Salted Caramel Chocolate Shortbread Bars

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It’s officially Christmas cookie season. That means, for the next couple of weeks (probably through New Year’s) it will be all Christmas cookies all the time. This year, I’m going the slightly nontraditional route with my tins, including some new recipes and experiments, but if you’re looking for some classics, here’s last year’s selection:

Anyways, this week’s recipe was definitely an experiment. I had seen it on Pinterest and thought they looked amazing. Also, I needed to make something that would keep for a week since I’ll be making the rest of my cookies in a bit of a cookie making binge next weekend.

Side note: when I told my mom my plans of baking for the entirety of next weekend, she immediately recommended I invite friends over to help. I had to explain to her that I actually love listening to Christmas music and spending the day alone in my kitchen making cookies. If that makes me an introvert I’m totally OK with that.

So, it starts off pretty straight forward. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl and set aside.

 

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Then, combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium speed for about 2 minutes, or until fluffy.

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Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat on low speed until just combined. It will be in smallish pieces.

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Press the dough into the bottom of a 9×13 inch pan lined with parchment paper. You don’t want to skip the parchment paper on this one – it’s going to come in very handy when you go to cut the bars later.

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Bake at 325°F for about 15 minutes or until edges are golden. Put on wire rack to cool completely.

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At this point, I was cruising along, feeling totally fine about my decision with this recipe. My shortbread layer looked great, life was good.

Then, I came to the caramel layer. Now, I think I’ve discussed my fear of caramel before, but I couldn’t find the post to reference, so I’ll say it again: I am always afraid that I will burn the sugar. And burnt sugar is possibly the worst smell ever. It’s amazing that something so sweet and innocent can turn so vile and disgusting in about 5 seconds flat.

To add to this fear, this particular recipe called for a different combination of things to make the caramel than I was used to. I’ve made caramel using actual caramels and melting them with sweetened condensed milk. I’ve made it with just sugar and butter. But this called for a weird combination of the two: butter, sugar, karo syrup, and sweetened condensed milk.

However, the shortbread had gone beautifully, so I had no reason to doubt the recipe yet. I went ahead and trusted it. I combined the four ingredients in a medium saucepan, heating it over medium heat until the butter melted, stirring frequently.

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Then, I increased the heat to medium high, hoping to bring it to a boil while stirring constantly, after which I would reduce the heat to a simmer and continue to stir constantly until it turned amber in color. Alas, it was not to be. I began to notice little flecks of amber in my supposed caramel. I was pretty sure that wasn’t how it was supposed to work, but I pushed on.

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Turns out, my sugar found its way into the corners (round pans don’t have corners, but you know what I mean) of my saucepan and begin to do that terrible thing where it burns. Even my constant stirring didn’t prevent it. When I realized what was happening, I turned the heat down to simmer and just stirred until it turned less bright whitish-yellow than sweetened condensed milk, and called it a caramel, which I then poured over the shortbread layer.

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Now, it may be that I was just overconfident and got lazy, and your caramel layer may turn a beautiful amber. But I think if I were to make these again, I would use the caramel from my Peanut Butter Samoa Bars recipe instead of the one they had here. Fortunately, the end result, though maybe not as caramel-y as it was supposed to be, is still 100% delicious.

After letting the caramel cool for a bit, I put it in the freezer to chill overnight. You definitely don’t have to let it chill that long, I just didn’t feel like finishing it last night.

For the chocolate layer, I did decide to stray from the recipe’s suggestion of a double boiler and used the microwave method instead.

Combine the butter, chocolate, and karo syrup in a microwaveable bowl. Heat in 15 second intervals at 50% power, stirring after each interval, until smooth.

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Pour the chocolate layer over the caramel layer and sprinkle with sea salt. Chill until ready to cut and serve.

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These will keep in the freezer (and taste better out of the freezer), for as long as you want. I cut them into bars and wrapped them individually in plastic wrap, but that’s more because they’ll be going in tins later. End product: a slightly less caramel-flavored Twix bar.

Enjoy!

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Salted Caramel Chocolate Shortbread Bars

Shortbread Ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar

Caramel Ingredients:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoons Karo syrup
  • 2 (14 ounce) cans sweetened condensed milk

Chocolate Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon Karo syrup
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • sea salt, for sprinkling

Shortbread Directions:

  1. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl and set aside.
  2. In a stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar using the paddle attachment on medium speed for 2 minutes.
  3. Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until just combined.
  4. Press the dough into the bottom of a 9×13 inch pan lined with parchment paper.
  5. Bake at 325°F for 15 minutes or until edges are golden. Allow to cool completely on wire rack.

Caramel Directions:

  1. Combine butter, sugar, Karo syrup, and sweetened condensed milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Stir frequently until butter is melted.
  3. Increase heat to medium high and bring to a boil, stirring constantly (including in the corners).
  4. Reduce heat to simmer and continue to stir constantly until caramel turns amber in color.
  5. Pour over shortbread layer and chill.

Chocolate Directions:

  1. Combine butter, chocolate, and Karo syrup in a microwaveable bowl.
  2. Microwave in 15 second intervals at 50% power, stirring after each interval, until smooth.
  3. Pour over caramel layer and sprinkle with sea salt.
  4. Chill until ready to cut into bars.
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Cranberry Walnut Chocolate Brickle

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For the eighth year in a row, Yale lost The Game. That is sad.

But want to know what’s not sad? Thanksgiving being in 4 days!

I was actually in Massachusetts this weekend for the game, drove back down to New Jersey today, and will be driving back up again for Thanksgiving on Wednesday. That’s a lot of time driving through the worst state ever (95 in Connecticut is its own special form of torture – you can be cruising along, no problem, only to have to slam on your brakes, take 2 hours to drive 10 miles, and then the road will free up again with absolutely no explanation). With all of this time to think, I decided that I wanted to post a Thanksgiving recipe before Thanksgiving, thus being much more helpful for anyone who actually was browsing my blog for immediate use.

Initially, I wanted to make a Salted Chocolate Pecan Pie, thinking that there was no reason I couldn’t make a pecan pie and keep it in the fridge until Thursday, but the recipe said that it was best served same day, and I’m not one to argue with another’s recommendations. So, sticking with serious eats, I turned to another recipe that I knew would keep better, and which I’ve actually made for Thanksgiving before, though I didn’t post it here yet.

Also, as soon as I logged on to post this, I realized that last week’s recipe was chocolate and cranberry, too. Oh well, it’s a good flavor combination for the season. And next week is going to be a decidedly different combination – get excited.

So, first thing you need to do is line a 13 x 9 inch baking sheet with parchment paper. On top of that parchment paper, lay out the graham crackers. I broke them into their little rectangles and used all 16 crackers, figuring there was nothing wrong with a thick base to this, but if you use fewer crackers to make a single layer, you’ll get more of a candy and less of a bar.

 

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In a saucepan, combine the sugar, brown sugar, and butter. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the butter melts and the mixture boils.

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Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes to thicken. I was nervous that I was going to burn it, but you’ll be OK if you stick to the three minutes.

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Pour the caramel over the graham crackers and bake at 350°F for 12 minutes.

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Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the hot caramel and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Then, using an offset spatula, spread the chocolate evenly over the graham cracker layer.

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Sprinkle the walnuts and craisins evenly over the chocolate. Allow to cool at room temperature for two hours, or put in the fridge to speed up the process.

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Once it’s hardened, you can chop it up as you see fit. I decided on triangles for no reason other than I thought they would be more fun to cut. You can store these for quite awhile in an airtight container layered with parchment paper.

Enjoy!

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Cranberry Walnut Chocolate Brickle

Ingredients:

  • 16 graham crackers
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, diced
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 10 ounces dark chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup craisins

Directions:

  1. Line a 9×13 inch pan with parchment paper. Layer graham crackers on top.
  2. Combine butter, sugar, and brown sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir frequently until it begins to boil.
  3. Boil for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Pour immediately over graham crackers.
  4. Bake at 350°F for 12 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle chocolate chips evenly over the hot caramel.
  5. Allow to sit for 5 minutes before spreading evenly over graham cracker layer using an offset spatula.
  6. Sprinkle with walnuts and craisins. Allow to cool 2 hours at room temperature or in fridge until hardened before chopping.

Chocolate Cranberry Haystacks

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This was the first weekend that really felt like the holiday season. It was cold, curl-up-inside-with-a-book weather, and it took a significant amount of self control not to turn on Christmas music while I was baking (I have a rule with myself – no Christmas music until after Thanksgiving). So, when my aunt Anne texted me a picture of what she was baking, I immediately asked for the recipe.

You see, Anne is the one who introduced me to the gloriously easy, insanely addicting recipe for peanut butter haystacks, which I know a lot of you enjoyed. In a festive twist, this particular recipe uses dark chocolate and cranberries, making it perfect for the upcoming season, and just as addicting.

Also, this recipe is easy. Like, start-keeping-cornflakes-around-just-to-make-it easy. I mean, how can you not make them when this is all you need:

 

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So, without further ado, straight from the kitchen of Ina Garten via Anne Pickett: Chocolate Cranberry Haystacks!

First, melt about 3/4 of the chocolate in the microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring after each interval, until just melted.

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Add the remaining quarter of the chocolate, and stir until smooth.

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Combine cornflakes and chocolate in a medium bowl using a rubber spatula.

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Fold in the cranberries, trying not to overly crush the cornflakes (this may seem impossible, but some crushing is fine).

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Drop by the rounded spoonful onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Allow to harden at room temperature.

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Transfer to a platter and store in the refrigerator, covered, until ready to serve. Yupp, it really is that easy.

Enjoy!

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Chocolate Cranberry Haystacks

Ingredients:

  • 7 ounces milk chocolate, chopped
  • 5 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 3 cups cornflakes
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries

Directions:

  1. Melt 3/4 of the chocolate in the microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring after each addition, until just melted.
  2. Add the remaining 1/4 of the chocolate and stir until smooth.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the cornflakes and chocolate, stirring with a rubber spatula to coat.
  4. Fold in the cranberries.
  5. Drop by the rounded spoonful on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Allow to harden at room temperature.

Brownie Cupcakes

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A day late, but I feel I have a good excuse – yesterday I ran the NYC marathon! So, even though I actually baked these last Friday for Halloween, you can understand that when I got back to my apartment yesterday evening, I crashed pretty hard. Like 7:30 and I was in bed hard. Thus the Monday post this week.

Now, I know that Halloween is over and my cutely decorated cupcakes are no longer relevant in terms of decoration, but the base of these cupcakes in no way loses its relevance with the changing month. In fact, they are probably even better for all of the gluttonous eating coming up.

I also had a mini crisis when trying to identify these, but have decided they belong (relatively) squarely in the brownie category. The dense chocolate part is really the star of the recipe.

First, melt together the butter and chocolate in a microwave in 30 second intervals at 50% power, stirring after each interval until smooth.

 

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Stir in the sugar, then the vanilla extract.

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Stir in the eggs, one at a time, making sure the batter is smooth before each new addition. I don’t know what it is about brownie recipes, but I always feel the need to manually mix with a wooden spoon – maybe because that’s how I used to make boxed mixes growing up.

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Add the flour and salt, and stir to combine completely.

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Stir in the chocolate chunks. This really makes the recipe brownie rather than cupcake – when you bite into something and get a chunk, you are out of the realm of cupcakes.

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Spoon the batter evenly into 12 muffin tins lined with cupcake liners. It will look like there’s too much batter – don’t worry, because these are brownies they don’t rise all that much.

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Bake at 325°F for 20-23 minutes or until a toothpick comes out with wet chunks – you don’t want to overbake brownies and end up with gross dry lumps!

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Allow to cool on a wire rack before decorating with buttercream or cream cheese frosting, depending on your taste.

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Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator – they are especially good chilled!

Look how cute they came out!

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Enjoy!

Brownie Cupcakes

Ingredients:

  • 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chunks

Directions:

  1. Melt together chocolate and butter in a microwave at 30 second intervals on 50% power, stirring until smooth.
  2. Stir in sugar, then vanilla extract.
  3. Stir in eggs, one at a time, making sure smooth after each addition.
  4. Stir in flour and salt. Mix in chocolate chunks.
  5. Pour evenly into 12 lined muffin tins and bake at 325°F for 20-23 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out with wet crumbs. Allow to cool completely before decorating.

Pumpkin Magic Bars

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This weekend, a friend from college and I were going to go apple picking. Then we were going to make awesome apple-filled desserts. Then it rained.

So, instead, we “picked” apples from A&P, as well as some other goodies, and decided to try a recipe she had found on Baker’s Royale for pumpkin magic bars.  Now, I’m all about magic bars.  I’ve posted them before here, and the addition of pumpkin was brilliant in my opinion. However, baking is always an adventure, and there are definitely some modifications I would make to this one if I were to try it again.

But first, let’s go through what we actually did.

Melt the butter and mix it with the graham cracker crumbs, pressing it into the bottom of a 9×13 pan lined with aluminum foil.

 

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Combine the sweetened condensed milk, pumpkin puree, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves in a small bowl. Pour over the crust.

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Peel and core the apples, and then use the large side of a grating box to shred them.  Add them on top of the pumpkin layer.

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Sprinkle on the chocolate chips, the chopped almonds, and the coconut.

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Bake at 350°F for about 35 to 45 minutes. The coconut on the top should be browned.  Allow to cool completely in the pan, then chill in the fridge before slicing.

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Now, full disclosure, we didn’t chill it before slicing it, which could have been the culprit in why we ended up with more of a magic bar crumble than anything that could actually be a bar.  And, really, there is no problem with serving this particular dessert in a bowl with a spoon and just digging in.

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But, over dinner, we discussed some changes that could be made, probably to the benefit of the recipe.

First, use an 8×8 pan.  The bars were to thin. You would probably have to cook them on the longer side for this, but that’s fine.

Second, drizzle the pumpkin/condensed milk mixture over the top of the bars rather than over the graham cracker layer.  This would better seal in the coconut and toppings and probably help with the structure.

Third, the apples really had no place in this.  You could leave them out and have a better result.

Now, I’ll post the recipe as I baked it, so you know what you’re getting (magic bar crumble, in case you forgot), but feel free to try the modifications and let me know in the comments how it went!

Enjoy!

Pumpkin Magic Bars

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 8 tablespoons butter
  • 14 ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 2 apples, shredded
  • 1 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 cup salted almonds, chopped
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. Melt the butter and combine it with the graham cracker crumbs.  Press them into the bottom of a 9×13 inch pan lined with aluminum foil.
  2. Combine the sweetened condensed milk, pumpkin puree, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves in a small bowl. Pour over graham cracker crust.
  3. Sprinkle the shredded apples over the pumpkin layer.
  4. Sprinkle the chocolate chips, almonds, and coconut on top.
  5. Bake at 350°F for 35-45 minutes.  Allow to cool completely in pan, chill in fridge, and slice into bars.

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread

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I am officially back in New Jersey. School starts next week, and my summer is coming to a far to fast close. After spending the last couple months indulging in the luxury of hanging out with my family and not planning lessons, coming back here was a bit of a shock. That shock was not improved by the fact that my AC unit had leaked, causing my floor to buckle into a mountain range.

But, alas, life goes on. I spend today unpacking my stuff and cleaning as vigorously as I could without being able to clean floors yet, and still managed to find time to bake some zucchini bread!

I had initially planned to make all sorts of cool baking substitutions to make this recipe healthy. I was going to replace eggs with chia seeds (which apparently A&P doesn’t stock) and half the oil with applesauce (which goes moldy and smells like vinegar if you leave it in the fridge too long). But, when those didn’t work out, I embraced the unhealthiness of this vegetable-based bread and added chocolate chips.

So, the first thing you have to do is beat the eggs. To use half an egg, just whisk an egg for a bit in a bowl and pour in about half of that mixture.

 

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Then, beat in the sugar, oil, vanilla extract, and grated zucchini. In case you aren’t sure how many zucchini to buy to get 1 cup grated, it’s one medium zucchini. Not three. I don’t know why I thought that a zucchini and a carrot would yield a similar amount of grated vegetable, but that’s what I was basing my purchasing on. So I need to find zucchini recipes for the rest of the week.

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Then, add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and allspice. Beat until just combined.

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Stir in the chocolate chips by hand. I just used one full 6 oz package, but add more or less, or substitute for nuts, as you see fit.

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Pour the batter into a 9×5 inch loaf pan sprayed with Pam. Bake at 350°F for 40-50 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out mostly clean. Cool in pan for 15 minutes before turning onto wire rack to cool completely.

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With the sheer amount of oil and sugar that goes into this, it’s hard to convince yourself that it’s at all healthy, despite zucchini being in the title. Nevertheless, I advice you to embrace it and take solace in the fact that you are actually at least getting a serving of vegetables.

Enjoy!

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Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup grated zucchini
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. Beat eggs in a large bowl.
  2. Add sugar, oil, vanilla extract, and zucchini and beat until combined.
  3. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, and allspice and beat until just combined.
  4. Stir in chocolate chips.
  5. Pour batter into sprayed 9×5 inch loaf pan. Bake at 350°F for 40-50 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes in pan before transferring to wire rack to cool completely.

Chocolate Whoopie Pies

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Full disclosure: I made these on the 3rd of July, not the 3rd of August.  But as I mentioned earlier, when you don’t have a staff room to drop the treats off in on Monday morning, you have to save some recipes for later if you want to save yourself from death by diabetic coma.

Anyways, I made them for the third of July because I wanted to make something that seemed like a good, wholesome American dessert without being explicitly red, white and blue.  I also wanted to make something on the smaller side that could be enjoyed in addition to lots of other yummy cookout food.  That led me to set out to find a good whoopie pie recipe.

Shockingly, just regular chocolate cookie/vanilla filling whoopie pie recipes were hard to come by. I was under the impression that that was the standard combination, but apparently the variations have taken over.

However, I knew I needed the original. One Thanksgiving, I made the grave error of going with pumpkin whoopie pies with cream cheese filling.  My dad declared them an abomination of the whoopie pie, which was actually the same way I felt about my mom’s gingerbread version of the chocolate trifle – apparently there are some recipes that really should not be seasonally modified.

Anyways, unwilling to again endure the wrath of my father by going with the seemingly more popular mint chocolate version, here is your standard, chocolate and vanilla whoopie pie.

First, beat the sugar and oil together until crumbly.  This is fine to use a hand mixer for, I just didn’t have one on hand.

 

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Next, add the eggs and beat well.

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In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda.

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Gradually beat the cocoa mixture into the egg mixture.  I usually add about a third at a time and beat until combined.

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Add the milk and beat well.  Though not as pretty as my yellow one, my mom’s red stand mixer does get the job done.

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This dough is really sticky, so it takes a bit of flour to really handle it.  Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray and lightly (or heavily) flour your hands.  Roll dough into about 1 inch balls (or bigger, but I wanted two-bite treats) and place two inches apart on the cookie sheet.  Spray the bottom of a glass with cooking spray and flatten the top of each ball slightly.

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Bake at 425°F for 5-6 minutes.  Tops should crack before you remove them from the oven, after which you should let them cool on the cookie sheet for 3 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

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While those are cooling, you can make the filling.  First, beat together the shortening and confectioner’s sugar.

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While beating, add the milk and vanilla extract and beat until fluffy.  Scrape down the sides at some point to ensure all of that sugary goodness is going into it.

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Once you are SURE that the cookies are cool, you can spread a little of the filling on the flat side and top with the flat side of a second cookie, like so:

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Look how little they are!  Anyways, serve same day if you want the filling to still be soft – otherwise you run the risk of hard frosting.  Not a bad thing, but not quite as appealing to the masses.

Enjoy!

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Chocolate Whoopie Pies

Cookie Ingredients:

  •  1 cup sugar
  • 6 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 4 tablespoons milk

Filling Ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons shortening
  • 3 to 3 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 4 tablespoons milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cookie Directions:

  1. Beat together sugar and oil until crumbly.
  2. Add eggs and beat well.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda.
  4. Add chocolate mixture to egg mixture gradually, beating well.
  5. Add milk and beat well.
  6. Flour hands and roll dough into 1 inch balls.  Place on cookie sheet sprayed with cooking spray, about 2 inches apart.  Press each ball flat with the bottom of a glass sprayed with cooking spray.
  7. Bake at 425°F for 5 to 6 minutes until the tops crack.  Cool on pan 3 minutes before transferring to wire rack to cool completely.

Filling Directions:

  1. Beat together confectioners’ sugar and shortening.  While beating add milk and vanilla extract and beat until fluffy.
  2. Spread some filling on the flat side of a cooled cookie and top with a second cookie.