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Uncharacteristically, I made New Year's resolutions for 2015. I usually don't bother, because I try to make positive changes in my life as they occur to me; statistically, this is unlikely to happen exactly on January 1. But for 2015, there were a few things that I'd been meaning to do for years but never got around to, between work, blogging, and eating Marshmallow Mateys straight from the bag.
The first was learning how to use chopsticks. This New Year's resolution was the easiest, accomplished in a few nights in the comfort of my home with a packet of cheap wooden chopsticks from the grocery store and a helpful Youtube video. My rudimentary chopstick skills are still a work in progress, but since I can get through a plate of fried rice without resorting to a fork I'm checking this one off the list.
My second goal for 2015 was more difficult, because it required me to wake up early on a Saturday and run seven kilometers in the cold. I'd been running 5Ks for years, and it was time to push myself farther. I signed up for the Get Lucky 7K, an annual race held in Minneapolis the Saturday before St. Patrick's Day. I posted a respectable time, but more importantly training for the race gave me the distance boost I needed--now my standard run is four to four and a half miles instead of three.
My final New Year's resolution was to enter the Star Tribune's annual holiday cookie contest. Because the contest entry deadline is in mid-October, I started test baking last spring. My scheme was to make a cookie inspired by chocolate covered cordial cherries, those chocolates that show up in supermarkets and drug stores every Christmas season. I started with a couple chocolate drop cookie recipes from various cookbooks and narrowed it down to the version from Betty Crocker's Cooky Book. I tested butter versus shortening and dried cherries versus maraschino cherries; butter and dried cherries won out. Since the cookies needed more of a chocolate punch, I tried topping them with chocolate glaze, but unfortunately I couldn't get the glaze to set consistently. Instead, I added chopped chocolate pieces to the cookie dough; after testing bittersweet, semi-sweet, milk, and combinations thereof I settled on bittersweet. The final touch was a toasted pecan half, carefully pressed into each ball of cookie dough before baking. After six months of baking and taste testing, the recipe was ready. I typed it up, attached some photos, and e-mailed it in to the Star Tribune.
Spoiler alert: I didn't win. Although I know that it was a competitive field (225 entries!), I'm bummed. But disappointment aside, I still ended up with a solid recipe, honed from several test bakes and taste tested by Mike, Rachel, Alex, and Mike's co-workers (thanks, guys!) And completing my New Year's resolutions by October isn't too bad either.
Note that the dough must be chilled for at least an hour before baking the cookies--it's too sticky to work with initially. I purchased tart dried cherries at Trader Joe's, and I've also seen them at Whole Foods and local co-ops.
Adapted from Betty Crocker's Cooky Book
Yield: about 4 dozen cookies
- 1/2 cup butter (8 tablespoons), softened at room temperature
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
- 1 egg
- 3/4 cup buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 1 1/2 cup finely chopped tart dried cherries
- 48 pecan halves (about 1 cup)
In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the melted unsweetened chocolate and egg and mix until smooth. Stir in the buttermilk and vanilla and mix until smooth.
In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking soda, and salt until well-combined. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix until smooth. Mix in the chopped bittersweet chocolate and dried cherries until evenly distributed. Tightly cover dough and refrigerate for at least one hour.
While dough is chilling, toast pecans in a medium skillet over medium heat until lightly browned and fragrant, about 5 minutes.
Once dough has finished chilling, preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
Drop teaspoons of chilled dough on parchment-lined baking sheets. Top each ball of dough with a toasted pecan half.
Bake for 8 minutes, or until tops of cookies are set and no imprint remains when lightly touched. Cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes, and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Store cooled cookies in an airtight container at room temperature.