There has been a noticeably sweet dessert theme around these parts lately, as evident by comments from friends and family members wondering how I am still managing to fit into my pants (and the answer my friends is stretchy denim and elastic waste pants). I've been baking, and we've been eating, a whole lot of chocolaty comfort foods as Brent and I hunker down and try to stay sane during these long winter months. Whether you're knee-high in snow or drowning in overcast and drizzle, I know we're all dreaming of sun-kissed skin, summer berries, cute sandals, bike rides, shorts skirts, I mean, the list goes on and on. I've got a little trip planned to Costa Rica in a few weeks that should bring plenty of sun, hopefully enough to last me until the summer. I wish I could take you all with me, but I do try to pack light.
As excited as I may be, this may sound a little silly but I just can't wrap my head around shorts and bikinis quite yet. I find that it's always a bit of a shock to become fully immersed in tropical heat, warm intense UV rays and salt water, after spending many months cooped up indoors. The intense equatorial sun is always so surprisingly fierce, and I always have to remind myself over and over again that it's important to be stern and diligent with sun screen and avoid the harsh rays, as lovely and as the sun may feel. I've heard stories of friends spending a few weeks developing a base tan in the tanning beds, but the thought of being stuffed inside a coffin-shaped light bulb heat box terrifies me. I plan on bringing an extra large sun hat and plenty of cover-ups, which should do the trick.
But then again, there will probably be that one day that I drink way too many margaritas and fall asleep in a reclining chair by the pool and wake up with a burn. Or there will be that day that I loose all track of time and common sense when applying sun screen and end up with a mild burn and some attractive blotchy white spots in between my legs and on my back where the sun screen has dripped away leaving exposed skin. This always seems to happen no matter how hard I try. The last trip I took, to Belize, I was feeling pretty good up until the last day, where I spent a few hours snorkeling and then on the beach with no shelter. Throughout the day I layered on as much sun screen as I could, but that didn't work, and I payed for it later with a burnt ass and not being able to sit for a few days. So I guess the moral of this story is, try your best, and if that doesn't work, be prepared for your burn to be the center of attention for a while, unless you always travel with a few dozen cookies, and then I am certain people will gloss over anything less important.
There is no better way to temporarily forget pain than indulging in the most deliciously chewy salty sweet maple cookie in existence, which may be a bit overly dramatic, but I am a big fan of these ones. Over the holidays I purchased a copy of Mast Brothers Chocolate - A Family Cookbook. I've spent the last month flipping through the pages, admiring the photography (taking notes for a possible future cookbook), and eyeing up a few recipes. Last Sunday I got a bit of inspiration, so I took advantage and made the maple chocolate pecan cookies from the book and they were all sorts of delicious. I then became even more inspired and decided to come up with a personalized version of my own. I spent the last week coming up with recipes, scratching recipes, adjusting recipes. I probably made around 56 cookies when all said and done. I made some cookies that were too crispy, some that were too thin, some that weren't sweet enough and some that tasted of baking soda. I think my friends are probably sick of cookies for the time being, although my father-in-law seems to be still enjoying them tremendously.
The cookie recipe that I finally settled on is soft and chewy. Slightly sweet with lots of melty chocolate, crunchy pecans, and a sprinkle of Maldon salt to tie it all together. The most delicious parts of this recipe, in no particular order, are the 1) brown butter 2) maple sugar 3) dark chocolate 4) pecans and 5) Maldon salt.
Brown butter is pretty straight forward. It is a slightly better, sweeter, nuttier version of itself, created by heating butter until the water and fat melt away freeing up the milk solids to toast and brown producing the most wonderful aroma. Maple sugar, although a bit expensive, looks similar to granulated sugar, but is light brown in color and tastes exactly like maple syrup. It is made by boiling away most of the water from the maple sap once tapped from the maple tree. I like to substitute maple sugar for granulated sugar in most of my baking-related recipes in a ratio of 1:1 whenever I have some on hand, because this stuff goes quick in my house. My friends all joke that I am probably secretly employed by the Canadian Maple Syrup board, because I am always going on about how amazing it is and trying to push it in peoples faces. I mean, I'm Canadian, and we take our maple syrup very seriously.
further reading: The Great Canadian Maple Syrup Heist.
BROWN BUTTER CHOCOLATE MAPLE PECAN COOKIES
makes 18 cookies
1 cup + 2 tbsp all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 stick (1/2 cup) of unsalted butter
1 cup maple sugar
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
3 oz dark chocolate, chopped
Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Place the flour, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon into a bowl and combine. Set to the side.
In a medium sauce pan heat the butter on medium heat until it begins to foam. The foam will then subside and the butter will turn light brown and begin to produce a sweet nutty aroma. At this point, remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.
In a medium bowl add the maple sugar, butter, and egg. Stir with a wire whisk until combined.
Add the dry ingredient to the wet and combine with a wooden spoon just until the ingredients begin to come together. Set a 1/4 cup of chopped chocolate to the side and add the rest including the pecans to the dough. Stir until combined.
Using a heaping tablespoon of dough, roll each cookies into a ball and place onto a baking sheet 2 inches apart. Take the extra chocolate pieces and press into the tops of the cookies.
Place the cookies into the oven and bake for 12 - 13 minutes. I used a stoneware baking sheet and the cookies appeared still soft but cooked at 12 minutes. If you are using a stainless steel baking sheet, monitor the cookies starting at 8 minutes. You want the outsides of the cookie to be light brown, while the center still soft. They will harden up once cooled, so it is better to under-bake then over-bake.
Remove from the oven and sprinkle each cookie with a pinch of Maldon salt. Wait five minutes, and then transfer to a wire rack to let cool. Baked cookies can be stored in the fridge for a week. Alternatively, you can stored the dough in the freezer for 3 months.