Saturday, September 21, 2013

Salted Toffee Almond Butter Cookies with White Chocolate

I like to think my degree of busyness is correlated to how frequently I turn on the oven. This summer I turned on my oven twice! Twice! That's a phenomenal number considering I much I enjoy baking. I've been filling my summer with roadtrips, swim races, a wedding to remember, and lots of trips to Niagara. Forgive me for not being around but I have been planning recipes to blog for the remainder of the year and I'm pretty excited. 

To start, there was Ravine, a vineyard in Niagara-on-the-Lake that makes delicious wine though I go there mainly for its food. The restaurant sources most of the ingredients locally, some of the vegetables are grown from the farm just next door. My parents and I enjoyed a fine dinner there, sipping on riesling while admiring the sloping vineyard.

We shared housemade charcuterie, roasted chicken, wood-fired margherita pizza, and poached fish. Thankfully, one of my coworkers works part-time at the vineyard and wouldn't stop talking about the restaurant or else I would never have known about it. I highly recommend you visit Ravine and make a point to attend one of the wine tours (it comes with 3 samples of wine!)

When we had one of those torturous heat waves back in July, my boyfriend, Jacques and I went to Windsor for a weekend. His friend was getting married and we used it as an excuse for a mini vacation. Jacques grew up there so he knew the area like the back of his hand. We stopped by the beach, passed massive villas that faced Lake Erie, said hello to Detroit, visited a farmer's market and shared enormous homemade peanut butter cookies, hung out with his best friend and I cannonballed into his pool then we sat on his deck to soak up some vitamin D, with nothing else but cases of cold beer. At the wedding, we drank our weight in cranberry vodkas and I danced till my feet felt like jelly. It was an epic weekend and made me fall in love with Jacques even more.

In mid-August I completed my first two swim races. When I was little, my dad tossed me into the pool and taught me how to swim, I've always loved being in the water. My first swim was 500m for the Iron Girl Triathlon. My friends and I signed up for the relay race and finished 5th out of 8 teams, not bad for first timers. My next race was a bigger challenge: 1.5K at the Toronto Island Lake Swim. I was ecstatic but I didn’t know any better. 

Swimming in the lake, in open water, is a whole different animal than swimming in the pool. I wasn’t prepared to swim in cold cold water with just a one-piece on (almost everyone else wore a wetsuit to keep warm), nor was I accustomed to swimming without the lines on the bottom of a pool to guide my direction. In the beginning, I veering off course, my breathing was labored as I tried to get used to the chilly temperature. Before I even reached the halfway point, I wanted to yell out, “Are we there yet?!” I panicked and couldn’t feel my toes or fingers, but I pushed on. I finished my swim in 35 minutes! And I wasn’t last! My arms were sore, my legs were wobbly, but man, that feeling of accomplishing a tough swim was like no other. I’m definitely doing it again next year, suited up of course. 

Finally, a recipe I’ve been keeping to myself for months. Lest you judge me and think I only bake from one author, bear with me. Alice Medrich always has the best ideas and some of the most dependable recipes. I have a ton of her recipes from this book bookmarked and plan to pre-order her upcoming book. If I was stuck on a deserted island, I’d ask for an endless supply of peanut butter. I saw a recipe and knew right away almond butter would make a great substitute. 

They have all the components I want in a cookie: crumbly, nutty flavor with flaky sea salt to bring out that irresistible combination of sweet and salty. The white chocolate nestled in the middle gives creaminess, plus the encrusted peanuts, make them extra crunchy. I froze a small batch in case I was hit with an intense wave of cookie cravings.

Salted Almond Butter Toffee Cookies
Adapted from Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies by Alice Medrich

Makes about 50 1 ½-inch cookies

1 1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ flaky sea salt or ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
½ cup packed light or dark brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup natural (but not unsalted) chunky peanut butter, stir well before to blend in the oil well

5 ounces of store-bought toffee peanuts
4 ounces of good-quality white chocolate, cut into little pieces 
(or 2/3 cup white chocolate chips)

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl and mix thoroughly with a fork or a whisk

In a large bowl, mix the melted butter with the sugars. Whisk in the egg, vanilla and peanut butter, add the flour mixture, and mix with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon until just evenly incorporated. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a hour or up to two days

Preheat oven to 325⁰F. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Pour the chopped nuts into a bowl. Scoop about 2 level teaspoons of the dough for each cookie, shape into 1 inch ball or fat little log, and coat the top and sides heavily with the chopped nuts, pressing in any pieces that fall off so there are no bald spots. Place 2 inches apart on the baking sheet.

Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until they are lightly coloured on the top (and underneath). Rotate the sheets from top to bottom and from front to back through the baking time to ensure even baking. The cookies will seem very soft to touch (the ones you turn over to assess the colour may even fall apart), but they will firm up as they cool. 

As soon as the cookies come out of the oven, use the back of a chopstick and press into the centres of each hot cookie and move it around gently to widen the hole. Tuck pieces of white chocolate into each depression while cookies are still hot.

Set the baking sheets on wire racks to cool. Cool completely before storing in airtight container. May be kept for 2 weeks.

Recipe here!

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