There are few things I've made in my life which have generated quite as much interest in such a short time as these. It started out simple. My friend Catherine, co-founder of Luca & Bosco (omg, try their ice cream immediately), was having a bacon-themed holiday party. I was going to make a pork adobo with bacon, but then it was cold outside and I didn't want to leave the house. I had coconut and sweetened condensed milk in the cupboard, so I knew I could make some macaroons from The Macaroon Bible (awesome book, btw). But none of his recipes had bacon, so I I had to improvise. The result was pretty freakin' awesome. I even won a little prize at the party (aww, thanks). If you're interested, and I know you are, here is a recipe to try out yourself.Bacon-Bourbon Chocolate Macaroonsadapted from a recipe in The Macaroon Bible by Dan CohenYield: Twenty-four 2-inch macaroons4 tablespoons your favorite bourbon (I used Jim Beam -- no need for fancy stuff)About 1/3 pound thick-cut bacon (okay to add more)One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk1 whole nutmeg (optional)One 14-ounce bag sweetened shredded coconut2 large egg whites4 teaspoons kosher salt1 cup dark chocolate chips (regular chocolate chips would be okay too, but you really don't need to use premium chocolate)1. Preheat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the center of the oven. Line a baking sheet or two with parchment.2. In a small saucepan, simmer the bourbon until it's reduced by about half to 2 tablespoons of liquid. Set aside. The recipe would probably work fine if you didn't do this at all, or you could start with even more bourbon and concentrate further it for stronger flavor like I did. You just don't want to add more than 2 tablespoons of liquid to the macaroon batter because it would be too wet.3. Cook the bacon as you normally would until crispy. Drain on paper towels. When cool, crumble the bacon into bits. Set aside.4. In an extra-large bowl, measure out 10 1⁄2 ounces by weight of the condensed milk. If you don’t have a scale, use approximately 8 ounces (1 cup) by liquid measure. Add the reduced bourbon and about 15 passes of the nutmeg over a nutmeg grater, if desired, and incorporate with a rubber spatula. Add the coconut and combine until thoroughly mixed. Stir in the bacon bits.5. Add the egg whites and salt (I added less salt because I was worried about the saltiness of the bacon) to the bowl of a stand mixer (or small bowl if you’re using a hand beater) and whip on medium-high until very stiff peaks form, 2 1⁄2 to 3 minutes.6. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the coconut mixture. After it’s combined, push the mixture into one big blob to make it easier for you to portion out the macaroons.7. Dip 2 spoons into a small bowl of water, shake them off, form the mixture into balls approximately 1 1⁄2 inches in diameter, and place them on the baking sheet about 1 inch apart. (You can also form them by hand, but be sure to wet your fingers frequently.)8. Place the sheet into the oven to bake for 20 to 25 minutes. After about 21 minutes, start checking for coloring. Look for an even, light golden color and for the undersides to be nicely tanned. These macaroons will darken a bit more quickly than normal, so keep a close eye on them starting at about 19 minutes.9. Remove from the oven and let the sheet rest on a cooling rack, leaving the macaroons on the sheet until they’re cool enough for you to pull off (about 2 minutes depending on how sensitive your fingers are). Transfer the macaroons to the cooling rack to let cool completely.10. Melt the chocolate in whatever way is easiest for you. I used the microwave oven. Transfer the melted chocolate to a small plastic baggie, snip off the corner of the baggie with scissors, and use the make-shift piping bag to pipe the melted chocolate on top of the macaroons in whatever design you see fit. You could also just dip the macaroons into a bowl of melted chocolate. Transfer the macaroons to the fridge if you want the chocolate to firm up quickly because they're better that way. But otherwise these taste far better when eaten at room temperature, so don't leave them in the fridge.11. The macaroons will keep at room temperature for 3 to 5 days, for about 3 weeks in an airtight container in the fridge, and for a few months if stored in an airtight container in the freezer. Note that the bacon flavor is a bit better the day after, but they also get a little softer after sitting for a while.
When it comes to cookbooks, there isn't much more lovable than ones about cookies. Maybe I'm biased because I grew up in a household where cookie baking was the norm. My friends all knew, if you went over to Justin's house after school, his mom was probably going to bake something from scratch? Was she a master baker? Not at all, but that's why I guess cookies are so popular -- anyone can bake them. And they're perfect for sharing with friends and family. My mom passed on the tradition to me. I was long known as the guy at the office who always had a tin of fresh-baked cookies at his desk, ready to share. Yes, that's come to a halt recently as I've been gluten-free for about a year and a half now, and I haven't embraced gluten-free baking just yet. But I miss that feeling, the sharing. That's what Cookies for Kids' Cancer: All the Good Cookies is about to me. It's about bringing people together at bake sales, which CFKC is involved with all across the country. If you don't already know, this amazing organization founded by Gretchen Holt-Witt has raised millions of dollars for children's cancer research. And so if these behind-the-scenes snapshots from the cookbook photo shoot don't get your mouth watering, first check your pulse, and then keep in mind that all of the proceeds from this adorable book are going to support an important cause.Huge thanks to Michelle Rotman Jassem for her work on the props -- so fun and cute. Where did she get all of the amazing papers, fabrics, and more? Extra thanks to her for loaning us her home for the shoot.That's photographer Lucy Schaeffer working hard with assistant Shane Walsh to get the photo just right. I love seeing photographers put together these cool set-ups to get the perfect image.Oh yeah, the cookies... the variety is pretty much amazing. And these meringues were gluten-free, so I think I ate the whole batch.Of course what's better than a classic chocolate chip cookie?Lemon bars really take me back to my childhood for some reason. And if you've ever thought they're too fussy to bake yourself, think again. These are virtually foolproof.Now this is a different kind of cookie because you need some decorating skills to make them look this cute. Huge thanks go out to the talented Cyd McDowell and her assistant for all of their work on this project.And of course I had to start and end this post with chocolate cookies, in this case the Everyday Skinny Mints. I'm drooling just looking at this photo now. I really can't rave enough about this book, because the cause behind it is so important. And remember, these are only my snapshots from behind the scenes. For the real photos and all of the recipes, I hope you'll check out the book for yourself.
A friend at the publisher recently gave me a copy of the new cookbook by Aran Goyoaga, creator of Cannelle et Vanille, and I don't think he could have guessed how excited I would be. I've known Aran for some time now, but when we first met, it was very casually at a food conference, over dinner with some other bloggers. Fast forward a few years, and now I'm gluten-free just like Aran is, and I'm so happy to get my hands on any new books like this one, Small Plates & Sweet Treats. I hadn't given the book a try yet, but this weekend was the second year of Cookie Swap NYC. Last year was so much fun, of course I had to go again. The funny thing about last year's event is that I made a gluten-free cookie by Homesick Texan just because it was tasty. But much like Pie Party Live was for me this year, I felt some pressure this year because now that I'm totally gluten-free, I had to find a really great recipe. Aran's new book came to the rescue. Before I say anything else, I should mention that the book is exquisite, just like the Cannelle et Vanille blog. But back to the cookie swap, my congratulations go out to Maggy of Three Many Cooks and Bloggers without Borders for putting together such a wonderful event. I have to give a shout-out to the great charity the event was held to raise funds for -- Why Hunger. And I also want to thank Elizabeth Karmel and Hill Country for hosting the event.There were so many great cookies at the swap, but of course I only got to try a handful of them because most were made with regular flour. It's okay because the Hill Country barbecue was amazing, and I enjoyed a couple of margaritas as well. But this post is really about the cookies. I tweaked them a bit, which is a credit to Aran because it takes a reliable recipe to begin with to stand up to adjustments. She calls for making hazelnut toffee from scratch, rather than used the packaged stuff. I loved that idea, but I admit I did make a different toffee than the one in the book. I opted to use a toffee recipe I'd had experience with before, just because I'm not very experienced at that kind of cooking (cooking with sugar to high heat). And I made it a pecan toffee too, which turned out great. I chilled the toffee and broke it up into small pieces. Then I mostly followed Aran's recipe, except I used a bittersweet chocolate for the chips, I used regular brown rice flour instead of the "superfine" type she called for, and I probably should have chilled the dough a bit more firmly before baking. All the adjustments didn't seem to matter a bit because the cookies turned out so wonderfully. I'm happy to say I got a few raves at the swap, and at least a couple of people commented that they'd never know the recipe was gluten-free. So I'd urge you to check out the book for yourself - you'll find lots of sweet and savory recipes, and you'll likely be swooning over the photos like I have been. Congrats, Aran, on the publication.
Note: This drawing is now closed. What's this, no behind-the-scenes shots from the amazing, new Nancy Baggett book, Simply Sensational Cookies? Sorry folks, but I wasn't at this shoot. Todd & Diane of White on Rice Couple did the stunning photography (including the styling) for the book at their studio in California. Nancy went out there for the shoot, but I couldn't make it. I'm still kicking myself for that, but the photos in the cookbook are so gorgeous, I can't complain. So what's up with the plain Jane cookies I baked for this post? Well, I wanted to try something from the new book at home, and as beautiful as many of the cookie photos are in this book, I've gone gluten-free -- my options were a bit more limited. Fortunately Nancy does include some gluten-free recipes though, and I decided to first try out these classic chocolate chip cookies. If you're gluten-free and have gotten a little tired of dense, healthy-tasting cookies, then you definitely want to make a batch of these. They're really light, almost impossibly so. Another odd but good thing about this recipe is that unlike a lot of gluten-free baked goods I've tried which get hard (and kinda gross) after a day or two, these only got better. I guess it depends on how you like your cookies -- either warm from the oven or after they've had time to settle down. We had a little debate in my house about it, and the vote was split.So as usual for a book I've worked on, if you live in the U.S. or Canada and want to be entered into a drawing for a free copy, just post a comment before the end of Wednesday, October 24th. And if you want to try out this gluten-free recipe (with some notes from me), here you go...Gluten-Free Classic-Style Chocolate Chip Cookiesreprinted from Simply Sensational Cookies by Nancy Baggett with permission from the publisher1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into chunks1 1⁄3 cups packed light brown sugar2 large eggs, at room temperature2 teaspoons vanilla extract1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda1⁄2 teaspoon salt1 1⁄2 cups white rice flour1⁄2 cup brown rice flour1⁄2 cup cornstarch1 1⁄2 to 2 cups (up to one 10- to 11-ounce bag) semisweet chocolate morsels (I would definitely try these again with butterscotch chips!)Position a rack in the middle of the oven; preheat to 350°F. Grease several baking sheets or coat with nonstick spray; or line them with baking parchment.In a large microwave-safe bowl with the microwave on 50 percent power, heat the butter until very soft but not melted or runny, stopping and stirring every 20 seconds. (Alternatively, warm the butter over medium heat in a medium saucepan, stirring, until softened but not melted or runny. Remove from the heat.) Continue stirring until completely creamy-smooth.Vigorously stir in the sugar until well blended; mash out any lumps and stir until cooled to barely warm. Vigorously stir in the eggs, vanilla, baking soda, and salt until the mixture is well blended and smooth. Very vigorously stir in the white and brown rice flours, cornstarch, then the chocolate morsels until evenly incorporated. Let stand to firm up for about 5 minutes. (Nancy emphasizes that unlike regular cookie batter, vigorous stirring here is both fine and encouraged to keep the cookies from turning out too crumbly -- stir away!)Using a (1 1⁄2-inch) diameter spring-loaded scoop, or heaping soupspoons, drop mounds of dough about 3 inches apart on the baking sheets. Bake (middle rack) one sheet at a time for 10 to 12 minutes or until the cookies are tinged with brown and feel almost firm when pressed in the middle. Let stand until firmed up just slightly, about 2 minutes. (It was getting warm in my kitchen, so I started chilling the dough between baking batches and even tossed a sheet of scooped cookie dough into the freezer for a few minutes -- cooling the dough definitely helped with spreading, and I think it improved the texture too. I might make these again and chill the dough for a few hours or overnight.) Using a wide spatula, transfer the cookies to wire racks. Cool completely. Cool the baking sheets between batches or the cookies may spread too much. Store these, airtight, for up to 1 week. They can be frozen, airtight, for 3 to 4 weeks.Yield: Makes thirty to thirty-five 3-inch cookies
I'm still taking baby steps, but I've been baking gluten-free a bit more. The hot weather is holding me back, but I've got a sweet tooth to satisfy. Actually, that's a weird thing about going gluten-free -- my sweet tooth has waned a bit. Long-time friends probably think that's weird coming from me, but it's true. This recipe, which is pretty amazing, has to remain a secret for now. It's one of the perks of my job that I get to try out recipes from unpublished books. It's also a bummer when I can't tell you all about them. Be patient, because this one is worth the wait. The texture and flavors are amazing, and I'm happy to say I made a double-batch and stored the extra dough in the freezer so I can whip up more cookies on short notice. If it wasn't supposed to hit 97 degrees here today, I might be tempted to turn on my oven right now.