The Sticky Gingerbread of My Dreams

Gingerbread cake Serving 2

I began this exploration with a question. “What is the difference between sticky and regular gingerbread?” Put another way, “What makes sticky gingerbread, well, sticky?” A couple of rounds of baking later, I had identified the differences. Namely, sticky gingerbread starts with a fluid, molasses-heavy batter, which, if not over baked, creates a beautifully moist cake, which if wrapped and refrigerated for a day or two and then brought back to room temperature, has a dense, chewy, somewhat sticky texture.

Heavenly Hot Chocolate Mix–with Seven Variations

Heavenly Hot Chocolate

I adore Hot Chocolate, as distinct from Hot Cocoa or Drinking Chocolate. Definitions abound, but which is best?

Homemade Vanilla Marshmallows (Angel Kisses)

Homemade Marshmallows on Serving Plate

Okay, I know there are a zillion recipes for homemade marshmallows on the web, each claiming to be the lightest, fluffiest, springiest, tastiest, BEST marshmallows in the entire universe. But I’m giving you a marshmallow post this holiday season anyway for the following reasons.

Holiday Gifts from the LunaCafe Kitchen

Burnt Caramel & Lemon Chevre Brownies

Christmas is the season of giving, and no gift is more welcome than something personal from your own kitchen. Pack your creation in a pretty holiday tin, canister, or gift jar, and you’re ready to make merry. The following are some of my favorite holiday treats, all perfect for giving.

Deep, Dark, Spicy Gingerbread with Coffee Glaze

Spicy Gingerbread Cake with Coffee Glaze

It never fails. When the temperature drops like a rock and snow is in the air, I start craving gingerbread cake. It’s one of those ultra-comforting sweets that has so sparked bakers’ creativity over the years that it now boasts hundreds of variations. Maybe thousands. Look at the lineup of gingerbread cakes on TasteSpotting.

However, for gingerbread inspiration this year, I had only to open the new Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Café cookbook by Harvard educated mathematician turned professional baker, Joanne Chang. I scored the cookbook earlier this fall while at the South End location of Joanne’s Flour Bakery in Boston.

Dreamy Creamy Gingerbread Fudge: Two Ways

Dreamy Creamy Gingerbread Fudge

There are few things in the candy domain that cause more consternation or downright fear than FUDGE. Just utter the word in some circles and everyone starts reeling off their horror stories. “Oh I can’t make it. It never works for me.” “I tried it once and it was a big grainy mess.” “I had to dump the whole thing in the garbage.” “It never set up, no matter how many times I tried to make it.” “I followed the directions EXACTLY, and it just didn’t work.”

Well, if any of these remarks sound like something you might say, you have come to the right place. For I, dear reader, am determined not to let a gooey, sticky, hotter than Hades, mass of caramel, with or without chocolate, get the better of ME. No way, no how, ain’t happening.

Peppermint Lime Kaleidoscope Cookies

Gift Bags of Peppermint Lime Kaleidoscope Cookies

What a whirlwind it’s been in the OtherWorldly Kitchen. Flour, flour everywhere–along with nuts, sprinkles, chocolate, cookie cutters, baking sheets, and cooling racks. And of course the ever ready digital camera. I’m not quite ready to end the madness, so I’ve actually started developing cookies for next year. Two down, ten to go

Coconut Vanilla Lime Shortbread

Christmas Cookies: Coconut Vanilla Lime Shortbread Stacks

To my palate, coconut and lime are a pairing made in heaven. Coconut on its own is subtle and seductive, like a lazy summer afternoon. Add lime, and it’s party time.

I admit I may be biased on this, as I love lime with almost everything. It is definitely my favorite citrus fruit and our frig is always well stocked. Not a panic if I run out of lemon, but let the lime stash dwindle to almost zero, and it’s Costco-run time. (Thank God for Costco, by the way, as limes are often super expensive elsewhere.)

Toasted Pecan Gems

Toasted Pecan Gems

Have you ever been in a kitchenware store and upon spying a new piece of equipment, baking pan, or whatever, think, “Ohhh, I really NEED that?” But then if the person with you asks what you need it FOR, you mumble something incomprehensible under your breath. Because the truth is you have no idea what you need it for, but you need it nonetheless.

Peanut Butter Ginger Shortbread

Peanut Butter Ginger Shortbread with Chopped Peanuts and Melted Chocolate

This cookie started out innocently enough. I have never put peanut butter in a Christmas cookie and the thought occurred, “Why not?’ But I definitely didn’t want a chewy peanut butter cookie, even though I love them to distraction. To my way of thinking, Christmas cookies must keep for weeks, and that means they need to be nearly moisture-free after baking. Chewy cookies are almost always best on the day they are baked.

Moon over Tunisia (Baharat) Butter Cookies

Moon over Tunisia Butter Cookies

The flavor of these intensely buttery cookies is definitely exotic. It conjures up scenes of ancient ruins, mysterious night, and distant moon. With a generous dose of fragrant spices—sweet paprika, black pepper, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and nutmeg—these cookies are likely to be like none you have ever experienced.

Lemon Gingerbread Caramel Bars

Lemon Gingerbread Caramel Bars

The idea for this cookie popped into my head after seeing a picture of that classic combination, gingerbread with lemon icing. Could I get those flavors into a cookie?

On the first attempt, I under baked the shortbread and put too much molasses in the caramel. It wasn’t that the caramel was bad per se, but it definitely overwhelmed the more delicate flavor of the shortbread. So I cut the molasses by half, but then for some ungodly reason decided to double the ginger. Wrong move; way too much ginger.

Chocolate & Warm Winter Spice Butter Crisps

Chocolate & Warm Winter Spice Butter Crisps Tied with Ribbon

Just as no Christmas cookie collection is complete without at least one ginger spice cookie, there must also be at least one chocolate cookie in the mix. For this year’s Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies: Silver Bells collection, there are two chocolate cookies. They are similar in construction (at least for the shortbread component) but the spicing and shaping is different for each. For the Chocolate Toasted Coconut Bars, the shortbread dough is spread into a baking pan and the depth is close to ½-inch. For these cookies, you want to roll the dough very thinly and cut with a simple cookie cutter of your choice.

Mary’s Christmas Quilt Cookies (Cinnamon Hot & Orange Shortbread)

Mary's Christmas Quilt Cookies (Cinnamon Hot & Orange Shortbread)

Long ago, in a far away world called the University of Washington School of Art, there was a lone fiber artist who unapologetically extolled the power and deep meaning of color to her comrades who believed with all their hearts that any color other than gray was an indication of naiveté and gross pandering to the unenlightened masses, for whom beauty was—GASP—a virtue.

Ginger Spice Stars

Ginger Spice Stars

Just because a cookie contains what I call Gingerbread Spice, a blend of ground ginger, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves, with perhaps a little cardamom thrown in for good measure, that doesn’t mean it has to taste like every other gingerbread cookie you’ve ever eaten. There’s a long history behind this the gingerbread cookie, but there is also a lot of latitude and surely many new approaches that have yet to be tried.

Naughty & Nice: Chocolate Toasted Coconut Bars

Closeup of Chocolate Toasted Coconut Bars

You know the cookie-confection called a Nanaimo Bar? Well, that’s where this exploration began. But somewhere along the way, it lost the middle layer of custard icing, moved the chocolate topping to the middle layer, and picked up a topping of toasted coconut instead.

Espresso Orange Butter Cookies

Espresso Orange Butter Cookies

A twist of lemon peel with espresso is a classic pairing, but for supreme indulgence, I prefer orange peel and a spot of chocolate with a tiny pot of French press coffee.

And that combo, folks, is the inspiration for this very adult cookie. I simply couldn’t resist putting three of my favorite flavors together in one delicious morsel. I’m actually surprised that I didn’t think of it years ago. Nevertheless, better late than never, as the saying goes.

Silver Bells (Chinese Five Spice Butter Cookies)

Silver Bells (Chinese Five Spice Cookies)

I have always loved bells, both looking at them and listening to them. Whenever I’m at the New Renaissance Bookstore in Portland Oregon, I rush over to the wonderful bells selection and play them all, slowly, first one, then another. I’m sure the staff loves to see me coming through their door.

In certain meditation CDs, a single bell is sometimes used to signify the beginning or ending of a section. It has the effect of both grounding and silencing the mind. For a brief second, or maybe it’s a split second, the mind is empty and the most exquisite silence takes the place of the usual dirge. It’s like a reminder to come home to oneself.

Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies: Silver Bells

Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies: Silver Bells

Welcome to LunaCafe’s 3rd annual Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies celebration. I’m so excited to share this year’s Silver Bells collection with you. The song by the same name puts me in a festive mood, especially when sung by this crooner.

The symbol of the bell is rich is meaning across almost all cultures. Ringing of bells is said to bring good fortune and bliss, and I hope these fragrant, buttery, spicy, crisp, and hopefully surprising cookies will bring the same to you and yours this holiday season.

A Cup of Spicy Christmas Tea

A Cup of Spicy Christmas Tea

I love the smell of aromatic spices in the house. I love inhaling warm wafts of spicy goodness while cradling a cup of hot tea in both hands. Comfort is the word that comes to mind, but an elemental comfort that is hard to describe. At these moments, I know in the deepest way that no matter what is appearing in my life, all is somehow, inexplicably, as it should be and thus perfect. This feeling sometimes runs counter to all logic, and yet there it is as I sip my spicy mulled tea.

Panforte di LunaCafe: Tis the Season

Panforte di LunaCafe, Small Cake

A dried fruit and nut laden Christmas specialty of Siena, Italy, panforte (pronounced pan-FOHR-teh; variously called Panpepeto, Siena Cake, Panforte di Siena, Panforte Nero, and Panforte Margherita) is often described as a type of fruitcake. To call it a cake of any type, however, is, well, misleading. It doesn’t fit my definition of a cake.

It also reminds me nothing of Lebkuchen, a German gingerbread-type cookie, which it is also said to resemble, probably due to the inclusion of honey and warm winter spices in both. But no, it’s not a cookie.

Cornmeal, Black Pepper & Rosemary Butter Cookies

Cornmeal, Black Pepper & Rosemary Cookies in Cookie Tin

After several weeks of nearly non-stop, high-intensity cookie baking, I present you with the final cookie of this year’s Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies: Starry Night bake-a-thon. TA DA!

In the kick off post, I set the stage for this completely new collection of cookies, most of which break rather dramatically from the traditional holiday cookies of my childhood. I really wanted to push my understanding of what makes a remarkable and thus memorable Christmas cookie. I wanted to try new and exciting flavor and texture combinations. I wanted to stretch myself as a baker. As I say in the Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies: Starry Night kick off post, I intended to throw tradition to the proverbial wind this holiday season.

Brown Butter, Toasted Almond & Toffee Shortbread

Bron Butter, Toasted Almond & Toffee Shortbread

Well, folks, we are almost to the end of LunaCafe’s second annual Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies: Starry Night bake-a-thon. After this post, only one more cookie, and then it’s time to put away all the cutters, stencils, sprinkles, and other holiday cookie baking paraphernalia; plus wipe the flour from every surface in the OtherWorldly Kitchen. And then carefully and lovingly repackage the many large tins of cookies for their final destinations.

But please be assured that I have saved the absolute BEST two cookies for last. We will end this adventure creating the most memorable holiday cookies ever with a bang.

Garam Masala & Candied Ginger Cookies

Group 3

If you have been following along on this year’s Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies: Starry Night bake-a-thon, you know this is my year for putting tradition aside and pushing the holiday cookie flavor envelope. Perhaps this particular cookie pushes the envelope to its most extreme so far. I don’t imagine that these cookies will ring everyone’s Christmas bells, but I must tell you I am already nearly addicted to them. If you’re like me, on the first bite you might think, “What the @#$%^$!” Then on the second bite, the thought shifts to, “Wait a minute, this is Interesting.” Then by the third bite, you are full on IN LOVE. Actually this also describes my first encounters with MauiJim, but I digress. :-)

Trim the Christmas Tree & Eat It Too Cookies

Douglas Fir & Orange Blossom Butter Cookies

That’s right! You can eat the tree! Over the past year, I encountered a fair number of Northwest restaurant dishes and cocktails featuring Clear Creek Distillery’s Douglas Fir Eau de Vie. This pale green brandy is an infusion of hand-picked spring buds of the Douglas fir tree. This intriguing liqueur got me thinking about incorporating Douglas fir buds in my own dishes–especially since I live much of the time in the Cascade foothills surrounded by these incredibly fragrant trees.

Heavenly Brown Butter, Lavender & Lime Cookies

Box of Heavenly Brown Butter, Lavender & Lime Cookies

If you have been reading this blog over the 15 months of its existence, you probably know by know that I am very fond of two flavors to an inordinate degree: lavender and lime. You may even remember the Blueberry Lavender Limeade I created this past summer. That inspired flavor combination still lingers in my mind.

Cranberry, Pistachio & Candied Ginger Shortbread

Cranberry, Pistachio & Candied Ginger Cookies in a Stack

If there is one cookie in this year’s Starry Night collection that positively shouts CHRISTMAS, it has to be this one. If you don’t overbrown the cookies, the sparkling red cranberries, green pistachios, and yellow lemon zest and candied ginger will glow like little jewels. To enhance this jewel-like effect, I like to keep the surface embellishment to just a light dusting of fine, clear sanding sugar, which lends sparkle but doesn’t detract from the colorful bits studding each cookie.

Sweet Parmesan Almond Cookies

Platter shot 7

I’ve never seen a recipe for SWEET parmesan cookies. Recipes for SAVORY parmesan cookies abound, as any Bing Search will reveal. But why not a sweet parmesan cookie?

The inspiration for this unusual cookie comes from executive chef, Gregory Denton, of Portland, Oregon’s Metrovino restaurant. Chef Denton recently shared with me his recipe for MetroVino’s Parmesan Pound Cake, which I fell in love with at the restaurant and will share with you in the very near future.

Comfort & Joy Spice Cookies

Comfort & Joy Spice Cookies

No Christmas cookie collection is complete without at least one old world spice cookie. The smell of these cookies baking in the oven is one of the joys of the holiday season. Thus, every December, I make a triple batch of my favorite spice cookie in the world, Ellen’s Swedish Pepparkakor.

But, remember, this year I challenged myself to come up with an all new collection. So no Pepparkakor, unless the Bradley troops revolt at the last minute (when they discover there are no Pepparkakor), and I am cajoled back into the OtherWorldly Kitchen for a final round of baking.

Merry Maraschino Cherry Cookies

Maraschino Cherry Butter Cookies with Ribbon

Okay, I have a confession to make. I LOVE maraschino cherries. They make me happy. There. I’ve said it.

They’re kitschy, cheeky, and not one bit sophisticated; all perfect reasons, in my book, to adore them. Especially during the kitschy, cheeky, magical holiday season.