Lindsay Maitland Hunt

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Chunky Whole-Grain Miso Cookies with Pistachios, Sesame, and Dried Apricots
 
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If this were another blog, the title of this post would probably be "On overcoming personal struggles and learning to live a new life" or something along those lines. But, since it's a food site, there's a cookie recipe with a side of life lessons.

On a chilly Friday in February one year ago, I was living in Manhattan, working at Real Simple, and making recipes that appealed to the magazine’s broad demographic (aka delicious crowdpleasers). But most importantly, I had the first in a series of year-long, debilitating chronic migraines. Thus began an arduous journey to get to the bottom of the headaches. I tried my traditional method of strong-arming my way towards success, but as anyone who’s had a migraine knows, that just doesn’t work. I waited for the pain to pass, but day in and day out, it kept me company like the worst of frenemies. I couldn’t kick it.

If you had told me then, that twelve months later I would be sitting at home in Brooklyn, working freelance, mostly migraine-free, and baking a celebration miso cookie (read: non crowd-pleaser), I couldn’t have believed it. It’s been a long journey, filled with about 40 different doctors and a lot of biofeedback and acupuncture, but I’m finally here, cookies in hand.

I’m still figuring out how to write about the past year. As I process it, I keep returning to my favorite passage at the end of Wild, Cheryl Strayed’s memoir about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. (Wild is in theaters, now, and it’s fantastic, but I recommend reading the book first as well as Tiny Beautiful Things, Strayed’s compilation of her incredible Dear Sugar columns.) Skip ahead if you don’t want to read the last few paragraphs of Wild. She writes:

“After he drove away, I leaned my head back and closed my eyes against the sun as the tears I’d expected earlier at the bridge began to seep from my eyes. Thank you, I thought over and over again. Thank you. Not just for the long walk, but for everything I could feel finally gathered up inside of me; for everything the trail had taught me and everything I couldn’t yet know, though I felt it somehow already contained within me. How I’d never see the man in the BMW again, but how in four years I’d cross the Bridge of the Gods with another man and marry him in a spot almost visible from where I now sat. How in nine years that man and I would have a son named Carver, and a year and a half after that, a daughter named Bobbi. How in fifteen years I’d bring my family to this same white bench and the four of us would eat ice-cream cones while I told them the story of the time I’d been here once before, when I’d finished walking a long way on something called the Pacific Crest Trail…“...It was all unknown to me then, as I sat on that white bench on the day I finished my hike. Everything except the fact that I didn’t have to know. That it was enough to trust that what I’d done was true. To understand its meaning without yet being able to say precisely what it was, like all those lines from The Dream of a Common Language that had run through my nights and days. To believe that I didn’t need to reach with my bare hands anymore. To know that seeing the fish beneath the surface of the water was enough. That it was everything. It was my life—like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me.“How wild it was, to let it be.”

I went through a lot of ups and downs adjusting to self-employment and trying to get over migraines, days where I hardly left the apartment and worked in complete solitude, or days where I was in too much pain to get up. But, as I struggled to find answers, I found the capacity for a new level of creativity, the ability to jettison fear, a new habit of welcoming the unpredictable (both miso cookies and health setbacks alike) and living with joy.

So, I’m celebrating in my favorite way, by baking. I wanted to make something weird and out of the ordinary, like my past year. These began as a haywire riff on my oatmeal raisin recipe, eventually turning into a kooky distant relative that boasts a hit of umami-rich miso, and a mix of whole grains, nuts, and seeds.

One bite vibrates with rich flavors: dark brown sugar and dried apricots boost the caramel undertones while sesame seeds and roasted pistachios amplify the miso’s nuttiness. This unusual cookie is not going to be everyone’s favorite, but it might knock the socks off a few tasters.

Cheers!

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Chunky Whole-Grain and Miso Cookies Recipe by Lindsay Hunt

Makes 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients: 1 cup whole wheat bread flour (140g) or: use 1 ¾ cups whole wheat or all-purpose flour in place of the bread and cake flours) ¾ cup cake flour (96g) ¾ cup wheat bran (37g) 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 pinch fine salt 2 teaspoons ground ginger 1 cup toasted chopped pistachios, chopped ½ cup old-fashioned rolled oats (150g) 1 cup dried apricots, chopped (260g) ¼ cup white or black sesame seeds (or a mixture of both), plus additional for sprinkling 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature 1 cup packed dark brown sugar (200g) 3/4 cup granulated sugar (170g) 2 tablespoons white miso paste 2 large eggs plus one egg yolk (for garnish), at room temperature 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Equipment: Two baking sheets, ideally without rims, parchment paper or nonstick cooking mats such as silpat, an airtight container to store the cookie dough in, and a digital scale (if you have one)

Combine the flours, bran, baking soda, salt, and ginger in a medium bowl. Whisk until thoroughly combined. Stir in the oats, pistachios, sesame seeds, and apricots; set aside

Place the butter, sugars, and miso in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or use a hand mixer). Cream on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Stop the mixer occasionally and scrape down the sides and paddle with a rubber spatula.

Add the two whole eggs and vanilla and mix on medium speed until well combined, about 1 minute. Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed until just combined, about 30 seconds.

Transfer the dough to an airtight container and refrigerate at least 2 hours, but preferably 24 to 72 hours.

30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350º F. Line two baking trays with parchment paper or silicone mats.

Portion the dough into 2-ounce (55 gram/2 heaping tablespoon) scoops. Roll gently with your hands into balls. Space the dough 3 inches apart on each tray, about 8 to a tray. Flatten gently with your hand.

Brush the remaining egg yolk onto the prepared cookies, dividing evenly. Sprinkle with additional sesame seeds.

Bake for 18 to 22 minutes, rotating the trays front to back and top to bottom halfway through. Pull the cookies out when they look just set—they will continue to cook when they come out of the oven. They will not be mostly blonde with small spots of golden brown. They will turn completely golden brown as they cool on the cookie sheets. (**Timing may vary based on the size of your cookies, how cold the dough is, and your oven.)

Cool the cookies on the sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Cookies will keep in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Goodbye from the bottom of this seed-studded cookie!

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Easy Holiday Sugar Cookie Recipe and Tips
 
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Happy holidays, Mostess readers! I'm excited to share the results of my three-year obsession with perfecting the sugar cookie. It's a long post, because I wanted to share all my tips and techniques for success. If you are well-versed in Sugarcookiedom and "just want the recipe already!" then skip on down to the bottom of the post. For novices and baking nerds alike, read on.

How I became obsessed

Until three years ago, I had never decorated a sugar cookie. Maybe I'd adorned a gingersnap with a casual sprinkle somewhere along the line, but never with any purpose or focus. Then, at Real Simple, I was in charge of an enormous roundup of all the best sugar cookie decorating products. Everything from cutters to sprinkles to the best store-bought icing. As part of this project, which took five months and some 1,000 different bottles of sprinkles, I was lucky enough to hire Sweet Dani B, a master of cookie decorating, to decorate the trial cookies and our final shoot cookies. I spent two full days sitting by her side, learning the tricks of icing and applying sprinkles. (For more on decorating, check out my guide to cookie icing and your essential toolkit.)

After learning how fun and easy it was to transform this blank canvas, I was hooked. I made 150 cookies the first year to test out my skills, 300 last year, and this year, I don't even want to know how many I've gone through. All to get to the perfect cookie that's not too buttery (which causes the dough to spread and lose its shape,) easy to work with, but not too tough.

You may have noticed that I titled this post "easy" cookies. None of the steps are difficult, but they take some focus and planning. I promise the results are well worth it. Between cookie #1 and cookie #500 I learned a lot of lessons the hard way so you won't have to. Here are my tips for maximum cookie success!

The 5 Mostess Sugar Cookie Tips for Success

1. Chill out! 

The techniques for making sugar cookies are simple, but I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that these aren’t time intensive. Success—meaning straight, clear edges and cookies that don’t morph from snowflake into flower-shaped blob in the oven—requires setting aside time to let the dough chill properly.

Chilling the dough does two things: it relaxes the gluten in the cookies, (more on this in my oatmeal-raisin cookie post,) but what is more important here is that it keeps the butter chilled. Warm butter will spread in the oven, making the cookies lose their shape, and they will be hard and not crispy, crunchy perfect.

2. Think ahead.

It may seem like common sense, but prepping your workspace and double checking that you have everything you need are two essential keys to successful cooking and baking, no matter the recipe.

When you are ready to roll out the dough and cut it into shapes, clear out enough space in your refrigerator to store the cookie sheets. I tend to leave this until the last moment and it causes a few knocked-over bottles, etc. Just before rolling, set aside a small bowl with all-purpose flour for dusting. Before cutting the dough out, make sure your cutters are nearby.

3. Be a clean freak.

Rolling dough on a dirty counter means your cookies might pick up specks of food, dust, or eau-de-garlic. Make sure your work surface is extra clean before rolling. I use a vinegar-water mixture to wipe it down just before I start.

4. Give cookies space.

Do not crowd the cookies on the sheet. Despite all the great work you've done to chill the dough adequately, each shape will expand. And, as the cookies bake, the butter releases steam. Too many cookies in the oven leads to a lot of steam, which you don't want. They will take longer to bake, and could end up too hard.

So, give the cookies space on the sheet, and if you can, bake only one sheet at a time, in the center of the oven. (Baking nerds: Check out this fun animation from TEDed about how cookie chemistry works.)

5. Keep an eye on it.

As my good friend Dawn always told me, "America underbakes it's pastry." For some reason this always made me laugh, thinking of the USA as a baker, but it is a truth worth remembering. Underbaked cookies won't be crispy and flaky, which is what you are going for here. Start checking your cookies at 14 minutes and remove them from the oven when just a bit of golden brown rings the edges of the shapes.

All right, enough already! Time to get baking. For icing recipes, tips, and some visual inspiration check out this other post.

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Lemon and Vanilla Sugar Cookies by Lindsay Hunt

Makes about 36 cookies

Ingredients: 3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled (400g), plus additional for rolling 1 teaspoon kosher salt 1 teaspoon baking powder 2 ½ sticks (10 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature 1 ¼ cups granulated sugar 2 large eggs, plus one egg yolk, at room temperature 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest

Equipment: Two baking sheets (ideally without rims), parchment paper or nonstick cooking mats such as Silpat, a digital scale (if you have one), rolling pin, cookie cutters, and a stand mixer or another electric mixer

Make the dough: Whisk the flour, salt, and baking powder together in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Place the butter and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or use a hand mixer). Cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Stop the mixer occasionally and scrape down the sides and paddle with a rubber spatula.

Add the eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest and mix on medium speed until well combined, about 1 minute. Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed until just combined, about 30 seconds.

Divide the dough in half and pat into two balls. (You may need to mush them together so they are even and there are no cracks.) Flatten and shape into two 1-inch thick discs and wrap tightly in plastic wrap.

Refrigerate the dough until firm, at least 2 hours and up to 3 days. At this point you can also freeze the dough for up to 1 month.

Roll and cut the dough:

About 45 minutes before you are ready to roll the dough out, remove the dough from the fridge. It has to soften enough to be easy to roll but not so much that it gets too soft and starts to stick to the countertop. Check the dough every 10 minutes or so, when it feels just pliable, it’s ready to roll. This can take anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes depending on the temperature of your kitchen and how long the dough was chilled.

Meanwhile, prepare the cookie sheets and set them next to your work space so they are ready. Working with one disc at a time, roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface until ¼-inch thick. Refrigerate the dough until firm, 20 to 30 minutes. (This is the step you can skip if you are pressed for time).

Return the chilled, rolled dough to the work surface and cut out shapes, placing the cutters as close together as possible. Use a flat spatula, not your fingers, to transfer the cut dough to the cookie sheet, leaving 2-inches between each shape.

Chill the cut dough for at least 20 to 30 minutes and up to 1 hour until very firm. You should be able to pick up a shape with your fingers without it bending at all.

30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350º F with a rack in the middle of the oven. Bake one sheet at a time for 14 to 18 minutes, rotating the tray front to back halfway through. Pull the cookies out when they are golden throughout with golden brown edges.

Let the cookies cool on the sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire cooling rack to cool completely. If you let the cookies cool completely on the warm baking tray, they will steam and become slightly soggy.

Cookies will keep for up to 1 week in an airtight container.

 
72-Hour Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Recipe
 
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Please don't be daunted by the title. It's not 72 hours of straight labor to get these perfectly plump oatmeal raisin cookies out of the oven. Those 72 hours are actually optional, but let me tell you why you should take the time to make this recipe.

As David Leite discussed in his article about Jacques Torres's chocolate chip cookies, resting cookie dough allows the eggs to hydrate the flour. This makes the dough bake more evenly, but more importantly, allows the flavors to meld and deepen, resulting in an intense toffee flavor. Another secret to Torres' recipe is the combination of bread and cake flour. Bread flour is high gluten, which results in a chewy texture, and cake flour is low gluten, which gives fancy cakes their trademark light and airy crumb. In cookies, this translates as deliciously crunchy edges.

I wanted to try this two-flour combination in oatmeal raisin cookies, since the best of their kind are praised for both a chewy center and crisp edges. I also thought that letting the dough rest would not only hydrate the flour, it might soften the oats and plump the dried raisins, making for juicier bites. (Spoiler: it did!)

For extra oaty flavor that isn't overly fibrous, I use a blend of old-fashioned rolled oats and instant oats. If you don't want to buy both varieties, blitz some of the old-fashioned kind in a food processor until more finely ground.

Torres' recipe calls for 36 hours and up to 72. Those extra 36 are definitely worth it. However, you can bake the dough the day of, but try for 4 hours of chilling. If you bake the dough without chilling for at least 4 hours, the cookies will spread and crisp around the edges, leaving a wan, light-colored center. That’s not to say they won’t be delicious, they just won’t be evenly baked.

I am indebted to two oatmeal raisin cookie recipes that helped me get to this end point: Joanne Chang's recipe in her cookbook, Flour, which is my favorite baking book, and the Silver Palate Cookbook.

I have included weights in grams for bakers who like to use a digital scale. I am a huge fan since I don't have to dirty measuring cups.

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72-Hour Oatmeal Raisin Cookies Recipe by Lindsay Hunt

Makes 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients: 1 cup bread flour (140g) 1 cup cake flour (100g) 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon fine salt ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon 1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (150g) 3/4 cup quick-cooking oats (75g) 1 ½ cups raisins (260g) 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature 1 cup packed light brown sugar (200g) 3/4 cup granulated sugar (170g) 2 eggs 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Equipment: Two baking sheets, ideally without rims, parchment paper or nonstick cooking mats such as Silpat, an airtight container to store the cookie dough in, and a digital scale (if you have one)

Directions: Combine the flours, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Whisk until thoroughly combined. Stir in the oats and raisins; set aside

Place the butter and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or use a hand mixer). Cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Stop the mixer occasionally and scrape down the sides and paddle with a rubber spatula.

Add the eggs and vanilla and mix on medium speed until well combined, about 1 minute. Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed until just combined, about 30 seconds.

Transfer the dough to an container and refrigerate at least 2 hours, but preferably 72 hours.

30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350º F. Line two baking trays with parchment paper or silicone mats.

Portion the dough into 2-ounce (55 gram/2 heaping tablespoon) scoops. Roll gently with your hands into balls. Space the dough 3 inches apart on each tray, about 12 to a tray. Flatten gently with your hand.

Bake for 16 to 18 minutes, rotating the trays front to back and top to bottom halfway through. Pull the cookies out when they look just set—they will continue to cook when they come out of the oven. They will not be mostly blonde with small spots of golden brown. They will turn completely golden brown as they cool on the cookie sheets.

Cool the cookies on the sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Cookies will keep in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Special thanks to Cat Emil for testing this recipe.