Sunday, January 10, 2016

Soft Chocolate Almond Cherry Cookies

Never mind holiday shenanigans like twinkling street lamps and department store display windows, my euphoric Christmastime enthusiasm is reserved for just one thing: the Food52 Holiday Shop. Every year, my favorite recipe website puts together a real live holiday pop-up shop, teeming with unique, artisanal cooking gifts that whip me into a frenzy of want. I cannot afford anything, yet I must have everything. In the same way that people roam Ikea, playing house in the little model rooms, I covertly circle the Food52 Holiday Shop interior, picking up multi-hundred dollar cast iron skillets and vintage cocettes while pretending I'm minding my business in my own kitchen. On the oak wood farmhouse table next to me is my hand-crafted, organically glazed Portuguese porcelain dinnerware set, a casual eucalyptus and pine garland runner elegantly draping its midsection that I, you know, assembled on a whimsical winter garden walk in the woods outback while I was also gathering firewood and winterberries. I hope the staff doesn't notice that this is the 3rd day in a row I've visited to continue my make-pretend game.


In addition to this splendid array of dining and cooking delights, The Food52 pop up shop also exhibits exactly two edibles: the contenders for the year's best holiday cookie contest, an ongoing competition between the company's founders to determine who has procured the top holiday cookie recipe of 2015. (And, let's face it, the real reason I've come back 3 days in a row.) But I needed to try both cookies multiple times, you know, just to be sure of my vote!


OK but really—I knew at first bite that my vote was for Merrill's Soft Chocolate Almond Cherry Cookies.  Simply and unequivocally delicious, they were everything a holiday cookie should be. A glorious combination of chewy chocolate cookie—or is it an impossibly soft brownie?—dotted with rich chocolate chunks, sweet dried cherries, and a glorious nutty, buttery undertone. I swooned. And swooned so much that I knew this would be the cookie recipe to accompany my will-you-be-my-bridesmaid gifts, because if you didn't know, I'm getting married. Introducing: Kvell in the Kitchen, Wedding Edition!


Now, I was very excited to embark on this baking adventure because a) I am, you know, a blushing bride-to-be b) have not yet started any type of wedding diet and c) like all arts and crafts projects. But let me tell you, these cookies were not easy breezy. After hours of hand-removing every stage of batter from my immersion blender (no, I don't have a stand mixer, yes, I can confirm you do need one for this recipe) I finally was able to create a little assembly line of dough and sugar to coat my cookies—1.5 inch diameter balls, 2 inches apart, just like the recipe called for—and they came out as one giant, puddled, cookie lump. Or a birds-eye view of a ski mountain covered with brown moguls. Suddenly, I am no longer a blushing bride, but an on-the-verge-of-tears totally frustrated bride. I almost gave up (not before making a mental note to add standing mixer to my registry).

But! No more kvetching in the kitchen, because despite the fact that my cookies looked like poo, they did in fact taste delicious, and after 10 minutes of cooling I was able to pick them apart and distribute them as originally planned. Below, I have gone at great lengths to amend the recipe (smaller cookie diameters, more space in between them) to make sure this doesn't happen to you. Its worth the fuss (and time commitment—note that the cookie dough needs to cool in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before baking). But seriously, they are dynamite. Wedding-worthy for sure!

Soft Chocolate Almond Cherry Cookies (from Food 52)
Makes about 36 cookies

Ingredients:
125 grams almond flour (~ 1 ⅛ cups)
50 grams all-purpose flour (~¼ + ⅛ cups)
cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 stick plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
cups packed light brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar, plus more for dusting
1 ¼ teaspoon flaky sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped (pieces should be  inch or smaller)
⅔ cups dried cherries, chopped

Directions:
  1. Whisk together the almond flour, all-purpose flour, cocoa powder and baking soda.
  2. Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula once.
  3. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more. Turn off the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the dry ingredients, drape a kitchen towel over the mixer and pulse at low speed for 1 to 2 seconds, about 5 times. Remove the towel and keep beating at low speed for about 10 seconds more, until everything is just combined. Scrape down the bowl again.
  4. Add the chopped chocolate and dried cherries and mix on low speed for another 5 seconds or so, just to incorporate. Transfer the dough to an airtight container and refrigerate for 30 to 60 minutes.
  5. Center a rack in the oven and heat it to 325 °F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats. Pour about ¾ cup sugar onto a large plate. Using your hands, form the dough into balls an inch in diameter. Roll the balls in the sugar and arrange them on the baking sheets, at least 3 inches apart.
  6. Bake the cookies for 12 to 14 minutes; they should dome slightly in the middle, and they should look dry on the surface but still be soft to the touch. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets on racks for 5 minutes, then transfer the parchment to the racks to finish cooling.

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