Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Mood-improving cookies

Well, friends, since my time of "extended vacation" has begun, I have had more than my fair share of misfortunes. Come on karma, I got laid off, I have no income anymore, and you have to continue to screw me over? Not cool.

Yesterday I was on my way to pilates when I slipped on a short flight of icy steps and fell, hitting each step on the way down. The result is a very sore tailbone. I can't bend over, I can sit on exactly one chair in our house (which is an improvement over yesterday! small victories), and walking is slow and painful. The only thing I can do is go up the stairs. All of this makes me very bitter.

What's worse is that I have so many big things going on this week: a paper due in class today (I totally half-assed writing it yesterday because I was in so much pain, but fortunately it's just a first draft), choir tonight with solo auditions (I certainly can't cough, so can I sing?) and the biggest of all, a breakfast-through-dinner job interview, an hour and 20 minutes away, in two days. I'll walk around campus, sit for 30 minute intervals with various faculty members in their offices, and give an hour-long seminar. I'm scared. I'm scared that I'll be in such pain from trying to sit normally that I'll just break down in the seminar, and I'm worried that if I stock up on painkillers, the fidget-inducing side effect will start in at an unfortunate moment.

So needless to say, I'm in a pretty bad mood. Fortunately, my mom made a new confection I shall call "crack brownies", which do make me feel better. I also discovered a relatively easy but beautiful and delicious cookie recipe that I have made twice since finding it 5 days ago. Mom needs to email me the crack brownie recipe so I can share it here, but let me tell you about these cookies.

These are praline cookies, they are Martha Stewart's Aunt Mary Dillon's Praline Cookies. The cookie base is a very simple and straightforward sugar cookie recipe that I will likely make without the topping. You'll want to slightly underbake them so that they remain chewy in the middle. The topping is very easy, and takes well to whatever nut you have on hand- it doesn't have to be pecans! (note: that's PEE-can, not peh-CAHN. I'm from Connecticut) I found these cookies last week when I was still on the hunt for a new cookie recipe (part 2 of the search that ended in coffee cake). They were included in one of the Martha Stewart cookie slide shows, which are a nice way to quickly view a number of recipes.

Praline Cookies
from Martha Stewart

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 and 1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
1 egg
1t vanilla
1 and 2/3 cup flour
1.5t baking powder
1/2t salt

Cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla and beat for a few minutes, until that's nice and fluffy.

Sift the dry ingredients together and add to the butter mixture, stirring until combined.

Form small balls (I preferred about 1t of dough) and place on a cookie sheet, with space in between (they'll spread out while baking). Bake at 350F for about 10-12 minutes, until they're just turning golden brown on the edges, and look done but are slightly soft when you touch them. Cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes, then on a rack. Top with praline topping when cool.

Praline Topping
1/2 cup cream (I haven't yet tried my favorite fat free 1/2&1/2 here, but I probably will)
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup powdered sugar
1 and 1/2 cups nuts, chopped (Martha says pecans, I have tried walnuts and hazelnuts- or use a mix!)

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the brown sugar and cream. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, and then boil (a nice rolling boil) for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, and whisk in powdered sugar and stir until combined and no lump remains (you can dump it in for sift it in, I'd recommend sifting but dumping is ok, you'll just have to stir more because of the lumps) and stir in the nuts. Drop teaspoonfuls on cookies immediately. If the topping hardens before you've done all the cookies, place back over the burner and stir until the praline melts again.

You'll have leftover praline, which you can drop on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and let harden. This makes a very addictive sugary snack- just try not to eat too many at once, like I did :-/

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