Kitchen Experiments: Orangettes

Orange is definitely one of my favorite flavors. Along with the other citrus fruits, oranges are full of freshness and flavor. One of my favorite things to do is actually peel an orange by hand. I like to get my fingers in there and just pull back the peel, and watch the orange oils just leak out and get all over my hands. It’s like nature’s perfume! Obviously I’m no stranger to oranges but it wasn’t until recently that I experienced a dark chocolate covered candied orange peel. I instantly fell in love. I was never really one to eat any kind of fruit with chocolate; not even the super popular chocolate covered strawberries. It just wasn’t my thing. I liked my fruits and chocolate separate when I was a kid, and never thought to try them together until adulthood. Blame the ‘refined palate’ I’m now claiming because I’m game to chocolate with fruit, and the darker the chocolate the better.

Back to the candied orange. It was definitely an experience and an eye opener. With the whole “do it myself” kick I’ve been going through, I knew I could probably pull this off. I used this recipe as a guide and got going.

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Making orangettes is super simple but very time consuming. It can take all day, but the majority of the process is just waiting. To get started, grab some oranges and carefully remove the peel off in segments. I like to cut off the top and bottom of the orange; trying to take away as little as possible of the actual orange. We just want a little opening into the pith. From here, I score the peel four times around the orange, and then use my hands to carefully remove the peel. Oddly enough, we actually want the pith. Ideally, when eating an orange the pith isn’t edible but for this purpose, we need it as it helps hold the sugar and gives the orangette its structure.

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After peeling the whole orange, slice the peel into strips. Try to make them as even as possible, but don’t fret if they’re not. I find that the thicker the slice, the better but this also takes longer to dry later. Play around with the sizes and thickness until you find what you like. After you have your strips ready, bring a pot with water up to a boil. Place the strips into the boiling water and blanch for five minutes. Rinse the peels and repeat the process two more times. This process is done to get rid of the bitterness found in the peel, and helps soften them up for the next step. For this part, I changed out the water each time and blanched them a total of three times. I’m sure it isn’t necessary to change the water each time, but I did for extra security.

After the last blanch, place an equal amount of water and sugar into your pot and bring to a simmer. Essentially, this is a simple syrup, and is what turns regular orange peels into orangettes. Amounts of water/sugar can vary, depending on how many orangettes you plan on making. For the one orange I used, I made my simple syrup using two cups of water with two cups of sugar. I did this for two reasons; one of which was because of my failed first attempt. The first time I tried to make these, I didn’t use enough water and sugar; the strips were touching the bottom of the pot. On top of the fact that they were sticking, I had the heat a little too high and ended up with caramelized orange peels. It could’ve been good but it was NOT what I was looking for.

Peels in syrup

Peels in syrup

When the syrup is at a simmer, put the peels in the pot and keep at a simmer for an hour. Yes, I know. A whole hour. Don’t stray too far from the pot, either. It needs to stay at a simmer or else you’ll end up with my first attempt’s result. Not good. While you wait, eat the orange you now have laying around if you haven’t already. This is also a good time to think about what kind of chocolate is best to dip the finished orangettes in. Personally, I’m a fan of dark chocolate. In this case, it goes very well with the orangey sweetness of the orangettes against the bitter tones of a dark chocolate. Bittersweet and semisweet also work extremely well, but you can use what you like. For this instance, I used semisweet.

Now that the peels have been simmering in the syrup for an hour, it’s time for removal. Carefully lay out each orangette atop of a cooling rack. Place a baking sheet under the rack to catch the syrup drippings. Right now, you should have a pot full of orange simple syrup. That was reason number two! Save the syrup and use it to sweeten tea, cocktails, or even lemonade.

Here comes the hard part: more waiting! The orangettes need to be completely dry before dipping in chocolate. For me, it took several hours; I didn’t really note how long it actually took. After they’re completely dry, they should be a little sturdier and less sticky. Melt the chocolate of your choice, either on a double boiler or carefully in the microwave. Dip each orangette, and place on a baking sheet lined with wax paper. At this point, you have creative license to dip them however you want; either completely, halfway, or a simple drizzle. For the non-chocolate lovers (ahem, my folks), toss the orangettes in some granulated sugar but only before serving! The orangettes tend to soak the sugar up and they get kind of wet and sticky; not cool.

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Orangettes are just plain awesome.  They’re sweet, chewy and intensely orange. The slight bitterness of the semisweet chocolate goes so well with the sweetness of the orangette. I mean, chocolate and orange just love each other. Pity it took me this long to figure that out. Now that I think of it, these would make an awesome gift. Honestly, I’m just thinking ahead to Christmas! Too soon, maybe.

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I’m positive this method isn’t just limited to oranges, and could produce awesome tasting candied lemon peels (lemonettes?) or lime peels (limettes, obviously). Try them with different combinations of chocolate; like limettes covered in white chocolate or lemonettes in milk chocolate. The options are endless and sure to produce a delicious result.

Orangettes – adapted from Handle the Heat

  • 1 large orange
  • 8 cups of water, divided
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 4-8oz of semisweet chocolate chunks, melted
  • 1/4 cup of sugar (optional)

Directions:

  1. Cut the top and bottom off of the orange. Score the peel four times, rotating the orange after each score. Gently remove the peel with your hands, trying to get the peel to come off in one piece. Slice the peels into uniform strips.
  2. Set a medium sized pot, and bring two cups of water to a boil. Blanch the peels in the boiling water for five minutes. Pour the peels into a colander, and rinse off with cold water. Replenish the pot with two more cups of water and bring to a boil again. Repeat the above process for a total of three times.
  3. In the empty pot, combine two cups of water and two cups of sugar over low-medium heat. Stir the sugar until it is dissolved, and bring to a simmer. Place the blanched and rinsed peels into the simmering syrup and continue to simmer for an hour.
  4. Carefully remove each peel and place on a cooling rack over a baking sheet. You can discard the syrup or keep it to sweeten drinks or tea; just place in a jar or other container and cool before refrigerating. Allow the peels to cool and dry completely, which may take several hours.
  5. After the peels have dried out, melt the chocolate over a double boiler or gently in the microwave. If you’re microwaving, melt the chocolate in 30 second increments; stirring each time. Do not scorch/overheat the chocolate. Dip each orange peel in the chocolate, and set on a baking sheet lined with wax paper. Allow the chocolate to set before enjoying.
  6. Alternatively, toss the dried orange peels into granulated sugar, instead of chocolate, before serving.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • This is a whole day kind of project. Start early!
  • Again, I don’t think it’s necessary to change the water after each blanch. If you test this, please let me know!

 

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Light and Airy Pound Cake

I’m having the worst case of baker’s block. I’ve been feeling a little uninspired lately about everything kitchen related, and it’s catching up to me. I usually have my weekly baking excursions planned at least a month in advanced but I haven’t done that since March. I don’t know, I guess I’m going through a bit of a rut. So, what do you do when not even a fridge full of butter is enticing enough to compel you to make something? You bake a cake, of course.

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Pound cake is super easy. It’s literally a pound of butter, plus a pound of sugar, flour, and eggs. Simplicity at its finest. But this pound cake is different. I must admit, I made this recipe before (waaaaay before this blog was even a concept) and chose it because I thought it was “light” ingredient wise. You know, like light in terms of  “not fattening.” Boy, was I wrong! Nothing that involves two sticks of butter is “light.”

It did the thing

It did the thing

I quickly realized the error of my ways of thinking, and why this recipe was even titled “light.” This cake gets its lightness from whipped egg whites. Usually, pound cakes don’t require this step but it totally makes a difference. The ones that don’t probably end up more like a brick of cake; no offense to those recipes! Gentle folding of the whites into the already mixed ingredients helps keep the air in, and allows it to puff up into this light and buttery loaf. Another reason why I gravitated towards this recipe was the booze. There’s a tablespoon of hooch in this recipe! I’m no stranger to adding alcohol into my desserts; I actually try to throw it in whatever I’m baking as often as possible. I don’t know why but it just goes so well into baked goods. I promise you this cake won’t taste like alcohol but the flavor is there (somewhere).

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Originally, the recipe calls for lemon zest but I used orange zest instead. I reckon lime zest would be awesome, too. Perhaps with some coconut rum? Now I’m just imagining things! The pound cake was definitely light and airy. It’s super soft and fluffy, with the slightest hint of orange. The crust adds a bit of warmth and a necessary texture change that reminds you that this isn’t an angel food cake. I’m betting the alcohol lends to the browning of the cake, as it turns the loveliest shade of brown when baking and crumbles at the bite.

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The cake disappeared within minutes, both times, which obviously means this was a hit. I still don’t know what’s gonna come out of my kitchen next week, but I guess that feeling of uncertainty is okay. I know I’ll figure something out. If all else fails, just bake a cake!

Lighter, airy Pound Cake – adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes one loaf cake

  • 2 sticks of unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pan
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • Generous pinch of salt (about 1/8 – 1/4 tsp)
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, (divided: 1/2 cup + 6 tablespoons)
  • 1 tablespoon Brandy, or other liquor of your choice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange zest

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a loaf pan, and set aside. Sift the flour onto waxed paper and then spoon it gently back into the sifter, adding the baking powder and a good pinch of salt. Sift the mixture twice more, each time spooning it lightly into the sifter.
  2. Using an electric mixer, whip the egg whites until they hold soft peaks and then gradually beat in 1/2 cup of the sugar, two tablespoons at a time. Transfer to a bowl.
  3. In a large bowl, cream the butter until light and fluffy. Beat in the remaining six tablespoons of sugar until fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks until light and lemon-colored and then add the rum and zest.
  4. Gradually fold the sifted flour mixture into the butter-egg mixture. Fold in the beaten egg whites just until the batter is smooth. Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake in the oven for 35 to 45 minutes or until a toothpick pierced in the center comes up clean. Cool for ten minutes in the pan on a rack, then turn the cake out and cool completely on the rack.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • Use the butter wrappers to butter the loaf pan; slightly messy but a good way to use the butter left on the wrapper
  • Really, sift the flour three times. Trust me (and Deb!) on this one
  • If you try the lime zest/coconut rum version, please let me know how it turned out! I have to try that 😉

Strawberry Shortcake

My mom is the main reason I got in the kitchen. Since I was a little girl, there was always a permanent seat in the kitchen for me. At first, I would just watch her do her thing. To me, it was magical. I’d ask for a kitchen set for Christmas almost every year, just so I can pretend to cook like her. I grew up hearing the praises of everyone around me because my mom is that much of a fantastic cook. As a teen, I started to help her make dinner; chopping onions and peppers, stirring pots, all while laughing and chatting with her about anything. After my sister and I grew up, she started working as a cook in a deli. We were fortunate to have our mom at home when we were kids, but times got hard and she decided to make money doing what she loved most. Even then, we’d hear customers regularly praising her cooking. Now that my mom is no longer cooking for work, we get together in the kitchen several times a week and pick up where we left off. I hate to brag, but she really is an awesome cook. I can eat the exact same thing made by someone else and it’ll never taste the same. In fact, I’m so picky about home cooking that I rarely eat anyone else’s. It’s just that good! I know kids are supposed to say their mother’s cooking is superior, but I am not lying when I tell you my mom’s is the best.

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She is the quintessential Dominican cook. If you’ve seen my Thanksgiving and Christmas posts, you’d know what I was talking about. Her sazón is like no one else’s; often imitated but never duplicated. Everyone asks my mom how she cooks such good food and all she does is smile. Sitting in the kitchen with my mom all these years, I witnessed her magic and the secret behind her amazing food. It’s simple (and ridiculously cliché) but it’s just love. My mom is passionate about cooking and pours tons of love into every little thing she makes. You can hear her humming, or even singing while she stirs a pot or chops veggies and herbs. It’s in there and you can feel it. She is truly her happiest in the kitchen, making food for the people she loves. Even when she did it for work, she’d sing and laugh and smile.

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That passion and energy is what pushed me into the kitchen. I look up to my mom a lot because not only is she a fantastic cook, but she’s an amazing person. I know, everyone says that about their moms but she really is. She’s my number one cheerleader in life, and has always given me all of her support and love. She’s more than just my mom; she’s my friend, too. We talk about absolutely everything and even give each other advice. Granted, I don’t have much life experience but I like to believe I can be wise sometimes! I’m her shoulder to cry on just like she’s mine. She taught me how to be strong, loving, caring, and thoughtful. I’m not even sure that she knows how much she’s taught me or how much I value what she says.

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Every year, I try to make Mother’s day extra special. I show my mom how much I love her on a daily basis but on days like these, I like to put in a little extra. This year, we were a little tight budgeted so we settled on just me baking her something. I decided on a strawberry shortcake because I had been dying to try my hand at a chiffon cake. The strawberries were perfect, so I went ahead with it. Unfortunately, my oven is still on an angle, so one of my layers came out really lopsided. I messed up royally attempting to even it out so I can tort it into two layers. I did my best to remedy it with the cream and strawberries but it ended up not looking too presentable. I almost didn’t even want to post it! I actually apologized to my mom for its appearance and she just smiled at me and said “it’s the thought that really counts.” I told her that I knew that, and internally rolled my eyes because it’s so cliché but accepted it and realized that was the point. Her whole deal is doing things with love, which is what I aim to do when baking. I made this cake with a ton of love and excitement, and she knew that. This alone was enough of a gift for my mom and I’m glad I was able to give that to her.

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Despite its not so good looks, the cake came out fantastic. The chiffon cake was super light and fluffy. The strawberries went perfect with the coconut whip, against the fluffy and slightly lemony cake. My mom loved it, as well as the rest of my family.

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I’m grateful to have my mommy because without her, I don’t know what I would be doing these days. I’m thankful for her endless support and hope that I can continue to be there for her, like she is for me. Because of her, I will continue to bake with love and happiness and hope that I can make her proud.

Strawberry Chiffon Shortcake – adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes 2 9″ round cakes

  • 2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup cold water
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 5 large egg yolks at room temperature
  • 8 large egg whites at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Coconut Whipped Cream

  • 2 (13.5oz) cans full fat coconut milk, refrigerated at least overnight
  • 1/4-1/3 cup powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

Cake:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom of two 9″ round cake pans with lightly greased parchment paper. Leave the rest of the pans ungreased.

  2. In a large bowl, sift the flour, 1 1/4 cups sugar, baking powder and salt together twice.

  3. In a another bowl, beat the yolks, water, oil, zest and vanilla on high speed until smooth. Stir into the flour mixture until smooth.

  4. In another large bowl, or the bowl of your stand mixer, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until soft peaks are formed. Add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, and beat on high speed until the peaks are stiff but not dry.

  5. Using a rubber spatula, gently  fold one-quarter of the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture. Gently fold in the remaining whites until the egg whites are no longer visible. Do not overmix, as it’ll deflate the whites and result in a shorter, tougher cake.

  6. Pour the batter into the two prepared pans and spread evenly. Bake them until the top springs back when lightly pressed and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean 40 to 50 minutes Please check your cake every five minutes or so from the 30 minute mark on for doneness. Do not overbake!

  7. Let cakes cool on a cooling rack for at least an hour in the pans on a wire rack. When completely cool, run a knife around the sides to release, then flip out onto a plate (or your hand) and then another plate.

Coconut Whipped Cream:

  1. Open both cans of coconut milk. The cream should’ve solidified and risen to the top. Scoop out the cream into a bowl. If there is any liquid at the bottom of the can, discard it.
  2. Using an electric mixer, whip the coconut cream for 2-3 minutes or until it reaches soft peaks. Sift in the powdered sugar and cornstarch, and add the vanilla. Continue whipping until the sugar, cornstarch and vanilla are incorporated.

Assembly:

  • 2 pints of strawberries, hulled and sliced
  1. You can make this a two layer cake but if you’re feeling lucky, tort both of the cakes into four separate layers. If you have a cake cutter, now would be a good time to use it. If not, grab a ruler and several toothpicks. Measure your cake’s height, marking the halfway point with a toothpick. Rotate the cake, continuing to mark the halfway point with a toothpick all around. Use as many toothpicks as you need, just make sure they are consistent all around the cake. Using a serrated knife, gently saw through the middle of the cake, using the toothpicks as a rest/guide. Once split, remove the toothpicks. Repeat with the other cake.
  2. Place one of the four layers on your cake plate or platter. Spoon on about a quarter of your cream, and gently spread it evenly to the edges. Take care not to go over! Arrange a quarter of the sliced strawberries atop the cream. Repeat with the rest of the layers. Refrigerate if desired.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • The floss trick won’t work here! Use the serrated knife
  • When halving the cakes, try to keep your wrists straight to prevent slanted cuts on the layers
  • You can omit the cornstarch in the coconut whip; I only added it for stability and so it wouldn’t solidify in the fridge
  • Alternatively, you can use regular whipped cream; just sub 2 cups of heavy cream for the coconut milk
  • To get the milk to solidify, the cans need to be refrigerated at least overnight. I like to keep mine in there for several days before use; just as security so I’ll know it’ll be solid. You may get lucky (depending on the brand) and have the entire can solidify without any remaining liquid. 

 

Brown Sugar Cookies

I happen to be somewhat of a people pleaser. I made chocolate chip cookies again recently, since they were such a hit with my folks. My dad actually asked me after the first batch was all gone when I’d make them again, so I did; except they were now a problem. My mom came to me, holding a cookie, asking me why I didn’t make them without chocolate chips. I almost cried out in shock and dismay at that suggestion. If I’m making chocolate chip cookies, they’re gonna have chocolate chips (or chunks, in that case). They’re not called chocolate chip cookies by chance, you know. I explained this to her, to which she responded with an eye roll and then left the room, with cookie in tow. I started thinking about it, and decided to appease her the next time I hit the kitchen.

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Making chocolate chip cookies sans chocolate chips sounds easy enough, right? I mean, why not just make the recipe and leave out the chocolate chips? No, as that is not how I roll. What she wanted, essentially, was a soft sugar cookie. I’m not exactly fond of soft sugar cookies, as they taste like sugar coated butter to me (which may or may not be a bad thing, depending on the day and who you ask). I also thought about making snickerdoodles, because of their hint of spice, but opted out of those for the same reason. The main difference between chocolate chip cookies and sugar cookies, besides the presence of chocolate chips, is that chocolate chip cookies require brown sugar. I wanted brown sugar cookies, and this was what I set out to make.

I love to use brown sugar in any recipe where it won’t be too noticeable. There’s just a certain warmth and chewiness you can’t get from regular white sugar. Brown sugar’s identifying characteristic is its brown color, which comes from the addition of molasses during processing. It’s also the reason why it’s soft. I had been burning thorough my brown sugar recently, so I took matters into my own hands. Brown sugar is actually really easy to make at home. All you need is white sugar, and molasses. Add 1 tablespoon of molasses to each cup of white sugar; more if you like a darker brown sugar, and mix. It’s really that simple! I started mixing it with my hand mixer, but hardware like that isn’t really required. I ended up blending in the rest of the molasses with a fork, which works a lot better and requires less clean up. Homemade brown sugar is a bit darker by comparison to the store bought stuff, so do not be alarmed.

Now, let’s talk storage. Brown sugar is moist by nature and it needs to stay that way. There are tons of stuff on the market to help keep your brown sugar soft, but I have an even easier one that doesn’t require a special purchase; a slice of bread! Just place your brown sugar in an airtight container with a slice of bread, and it’ll stay soft and moist for a couple weeks. Brown sugar is like the vampire of the baking world, as it feeds off the moisture in the slice of bread; sucking it all out in order to stay soft and sparkly. After a while, the slice of bread gets super stiff and kind of feels like a slice of toast. Replace the slice of bread periodically so the sugar won’t harden. If it does, cover the sugar with a damp paper towel and microwave in 30 second intervals until soft.

Check it, a stiff slice of untoasted bread. The brown sugar vampires did their thing on this poor slice of white bread

Check it, a stiff slice of untoasted bread. The brown sugar vampires did their thing on this poor slice of white bread

Back to the cookies. These cookies, from the fabulous Joy at Joy the Baker, are like a cross between a chocolate chip cookie (without chips) and a snickerdoodle. It has the brown sugar taste and chew from the chocolate chip cookie, and the spice and softness of a snickerdoodle. It also reminded me a lot of gingerbread cookies, which is awesome considering I don’t want to wait another seven months for a ginger flavored cookie. Anyway, these are amazing. The brown sugar kept the cookies soft and chewy, and the addition of cinnamon added that bit of spice that made them feel extra warm and fuzzy. Then, there’s that little kick in the back of your throat from the hint of ginger that sort of creeps up on you. I ended up switching out half of the flour for some whole wheat flour, which added a little nuttiness (and health?) to the cookie. All in all, it’s a lovely and tasty rendition of a sugar cookie, with just the right amount of spice to shake things up a bit. As for my mom? I didn’t hear a word from her this time, and the cookies were gone within days. I’d say I did pretty well this time 😉

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Brown Sugar Cookies – adapted from Joy the Baker

Makes 2 1/2 dozen cookies

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F, and place your oven racks un the center and upper third of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl whisk together the flours, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and ginger.  Set aside.
  3. Place butter and brown sugar in a medium sized bowl and using a hand (or stand) mixer, beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Add the egg and vanilla extract, and beat on medium speed for one minute more.
  4. Add the dry ingredients, all at once, to the butter and sugar mixture.  Beat on low speed until the dough begins to come together  and the flour disappears.  Stop the mixer and finish incorporating the ingredients with a spatula.  Once all the flour is thoroughly mixed in, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  5.  Using a cookie scoop or a tablespoon, dollop balls of dough onto the prepared baking sheets.  Bake cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, or until lightly browned around the edges.  Cool on the pan for 5 minutes, before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.  Cookies will last, in an airtight container at room temperature, for up to 5 days (if they last that long).

 Lucy’s Tips:

  • Not in the mood to make brown sugar by hand? Use your food processor! Just add the sugar and molasses, and blend!