Fall Blues and Stuffed Cookies

After soaring temperatures this summer and an unseasonably warm September, the sudden drop in temperatures this past week has certainly taken us by surprise. The dramatic contrast between daytime and nighttime temps here in Amherst–sometimes as much as 30 degrees!–can mean nights when it sure feels like a chilly winter. Brrr!

The changing seasons always bring a change to my appetite and cravings (constant nibbles anyone?) so when tea time planning rolled around, thoughts of pumpkins, pears, and other cozy flavors flitted through my imagination. Now hold on, you say, what exactly do you mean by cozy flavors?  Precisely that: flavors and textures that evoke satiating warmth, often while wonderfully and complexly aromatic at the same time. Think roasty, toasty, nutty, spiced, and that buttery melt-on-your-tongue mouthfeel. Isn’t fall wonderful?

Part of the fun of tea time is that our kitchen-inclined mentors get to help out with the baking. Whether they’re putting old skills to use or learning new ones, food prep and the hilarity that inevitably accompanies it (and the anticipation of delicious baked goodies to come!) is a welcome Friday pastime for staff and mentors. With so many willing hands to assist, experimentation and more involved recipes become quick work–and are sometimes even demanded!

So with those thoughts in mind, the question of what to make for tea time led to this rather exciting line of thought: what makes any cake, cookie, or baked goodie even better? Stuffing them! Whether it’s a dense, nutty layer or a gooey lava layer, anything tasty is only made more wonderful when the first bite reveals another tasty surprise inside, right?

Last year, stuffed cookies–caramel stuffed apple cider cookies, chocolate lava cookies, chocolate stuffed peanut butter cookies–were featured in a few of our tea times and they were a big hit. So With fall very much in the air, it only seemed appropriate to bring them back.

There are recipes and ideas-galore out there for stuffed cookies, many of them sinfully and mouthwateringly decadent. For this round of baking though, I wanted more subtlety and a more complex play of flavors so many searches and recipe-combing later, I finally decided on pumpkin cheesecake snickerdoodles and honey pecan stuffed shortbread. The cookie doughs and fillings were fairly easy to pull together and the labor of stuffing the cookies was oddly calming. We devoured most of these minutes after they left the oven so I think it’s safe say that they are mentor (and E2E!) approved!

For the pumpkin cheesecake snickerdoodles we turned to The Recipe Critic. First step: make the snickerdoodle dough and cream cheese filling.

One giant ball of dough later I thought to myself, Goodness, we’re going to need to graduate to industrial sized equipment one of these days….

 

The filling was thankfully much more manageable for our mixing bowls.

When the mentors arrived to assist, they had the very fun job of stuffing the cookies, rolling them in cinnamon sugar, and getting them into the oven. They did a pretty darn good job!

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Were the cookies a bit more mountainous and larger than their counterparts on The Recipe Critic? Yes, but you’ll hear no complaints at Eater to Eater where the only thing we love more than food is food in excess. The gentle crunch of the sugar coating, the soft pumpkiny fluffiness of the snickerdoodle, and the gooey sweet cheese center were the perfect chilly afternoon treat and had us reaching for seconds. And thirds. And… well you know where this is going.

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While the mentors were busily stuffing pumpkin cheesecake snickerdoodles, I salivated over got to work on this honey pecan stuffed shortbread recipe from In the Kitchen with April. First up, toasting and crushing pecans for the filling. The kitchen smelled oh so scrumptious. Ah roasted nuts.

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April’s recipe was inspired by kurabiye (Turkish almond-based shortbread biscuit) and ma’amoul (Middle Eastern stuffed shortbread) and as such was made with a wooden mold. Since we are not in possession of one of these, I improvised and pressed the shortbread into a mini cupcake pan, before stuffing them with the pecan/peanut butter/honey filling, and sealing them with more shortbread.

And then, since we only have one mini cupcake tin… improvisation struck again. While the cupcake tin batch was in the oven, we pinched the rest of the shortbread dough into little discs and wrapped them around scoops of pecan filling.

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Both shapes came out beautifully. The cupcake-shaped ones even had some nice browning!

The result: a sandy, melt-on-your tongue texture perfectly complemented by the honeyed, slightly sticky nuttiness of the filling. Perfect with a cup of tea. Shortbread is my weakness when it comes to cookies and I’m probably in the minority here, but I would choose a shortbread over a chocolate chip cookie any day. I will certainly be experimenting with this recipe again at some point!

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By the time all the baking was done and cleanup was in full swing, we didn’t have too many cookies left to show for our efforts. With tea and warm stuffed cookies in our bellies, we couldn’t have asked for a better fall Friday afternoon.

– Sylvia

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