Fig Oatmeal Bars

I escaped to the mountains. An end of summer restlessness has been holding me close the last few weeks, and I needed an escape before the school year started up again. A breath of fresh mountain air and a few handfuls of ripe mountain cherries felt like the cure.  As someone who organizes the minute details of daily life, purchasing two last minute plane tickets to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains was not in the plan, but I am trying to teach myself that life doesn't need to be so scripted. 

When we reached the mountains, we hiked away from routine and took a step into the unfamiliar. We walked along a well trodden path only a few feet wide for miles, a ledge on one side and a rock face on the other. We filled our hands with cold running water from glacial runoff, drinking deeply.  We rested on boulders as large as cars, feeling the sharpness of the sun's warmth at high altitude. We were privy to an impromptu guided tour from a mountain goat, who preferred the ease of the path to the steepness of the cliffs.

The view was the greatest of nature's design, of distant snow-topped peaks, of deep forested valleys, of wildflowers within an arm's reach. We stopped for lunch on the top of the world, sitting in silence and eating our way through PB & J sandwiches and fig oatmeal bars. Some moments, I've found, need few words.

Fig Oatmeal Bars make for a sweet, filling snack. Fresh figs are cooked down with brown sugar into a compote and subtly flavored with balsamic vinegar and vanilla. The compote is spread over an oatmeal base and baked until golden. The bars cut beautifully and hold together well without breaking apart or leaving crumbs everywhere. These bars are perfect for packing for a snack on the go and eating wherever life leads you. 

One Year Ago: Iced Matcha Coconut Latte 
Two Years Ago: Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookies and Citrus Zucchini Muffins
Three Years Ago: Date Flapjacks & Nordic Pancake Cake
Four Years Ago: Rum Raisin Oatmeal Cookies, Banana Rum Bread, & Vanilla Cardamom Peach Pie
Five Years Ago: Chocolate Malt Cupcakes, Coconut Pancakes, Rocky Road Cookies, & Chocolate Beet Cake
Six Years Ago: Chocolate Prune Cake, Espresso Chocolate Chip Shortbread, & Blueberry Muffins

Fig Oatmeal Bars

Yields 8 x 8-inch pan

Fig Compote
1 lb (450 grams) ripe figs, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup (100 grams) brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Oatmeal Base
1/3 cup (70 grams) coconut oil, liquid state
1/2 cup (100 grams) brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1  cup (120 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups (135 grams) old fashioned oats
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a large saucepan, bring the chopped figs and brown sugar to a boil over medium-high heat. There is no need to add liquids because the figs will release a considerable amount of juice. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until figs soften and compote thickens. Remove from heat and set aside. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Lightly grease an 8 x 8-inch pan.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together coconut oil and brown sugar until uniform. Add the egg and vanilla, mixing until blended. Stir in the flour, oats, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. The batter will be slightly sticky. Using greased hands, press 2/3 of the dough into the bottom of the prepared pan. Spread fig compote evenly over the top. Sprinkle the remaining 1/3 of the dough evenly on top.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until lightly browned. Allow to cool slightly in the pan before serving.

Chocolate Chunk Coconut Oil Cookies

Perhaps it's due to the recent wedding of my younger sister, but I've been feeling stagnant in my own life lately. I'm waiting—waiting to be engaged, waiting to be married, waiting to have children. The clock ticks and my number hasn't been called. In many ways, I feel like my "real" life hasn't started yet, as if my life is on hiatus, waiting for the next season to begin.

Realistically, I know all of this is not true. My current state of being is nothing to complain about. I have an amazing job working as a high school teacher, a delicious hobby, the freedom to travel, and few responsibilities or worries. However, knowledge of these truths and my current feelings about them are two different things. The head and the heart are often at odds. I need to remind myself that life is happening now, not in a year or two. It's time to brush off the restlessness and embrace where I am now.

This past weekend I packed up and moved again (for the sixth time since starting this blog). It's not a starter house, as I have daydreamed about, but it is into a nicer apartment with much quieter neighbors. Patience is a virtue, I'm told. Sometimes, though, it takes a bit of a push to remember.

When I am feeling restless, I like to bake a batch of my favorite comfort desserts. Chocolate chunk cookies, now and always, will top the list. Since learning I was lactose intolerant a few years ago, I have been on the hunt to find a recipe sans butter or vegan butter replacement. After a dozen trials over the years, I landed on this version featuring coconut oil.

Unlike most butter recipes, the coconut oil is liquid when added. As a result, the cookies do not spread much in the oven. To combat this, the dough is rolled into balls and flattened with the palm of a hand to the desired thickness. Press the dough lightly for thick cookies with a soft center and crunchy outside, or press down firmly for thin, crisp cookies. The choice is yours.

Chocolate chunk coconut oil cookies are a dairy-free alternative to the classic. The cookies feature large chunks of chocolate and a customizable texture. To elevate the traditional cookie, espresso powder is added to enhance the chocolate flavor and flaky sea salt is sprinkled on top for a sweet and salty contrast (though both of these additions are optional). While I could not detect a coconut flavor from the oil, a subtle one may appear depending on the brand used. As always, serve with a large glass of milk.

One Year Ago: Raspberry Rhubarb Sorbet 
Two Years Ago: Cookies & Cream Ice Cream
Three Years Ago: Sparkling Lemon Drop, Berry Cheesecake Tarts, Mint Sugar, & Frozen Strawberry Bars
Four Years Ago: Chocolate Cherry CakeCoconut Scones, & Roasted Strawberry Coconut Ice Cream 
Five Years Ago: Quinoa Pudding, Blueberry Hand Pies, Harry Potter Treats, & Cauldron Cakes
Six Years Ago: Margaritas, & Chocolate Chip Raisin Oatmeal Cookies

Chocolate Chunk Coconut Oil Cookies
Adapted from Seven Spoons by Tara O'Brady

Yields about 2 dozen

1/2 cup (113 grams) coconut oil, liquid state*
3/4 cup (150 grams) brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups (215 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder, optional
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 ounces (170 grams), semi or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped **
Flaky sea salt, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the coconut oil and sugars until uniform. Beat in the egg and vanilla extract. Stir in the flour, baking soda, espresso powder, and salt until uniform. Stir in the chopped chocolate.

Roll the dough into balls, about 1 1/2 tablespoons in size, and place 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet. Press down the dough with the palm of your hand until the dough is disk-shaped, about 1/2-inch in height. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt, if desired. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until golden.

*Coconut oil melts at a temperature of 76 degrees F (24 degrees C). Microwave oil for a few seconds to melt, if necessary.

**Use dairy-free chocolate to keep the cookies fully dairy-free.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies (GF)

One of my coworkers has celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder caused by gluten intolerance. Whenever I bring treats to the office after a weekend of baking, she is unable to enjoy them. I am too nervous to make her anything special out of my own kitchen, however. A fine layer of flour has settled over every surface and I am not careful enough to avoid cross contamination when filling measuring cups and spoons. As someone who also suffers from food allergiesmainly tree nuts and dairyI know how awful (and life-threatening) it can be when someone else isn't attentive enough.

So I send her recipes instead, gluten-free inventions from my kitchen that she can create in her own.

Though I adore my (gluten-free) almond butter chocolate chip cookies from a couple years ago, I wanted to create a recipe that was more accessible. Almond butter is not only expensive, but it can be difficult to find. Peanut butter, on the other hand, is abundant and cheap. Figuring out the proportions of ingredients was the tricky part.

Even though I would consider myself a fairly prolific baker, I have a terrible habit of not reading recipe directions (this is especially true if the recipe is one of my own). As a place to begin, I planned to mimic the proportions of the almond butter cookie. The first batch of cookies was nearly perfect, but I realized, after eating my third cookie, that none of my ratios were as intended. The second batch, following my original directions, turned out worse than the first. Sandy and crumbly, they reminded me more of shortbread than a gooey chocolate chip cookie.

IMG_2026.JPG

My lack of recipe literacy has been helpful before (especially with these double chocolate brownies) and this time was no exception. The third batch improved on the first batch, and the recipe was complete. I tried the recipe with the standard processed peanut butters ("Natural Jif" and "Natural Skippy") and the recipe turned out well both times. Though you can use a completely natural nut butter, I would hesitate doing so. These butters tend to create a more oily batter, which causes the cookies to spread differently (either too thin or not enough).

I shared the heaping pile of cookies I created with my teenage students, and this recipe came out the clear winner. The cookie is chewy, gooey, and full of melted chocolate. The fact that it is also gluten-free is just the icing on the cake.

These (gluten-free) Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk cookies are easily my favorite peanut butter and chocolate cookie combination. The texture is thick and dense. Brown sugar adds a chewiness that appears once the cookies have cooled. Combined with chocolate chunks, these cookies could rival any similar cookie, gluten-free or not. Serve these with milk or coffee and dessert will become something special. 

One Year Ago: Blueberry Pie
Two Years Ago: Honey Chocolate Chunk Cookies, Strawberry Charlotteand Fresh Strawberry Cake
Three Years Ago: Homemade Mascarpone, Ladyfingers, Tiramisu Cake, and Peanut Butter Cornmeal Cookies
Four Years Ago: Strawberry Milk, Raspberry Swirled Chocolate Chunk Ice Cream, Blueberry Coffee Cake, and Vanilla Pear Muffins

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Yields approximately 16 cookies

3/4 cup (200 grams) creamy peanut butter
2/3 cup (135 grams) brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 ounces (113 grams) semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).

In a medium mixing bowl, mix together the peanut butter, brown sugar, egg, and vanilla until uniform. Stir in the baking soda and salt. Fold in the coarsely chopped chocolate.

Drop cookies by the tablespoon onto a baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes. Cool on the baking sheet for several minutes before moving to a cooling rack to cool completely (the cookies will be fragile and need to set-up before they can be moved).