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16 February 2013

Kitchen Science: Defying Gravity!

The other day I found this amazing thing in the freezer, a stalagmite of ice! I guess it happened because of the way water expands when it freezes, but I don't know why it would make such a distinct formation like this. Any ideas?

14 February 2013

Hazelnut+Chocolate=Love Cookies

I bought hazelnuts recently, with the idea that I would make a nut torte recipe that I've been eyeing for years. But instead I made these cookies, which turned out pretty amazingly considering how experimental and not-following-a-recipe they are. In fact, Lovemuffin said at one point, "These are the best cookies I've ever had." So there you go. I started out using this recipe, but after making a silly mistake and also realizing I didn't have any eggs, I did some math and switched to this recipe from Martha Stewart, but you can see my final recipe is very different then hers.

Hazelnut+Chocolate=Love Cookies (makes about 3 1/2 dozen cookies)

2 cubes butter, softened
1 1/4 cups white sugar
pinch salt
1 1/2 cups hazelnuts, toasted, skins removed* and ground** -- if my math is correct this made about 2 1/2 cups of hazelnut flour
1 7/8 cups all purpose flour
1 cup dark chocolate chips
about 1/4 cup milk

Cream together the butter and sugar until nice and fluffy. Add the salt and ground hazelnuts, mix a little, then add the flour and mix more thoroughly, then add the chocolate chips. I chopped up my chocolate chips even smaller in my nifty spice/coffee grinder because I didn't want big chunks, but I didn't want very fine cocoa powder. After mixing all of these things together, your dough shouldn't look like dough at this point, it should be fluffy and crumbly, but not holding together. Add a little of the milk and mix, continue until the dough turns into regular looking dough and holds together, you might need a little more or a little less milk than 1/4 cup.

At this point you can chill the dough until you need it. In fact, I would recommend chilling it for a few minutes to help the butter harden, since that's the only leavening action these cookies will have, so chilling will help them be fluffy and hopefully they won't spread out like pancakes.

Scoop out spoonfuls of dough and place on a greased cookie sheet, squish gently with the tines of a fork. Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes. I cooked mine for longer because they seemed really soft still, but then later when completely cool they were very crunchy, so how long you cook it depends on how crunchy you want your cookies. Remove from pan and let cool. I recommend you eat these dunked in milk or your favorite warm beverage.

* A word about hazelnuts: getting the skins off and grinding these suckers was the most time consuming, tedious cooking job I have done for a long, long time. Every recipe that gives directions says to just toast the nuts about 6 minutes, then rub off the skins with a kitchen towel, and voila, that's supposed to do it. But I spent way too much time on this part because most of the skins did not want to come off. I toasted the very stubborn-skinned nuts a second time, and it might have helped, but I gave up on trying to get all the skins off of every nut. And the cookies were still great, so no pressure to do a perfect job at that. 

**I ground the nuts in a small smoothie blender thing in batches. It probably helps to have them in a small blender area so they are continually being redirected into the blades, and even then I had to keep shaking the container to try to get it to work better. When a batch of nuts seemed ground up all the way, I would put it through a sieve into a bowl, to catch all the extra large unground pieces, then put those large pieces back into the blender with the next batch.

This is the very first draft of this recipe, and just like all my recipes and pretty much every recipe in the universe (that my be an exaggeration) it is open to modifications, it may be possible to improve it even more. 
Some ideas that I had were: 
-use an egg, beat it with the butter/sugar, and omit the milk
-add your favorite spices, like cinnamon, cardamom, orange peel, etc. 
-use cocoa powder instead of chocolate chips
-decrease the amount of butter and label them "healthy," maybe even use whole wheat pastry flour instead of all purpose
-leave some of the hazelnuts in larger pieces for some extra crunch
-omit the chocolate chips, and then when the cookies are baked, make them into sandwich cookies with Nutella or chocolate ganache as the filling.
And if you need to make these ahead of time, you could easily form the balls of dough and then freeze them for later.