Some things were born to cohabit. They were just meant to be together. Like Adam and Eve, like Ken and Barbie, these chewy butterscotch-almond cookies, partnered with homemade butterscotch pudding, produce perfect harmony. I'm crazy about their complex flavor and just-right-to-bite texture.
Along with light brown sugar, almond meal (finely ground blanched almonds), and almond extract, their secret ingredient is a couple tablespoons of buckwheat honey. I was lucky enough to stumble upon a beekeeper selling raw Michigan buckwheat honey at Detroit's Eastern Market a couple of weekends ago and naturally I wasted no time in nabbing a bottle. Dark and dusky, buckwheat honey is kind of like a cross between molasses and maple syrup, but more distinctive than either. Some people describe its color as seeming almost purplish when the light shines through it. A little dab added to baked goods will have your taste-testers munching slowly while staring off into space, muttering to themselves, ". . . what is that I taste? It's really good . . . "
About these recipes . . .
The cookie formula is one I adapted from When Everybody Ate at Schrafft's: Memories, Pictures, and Recipes from a Very Special Restaurant Empire. Apparently, their homemade butterscotch cookies were a huge seller. Wish I'd been around when Schrafft's was in its heyday. I first heard about it as a kid, strictly through the old movies I watched on TV with my mom; seems like some character or other was always going there. "Meet me at Schrafft's," or, "Yeah, I discovered her sittin' on a stool in Schrafft's!" was a common refrain. This book is a hoot. I recommend it if you ever want to know more of the story.
I altered the recipe by using almond meal instead of the indicated finely chopped pecans, added in almond extract, used light vs. dark brown sugar, and threw in buckwheat honey as mentioned above. (And, yes, I reworded the recipe.)
The pudding comes from Luscious Creamy Desserts by Lori Longbotham. She suggests the addition of a tablespoon of Scotch whiskey to rile things up (her recipe is called "better-than-classic butterscotch pudding"). I put in half that amount just to see what might result. I thought the Scotch added an almost fruity aspect to the flavor and I was kind of on the fence about it, but my husband loved it.
In the pudding, I also used light brown sugar vs. dark brown and it was plenty sweet with the light brown. The pudding didn't firm up quite as much as I'd expected, but was similar in thickness to Greek yogurt. Just right, in any case, for dipping cookies. This pudding is very rich, and the recipe makes four modest individual servings. With a cookie on the side, this actually makes for a pretty filling dessert.
Have ready four 6 oz. ramekins/bowls standing by.
Have a medium-size bowl, along with a fine mesh sieve, standing by; it will be needed immediately after cooking the pudding.
1 and 1/2 cups whole milk
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 cup unsalted butter (4 Tbsp. or 1/2 of one stick)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
Yolks from 8 large eggs
1 pinch of kosher salt
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 and 1/2 tsp. Scotch whiskey (optional, of course!)
In a medium size bowl, whisk the cornstarch and milk until the cornstarch is well mixed in. Set aside.
Put the 8 egg yolks into their own medium size bowl with the pinch of salt nearby; set aside with a clean whisk.
In a large heavy-bottomed sauce pan over medium low heat, melt the butter.
Dump in the brown sugar and cook for about 2 to 3 minutes, until smooth and bubbly.
Whisking constantly, pour the milk-cornstarch mixture into the saucepan carefully, with the heat still on medium. Cook for about 2 minutes, continuing to whisk, until the liquid is hot and any sugar lumps are gone. Take the pan off the heat.
Add the salt into the bowl of egg yolks and whisk.
Into this, pour the heated mixture, whisking constantly(or you'll end up with scrambled eggs!).
Pour all of this back into the saucepan and put it back on the stove. Over medium-low heat, cook for 6 to 8 minutes, whisking continually all the while (isn't whisking fun?), until big bubbles show up on the surface.
Without delay (not even 20 seconds, people!), pour the entire mixture through the sieve you set up over the empty bowl. Into that, whisk the lemon juice, vanilla, and Scotch.
Let this cool for about 15 minutes, stirring periodically, then ladle it into your ramekins/bowls.
Cover each ramekin with a small piece of plastic wrap, pressing it right down onto the surface of the pudding to prevent a skin from forming. Cool further, until no longer hot, then refrigerate the puddings for at least three hours, until cold and set.
Butterscotch Almond Cookies
Yield: At least 24 good-sized cookies.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line one or two baking sheets with parchment paper.
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup solid vegetable shortening
1 cup light brown sugar
2 Tbsp. buckwheat honey (or use 1/4 cup extra brown sugar instead)
1 large egg
2 Tbsp. nonfat dry milk
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract
1 and 3/4 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
Generous 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup almond meal (Sometimes also referred to as almond flour; you can make your own by grinding blanched almonds in your food processor. Just be careful not to overgrind them into paste. I buy almond meal at Trader Joe's, where it's not too expensive, but you can also find it at health food stores and, increasingly, in regular grocery stores in the baking aisle.)
In the large bowl of your mixer, blend together the butter and shortening just for several seconds. Add in the sugar, beating until creamy. Add into this the egg, non-fat dry milk, vanilla extract, almond extract, and honey. Beat until light and fluffy.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, kosher salt, and almond meal. Pour this into the mixer bowl and blend on medium low speed.
Chill the dough for an hour or more before portioning onto cookie sheets.
Scoop the dough using a 1 and 1/2 Tbsp. portion scoop (or, just eyeball it, of course), leaving a couple inches of space between each one. Dampen your palm and gently flatten the balls down slightly. Bake the cookies for about 7 to 9 minutes, until lightly golden brown.
Cool the cookies for a few minutes on the baking sheet then move to a rack. Store them in an airtight container.
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Jane's Sweets & Baking Journalwas born of my ever increasing desire to learn more about the baking and pastry arts, and of my love for anything and everything related to baking. Just as food is meant to be shared, so is knowledge among bakers and among those who enjoy delicious foods prepared from scratch. So, please partake, and feel free to share your thoughts and comments. I'd love to hear from you.
If you'd like to know a bit about me please click here, or look for the tiny photo of a pink cupcake topped by a strawberry, further down, in the "About me"section. You can also reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org . . .
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JANE'S FAVORITE BAKING BOOKS
About Professional Baking: The Essentials, by Gail Sokol. This is a textbook, but not one that's intimidating. It contains lots of useful info, including interesting personal profiles of professional chefs.
All-American Cookie Book, by Nancy Baggett. Another winner of the IACP award. Loads of good looking cookie recipes with lots of very appetizing photos. (Don't you love cookbooks with tons of pictures? I do.)
All-American Dessert Book, by Nancy Baggett. Wonderfully detailed, with very reliable recipes, Baggett does it again in this valuable cookbook. Definitely worth your time!
Art & Soul of Baking, by Cindy Mushet. This large Gourmet Cook Book Club Selection is a feast for the eyes. I love the page layout, the photos, and the author's reassuring tone. Recipes range from the quotidian ("classic sugar cookies") to the ridiculous ("Moroccan-spiced sweet-potato tiropetes") to the absolute sublime ("duo-tone chocolate pots de creme"). Worth acquiring.
Baking and Pastry: Mastering the Art and Craft, by the Culinary Institute of America. This is a heavy duty textbook, not for the faint of heart. Intimidating, sure, but also kind of fascinating if you're an obsessive bake-a-holic like me.
Baking with Julia, written by Dorie Greenspan and based on the PBS series hosted by Julia Child. Yet another hefty and dazzling coffee-table-worthy cookbook. Wonderful to have around. (My copy was autographed by Julia herself!)
Betty Crocker's Picture Cookbook, published in 1950 and available in a facsimile edition, holds a special place in my heart. This is the book my mom primarily used, or so it seemed, when I was a kid. The photos are such period pieces, and the little notations that accompany recipes are pricelessly cute and corny. I have an ancient copy that I still use. Every girl needs a copy of this in her house, for good karma if nothing else.
Bitter Sweet -- Recipes and Tales From a Life in Chocolate, by Alice Medrich. Much more than just a cookbook with a focus on fine dark chocolate, this is also a memoir of sorts from a legendary chocolate-dessert creator. Medrich is often credited with awakening American tastes to the finest aspects of superior chocolate. Very interesting read!
Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes,by Jeffrey Hamelman. An indispensable book for anyone who is seriously interested in learning to make fine yeast breads, Hamelman shares far more than just technical knowledge. Like fellow bread guru Peter Reinhart, his warmth of spirit and deep love for the tradition of bread baking shines through on every page.
Breakfast Book, by Marion Cunningham. Not to be confused with the character of the mom on Happy Days, the real Marion Cunningham has a long list of writing accomplishments, the most well known being that she completely revised The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. A contemporary of the late James Beard's, she is still held in high esteem.
Cake Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum. Rose is really into the science of baking, which can be helpful in some respects and off-putting in others. Like gardeners who talk mostly about soil components without conveying their joy in the plants themselves. Maybe I'm too sensitive? Probably so, as many consider this to be an invaluable classic. Despite my reservations, I wouldn't part with my copy. One of several highly detailed books by Rose. Her latest book, Heavenly Cakes, is much more down to earth, loaded with photos, and truly beautiful.
Cake Book, by Tish Boyle. I've called it a treasure trove before and please allow me to say it again here. This book is jam packed with wonderful stuff that's well explained. I used the Sacher-torte recipe in the fall of '09 for a culinary school project and it didn't let me down. I can endorse this book without reservation. I love it.
Complete Book of Pastry Sweet & Savory, by Bernard Clayton, Jr. When this book appeared in 1981, famed food editor Craig Claiborne praised it in the NYT as "one of the most important cookbooks of this year, if not of this decade." No photos, but don't let that dissuade you.
Craft of Baking, by Karen DeMasco & Mindy Fox. In 2009, some great new cookbooks were published and this was one of them. Down to earth, straightforward without being condescending, this smart guide offers creative and simple twists on dozens of diverse and well-proven "cakes, cookies, and other sweets."
Dessert University, by Roland Mesnier. As the White House executive pastry chef for over two decades, Mesnier has a lot of wisdom to impart. He does so well in this book, which is designed specifically for home bakers. A good book!
Grand Central Baking Book, by Piper Davis and Ellen Jackson. Readers are welcomed into these pages with a tone of warmth and familiarity. The photos alone will have you scribbling a grocery list. Try the berry kuchen recipe--simple and scrumptious.
Hershey's Chocolate Treasury, published in 1984 by Hershey Foods and chock full of old reliables. The recipe for Black Magic cake is one I've used again and again--invaluable!
How to Bake, by Nick Malgieri. The writing style is matter of fact and fairly informal. That's one of my favorite things about Malgieri's books.
Magical Art of Cake Decorating, by Carole Collier. Sometimes at a used book sale you find an old gem like this. Published in '84, I found it very encouraging when I first began decorating cakes. The recipes are rock solid reliable.
Maida Heatter's Book of Great Chocolate Desserts, by Maida Heatter. Famed baker (apparently her "Palm Beach Brownies" are known far and wide), whose work has centered on wondrous chocolate desserts, Heatter received a James Beard award for this book, one of many she's published over several active decades.
Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook, by Martha Stewart. Beautiful photos, but I must admit I've come to have reservations about the reliability of some of the recipes. Is it just me? Though I love flipping through the book for ideas, I'm a bit on the fence with this one when it comes to actual usage.
Martha Stewart's Wedding Cakes by Martha Stewart. Talk about a stunning and inspiring book! Chances are you may never decide to actually make one of the cakes from this glorious volume, but it's enough just to page through the gorgeous pictures and interesting recipes. Expensive? For sure, but worth it.
Passion for Baking, A by Marcy Goldman. If you're curious about how professional bakers manage to make things come out nicely every time, you'll appreciate this book. Goldman, in her highly approachable style, divulges many of their simple--but enormously helpful--tricks and techniques, and shows readers how to implement them throughout the wondrous array of down-to-earth recipes that pack this great book. Loads of enticing photos, too! I love this book!
Perfect Cakes, by Nick Malgieri. Can't say enough about Malgieri's books. Absolutely worth using, versus just reading! The white and dark chocolate cheesecake is to die for; I've made it a few times, along with many other recipes from this book, and it is superb.
Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Everyday, by Peter Reinhart. This book is a revelation for anyone who approaches yeast recipes like a vampire approaches the dawn. Talk about down to earth, encouraging, and flexible! This guy knows how to talk to rookie breadmakers. Well worth reading, and using, this volume will find a comfy place in your cookbook collection--a worthwhile purchase, undoubtedly!
Professional Cake Decorating, by Toba Garrett. I get the impression that this book is perceived as the most thorough and comprehensive text available for serious students of cake decorating. This is the text that we used for my culinary school Beginning Cake Decorarting class (which means I finally own my own copy!).
Sarabeth's Bakery: From My Hands to Yours, by Sarabeth Levine. Almost too pretty to use, but use it anyway! This big book is so appealing, and the photos so remarkably enticing, you'll want to pick it up like a sandwich and bite right into it. Fine recipes for updated classics, well explained, from the famous Manhattan bakery. Worth buying. (You'll love it!)
Secrets of Baking, by Sherry Yard. A must have, bakers! This cookbook's forte is the way it's organized; master recipes are presented with full explanations of how they can be used, and related recipes follow, section by section. An exceptional manual to refer to. Get your own copy!
Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes, by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne. Huntsman is the professional pastry chef behind this beautiful book, filled with many tempting recipes, all designed specifically and scaled perfectly for three layers. I've made the Devil's food cake thus far, and it was exceptional--it rose well, was very moist, and had great depth of flavor. I'll be using this book more in the future, without a doubt. Love the photos also!
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. . . to never endorse a product of any kind on Jane's Sweets & Baking Journal that I do not believe in. I've never done so thus far, and I vow never to do so. If I tell you I think something is great, or that I think it is worth spending real money on, then I mean it, rest assured. I promise. And, if I ever talk about a product that I've been given to review or try out, I will disclose that in the post.
I'm a mom with two great sons (both now in college), and a really nice husband. I left a long editorial career in reference publishing a few years ago and I've had nary a regret. I recently finished (after four part-time years!) a Baking & Pastry Arts Certificate program in the Culinary Studies Institute at a local community college. It was a lot of fun, a lot of work, and I am so glad I did it. These days, I do a lot of freelance editorial work, something that I really enjoy.
"Jane's Sweets" was the name of a very small baking enterprise that I started in late 2007. It bloomed a bit, for a little while, with encouragement from my husband, my aunt, and my first cake decorating teacher, Cindy. Because my Aunt Lydia was my most ardent female supporter in this baking endeavor (she was a lifelong independent business owner herself), this blog is dedicated to her memory. If heaven is real, then I know she's there with my mom, baking up a storm. Like Lydia said one day, just before her 80th birthday, while she and my mom and I were baking in my mom's kitchen, "It's been a fun ride. I'd do it all over again!"
If my house were on fire, I'd grab my family, then I'd grab my KitchenAid mixer.
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