the peanut butter to allow it to blend with the other ingredients.

Butterscotch-Pecan Cookies: Follow the recipe for Bret’s Chocolate Chip Cookies, but substitute butterscotch chips for the chocolate chips, and use toasted pecans as the nuts. These tend to spread a bit more than the other cookies, and tend to caramelize on the bottoms a bit more, but when they cool, the caramelization adds an interesting crunchy element to the already very flavorful cookies.

Prune-Walnut Cookies: Follow the recipe for Bret’s Chocolate Chip Cookies, but substitute chopped prunes (or other dried fruit) for the chocolate chips. Toasted walnuts are particularly good with the prunes, but other nuts will work also. Vanilla or almond extract work equally well in this chewy, yet cakey cookie.

NOT-YO-MAMA’S OATMEAL COOKIES

There are lots of recipes for oatmeal cookies. This is mine. Be warned, they are the chewy, not the crisp variety. Don’t let that stop you, though. The husband of a friend was sampling my wares, and groaned when he realized the oatmeal cookies were chewy; his wife insisted he sample them, which he did … “Oh my God! These are so fantastic.” I couldn’t have said it better.

  • 1 c sugar (white, brown, or a mixture of the two)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 1 c flour
  • 1 T ground spices (mace, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, cloves, or some mixture of these) (optional)
  • 1 c dried fruit (raisins, dates, figs, apricots, prunes; I’ve even used cashew fruit!), chopped to the size of raisins (optional)
  • ½ c wine (preferably red; optional if not using dried fruit)
  • 3 c oats, quick cooking
  • Place dried fruit in a microwave-proof dish or cup; add the wine; microwave for 30 seconds to warm the wine; allow the dried fruit to plump for 5 minutes in the warm wine. Alternatively, heat the fruit and wine in a saucepan over low heat on the stove; when simmering begins, turn off the heat and allow the fruit to plump for 5 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Meanwhile, cream the butter, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix until thoroughly blended. Add the flour and spices (if using), and mix to incorporate. Add the oatmeal, fruit and wine, and stir to mix thoroughly. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto an ungreased baking sheet 1” to 1.5” apart; bake for 10 to 12 minutes per batch, until bottoms just begin to brown. Remove to a cooling rack or to folded tea towels. This recipe will yield about 5 dozen cookies, 2 to 3” in diameter. Store in a tightly sealed container for up to 2 weeks.

    Variations:

    Almond-Oatmeal Cookies: These are identical to the above, but use 1 t almond extract in place of the vanilla. The almond extract is particularly good with dates, figs or apricots as the dried fruit. Chopped toasted almonds can also be added.

    Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies: Follow the recipe for Oatmeal Cookies, but substitute 1 to 2 c chocolate chips (semi-sweet, milk chocolate or white chocolate) for the dried fruit, or add the chocolate chips to the mixing bowl at the same time as the plumped fruit and wine.

    Oatmeal-Nut Cookies: Follow the recipe for Oatmeal Cookies, but substitute 1 c chopped toasted nuts (pecans, walnuts, peanuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, or your favorite nut) for the dried fruit, or add the toasted nuts to the mixing bowl at the same as the plumped fruit and wine.

    "Middle Eastern" Oatmeal Cookies: Follow the recipe for Almond-Oatmeal Cookies, with equal amounts of apricots, dates and/or figs as the dried fruit, and add up to 1 T of ground toasted cardamom to the mix … incredible.

    Everything-Good-In-Them Oatmeal Cookies: Follow the recipe for Oatmeal Cookies, treating nothing as optional, and add 1-2 c chocolate chips (semi-sweet, milk chocolate or white chocolate) and 1 c chopped toasted nuts (pecans, walnuts, peanuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, or your favorite nut) to the mixing bowl at the same time as the plumped fruit and wine.

    Fresh Fruit-Oatmeal Cookies: Follow the recipe for Oatmeal Cookies, but substitute about 1.5 c chopped fresh fruit of your choice. You may omit or reduce the wine, or leave it in for a really moist and flavorful cookie.

    BRET’S BASIC QUICK BREAD

    I love quick breads, for dessert and for breakfast, and for a few nibbles in between, but sometimes they get too dry, don’t they? Well, with this recipe, that won’t be a problem. The key is using enough fruit, and not too much sugar (the bread becomes cloying). Take a look at the variations below, and you’ll see that by using this basic recipe, you can create any type of quick bread you desire.

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare one large or two medium baking/loaf pans by wiping oil/butter over all interior surfaces with a paper towel or your hand; set the pans aside. If using a soft fruit or fruit puree (bananas, pumpkin puree, applesauce), combine with the eggs in a large bowl. Add the sugar and salt, and combine. Add the olive oil, fruit juice (or vinegar) and zest (if using), and combine. Add the flour, baking soda and baking soda, and mix until barely incorporated (about 20 strokes with a spoon or spatula). Add the nuts and more firm fruit if using (rehydrated dried fruit, chopped cranberries, chopped apples, stir up to 10 more times. Pour the stiff batter into prepared the pan(s) (dividing evenly if using two pans), shake to level, and place in the preheated oven. Bake for about 1 hour, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Allow the bread to cool to room temperature before slicing (you can cut it when it’s hot, but it will crumble more). Serve as is, with some fruit compote, or toasted in a toaster oven and spread with butter. This bread freezes very well for at least 6 months.

    Variations:

    Bret’s Best Banana Bread: Follow the recipe for Bret’s Basic Quick Bread, using bananas as the fruit. To reiterate, you must use enough fruit, in this case, mashed banana, 1.5 to 2 cups (at least 2 large or 4 small); overripe is fine (By the way, if you ever have some bananas that are getting too ripe to eat enjoyably, but you either don’t have enough to make banana bread or don’t have the desire, you can toss these blackened beauties into the freezer for a couple of months; freezing helps to soften the flesh for easy incorporation into the mixture anyway.). Toasted walnuts are especially good in this banana bread.

    Caribbean Banana Bread: Follow the recipe for Bret’s Best Banana Bread, but add the juice and finely minced zest of one lime, orange, lemon, or other citrus (like half of a grapefruit! Don’t worry about the other volumes; just do it). The increased moisture will increase the cooking time, so you must use the toothpick test for doneness.

    Cranberry Nut Bread: Follow the recipe for Bret’s Basic Quick Bread, using 6 oz (half of a 12 oz package) of cranberries, about 1.5 cups, halved. Per the influence of the “Fannie Farmer Cookbook” over 20 years ago, I add the finely minced zest (2-3 T) and juice (about ½ c) of one large orange. Using the finely minced zest (1 T) and juice (about 2 T) of one large lemon is also an excellent version.

    Blueberry Nut Bread: Follow the recipe for Bret’s Basic Quick Bread, using 1.5 c of fresh or frozen whole blueberries. Use the finely minced zest (about 1 T) and juice (about 2 T) of one large lemon. Toasted walnuts complement the lemon and blueberries exceptionally well, while toasted pecans will give the bread a “gentler” flavor.

    Pumpkin Spice Bread: Follow the recipe for Bret’s Basic Quick Bread, using one can of pumpkin puree (a scant 2 c), or 2 c of fresh or frozen roasted pumpkin (or roasted squash). A full cup of sugar works well with the pumpkin (or squash). Add 1 T of various ground spices to the pumpkin and egg mixture (use various combinations of cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, ginger and/or cardamom). I love to use toasted pecans as the nut-of-choice in this bread, although toasted walnuts are also very good. The addition of ¼ c balsamic vinegar really enhances all of the flavors.

    Pumpkin-Orange Spice Bread: Follow the recipe for Pumpkin Spice Bread, using the finely minced zest (about 2-3 T) and juice (about ½ c) of one large orange instead of the vinegar or any other citrus.

    Sweet Potato Spice Bread: Follow the recipe for Pumpkin Spice Bread, but substitute the mashed flesh of baked or steamed sweet potatoes (about 3 c of steamed sweet potato cubes will mash down to the requisite two cups; two large baked sweet potatoes will also yield an adequate amount of flesh).

    Pumpkin/Squash/Sweet Potato-Cranberry Bread: Follow the recipe for Pumpkin Spice Bread, using 1 c of pumpkin puree, squash or mashed sweet potato. Add 1 to 1.5 c of halved cranberries.

    Applesauce Spice Cake: Follow the recipe for Pumpkin Spice Bread, but use 1.5 to 2 c of applesauce instead of the pumpkin. The finely minced zest (about 1 T) and juice (about 2 T) of one large lemon is a delicious optional ingredient. Be aware that this particular recipe is quite dense and moist.

    Apple-Applesauce Spice Cake: Follow the recipe for Pumpkin Spice Bread, but use 1 c of applesauce and 1 c of finely diced apples. The finely minced zest (about 1 T) and juice (about 2 T) of one large lemon is a delicious optional ingredient. For the spice, I generally like cinnamon more than the others, but that’s just me.

    Applications:

    Quick and Easy Quick Bread Dessert: Per serving: Heat one slice of your favorite quick bread in a toaster oven or microwave; place on a plate. Top with any of the following, to your palate: a) up to ½ c chopped fresh fruit; b) up to ½ c of rehydrated dried fruit [raisins, craisins, chopped dried figs, dates, apricots, etc.], with the rehydrating liquid; c) up to ½ c of your favorite fruit compote [this is any sort of fruit salad]; d) one scoop of your favorite ice cream [vanilla is the most flexible, but be adventurous], frozen yogurt or sorbet; e) one rounded T of ricotta, marscapone, brie, camembert or fresh farmer’s cheese; f) a tablespoon or two of your favorite chocolate sauce, fudge sauce, caramel sauce, or similar.

    Quick and Easy Quick Bread Breakfast: In my world, desserts and breakfasts are often interchangeable, so use any of the dessert ideas for a quick and easy breakfast. Additionally, these quick breads are delicious alongside fried or scrambled eggs, with bacon or sausage, or with any of the above made into a “sandwich” using two slices of quick bread (eat it with a knife and fork, as the quick breads are very tender).

    I have dozens of other variations on the quick bread theme, including some savory ones. Get the basic technique down, and do some of your own experimentation. Of, if you can’t wait, let me know how I can help you by email me. Happy Baking!

     

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