Coconut Mastic Macaroons

CoconutMacaroons_BrownieBoxBlog-1

I tried a variety of coconut macaroon recipes in the last couple of months but none of them made me want to make them again, until I saw this recipe for irresistibly golden coconut macaroons. I was so intrigued but the technique that requires cooking the coconut batter on the stovetop before shaping into balls and baking (that was definitely a first!). It resulted in macaroons that are delicately crunchy on the outside and incredibly moist and chewy on the inside.

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What I love about this recipe is that it’s very adaptable, and you can adjust it based on your favorite tastes. Naturally, I made a couple of tweaks to Claire Ptak’s original recipe and added in freshly ground mastic to the batter. The refreshing smell the mastic paired with coconut is my favorite combination of all time! You can get really creative with this by adding a piece of almond in the center, dipping half of the cookies in dark chocolate, mixing in chopped dried fruits, or just bake them plain!

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Recipe adapted from Violet Bakery Cookbook
Makes 20 tablespoon sized macaroons

4 large egg whites
200g (1 cup) granulated sugar
1 tbsp honey
200g (1+1/3 cups) unsweetened shredded coconut
¼ tsp kosher salt
½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp ground mastic (about 4 pea sized mastic resins)

1. Preheat the oven to 355°F/180°C. Line a baking sheet with two parchment papers (to prevent the bottom of the macaroons from burning).
2. Grind the mastic resins in a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle with a pinch of granulated sugar. Measure all the ingredients into a medium heavy-bottomed pan and place over medium low-heat, stirring constantly. As the mixture warms up, reduce the heat to low and stir until the mixture dries out and holds together into a cohesive mass. Let the mixture cool down before proceeding with the next steps (it will be easier to shape the macaroons).
3. Using a tablespoon, scoop individual portions of the mixture on to the lined baking sheet, leaving enough space between each one so they have room to expand.
4. Bake for 16-18 minutes until the macaroons are puffed and golden. Cool completely on the baking sheet before serving or storing. They will keep well for one week in an airtight container, or frozen up to a month.

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Pistachio Baklava

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The intense smell of melted butter began to swirl in my tiny apartment. I peeked into the oven to assure that the little diamond shaped baklava pieces were nicely bronzed and crisp. I knew it was time to take them out. Placing the pan on the stove, I quickly reached for the cold rose flower and orange blossom sugar syrup and poured it slowly between the cracks of the baklavas. As soon as the syrup hit the crisp phyllo dough, a satisfyingly loud sizzle took me aback. I marveled at the bubbly golden surface that looked insanely delicious and wondered how I’m going to get through the next couple of hours waiting for them to cool down. I sprinkled some leftover crushed pistachio nuts on the glazed pastries and immediately started taking pictures on my phone to send to my family in Beirut.

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A few minutes later, my mom inundated me with questions “Is the phyllo dough crunchy? Are they too sweet? Do they taste like REAL baklavas?” I could tell from her voice that she was filled with skepticism about the idea of baking Lebanese baklava at home. But let me assure you that these delectable pastries tick all the criteria of a really good baklava: browned buttery crackly top, thick middle layer of lightly sweetened ground nuts, and chewy bottom with just the right amount of sugar syrup oozing out with each bite. I’m not comparing its taste to the best Lebanese sweet shops who have decades of experience in baking these delicacies, but these come pretty close. It’s a worthwhile weekend baking project that will surely impress people and put a beaming smile on your face.

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Recipe adapted from Wandering Spice

Ingredients:
Sugar Syrup
350g (1.5 cups) granulated sugar
180ml (3/4 cup) filtered water
1 tbsp lemon juice
½ tsp rose flower water
½ tsp orange blossom water

Clarified Butter
226g (2 sticks, 1 cup) unsalted butter, cubed

Nut Filling
400g (3 cups) high quality whole shelled unsalted raw pistachios
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp rose flower water
4 tbsp sugar syrup

Decoration
2 tbsp. ground pistachios

Directions:

1. Remove phyllo dough from the fridge and thaw overnight in the fridge.

2. Prepare the syrup: place sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Allow the syrup to boil for 3 minutes without stirring. Add the lemon juice and continue boiling for 10 minutes until it reaches a light, syrupy consistency that coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and stir in the rose flower and orange blossom water. Set aside to cool down completely and store in fridge (this step can be made a couple of days in advance).

3. To clarify the butter: Line a sieve with paper towel and place over a bowl. Melt the cubed butter in a saucepan over medium heat until it begins to foam. Using a spoon, skim the foam from the top and discard. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the melted butter into the lined sieve. Leave at room temperature. Note: Hot butter will make the phyllo soggy.

4. Place the pistachios and cinnamon in a food processor and pulse until coarsely ground. Slowly pour 4 tbsp. of sugar syrup and the additional ¼ tsp of rose flower water into the mixture. Continue pulsing until the pistachios are finely ground. Reserve 2 tbsp. for decoration.

5. Preheat the oven to 160°C (320°F) and place a baking sheet in the oven – the hot sheet will ensure that the phyllo layers at the bottom stay crispy. line the bottom of a 9″x13″ (23cm x 33cm) baking dish with parchment paper – I used a glass pyrex. Place a baking sheet in the oven.

6. Unroll the phyllo dough and cut the stack of dough (20 sheets) in half to fit the size of your baking dish (40 sheets total). Place a clean, damp cloth on top to keep them from drying out.

7. Butter the bottom and sides of the lined pan with clarified butter. Lay one sheet of phyllo in the pan and gently brush clarified butter onto it. Add a second sheet of phyllo and brush with butter. Continue stacking and brushing sheets until you have 20 sheets on the bottom of the pan. Note: Do not use a lot a lot of clarified butter, only brush sparingly in the first 20 layers – Otherwise you’ll end up with a soggy bottom.

8. Pour the ground pistachio mixture on top of the phyllo stack, and spread out evenly throughout the pan.

9. Repeat the buttering and layering process with 20 more sheets on top of the nut mixture. Once done, refrigerate for 10 minutes to allow the butter to firm up and hold its shape.

10. Using a sharp knife, carefully slice the raw baklava into 1.5″ vertical strips, making sure to slice all the way to the bottom of the baking dish. Then, slice diagonally in a crossways pattern, to create diamond shapes (or, just cut crosswise to make rectangles).

11. Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until the tops of the baklava have puffed and are golden brown.

12. Pour the cold syrup between the cracks of the baklava diamonds – it will sizzle. Sprinkle the chopped pistachios on top. Set aside to cool and serve at room temperature. Store covered in a container at room temperature for up to 1 week. Note: for a less sweet baklava pour about half the amount of syrup

Mini mana’eesh with homemade labneh

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There’s nothing better than a hot manousheh right off the saj, a domed large cast iron griddle. The flatbread dough recipe is a mix of water, flour, yeast, and salt, rolled out and smothered with a za’atar* olive oil paste or shredded white cheese. Sounds very simple right? But it’s not common to make homemade mana’eesh (plural of manousheh) in Lebanon since local bakeries have the best tools and techniques to create a perfect manousheh every single time. It’s also very fresh, cheap, and accessible in Beirut city or the suburbs. It’s available literally everywhere for breakfast, lunch, or at dawn after a long night of partying.

*za’atar is a mix of dried thyme, sumac, roasted sesame seeds, and salt. It’s one of those ingredients that can be used in any meal – sprinkled on eggs, dairy, meats, or roasted vegetables.

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When taken off the saj, the flatbread slightly deflates then it is topped with sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, and mint leaves and served rolled up in parchment paper. The key characteristics of a great manousheh is a flat bubbly surface, crisp edges, and most importantly a very chewy center with just the right amount of filling.

My favorite way to eat a za’atar manousheh for breakfast is usually with sour labneh and cherry tomatoes. I posted step by step instructions at the bottom of the page explaining how to turn regular yogurt into creamy and tangy labneh. I almost never eat labneh without a good amount of za’atar, olive oil, and fresh hot bread –making it a wonderful accompaniment to manousheh. You can sweep it, mound it, shmear it, or eat it in a spoonful. It’s THAT good.

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I used to eat mana’eesh on a weekly basis back home in Lebanon but it is hard to find a fresh manousheh bakery in NYC, and sometimes all I want are just a couple of bites of that magically chewy dough in the morning with Arabic coffee. So I found an easy and quick way to make mini mana’eesh that hit the spot every time.

A lot of recipes online call for eggs, milk, or butter for the dough. But the truth is you don’t need any of these ingredients to make a traditional manousheh dough. Also, try to avoid all-purpose flour because the secret for a wonderfully chewy bread texture is gluten, lots of it. That’s why a high protein strong bread flour is essential here; it results in a more elastic and dense dough.

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Manousheh – Recipe adapted from Mediterranean Cookbook, makes about 44, 2.5″ mana’eesh
7g instant dried yeast (¼ ounce package, about 2¼ tsp)
½ tsp sugar
15ml lukewarm water
450g (1lb) strong bread flour, plus extra for dusting
½ tsp salt
300ml lukewarm water
6 tbsp za’atar
4½ tbsp olive oil (or just enough to turn za’atar into a paste)

Directions:
1. In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast and sugar in 20ml lukewarm water (85°F to 95°F). Leave to cream for 10 minutes.

2. Sift the bread flour and salt together in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and add the creamed yeast. Gradually add 300ml lukewarm water and draw the flour in from the sides to form a dough.

3. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes until smooth and elastic (alternatively, you can use a stand mixer with a dough hook) then shape into a ball. Pour a drop of olive oil into the base of a bowl, spread around with fingers, then roll the dough in the oil to coat it all around. Cover with a damp cloth or cling film and place in a warm place for one hour until it has doubled in size.

4. Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F) for at least 30 minutes before starting to bake. In a small bowl, pour olive oil over the za’atar until it turns into a paste. You don’t want the mix to be too oily. Knock back the dough and knead it lightly, then divide it into 44 parts (approximately 15g each) using a bench scraper or sharp knife. Space out the equal parts of dough and cover with a damp cloth to prevent forming a crust.

5. Take a small piece of dough, shape lightly into a ball and roll it out into a 2.5″ inch circle using a rolling pin. Smear about 1/2 tsp of the za’atar paste on top and, using two fingers, create a small indent in the middle. Lightly dab the edges with olive oil to give it a golden color and place on a large parchment-lined baking sheet. Continue working with the rest of the dough to fit as many as possible on a single sheet. Bake in batches, one sheet at a time to prevent the prepared mana’eesh from rising.

6. Bake for 10 minutes, until barely golden. Do not overbake the mana’eesh or they will turn out very tough and crispy and instead of soft and chewy (I usually like to test the baking time for one manousheh before proceeding with the rest). While the first batch is the oven, start shaping the rest of the dough balls into mana’eesh and place on a second parchment lined baking sheet. Proceed with baking until you’re all done.

7. Mana’eesh can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature, or frozen for up to 2 months. Simply heat them up for a few minutes before serving.


Homemade Labneh
32 ounces of organic plain yogurt (I like Seven Stars Farm)
generous pinch of salt
tsp fresh lemon juice

Directions:
1. Line a mesh strainer with 3 to 4 layers of cheesecloth and set over a deep bowl.

2. Add the salt and lemon juice to the yogurt and stir. Pour the yogurt mixture into the cheesecloth-lined strainer and gather the edges of the cheesecloth together to tie with a string or elastic band.

3. Place the bowl as it is in the fridge. Alternatively, you can place a long piece of wood or 2 sturdy chopsticks across the top part of the bowl and tie the cheesecloth in the middle to let it hang without touching the bottom.

4. Strain for 8 to 12 hours for a smooth and soft labneh consistency or 24-48 for a thick and firm consistency (I prefer the latter, but it’s really up to you!).

5. Take out the labneh from the fridge and transfer to a glass container. Store in the fridge for up to a week.

 

Barazek (Sesame Pistachio Cookies)

Barazek Sesame Pistachio Cookies | Brownie Box

I don’t know where to start describing Barazek to people who are not familiar with this traditional Syrian pastry. The title of the post makes it seem like a simple recipe, but it’s definitely not your average everyday treat. The buttery crunchy texture of the thinly spread baked dough is contrasted with chewy toasted honey sesame seeds on one side and pistachios on the other side. They inevitably remind me of long lazy afternoons in Beirut, drinking arabic coffee with the extended family, and devouring these wickedly addictive cookies.

Barazek Sesame Pistachio Cookies | Brownie Box

Barazek Sesame Pistachio Cookies | Brownie Box

Damascus is known for creating the best barazek that are typically bought in tin boxes with other delicious sweets that the city is famous for. They’re made from butter (or ghee), flour, sugar, milk, and ground mahleb – a spice made from ground cherry stones. The dough is then coated with honey syrup, sesame seeds, and pistachios.

My family used to get these bite sized cookies from a sweet shop called Semiramis and I distinctly remember them having a very deep golden color with a serious sesame flavor. Lately I’ve been itching to try my luck in making them from scratch (especially that Syria feels like a world away), so I tried my best to recreate the same texture and taste here. It was a very tough process because of all the recipe variations available: some called for eggs, others called for adding semolina, rose water, cream of tartare, even vinegar! It’s quite the dilemma.

Barazek Sesame Pistachio Cookies | Brownie Box

After a lot of tinkering in my kitchen, I felt hopeless at times when the end result was not at all what I was aiming for, and at other times I felt like I conquered the world when the barazek turned out  just as good as the ones we used to get from Damascus. None of my friends or family believed me when I said that each bite made a good reason to spend a ridiculous amount of time making them (this recipe yields 90 cookies!). But let me assure you that they’re worth every effort and you can always freeze them for later cravings. I never tried freezing the dough, but I’m sure that it freezes just as well as any other cookie recipe.

Barazek Sesame Pistachio Cookies | Brownie Box

Makes approx. 90 cookies, 4cm- 1.5in diameter – They taste batter the next day!

Ingredients:
1/4 cup organic honey
1/4 cup water

200g (1½ cups) white sesame seeds
175g (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
150g (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
1g (½ tsp) baking powder
¼ tsp ground mahlab (optional)
312g (2½ cups) all-purpose flour
2.5g (1 tsp) active dry yeast
80ml (1/3 cup) skimmed milk
40g (1/3 cup) chopped or slivered raw pistachio

Directions:
Honey Syrup:
1. Combine honey and water in a small saucepan.
2. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring until honey dissolves (Around 3 minute).
3. Remove from heat and let it cool down.

Cookies:
1. Toast the sesame seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat for 3-5 minutes until lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Set aside to cool.
2. In a large bowl cream the butter and sugar (or use your hands).
3. Add ground mahlab and baking powder and mix.
4. Add yeast and flour and mix until homogeneous. Gradually add the milk to form a smooth hard dough (you might use less milk to avoid a tender dough).
5. Cover dough in plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature for at least 15 minutes.
6. Pre-heat the oven to 325°F (160°C) and line two large baking sheets with parchment paper
7. Pour enough honey syrup on a medium sized plate just to cover the surface and sprinkle the sesame seeds on top (don’t use all the sesame, just enough to cover the syrup). Place the chopped pistachios on another shallow plate.
8. Shape about a teaspoon of dough into a ball and flatten slightly with the palm of your hands.
9. Dip one side into pistachios, flip and press the other side with the sesame mixture using your fingers to press the dough into a flat disc.
10. Place the cookies sesame side up on the baking sheet about an inch (2 cm) apart.
11. Bake for 25-30 minutes, rotating halfway, until the edges are a deep golden color.
12. Store in an air tight container up for up to two weeks or freeze for up to 2 months.

No-Bake Granola Bars

No-Bake Granola Bars | Brownie Box

These no-bake healthy and energizing granola bars have my favorite ratio of oats, nuts, and dried fruits.

No-Bake Granola Bars | Brownie Box

You can get really creative with the recipe by adding more oats or a mashed banana, omitting the nuts, mixing in chocolate chips, drizzling melted chocolate on top, or adding more honey for a sweeter taste. You basically have complete control of what you’re using in the mixture as long as you stick to the same ratio of liquid to dry ingredients. What I also love about this recipe is that it doesn’t require turning on the oven because the honey, coconut oil, and nut butter holds all the ingredients together ensuring insanely delicious and chewy bars.

No-Bake Granola Bars | Brownie Box

No-Bake Granola Bars | Brownie Box

They’re great as a topping for your morning greek yogurt bowl or as an afternoon snack. But I found it incredibly hard to stop nibbling on them all day (and then feel bad about it), that’s why I always freeze them individually and let them thaw in the fridge for when I need them!

No-Bake Granola Bars | Brownie Box

Recipe adapted from Bowl of Delicious – Makes 12/15 bars

Ingredients

4 Tbsp coconut oil
4 Tbsp organic honey (or other sweetener, such as molasses, agave, maple syrup)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp almond butter (or peanut butter)
1 cup organic old fashioned rolled oats
½ cup sliced walnuts
½ cup sunflower seeds
½ cup pumpkin seeds
¼ cup shredded coconut, unsweetened
½ cup chopped dried apricots
1 Tbsp chia seeds

Directions

1. Melt the coconut oil, honey, and cinnamon over medium heat and bring to a boil.
2. Let it bubble for a minute then turn the heat down to low, and stir in the vanilla, almond butter, and oats. Stir to coat.
3. Add the nuts/seeds, shredded coconut, and dried apricots, then mix until fully incorporated.
5. Continue cooking on low heat for 2 minutes then remove from heat.
6. Meanwhile, line a 6″x8″ (15 x 20 cm) baking dish with parchment paper, leaving the sides of the paper long.
7. Add the mixture to the dish; press with the back of a wooden spoon so it is evenly spread out.
8. Fold the parchment paper wrap over the granola so the top is covered (get more if necessary). Press the granola aggressively, so it is as packed as you can make it. You can use the wooden spoon, the palm of your hands, a dish/cup, or a glass mason jar. Just make sure it is well packed and evenly distributed!
9. Place in refrigerator and allow to cool completely – at least two hours up to overnight.
10. Remove granola from parchment paper –  it should be in one big block. Cut into bars, and wrap individually in plastic wrap. Store in the fridge for about 2 weeks or in the freezer for up to 6 months.

Double Chocolate Almond Biscotti

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Traditional biscotti never appealed to me. I always found them to be plain, way too crunchy, and sometimes tasteless. It wasn’t until recently that I completely changed my mind when I had an anise biscotti at a local neighborhood bakery. Their version of the cookie is crunchy from the outside yet chewy from the inside with a perfect balance of sugar and liquorice flavor. It was biscotti love.

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I sort of became obsessed with these anise flavored cookies, and was dreaming about them everytime I grab a cup of almond milk latte from that bakery. Then it hit me – I should be able to bake delicious biscottis from scratch that are not dry and rock hard! So I looked up a few recipes, played around with the ingredients, varied the baking time, and basically ended up with these incredible double chocolate almond biscotti:

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Not bad, huh?

Here’s the thing about biscotti that you must know before attempting to try this. The dough is baked twice to ensure a crispy yet chewy texture: once in a long log form and then in sliced form. Also, most original recipes only call for eggs as an adhesive ingredient, but recipes using butter (such as this one) yield softer and delicate cookies due to the added fat. So it all comes down to your preference!

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I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome and I seriously did NOT expect them to be THAT delicious! That’s the best part of baking 🙂

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Makes about 14 biscotti

Ingredients:
57 g (¼ cup) butter, room temperature
150 g (¾ cup) granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
190 g (1 ½ cups) all-purpose flour
45 g (½ cup) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
115 g (4 ounces- about 1 cup) slivered or chopped raw almonds
80 g (¼ cup) bittersweet chocolate chips

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 F° (180 C°).
2. Beat the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy.
3. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.
4. Mix in the vanilla extract.
5. Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt over the mixing bowl. Mix with a spatula until it’s all incorporated– do not overmix. The dough will be slightly sticky.
6. Stir in the almonds and chocolate chips.
7. Shape the dough into a log 12-inches (30 cm) long by 3-inches (7 cm) on a parchment lined baking sheet.
8. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the dough cracks on top and begins to brown.
9. Take out of the oven and cool on baking sheet for 10 minutes.
10. Using a serrated knife, cut the log into ½-inch slices (1 cm). Place the slices cut side down onto the baking sheet. Bake for 5 minutes on each side for a soft texture. For a crunchier texture, bake for 8-10 minutes.

Chocolate Cookies Stuffed with Nutella

Nutella Stuffed Chocolate Cookies | Bronie Box11
I grew up in a very health conscious household and I always preferred healthy food over junk food or packaged snacks. It’s no wonder why I never tasted Nutella during my childhood. I bought a Nutella jar the other day, but I wasn’t going to eat the whole jar all by myself! So I decided to bake these cookies.
Nutella Stuffed Chocolate Cookies | Bronie Box13
First I looked up the history of this yummy chocolate spread (typical me). It was first manufactured in 1946 by Pietro Ferrero in Italy, under the name “Pasta Gianduja”, but it wasn’t until 1963 that “Nutella” was introduced to the market. It is so popular today to the point that the number of jars sold annually (if lined up) would wrap around the moon four times! … Impressive huh?!
Nutella Stuffed Chocolate Cookies | Bronie Box10
The cookies turned out delicious, especially when they are warm and oozing with pure Nutella filling. It’s the texture that truly won me over: slightly crisp on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside.
Nutella Stuffed Chocolate Cookies | Bronie Box4
Don’t these look ridiculously irresistible?
Nutella Stuffed Chocolate Cookies | Bronie Box6
Nutella Stuffed Chocolate Cookies | Bronie Box8

Assembling the cookies take more time than making the dough itself. I also found it much easier to show you a step-by-step tutorial on how to stuff the dough with Nutella:
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First, roll out a teaspoon of dough into a ball.

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Then form an indentation with your index finger

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Spoon Nutella on the dough – as much as it can hold 😉

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Take another teaspoon of dough and flatten it with the palm of your hands to seal the cookie. Then bake for 10 minutes! These rich cookies should be soft when you take them out of the oven. They will firm up as they cool, so be careful not to over-bake them.

Did you try baking these? Do you have another favorite recipe for Nutella cookies? I’d love to hear your comments!

Ingredients:
1/2 cup (110g) butter
1+1/2 cups (350g) packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (55g) cocoa powder, sifted
2 large eggs
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 cups (260g) all-purpose flour, sifted
1/2 cup Nutella (more or less)

Directions:
1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Melt the butter in a saucepan then take off the heat (you could microwave the butter instead).
3. Stir in the brown sugar, cocoa powder, eggs and salt until well combined.
4. Add the baking soda and flour and stir until just combined.
5. Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes at least (it becomes easier to work with)
6. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 F)
7. Roll 1 teaspoon of dough into a ball, use your finger make an indentation in the center.
8. Fill the indentation with Nutella (approx. 1/2 tsp), top with a flattened teaspoon of dough, and pinch the edges.
9. Bake for 10 minutes. (Do not over-bake, the cookies will firm up as they cool). Let cool for 2 minutes on baking sheets before transferring to a wire rack.

Nutella Stuffed Chocolate Cookies | Bronie Box1