“Hey Dolly” (Oat Shortbread) Bars

 

img_7611So I wanted a bar. But it had to be the right kind. I had previously made Hello Dolly Bars, or as they’re also known as Magic Cookies Bars, but I had found them too sweet and gloopy. Maybe I added too much condensed milk caramel or not enough dry ingredients? Either way I was far from happy with them and the resulting bars were deliciously mutated into ice cream topping instead. “Waste not, want not” etc etc.

However like a dog with a bone I couldn’t (okay I WOULDN’T) acknowledge failure. There were also a few tweaks I wanted to try. The crumb base layer of the original cookie bar was far too flimsy IMO. I wanted something with more stability and which would carry itself and the topping. Well what better way to go than with shortbread? Simplifying my Golden Coconut Shortbread with a wholewheat flour was the ideal solution. The nuttiness of the wholewheat grains perfectly complementing the oats I would add.

Another tweak was based on a pet peeve of mine – wet cookie bars. I don’t mean a bake that’s underbaked and soggy. It’s the excess of wet topping ingredients that spoils it for me. And so in with the aforementioned oats! Insider tip here- I’ve found that if a recipe calls for using jumbo rolled oats, using a mix of jumbo oats and quick oats gives a much better result. The smaller quick oats fill in the gaps and voids made between the larger oat flakes and you end up with more oaty bang for your buck. It’s a win!

The quick “caramel” of butter and sugar works as a good binder here but if it’s one thing I’m a sucker for it’s chewy bite (Samoas are my WEAKNESS!) and with that I added in some caramel pieces. These would bake to perfectly chewy morsels adding some extra interest to bars. A little fiddly work is involved here in cutting the caramels into smaller pieces but it’s absolutely worth it.

So they’re you have it- “Hey Dolly Bars”. Not quite traditional “Hello Dolly Bars” but baked bars with a lil extra something and sass.

Ingredients

Shortbread Base

  • 1 2/3 cup Wholewheat Flour
  • 1/3 Semolina
  • 2 Tablespoons Rice Flour
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons Cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup and 2 tablespoons fine sugar, divided
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 cup/ 2 sticks salted butter, cold and cubed

Oat Topping

  •  1/2 cup salted butter
  •  1/2 cup  granulated sugar
  •  3/4 cup  dark brown sugar
  •  1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
  •  3 large eggs, beaten together
  •  1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  •  2 cups jumbo rolled oats
  • 1 cup quick oats
  •  1/2 cup shredded coconut, sweetened or unsweetened
  •  1/2 cup toffee bits apx (I use 12 Kraft caramels, chopped in half, then each half chopped in to 4)
  •  1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

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Method

Shortbread base

  1. Lightly grease and line a 9″ x 12″ traybake tin
  2. In a large bowl combine the flour, semolina, rice flour, cornstarch, sugar and salt. Whisk together to further combine
  3. Add in the cubed butter and rub together with your fingertips until the mixture is just beginning to bind together. Every so often do a  quarter turn of the bowl to make sure you’re using all the dry mixture. You’ll want a texture somewhere between breadcrumbs and damp sand before you stop. Be wary of overworking the butter into the mixture – you want to avoid a dough that is feels slimey from the butter melting too much into the dry ingredients
  4. Tip the crumb mixture into your prepared tin and press the dough so that it forms a solid layer. Level the surface with the back of a spoon or measuring cup, making sure the mixture is evenly spread and uniform. Prick all over with a fork
  5. Refrigerate for 30 mins minimum
  6. Preheat your oven to 325°F
  7. Remove the shortbread from the fridge and bake for about 30 minutes
  8. Remove from the oven and allow to set side to cool in the tin while you make the topping

Oat topping

  1. Increase oven temperature to 350°F
  2. Prepare the topping by melting the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook the butter, stirring often, until it melts completely. Continue to heat. The butter will start to foam up a bit, reduce the temperature if needed. Watch carefully as lightly browned specks begin to form at the bottom of the pan, and the foam starts to turn brown in spots. Smell the butter; it should have a nutty aroma
  3. Remove the pan and off the heat, stir in the granulated sugar, brown sugar and salt. The mixture will be thick. Let it cool for a few minutes
  4. Whisk in the eggs and vanilla until the mixture is well-combined. Transfer to a large bowl
  5. Stir in the oats, quick oats, shredded coconut, toffee bits and chocolate chips. Mix all the ingredients to combine well. Spread the mixture evenly over the shortbread crust.
  6. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the bars are set around the edges and the middle is a little jiggly. They’ll firm up as they cool.
  7. Once fully cooled remove from the tin and slice in to 18 pieces (3 x 6 bars)
  8. These bars will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days

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Strawberry & White Chocolate Frozen Cheesecake w/ Basil sugar

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Waaaaay back when, before cupcakes or brownies were my thing, cheesecake was my kitchen staple. Every Sunday, while my mom prepared Sunday roast dinner, I would be sent to amuse myself (and keep from under her feet) with a box of cheesecake mix. Yes- a box mix…we all have to start somewhere. after all. Whilst the brand name eludes me, it basically consisted of  two plastic packets…and that was it. A packet of crumb for the base, so far so good. The piece de resistance? A packet of dehyrated “cream cheese” powder. This was to be whisked with milk, poured on the prepared crumb base and left to set. Sounds delish, huh? Well to be honest it was- at least to 8 year old me. I experimented with various fillings and toppings but no matter how I tried to persuade myself it always tasted the same. But what did I care? I merrily dug in, spoon in hand full of exuberant abandon and prepubescent gusto.

So flash forward nearly 35 years and I have an endless debate going on- Baked or Non-baked? I’ve come to the conclusion that seasonal is best. Baked is my go-to during the colder brackets of the year, and the no-bake/ chilled variety is of course more suitable for the warmer stints of the year. And so we end up here- with frozen cheesecake.

The freezing element of this recipe is not strictly necessary but it does help with achieving a much more stable filling. It’s also utterly addictive to have the frozen cheesecake layer slowly melt to creamy goodness on your tongue, with bursts of berry pieces, in the sweltering summer heat. As I mention in the recipe, once your initial freezing is done you can easily store in the fridge if you prefer a more chilled approach to things. A word to the wise though- this cheesecake is best eaten sooner rather than later so park your guilt and happily dig in- all in the line of duty!

The additional finishing elements here are entirely optional. If you’re happy with the straight-forward, no fuss-no muss cheesecake then feel free to leave it at that- it’s plenty tasty as is. But lets face it- prepping the basil sugar and macerated strawberries isn’t exactly hard work and the end result of flavor explosions are completely worth it. Yes the addition of the herb Basil, so often a stalwart savory element of Italian cooking, might seem a bit of weird but the slightly anise, pepperiness stops the sweetness of  berries becoming cloying. The burnt caramel-like birch syrup used in the macerated strawberries also lends a hand in this way.

A google search for chilled strawberry cheesecake will yield numerous results but I like to think of this as an escalated version of that ultimate summer dessert of strawberries and cream, with each of the additional treatments adding to give you that delicious end result that just oozes summer decadence.

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Ingredients

Cheesecake Base

  • 1 1/2 cups Graham cracker crumbs (apx 10 full crackers, crushed)
  • 5 tbspns salted butter
  • 1/3 cup brown suar
  • 1 tbspn ground cinnamon

Cheesecake filling 

  • 5oz White chocolate, broken in to pieces
  • 12oz Full fat cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 cup Icing sugar
  • 1 tbspn Vanilla extract
  • 1 tbspn Maple syrup, or honey
  • 1 cup Whipping cream
  • 1 lb Strawberries, chopped small

Basil sugar

  • 1/2 cup Granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup Fresh basil leaves, torn

Macerated strawberries

  • 1 cup Strawberries, chopped small
  • 3 tbspns Birch syrup

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Method

Cheesecake base

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F
  2. Double line a 9″ cake pan (2″ high sides) or spring-form tin. Set aside until needed
  3. Heat a thick-bottomed pan on medium heat. Add the butter and stir until melted
  4. The butter will start to foam up a bit, then subside. Watch carefully as lightly browned specks begin to form at the bottom of the pan, and the foam starts to turn brown in spots. Smell the butter; it should have a nutty aroma
  5. Remove from the heat and pour the brown butter into a bowl to stop it from cooking further
  6. Add in the dry ingredients and stir until evenly combined
  7. Press the butter mixture into your prepared tin.  Use the back of a large spoon or measuring cup to press the crumbs into an even layer on the bottom of the tin
  8. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 mins
  9. After the cooking time remove from the oven and allow to cool fully before filling

Cheesecake filling

  1. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, or in the microwave in 20 second bursts, stirring occasionally,  until full melted. Set aside to cool whilst preparing the rest of the filling
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer combine the icing sugar, cream cheese, vanilla extract and maple syrup. Beat on medium speed until smooth and silky
  3. In a separate bowl whip the whipping cream until soft peaks. Transfer into the stand mixer bowl with the cream cheese mixture and beat on medium speed until thick
  4. Pour in to the cooled melted white chocolate and beat on medium until combined
  5. Remove the bowl and fold the chopped strawberries into the cream cheese mixture for a couple of minutes
  6. Pour the strawberry cream cheese mixture over the crumb base and smooth
  7. Gently press a layer of cling wrap over the surface of the cheesecake to protect it while it freezes. Place the cheesecake flat in the freezer for 3 hours until lightly frozen
  8. While the cheesecake freeze prepare the basil sugar

Basil sugar

  1. In a food processor, pulse the sugar and basil until uniform in color and nicely green. Store in a airtight jar in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. Shake/ stir the jar and contents occasionally to redistribute the flavor
  2. Set aside until needed for this recipe

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Macerated strawberries

  1. In a bowl, stir to combine the chopped strawberries and birch syrup.
  2. Cover and refrigerate until needed
  3. Stir well prior to using

To assemble and serve

  1. Remove the cheesecake from the freezer approximately 10 minutes before serving
  2. Run a warm knife under hot water and use to run the rim of the tin to loosen the cheesecake edge. Remove from the tin and garnish with basil sugar, macerated strawberries. Again use a warm knife to slice the cheesecake into portions
  3. If you prefer a more standard chilled cheesecake, remove from the freezer 2 hrs before serving and allow to defrost in the fridge prior to slicing and serving

The cheesecake will keep in the fridge, lightly wrapped in cling wrap for up to 3 days.

(I also used some sugar dipped strawberries on top. Lightly whisk 1 egg white until frothy. Lightly paint the berries with the egg white and dip in fine sugar to coat. Allow to set at room temperature for apx 4 hrs. Use as a garnish)

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The Classic Waterford Blaa

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Coming from Waterford, in South-East Ireland, there are a few things that are corner stones of my childhood – Waterford Crystal; Hurling and…of course – the blaa. “The what?”, I hear you say. Well, are you sitting comfortably? The blaa is basically a bread roll. But there are a couple of features that set it apart. Roughly square-shaped, liberally dusted with flour, it has a soft chewy texture and pleasing bitter tasting crust that is dear to the heart of Waterford natives. Many a school lunch’s main feature was a buttered blaa with “Red Lead” (pink sliced deli sausage meat) or filled with Tayto crisps. Quintessential Deise fare if ever there was any!

Dating from 17th century, blaas are well ingrained into the history of Waterford. In their original form blaas were thought to be made from the scraps left over from families baking their own bread. The name “Blaa” is thought to have been possibly derived from the old Huguenot word ‘Blaad’ – an old French word for flour, or ‘Blanc,’ – a French word meaning white, which refers to the white floury appearance of the baked blaas. To the best of my knowledge there is yet to be a confirmed origin.

Such is the fame of the humble blaa that in 2013, the Waterford Blaa Bakers Association (yes there is such thing!) succeeded in getting PGI designation for the Waterford Blaa. “PGI”  stands for Protected Geographical Indication, which essentially means that only Blaas made by specialist bakers in Waterford city and county can be called Blaas. This guarantees an authentic heritage product, based on the traditional methods and the unique skills of the bakers- think champagne; Parmigiano-Reggiano and Melton Mowbray pork pies. Basically if you see something called a “Blaa” for sale outside of Waterford? It’s not the real deal. Waterford Blaas are now supplied by traditional family bakers operating since the 1800’s. Sadly these days the family bakers have deminished with but a handful remiaining.

Whilst this recipe isn’t PGI approved, it has stood the test of time in my family. Having been passed down through generations (to date I’ve confirmed 3) there apparently has been no tweaks or amends to the original recipe. It remains true with a form that conjures memories of frenzied Saturday morning sibling debates as to whose turn it was to fetch the weekly dozen from the local store. I’ve eaten in some fancy restaurants with both divine and questionable cuisine. However I’ll be perfectly honest and say I have yet to experience anything that makes my heart swell and induce instant comfort like biting into a buttered blaa filled with Tayto cheese & onion crisps. Flour-dusted lips savouring that sweet chew contrasting with crunchy savoriness. Bliss!

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Ingredients

  • 4 cups Bread flour
  • 2 1/4 tspns quick-rise instant yeast
  • 1 tspn fine salt
  • 1 tbspn fine sugar
  • 1 tbspn butter
  • 50ml milk
  • 325ml water
  • 1/2 cup AP flour (approximately) for final dusting

Method

  1. In a pan combine the milk and butter. Heat gently until the butter is melted. Set aside and leave to cool while you prep the rest of the ingredients, stirring occasionally
  2. Lightly oil a large bowl and set side until needed later
  3. Sift the flour into the bowl of a stand mixer. To one side of the bowl add the yeast and to the opposite side add the salt. Add the sugar in the middle
  4. Combine the warm water and milk/ butter mixture and stir well. With the dough hook attachment working on slow speed, slowly add the liquid to the dry ingredients in a steady stream. Continue to add until  50 ml remain. Depending on your kitchen conditions eg temperature and humidity, you may not need to add all the liquid- only add enough liquid for your dough to form a ball and clean the bottom of the bowl. Continue to knead on slow for 7 mins. The dough should come together in a ball that is smooth and elastic to touch, without cracking or breaking
  5. Remove the dough ball from your mixer bowl and place in the preoiled bowl. Cover and set aside to proof in a  warm place for between 50-60 mins until doubled in size
  6. After this time, remove the bowl and punch down the risen dough to knock back the air. Gather the dough in to a smooth ball shape, place back in the preoiled bowl and recover for a second proof. This proof won’t take as long, between 30 – 40 mins. DO NOT SKIP this step as it helps to add to the distinctive flavor of the finished blaas
  7. Once the second proofing has been done, remove the dough from the bowl and divide equally into 9 or 12,  depending on how big you want your final blaa to be. An amount of 9 will give a more traditional palm-sized blaa
  8. Roll each of the equally-sized pieces into a smooth ball and place together in a high-sided pan. I tend to use a roasting tray that I have dusted/ dredged with flour. Place the dough balls side by side until you have a “sheet formation”. Ideally they should be spaced so that when they finish rising they touch each other. The “mouths” that are formed from this at the sides of the baked blaa are a distinguishing feature allowing easy opening
  9. Cover the dough balls with oiled clingfilm and allow to rise in a warm place for a further 30 mins.
  10. Preheat your oven to 425 F. By this time the balls should have risen and be touching each other
  11. Dust the tops of the blaas liberally with flour and place on the middle shelf. Bake for 20-25 mins. The tops of the blaas should be lightly browned and bases sound hollow when tapped
  12. Remove the baked blaas from the tin and allow to cool to warm before serving
  13. Blaas are best eaten on the day they are baked. If you do have any left the following day you can refresh them by wrapping in foil and baking them at 375F for 10 mins. Overall they will keep in an airtight container for up to 3 days

Traditional fillings for blaas

  • Bacon (rashers)
  • Tayto crisps (Irish potato chips and they MUST be Tayto!)
  • Sausages
  • “Red Lead” (Irish deli meat sausage slices. Ultra-pink in color!)

Other fillings that can be delicious-

  • Sliced roast chicken and stuffing
  • Bacon and fried egg
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A meeting of worlds- The Waterford blaa filled with Canadian peameal bacon

 

 

 

 

Golden Coconut Shortbread

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Shortbread is the stuff of legend in our house. Having a family that is Scottish means they’re well qualified to judge what falls in the parameters of acceptability. A fussy bunch they are and rightly so. Many a commercial highland cookie has fallen for being “too crumbly”, “not buttery enough” or “too damp” to name a few of criticisms. So I set about experimenting to find that correct combination of ingredients that would yield a shortbread that crumbly enough with falling to pieces; buttery enough would feeling too greasy or damp in your mouth and crisp enough to yield enough with a satisfying snap. In the words of everyone’s favourite flaxen haired domestic critic, “Just right”.

The historic recipe for shortbread hails from Scotland and in it’s basic form is one part sugar; two parts butter and 3 parts plain flour. Time and tide has, like many an ancestral recipe, meant that the original recipe has been tweaked and adjusted with many families input and alterations.

My recipe here has been tweaked from an original from my mom. I found the additions of the more unusual dry ingredient of semolina, rice flour and cornstarch increase the more desirable textures of crispness and crumbliness without marring the buttery taste. The inclusion of the ancient grain flour of Red Fife was purely a whimsical  addition as I was exploring baking with differing flour types at the time. It adds a subtle nutty flavor to the finished shortbread cookie that works really well with the signature butteriness of the cookie. And the toasted coconut? Well who doesn’t like toasted coconut?

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup shredded coconut
  • 1 cup AP Flour
  • 2/3 cup Red Fife flour
  • 1/3 Semolina
  • 2 Tablespoons Rice Flour
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons Cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup and 2 tablespoons fine sugar, divided
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 cup/ 2 sticks salted butter, cold and cubed

Method

  1. Lightly grease and line a 9″ x 12″ traybake tin
  2. In a pan over a medium heat toast the shredded coconut until fragrant and lightly browned. Remove from heat and set aside until needed
  3. In a large bowl combine the flour, semolina, rice flour, cornstarch, sugar and salt. Whisk together to further combine
  4. Add in the cubed butter and rub together with your fingertips until the mixture is just beginning to bind together. Every so often do a  quarter turn of the bowl to make sure you’re using all the dry mixture. You’ll want a texture somewhere between breadcrumbs and damp sand before you stop. Be wary of overworking the butter into the mixture – you want to avoid a dough that is feels slimey from the butter melting too much into the dry ingredients
  5. Tip in the toasted coconut and lightly rub in with your fingers until combined
  6. Tip the crumb mixture into your prepared tin and press the dough so that it forms a solid layer. Level the surface with the back of a spoon or measuring cup, making sure the mixture is evenly spread and uniform. Prick all over with a fork
  7. With a knife or pizza cutter score the shortbread into 24 rectangular pieces (2 cuts by 7 cuts) taking care not to actually cut the full way through
  8. Refrigerate for 30 mins minimum
  9. Preheat your oven to 325°F
  10. Remove the shortbread from the fridge and bake for about 35 minutes or until a very pale golden brown.
  11. Remove from the oven and cut fully through the baked shortbread with a knife or pizza cutter at the score lines you previously made
  12. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons of fine sugar and leave to cool in the tin for 15 minutes. Carefully lift the fingers out of the tin with a palette knife or the parchment paper overhang and finish cooling on a wire rack
  13. Store in an airtight tin for up to a week

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Salted Fudge Brownie Cookies

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So waaaaaay back when- in a time when we could still hug each other; be in public without looking like random members of GI Joe or when Lysol still stocked grocery store shelves, I baked brownies. A LOT of brownies. The quantity of brownies baked in my kitchen was only just outdone by the amount of experimental cupcake flavors I would try tempt people with (Vanilla genoise w/ white truffle buttercream frosting, topped with strawberry, black pepper and a balsamic drizzle anyone?) Brownies satiated my passion for baking and my love of chocolate. In fact so much so was this the case that I ended up winning the title of Observer Food Monthly Best Reader’s Recipe 2014. The victorious recipe was my Smokin’ Pig Licker Brownies and can be found here if you interested.

Anyway I digress, as so often seems to be the case when I write these days! The current abundance of time indoors led me to wonder if this basic brownie recipe could be tweaked and applied to cookie format. And I was not to be the first. I’ll be perfectly  honest and admit I was utterly coerced by the glut of crinkle cookie images that seemed to be flooding my feed along with those of the omnipresent sourdough. The cookie recipe here follows pretty much the base template of brownies – melted choc/ butter combo; dry ingredients stash and sugar/egg volume. A dash of baking powder adds some leavening power to the cookie “dough balls” and stops them becoming a singular cookie en masse on the baking tray.

Overall I gotta admit to them being a tasty success, if thinner than I expected. I guess the word “brownies” in my head is synonymous with thick and chunky (applies to me in all walks of life!) so I was a little perturbed when these cookies baked to be a bit thinner. Nonetheless they still had the fudgy texture that I love of brownies and the crinkle topping certainly provided a certain visual ASMR.

So add these the long ever-growing list of what I should start calling “Quarantine Cookies”. Little morsels of baked goodness that have become my tasty alternative to crossing days off a calendar. The only downside being that whilst my repertoire is expanding so too, it would seem, is my waistline!

Stay safe!

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup AP Flour
  • 1/4 cup Dutch process cocoa (if you can’t get this standard cocoa is fine as long as it’s unsweetened)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 8 oz semi-sweet chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 1/2 cup salted butter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coffee extract
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup fine sugar
  • 2 eggs, large
  • Optional: Flaky sea salt, to finish (I use Maldon)

Method

  1. Heat oven to 350°F and line two large baking sheets with parchment paper
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and Kosher salt until combined.  Set aside until needed later
  3. Combine the butter and chocolate pieces in a bowl over a pan of water. Gently heat over medium-low heat until melted, stirring occasionally to combine. When fully melted remove the bowl from the hot water/ heat, add in the coffee extract and give one final stir to combine. Set aside until needed
  4. While the butter/chocolate mixture is melting, combine the eggs, brown sugar and granulated sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on medium-high speed until pale and increased in volume
  5. Slow and steadily add the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and fold them together until uniform in color and it is just combined
  6. Sift in the dry mixture, again fold it in until just combined
  7. Using a large (3 tablespoon measurement) scoop drop batter balls onto your prepared baking sheet, spaced at least two inches apart.  The batter will be quite runny and will spread significantly as the cookies bake.  (Sprinkle each cookie with a pinch of flaky sea salt, if using)
  8. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the tops of the cookies are crinkled and slightly domed. Remove cookies from the oven and transfer the pan to a wire baking rack to cool. The cookies will flatten and crinkle even further as they firm up and cool down

*These cookies will keep in a sealed container for up to 5 days, or freeze for up to 3 months

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