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vegan tahini chocolate chip cookies

January 14, 2020

Portland, OR, USA
These vegan chocolate chip cookies taste EXACTLY like regular chocolate chip cookies with crisp edges, soft and chewy centers, and pools of molten dark chocolate throughout every bite of cookie. This is all thanks to a handful of "secret" ingredients like tahini, coconut oil, and vegan chocolate—jump to the recipe!


The Best Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies

Hello friends! I am back from a two week vacation in which I spent the first week touring Seoul with Kiron, one of my best friends from college, and the second week crashing at my parents' place in Manila! I wish I had more exciting things to report, but I mostly spent my time in Asia drinking all the brown sugar boba at Tiger Sugar and The Alley and buying all the Fluffmatte lipsticks at Sunnies Face. Oh well.

I did have some downtime to think about my plans for 2020, including planning some recipes for Hummingbird High. As the years have gone on, I've become much more analytical about what recipes I share on this blog—I want to post stuff that you guys will actually make, ya know? That means doing a lot of fun research about what recipes are trending on Google, Instagram surveys, and even looking at my own historical Google Analytics and Pinterest data to see which recipes you guys consistently make and love.

One of the surprise hits from last year was the vegan chocolate chip cookie recipe in my cookbook, Weeknight Baking. Although I have a ton of drop cookie recipes made with butter and eggs, a surprising number of you opted to make the vegan chocolate chip cookie recipe instead. In my book, I made the promise that my recipe would be indistinguishable from my traditional chocolate chip cookie recipe. It's a pretty big promise, but I'm confident I delivered. So confident that I wanted to share it with folks who didn't buy the book too! All of this inspired me to post my vegan chocolate chip cookies as my first recipe in 2020!

Let's dive in.


What is a vegan diet?

In case you've been living under a rock for the last few years, you probably already know what a vegan diet is — it's a diet that eliminates all animal products and by-products, including but not limited to meat, dairy, eggs, and even honey (honey is made by bees, after all). For baking, vegan baking means skipping the use of key baking ingredients like butter, cream, eggs, milk, sour cream, and more. I'm not going to lie—vegan baking can be CHALLENGING. You're skipping a lot ingredients that are not only flavorful, but also provide key structures in baked goods. But when done right, vegan baking can result in the exact same flavors and textures as their conventional counterparts. Like these cookies!

What makes chocolate chip cookies vegan?

Like I said before, because these cookies don't use eggs and butter, they're 100% vegan! In my book, I use ingredients like almond butter, coconut oil, and water in their place. But in this particular recipe, I substituted the almond butter with tahini, a Middle Eastern condiment (or maybe more of a sauce?) made from sesame seeds. My friend Steph tried it in her blog post about my recipe and reported back rave results—I had to try it for myself!

Is tahini vegan?

Yes! "Legit" tahini is made from nothing but sesame seeds and water.

What does tahini taste like?

Hmm... I like to think of tahini as nut butter's fancy, more sophisticated cousin. You know, the one who speaks French and has a husky, sexy voice from all the cigarettes and wine, lol. It has a similar texture to an unsweetened, natural nut butter in that it's pretty oily and will separate when sitting in its jar (you'll need to give the tahini a good stir before using it in any recipe). Unlike nut butter though, its flavor is definitely more umami—in fact, it's frequently used in savory dishes like hummus and baba ghanoush. 

What do these vegan tahini chocolate chip cookies taste like?

When done right, tahini can add a nuanced and subtle toasted nutty flavor to sweets. These cookies taste like regular chocolate chip cookies with just a hint of smokiness and nuttiness from the tahini itself. My rule for using tahini in desserts is to think of it as a substitute for peanut butter—that means that tahini will work well in baked goods with ingredients like chocolate, nuts, bananas, and more. Simply put, a peanut butter anything recipe (like "peanut butter brownies" or "peanut butter banana bread") can easily be a tahini anything recipe ("tahini brownies" and "tahini banana bread").


Ingredients in Vegan Tahini Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

Alright, now that I've convinced you to make these cookies (I think), here are the key ingredients in the recipe that's worth chatting about:

Tahini (obviously)

Where do I buy tahini?

The best places to buy tahini are fancy grocery stores like Whole Foods and organic food co-ops, or Middle Eastern markets (New Yorkers—I especially recommend Sahadi's in Brooklyn). I recommend these places specifically because they carry my favorite brands of tahini (more on that in a hot second). In a pinch, you can also find tahini in the "International" or "Middle Eastern" aisle of any standard grocery store—but it's likely they won't have the brands I recommend.

What are the best brands of tahini?

My absolute favorite brand of tahini—which I got hooked on when I was in Israel last year—is Al Arz Tahini. It's so incredibly creamy and rich; its texture and flavor is incomparable to most of the brands of tahini you can buy in the United States. Because yes, that's the kicker—aside from buying it online at Amazon (where you can buy it for a premium), I've never seen it sold here (at least, not in Portland, anyway). But Londoners, you're in luck—I know that Ottolenghi sells jars of the stuff at his restaurants.

If you want to stay local and buy American-based brands, I highly recommend my friend's tahini company, Seed + Mill. It's the best tahini I've had stateside. You can buy their jars online, or even in some Whole Foods stores (specifically in the New York and New Jersey area). I've also heard really good things about Soom, but I can't personally vouch for their tahini because I haven't had it myself.

Now I hear you wondering—does the brand of tahini really matter? Honestly, in a pinch, you can get away with using the stuff you can find at regular supermarkets and your cookies will turn out just fine. But it's sort of like opting for generic butter versus the super fancy European stuff with the high butterfat content—the good stuff is going to be infinitely more creamy and flavorful, hands down. It's worth sourcing these brands if you're planning on using the tahini in more "tahini-forward" recipes like salad dressing, hummus, and more.

What is whole tahini? Can I use it in this recipe?

If you've followed my advice and are now perusing the fancy tahini brands I recommended above, you'll notice that most of them sell jars of "whole" tahini. This has to do with the way regular tahini is made: sesame seeds that are soaked in water and then crushed to separate the bran from the kernels. The crushed seeds are soaked in salt water, causing the bran to sink. The floating kernels are skimmed off the surface, toasted, and ground to produce regular tahini.

Whole tahini skips this step of separating the bran from the kernels; as a result, whole tahini is thicker and has a much stronger, smokey umami taste. You can absolutely use whole tahini instead of regular tahini in this recipe; just note that your cookies will DEFINITELY taste more like tahini. 

Is there a substitute for tahini?

For these cookies, you can substitute the tahini in the recipe with the same amount of any kind of nut butter: almond butter, peanut butter, cashew butter, and more. In my cookbook, I published this recipe with almond butter—that's the nut butter I recommend with this recipe!

Coconut Oil

Refined vs unrefined coconut oil 

Coconut oil is a common substitution for butter and other fats in vegan recipe. Note that you can usually buy two types of coconut oil: refined and unrefined. Unrefined coconut oil, also known as virgin coconut oil, is made with oil that has been extracted from coconuts with low-heat, minimal processes. Refined coconut oil, on the other hand, is made with harsher extracting processes that minimize the coconutty taste of the oil—as a result, it's much more neutral in flavor.

For these vegan chocolate chip cookies, you can use EITHER refined or unrefined coconut oil. Just note that if you go the unrefined route, your cookies will taste more coconutty—this might drown out the subtle tahini flavor. I personally recommend using refined coconut oil if you want the tahini flavor to stand out.

Is there a substitute for coconut oil?

For this recipe, you can substitute the coconut oil for any neutral flavored oil like canola, grapeseed, vegetable, and more. I recommend sticking with coconut oil though—whether you use refined or unrefined coconut oil, it complements the taste of the tahini really well.

Vegan Chocolate

What makes chocolate vegan?

Chocolate can be considered vegan if there are absolutely no milk products (like milk powders or milk solids, two ingredients commonly found in chocolate) listed in its ingredients. Typically, milk chocolate has more of these products; as a result, milk chocolate is rarely considered vegan (unless it's a milk chocolate vegan brand, which uses ingredients like rice milk as substitutes to these milk products). You'll have better luck by sourcing dark chocolate, which contains more cacao and less of these milk products.

Note that most dark chocolate will have "cocoa butter" listed in its ingredients. Cocoa butter is NOT an animal product and is actually just a specific part of the cacao bean; it is naturally vegan and dairy-free, so don't worry if you see it!

Is dark chocolate vegan?

It really, really depends. In general, most dark chocolate with 70% cacao or higher has no milk products and are technically vegan in ingredients. BUT that's not a nationally mandated rule! If it has even a little bit of milk product in it, the chocolate is NOT vegan—no matter what percentage cacao it is! If you're baking these cookies for a strict vegan, you'll need to read the ingredient labels of the chocolate you use.

Okay, so what chocolate is vegan?

For these cookies, I used Valrhona Guanaja 70% Feves. Although it is vegan in that it does not contain any milk products, Valrhona lacks the ability to officially label it as such since it's made in a facility that processes milk and white chocolate (neither of which are vegan, obviously). But there are a ton of other "unofficially vegan" chocolate bars too—Trader Joe's Pound Plus 72% Dark Chocolate Bar and Guittard Bittersweet Chocolate Baking Bars are good examples of vegan chocolate bars that are available in most grocery stores.

But if you're looking for STRICT vegan chocolate (and is certified as such), check out Raaka Chocolate—all their chocolate is 100% vegan!


Best Vegan Tahini Chocolate Chip Cookies Recipe Tips

  • For this recipe, it's especially important to WEIGH YOUR INGREDIENTS, especially the flour! This particular recipe is especially sensitive to variations in cup measurements—if you use too much flour (which can happen if you don't fill your measuring cups properly), the cookies will be too puffy and won't crack and fall like mine. If you don't have a kitchen scale, the best way to measure out flour with measuring cups is to do the following: 1) fluff up your flour by stirring it with a whisk or fork for a minimum of 30 seconds; 2) use a spoon to scoop the fluffed-up flour into the measuring cup until the flour forms a small mound on top of the cup; 3) use a bench scraper or a butter knife to level off the mound so that the flour is flush with the top edges of the measuring cup. 

  • Tahini tends to separate like natural nut butter—the oil floats to the top while the rest of the tahini stays at the bottom. For best results, you'll need to stir the tahini well before using it in this recipe. 

  • Like I mentioned above, I used Valrhona Guanaja 70% Feves (which is also available in smaller bags on Amazon). Feves are little 1-inch discs of chocolate; I love using them for baking because you get the same results as using a chopped chocolate bar, but without any of the work. I know they're on the pricey side, but they're definitely worth it, I promise. If you're still unconvinced and end up using a vegan chocolate bar, you'll need to chop up the chocolate into ½- to 1-inch pieces. I suggest avoiding chocolate chips for this recipe; it'll be hard to find vegan chocolate chips, but even if you do, chopped chocolate always makes for tastier (and prettier!) cookies anyway. 

  • Like my recipe for regular (that is, non-vegan!) chocolate chip cookies, you can freeze the cookie dough for these vegan chocolate chip cookies and save them for baking later. Make the dough and form it into balls as directed. Place on a parchment-lined sheet pan and freeze for 1 hour, or until the cookie dough balls are hard enough to be transferred to a zip-top bag without losing their shape. Seal the bag and freeze for up to 3 months. When ready to bake, bake as directed, but add 3 minutes to the total Bake Time for a total of 15 minutes.

More Tahini Dessert Recipes (For Your Leftover Tahini)

hummingbird high's 2019 review

December 27, 2019

Seoul, South Korea
Hello friends! I am currently in Seoul with one of my good friends from college. We're here freezing our butts off and eating up a storm. Be sure to follow along on Instagram to catch up on my adventures! But don't worry—I still made time for my annual lookback, where I review your favorite recipes from the past year. Ready for it? Here goes:

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Readers' Favorite Recipes of 2019

The following recipes are YOUR favorites from the year—that is, the most viewed recipes of mine from 2019. In years past, you guys have been really into cakes and anything chocolate; however, this year, you switched it up and I'm proud of ya:

1. Japanese Cheesecake



I am very excited that this was one of the most popular recipes on my blog this year! Japanese cheesecake is definitely a more advanced recipe (it can be really tricky to get that super light and fluffy texture—it's almost like a soufflé), so I'm so pleased that many of you decided to give this recipe a try (or at least, considered it by visiting the blog post repeatedly, lol). Hooray!

2. Levain Bakery Blueberry Muffins



Ah, yes. After kicking myself for never trying Levain Bakery's blueberry muffins when I lived literally three subway stops away, I decided to remake them at home. It's hard to resist those massive, sugar-crusted muffin tops... but it turns out you guys thought so too! This was the second most popular recipe on my blog this year, which I am very grateful for because I literally baked these muffins at least eight times to try and get the recipe just right, lol.

3. Better-Than-Supernatural Fudge Brownies



The one chocolate item on this list happens to be one of my all-time favorite recipes on my blog and in my book, forever and ever: these Better-Than-Supernatural Fudge Brownies. These are adapted from Weeknight Baking and are just the fudgiest and most chocolaty brownie recipe EVER—I'm so glad you all thought so too!

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My Favorite Recipes of 2019

2019 was the Year of the Cookie on Hummingbird High. I made 16 different cookie recipes, from tangy meyer lemon sugar cookies with a "secret ingredient" to more traditional ones like this brown butter chocolate chip cookie recipe (both of which just barely missed being in y'all's list of top three favorite recipes of the year). So it's no surprise that two out of my top three favorite recipes from this year ended up being cookies:

1. Chocolate Chipless Cookies



What happens when you take out the chocolate in the chocolate chip cookie? Thanks to this recipe, I now know the answer: you're left with a delicious, toffee and brown sugar-flavored cookie that stands perfectly well on its own. Of course, it only works if you use a really good dough to begin with (pro-tip: for this recipe, I used the chocolate chip cookie dough from Weeknight Baking).

2. S'mores Chocolate Chip Cookies



This is almost the polar opposite of the previous recipe for chocolate chipless cookies, lol. I loaded my favorite chocolate chip cookie dough recipe (yep, still the one in Weeknight Baking) with s'mores fixings like graham cracker crumbs and the best toasted vanilla marshmallows. The result was the perfect ooey, gooey mess of a cookie.

3. Ube Blossom Cookies



Continuing my obsession for all things ube, I finally shared a variation of my friend Autumn's famed ube crinkle cookies on the blog. I'm embarrassed to tell you guys how many of these cookies I ended up eating in one sitting, but know this—it was a LOT.

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Your Favorites on Instagram



Your favorites on Instagram this year included a wide range of fun recipes and bakes from this year and others, including these vanilla custard-filled donuts from Bread Ahead Bakery; Stella Parks' fudge brownies from her book, Bravetart; 24 Hour 24 Dollar Chocolate Chip Cookies; Tangy Meyer Lemon Sugar Cookies; S'mores Chocolate Chip Cookies; Passionfruit and Blueberry Cream Tart; and Spring Flower Sugar Cookies. I also shared a sheet cake celebrating my book being sent off to the printers and my kitchen being refreshed (more on that below!).

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Other 2019 Highlights

For me, 2019 flew by in a flash. I was focused on finishing my book for the majority of the year—all of a sudden I looked up, and half the year had already flown by! Here were some highlights from the year:

1. My first cookbook, Weeknight Baking, finally debuted!



In case you have somehow missed ALL my freaking posts about this, my first cookbook, Weeknight Baking, finally came out this past October! The book is about the years I spent balancing my day job in tech with Hummingbird High, and how I made a ton of recipes fit in my demanding schedule by seeking out quick and easy recipes, as well as learning how to break down more time-intensive ones to work over a few days. You can buy a copy here, and read all my posts about the making of the book, too.

2. Erlend and I are getting married!



Close friends and family already know the news, but this is the first time I'm announcing it publicly—my boyfriend/longterm partner Erlend and I are officially getting married! Truth be told, I'm still sorting out how much I want to share with everybody on this space; I'm sure that you'll see more to come these next few weeks as I continue to figure it out. But for now, here is a photo of the two of us from 2009, literally ten years ago, when we first got together. We look like babies, lol. 

3. I "refreshed" my kitchen with a new look!



Okay, if you're a long time reader of Hummingbird High, you'll know that I did a full kitchen remodel not too long ago in 2014. I loved the remodel, but played it super safe with neutral colors and stainless steel appliances. This time, I did a minor refresh and updated the colors to be more in line with my current tastes—check it out!

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Thanks for following along!!! I have moderately big plans lined up for next year, including a redesign for the blog and focusing on even more accessible and time-saving baking recipes to share with everybody. Be sure to check out the highlights from the previous years: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, and 2012. Let's keep baking in 2020!

ube blossom cookies

December 19, 2019

Portland, OR, USA
Blow everybody's mind with this recipe for ube blossom cookies, a unique variation of classic peanut butter blossom cookies! Instead of peanut butter, I used ube, a purple yam often used in Filipino desserts, to give the cookies their beautiful purple color and a flavor that's been described as a cross between vanilla and pistachio—jump to the recipe.


What is ube?

Ube, pronounce ooh-beh, is a purple yam often used in desserts; specifically, in the Philippines (where my family is from). It has a beautiful, deep purple color and is almost exclusively used in dessert recipes, where it gives the sweets a wonderful earthy and almost nutty flavor. Think of it as similar to a sweet potato, but definitely more subtle and not quite as sweet. Some folks have even compared its flavor to a mix between vanilla and pistachio. In the past, I've used ube in recipes for cake, cinnamon rolls, and babka.

Ube vs taro

A lot of folks get ube confused with taro. Not only do they taste pretty similar, but taro also can come in a light lavender color (although it mostly comes in white). But they're actually just completely different plants. Although both ube and taro are tubers, taro is cultivated from the taro plant. Unlike ube, it's not classified as a "yam". In the Philippines, taro is often used in savory cooking, while ube is reserved for sweets.

And finally, it's important to note that both ube and taro are also different from the different varieties of purple sweet potatoes available. And it turns out that some of those sweet potatoes, like the Okinawan sweet potato, aren't even technically sweet potatoes either. It's confusing, I know. So for the purposes of this recipe, I'll keep it simple: these ube blossom cookies are made with UBE. Not taro, and not any kind of purple sweet potato, lol.


Ube crinkle cookies vs ube blossom cookies

When I lived in New York City, I befriended Autumn, the owner of Brooklyn Kolache, a bakery in my old neighborhood that specialized in kolaches. Not only was I delighted to find her bakery in the first place (in the US, kolaches are realllly hard to find outside of Texas—where I went to high school!—which is a shame because they're DELICIOUS), but I was shocked to discover that she sold ube filled kolaches! It turned out that her husband Dennis is Filipino; he had gotten her hooked on the stuff. So much so that she developed an ube crinkle cookie recipe to sell at his bar, Swell Dive.

To this day, I maintain it's one of the best cookies I've ever eaten. So I was shocked/blessed/eternally grateful when I somehow convinced her to share the recipe with me. It's become a tradition for me to make them for the holidays this time of year (see: here and here). And every time I do, I get flooded with folks asking me for the recipe—it's hard to resist the the call of the ube crinkle cookie, lol. Unfortunately, Autumn made me swear not to share her bakery's recipe with anybody else, and I refuse to break her promise.

So in its place, we have ube blossom cookies. I'm not going to lie—these cookies are similar to the original ube crinkle cookie recipe that everybody wants. But also, not really. Autumn's original ube crinkle cookie recipe makes really soft and cakey cookies. But because they're so soft and pillowy, they also spread too much to support the weight of the Hershey' kiss. And of course, blossom cookies aren't blossom cookies without that kiss! So I ended up futzing around with the amount of flour and leaveners to give these cookies a more traditional "blossom cookie" look and texture. These are denser and chewier, but still utterly addicting.


Ingredients to make ube blossom cookies (it's all about that ube flavor, baby!)

To make ube blossom cookies, you need a couple of key ingredients:

Ube halaya

Fun fact: it is actually really hard to buy fresh ube (that is, ube still in its tuber form). That's because ube is really hard to process: it needs to be peeled, boiled for a long time, then grated and mashed into its signature texture. So typically, most ube is bought frozen or processed into a powder, extract, or jam. In the Philippines, the jam is called "ube halaya" and is typically what people mean when they say "ube" in recipes.

Ube Extract

Think of ube extract as similar to vanilla or almond extract, but with ube flavor instead. Most ube extracts are also dyed purple, further enhancing the color of your ube baked good.

Where to buy ube

Ube halaya jam is typically found in the "Filipino" aisle of any Asian supermarket, close to jars of preserved jackfruit, macapuno (a coconut hybrid much beloved in the Philippines), and other fruits commonly found in the country. In the US, the brand I most commonly see is Monika; it's what I use anytime I make anything ube (Portlanders—Monika ube halaya is available at Fubonn and Uwajimaya). You can also buy ube halaya (as well as its powdered counterpart) on Amazon, but I don't recommend doing so—they are much more expensive than they should be, especially the jam!

In the US, there's only one company I know that makes ube extract, and it's a company that most people already should be familiar with, too: McCormick. However, unlike most of their extracts, the ube extract isn't available in most supermarkets—you'll also need to go to an Asian supermarket and find it in their baking aisle, typically found near jasmine, coconut, and durian flavored extracts (Portlanders—McCormick Ube Extract is available at Fubonn and the H Mart on Belmont). You can also buy their ube extract on Amazon. (UPDATE: you can also buy this ube extract from Butterfly, but I've never used it so I can't vouch for it—report back if you have and let me know if it's any good!)


Best ube blossom cookie recipe tips

  • Although both ube halaya and ube extract are purple, you'll definitely get more attractive cookies if you also use purple food coloring (without it, they cookies look more like a brownish-pale purple). For these cookies, I used a purple from this "Nifty Fifty" food coloring set, which you can also buy as an individual bottle online.

  • For this recipe, I highly encourage you to invest in a 1-tablespoon cookie dough scoop. Because of the ube, the dough is quite sticky. It can be hard to form cookie dough balls without the scoop. If you insist on resisting my advice to buy one, chill the dough for a few hours, preferably even overnight, to make it easier to handle.

  • Because the dough is so sticky, I instruct you to drop the cookie dough balls directly into the powdered sugar to coat them. Coating them will make them a lot easier to handle. Don't be afraid to use a LOT of powdered sugar for the event; the cookies tend to partially absorb the powdered sugar, so you'll get more attractive cookies if you really coat them. I also suggest leaving the powdered sugar unsifted. Bigger lumps look better on the cookies!

  • Once the cookies are done baking, you'll need to immediately press a Hershey's Hug into the center of each cookie while they're still warm and malleable. Press firmly but gently—you want to use enough pressure that the Hug indents the cookie, but not so much that it causes the cookie to spread more. The residual heat from the cookies will cause the bottoms of the Hugs to melt, "gluing" them onto the cookies. But be warned—if the cookies are TOO hot, the rest of the Hug will melt too! Try not to move the sheet pan once you've "glued" the Hugs onto the cookies; if you move them when everything's still too hot, the Hugs will slide and lose their shape.

More ube recipes

brown butter chocolate chip cookie cups

December 17, 2019

Portland, OR, USA
Brown butter chocolate chip cookies get a twist in this simple yet innovative recipe. The brown butter chocolate chip cookie dough balls are baked in a muffin tin, resulting in perfectly round and thick cookies with an extremely fudgy center—jump to the recipe! To pack in extra flavor, the chocolate chip cookie cups are made with salted butter from my sponsor, Land O’Lakes. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own, and thank you for supporting the sponsors that keep Hummingbird High up and running!


What are chocolate chip cookie cups?

Back when I lived in New York, a famed pastry chef began selling cookie “shots”. He molded chocolate chip cookie dough into the shape of a small shot glass and filled the inside with a shot of milk. People went crazy for them! I remember walking by the bakery and seeing a line of people waiting to try the cookie shot for hours (in the freezing cold, I might add).

But truth be told, I was a little confused by the hype surrounding them. Maybe that’s because cookie cups had long been a thing in my little corner of the internet? For years prior, I’d seen several home bakers using special molds or pans to bake cookie dough into little cups and fill them with milk, ice cream, whipped cream, and even caramel sauce. I wanted to shout at the line that the treat they were waiting for could easily be made at home, all without having to wait for four hours in the dead of winter. I was too polite to do that (but not polite enough to avoid calling them out in this blog post, I guess, lol).


How to make cookie cups

Although you can get special molds to make cookie cups that look more similar to those famed cookie shots, you can also make them with a pan that you likely already have in your pantry: the humble muffin tin.

I’ve seen some bakers flip the muffin tin upside down and mold cookie dough over the cavities of the muffin tin to make cookie bowls. The bowls are then filled with a generous scoop of ice cream, making the actual cookie secondary in the entire dessert. It’s a neat idea, but I love chocolate chip cookies so much on their own that I wanted them to be the star in my chocolate chip cookie cup recipe.

An acquaintance of mine had the genius idea of baking her famed tahini chocolate chip cookies in the muffin tin itself. Specifically, she placed each cookie dough ball in its own individual cavity to bake them. In the oven, the cookie dough balls spread to fill the muffin cavity, resulting in perfectly round cookies. The centers of the cookies would then sink a little, giving them the appearance of little cookie cups.

When I tried her method for these brown butter chocolate chip cookie cups, I was HOOKED. Because the cavities of the muffin tin constrain the spread of the cookie dough, the resulting cookies are incredibly thick and fudgy. It was a TOTAL gamechanger. In fact, my initial plan was to fill the divet of each cookie cup with milk, similar to that famed pastry chef’s cookie shot. But honestly, these brown butter cookie cups don’t need it—they’re SO good on their own.

To be fair, aside from the trick of baking the cookie dough inside the muffin tins, a lot of the credit should go to the actual flavor of the chocolate chip cookie dough too. These chocolate chip cookie cups are made with the chocolate chip cookie recipe from my cookbook, Weeknight Baking, but with one major change: I used brown butter instead of traditional butter.


How to make brown butter chocolate chip cookies

In the baking world, many bakers and pastry chefs talk about brown butter with a kind of reverence. That’s because when made right and used in the right recipes, brown butter can really take your baking and cooking to the next level. But first, let’s learn more about what it actually is:

What is brown butter?

Brown butter is made by cooking butter until the water in it evaporates and you’re left with a speckled, amber-colored liquid with a rich flavor and a wonderfully nutty aroma. Brown butter is typically used in recipes in liquid form, but can be chilled back to a solid form like regular butter.

How to use brown butter

You can use brown butter in both savory and sweet recipes. Traditionally, brown butter is used with ingredients that go well with nutty flavors. In desserts, brown butter is often used in traditional chocolate chip cookie recipes, brownie recipes, and even loaf cakes with “strong” flavors like banana or pumpkin.

When making a recipe with brown butter, you’ll need to use the very best butter available. That’s because butter is going to be the predominant flavor profile of the final dish—you want it to be the very best quality it can be. For these types of recipes, I rely on both Land O Lakes® Unsalted Butter and Land O Lakes® Salted Butter, which I love for their clean and fresh flavors.


Okay, now that we’ve got the basics down for brown butter, it’s time to talk about its role in this recipe for brown butter chocolate chip cookie cups and why I use salted butter.

How to brown butter for the brown butter chocolate chip cookie cups

Real talk: it took me almost three years to figure out that I was browning butter wrong. I never cooked the butter long enough for its milk solids to caramelize—I was simply melting the butter! Oops.

But browning butter is actually very easy; you just have to do it with confidence, lol. What I mean by that is knowing how long to cook the butter—long enough for the milk solids to caramelize, but not so long that you end up burning the stuff. To that end, it’s worth investing in some equipment to help guide you: a light-colored stainless steel pan will help you brown your butter to the right color.

To brown butter, melt the butter in a light-colored saucepan over medium heat, swirling the pan occasionally to help the butter melt evenly. Keep a heatproof rubber spatula nearby to scrape down the bottom and sides of the pan occasionally to help prevent the milk solids from sticking and burning. Depending on how high the heat is and how cold your butter was to begin with, browning butter can take anywhere from 5 and 15 minutes. To speed up the process, you can slice the butter into smaller pieces so it will melt faster.

As the butter melts, the mixture will begin to foam. It can be a little difficult to see what’s going on at this point, so it’s best to use the spatula to push the foam to the sides of the pan as best as you can to help you see the color underneath. If you’re having trouble seeing the color of the butter, use a spoon to scoop a small amount of the butter onto a white plate to see its color more clearly. The color of the butter will progress from a bright lemon yellow to a golden tan and finally to a dark amber brown. The longer you cook the butter, the darker and more flavorful it will be, but note that there’s a fine line between toasted and burnt. There’s no salvaging butter once it’s burnt, so be sure to watch it like a hawk as it browns.

If you’d like to see a step-by-step picture essay of how to brown butter (including photos showing the butter turn from yellow to tan to amber), be sure to check out my cookbook, Weeknight Baking.

Can I use salted butter for the brown butter chocolate chip cookie cups?

Yes!

Most baking recipes instruct you to use unsalted butter; that’s because different brands add varying levels of salt to their salted butter. That means that the flavor of your dessert will vary depending on whatever brand of salted butter you happen to use.

That being said, I prefer the flavor of salted butter (and it lasts longer in the fridge, too). For these brown butter chocolate chip cookie cups, I used Land O Lakes® Salted Butter. In general, I use salted butter in baked goods with “strong” flavors like chocolate, peanut butter, and whatever else. But I don’t recommend doing so for vanilla-flavored recipes, or anything delicate like frosting or cream recipes.

Can I freeze the cookie dough for the brown butter chocolate chip cookie cups?

Yes!

Using brown butter in cookie dough does not affect its ability to freeze; you can freeze the dough for these brown butter chocolate chip cookie cups similar to how you can freeze the dough for my regular chocolate chip cookie recipe.

But head’s up—using brown butter does affect the texture of the dough. Be sure to check out the baker’s notes below for some of my best tips and tricks for this brown butter chocolate chip cookie cup recipe!


Best Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Cup Recipe Tips

  • I mentioned earlier that using brown butter can affect the texture of cookie dough. That’s because when browning butter, you’re literally cooking away moisture. That means that a cookie dough made with brown butter will be drier than a cookie dough made with regular butter. So, don’t be surprised if this cookie dough comes out a little dry, especially if you’re making these on a cold day. The cookie dough will still bake as expected but might be harder to work with. It helps to scoop them with a cookie dough scoop to mold them into perfect cookie dough balls. If you find that your dough is still too dry and crumbly even with the help of a cookie dough scoop (you’ll be able to tell if it’s too crumbly after adding all the dry ingredients in), add an extra egg yolk to the dough and beat it in before mixing in the chocolate chips.

  • For the fudgiest brown butter chocolate chip cookie cups, I recommend you use chocolate from baking discs, fèves, or even your favorite chocolate bar chopped into ½ to 1-inch pieces. This type of chocolate melts really well when baked (as opposed to chips, which hold their shape when baked), leaving puddles and pools of chocolate throughout each chocolate chip cookie cup. It’s worth the extra trouble of finding the specialty chocolate, I promise!

  • I am the worst at this, but when making these brown butter chocolate chip cookie cups, it’s especially important to wait for the cookies to cool to room temperature completely before unmolding them from the muffin tin. If you try and unmold them while the chocolate is still warm and melty, you’ll end up leaving some of the chocolate behind in the tin!

nutella star bread

December 13, 2019

Portland, OR, USA
Star bread is a festive, pull-apart style sweet bread traditionally served around the holidays due to its unique appearance. Although traditional star breads are filled with cinnamon sugar, I made mine with Nutella and topped it off with a simple syrup in the style of babka—jump to the recipe! Although this Nutella star bread recipe looks incredibly impressive, it’s actually a breeze to make thanks to tools from my partner, OXO. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own, and thank you for supporting the sponsors that keep Hummingbird High running!


What is star bread?

I know that I’m late to the party, but Erlend and I finally finished The Great British Bake Off (er, The Great British Baking Show, as it’s known here in America—but I started watching it way back in 2012 when my British friend first introduced it to me, so its British name is forever seared into my mind… sorry guys)! I’m the kind of person who can’t stand any kind of suspense, so I made Erlend wait until all episodes of GBBO were available to watch. We then spent the weekend binging on the episodes all at once (healthy, I know, lol).

On this season of GBBO, the bakers were challenged to make a “tear-and-share” bread during Bread Week. I hadn’t heard of “tear-and-share” bread before, but as the bakers discussed their recipes, I quickly realized that they were talking about what’s known as “pull-apart” bread in the US, lol. Many of the bakers opted for a star bread, similar to the recipe I’m sharing with you guys today.

Star breads were a big deal this time last year—I kept seeing different versions pop up on Instagram. I even attempted my own one night by casually shaping my go-to cinnamon bun recipe (okay, that post is from 2013—you can find an updated version of the recipe in my cookbook, Weeknight Baking) into the bread’s signature 8-point star shape. The result wasn’t great; it kinda looked like a Georgia O’Keefe painting, if you know what I mean.

After doing some research and comparing various recipes, I finally figured out why my cinnamon bun recipe (which I had successfully turned into a pull-apart loaf, knots, and a braided wreath in the past) didn’t quite work. It all came down to the recipe’s ingredients.

Nutella Star Bread Ingredients

To make a star bread, you need to start with a sweet dough that is soft but sturdy enough to be molded into the bread’s intricate shape. After trying a handful of recipes, my favorite dough ended up coming from King Arthur Flour’s recipe, which uses two special ingredients to make them extra soft and fluffy. Most star bread recipes available are traditionally flavored with cinnamon and sugar. But I wanted my star bread to be distinct, so I opted for a classic flavor combination: chocolate hazelnut. Here are the notable ingredients of this star bread recipe:

Potato Flour

Potato flour is a favorite of serious bread bakers because it contains more starch than all-purpose flour. This starch attracts and holds water, leading to a moister baked good. The starch also gives the bread a soft and almost squishy feeling. If you’re lucky enough to have a Shake Shack in your city (WHY WON’T THEY OPEN ONE IN PORTLAND?!), note that Shake Shack’s burger buns are made with potato flour and have this very distinctly squishy texture I’m talking about. In a pinch, you can substitute the potato flour in this recipe with all-purpose flour.

Nonfat Dry Milk Powder

This is another ingredient that bread bakers use in buns to make them soft and fluffy since the milk fat acts as a tenderizer. The sugars in the milk also enhance the browning of the bread, giving the crust an especially sweet and almost caramelized texture.

Nutella

I used Nutella, the much beloved chocolate hazelnut spread, to achieve the chocolate hazelnut flavor of my star bread. I love baking with Nutella—it’s the perfect consistency and makeup for baking, and doesn’t tend to leech oil like homemade chocolate hazelnut spreads. I used to think that this was just my personal preference, but one of my favorite professional bakers, Uri Scheft of Lehamim Bakery in Tel Aviv (and known as the man who popularized babka in New York City) uses Nutella a lot in his baking for this reason, too!

Simple Syrup

Speaking of Tel Aviv, one of the things I loved about my time there was how most restaurants and bakeries just drenched their sweet breads like babka and challah in simple syrup. It made everything extra sweet and moist, and gave the bread a really pretty, distinctive shine. I decided to do the same for my bread—most star breads have you pull out the bread from the oven and leave it at that, but in my recipe, I instruct you to drench this Nutella star bread in simple syrup! It’s delicious, trust me.


How to Make Nutella Star Bread

Although this bread looks difficult and intricate to make, it’s actually a breeze. Its shape and pattern comes from twisting the dough in a very specific way (which we’ll discuss more in a hot second, I promise). But in general, making Nutella star bread can be broken down into the following steps:

Make the Dough and Proof it for the First Time

In general, when making a shaped bread, you’ll need to proof the dough twice: once after mixing all the ingredients together, and again after shaping the dough into rolls, knots, stars, whatever. Doing so can quickly turn into an all-day-long baking project as you sit around and wait for the bread to rise again and again. As a result, I always do the first rise overnight—specifically, I make the dough the night before I’m planning on baking and serving the bread, and stick it in the fridge. After a good night’s sleep, it’s ready to be baked first thing in the morning! Doing this cuts down your waiting time a LOT.

Shape the Dough

After the first rise, you’ll need to punch the dough down and divide it into four portions. These portions are then rolled into four distinct circles, layered, filled, and sliced to make our star bread.

Proof the Shaped Dough for the Second Time

After you’ve molded the dough, it’ll need to rise in its new shape. You want the shape to look puffy—this is the sign that your bread is going to bake wonderfully in the oven.

Bake the Dough

One of the best things about baking sweet breads is that they generally don’t need to bake for that long. This particular recipe only takes about 15 to 20 minutes to bake!


Tools and Steps to Make Nutella Star Bread

Now’s the fun part: I’m going to talk about how we actually get the Nutella star bread’s shape.Its shape comes from a specific way of layering and twisting the dough to get the distinctive twirls and points. It’s worth investing in the following tools to help you with the process:

Rolling Pin

You’ll need a good, heavy rolling pin to roll the dough into thin, flat circles. Because the dough is a little bit sticky, be sure to cover both your counter and the dough with lots of flour before rolling it out. I also recommend finding a nonstick rolling pin like this OXO Good Grips Non-Stick Rolling Pin—it’s been a lifesaver in my kitchen!

Silicone Pastry Bag

The recipe instructs you to portion out the dough into four balls, and then roll those balls into a very specific 10-inch circle. To help me get the EXACT size, I used this OXO Silicone Dough Rolling Bag. You can also use a ruler, but the rolling bag was kind of a dream come true: I simply put the dough in the bag with a handful of flour and rolled it out to the perfect size, thanks to the bag’s guidelines. But the real magic is that the flour stayed in the bag—there was no need for me to wipe down and clean my counters after! I simply shook the flour out over a trash can and moved on with my life, lol.

After rolling out the dough into the circles, you’ll need to stack the circles like you’re making a crepe cake. But first, you’ll need to layer each with a good portion of Nutella.

Cookie Dough Scoop

Because of its sticky texture, Nutella can be hard to scoop and scrape out of its jar—it gets messy fast! I like to minimize the mess by using this OXO cookie dough scoop; it has a lever that can press to drop the Nutella out of the scoop (similar to an ice cream scoop), saving you the hassle of scraping it out each time!

Offset Spatula

To spread the Nutella easily over the dough, I used this offset spatula. Because the dough is so delicate, anything less specialized like a butter knife or the back of a spoon might cause it to tear. An offset spatula is specifically designed for spreading frosting across delicate baked goods like cakes and will help prevent any issues.

Bench Scraper

I mentioned in Weeknight Baking that a bench scraper is the baker’s MVP tool in the kitchen. It can function as a cutting tool (use it to divide doughs and chop up crumbs), a cake decorating tool (use it like an offset spatula to scrape frosting), and a cleaning tool (use it as a brush to sweep your counters). Look for one with a dishwasher-proof handle like this one by OXO for easy clean-up!

In this Nutella star bread recipe, I use it to cut the dough to make the strips and twists for the star points:


To get the Nutella star bread’s distinct shape, you’ll need to cut the dough circle into 16 equal strips. The easiest way to do this is to first cut the dough into four even quarters, then cut each quarter in half, then cut each of those wedges in half too—you can see the process in the GIF above.

After you cut the dough, you’ll need to twist each strip to give the Nutella star bread its distinct striped appearance. Pick up two strips at a time and twist them away from each other twice before pinching the ends together to make a point. You’ll end up with 8 points total for your Nutella star bread.


Pastry Brush

Once the Nutella star bread is baked and out of the oven, you then douse the whole thing with simple syrup. I like to use this OXO pastry brush to spread the syrup and really let it soak in the Nutella star bread’s craggy texture. Traditionally, most pastry brushes have been a pain to clean—but because this pastry brush has bristles made from silicone, you can just easily stick it in the dishwasher!

Powdered Sugar Wand

Finally, I like to garnish the Nutella star bread with confectioners’ sugar just before serving! This powdered sugar wand is a great tool for doing so.


Best Nutella Star Bread Recipe Tips

  • For this recipe, it’s especially important to pay attention to the temperatures listed in the recipe. You’ll be using yeast to leaven the rolls, and yeast is especially sensitive to temperature—adding any ingredients that are too hot will kill your yeast and leave you with a flat bread, while on the opposite end of the spectrum, adding ingredients that are too cold won’t cause the yeast to properly activate and leave you with a flat bread, too! To ensure success, be sure to use an instant thermometer (I like this one by OXO) to measure the temperature of both the water and the butter—you want those ingredients at a temperature between 120° and 130°F when you add them to the rest of the ingredients.

  • The recipe instructs you to divide the dough into four balls, and then roll them out into 10-inch circles. The circles will be VERY thin and almost resemble tortillas. After rolling them into circles, you’ll then be instructed to spread Nutella across the surface of each circle. Because the circles are so thin, they can tear easily. Set yourself up for success by warming your Nutella—warmed Nutella will spread without little resistance on the dough. I popped mine in the microwave for between 20 to 30 seconds before spreading it on my dough. I also found that adding the Nutella a dollop or so at a time (as opposed to dumping the Nutella on the dough all at once) in the center of the dough and spreading outwards towards the edges was the way to go.

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