Salted Peanut Butter Cookies


When I was a kid, we had a lot of American shows on TV: from “Happy Days” to “Charlie’s Angels” to “The Love Boat” and “Dynasty.”  They were all subtitled in Greek, which was actually a big help in learning English. There were a lot of things that the characters on these TV shows talked about that we didn’t really know about or were ever able to experience. One of those was the mythical “peanut butter.” It seemed to be everywhere. On sandwiches and in desserts, it sounded like the most delicious thing my sister and I could imagine. In fact, we did imagine that it probably tasted like an even better version of Nutella, which we did have available to us and which we adored. So, we always begged our dad to look for peanut butter at the store but he always came back empty handed. It simply did not exist in Cyprus.

Then one day, when we were teenagers, he came home with a jar of peanut butter. My dad worked at the American Embassy and somehow, he got a hold of some of this spread that seemed to be the American equivalent to the Cypriot tahini, ubiquitous and universally loved. My sister and I couldn’t hold our excitement. My mom joined us, and the four of us each held a spoon. My dad opened the jar and peeled away the plastic cover. We all took a spoonful, marveling at the thick, luscious consistency and placed the spoons in our mouths. As if in a slapstick comedy bit, we all started gagging. How could this be what Americans loved? It tasted like peanuts (go figure!) and stuck your tongue to the roof of your mouth with a faint grit and a tiny hint of sweetness that just wasn’t enough for us. We all hated it. We threw out the jar and never thought about it again.

Several years later, I moved to the U.S. and my love affair with peanut butter began. I don’t know what changed. Maybe I had better peanut butter, maybe the one we had in Cyprus was old and stale. More likely, peanut butter is one of those things that you kind of have to learn to love, like Vegemite and stinky cheese. I know that even today, with peanut butter available world wide, many non-Americans despise it.

There are many ways to enjoy peanut butter, but this recipe for peanut butter cookies is one of my favorites. Four simple ingredients (five, if you count the salt), one bowl, and 15 minutes in the oven, will reward you with the most exquisite, crispy on the outside, meltingly soft in the middle, cookies. They’re good enough to perhaps entice even the most ardent peanut butter haters.

Salted Peanut Butter Cookies – Very slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen


1 3/4 cups (335 grams) packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups (450 grams) smooth/creamy peanut butter (I use the Jif Natural kind and it’s perfect)
Coarse-grained sea salt, like Madon, to finish


Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the light brown sugar and eggs until smooth. Whisk in the vanilla extract, then the peanut butter until smooth and completely incorporated; you shouldn’t be able to see any ribbons of peanut butter.

Preferably, chill the dough by freezing it in its bowl for 15 minutes, stirring it once (so the edges don’t freeze first), before scooping it. Scoop or spoon the dough into balls, about 1.5-2 inches in diameter. If you want them bake into a more rounded, tall shape, place the tray in the freezer for 15 minutes before baking. Or you can bake them immediately for flatter cookies, like the ones in the photo above.

Sprinkle the dough balls lightly with coarse-grained sea salt just before baking. Bake cookies for 18 to 20 minutes. When finished, cookies should be golden at edges. They’ll need to set on the sheet for a minute or two before they can be lifted intact to a cooling sheet.

Let them cool completely before serving. Otherwise, you won’t get the nice crispy outside.


The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies


There are many things, American things, I grew up without: The Brady Bunch, onion rings, McDonalds, 21 Jump Street, PB&J sandwiches, bagels, MacGyver, cranberry muffins, and the list goes on and on. But there’s one thing I didn’t have as a kid that always makes Steve wonder how I made it to adulthood without severe psychological trauma: chocolate chip cookies. Not only did we not have chocolate chip cookies when I was a kid, I didn’t even know that they existed. All the American TV shows and movies I watched were subtitled and “chocolate chip cookies” were simply translated as “cookie with chocolate” or simply “cookie.” It wasn’t until I came to the U.S. that I discovered the culinary marvel that is the chocolate chip cookie. In all fairness, chocolate chip cookies are not well known or loved anywhere else in the world either. Our French friends always produce their Gallic shrug and a dismissive puff when we mention chocolate chip cookies. They’re not impressed.DSC04364

I, on the other hand, am a huge chocolate chip cookie fan. A good, and that’s a big caveat, chocolate chip cookie is the perfect dessert. It’s sweet but darkly so, thanks to the brown sugar. It has chocolate, but in perfect proportions. It’s slightly crispy on the outside but soft and a little chewy on the inside. You can hold it in your hand, you can dip it in milk, you can sandwich ice-cream between two of them, you can eat it cold or slightly warm.

Unfortunately, like all good things, the chocolate chip cookie has been bastardized a million times over. Finding a great cookie or a great recipe is for many, the holy grail of American desserts. Finally, I think I’ve found it. This recipe, from Smitten Kitchen, has produced consistently some of the best, most mouth-wateringly delicious, most addictive chocolate chip cookies Steve and I have had. The best part is that you can make the dough, shape the cookies and then freeze them. Whenever you want a freshly baked cookie, pop one in the oven for 16 minutes and you’re all set. These are so good, that they might even convert the French to chocolate chip cookie lovers.

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies – Slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes 15-16 cookies


3/4 teaspoon baking soda
Heaped 1/4 teaspoon (or, technically, 1/4 + 1/8 teaspoon) fine sea or table salt
1 3/4 cups (220 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (4 ounces or 113 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons (25 grams) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons (25 grams) turbinado sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (165 grams) packed light or dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 pound (112 grams) semi- or bittersweet chocolate, cut into roughly 1/2-inch chunks with a serrated knife
1/4 pound (112 grams) milk chocolate, cut into roughly 1/2-inch chunks with a serrated knife
Flaky sea salt (like Maldon), to finish


Heat oven to 360°F (182°C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat. (I know…360°F?? But it does seem to make a difference. If your oven isn’t this precise, just bake them at 350°F and add some baking time, probably a couple of minutes).

In a small bowl, mix flour, salt and baking soda and set aside. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugars together with an electric mixer until very light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Add egg and vanilla, beating until incorporated, and scraping down the bowl as needed. Beat in the flour mixture on a low speed until just mixed. The dough will look crumbly at this point. With a spatula, fold/stir in the chocolate chunks.

Scoop cookies into 3 tablespoon (I used a #20 scoop) mounds, spacing them apart on the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle each with a few flakes of sea salt. Put in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes (up to a few hours) if you’ll bake them on the spot, or place them in the freezer to bake them at a later time.

If baking them immediately:
Bake for 11 to 12 minutes in preheated oven, until golden on the outside but still very gooey and soft inside. Out of the oven, let rest on baking sheet out of the for 5 minutes before transferring a cooling rack. Wait another 5-10 minutes (if you can manage that) before eating them.

If baking from the freezer:
First, take out as many cookies as you want to bake and place them on a prepared baking sheet (lined with parchment paper or silicon mat). Then preheat the oven to 360°F (182°C) (this will give the cookies a few minutes to lose their chill). When oven reaches 360°F (182°C), place baking sheet in the oven and bake for 16 minutes. Out of the oven, let rest on baking sheet out of the for 5 minutes before transferring a cooling rack. Wait another 5-10 minutes (if you can manage that) before eating them.

Vanilla Almond Orange Cloud Cookies

Last weekend, I was sitting next to our friends’ adorable six-year old daughter, eating breakfast, when she turned to me and asked:

– Why don’t you and Steve have kids?

The question stopped me in my tracks. I mean, how do you tell a six-year old that growing up you always thought you’d have kids, you always assumed you would, but then you hit your 20s and boom! this life changing event happened – you came out? How do you explain to her that at that point you thought, ok, this settles it, I’m not going to be able to have kids, and you kind of came to terms with that but then the years passed and you saw more and more same-sex couples actually doing it, actually having kids of their own, and you thought maybe that will be me?

How do you tell her that for many years you were still finding your way, still looking for a partner in life, so kids were not in your plans, and then you met a man, a wonderful man, who would turn out to be the love of your life, your future husband? How do you describe how much fun you were having together and how the years started adding up one at a time until you both realized there was a deadline coming, to make a decision on having kids, and that the deadline came and you talked and you realized that you just loved your life together too much and you were too old by then, too satisfied with the way things were, too content with everything to disrupt it with the addition of a kid?


How do you explain to this inquisitive, smart, and beautiful six-year old girl that it was a tough decision, a really tough decision, and that there are days when you are going to work and you see a blond-headed toddler who looks so much like Steve did in all the photographs from when he was little, and the little boy waves at you and your heart skips a beat? How do you describe the wistful feeling you have when you imagine a little version of Steve running around, but then the toddler starts to cry and scream and you see the parent scramble and try to find a way to make him happy, and you think yes, that’s right, it’s a sacrifice and a commitment for life and you weren’t ready to make either, and that is ok?


Well, you don’t tell her any of these things. And I didn’t. I just smiled and told her simply that Steve and I had decided that we wouldn’t have our own kids and that we were instead really happy that we had so many friends in our lives with kids, just like her own dads and her and her brother.

As we both went back to our breakfasts, I thought of that alternate universe where our lives had taken a different path, one which included a little boy of our own, and how as soon as he was able to do so, I would bring him in the kitchen and show him how to help me make these vanilla almond orange cloud cookies, and how  much fun we’d both have making them and eating them. But then, someone asked me a question about one thing or another and the conversation shifted and the day took its own course.


Vanilla Almond Orange Cloud Cookies – Adapted from Joy the Baker

1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
10 ounces almond paste
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large egg whites, lightly beaten
powdered sugar

Place two racks in the center and upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 325º  F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together granulated sugar, orange zest, and scraped vanilla seeds. Use your fingers to works the zest and vanilla into the sugar, creating a fragrant, moist sugar.

Place sugar in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the almond paste. Beat on medium speed creating a crumbly sugar and almond mixture.

While almond mixture is combining in the mixer, place two egg whites in a small bowl. Whisk with a fork until loose and frothy. This will help in pouring the egg whites into the mixer. With the mixer on medium speed, gradually pour the egg whites in to the crumbly almond and sugar mixture. Beat until a smooth paste is formed.

Spoon or scoop batter by the heaping tablespoonful onto the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle generously with powdered sugar. Using the tips of three of your fingers, make indentations in each cookie.

Bake cookies for 20 to 25 minutes or until cookies are lightly browned on top. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the pan. Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Navettes (Orange Blossom Cookies)


A couple of years ago, Steve and I visited Cyprus for a few days. We rented a car and drove around, visiting some of the villages that have been experiencing a renaissance, after many years of neglect. Agrotourism has opened up investment opportunities and as a result old houses have been restored, traditional foods have resurfaced, and a few are even moving back to the villages, abandoning the cities.

We were there around the end of April, which is a perfect time to go. The brutal heat of the summer hadn’t started yet and everything was in bloom. The mountainsides were solid green, broken by large patches of poppies and daisies. It was also the time when citrus trees were in late bloom. Orange and lemon orchards were everywhere. One day we were driving through a village with our windows down and as soon as we approached, we were immersed in the scent of orange blossoms.


If you’ve never experienced walking through a blooming orange orchard, put it on your list of things to do. The scent is intoxicating. It resembles that of jasmin or honeysuckle but it’s less cloying, more like…well, what you would expect orange blossoms to smell like. But if you don’t have access to an orange orchard, you can have the experience by buying a bottle of orange blossom water. IMG_3248

You’ll find orange blossom water in most middle eastern or italian food stores, or some large supermarkets like Whole Foods. It has a strong orange blossom flavor and aroma but it’s unsweetened. A little goes a long way. It also lasts for a really long time in the fridge. IMG_3249

There are many things you can do with it (like add a little in a fruit salad) but I have a couple of favorite recipes I can share with you. One is an ice cream that I will post later. The other one is a cookie from the south of France called navette. It means little boat (because of its shape, though they also look like lips to me) and its very simple to make, right in the food processor. The cookies will last for at least a couple of weeks in an airtight container, if you haven’t finished them off by then. The perfect pairing for them? Jasmine tea. Try it. It’s sublime.

Navettes: Orange Blossom Cookies – Adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini: Daily Adventures in a Parisian Kitchen

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons orange blossom water
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water

Combine the butter and sugar in a food processor and process a few seconds until they are fluffy. Add the egg and orange blossom water. Pulse a few times until everything is blended. Add all the flour and salt and process a few seconds until mixed. The mixture may be crumbly but if you take a little and press it between your fingers, it should come together.

Empty the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead it gently until it forms a ball. Add a little more flour if the dough is too moist, or a little ice-cold water, one teaspoon at a time, if it’s too dry. Divide the dough into two disks, wrap each half in plastic, and refrigerate for at least an hour, or up to a day.

Preheat the oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Take one disk of dough out of the refrigerator and divide it into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece with the palm of your hand on the work surface until it forms a log, about 3 inches in length. If the log comes apart, just squeeze the pieces together. The logs don’t have to be perfect.

Cut the log in two with a knife so you have two 1 1/2 inch logs. Repeat with the other pieces until you have sixteen small logs. Pinch the ends of each small log and flatten the top slightly, to form a boat shape. With the tip of a butter knife, carve a deep slit lengthwise down the centre, not quite reaching the other side or the ends. Arrange the cookies on the baking sheet and repeat with the second half of the dough. The cookies don’t rise or expand so you can put  them fairly close to each other, though not touching.

Brush the cookies with the egg yolk mixture. Bake for 15 minutes, until golden and slightly browned at the tips. Transfer to a rack to cool completely. The dough can be frozen for up to a month. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator before forming and baking the navettes.