A Limoncello-Chocolate Frosted Cookie and a Goldfinch

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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



Mocha-Frosted Soft Hermit Cookies

img_6688Hermits have long been a favorite cookie of mine. They are soft, spicy cookies, dark with molasses or brown sugar, and loaded with chewy raisins or chopped dates. The origins of the name is lost in history. They may be drop cookies or bar cookies, but they all have the chewy/spicy thing going on.

I associate hermits, whether rightly or wrongly, with the old New England sailing villages of Nantucket Island, where the whaling ships voyaged to exotic lands, bringing back troves of cloves, sacks of nutmegs, and quills of cinnamon. I can imagine being in an old-fashioned New England kitchen, in a quaint beach cottage, making these as I look out to sea through a rose-covered bower. Ahoy there! So that’s my fantasy, it’s really fun, and I’m sticking to it! Here is the recipe.

Mocha-Frosted Soft Hermits

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
1 large egg
1-1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped pitted dates
1 cup chopped walnuts

Heat oven to 350 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a mixing bowl, cream butter and brown sugar until smooth. Add sour cream and egg and blend. In a separate bowl, mix flour, spices, baking soda and salt. Add to the creamed mixture, and then stir in the dates and walnuts.

Scoop dough with an ice cream scooper (about 2 tablespoons of dough). Bake until cookies are firm to the touch–about 15 to 16 minutes. Transfer cookies to a rack to cool.

Make the following frosting: Mix 3 cups powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons cocoa, 2 tablespoons instant coffee powder, and 2 tablespoons soft butter. Add 4 tablespoons of boiling water, and stir until smooth. Add another tablespoon of boiling water, if necessary, to make a thick glaze.

Baking notes: These cookies are soft and mild-flavored, but the coffee, spice, and chocolate flavors bloom the longer they sit. They are so perfect with a cup of coffee. I used coffee crystals rather than powder, and they didn’t totally dissolve, but cookies still tasted very good! It’s the combination of the creamy frosting with the soft cake-like cookie that is so good here! (The cookie recipe is from Big, Soft, Chewy Cookies by Jill Van Cleave. The frosting is from a newspaper clipping.)

I’ve brought out my box of spices, just for the occasion. (It’s from World Market.)

Ready to be frosted.
Iced cookies
Iced cookies
The place is set with my tiny Blue Willow china pieces, a cookie for each, and a cup of coffee!
The place is set with my tiny Blue Willow china pieces, a cookie for each, and a cup of coffee!
The ship is ready to sail!
The ship is ready to sail.
A hermit, somewhere on the China Sea.
A hermit, somewhere on the China Sea.

Lastly, a little sparrow, sitting on the garden fence. Peace to you. Fran




A Sweet Goldfinch

On a beautiful fall day this little goldfinch paused for a moment near the feeder. I love goldfinches–their soprano song, their calmness, their way of flying and swooping joyously through the air. So I hope you enjoy these pictures of this sweet little bird with a tiny crumb of bird seed on her beak.


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img_6561 img_6562 img_6563img_6571img_6575Normally I like to include a cookie recipe in my post, and this morning I did bake up a recipe for Marshall Fields Mocha-frosted Hermit Cookies, from the same article that had the recipe for the Marshall Fields Chocolate Iced Cookies (Oct. 3, 2016), which are among the best cookies I’ve ever tasted. So I had high hopes, and was surprised when the cookies emerged from the oven looking like flabby old pancakes. Yikes. Worse, they even tasted like flabby old pancakes. I placed one of these cookies outside on a leaf for the squirrels to eat, and it remains untouched. Even squirrels have their standards. So it’s back to the drawing board, and I will post the re-configured recipe later this week! Peace. Fran


A Lacy Brownie Torte and a Butterfly

img_6675When all is said and done, I love chocolate, and every now and then want–no, need–to make something deeply, unabashedly chocolate. This Lacy Brownie Torte fills the bill. I found the recipe in an old copy of “Victoria at Table with Family & Friends.” The torte’s lacy presentation also drew my eye–it’s so easy to do, but is pretty and impressive. Adding the red zinnia at the last moment was my idea!

The torte inflates as it bakes and settles down as it cools to only about an inch in height. The texture is light and moist, but the flavor is rich with butter and chocolate, and with a hint of the nuttiness of the ground almonds. So it tastes like a particularly delicious brownie, but is much lighter. Serve this with a swirl of whipped cream, for a dessert of perfection! Here is the recipe:

Lacy Brownie Torte

1 tablespoon fine, dry bread crumbs
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (divided)
1 cup finely ground blanched almonds
6 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1-1/3 cups sugar
3 eggs, separated
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
powdered sugar and doily for decoration

Ahead of time: Melt chocolate and set aside to cool. Butter a 9″-inch round springform pan; mix the dry bread crumbs with one tablespoon cocoa. Coat the bottom and sides of the pan with the cocoa mixture. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Use 12 squares of the unsweetened chocolate.

Combine the ground almonds, flour, the remaining one tablespoon of cocoa, and salt. Mix until blended and set aside.

In another bowl, using an electric mixer, cream the softened butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks, one by one, beating well after each addition. Beat in the cooled, melted chocolate and the vanilla. Gradually fold in the almond/flour mixture. The mixture will be fairly firm in texture.

Wash and dry the beaters, and beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Thoroughly stir a dollop of beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture to loosen it up. Fold in the remainder of the beaten egg whites. Spread into the prepared pan. Bake for 35 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool for about five minutes, and then loosen the sides of the cake pan. Allow to cool completely.

Place the cake on the cake plate, and set a round doily on top. Sift powdered sugar over the doily/cake. Lift the doily straight up and off. Voila!

Baking notes: Yes, you could use a brownie mix instead of going to all of the above trouble, and get the same effect with the doily, but this tastes so much better!


Shishito Peppers

I’m just putting in a word for the shishito pepper. I grew a shishito pepper plant this summer, and then wondered what to do with all the peppers. It turns out that while these peppers may look hot and dangerous, they are actually sweet and flavorful.

Just trim the stems, then wash and dry the peppers. Sauté in some extra virgin olive oil until the peppers are browned and soft (about fifteen minutes). Sprinkle with salt and pepper. I also drizzled with a bit of sesame chile oil, and sprinkled with some sesame seeds. To eat, just pick up a pepper by the stem, and chomp! These are so, so good. I’ve heard these peppers are showing up at Trader Joe’s, a sure sign of growing popularity.

On the butterfly front, a cabbage white butterfly fluttered into the garden yesterday, and I begged it to land on a zinnia. Please, little butterfly, please, please, please–it would make such a nice picture! I think I heard a tiny voice say, “You talkin’ to me?” and to my surprise, it did land on a leaf and then a flower and I was able to take a number of pictures. Sometimes you just have to ask.



Attacked by marauding goldfinches, this is all that’s left of a once-beautiful zinnia. Notice the incoming bee!


Peace to you. Fran

Chocolate-Iced Cookies from Marshall Fields

img_6639I really hate to reveal how old some of my recipe clippings are: suffice to say, I was riffling through my deepest, oldest cookie archives, in the veritable catacombs of my collection, where I had to brush away cobwebs and hurry past the skeletal remains of long-deceased monks, to find this recipe, from the Food Guide of the Chicago Tribune, dated Thursday, June 29, 1989.

These Chocolate-Iced Cookies from Marshall Fields are legendary. I can remember going to their store in Oak Park, and stopping by their tiny bakery. It was always mayhem–even though we took numbers, the mere suggestion that someone might illicitly jump ahead of line caused an underlying sense of mob violence poised to erupt. I always requested one Chocolate-Iced Cookie, cost: 75 cents. The cookie was nestled in tissue paper and handed to me in a small, white waxed paper bag.

Then I seem to remember hurrying off, slavering, like a wolf to her lair, to devour the cookie, crumbs of which were left on my snout. The cookie was cloud soft, chocolatey, and a bit crackly from the frosting. In the words of Oak Park native son Ernest Hemingway : It was good. It was very good. I ate it.

Here is the recipe.

Chocolate-iced Cookies from Marshall Fields

3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) butter, softened
2 cups packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey or corn syrup
4-1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
2 eggs
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 to 3/4 cup chopped pecans
3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons butter, softened
4-5 tablespoons boiling water.

Ahead of time: chop nuts and melt the unsweetened chocolate. Mix the flour, salt and baking soda in a bowl. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cream butter, brown sugar and honey in a large bowl, using an electric mixer. Add cooled chocolate and eggs; beat well. Stir in buttermilk and vanilla. Add flour mixture, and then chopped pecans. Using a 1/4-cup cookie scoop, scoop dough onto lined baking sheet. (If you don’t have a cookie scoop, use two tablespoons dough.) Leave two inches between cookies. Bake for 12 minutes, or until center is set. Cool on a wire rack. Makes 2-1/2 dozen cookies.

For frosting, mix powdered sugar, cocoa and softened butter. Add about four tablespoons of the boiling water and mix. Add more boiling water, by the half tablespoon, if needed. (This imprecision is because powdered sugar seems to vary as to how much moisture it contains. Add the water little by little.)

Baking note: The recipe called for 4-1/2 ounces of unsweetened baking chocolate, and, unfortunately, Baker’s chocolate is sold in 4-ounce bars. Darn! I used a little chocolate left over from a previous recipe to make up the 1/2 ounce. Failing that, you may have to buy two bars, though my guess is that using only 4-ounces of chocolate would be fine. The original recipe called for invert sugar, a type of liquid sugar used by pro bakers. The honey works perfectly, though.

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Goldfinch Feathers

Seen the other day: a goldfinch perching above a feeder as the wind ruffled its feathers. My bird identifying skills are primitive, and I don’t know if this is a young bird, or a male with his bright summer feathers falling out and his duller fall feathers coming in. Either way, I enjoyed seeing him.



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Peace to you. Fran



Giant Toffee-Chocolate Chip Cookies and a Skipper


I wish I could say I had a reason for baking these Giant Toffee-Chocolate Chip Cookies, but no rational can be found, except that I just like baking cookies. And this recipe has been calling to me for awhile. Could they possibly be as delicious as they looked in the “Betty Crocker Baking with Love” cookbook, in the chapter titled “Irresistible Cookies”? As it turns out, yes! Big and buttery, crunchy with Heath Bar English Toffee Bits, they are like chocolate chip cookies on steroids. I scooped out the dough with a big 1/4-cup ice cream scooper, but you can make them by the tablespoon for smaller cookies. Either way, these are awfully good!

Giant Toffee-Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup packed  brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening
1/4 cup honey
1 egg
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 12-ounce package miniature semisweet chocolate chips
1 package (8-ounce) milk chocolate toffee bits

Heat oven to 350 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Mix together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, mix brown sugar, butter, shortening, honey and egg. Beat together (a big spoon can be used) until smooth and light. Stir in the flour mixture, and then the chocolate chips and brick chips. Using a 1/4-cup ice cream scoop, drop dough onto cookie sheet, and bake for 12 to 14 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Centers will still be soft. Allow to cool a bit on baking sheet before moving to wire rack. Makes 21 cookies.

Baking notes: As I’ve mentioned, you can make these smaller–bake for about 10 to 12 minutes. I used Heath Bar English Toffee Bits. The original recipe called for a 6-ounce bag of the toffee bits, but the bag I purchased was 8 ounces. So in a fit of wild abandon, I threw in all 8-ounces of chips.

A Silver-Spotted Skipper

Now that I’ve seen one skipper, I seem to see them everywhere: my skipper consciousness has been raised! Here is a silver-spotted skipper, daintily perched on a sedum. He gets his name from the distinctive silver patch on his hindwing.


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Flying away!
Flying away!

This is aster season, and here is a picture of a purple aster I saw out at Otter Creek Nature Preserve this weekend. I think it’s a New York aster, but don’t quote me on that! Peace. Fran


Note: I’ve made a few changes in the format of this blog, with the aim of making it easier to read! Hope you like, but I would like to hear any comments, yea or nay. Fran


Lots-of-Blueberries Coffeecake and a Skipper


The garden has been alive with butterflies this past week–I’ve seen sulphurs, red admirals and skippers. (This is the first year of my life that I have noticed skippers, and it makes me wonder what else I have been missing.) In my defense, the skipper posing above is barely half an inch long, and is easily missed. Turns out that skippers are considered to be primitive butterflies, and are classified in their own separate group apart from butterflies and moths. There are many kinds of skippers, but after learning that even experts have a hard time knowing which is which, I decided to just enjoy them, and not delve further into nomenclature.

Here are a few closeups of this delightful little creature.





For Blueberry Lovers


For blueberry lovers, here is a moist, plump coffeecake, loaded with about as many blueberries as can be shoehorned into one cake, and topped with a crackling crust of sugar. The recipe is from “Tea Breads and Coffeecakes” by Elizabeth Alston, a delightful little book. Its broken spine and smudged pages testify as to how much I have enjoyed baking from it!

Lots-Of-Blueberries Coffeecake

4 tablespoons butter
3 cups blueberries
2 cups flour
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup milk
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Topping: 2 tablespoons sugar mixed with 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 8- or 9-inch glass baking dish. Line it with parchment paper, and grease lightly again. Melt the butter in a small bowl in a microwave. (This took about 50 seconds at full power in my microwave.) Set aside to cool.

Wash and drain blueberries; spread out on paper towels to dry.

Put the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Stir to mix. Mix the milk, eggs, and vanilla together, and add to the flour mixture along with the melted butter. Fold in the blueberries. Spread the batter in the prepared dish, and sprinkle with the topping mixture. Bake for about 50 minutes, or until a knife tip inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Blueberry Baking notes: The price of blueberries can vary wildly from week to week. When I went shopping this morning, I realized it would cost me at least $8.00 for the blueberries in this recipe. So I opted to buy a 12-0unce bag of frozen berries for $2.69, and they worked well. I did go to the King Arthur Flour website to learn about using frozen blueberries. They recommended rinsing the frozen berries until the water runs clear, and then drying them on paper towels. This keeps the berries from staining the batter. I did this, though I have to say, the water never ran clear, and drying the wet, thawing berries was an ordeal. So I also checked in at the US Highbush Blueberry Council. They recommend not allowing the frozen berries to thaw at all before adding to the batter–this will keep streaking to a minimum. I vote for the second method! The Blueberry Council offers some wonderful looking recipes, so it’s worth stopping by their website.

The china pattern is Spode’s “Camilla,” from England.

As well as skippers, there were bees browsing the sedum yesterday. Peace to you. Fran