Don’t you just love New York in the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies….  – “You’ve Got Mail”

I recently watched “You’ve Got Mail,” for the umpteenth time, and I got to watch Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan fall in love all over again, amid the backdrop of the breathtakingly, beautiful, fall season in New York City. I always loved the line about school supplies. Because, it was one of the things that I most looked forward to, at the start of every school year in the fall. Buying a new book bag to carry my school books. Filling my pencil case with plenty of brand new, sharpened, No. 2 pencils, and brand new, pink erasers. I can still smell the lead from those pencils, and the smoky, gumminess of the erasers. And who doesn’t remember shopping for back-to- school clothes?!

Back-to-school shopping was a greatly anticipated, yearly ritual. A rite of passage, that occurred in tandem with students matriculating from one grade level to the next. Second grade clothing was so last year for the mature third grader! As kids, my siblings and I were allotted two, new outfits at the start of every school year. This was a time when kids learned how to master the art of skillful negotiating tactics with their parents, trying to stretch the two outfit  limit to three or four. Although my parents never yielded to our pleas, I would still try my best to layer my outfits, so that I could sneak in an extra tee shirt or jacket. Anything to get more fashion options, so I could make fashion statement after fashion statement, during back-to-school week.

For some, fall also signaled a time when the leaves quickly changed color.  Turning from green to gorgeous hues of red, yellow, brown and orange. Before shriveling up and cascading to the ground, and eventually turning into dust or dead leaves, that we stuffed into garbage bags with our rakes. But, for a kid, fall signaled everything that was new! New classrooms, new teachers, new friends, new school supplies, new clothes.  And LOTS of snacks.

Snacks weren’t necessarily new. But, they were something that we greatly looked forward to, after a day of schoolwork. A glass of milk and cookies was our go-to snack favorite at home. Followed by donuts and the occasional brownie. We were given snacks at recess, Girl Scouts, and at home on weekends, after completing our chores. Who could forget the sight and smell of a warm tray of chocolate chip cookies, being taken out of the oven? And who couldn’t resist eating them, piping hot, right off the tray, and burning the roof our our mouths and tongues? Even in adulthood, the kid inside of all of us can still remember the thrill we felt then. We all can enjoy taking an occasional milk and cookies stroll, down our childhood memory lane. A time when life seemed simple. When all that was expected of us was to go to school, do homework, and matriculate to the next grade. And of course, rake leaves and shovel snow! But as kids, we could find a way to even make that fun. And, the thought of receiving that sweet reward, of a glass of milk and cookies for our the efforts,  was easy motivation to do whatever was asked of us.

Have you ever wondered where cookies actually originated from? The earliest recorded records indicate that cookies existed as far back as the 7th century A.D. in Persia! Known today as modern day Iran. During that period, Persia was also believed to have been one of the first territories to have cultivated sugar. The sweet, sugary additive quickly gained popularity, inspiring cooking techniques that rapidly spread into Northern Europe. Seventeenth and eighteenth century baking, using sugar, became a highly, specialized art. Those who practiced baking as a profession, were meticulously scrutinized by their superiors, and frequently quality controlled. Years of rigorous training was required to even become a certified baker. To achieve the title of “Master Baker,” apprentices trained additional years under careful supervision, before the coveted  distinction was conferred onto them.

The first recorded cookies to make their way to America, was recorded in the late 1620s, by Dutch immigrants, arriving in New Amsterdam. The word “Cookie” was actually taken from the Dutch term “koekje,” after Dutch immigrants, attending a funeral in New York, presented the mourners eight hundred koekjes, as a gift in “1703.”

It is a universal assumption that the custom of an after- school glass of milk and cookies began in America. However, it was actually adopted from an ancient tradition of stuffing stockings with  cookies-and-milk for Santa’s arrival down the chimney, during festive occasions. Similarly,  to our tradition, stockings would be hung by a chimney, as a welcoming gift for jolly, old Santa. The custom only took root in the US, during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. The act of offering gifts to Santa, especially in times of economic hardship, reinforced the importance of giving to back others. It was also seen as an expression of gratitude, for the gifts received during the Christmas season. Some 80 years later, kids continue to set cookies and milk out for Santa, evidencing an enduring tradition. Eventually, parents didn’t wait for the Christmas season to delight their kids with their favorite snacks. And consequently, this tradition seeped its way into daily home life, the office, and school classrooms.

Hungry yet? Let’s make some cookies of our own!  Grown up cookies, that both you and your kids will love.

Gluten Free- Sugar Free Rejoice!

Nowadays, it’s easier than ever for more people to enjoy cookies and milk(or milk alternatives), by simply swapping out a few basic ingredients. If you’re gluten intolerant, there are many great swaps for you! Bob’s Red Mill 1-to-1 gluten-free flour, for example, is my go-to favorite. Use a 1-to 1 flour to GF flour ratio in your recipes, and transform them, without losing any of the delicious taste. If you’re searching for sugar alteratives, consider trying a brand called, Lakanto Granulated Monkfruit Sweetener. It’s non-glycemic, keto friendly, yet a very sweet-tasting. And a great alternative to regular sugar. It is a bit pricey. So, you might want to make a small batch, just for you. And what could be better than that?! Give those swaps a try, and let me know how they come out. FYI- In case you’ve ever wondered, what the most popular cookies are, by rank, below is a list of the top, fresh-baked cookies. Did you guess all of them? Did your favorites make the list?

1)Chocolate Chip Cookies

2)Peanut Butter Cookies

3)Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

4)Classic No-Bake Cookies

5) Cookie Cake

Recipe

 

My ultimate favorite is ANYTHING has to contain tons one ingredient.  Chocolate! Since dark chocolate is the best food in the entire world to me, I thought I would kick off the fall season of recipes, by showcasing my take on one of my favorite kinds of cookies. Shortbread cookies! It didn’t make the list of most popular cookies. I’m not sure why, but it’s definitely one of mine. So, I’m going to show them some love.

Most people have tasted vanilla shortbread (if you haven’t, what are you waiting for?) But, did you know that you can add so many different  yummy flavors to all of that buttery, flaky goodness, and take them up a notch? Flavors like lemon(lemon shortbread with raspberry jam come to mind…yum), orange, pistachio, thyme…

Here’s my chocolatey take on the traditional shortbread cookie, that is sure to delight all chocolate lovers. Based on a divine Chocolate Shortbread recipe from Thomas Keller’s sensational “Ad Hoc At Home” cookbook.

Chocolate Shortbread with Chocolate Ganache:

Cookie

3/4 Cup Granulated Sugar

1 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour

1 3/4 cup Unsweetened Cocoa Powder

1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda

1 1/2 Teaspoon Kosher Salt

15 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter – Cut into pieces

3 Tablespoon Brewed Espresso (cooled)

2 -3 sheets Unbleached Parchment Paper

Pastry Cutter or Knife

Rolling Pin

Chocolate Ganache

1 cup Dark Chocolate Chips (54%)

1 Teaspoon Bourbon Vanilla Paste

3 Teaspoons Brewed Espresso (cooled)

Fleur de Sel (Optional)

Method:

Whisk dry ingredients together in a stand mixer, with a paddle attachment. In a stand mixer, add the dry ingredients to the sugar and blend them. Then, at low speed, slowly add small pieces of butter until  incorporated. Then add espresso, slowly. Beat until the dough begins to cling to the paddle but hasn’t formed a ball. Be careful not to over-mix.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured and parchment-lined baking sheet. Gather dough and form a ball. Flatten into a thick square, 6 x 8 inches. Wrap tightly in plastic without compressing the dough. Refrigerate for an hour (the dough will keep in the fridge for five days).

Remove the dough, and line the baking sheet with parchment. Cut the dough in half. (If not using the entire batch, form a disk with one half, tightly wrap in plastic, and place in the fridge for up to 5 days, or freeze for a month). Place working dough between the bottom and top sheets of unbleached parchment paper, on the baking sheet. Roll out dough to 1/4 inch thick. Remove the top parchment paper, then cut it into equal sizes with a pastry cutter or knife. Tightly wrap the baking sheet in plastic, and refrigerate for 15 minutes, or until the cookie dough is hardened and chilled.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Remove the cold cookie pieces (it should be firm), and replace the old parchment paper with a new sheet—space cookie dough at least 1 inch apart (as they tend to spread while baking). Use an additional cookie sheet if needed.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, till the tops are no longer shiny. Let it stand for 5 minutes. Then transfer cookies directly onto the cooling rack until completely cooled.

Ganache Recipe:

Follow these steps precisely to prevent chocolate from seizing.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place chocolate chips or shaved chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Carefully add vanilla paste and espresso along the sides of the chocolate, so the liquid will seep down the sides and underneath. Do not stir. Place in oven, just until chocolate is melted and liquid is incorporated. Remove and swirl the remaining unincorporated liquid over and around the melted chocolate. Let it cool slightly, then stir with a silicone spatula. Allow it to cool completely.

Drizzle ganache in zig-zag fashion over the tops of the cookies, or drop a dollop of ganache in the center of the cookie, and pat lightly with the back of a spoon. Sprinkle tops with fleur de sel and serve.

Enjoy!

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