Almond Biscotti and an Ode to North Carolina Weather

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Winter storm Jonas has come and gone and for those of you who think a state as far south as North Carolina would get off easy, let me enlighten you. Here in the south there is a dreaded winter phenomenon (which requires stockpiles of toilet paper, gluten and milk) known to locals by its scientific name – Wintry Mix.

Situated smack in the center of the eastern seaboard, our state has four seasons (which I refer to as allergy season, hot & humid hell season, autumn and winter) and occasionally an extreme weather situation like a tornado. The coast and outer banks also stick out far enough to make them good target practice for rogue hurricanes that didn’t follow their hypothesized trajectory. Storms against this smattering of islands that jut out into the ocean earned the area its nickname long ago as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic”.

Moving from our coast to the beautiful mountains (aka the Smokey Mountains and the Blue Ridge Parkway, for example) you will find yourself in the center of the state, also known as the piedmont. The piedmont area and the sand hills of North Carolina include the capital city of Raleigh, famous golf courses and retirement communities, college towns like Chapel Hill, my own industrial-turned-hipster hometown, Durham, a number of pig, corn and tobacco farms, and probably more than a few trailer parks and meth labs less classy than the ones as-seen-on-TV in Breaking Bad. We are a state of great diversity as you can see, and that diversity lends itself to the weather as well. As global warming continues to do very weird things to the outdoor temperatures, snow storms cruise in and cover the suburbs almost as quickly as 70 degree weather comes in to melt it all. And when snow hits the piedmont, our one snowplow just doesn’t quite cut it.

Winter storm Jonas wasn’t nearly as bad in Durham as the meteorologists claimed it would be, and for that we were very fortunate. They predicted up to an inch of ice, which would have been absolutely crippling. Luckily, we only got about 0.2” of ice and almost 2” of sleet in some places. Power outages caused by the ice in other areas of the state accounted for nearly half of the power outages on the east coast thanks to Jonas and while we had electricity, driving on thin ice (haha) simply was not an option for two days (we waited nearly four). So, I did what any normal person would do given the circumstances; drank lots of tea, watched Hallmark movies, and baked.

Being stuck indoors with daily tromps through the snow and ice isn’t nearly as bad as it seems. It happens rarely enough in North Carolina and when it does, for me at least, it is a welcome sort of vacation. The world is silent and covered in white and there is nothing to interrupt your morning coffee or afternoon tea with a perfectly tender and crunchy gluten-free almond biscotti in hand.

I got the second volume of America’s Test Kitchen’s gluten-free cookbook from my father for Christmas and I figured this would be the perfect time to experiment with some of the incredibly thorough and fail-proof recipes. I chose biscotti to start because it seemed a terribly elegant and European cookie to accompany my almost hourly consumption of warm beverages. The biscotti are twice baked; once to cook the dough and twice to crisp the edges just so. Biscotti in general can be a crumbly mess, so it is easy to imagine a gluten-free biscotti being even drier, but this recipe provided the perfect balance and made for a soft center.

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almond biscotti and cold brew coffee

Ingredients:

  • 2 c. gf flour blend
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • ¾ tsp. xanthan gum (I omitted this because I add so much xanthan to my flour blend. If you don’t make your own mix, read the ingredients carefully and decide if you will need to add extra xanthan gum)
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 c. granulated sugar
  • 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened and cut into 4 1-inch pieces
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 Tbsp. water
  • ½ tsp. almond extract
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • ¾ c. slivered almonds (the recipe calls for ¾ c. whole almonds toasted and chopped coarsely, but I find slivered untoasted almonds just as good!)

 

Directions:

  1. Whisk the flour blend, baking powder, xanthan gum (if using), and salt together in medium bowl. Using stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat the sugar and butter until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs, water, almond and vanilla extracts to the butter and sugar and beat another 2-3 minutes until well-incorporated.
  2. On low speed, add the flour mixture and blend until you get a homogenous mixture. Add the almonds and beat to combine or mix in by hand. Cover the bowl and let sit for 30 minutes on the counter (not in fridge).
  3. Heat oven to 350 and line baking sheet with parchment paper. Transfer all of the dough to the parchment paper and with wet hands form a long rectangular/log shape about 12”. Bake 35 minutes, or until just golden brown and cracked on the edges.
  4. Remove biscotti from the oven to cool for 10 minutes and in that time reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. On a cutting board, slice ½ inch-thick biscottis with a bread knife. Place the cookies flat and space ¼ inch apart on a wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet.
  5. Bake another 35 minutes, or until the biscotti is crisp and golden on both sides – e sure to flip the cookies over halfway through baking. Let them cool before serving and keep up to 3 weeks.
  6. Make tea/brew coffee and enjoy!

Gluten-Free

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New Year’s Resolutions and Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies

Just like the rest of the world, when the New Year begins I sit down and think about my new year’s resolutions… Or I think in the car, while taking a walk, during a boring show, etc. I now have a list of things I’d like to do, change, improve, learn, or quit; and whether I’ve written it down and taped it to my closet, typed it into my phone, or just thought about it over a long period of time until it is burned into my memory, the chances of me completing this list is as slim as ever.IMG_2200 (2)

But just for the heck of it, I will type them here for your viewing pleasure.

  1. Quit biting nails (this has been on my list since 1999… Has not changed. Sometimes after I get a manicure I manage to grow them out for a few weeks, but I rarely get manicures. Mostly because the old Asian woman who does my nails scolds me about bringing her bitten-down nubs to work with. It’s a vicious cycle.)
  2. Get in shape. (I know this is everyone else’s resolution as well, but since I’ve been living in Spain I’ve gained a significant amount of weight and can no longer wear my favorite jeans. So obviously something has to give. And that something is going to my waistline.)
  3. Bake more (This will probably cancel out all aforementioned efforts to get in shape.)
  4. Cook more while I am at home (that is, until mid-March. My mom works and while I am picking up a few babysitting jobs, I have 2 more months to kill while waiting for my visa to come through and I would like to spend it cooking in this kitchen. This resolution is off to a very good start, I might add. Mainly because my boyfriend and I became obsessed with Masterchef recently.)
  5. Don’t be so anxious about my health. (This is by far the most difficult thing for me. Since I was diagnosed with celiac disease over two years ago it has been hard for me to trust the medical community and have faith that they aren’t missing blatantly obvious symptoms of some other disease – like they did last time. But this is mostly on me and I need to start up yoga again and relax. This is why getting into shape is important for me this year – because it will help me get more in touch with my body as well.)
  6. Start being fiscally responsible and think like an adult (That is, have a plan, any plan, for my future and make one of my tedious google doc/excel spreadsheets about it.)
  7. Go to Italy (This kinda seems to cancel out number 6, I know, but my boyfriend and I cancelled a fabulous long weekend to Rome last year right after the Paris attacks. We’re still waiting until we both have the money and time off of work to go enjoy ourselves… So in a way, since I have to budget for this trip, it might actually reinforce my resolution to be more responsible with my money.)
  8. Throw things away. (This gets back to number 6 again, in a way. I never get rid of things – even if I know I’ll never use them again – because I paid money for them and I can’t bear to see it go to waste. What I need to do to avoid this is not only clean out and donate things, but also think more before buying new clothes, stationary, books, shoes, etc.)
  9. Write more. (Professionally, for myself, and on my blog.)

 

That’s it really. They’re simple enough and I have some down time these next few months to get my ducks in a row medically, financially, and mentally before heading back to Spain. For which I am grateful. This also means I have more time to bake and peruse the interwebs for inspiration, as well as my increasingly large library of cookbooks.

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(the dark spot in the center cookie is chocolate hazelnut butter. I wouldn’t recommend adding it.)

This recipe for flourless peanut butter cookies I got from the book Ovenly which is a gorgeous little book from a New York bakery that I found in the public library just the other week. I didn’t realize they had any gluten-free recipes, let alone this absolute gem. The upper corners of certain recipes are marker if they are gluten free or vegan, which is fantastic. (If you’re thinking about buying this book I should state that it is not their intention to bake only allergen-friendly goodies, they just happen to have some well-labeled, thoughtful recipes sprinkled through the book for us non-normal eaters.)

I was extremely skeptic about a flourless peanut butter cookie that literally has 4 ingredients and no chill time in the fridge, and was even more skeptical when I put the unappealing blobs into the oven. All I can say now is… Wow. This is one of the best cookies I’ve ever made and absolutely one of the easiest. The only downside is it takes almost a full jar of peanut butter to make, but it is worth it. The good thing about this though is that they suggest Skippy, so you don’t need to go out and buy an outrageously expensive jar of natural, organic, certified, vegan, nut-free, soy-free, gluten-free, refined-sugar free peanut butter made of ground up flowers and dirt. Yay! (*I would like to take this opportunity to say I am a big fan of Justin’s and Big Spoon natural and fresh ground nut-butters.)

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Without further ado, here is my first attempt at New Year’s Resolution #3: Bake More! (And win the powerball tomorrow night.)

Ingredients:

  • 1 ¾ c. light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs, room temp.
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract (I always add a bit more)
  • 1 ¾ c. peanut butter (again, the NON-natural works better to help cookie maintain its shape)
  • Course sea salt for garnish

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Whisk together the brown sugar and eggs until they make a homogenous mixture. Mix in the vanilla extract. Now add the peanut butter and mix with a spatula until you cannot see ribbons or clumps of peanut butter. It will make a thick dough.
  3. Scoop out the cookies into balls and drop on prepared baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Sprinkle the balls with course sea salt.
  4. Bake for 20-22 minutes (turning the pan halfway through this time) or until the cookies are lightly browned and crackled a bit on top.
  5. Let cookies cool completely and store in an airtight container for up to a week. (They won’t last that long. My mom and I got through 5 days but only because we rationed them like it was 1944.)

 

ENJOY!

Another Chocolate Chip & Potato Chip Cookie

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I’ve found in the past few months that after the initial shock of my celiac diagnosis and the subsequent hatred I felt towards all foods subsided I was left craving anything and everything I couldn’t eat. But mostly, I craved salt. Before I started eating gluten free, I ate fairly healthy foods and wouldn’t have dreamed of munching away on potato chips all day every day…. yet somehow in the past 6 months or so these deliciously oily, cheesy, herbed, barbequed slices of potato have become my favorite form of sustenance. For the most part, they are safe. I can eat them without worrying about gluten or contamination and just fill my little gluten starved belly up to the brim with starch and salt – problem solved. I’ve become so obsessed, in fact, that I’ve even started baking them into my desserts. (*Just for the record, I am cutting back now that fresh strawberries right up the road are available for my snacking needs. Yay fresh fruit!)

That’s right, I’ve made another weird potato cookie! (But, all things considered if you’re baking gluten free this probably doesn’t come close to some of the weird things you’ve baked with, right?) I tried out this recipe a few weeks ago and liked it just fine but I couldn’t figure out why the cookies were so flat. The flavor was spectacular but I believe after very little research and no investigation whatsoever that it is due to the excess oil in the potato chips that came out during baking. So, what did I do? I chose a slightly different cookie recipe, used my same old trusty flour blend and *SPOILER ALERT* I put the dough in the fridge to harden up in hopes it wouldn’t get as oily during baking.

This was both a good and bad idea, because while I definitely wouldn’t classify the chips in this newfangled cookie as “soggy” (these cookies are in fact very good) they had undoubtedly lost their crispy, salty edge that they maintained unrefrigerated in the first cookie! My hypothesis? Next time I think if I use the first cookie recipe – simply because its committed to my memory at this point – the NON-ruffled potato chips and refrigerate the dough for a mere 15 minutes. Voila. Two great cookie recipes converge to form a masterful sweet and salty and gluten-free (hell yeah!) snack.

YAY COOKIES! YAY CHIPS!

potatochip2Ingredients: (adapted from Martha Stewart. Yield: 3 dozen cookies)

  • 2 1/4 c. gluten-free flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 c. softened butter, unsalted
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1 c. packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 c. semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3/4 c. crushed potato chips, like Lays Classic

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 and line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Whisk together flour and baking soda and set aside. Cream butter and both sugars in stand mixer until pale and fluffy. Reduce speed to low and add salt, vanilla and eggs; mixing until well blended.
  3. Mix in flour then stir in chocolate chips and potato chips. Refrigerate dough for 15 – 20 minutes.
  4. Drop tablespoons onto baking sheets 2 inches apart and bake for 10 – 12 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool before transferring to wire racks.

Peanut Butter & Cinnamon Cookies

peanut butter & cinnamon cookies

Everyone – and I mean everyone – loves a good peanut butter cookie (unless you’re allergic…. to which all I can say is, I understand and I’m deeply sorry…. but you can use another nut butter or sunbutter if you so choose!!). This recipe came from the book Lick the Bowl Good: Classic Home-Style Desserts with a Twist by Monica Holland and like all the cookbooks I take for a test drive, this one came from my local library. Seriously, your public library is the best resource for all you aspiring chefs and bakers. I love having hard copies of books on hand when I’m baking because there is nothing worse than trying to scroll down on my computer screen and getting butter/sugar/egg yolks all over my laptops mouse pad. There’s probably an entire recipes worth of ingredients under the keyboard of my computer by now and having book save me such a hassle. (Obviously I could also clean my hands before touching my laptop but…. I’m a messy baker and sometimes I need to run and make sure I didn’t just dump in the wrong amount of ingredient.

Anyway! That was my brief rant/rave of libraries and the downfalls of using electronic devices while you bake but I got away from the main topic here which is peanut butter. I’m a big fan. When I came across this recipe that includes cinnamon though I was perplexed. It sounds like a fantastic combination but I’d never put the two together, and certainly not in cookie form. But my friends as it turns out it is a FABULOUS combination and well worth it. I replaced the AP flour in the recipe with my own gluten-free flour blend and voila! Perfectly soft, cinnamon-sugary peanut butter cookies came out of my oven smelling incredible. My family loved these and I sent some with my older brother on a trip to visit his friends in our nation’s capital and they loved them. When I baked some chewy lime sugar cookies (recipe to come shortly!) the other week my brother came home and was like, “What?!? No more peanut butter cinnamon cookies?!” And those chewy lime suga’s are nothing to turn your nose up either, let me tell you.

Okay I’m sure you’re totally sold by now on this cookie combo (right?!) so without further ado let me share the recipe!

peanut butter & cinnamon cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 c. AP GFree flour blend
  • 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 c. (one stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 c. of peanut butter (I use creamy Peter Pan brand… natural and crunchy options just don’t work as well baking)
  • 1 c. brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla

For rolling:

  • 1/3 c. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper (my new favorite obsession. Spraying or greasing pans works well too, but parchment paper is just so easy to use and clean up)
  2. Sift together gluten-free flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. (*Side note: I always sift my dry ingredients together. It’s especially important I think when working with gluten-free flour blends of your own making just to be 100% sure all the components have mixed together properly. It also creates a lighter, fluffier texture in your baked goods that makes hauling out my specially designated “GF sifter” worth it.)
  3. In a stand mixer (or by hand, whatever floats your boat) cream the sugar, butter and peanut butter together until fluffy and well-blended. Add the egg and vanilla.
  4. Slowly mix in the flour blend and BECAUSE AMERICA’S TEST KITCHEN’S NEW GFREE COOKBOOK TOLD ME TO DO THIS WITH PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES I put my dough in the fridge for 20ish minutes or so because it supposedly helps the peanut butter and gfree starches/grains in your flour get together. All I know, these cookies were a perfect texture so this step just might be worth it.
  5. In rounded teaspoons, drop the dough into the cinnamon sugar mixture and roll until completely covered. Place two inches apart and bake for 9 – 10 minutes until bottoms look golden brown and cookies are still soft to the touch.
  6. Let cool for five minutes on the pan, remove to cool and eat as many as you possibly can before everyone else in your family devours them!

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French Buttermilk Cupcakes with Cookie Dough Frosting

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that there are very few problems in the world that good, raw cookie dough can’t solve. If you’re a female the chances are that you have already discovered this fact. Bad day? Cookie dough. Hard test? Cookie dough. Hangover? Cookie dough. Break up? Cookie dough, ice cream, and booze. See the pattern? Yes I knew you would.

If we’re being honest here, I crave it all the time regardless of my mood. Sure, sometimes I desperately need some cookie dough to get me through a rough patch and heal some emotional wounds after a particularly long day or sad movie or what have you. And I need cookie dough the most when I remember that I can never have “normal people” cookie dough again. And those of you who can’t eat gluten know how icky gluten-free cookie dough can be if you’re using the wrong flour or buying the wrong refrigerated gunk. The best solution to this problem I’ve found is to make some cookie dough flavored buttercream – and believe me when I say it’ll make you forget your dieting woes. Whether you can or can’t eat gluten, this stuff is delicious. And super sweet, just so you can say I warned you.

This is a good recipe and even though I complain constantly (not in real life, mostly just here on the interweb-ether thing) it shuts me right up. You don’t need gluten. I don’t need gluten! I have this buttercream and a good ole cupcakes beneath it.

Here’s something I learned after baking an entire batch of these cupcakes though: buttermilk doesn’t absorb very well into the gluten-free flours (Thanks, America’s Test Kitchen). So if you would like to adapt these and make them even better gluten-free cupcakes than I did, I suggest using milk, almond milk, etc. The best way to do it is add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice then enough milk to reach a cup.

Other than the milk thing and using gluten-free flour in place of regular flour, I used this recipe and I remember making them pre-gluten/buttermilk fiasco and they were just fabulous. And this buttercream! It’s everything you’ve ever dreamed of, I promise.

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Chocolate Chip + Potato Chip Cookies

Sometimes we all just need a gooood chocolate chip cookie. And some chips. At the same time. This cookie solves all your snacking dilemmas and is one of my new favorite things. Did I not add enough flour? Maybe. Were they still a mind blowingly incredible cookie? Absolutely. And, BONUS, they come with their own folklore.

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Once upon a time there was a sweet little girl who loved dessert and looooved chocolate chip cookies. She never ever dreamed as a child that a more perfect dessert could exist in any of the 9 kingdoms… but as she grew older and more sophisticated her appetite grew right along with her and her palate expanded. She became disillusioned with the chocolate chip cookie as she ate too many overly-processed Chips Ahoy! brand cookies, dry cookies at the Wizardry schools potlucks, and worst of all – the crumbly (or alternatively way-too-squishy-to-be-a-cookie) packaged gluten-free chocolate chip cookies shipped from far and wide she would one day be forced to eat.

Soon, the classic dessert loved worldswide (but probably mostly in her kingdom) had fallen in her esteem, almost to the bottom of the list of all her favorite desserts (which was still at the top of her favorite food groups, so I guess it’s all relative). The cookies were still ranked above brownies and blondies but had dropped somewhere far below cupcakes, pie, cheesecake, fudge, milkshakes, chocolate croissants, macarons, frozen yogurt, gelato, chocolate covered strawberries, doughnuts, panna cotta and truffles.

If she wanted to eat sweets, in other words, she wanted them to be as sugary, chocolatey and sinful as possible to make her forget the downfall of the chocolate chip cookie. Until one stormy day, on her gluten-free journey, she stumbled upon a tiny abandoned toll bridge. There she discovered a magical recipe book and inside was a new – yet so simple – chocolate chip cookie recipe. She raced home on her trusty steed and started throwing ingredients into her gluten-free mixer. And with a little extra brown sugar, crushed up potato chips, the best vanilla extract in all the land, and a flawless gluten-free flour mix, these cookies changed her worlds forever. They had the perfect flavor combination that made her believe in the power of the chocolate chip cookie once more, and she lived happily ever after. (The Prince will catch up later, he’s a bit of an idiot sometimes.) THE END

(*DISCLAIMER* This story is a fairytale, based only partially in truth to highlight the absolute phenomenal quality of the aforementioned cookies. I’m not nearly as picky with cookies as our dessert heroine…. although the gluten-free part is true, of course. Anyway, who doesn’t love a good old fashioned chocolate chip cookie, amiright?)

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Adapted from Nestle Toll House

Ingredients:

  • 1 c. plus 2 heaping Tbsp. all-purpose gluten-free flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 c. (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 1/4 c. granulated sugar
  • 1/2 c. packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 c. chocolate chips (dark chocolate or semi sweet)
  • 3/4 c. crushed potato chips, like Utz or Lays; ruffles work fine as well. Crush until piece are about the size of the chocolate chips.

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter and both sugars in stand mixer until creamy. Add vanilla extract and mix in. Add egg, beating well after.

3. Slowly beat in flour mixture. Stir in chocolate chips and potato chip crumbs. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto prepared baking sheets.

4. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes before loosening with spatula. Will keep in airtight container for up to a week (but as a general rule of thumb, gluten-free baked goods don’t stay fresh as long!).

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Drunk Blondies

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I’m not one to really go in for blondies and I honestly don’t think I’ve ever taken the time to make brownies from scratch. They’re just not my think and I don’t know why. Sure I have some favorites, like cookie bars (yum) and my mom’s cheesecake swirled brownies, but I would rather be making and eating cupcakes. But these blondies are a whole new story and that’s because of one simple little ingredient I secretly like to bake with: bourbon.

That’s right! These super sweet mildly alcoholic treats have a shot of bourbon mixed in. And while it’s not enough to give anyone a buzz, the sugar just might. This recipe comes from The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook out of Savannah, GA, and being from the South myself I can say firsthand we like to bake with a LOT of butter, sugar, and flour. Once again I adapted it by simply replacing the flour with a gluten-free blend and a weeee bit less sugar and they turned out pretty durn good, if I do say so myself. I mean… if you’re into bourbon. And sugar.drunk1

Ingredients:

  • 2 c. all-purpose gluten-free flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 sticks butter, melted
  • 1 3/4 c. light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbsp. bourbon (I used Jack Daniels Black Label… Because that’s what we drink)
  • 1/4 c. chopped pecans
  • 1/2 c. toasted flaked coconut
  • 1/2 c. mini chocolate chips

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Find a baking pan that roughly measures 9×13 inches (cause who the heck knows how big they are, really?) and grease it or line with parchment.

2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. In a large bowl, stir together, sugar and butter until smooth. Add the eggs, vanilla and bourbon, mixing until well combined.

3. Next, stir in the flour. Once the flour is mostly mixed in, add pecans, coconut and chocolate chips and stir until everything is thoroughly combined.

4. Pour the batter into the pan, smoothing the top. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes. Let cool before cutting and keep in airtight container. *Best with ice cream! (As most things are)*

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