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Chocolate Macarons with Salted Dark Chocolate Ganache

Macarons, often mispronounced “macaroons” and not to be confused with the conical coconut cookies, are all the rage. There are many bakeries and confectionary shops in Southern California that sell these, sweet, beautiful, and pricey French confections. Back in 2006, I applied for a job at Boule Bakery (now permanently closed). Boule was one of the few bakeries in Los Angeles that sold macarons. I remember speaking with the head pastry chef and he explained that the success rate of their macarons was 50%. They were only able to sell half of the macarons they baked due to many factors that effected their outcome. Under-beating macarons will produce thin runny batter causing, a flat rise. Over-beating the macaron will cause them to crack. Also, using cold egg whites can cause the shell to crack as well. Baking 2 pans at a time can also cause them to crack. Not letting the macaron batter to develop a shell can effect the development of their signature feet (the little textured edges). Also using cold almond flour (Almond flour is usually stored in the refrigerator for longer shelf life) or old almond can cause little oily spots on the macarons.

After many trials and errors,I developed a fool-proof method of making the perfect macarons, but you must follow the instructions closely and not take any shortcuts. Make sure your egg whites and almond flour are at room temperature to prevent potential cracks. Let the macaron batter sit out for at least 1 hour once they are piped. This will create a nice macaron shell and produce the feet around the base. Finally, bake only one tray at a time. This will also prevent cracks on the macaron shells. My recipe uses salted, dark chocolate ganache filling to balance out the sweetness of a macaron shell. I’ve been told by several people, including French people, that my macarons is one of the best they have ever tasted. Happy Baking.

Chocolate Macarons with Salted Dark Chocolate Ganache

Make about 2 dozens

Filling

3/4 cup of heavy cream
1 Tablespoon of organic corn syrup
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
8 ounces dark chocolate, chopped preferable 60% cacao
1 1/2 Tablespoons of butter, chopped into small pieces
1/2 teaspoon of Fleur de Sel or other flaky sea salt

Macaroon Cookies

1 cup of almond flour, at room temperature*
1 3/4 cups of confectioners sugar
1/3 cup or Dutch-processed chocolate, preferably Valrhona
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Special Equipment

Parchment paper
Stand mixer
Piping Tip – 1 cm
2 Large piping bag or 2 gallon-sized plastic baggie
Half sheet pans, preferably aluminum

 

  1. To make the filling, add heavy cream, sugar, vanilla extract into an medium saucepan. Give it a quick stir. Set over the stove over medium heat. Once the cream mixture comes to boil turn off immediately.Add the dark chocolate and let it sit for 1 minute. Stir and until the mixture comes together.IMG_6115
  2. Add the butter pieces and stir until the ganache is shiny and smooth. Set aside to cool. When the ganache is has cooled, stir in the Fleur de sel. You can make the can make the ganache up to 3 days in advance. Make sure you cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator. Bring to room temp before piping into the macarons.IMG_6114IMG_6116
  3. With a pencil draw 1 1/2″ circles on a parchment paper, using the large side of the icing tip as a stencil. Make 20 circles. Draw additional 20 circles on another 2 parchment sheets. Place the pencil drawn side down on each of the half sheet pans. Set aside.IMG_6133
  4. With scissors cut the tip of the piping bag, insert the icing tip until tight and secure. Set aside.IMG_6136.JPG
  5. Add the almond flour, confectioners sugar and cocoa powder in a a food processor and a pulse a few times until the mixture is combined. Sift the mixture over a large bowl. Set aside.IMG_6120IMG_6122
  6. In a stand mixer with a whisk attachment. Add the four egg whites. Whisk until starts to get foamy. Gradually add the granulated sugar in a slow stream.IMG_6124
  7. After all the sugar has been added, increase the speed to high. Beat 2 to 3 minutes until meringue has reached stiff peak and is shiny.IMG_6129
  8. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Add the vanilla extract and fold with rubber spatula. Add 1/2 of the almond flour cocoa powder mixture and fold in pressing down along the side of the bowl, until their are no lumps. Add the remaining 1/2 of the almond flour mixture until completely incorporated without any lumps.IMG_6130IMG_6131IMG_6132
  9. Add the macaron mixture into the piping bag and pipe over the pre-drawn circles in a circular motion. Tap the sheet pans on the counter to remove any air bubbles in the macarons batter. Let the macarons sit out on the counter for 1 hour. This process will help create the signature “feet” of the macarons.IMG_6135
  10. While the macarons are forming its shell, clean the icing tip. You will be using it again for the filling. Cut another piping bag and insert the tip and set aside.
  11. Heat the oven to 350°. Place tray of the macaron on the center rack. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes. Do not get tempted to add two trays in the oven as this will affect the outcome of the macarons.IMG_6138
  12. Place the baked macarons on a cooling rack. Bake the remaining macarons.IMG_6146
  13. Once the macarons are cooled, add the ganache in the prepared piping bag. Pipe on one side of the macaron cookie and sandwich it together with another cookie.IMG_6141
  14. Pipe the remaining cookies and serve. Store any remaining macarons in the refrigerator, in an airtight container. Enjoy!IMG_6147

Watermelon Boba

Boba drinks (also referred to as bubble tea) are popular refreshing Taiwanese beverages with black tapioca pearls. These dark pearls are the size of little marbles with a chewy, gummy texture and come with oversized straws to accommodate the little balls. The boba pearls are often made of sweet potato starch and provides texture to these drinks. They are served in iced teas, iced coffee, fruit juices, slushies, and smoothies. These drinks are so popular in the San Gabriel Valley, you can find a boba cafe on every other block. Popular boba cafes like Tea Station, Ten Ren, and Half & Half will have lines out the doors on hot summer nights. I’m guilty of waiting in one of those ridiculous lines.

My first introduction to a boba drink was back in the early 1990’s when my friend treated me to a delicious Taiwanese meal. Back then, boba drinks were only available in select restaurants and not in specialty cafés. One of the few places that served boba was a small Taiwanese resaruant called Old Country Café in Alhambra, California. They served delicious Taiwanese food and their specialty drink was the watermelon boba, and I spent many weekends during my college days visiting the Old Country Café. Now that the summer is here and the watermelon is sweet, I thought it would be a perfect time to share my watermelon boba recipe. It tastes just like the ones I’ve had at Old Country Café – refreshing and delicious. Enjoy!

Watermelon Boba

Yield: 6 drinks

1 cup of organic sugar
1 cup of water
1 cup of boba pearls (large tapioca pearls)*
1 small watermelon (or 8 cups of chopped watermelon chunks)
Pinch of sea salt
Ice cubes
Boba straws*

1. To make the simple syrup, add the sugar and 1 cup of water to a small sauce pan and bring to a boil until the sugar is completely dissolved, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and place in the refrigerator until ready to use.

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2. To cook the boba, bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a large sauce pan over medium-high heat. Once the water boils, add the boba pearls and give it a gentle stir. Once the boba pearls float to the top, reduce the heat to a simmer.

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3. Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring every 3 minutes. Make sure to stir gently so as not to break up the pearls.

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4. Turn off the heat and let sit for about 25 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, make the water melon juice. Take out the simple syrup from the refrigerator. Add about half of the watermelon pieces, 1/4 to 1/3 cup of the syrup (depending on your preference for sweetness and the ripeness of the watermelon) and a pinch of salt to a blender. Press the smoothie button, or blend until smooth. Pour into a pitcher.

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6. Repeat the process with the remaining watermelon pieces.

7. To assemble, using a handheld strainer, remove the boba out of the water. Divide among 6 large glasses.

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8. Add some ice cubes to each glass.IMG_6086

9. Give the watermelon juice a good stir and pour evenly among the 6 glasses. Add the boba straw and serve.

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*You can find boba pearls and boba straws at most Chinese supermarkets. Note: If you purchase quick cooking boba, follow the instructions on the package.

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Chocolate Almond Madeleines

When I was in culinary school, the baking course was my least favorite class. My instructor was a wonderful teacher and incredibly talented, but the pace was very slow and I wasn’t much of dessert fan then. That quickly changed after I had my first child. I developed an insatiable sweet tooth and was craving pastries all the time. Not just any pastries, mind you, but the expensive kind from French Patisseries: macarons, croissant aux amandes, and financiers. The common ingredient in all these pastries is almond flour. As I have mentioned in my previous posts, I love almond-flavored desserts. Today, I share a madeleine recipe with all the flavors of a financier – brown butter almond cakes.

These little mini cakes in madeleine molds are light and airy with crispy edges from the egg whites. They are also nutty from the ground almonds and the brown butter, and the cocoa powder takes it up another notch. Essentially, these are financiers in fancy molds. These little cakes will not have the traditional Madeleine hump so they will be done when the top is no longer shiny. If you don’t have madeleine pans, you can bake these in mini muffin tins. The texture will be a little denser, but still just as delicious. Enjoy!

Chocolate Almond Madeleines

Yield: 36 little cakes​

1 stick of unsalted butter (1/2 cup)
1/3 cup of unbleached all-purpose flour
2/3 cup of Super-Fine Almond Flour, like Bob’s Red Mill
2 tablespoons of Dutch processed cocoa powder (preferably Valrhona)
1 ½ teaspoons of baking powder
¼ teaspoon of flaky sea salt
2/3 cup of egg whites at room temperature, (about 4 large egg whites)
¾ cup of granulated sugar
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting, optional
Baking spray
Madeleine molds or mini muffin tins

1. Add butter to a small sauce pan and cook at medium heat for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. You want to keep a watchful eye until you see small brown specks on the bottom of the pan. It will have a nice nutty aroma. Once you hit this point, you want to remove the pan off the burner and transfer to a bowl to stop the cooking process. Set aside.

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2. Sift the flour, ground almonds, cocoa powder, and baking soda  in a seive over a medium bowl to remove any lumps from the ground almonds and cocoa powder. Whisk and set  aside.

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3. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the egg whites and salt until frothy.

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4. Add the sugar and vanilla extract and whisk until just combined.

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5. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the flour mixture until just combined.

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6. Take the brown butter and pour it in the batter, folding gently until just combined.

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7. Cover and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

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8. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the madeleine molds with the baking spray.

9. Taking a 1 1/2 tablespoon scoop, measure out each portion. You can also use a piping bag if you prefer.

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10. Bake for about 10-12 minutes until the individual cakes are cooked through.

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11. Cool for 5 minutes. Dust with confectioner’s sugar. Serve with coffee or tea. These are best eaten the same day, but you can store any leftovers in a air tight container for up to 3 days.

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Juicy Beef Sliders

Living in Southern California, I have access to some of the most delicious burgers. Whether it’s the classic animal-style at In-N-Out, the original gourmet burger at Father’s office, or the Hatch burger at Umami – I love them all. What I can’t seem to find when dining out, though, are good beef sliders. Because sliders are smaller, there’s lots of room for error: overcooking the meat, using too many toppings, soggy buns, etc. When I think of the perfect little burger, the White Castle cheeseburger comes to mind. The buns are soft, there are lots of yummy bits of cooked onions, the cheese is melted perfectly, and the meat is tender. Thinking of White Castle has inspired me to make my own version of beef sliders at home.

I came up with this recipe while shopping at Trader Joe’s, where I purchased all the ingredients with the exception of the ground beef. I was fortunate enough to acquire some some grass-fed beef from a rancher in Bend, Oregon, but if I hadn’t, I would have bought some fresh ground beef from my local butcher or ground my own, either of which I recommend. Make sure the ground beef is 80% lean and 20% fat for extra tenderness. One of the biggest mistakes cooks make is shaping the meat into round patties by hand, which toughens the meat. You want the air pockets from the spaces and grooves that were formed when the butcher ground the beef, as this will also keep the meat tender. Also, though it’s not my favorite, American cheese is actually the best cheese for these burgers. It melts beautifully and gives the sliders that classic burger taste. I add sautéed onions, which not only adds moisture, but great taste, and sliced pickles are essential for adding acid and balance. Finally, add your favorite BBQ sauce. I love Trader Joe’s new Sriracha and Roasted Garlic BBQ Sauce for a little kick. This step-by-step method will ensure moist and delicious sliders. Enjoy!

 

Juicy Beef Sliders

Yield: 8 mini burgers

 

1/2 large sweet onion

Sunflower oil or vegetable oil

Kosher salt

6 slices of organic American cheese

8 slider rolls or mini buns

8 slices of sweet bread and butter pickles

Freshly ground pepper

1 lb of grass-fed ground beef, 80/20

Your favorite barbecue sauce (Trader Joe’s Sriracha BBQ Sauce)

 

1. Chop the onions into a small dice. Heat a medium sauté pan to low heat. Add about 1 tablespoon of oil, then add the onions and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Sauté, stirring occasionally for about 15-20 minutes.

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2. The onions should be tender and translucent, but not have a golden color. Set aside.

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3. Get all your toppings ready. Remove the cheese slices out of their individual plastic wrappers. You will need to cut out 1/3 of the cheese so it will be the correct slice for sliders. You will combine you smaller cheese scraps for 2 of the sliders. Place them on a parchment paper so they stick to each other.

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4. Take the pickle slices out of the jar. Slice each one at a diagonal. Bread and butter pickles tend to be a little thick. You’ll have 16 slices. It’s an extra step, but it makes a difference in the taste of each bite. Set aside.

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5. Take the ground beef and serrated knife and begin cutting the beef into 8 portions. Gently flatten each portion by separating the meat pieces with your fingers, but you do not need to form it into a traditional burger shape. If you handle the ground beef too much, it will toughen the meat.

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6. Season the meat with a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

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7. Heat a large cast-iron pan to medium-high heat. Take out the slider rolls and set aside. Place 4 ground beef portions, seasoned-side down, onto the cast-iron pan. Sprinkle salt and pepper on the unseasoned side. Cook the meat for about 2 minutes until you get a nice sear.

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8. Flip the meat and add the cheese slices. Add the 4 slider buns to the pan, cut side down (total of 8 slices).

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9 . Cook the meat for about one minute on the other side. I like my burgers medium.

10. To assemble the sliders, spread about a teaspoon of the cooked onions on the bottom bun.

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11. Add the cooked meat, two pickle slices, 1 tablespoon of your favorite BBQ sauce, then the top slider bun. Serve right away.

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12. Repeat the process with the remaining beef and ingredients to make four more sliders. Enjoy!

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Trader Joe’s Pantry

 

Turkey Breakfast Sausage

Whenever I visit a diner or breakfast eatery, I usually order the quintessential American breakfast plate – eggs, toast, hash browns and bacon/sausage. Every so often, I may look for healthier options to substitute for the hash browns or meat, and many restaurants in Southern California offer a turkey sausage option as an alternative. But I can’t tell you the number of times I have been disappointed after ordering the turkey sausage. So often the turkey sausage is dry and tough, falling short of its pork counterpart, but it doesn’t have to. (I can hear the naysayers already – BUT BACON!) As proof, today I am sharing my juicy and moist turkey sausage recipe.

There are three key steps to ensure a moist and juicy sausage. First, I use ground turkey meat and not ground turkey breast, because breast meat tends to be more dry. The ground turkey meat has dark meat in the mixture, which yields a juicier result. Second, I add finely-grated onions to the sausage mixture. The grated onion creates moisture pockets in the meat when cooked. Finally, I gently incorporate the ingredients until the mixture is just combined. Over-mixing will also contribute to a tougher sausage. Follow these steps and I guarantee you’ll have juicy and moist little turkey sausages. Enjoy!

 

Turkey Breakfast Sausage

Yield: 8 patties

1/2 teaspoon of fennel seeds

1 1/2 tablespoon of grated onion

1/2 garlic clove, minced

12 ounces of organic ground turkey (not ground turkey breast)

2 teaspoons of brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon of chopped fresh thyme

1/4 teaspoon of sweet paprika

3/4 teaspoon of sea salt

Freshly ground pepper

Pinch of red pepper flakes, optional

Olive oil or sunflower oil for frying

 

1. Add the fennel seeds to a small sauté pan. Toast at medium-low heat for about 3 minutes. Transfer the toasted fennel seeds into a clean coffee grinder. Pulse 3 times. Set aside.

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2. In a large bowl, add the ground fennel seeds, grated onion, minced garlic, ground turkey, brown sugar, thyme, paprika, sea salt, three turns of the black pepper mill, and a pinch of red pepper flakes, if using.

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3. Using your clean hands, mix all the ingredients until just combined. Don’t over-mix. Using a medium-sized ice cream scoop, portion out the patties onto parchment paper.

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4. Using a large sheet of plastic wrap, cover the patties and press on them until you get round patties about 1/2″ in thickness.

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5. Heat a large frying pan to medium heat. Add two tablespoons of olive oil.

6. Once the oil is hot, add the sausage patties. Fry them in two batches so you don’t crowd the pan.

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7. Fry for 2-3 minutes or until you get a nice sear. Flip the patties and cook for another two minutes.

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8. Serve immediately with some eggs.

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Duck Confit Hash

Duck leg confit is one of my favorite French dishes. The duck is slightly salty, mildly gamey, and has a crispy skin. In France, you will find duck confit on the menu of most brasseries. It is often served with crispy potatoes fried in duck fat and with a side salad. The process to make duck confit is a long one, which includes salt curing in the refrigerator for a couple of days and the poaching in its own fat for several hours. The duck is then pan-fried until the skin is crispy.

I’ve made duck confit in the past, but now for convenience sake, I buy it from my local specialty or gourmet shop. For my duck confit hash recipe, buying pre-made duck confit works beautifully. The recipe is relatively easy, and perfect for a special occasion like Mother’s Day Brunch. This recipe makes 2 servings, but you can double the recipe if you need more. Just remember, one duck leg confit and 4 ounces of potato per person. Enjoy!

 

Duck Confit Hash

Serving Size: 2

8 ounces of Yukon gold potato, 1 medium

Duck fat* or olive oil

2 prepared duck leg confit, about 8 ounces with the bones*

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 teaspoon of fresh time leaves, chopped

1/2 cup of reduced duck stock or veal stock**

Sea salt

Freshly grated black pepper

1 tablespoon of chopped Italian parsley (extra for garnish)

2 farm fresh eggs, poached soft

Cayenne for garnish, optional

 

1. Preheat oven to 425°.

2. Peel and cut the Yukon gold potatoes to 1 inch dice.

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3. Toss the potatoes with 1 tablespoon of melted duck fat or olive oil and sprinkle a little salt and freshly grated pepper. Transfer the potatoes to a sheet pan. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes or until nice and crispy.

4. Meanwhile, hand shred the duck confit meat off the bone. You want the meat in bite-size pieces.

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5. Poach the 2 eggs at this time for about 2 minutes. Place the poached eggs on a paper towel until ready to use. Set aside.

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6. Heat a large sauté pan to medium-high. Add 1 tablespoon of duck fat or olive oil to pan. Add the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds.

7. Add the duck confit meat and the chopped thyme. Sauté until the duck gets slightly crispy, about 2 minutes.

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8. Add the roasted potatoes and sauté for 1 more minute. Add the salt and pepper to taste.

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9. Pour the reduced stock and cook until the sauce is slightly thickened.

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10. Divide the hash in to serving bowls and top with a poached egg. Sprinkle cayenne pepper and parsley. Serve immediately.

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*Duck fat and duck leg confit can be purchased at a gourmet food store like Bristol Farms or Dean & Deluca, or online on Amazon. You can also purchase the duck leg confit in duck fat and get both ingredients in one purchase.

**Duck stock or veal stock can be purchased at your local gourmet food store. Make sure you purchase the frozen version without any salt. You can also use chicken stock if you can’t find duck or veal stock. Place 1 cup of stock in a small sauce pan. Cook on high heat until the stock is reduced by 1/2.

Chewy Oatmeal Cookies

During most of my work conferences, the cookie tray rolls around mid-afternoon. Classic cookies like chocolate chip, peanut butter, chocolate, snickerdoodle, and oatmeal raisin are displayed. The chocolate chip cookies are the most popular and first to go, but that never bothered me because I seek out the oatmeal raisin cookies – my all-time favorite cookie. There many reasons I love this cookie: the wholesome texture, chewy raisins and the earthy flavor. Also, I feel better about eating them because of the whole grains and nuts. For me, the perfect oatmeal cookie is chewy on the inside and crispy on the outside, so that’s what I go for in my recipe. My cookie also has ingredients that add layers of textures: raisins, toasted walnuts, dark chocolate chunks and coconut flakes. As with all my cookie recipes, there is 1/3 less sugar than most traditional recipes, which makes me feel less guilty about eating them! Finally, for this recipe, I let the cookie dough refrigerate overnight. This helps soften the oats and meld all the flavors. Happy baking!

Chewy Oatmeal Cookies

Yield: about 32 cookies

2 cups of quick oats

1 3/4 cup of Sonora wheat flour or unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon of Kosher salt

1 teaspoon of baking soda

1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon

2 sticks (1 cup) of unsalted butter, cold and cut into 16 pieces

1 cup of dark brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup of granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

2/3 cup of toasted and chopped walnuts*

2/3 cup of raisins

1/2 cup of chopped dark chocolate (60% cacao)

1/2 cup of sweetened coconut flakes

1. In a large bowl add the oats, flour, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon. Whisk and set aside.

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2. In a stand mixer, add the butter and beat on medium speed for 1 minute.

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3. Add the brown and granulated sugars. Beat for 3 more minutes until light and fluffy. Scrap the sides of the bowl.

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4. Reduce the speed to low. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping the sides of the bowl in between.

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5. Add the vanilla extract and beat just until incorporated. Stop the mixer.

6. To the flour and oat mixture, add the walnuts, raisins, dark chocolates and coconut flakes. Stir to combine.

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7. Turn the the mixer on low and slowly add the dry ingredients. Once all the ingredients have been incorporated, stop mixer.

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8. Transfer the cookie dough into an airtight container and place in the refrigerator overnight for up to 3 days.

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9. When ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove the cookie dough out of the refrigerator.

10. Using a 2 tablespoon size scooper, portion out the cookies on the cookie sheets, two inches apart.

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11. Using the palm of your hand, press down each portion to flatten slightly.

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12. Bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes or until the sides are golden brown and top is no longer shiny.

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13. Cool the baked cookies on rack. Serve with cold milk or coffee.  Place any remaining cookies in a airtight container for up to 3 days.

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*For toasted walnuts, place the chopped walnuts on a baking sheet and bake them in the oven for 5-10 minutes at 350°. Cool completely before adding them into the recipe.