Friday, November 21, 2014

Taking the Long Way Home with Fantasy Cookies

Rustic cookies are chewy, savory and sweet
I adore peanut butter. As the story goes, when I was just a kid after my mom returned from a trip to Europe she was smitten by dishing out gourmet food. She used me and my siblings as lab rats and tried her fancy fare on us. More times than not I, a picky eater, refused to oblige. Then she'd announce the punishment, “It’s peanut butter and jam sandwiches tonight.” I won.  Peanut butter sandwiches or cookies are like an old reliable friend—they always give you constant comfort.

Last weekend returning home from a Barnes and Noble book signing in Roseville, I accidentally took the long way home on State Route 49-- a north–south state highway that takes you through mining communities. At nighttime, this isn’t the way you want to go with its winding roads—a rural Gold Rush nightmare without street lights. The GPS woman’s directions were off  like a mean-spirited character in a “Twilight Zone” program. I was cold, hungry. “I want peanut butter cookies and hot chocolate,” I mumbled, envisioning cuddling up with my cat Zen and watching a film.  But bottled water and fantasies of cookies sufficed.
Enjoyed Roseville people

My mom baked large old-fashioned peanut butter cookies, the kind leaving a crisscross imprint on top. Mid-week, however, I created a smaller cookie with European style butter, and autumn spices. It promised a warm mix of sweet and savory crunch. These cookies boast an imperfect look—a rustic delight that give a taste of home with present-day flavors that took me into a new comfort zone.

Petite Peanut Butter Cookies
·        2 1/2 cups flour (your choice but all-purpose is traditional)
·        1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
·        1 1 /2 teaspoons (each) ground ginger and cinnamon
·        1/3 cup European style butter
·        1 cup low sodium, all natural peanut butter, creamy (no oil on top)
·        1 cup dark or light brown sugar
·        1/4 cup white granulated sugar
·        1 brown egg
·        1 teaspoon vanilla
·        Mediterranean sea salt
·        Apricot jam, organic

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and spices. Set aside. Place butter in a small microwavable dish and melt. Add butters and sugars. Mix in egg and vanilla. Combine all ingredients and mix well. (It will be crumbly.) Form cookie dough into a snake-like roll and wrap in parchment paper. (I saw this tip on “Food Network” and it works like a charm.) Chill for at least an hour. Slice dough into 1/4 inch slices, roll into petite balls and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Use the bottom of a cup to flatten the balls. Place crisscross marks with fork on top of balls. (You can also use your thumb to make an imprint to place jam.) Bake for about 8-10 minutes. Once out of the oven sprinkle half the cookies with Mediterranean Sea salt and other half with a mini spoonful of jam. This way you'll have both of best worlds. Makes about three dozen.
Finding the right texture in high altitude is a challenge

It's a challenge to bake good cookies in the high altitude. You've got to get a grasp on the right mix of sugars and flour for a chewy texture. And baking requires a higher temperature. I think I've got it down now after a decade of living here in the Sierras. The spices add warm flavors. The salt provides a nice kick and the jam a sweet punch. I wish I had these babies to munch on during that dark and cold Sierra Nevada road but homemade cookies make home even sweeter.
Motto: Infusing old-fashioned foods with a new European twist gives you a feeling of savoring a sophisticated cookie.
— Cal Orey, M.A.  is an author and journalist. Her books include "The HealingPowers" series (health-cookbooks) published by Kensington.  Her website is . 
This article was first published in Tahoe Daily Tribune.

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