Cloud-Soft Ricotta Cookies

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I ran across a recipe for Ricotta Cookies in an old Woman’s Day magazine, and immediately thought, “must bake!” as I love the delicate, creamy flavor of ricotta. As I researched the recipe, though, I found many versions, all varying slightly from one another. I settled on a recipe from “One Sweet Cookie,” by Tracey Zabar, as its use of cake flour signaled a tender cookie. (If you are a cookie lover, this book is for you, as it’s a compendium of recipes from “celebrated chefs,” and it has lots of tips and tricks from the pros for making great cookies. It’s available on Amazon for a few dollars.)

As it turns out, this cookie is as soft as a cloud, with a tender, moist crumb, and just a hint of creamy ricotta flavor. The glaze is tart with fresh lemon juice, and, sprinkled with some crunchy Swedish pearl sugar, Ricotta Cookies are perfect for the holidays. Here is the recipe.

Cloud-Soft Ricotta Cookies

3 cups cake flour
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla
one 15-ounce container ricotta cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine cake flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder and baking soda in a bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, cream the softened butter with the sugar, then add the eggs. In a separate bowl, stir together the ricotta and the vanilla. Alternate adding the ricotta mixture and the flour mixture into the butter mixture. This will make a moist but rather firm dough, and you may want to finish mixing the mixture with your impeccably clean hands.

Using a small cookie scoop, drop the batter onto the prepared baking pan. Bake for about 8 minutes, or until bottom is golden brown. The tops will be puffed but not browned. Frost with the glaze, and sprinkle with pearl sugar or sprinkles of your choice. Makes about 65 cookies.

For frosting: Mix three cups of powdered sugar with the juice of one lemon and about 5 to 6 tablespoons milk or cream. Stir until smooth. Depending on how much milk you use, this can either be a thin glaze, or a thick frosting.

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As long as I have my cup of coffee and my glasses, I’m ready to bake!
When done, the bottom of the cookie will be golden brown, and the top will be uncolored.
When done, the bottom of the cookie will be golden brown, and the top will be uncolored.

img_6966 img_6967img_6970Baking notes: I do recommend mixing the dough with your hands at the end of the mixing process, because what with the flour and the ricotta, it may seem like it won’t go together. As you mix, scoop up from the bottom where flour may lurk–the dough will seem firm but moist.

Victorian Tinsel

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img_6977At a resale shop the other day, I found a container of “Victorian Christmas Tree Tinsel.” I was thrilled to find it filled with actual tin tinsel, such as they used way back in the old days. I went online and found that it still can be purchased–just Google ” Victorian Tin Tinsel,” and a number of sources will appear. This tinsel is solid tin, and will not bend or drape, but has a wonderful old-fashioned feel to it.

Sparrows

Bird life goes on in the forsythia bushes out behind our backyard. The bushes were alive with twittering the other day, and I took pictures of a sweet little dumpling of a female sparrow, and a distinguished male bird.

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I was reading an op-ed piece by Timothy Egan, in the New York Times, called “Fake Cowboys and Real Indians,” about the native Americans and their fight against the pipeline. The piece closed with a quote from a young Native leader named Lyla June Johnston, regarding the conflict. It has given me a lot to think about.

 “In the face of this we pray,” Johnston told Egan a day after the blizzards blew in. “In the face of this we love. In the face of this we forgive. Because the vast majority of water protectors know this is the great battle of all: to keep our hearts intact.”

I thank her for her wisdom. Peace to you. Fran

 

Snowy Vanilla Chip Cookies and a Little Brown Bird

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I’ve settled into my wintertime after-supper routine of taking down a big pile of Christmas books from where they perch on the topmost bookshelf, settling down onto the sofa,  and leafing through them. Our cat Puff often settles down with me, his head on my leg, and gets irritated when I turn a page. So that’s how I found myself reading through a recipe for Vanilla Chip Cookies from “Home for Christmas,” by John Hadamuscin–Puff would not allow me to turn the page!

Made with vanilla chips and dusted with powdered sugar, the cookies sounded somehow snowy, and with the cool light of winter flooding our house, this morning I made a batch. As it turns out, the cookies are crisp and buttery, full of vanilla (one tablespoon!), toasty nuts, and a nice little kick of cinnamon. Thank you, Puff!

Update: These cookies come into their own after cooling completely and mellowing for a few hours: the vanilla and cinnamon flavors blossom together, and are simply amazing. Maybe I should let Puff choose all of my recipes!

Here is the recipe.

Vanilla Chip Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup chopped, toasted walnuts
1-1/4 cups white baking chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugars together until smooth, then add the eggs and vanilla. Beat well. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Add the flour mixture into the butter mixture and stir just until mixed. Then add the walnuts and baking chips.

Drop by spoonfuls (I used a small Wilton cookie scoop) about 2 inches apart (they will spread a bit) onto the prepared baking sheet. Bake until brown around the edges, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, if you wish.

img_6896Baking notes: You could used white chocolate chips instead of the “premier white morsels.” Roast the walnuts at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until they smell toasty.

Waxed Paper Origami

I have been doing origami lately–it’s like a fever that hits me now and then–and I have to start folding! The other day I had the bright idea of doing origami with waxed paper instead of the usual origami paper, and it’s so fun! You can see the folded object outside and inside!

I also cut some waxed paper banners to hang in the window. The patterns came from “Making Magic Windows” by Carmen Lomas Garza. The book can be purchased from Amazon for one penny plus shipping–a bargain.

Patterns for origami moths and butterflies can be found at giladorigami.com.

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A Little Brown Bird

I almost didn’t post the pictures of this little brown bird, who you could say is pretty undistinguished. But after listening to airwaves filled with bombast  and bullying, the sweet humbleness of this little bird has brought tears to my eyes. And, really, when looked at closely, his feathers are amazingly complex and beautiful. (Love his little tail feather.) Actually, he’s (or she?) extraordinary! Hope you enjoy. Fran

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Cherry Walnut Upside-Down Cake

img_6884I sometimes wish I had a compelling reason for posting certain recipes: that they’re trendy, life-changing, extraordinary, sensational beyond all human comprehension, that sort of thing. But in the case of this Cherry Walnut Upside-Down Cake, a recipe in a book called “Taste of Home Christmas 2012” called for tart cherries, and I immediately thought of the large jar of tart cherries sitting in the kitchen cupboard. And the recipe called for buttermilk, which ensured that the cake would be tender. Also, there’s something sort of silly and sweet about upside-down cakes that makes me smile. My mouth has had trouble smiling lately, so Cherry Walnut Upside-Down Cake it is!

Oh, and the cake is delish–moist and fine-textured, with the tartness of the cherries and the crunch of walnuts. And it’s fun!

Cherry-Walnut Upside-Down Cake

1/4 cup butter, melted
3/4 cup brown sugar
24-oz. jar of pitted tart cherries or
2 15-oz. cans pitted tart cherries, drained
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

CAKE:
img_68911/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk

Using a 9-inch round cake pan as a pattern, cut out a piece of waxed paper. Grease the pan, and line with the waxed paper circle. (This ensures that the topping will stay put when you upend the cake.) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt; add to the butter mixture alternately with buttermilk, beating well after each addition.

For the topping, pour butter into the prepared pan; sprinkle with brown sugar. Arrange drained cherries in a single layer over the brown sugar; top with walnuts.

Spoon the batter over the topping. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes before inverting onto a serving plate.

Baking notes: You can use pecans or sliced almonds in place of the walnuts, if you wish. When you pour the batter over the cherries, you may fear that there is too much batter–there isn’t, and it won’t rise and slop over the edge of the pan. In my opinion, you could use only 1/2 cup brown sugar for the topping.

Pix below show the Aldi tart cherries I used, my new little Japanese chopping block, the topping ready in the pan, cake being taken from oven, and a single slice of cake.

cake shown with some sour cherry candies
cake shown with some sour cherry candies, just for more fun

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One thing always leads to another, and when Jim and I purchased a new kitchen island from Crate and Barrel to replace our beaten up butcher block table, I realized that I needed new potholders, too!

So I found instructions for Double-Thick Diagonally Crocheted Potholders at http://www.mielkesfiberarts.com, and so far, am working on my third potholder. It’s the perfect thing to work on while you watch TV. You just crochet a chain, then crochet in the back of the chain, then crochet round and round until you are done. To find the pattern, go to the website, click on “Resources,” and then “Free Patterns.”

NOTE: The pattern instructs to chain 26. In my experience, this yields a tiny potholder. Chaining 34 with a size H hook yields a nice 5-1/2″ square potholder. I used “Indigo” Sugar ‘n Cream 4-play cotton yarn. Also, chain loosely–it will make crocheting in the back loop easy.

Summer is in the rear view mirror now, so I post these pictures of a red admiral butterfly, and a bee, from August 31, just to remind ourselves that it will be warm and sunny again. Keep the faith. Fran

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Maple Walnut Shortbread

img_6855The sky is crisp and blue, the trees blaze with color, and leaves are falling steadily. This prompted me to pull out a recipe I had been meaning to try for years, called Lyn’s Maple Walnut Shortbread, from Create & Decorate magazine. Finally, this fall, I got my act together. First I ordered a maple leaf cookie cutter, from TheDitsyBaker, on Etsy. Then I went looking for maple extract, which is like looking for hen’s teeth. I finally found a small bottle of Mapleine at my local grocery store. Mapleine can be used as a flavor extract, or to make syrup.Then, I had to find a tiny bottle of real maple syrup, the cost of which wouldn’t break the bank.

So there are some roadblocks to this recipe, but since it could become one of your favorites of all time, it’s worth it. You know a cookie is good when people get a far off look in their eyes as they savor it. Words cease. They are in another, celestial world. It’s that type of cookie: it melts in your mouth and has a maple-caramel-butter flavor that is so good, especially if you frost it. Hope you enjoy!

Maple Walnut Shortbread

1/2 cup sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1/2 cup finely ground walnuts
1 teaspoon maple extract
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Beat softened butter, and add sugar, beating until fluffy. Add all other ingredients and stir well. You may have to finish off by kneading the dough with your impeccably clean hands. On a floured surface, roll out to 1/4″ thickness. Cut out cookies with a maple leaf-shaped cookie cutter, or other cookie cutter of your choice. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until edges are browned.

For frosting, mix together 1 cup powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon very soft butter, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and 1/4 cup maple syrup. Stir until smooth. Frost the cookies with this while they are still warm. The frosting will melt slightly, giving you a smooth surface. I forgot about this, so my frosting was not so smooth–still tasted wonderful, though.

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Nice to have some maple leaves around as you make maple walnut shortbread.
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The dough will be firm–don’t hesitate to knead it until it comes together.
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Rolls out very easily!
Bake until the edges are brown.
Bake until the edges are brown.
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You can incise lines into the unbaked cookie with a sharp knife, if you wish.
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The maple glaze is so good–just remember to frost the cookies while they are still warm.

Otherwise they will look a bit messy, as below. (They taste fabulous, though.)

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A bouquet for you. The little green flowers are Nicotiana langsdorfii (no common name), the little red flowers are from pineapple sage.

The coming winter . . .

How cosy it is already, this fall. Even though it’s turned sharply cold outside, inside, it’s warm and snug. I am one of the few who looks forward to winter: Jim and I have a very comfortable sofa, and we can settle in for the evening, with our cat Puff between us. Puff is a big cat with an enormous belly, which is like some sort of furry cumulus cloud, and we take turns giving him belly rubs. If we stop, he grunts, and we must continue. So we all keep warm.

I see a different winter coming, though. Not one spent sitting comfortably on our nice soft sofa, but one where we are out in the cold facing headwinds, fighting. I don’t look forward to it. But if ever there was a time when I know, simply and truly, that I have to get off the sofa, it’s now. Where this leads, no one knows.

I have never meant “Peace to you,” more than I have now. Fran

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Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Streusel Bars

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This recipe for Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Streusel bars arose by twists and turns, as per usual. I had run across a recipe for Spicy Chocolate Pumpkin Bars in “The Golden Book of Chocolate,” from Barron’s Publishing, and, this being the time of year for all things pumpkin, I decided to try it. The bars were shown glistening with sparkling, crystalline sugar, and looked so tempting.

Problem: no store near me had any glistening, sparkling crystalline sugar. Time for Plan B! I decided to top the bars with a buttery streusel recipe found in an old Victoria magazine.

As it turns out, this is a marriage made in heaven: the moist pumpkin bars and the buttery, crunchy topping, along with the nubbins of chocolate, all in one bite, are so good. Actually, this combination falls into the “too good,” category! No need for any ice cream or whipped cream to serve along with–this bar can stand alone.

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Streusel Bars

First, make the streusel, and set aside. Then make the bars.

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streusel mixture

1-1/3 cups flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted

Combine flour, sugars, salt and spices in a small bowl. Pour the melted butter over the flour mixture, and stir until well combined and crumbly.

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
1-1/4 cups sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1-1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 13 x9″ pan and line with parchment paper. Grease again. Mix the flour, salt, spices and baking soda in a bowl. In a separate large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the egg, and beat thoroughly. Beat in the pumpkin, followed by the flour mixture. Then stir in the chocolate chips. The batter will be fairly stiff.

Spread into the prepared pan, and top evenly with the streusel, breaking up any large lumps with your fingers. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool, and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Baking notes: I didn’t use all the spices they called for–the cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg seemed like enough. There will be pumpkin puree left over, but you can go here to find things to do with small amounts of pumpkin.

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A new use for this squash! Very handy.

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In the Bird World

Lots going on in the bird world, as usual! This little downy woodpecker and the red-bellied woodpecker had designs on the same branch. Who knew it could be so tempting?

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A nearby sparrow.

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Some leaves caught in the Joe Pye weed.

img_6801 img_6802And, the last zinnia of summer. Peace to you. Fran

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Chocolate-Dipped Peanut Butter Cookies

img_6787I’ve been asked a number of times if I have any good recipes for gluten-free cookies. My quibble with gluten-free cookies is that they often taste okay–considering they are gluten-free–but I wanted something that, gluten-free or not, was wonderful. So I set the bar high. Also, many gluten-free cookies call for a list of special ingredients that can be expensive, and if you don’t care for the cookie, you’re left with a bag of tapioca flour sitting on your shelf for an eternity.

So far, I’ve come up with the following Chocolate-Dipped Peanut Butter Cookies. They are based on the famous three-ingredient peanut butter cookie, the recipe for which can be found in many a community cookbook. The three-ingredient peanut butter cookie is made with peanut butter, sugar, and an egg–no flour– and bakes up into a nice little cookie. Yum. Then I came across a version in “Gluten-Free Cookies,” by Luane Kohnke. She reduced the sugar a bit and added some baking soda. I decided to try it. The cookie fluffed up, and was lighter and crisper than the original. Yum! Yum! But it looked naked. So I melted a bar of Hershey’s chocolate and chopped some salted, roasted peanuts. I dipped the cookies in the melted chocolate, and then in the salty peanuts. Triple Yum!

These cookies melt in your mouth, and you will probably nibble the cookie, leaving the chocolate and salty peanuts for last, and then, chomp! Hope you enjoy.

Chocolate-Dipped Peanut Butter Cookies

1 cup creamy peanut butter
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg, beaten
Hershey’s Milk Chocolate (4.4 oz. bar)
roasted, salted peanuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment.

In a large bowl, mix together sugar and baking soda. Add peanut butter and beaten  egg, and mix well. Let sit for a few minutes as you tidy up–the batter will firm up a bit. With a small cookie scoop (about 1 tablespoon), drop dough onto prepared cookie sheet. Have some sugar ready in a small bowl, and butter the bottom of glass. Dip the glass into the sugar, and use it to flatten the cookie. Bake for about 12 minutes, or until bottom of cookie is lightly browned. Let cool.

Break up the milk chocolate and melt in a small Pyrex bowl. Dip a cookie into the melted chocolate, and then into the chopped peanuts. Set on wax paper to harden.

Baking notes: Any roasted, salted peanuts can be used. I bought some Fisher nuts, 5.5 oz. Some nuts were left over. I used Skippy Natural Creamy Peanut Butter. Some natural (unhomogenized) peanut butters separate and have an oily layer–stir the peanut butter before using. Also, you don’t have to dip all the cookies in nuts–see below.

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Meanwhile, in the bird world, stuff is always going on. I heard the chirping of a young goldfinch, ran for my camera, and was able to take these photos of a mother goldfinch feeding a young, perhaps teenaged, goldfinch, and learned something about their lives. Mother robins feed their young worms, but the mother goldfinch was using suet. I had always thought goldfinches only ate seeds, but at one point I did see suet dribbling down the young bird’s chin!

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Dinner is over!
Dinner is over!

Lastly, a leaf caught in a spider web. Peace to you.

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A Limoncello-Chocolate Frosted Cookie and a Goldfinch

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Some origami lemons are included above–definitely not necessary to do, but fun! Just google “origami balls-easy,” for instructions, and use yellow origami paper.

The pathway to this cookie took some twists and turns. I am always enamored of the soft, powderpuff-like cookies in “Big, Soft, Chewy Cookies” by Jill Van Cleave (available on Amazon), and lately have been thinking about lemons, probably because I have a big bag of them in the refrigerator.

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A recipe in the book called Old-Fashioned Cream Cookies looked interesting but like a cookie blank slate. What if I changed the flavoring to lemon, and topped the cookie with some homemade candied lemon peel? This sounded interesting, so I made a trip to the local grocery store to pick up supplies. Straying into the chocolate department–this happens all the time–I was stopped in my tracks by some fragrant chocolate bars of Perugina Dark Chocolate Limoncello. Limoncello is an Italian liqueur that has become popular lately, because it’s so light and refreshing.

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Before I knew it I was back at home candying some lemon zest, and came up with Limoncello-Chocolate Frosted Cookies. They are so good: the cookie is mild, soft and buttery, the creamy frosting deep chocolate with a limoncello tang, and then comes the payoff–the crunchy candied lemon peel. Enjoy!

Before making the cookie, make the candied lemon zest. It’s not as involved as it may sound, and doesn’t require a candy thermometer.

Wash a lemon, and, with a vegetable peeler, remove long strips of zest.

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Stack the strips of lemon rind, and cut into thin strips. Place in a small saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a simmer, and cook for 7 minutes; drain. (This removes the bitterness.) Return to the pan, and add 1/2 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of water. Cook over a low heat until the zest is translucent and the syrup is slightly thickened, about 15 minutes. (This candies the lemon zest.)  Strew 2 tablespoons of sugar onto a square of waxed paper. Transfer the zest to the waxed paper with a slotted spoon; let cool. When cooled, break up any clumps. The photo below shows the sugared peel.

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Next step–the cookies!

Limoncello-Chocolate Frosted Cookies

1-1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/3 cup (5-1/3 tablespoons) butter, melted and cooled
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract

Heat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine both flours with the baking soda and salt; mix well. In a separate bowl, beat together eggs and sugar until smooth. Add whipping cream, melted butter and lemon extract, and blend. Stir in the flour mixture.

Set batter aside for ten minutes while you tidy up: the batter will firm up. Use a 1/4-cup ice cream scoop to drop dough onto prepared baking sheet. Bake for about 12 minutes. The bottom of the cookie will be golden, and the top springy. Set cookies aside to cool.

Baked cookies
Baked cookies

Make frosting: In a microwave-safe bowl, break up a 3.5 oz. bar of Perugia Dark Chocolate Limoncello chocolate. Add two tablespoons of butter. Microwave over high for a minute. Stir–it won’t be totally melted. Microwave for about 30 seconds more, and stir until smooth. Add 1 cup of powdered sugar, and then 4 tablespoons of whipping cream. Stir vigorously with a big spoon until smooth. You can add another tablespoon of cream if you want a more glaze-like mixture.

Frost each cookie, and top with some of the candied peel. Press the peel gently into the frosting.

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A Goldfinch

A goldfinch returned the other day to continue munching on the zinnias. Hope you enjoy!

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Peace to you. Fran

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