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dark chocolate chip cookies with pistachio and black sesame

dark chocolate chip cookies with pistachios and black sesame // milly's kitchen

I'm sitting on a plane as I type this, headed for my annual pilgrimage to the heat and sun of the desert. Raindrops are gliding down the windows and, in a proper Seattle send-off, it's cold and grey. When we land in Palm Springs it will be a balmy 85°. And when I arrive back in Seattle, we will have officially arrived at spring.

Perched on the thin edge between winter and spring, dark and light, feels like an opportune moment to celebrate the changing of the seasons.

dark chocolate chip cookies with pistachios and black sesame // milly's kitchen

There is a part of me that wants to close the book on our long Seattle winter and be done with it. Good riddance.

Yet as much as I look forward to longer days filled with dinners outdoors and working in the garden, I realize I am thankful for the stillness of the darker months as well. Opposites enhance; darkness gives form to the light, throwing the contours of our spring rituals into dramatic relief. The soil turned. The flowers picked. The sharing of an Easter meal.

dark chocolate chip cookies with pistachios and black sesame // milly's kitchen

Without the bare branches and drizzly afternoons spent in the company of good books, we would not rejoice as fully in the green tips of the first seedlings or summer days full of picnics and iced tea and languorous naps in the sun.

This week, I was in the mood to celebrate the last shadows of winter before heading into the desert sun. So I give you this small ode to darkness: Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies with Pistachios and Black Sesame.

dark chocolate chip cookies with pistachios and black sesame // milly's kitchen

They are intensely chocolaty, with deep, earthy notes from the pistachios and a subtle bitterness from the black sesame seeds--a decadent celebration of the end of winter.

In these final days of cold and grey, I hope you'll bake up a batch of these dark beauties and join me in celebrating winter's last hurrah and the arrival of spring!

dark chocolate chip cookies with pistachios and black sesame // milly's kitchen
dark chocolate chip cookies with pistachios and black sesame // milly's kitchen

Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies with Pistachios and Black Sesame

  • 10oz (2 1/4 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 5 oz (3/4 cup) lightly packed brown sugar
  • 5 oz (1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons) granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup black sesame seeds
  • 6 oz dark chocolate chunks or chips
  • 3 1/2 oz (3/4 cup) raw pistachios, roughly chopped
  • Coarse sea salt for topping (optional)
dark chocolate chip cookies with pistachios and black sesame // milly's kitchen

*NOTE: I used two Theo 70% Pure Dark chocolate bars, roughly chopped

 

Whisk the flour, baking soda and salt together in a medium bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar at medium speed just until smooth, 30 to 60 seconds. Do not beat until pale and fluffy as this will cause your cookies to incorporate more air and spread in the oven.  

Add the egg, yolk and vanilla and beat until the egg is incorporated, 30 to 60 seconds more. Add all of the flour mixture and mix on low speed until halfway incorporated. Add the sesame seeds, chocolate and pistachios and mix on low speed until the dough just comes together. Take care not to overwork the dough or your cookies will be tough. 

Use a 1/4-cup scoop to form balls of dough. Place the formed dough on a parchment-lined sheet pan. Refrigerate overnight. I know this seems fussy and unfair considering how good this cookie dough is, but resting your dough before baking it off is the single most effective way to take your cookies to next-level, eye-rolling deliciousness. Trust me; it's worth it.

You can also freeze the dough balls. Once they are frozen solid, remove them from the sheet pan and store them in a resealable plastic bag in the freezer for up to two months. I always freeze my dough and bake from frozen as it makes for prettier cookies that hold their shape better in the oven.

When you are ready to bake off the cookies, preheat the oven to 325°F. Place racks in the center and upper third of the oven and line two sheet pans with parchment paper.  

Place 6 dough balls on each of the prepared sheet pans, leaving at least 2 inches of space around each cookie. (You can freeze the last 4 dough balls for emergency cookie cravings or bake them as a second batch.) Sprinkle the dough balls with coarse salt, if desired. Bake for about 18 minutes, until lightly browned around the edges and still soft in the middle (add 3 to 4 minutes if baking from frozen). If you're unsure when to take them out, err on the side of under- rather than overbaking them. Remove the cookies from the oven and allow them to cool on the baking sheet for about 3 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely. These cookies will keep for up to 4 days, stored in an airtight container.

Makes 16 large cookies

Adapted from Joy the Baker

dark chocolate chip cookies with pistachios and black sesame // milly's kitchen

baked french toast with pears, hazelnuts and blackberry-cardamom syrup

Baked French Toast with Pears, Hazelnuts and Blackberry-Cardamom Syrup // Milly's Kitchen

I heard someone speaking the other day about the fear of catastrophe that follows intense joy. Like a streak of lightning after thunder. As though, gazing upon your sleeping babe, your soulmate, your safe and beautiful home, the happiness you feel is too great. So big it aches in your chest. Incomprehensible. And so you must conjure some horrible disaster in your mind to ward off the fear of what might be. A psychic sacrifice to the demons that poke and prick at us all. 

I'm all too familiar with that feeling. 

More often than I’d like to admit, I am afraid that the good things I have might be snatched away from me. Who am I to receive such gifts, experience such joy?, I think. To forestall the unthinkable, I tell myself: Don't get too comfortable. Be vigilant. Work harder. 

But to think like this is to not be fully alive. So for the past several years, I've been trying to let the negative and the dark hold less sway. To be in the here and now and to be wholeheartedly grateful for the many blessings I have.

Baked French Toast with Pears, Hazelnuts and Blackberry-Cardamom Syrup // Milly's Kitchen

So as one year turns into another, I try to carve out a quiet moment to imagine fresh adventures. And to look back over my year at the many things I have to be grateful for.

This year, that list is huge. 

I got married to a kind and loving man who has made me laugh precisely every single day since we met. I have a husband who loves me as I am and helps me remember that nothing is ever as daunting as it seems with a friend at your side. For this, I am beyond grateful.

Baked French Toast with Pears, Hazelnuts and Blackberry-Cardamom Syrup // Milly's Kitchen

My work is more inspiring and fulfilling than I ever could have imagined. When I left a business that I helped found and had poured my entire being into, to teach and write and lead culinary adventures, I was terrified. There were lots of days spent wanting to stay in bed with the covers pulled over my head. What if everyone thought my plan was frivolous or stupid? Worse, what if no one showed up?

But you did show up. The tour I led to Paris last year was a lifechanger. Forming friendships with the women who came with me to Paris and watching them marvel in the city’s delights, was one of the high points of my year. For this I am grateful.

Baked French Toast with Pears, Hazelnuts and Blackberry-Cardamom Syrup // Milly's Kitchen

As was connecting with all of you through this blog. In the beginning, I thought this space would be about posting recipes and sharing tips. Explanations of food science and proper technique. But when I sit down to write, this is what comes out. Thoughts on why cooking and gathering loved ones around the table is so essential. Things I hadn’t articulated clearly before. Even to myself. And the ability to catapult back in time. To summers past and trips to France. To the Thanksgivings of my childhood when my grandmother was still turning out huge trays of her oyster stuffing. And to snowy Christmases spent with good friends. For this, too, I am grateful.

And so, one of the things I am most thankful for this year is you. To all of you who came out to a cooking class, read my blog, shared with me on Instagram, and journeyed with me to Paris, I am so appreciative of all your support. 2014 was an amazing year for me, due in large part to the wonderful connections I made with all of you. So I’m sending you a huge thank you!

I've got a new recipe for you: Baked French Toast with Pears, Hazelnuts and Blackberry-Cardamom Syrup. It’s just the thing to get everyone around the table for a family breakfast or New Year’s Day brunch.

Baked French Toast with Pears, Hazelnuts and Blackberry-Cardamom Syrup // Milly's Kitchen

You soak the bread the night before in a ginger-brown sugar custard. Simmer ripe pears in a luscious salted caramel sauce, stir in a handful of toasted hazelnuts, and you’re ready to go. Pop the whole thing in the oven in the morning and you have a simple, elegant breakfast that feeds a crowd. 

The recipe is below. I hope you enjoy it. And I hope you share it with those you are most grateful for. 

Wishing you a Happy and Bright New Year!

- Olaiya 


Baked French Toast with Pears, Hazelnuts, and Blackberry-Cardamom Syrup

  • 1 recipe syrup (see below)
  • 5 tablespoons butter, divided, plus additional for greasing the pan
  • 1 1-lb loaf of country white bread or challah, preferably a day or two old
  • ½ vanilla bean
  • 1 packed cup brown sugar, divided
  • 5 large eggs
  • 2 ½ cups whole milk
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 3/4 cup hazelnuts
  • 4 ripe pears

For syrup:

  • 1 cup blackberries, fresh or frozen
  • ½ cup maple syrup, preferably Grade B (which is darker and more delicious in my opinion)
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom

Use a little of the butter to grease a large baking dish. Cut the bread into slices one inch thick. Cut the slices in half diagonally. Arrange the bread in the baking dish in two or three rows, overlapping the slices of bread as necessary to make them fit. Set aside.

Place ½ cup of the brown sugar in a large bowl. Slice the vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Using a paring knife, scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the sugar. Use your fingers to rub the vanilla seeds into the sugar to distribute them evenly. Add the eggs, milk, ginger and ½ teaspoon of the salt. Whisk well to combine.

Pour the custard evenly over the bread in the baking dish. Depending on the size of your dish, you may need to gently push the slices down into the custard with a spoon or flexible spatula so the bread can soak up as much custard as possible.

Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 6 hours and up to 24 hours to allow the custard to soak into the bread. If you notice that there is custard pooling in the bottom of the baking dish, spoon some of the custard over the bread once or twice while it’s chilling. You can also place another roasting pan or pie dish on top of the soaking bread to gently push it down into the custard if your bread is on the sturdy side. The extent to which the custard is absorbed will depend on the type of bread you use and how dry it is.

Baked French Toast with Pears, Hazelnuts and Blackberry-Cardamom Syrup // Milly's Kitchen

When you are ready to cook the French toast, preheat the oven to 400°F. Remove the baking dish from the refrigerator. If there is still a bit of custard pooling at the bottom of the baking dish, tip out the excess. Set aside.

If you are using pre-roasted and skinned hazelnuts, roughly chop them and set aside. If you have raw hazelnuts, place them on a rimmed sheet pan and toast until fragrant, about 7 minutes. Remove the nuts from the pan so they don’t burn. Place them in the middle of a kitchen towel. Bring the four corners of the towel towards each other and twist them together until you have securely enclosed the nuts in the towel. Vigorously rub the hazelnuts together inside the towel for a minute or so. When you open the towel most of the skins should have fallen off. Roughly chop the toasted and skinned nuts and set aside. 

Baked French Toast with Pears, Hazelnuts and Blackberry-Cardamom Syrup // Milly's Kitchen

Peel and core the pears then slice them ⅛-inch thick. Heat 4 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted, add the remaining ½ cup brown sugar and ½ teaspoon salt. Add the pears and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and the caramel starts to thicken, about 5 minutes. If your pears are quite ripe, it will take a little longer for the moisture to cook off and the caramel to thicken. Remove the pears from the heat and add the chopped hazelnuts. Stir to coat the nuts in caramel. 

Baked French Toast with Pears, Hazelnuts and Blackberry-Cardamom Syrup // Milly's Kitchen

Spoon the pears and nuts over the prepared bread, tucking some of the caramelized pear in between the slices. Cut the remaining tablespoon of butter into small pieces and dot the top of the French toast with it. Place in the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes, until the custard has set and the French toast is golden brown.

While the French toast is baking, make the syrup: Place the blackberries and syrup in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until the berries are soft and starting to fall apart, about 5 minutes. Strain the syrup through a fine-mesh sieve into a small bowl, pushing on the berries with a spoon or spatula to extract as much berry pulp as possible. Stir the salt and cardamom into the warm syrup.

Rest the French toast for 5-10 minutes before serving with warm Blackberry-Cardamom Syrup.

Makes 6-8 servings

Baked French Toast with Pears, Hazelnuts and Blackberry-Cardamom Syrup // Milly's Kitchen

lebkuchen

Lebkuchen // Milly's Kitchen

The first time I tasted lebkuchen was at a Christmas market in Aachen, Germany. I was studying in Brussels at the time, lounging around on a grey Sunday morning, when my friend, Gösta called. Finding the city insufficiently snowy and festive, he proposed we take a day trip to Germany to experience a traditional Weihnachtsmarkt and some true holiday cheer. I was pretty content under my duvet. But Gösta is Swedish, and so clearly an expert on both snow and holiday cheer. And he was driving. I rallied.

We called two other Swedish friends, Katinka and Joakim, folded ourselves into Gösta’s tiny car and headed out of the city. As we approached the German border, flakes began to fall. By the time we arrived in Aachen, the city and market were as festive and snow-covered as Gösta had predicted. 

Lebkuchen // Milly's Kitchen

The market was on a square flanked on all sides by tall, stepped facades that recalled sugared gingerbread houses. Strings of white lights glowed from rooftops. Beneath, there were wooden huts selling hand carved ornaments, dense fruit breads, sprays of holly and twisty peppermint candies. The market smelled of roasting nuts and sizzling wurst, which we ordered with sautéed onions and a smear of spicy German mustard.  And there was glühwein, warm mulled wine, that we drank huddled close beneath eaves the eaves.

After the sun had set and the temperature plunged towards truly frigid, we decided it was time to head home. As we wound our way back through the market, we found ourselves on a side-street, in front of a small bakery, its window piled high with German Christmas cookies. Crisp, stamped springerle. Iced cinnamon stars. Humble pfeffernüsse in their jackets of powdered sugar. And another I’d never seen before: pillowy spice cookies emblazoned with blanched almonds and washed with a thin sugar glaze. Lebkuchen. I ordered a heart shaped one, tossed it in my bag and forgot about it.

Excavating my purse several days later, I discovered the slightly smashed cookie. I took a bite. Not only was it still good, it was glorious. Tender. Subtly sweet. Tasting of almonds and honey. And spice. There was cinnamon for sure. And ginger maybe. Something woody and warm like nutmeg or cloves. And something floral like cardamom. And the whole thing was laced through with a ribbon of citrus that kept it from being either too sweet or too dark. 

It has been my favorite Christmas cookie ever since.

Lebkuchen // Milly's Kitchen
Lebkuchen // Milly's Kitchen

When I moved back to the U.S., I discovered that almost no one on the West Coast has heard of lebkuchen. So several Christmases ago, I started my search for the perfect recipe. There are many, many versions of lebkuchen. Ones that strive to reproduce the cookie as it existed in 15th-century Nuremberg (the city in which it originated). Unfussy, American versions using molasses and omitting the traditional marzipan, adapted by German immigrants. Fancified modern versions baked as cupcakes and tarts.

I’ve been tinkering with the recipe for several Christmases. This is simply the version that I like best. There are lots of ground almonds to keep the cookie moist. A good hit of spice and a splash of rum to keep things festive. Three forms of citrus--candied peel, zest and juice--for complexity and to balance the dark spices. And this year, having run out of molasses, I made some with sorghum syrup, which produced my best batch yet. 

Lebkuchen // Milly's Kitchen

Baking these lebkuchen is a delight in itself. Like all good holiday traditions, it calls to mind cherished friends and family near and far. For me, each bite tastes of a German holiday market and a snowy afternoon spent wandering and laughing and drinking glühwein with good friends. 


*A note on ingredients: I prefer sorghum syrup for these cookies, which can be hard to find outside the South. But if you can get your hands on a bottle, its bright sweetness and tart edges will elevate these lebkuchen to some of the finest Christmas cookies around. Light molasses produces great lebkuchen as well. I think dark and blackstrap molasses overwhelm the flavor of the citrus and spice.

Also, I finally found a local source for back oblaten, the thin, edible wafer rounds traditionally used for lebkuchen! If you are in Seattle, you can buy them at PFI. They are also available from specialty sources on the internet. I have made these cookies many times without them, though, and back oblaten are not at all necessary for delicious lebkuchen.

Lebkuchen

  • 1 recipe glaze (see below)
  • 4 oz candied citrus peel, finely chopped (yields about ¾ cup)
  • 2 tablespoons rum, preferably gold or dark
  • 7 oz (1 ½ cups) whole almonds
  • 7 oz (1 cup) sugar, divided
  • 7 oz (1 ½ cup) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 3 large eggs
  • ¼ cup light molasses or sorghum syrup
  • Zest of ½ lemon
  • 13 90mm back oblaten, optional
  • ½ cup whole blanched almonds, optional

For glaze:

  • 3 ½ oz (about 1 cup) powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon hot water

Combine the chopped citrus peel and rum in a small bowl. Stir to combine and set aside for at least 15 minutes.

Combine the almonds and 2 tablespoons of the sugar in the bowl of a food processor (a good blender will also work in a pinch). Process until the almonds have been ground to a fine meal. 

Transfer the almonds to a medium bowl. Add the flour, baking powder, salt and spices. Stir well to combine.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar, molasses or sorghum syrup and lemon zest until foamy. Add the nut mixture and the soaked citrus peel (with any rum in the bottom of the bowl) and stir until just combined. The dough will be quite sticky. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and preferably overnight. 

Preheat the oven to 375° F.

Using a ¼-cup ice cream scoop, scoop the dough onto a parchment-lined sheet pan, leaving at least an inch between each cookie. If you are using the back oblaten, arrange them on a parchment-lined sheet pan and then scoop the dough into the center of each one. Use your fingers to gently flatten the tops of cookies until they are ½ inch thick (wetting your hands makes this a little easier). If you are using back oblaten, leave a ¼-inch border of wafer around the cookie dough. Place three almonds very close together in the center of each lebkuchen (they spread as the lebkuchen cook). Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, rotating the pans after 12 minutes, until the cookies are set but still soft in the middle. When in doubt, pull them sooner rather than later.

While the lebkuchen are baking, make the glaze: Sift the powdered sugar into a small bowl to remove any lumps. Add the lemon juice and hot water and whisk until smooth. 

When the cookies are done, let them cool for a minute or two then transfer to a wire rack set over a parchment-lined sheet pan (to catch glaze drips). Brush the warm lebkuchen with glaze. Repeat if desired. Let the glaze dry completely (an hour or so) before storing.

Store lebkuchen in an airtight container with a small handful of apple peels or a slice of apple or orange. This keeps the cookies moist. The cookies will keep for up to 6 weeks this way and they get better as they age and the spices and citrus oils continue to blend.  

Makes a baker's dozen of large (4-inch) cookies

Lebkuchen // Milly's Kitchen