I woke early. The morning was unusually quiet. Fog enshrouded our hill and the valleys beyond it dampening any sound. I put the kettle on the stove, made a fire and then sat on the couch for a while just staring at the landscape, the fog, the apple trees. Suddenly I was overcome by a desire to walk amongst it all. To be there in it. I headed back to the bedroom to change, wrote a note to Tom and headed down the road. I eventually ended up in a big apple orchard near my house. It was beautiful. The leaves were yellow and occasionally the lightest breeze would shake one loose and it would twirl silently through the fog to rest on the ground.
I am amazed by the bounty of life in this place. Maybe it’s because I was raised in the desert where life is harsh and brutal. Out there you are more likely to come across a pile of bones than a live animal. Northern CA is very different. I found late blackberries still growing on vines near my road. Mushrooms everywhere. Those red ones were gigantic and were growing right next to our mailbox. I found tracks for a small herd of deer, but not the deer themselves. Starlings have flocked to the vineyards by the hundreds gobbling up everything the pickers have left behind. With them came extra hawks and turkey vultures looking for the slowest birds of the flock. Plus we have been on the lookout for raccoons, opossums, and foxes breaking into our bird house.
Its been fascinating to watch the transformation of the vineyards. The brilliant colors were completely unexpected. I thought grape leaves just turned brown and fell because that’s what the grapevines back home did, but here is different. Its been a pleasure to drive past them each morning and watch as the leaves transform from green to yellow to russet and then suddenly vanish overnight in the crazy windstorm we had. Now the vines are beautiful in their stark barrenness. Perfect rows of empty brown vines reaching for the sky. Bright green grass blanketing the paths between and eventually disappearing into the low fog that hugs the foothills beyond.
All this beautiful winter weather really put me into the Christmas spirit. I started by joining in on the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap. You can check out all 500+ cookie recipes through that link. The cookies I received were awesome and I cant wait to participate next year.
When I was 6 my new step-father moved into our house bringing with him a passion for Christmas cookies that he could trace all the way back to his Ohio born great grandmother. I have many happy memories of deciphering her 100 year old recipes, mixing the dough, freezing dough, sneaking bites of dough, and making more cookies than anyone would ever want to make in a weekend. We would send these cookies out to every person my stepfather had ever met and then sink down with exhaustion and swear not to make another cookie until next Christmas. Of course, that never lasts.
I asked my stepdad if I could share some of his family’s recipes and got a resounding NO! Instead I am testing out new recipes for my old favorites starting with caramel, shortbread and nuts. Any combo of these ingredients and I am in love. This year I came across an awful recipe for Caramel Walnut Thumbprint Cookies. I wont say which recipe it was, just know it involved a lot of premade ingredients! What does matter is that I completely reworked the recipe and came out with something I really liked. The chocolate cookie base is Alice Waters Pate Sucree recipe I have used before with a little chocolate powder thrown in. The caramel sauce recipe belongs to David Lebovitz. His helpful instructions on making caramel were vital to my success. Hope you enjoy them!
Caramel, Walnut & Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies
For the cookies
- 8 tbsp butter (1 stick), softened at room temp for 15 minutes
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 egg yolk, room temp
- 1 1/4 cups of all-purpose flour
- 2 tbsp chocolate powder
- 1 cup of crushed walnuts
1. Preheat the oven to 350F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. In a small bowl stir together the flour and chocolate powder and set aside.
2. In a medium sized bowl beat the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until smooth & creamy.
3. Add the salt, vanilla and egg yolk and mix until completely combined.
3. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix with a wooden spoon until until there are no dry patches. Form into a disk and wrap with plastic wrap. Chill for 4 hours in the fridge.
4. When firm let the dough soften on the counter for 15 minutes then break off pieces of dough and roll into 1 inch balls. Roll the balls in the crushed walnuts. You may need to press the nuts into the ball slightly. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet about 1 inch apart. Press your thumb into the center of each ball making a crater like depression.
5. Bake in a preheated oven for 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and fill the depressions with warmed caramel sauce. Bake cookies for another 3-5 minutes or until the caramel smooths out. Let them cool completely before serving.
For the Caramel Sauce
This is David Lebovitz’s recipe found via The Purple Foodie.
He sure to read David’s Caramel Help Page before attempting to make caramel.
- 1 cup white sugar
- 6 tbsp butter
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 tsp sea salt
1. Spread the sugar evenly over the bottom of a light-colored heavy pot. I like using my white enameled cast iron pot. Heat the sugar over medium heat without stirring very much until the sugar is completely melted and has turned a rich amber brown. Gently swirl the pot or push the sugar toward the middle of the pot if it looks like it is darkening too quickly.
2. When the color resembles the top photo on David’s help page, a rich amber brown, very carefully take the pot off the heat and carefully add the butter & cream. Expect foaming and bubbling so stand back and let it go for a few seconds. When the steam has cleared stir everything until smooth. Stir in the salt. Let cool.
Store in a bell jar in the fridge. It will last for weeks. Eat from the jar with spoons or put on ice cream, or cookies, or on top of my Chocolate Tart.