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This is the hardest part of the recipe, I promise

I made a Dutch Baby. Or maybe it’s not a Dutch baby; it’s just a big apple pancake. I’m not entirely clear on the difference, but boy was it delicious. Really, so darned good. And pretty, but I’m afraid you’re going to have to take my word on that. I always saw these going by to other tables on visits to the Original Pancake House, but I never had the patience to order one. They take extra time, and I wait for no pancake.

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One of the first things newly gluten-free people learn how to bake is flourless peanut butter cookies. They’re easy, taste familiar, and comfort you that just because you can’t eat gluten anymore doesn’t mean that you’ll never enjoy homemade cookies again. However, since I was taking dessert to a party that was going to be attended by several hot-stuff bakers, I didn’t want to show up with plain old peanut butter cookies. I needed something with a little wow and a lot of decadence. There needed to be crunch, sparkle, a hit of salt. There needed to be chocolate.

Peanut Butter Cookies

3 cups crunchy peanut butter
2 cups white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup any GF flour mix
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 eggs

Cream together peanut butter and sugars, stir in baking powder and flour until incorporated. Mix in eggs, one at a time. Refrigerate dough for an hour.

Scoop dough up by rounded tablespoons full, roll in white sugar, and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment. Criss-cross with a fork. Bake at 325° for about 8 minutes. Cool on baking sheet for at least 10 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool the rest of the way.

Chocolate Frosting

This chocolate frosting recipe is right off the side of a Hershey’s cocoa box.

1 4-oz stick of butter
2/3 cup of unsweetened cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt

Melt butter and stir in cocoa until smooth. Gradually beat in powdered sugar, alternating with milk, until desired texture is reached. Beat in vanilla and salt.

Assemble cookie sandwiches:

Place about a tablespoon of frosting on the flat side of one cookie. Put another cookie on top and gently press down until the frosting comes nearly to all edges. Place on a cookie sheet. When all sandwiches are made, refrigerate for about 30 minutes to set frosting. Before serving, sprinkle a little coarse kosher salt over each sandwich.

Stand back and watch fisticuffs ensue. Makes about 2 dozen cookie sandwiches.

 

 

Pre-deflation cake

Last weekend, we made our annual pilgrimage up to Oak Glen’s apple farms. Last year, the apple crop wasn’t strong enough to sustain their usual u-pick operations, so we were happy to see that this year there was a healthy crop of fruit-laden trees. Right now, they have Granny Smith, Red Rome, and Red Delicious ready for picking, but it changes as the season progresses. We picked a peck of all three (after surreptitiously taste- testing the Red Delicious to make sure they were as different from the supermarket examples of that variety as we hoped — they were, crunchy and sweet, with a little tartness). We used up all our cash paying for the apples we picked, and then it was downhill from there. My husband left his Visa at home, I couldn’t use mine because some fool in Florida made a counterfeit card to fund his $5/gallon gas habit, and the yummy barbecue place didn’t take AmEx. But at least we had apples. Lots and lots of apples.

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First of all, I should level with you: Proud Chicagoan though I may be, I think pizza crust is kind of a waste of space.  As far as I’m concerned, pizza is just a vehicle for an explosion of concentrated flavor in the form of toppings.  Why would you fill up on bread, I can never help but wonder, when you’re just going to crowd out the delightful, carefully assembled cast of meat/cheese/vegetables/fruit/sauce that makes a pizza, you know, a pizza?

With all that in mind, I was pretty thrilled when I got a pizza stone as a Christmas gift a few years ago and discovered Peter Reinhart’s Neo-Neapolitan Pizza Crust recipe shortly thereafter.  Neapolitan-style pizza is right up my alley: An extremely crunchy, cracker-thin crust that takes a backseat to a precise balance of toppings, all fresh, and all calculated to deliver maximum flavor from minimal real estate.  Even better?  The key to Neapolitan pizza is to get your oven rocket hot, so they finish cooking in around ten minutes.
Reinhart’s crust recipe is particularly appealing for a number of reasons: 1) It’s so ridiculously stupid-easy that even I, the worst baker on earth, have never managed to screw it up; 2) It turns out so tasty that even the crust enthusiasts among my acquaintance (and there are some) give it high marks; and 3) It freezes like a dream, which is most relevant today, as I recently unearthed a buried frozen crust and invited a friend over for dinner, which gave rise to the pie you’re looking at.

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