soft-baked cinnamon walnut cookies with dulce de leche

stack3A few weeks after my husband and I started dating, we attended a Christmas eve barbecue hosted by the parents of his best friend (and later, Best Man) Will. I was reasonably excited; mostly as I was about to meet Will’s beautiful parents, Nafa and Susan, who had swiftly adopted Aaron into their family after he and Will became best mates. Aaron has shared countless stories of this couple’s love, acceptance and generosity towards him, so it was a privilege to meet them as a ‘second set of in-laws’, so to speak.

I was also quite excited about the barbecue itself. Now, for those of you who are used to throwing a couple of snags on the barbie (‘sausages’ on the ‘barbecue’, for my non-Australian friends), let me explain: this was not just any barbecue. Will and his family are Argentinean migrants, and his father Nafa has become famous amongst our friends for his traditional, slow-cooked Asado (Argentinean-style, hot coal barbecue).

flowernutsAs soon as we arrived at the house, I understood what all the fuss was about. The smell of slow-roasted beef, sizzling pork ribs and chicken filled the air in a smoky, fragrant cloud. We were swiftly greeted with warm hugs, snacks and icy cold Coronas before tucking in to creamy potato salad, hot baked rolls, seasoned rice and mountains of charred meat laced with garlicky chimichurri. When we’d eaten our fill, the men started exchanging garlic-scented burps whilst the women sipped on maté and shared narratives of days gone by.

dulce1Towards the end of the evening, Susan and her daughter Miriam re-set the table with another spread: an assortment of teas, coffees, chocolates, fresh hot water, ‘first dessert’ and the requisite ‘second dessert’. Despite being full, I partook in fruit salad with ripe, fresh cherries, vanilla ice-cream and dulce de leche, a thick, glossy caramel that has since become a personal obsession of mine. Eaten straight from the jar, it somehow manages to taste both like thick condensed milk and deep, dark burnt sugar; when melted over ice-cream or pound cake, it transforms into the warmest, thickest and most delicious caramel sauce you can imagine.

walnutmontSince that night, Aaron and I have become loyal consumers of this Argentinean confection, usually over ice-cream but also in baked goods such as cheesecakes and more recently, soft-baked cookies. Up til now, I’ve been purchasing my supply from El Asador, a Perth company that locally manufactures their own chimichurri sauces, empanadas and homemade chorizo according to the family recipes of owner Max Pineiro.

However, despite the convenience I’ve recently been tempted to try and make my own caramel at home via David Lebovitz’s tutorial. Most other recipes for dulce de leche involve the hazardous step of boiling a can of condensed milk in water for hours. David’s method involves a baking tray with less pressure (consequentially removing the potential of an explosion… big yay for occupational health and safety).

fillingSo, after that prolonged introduction (sorry) today’s recipe is a variation of a soft-baked cookie recipe that I originally found on Sally’s Baking Addiction. I’ve enriched the basic cookie dough with fragrant cinnamon and toasted, crushed walnuts before stuffing each cookie with a spoonful of rich dulce de leche. The end result? Soft, chewy cookies with a fragrant, toasty walnut batter and a sweet caramel centre.

They’re some of the best cookies I’ve ever tasted, and I’m saying that entirely without bias (as to be honest, I’m harder on my own cooking than anyone elses!). Try one on its own, or crumble a couple (preferably straight from the oven) over cold vanilla ice-cream for a deliciously sweet and easy dessert.

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Soft-baked Cinnamon Walnut Cookies with Dulce de Leche

Makes 40 cookies

  • 170g unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 3/4 cup (165g) dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup (50g) white caster sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon + 1/4 tsp extra, for sprinkling
  • 2 cups (250g) plain white flour
  • 2 teaspoon cornflour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • sea salt
  • 1 cup toasted walnuts, crushed + 2 tbsp extra, for sprinkling
  • 100g dulce de leche (substitute with cajeta or Nestlé Top n’ Fill)

Place the butter and sugars into a large mixing bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer. Cream together until light and fluffy. Add in the egg and vanilla, then continue to mix at medium speed until well combined.

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Sift in your flour, cornflour, baking soda, cinnamon and a large pinch of salt. Mix together with a spatula or wooden spoon, adding in your walnuts when the mixture starts to come together. The dough will be thick, moist and sticky. When well combined, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate your dough for at least 30 minutes, or until firm.

siftstirWhilst your mixture is chilling, line two medium-sized baking trays (or cookie sheets) with baking parchment. Check your dough – if it’s firm to the touch, it’s ready for shaping.

Scoop out 1 tbsp of dough from your mixture. Flatten it into a 0.5cm-thick pancake in your hands, then place 1/2 tsp of Dulce de Leche into the centre of the circle. Bring up the corners to enclose your caramel filling, then gently roll the dough into a ball. Place onto the baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of the dough and Dulce de Leche, placing each ball about 2cm apart on the baking tray or cookie sheet. When you’ve finished rolling all of your cookies, return the trays to the refrigerator to chill for 5-10 minutes.

stuffballsPreheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Take the cookies out of the refrigerator and flatten each ball slightly with your hands. Press a few bits of crumbled walnut into the top of each cookie and sprinkle with cinnamon. Place the cookies into the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes, swapping trays half way through the cooking process.

doneWhen ready, the cookies will be pale golden (not browned) and soft to the touch. They will firm up considerably upon cooling, so don’t worry if your finger sinks into the cookie surface when you touch it. Once you’ve removed the trays from the oven, leave the cookies to cool on their trays or cookie sheets for at least five minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.

These cookies will keep fresh in an airtight container for up to one week. I’d suggest separating each layer with greaseproof paper to prevent sticking (as they’re quite soft, they’ll break if you try to separate them… and broken cookie = sad day).

crumbemptyAustralian Manufacturers of Dulce de Leche:

  • Mi Casa Fine Foods – based on the Gold Coast, Queensland
  • El Asador – based in Leederville, Western Australia
  • Crella – based in New South Wales. Product comes frozen.

watermelon mint tequila pops with lime and sea salt

poplikeyIt’s been a few days since my last post; seemingly enough time for the weather to change from warmth and sunshine to grey skies and rain. For the first time in over three months, I pulled my crinkled jeans out from underneath a pile of t-shirts and swapped black Havaianas for mint-green Chucks to stop my toes from getting wet.  Sad, really. Well… for those of us who love the long nights and blue skies of Summer. 

popstickSo… what to post about, as I sit here on the couch wrapped in a blanket? Well, somewhat inappropriately, I felt like making today’s post about one of my favourite Summer treats: icy-poles (as we Australians call them; also known as ice pops or ice lollies for those in the Northern Hemisphere). As my mother will verify, cold weather means absolutely nothing to me when it comes to the consumption of iced treats. I’ve eaten Deep South ice-cream at -6 degrees C (-21 degrees f) in a beanie and gloves on New Zealand’s South Island, and it was totally worth it. Not only because Deep South makes some of the creamiest, most delicious ice-cream I’ve ever tasted, but also (wait for it) when you eat ice-cream at minus temperatures it doesn’t melt.

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Now, that might seem like an obvious statement to some of you, particularly if you live in a cold climate. But for me, it was an absolute epiphany. I enjoyed every last bite of that darn delicious ice-cream whilst staring up at the ridiculously beautiful Fox Glacier. I crunched the last remnants of cone and not a single drop of liquid ended up on my thermal gloves. Awesome, in every sense of the word.

Anyway, that’s enough reminiscing for one night. Back to the recipe at hand: sweet watermelon pops spiked with aromatic mint, sour lime and Tequila. I initially found this recipe over at Cindy’s blog, Hungry Girl por Vida, when I was searching for a boozy treat to serve at Aaron’s Mexican-themed birthday party last Summer (only two months ago, but… Summer is gone. Me sad). I soured the recipe up a bit with extra lime, then served the frozen pops after tacos, followed by shots of Jose Cuervo Reposado, salt and lime wedges.

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The pops were good. Very good… sweet, refreshing, tart and cold. But you know what? As I’ve been typing up this recipe, I had another epiphany (rolling them out tonight, people). Why not serve the actual ice pops with typical Tequila accompaniments: salt and lime wedges? So, wrapped up in my blanket, I tried the combination tonight with a Tequila shot. So good. The extra lime juice immediately freezes to become a sour, aromatic layer around the sweet ice pop, whilst the sea salt flakes embed themselves into the lime… you get little crunchy bursts of saltiness that pop with each bite.

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I’d definitely recommend this recipe for a lick of sweet, fragrant Summertime, regardless of the time of year. I’m still sucking on my popsicle stick as I type; my cold reddened fingers lingering with frozen moments just-passed. Maybe Summer will stay just a few moments longer. Just maybe.

pileofpops

Watermelon Mint Tequila Pops with Lime and Sea Salt

Makes roughly 12 pops (depending upon how large your molds are)

  • 1/4 cup (60mL) water
  • 1/4 cup (55g) white caster sugar
  • 1/3 cup fresh mint, torn coarsely
  • 4 cups watermelon, cubed
  • juice of 3 limes
  • 1/3 cup Tequila (blanco or aged reposado, I used the latter as it has a more mellow flavour)
  • optional: flaked sea salt and extra wedges of lime, to serve

Combine the water, sugar and mint in a small saucepan over medium heat. Allow to boil, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. When there are no further sugar granules in the mixture, reduce the heat and allow to simmer for 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside, allowing the mint to steep in the sugar syrup for a minimum of 30 minutes (I left mine for 1 hour, which I’d recommend if you can spare the time). Strain your mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl or jar, pressing down on the mint leaves to remove as much flavour as possible. Set aside.

meloncut

Now for your watermelon. In a blender or food processor, puree the watermelon in batches. Add in your lime juice, then strain through a sieve to remove any large chunks of watermelon or stray seeds. Add in the Tequila and mint syrup, stirring well to ensure that everything is well distributed. Taste, then add in some extra lime or Tequila as desired.

melonlime

Divide your mixture between as many popsicle molds as you like (I made one massive one in a takeaway container, then mashed it up to make granita. Divine!). Freeze the mixture in the popsicle molds for about 30 minutes, then add in the pop sticks (push half of the stick into the centre of your ice pop… if it doesn’t stand up straight, wait a little longer then try again). Continue to freeze for 24 hours (or at the very least, 12, if you can’t wait) before eating.

servsug

To make these even more adult-friendly, serve the pops with extra wedges of lime and a little bowl of sea salt. Squeeze, dip, then slurp… like a deliciously icy Tequila shot. Yum.

*This post is in no way affiliated with Jose Cuervo or any other brand of Tequila. I just bought the bottle above because 1) I’ve tried it before, and it’s delicious; 2) it was free of slippery little plump agave worms. Opinions stated are entirely my own.

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Notes:

  • To make these pops child-friendly, omit one lime and all of the Tequila. Your pops will probably freeze faster this way, as the alcohol (40% or 80 proof) in Tequila actually requires a temperature of about -34.44 degrees C (-30 degrees f) to freeze. Quite impractical, really… but delicious enough for me not to care.
  • If you’re not keen on cane sugar, I imagine that agave syrup would work wonderfully in this recipe (as it echoes the blue agave in the Tequila). You can also try 1/4 tsp stevia (powdered or liquid) as a substitute but you may have problems getting your mint syrup to the right consistency. Your finished pops will also be slightly ‘icier’ due to a higher ratio of water to sugar.
  • If you’ve ever wondered how to efficiently eat a watermelon, watch this video by Tom Willett. Your life will never be the same.
  • These pops will keep in the freezer for weeks. I’ve got a couple left from my husband’s birthday (in February) in the freezer and they taste just as gorgeous as ever (yes, I ate two whilst writing this blog post).

apricot, coconut and cacao nib treats

bite

A couple of months ago, I purchased a rather large packet of organic cacao nibs from Loving Earth. Now, if you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll realize that I’m a big fan of this Melbourne-based company, mostly due to their fair-trade, sustainable philosophy, the high quality of their products and… well, the fact that they make healthy food taste delicious (not everyone can do that!).

Anyway, back to the cacao nibs. Upon bringing the package home, I opened it excitedly and placed a piece in my mouth, chewing slowly and thoughtfully. The nibs are hard, coarse like an almond shell, crunchy and bittersweet with rich undertones of dark chocolate and coffee. On the whole, they’re quite pleasant for something that resembles cracked tree bark. I ate another piece before closing the packet and storing it on a shelf next to one litre of coconut oil. Sadly, there it stayed… neglected and largely untouched for the next two months (other than the odd occasion when I’d sprinkle some cacao nibs into my morning breakfast bowl).

cacaonibs
So, let’s fast forward to earlier this week. After nibbling on some more cacao nibs, I decided that it was about time I knuckled down to create something delicious from this package of nutritional wonderment. I began trawling the internet, unearthing inspiration from recipes such as Kate Olsson’s Pumpkin and Cacao Nib loaves, Elizabeth’s Paleo Cookie Balls  Alanna’s  Snowballs and Sara Forte’s Peanut Butter Bites. If you follow the recipe links, you’ll see that each of these recipes is delicious in its own right. However, as the humidity of the morning set in, my fingers continued to search the net for something easy, nutritious and raw (I still can’t bear to use the oven in this weather). Enter Jo Whitton’s date and walnut stuffed, chocolatey Bliss Balls.

apricotmont
Now, prior to this week, I’d never even heard of a bliss ball. However, after some further research I’ve discovered that there are over six million mentions of bliss balls on the world wide web. Six million (I must’ve been living in a hole). After investigating a few, I’ve decided that the definition of a ‘bliss ball’ is simply a sweet snack ball made from wholesome, raw ingredients (usually various dried fruits, seeds and nuts) with additional spices, sweetening agents (agave, honey, maple syrup), occasional starchy ingredients, cocoa and healthy fats. These ingredients are then either ground or pounded down into a sticky, rollable mixture that’s used to create bite-sized balls.

spoon
Jo’s bliss ball recipe contains a delicious mix of ground cacao nibs, walnuts, fresh dates and rapadura sugar, prepared with a Thermomixes (these appliances are taking over the world, I tell you!). That leads me to a small personal statement: I am a teeny bit against Thermomixes. Predominantly because I believe that they, and similar appliances, may eventually ‘de-skill’ this next generation of potential cooks. I’ve always valued back-to-basics cooking, traditional kitchen skills and generational methods that take time and energy. There’s nothing better than pounding ingredients with a mortar and pestle for a curry paste, kneading dough on a floured bench top and practicing knife skills you hope to master. I want my children to learn the therapeutic and creative benefits of cooking, using their hands, heart and mind as opposed to a machine).

buckao

Now, let me clarify something. I’m not suggesting we live like neanderthals in a squalid cave, gutting fish with a blunt knife. I definitely appreciate technology, particularly as most of us (particularly working parents) are so time-poor these days. Bench top appliances are a wonderful privilege of the industrial age, as are fridges, washing machines and electric or gas ovens. When balanced with traditional skills, they’re a time-saving and valuable addition to a busy kitchen. In fact, I used a food processor in my version of bliss balls, quite similarly to how Jo used her Thermomix in her recipe. However, in my case, the ‘time-saving’ element was… uh… minimal. Mostly because I own a very small stick blender with a chopper bowl attachment.

apswalnuts

Ah, my little blender. It’s a few years old, has a chipped stainless steel blade and a whirr that’s worse than a hammer drill. My husband hates it; he thinks that it’s going to make both of us deaf before our time. In fact, he once snapped some industrial ear muffs onto my head when I was making a batch of pesto… I didn’t even hear him creep up behind me. Funny, but… well, not. I now spend half of my time grinding things in a giant mortar and pestle, which is both wonderfully therapeutic and annoyingly slow. I’d love to receive any recommendations for a reliable, robust food processor that won’t break the bank. Please.

Anyway, moving on to the recipe below. What you’ll find is my version of ‘bliss balls’, using organic dried apricots, raw walnuts, chia seeds, activated buckwheat and cacao nibs. All of this delicious nutrition is then combined with a large dollop of coconut and chocolate goodness before being rolled into balls and drenched in dessicated coconut. Uh, yes, if you’re wondering… they’re still healthy. The Loving Earth coconut chocolate butter I used contains raw coconut oil, organic ground cacao, raw agave and sea salt. That’s it. So delicious.

buttermont
As I’m now at risk of sounding like a Loving Earth promoter, let me just clarify. I am not, in any way, affiliated with Loving Earth, I don’t receive products for free, I don’t get discounts or any other benefits. These views are entirely my own; I just like giving credit to companies that steward the earth lightly, responsibly and ethically, without compromise. That’s it, simple.

Anyway, on to my version of ‘bliss balls’. I hope you enjoy them.

ballplate2

Apricot, Coconut and Cacao Nib Treats

Makes about 20 balls

  • 180g organic dried apricots
  • 100g raw walnuts
  • 3 tbsp organic coconut chocolate butter (substitute 2 tbsp organic coconut oil/butter + 1/2 tbsp raw, ground cacao nibs/organic cocoa + 1 tsp agave syrup, to sweeten)
  • 2 tbsp activated buckwheat
  • 2 tbsp whole raw cacao nibs
  • 1 tbsp black chia seeds
  • dessicated coconut, for rolling

Coarsely chop your apricots and walnuts. Reserve 2 tbsp of each, then place the rest into the bowl of a medium food processor. Process until fine. Add in your coconut chocolate butter (or equivalent) then pulse briefly until thoroughly combined, sticky and glossy.

blended

Remove mixture from the food processor and place in a large bowl. Add in the reserved apricots and walnuts, buckwheat, cacao nibs and chia seeds. Mix well until the additional ingredients are thoroughly combined with the chocolate base mixture.

If you find that the coconut oil separates slightly from the mixture (creating a layer of oil on the top) don’t worry, as this will be left behind when you form the mixture into balls. The coconut oil will also solidify when refrigerated, so the balls will firm up nicely.

mixchia

Shape 1 tbsp of the mixture at a time into a firm ball, then roll in dessicated coconut. Place onto a plate or lined baking tray. Repeat with the remaining mixture and coconut, then place the balls into the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes before serving.

ballThese balls will keep, refrigerated, for 2-3 weeks. Don’t be tempted to leave them out of the fridge unless you live in a cool climate – coconut oil liquefies at around 76-78 degrees f (24-26 degrees C).

ballsgreen

Notes:

  • This recipe is highly adaptable, as you may have guessed from the multitude of bliss ball variations out there! Feel free to substitute any of the fruits, nuts and seeds stated for other complimentary varieties. One of my favourite substitutions is to swap the dried apricots for Medjool dates and the walnuts for pecans… just make sure that you keep the total quantities of dry and moist ingredients roughly the same, or the mixture won’t produce results of the same consistency.
  • Cacao nibs are high in magnesium and antioxidants, whilst also containing trace elements of beta-carotene, amino acids (protein), Omega-3’s (essential fatty acids), calcium, zinc, iron, copper and sulphur. They’re great to eat alone as a crunchy snack or you can stuff them into Turkish apricots or Medjool dates for a nutritious and delicious sweet treat. They’re also quite adaptable as a more nutritious replacement for chocolate chips in all of your favourite recipes.
  • For some extra nutritional information on coconut oil, please see my Lime and Burnt Sugar Meringue Tart post. There are also some interesting links to articles exploring the long-term benefit of coconut oil consumption.
  • If you’d like to try Living Earth products and live in Australia, like I do, you may find this list of stockists useful. However, there are plenty of other companies that sell cacao nibs… just try to make sure that the product you’re buying is single origin, organically grown and fair trade. Preferably criollo amazonico cacao, an heirloom variety that’s currently being replanted in Peru.

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