Gingerbread: Ninjas and Zombies

Ninjabread Man in action!

Ninjabread Man in action!

OK, I haven’t created the zombies yet, but with Christmas closing in on us, I thought I’d go ahead and post a bit about gingerbread ninjas. Last year I got some cookie cutters called “Ninjabread Men” and had some fun with them. The gingerbread men recipe that came with them made good gingerbread men, but curiosity got the better of me and I experimented with making the man from my old gingerbread recipe since it was for a very dense loaf-type gingerbread. And…it worked! (You’ll need to add more flour to make a workable dough. I’ve added a note to the bottom of the gingerbread recipe about gingerbread men. I would caution you that you need to roll the dough out very thin or you’ll end up with hilariously fat ninjas! The figures are thin, not just in the thickness of the dough, but also with thin arms and legs unlike the short wider limbs of traditional gingerbread men, so they don’t hold their precise shape when you transfer them from the cutting board (or parchment paper, etc) to the baking sheet. This isn’t a problem, though: it means you can make adjustments to their “stance” when you lay them out for baking. This Halloween I scored some “zombie” cookie cutters, so come Christmas, it will be zombies versus ninjas! Here’s the recipe for my gingerbread, which is super easy…and if you roll it very thin, it will make a nice chewy gingerbread man (or ninja, or zombie).


Chocolate Hazelnut Oatmeal Cookies

Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies

Chocolate Hazelnut Oatmeal Cookies

This recipe is adapted from the recipe for Chocolate Espresso Oatmeal Cookies on the Vegetarian Times website.

I love this recipe! Usually I only make cookies at Christmastime, but I’ve already made these a number of times. (I only make cookies when I have enough people to share them with so no one is really wrecked by calories, sugar, or fat.) For those of you who like to eat cookie dough or at least lick the bowl, this recipe doesn’t have eggs so you can lick your sticky fingers without worrying about salmonella. When I was growing up we all licked bowls freely, having no idea of potential contamination from eggs in as-yet-uncooked batters and doughs. Now that I’m aware there’s a risk I’m self-conscious about licking the spatula when I’m done. An egg-less recipe returns me to that childhood pleasure. (And not having eggs makes it vegan-friendly, too, though vegans might want to use a substitute for the chocolate chips.)

I made a number of changes to this recipe but the original is excellent as is. Some of the changes I made were due to my own preferences and some were purely creative — like the hazelnut substitution. I’ve made a lot of notes and observations, most of which can be applied to the original recipe.

The first note is that I’ve never been able to get 48 cookies out of this recipe. Not any way, not any how, as the saying goes. I guess I just make ’em too big despite my best intentions. You should be able to get 3 dozen, though, especially if you use the drop method instead of the make-ahead refrigerator method of the original recipe.

3/4 cup hazelnut meal, or ground hazelnuts
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter (or margarine), softened
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cooled coffee
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups oats
1/2 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips

A note about ingredients: I substituted an equal amount of hazelnut meal for the flour in the original recipe. It occurred to me when I made it the first time that it wasn’t very much flour and the texture of cookies was such that I thought hazelnuts might work as well — and would be a wonderful addition to an already wonderful cookie. I stumbled onto some hazelnut meal in the bulk section of a store (Central Market, Houston). This made it easy to buy a small amount. It struck me as dryer than hazelnuts I ground myself, but works fine in the recipe. Since that first trial batch I’ve ground hazelnuts in my coffee grinder for this recipe.

The substitution of hazelnuts has an added benefit: it makes the cookie gluten-free for those people who are doing a gluten-free diet (which seems to be very popular right now).

I prefer using butter instead of margarine because it works better in baking than current margarines without transfats. Of course, this means you get saturated fat and cholesterol, but I don’t eat a lot of butter-laden sweets so I’m not worrying about it right now. The butter is organic and natural. I’ve made the recipe using Smart Balance Original which is supposedly good for baking, but the non-refrigerated drop version of the cookies spread out transparently thin and crispy.  Chilling the dough seems to help quite a bit if you use a butter substitute. Though the consistency of both dough and cookies are affected by the butter or margarine you use, either makes delicious cookies. Make whatever choice seems best for you.

The original recipe called for espresso or “strong coffee”. I’m not much of a coffee-drinker so I make coffee on the less-strong side and used a mild-flavored organic Mexican Altura. That’s what I’ve got now. If you want something stronger, go with the espresso. If, on the other hand, you want to reduce the caffeine in the recipe (so Moms won’t have to peel the kiddos off the ceiling) use decaf.

You can get at least 3-4 batches of cookies from one 12 oz bag of mini-chocolate chips. I’m not sure if you can substitute regular sized chips in this recipe: the mini seem just the right size to blend in with the other ingredients and the cookies are very thin so I’d be leery of using larger bits of chocolate which might affect the cohesion of the dough when it melts in the baking process. (I could be wrong, but I like the way the min-chips meld in so well I’m not inclined to experiment with it.)

Take the butter (or margarine) out of the fridge. It’s better if it’s softened a bit. Make the coffee. Measure out a 1/4 cup and pop it into the fridge to cool. Pour yourself a mug of coffee.

If not using store-bought hazelnut meal then grind hazelnuts up into a fine meal in a coffee grinder or food processor. A cup of whole hazelnuts will yield more than the 3/4 cup you need, so buy and grind accordingly. Freshly ground hazelnuts make a meal that clings together like beach sand. Shaking it into a measuring cup, though, and it will sit lightly, not densely packed so you should pressed it firmly down in the measuring cup until you have 3/4 cup.

Stir together the hazelnut meal, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda in a small bowl with a fork until it’s homogeneous.

Cream the butter and sugar in the mixer at medium speed until it’s blended into a thick paste (which will probably stick to the side of your bowl and have to be scraped frequently).

Scrap the bowl, lower the speed and add the cooled coffee (it doesn’t have to be cold, room temp is fine) and the vanilla.

Add the hazelnut-cocoa mixture gradually, sprinkling it in a little at a time, letting each addition be fully incorporated to the mixture before adding more.

Turn the mixer down to the lowest setting (if it isn’t already). Add the oats gradually then sprinkle in the chocolate chips. Everything should be fully mixed very quickly; don’t over mix at this point. As soon as the last ingredients are folded in, turn off the mixer.

Here’s the point where I part company with the method of the original. The make-ahead, refrigerate and slice method is a bit tricky. The oats and chips make slicing uneven and the dough tends to fall apart if it’s very solidly cold or be sort of squishy if it’s just chilled. I’ve found it’s better to just scoop the chilled dough with a spoon and form into 1″-1.5″ balls. But chilling the dough is not necessary. It’s an option. You can have cookies now or tomorrow.

I have to confess that I don’t really “get” the whole chilled and sliced thing. I understand the convenience of making the dough ahead of time and being able to produce hot cookies in minutes on another day. But what I don’t get is that it seems like a lot of recipes use this method and it’s not clear in most cases whether this is a make-ahead option or a method that’s fundamental if you want your cookie to turn out right. The chilled dough method is something that seems to have come up since my childhood. There’s not a single cookie my mother or grandmother baked that used the chilled and sliced method: all cookies were dropped by spoonfuls onto the cookie sheet. My preference for this method probably stems from it being what was inculcated into me from a very young age, and my mother not having ever gotten store-bought slice-n-bake type cookies. Although if I’d had small kids when this method started showing up in popular recipes I’d probably have leaped on it in order to be able to feed the cookie monsters fresh cookies at any time. 😉 So there’s definitely a place for this method. But if you want or need cookies now, then the old-fashioned spoon-dropped method is the way to go.

Actually, you can have it both ways. The original recipes calls for dividing the dough in half, so if you want fresh cookies now and tomorrow, you can bake up half the dough (about 1 1/2 dozen) now and bake the rest from the chilled dough later. (I’m not sure how long the dough will keep, but it should be good for a couple of days in the fridge.)

If you want to bake the cookies right now, preheat the oven to 350. Grease cookie sheets or use a non-stick spray. (I use PAM.) Drop the dough by rounded spoonfuls well-spaced apart onto the cookie sheet. Bake approximately 10 minutes. (Your oven may vary.) These cookies are going to spread out, not puff up and because the dough is essentially black you won’t see them “brown” in the oven. They’re done when they look more or less dry; looking through the door with the oven light on, you shouldn’t see the top glistening, aside from a few tiny spots of melted chocolate that may be on top in places.

Let the cookies set on the cookie sheet for at least 3 minutes (longer doesn’t hurt anything) before transferring to a wire rack to cool. They’re thin cookies and cool very quickly. Grab one to go with that cup of coffee, while it’s still warm! 🙂 Warm, they’re chewy, but they cool to a somewhat crisper cookie.

To do the make-ahead option, divide the wet squishy dough in half as best you can and place each on a sheet of wax paper. Roll and form the dough into logs. The original recipe says 2 1/2 inch diameter, but I confess I didn’t measure. The diameter should be less than cookie-sized because these will spread out while baking. The logs will be lumpy from the oats and frankly, are sort of disgusting-looking. Fold down the ends of wax paper to close them up. Chill for at least 2 hours. (Longer is better.)

When you’re ready to bake the cookies preheat the oven and bake (and cool) as above. (Baking time may be slightly longer because the dough is cold.)

I prefer to scoop from the logs and form the dough into 1-1.5″ balls. If you want to slice the logs, the chilled rolled dough should be sliced about a 1/2 inch thick. I didn’t measure, but eyeballing it probably got pretty close to 1/2 inch. How many cookies you get using this method is dependent two factors: the diameter of the logs of dough and the size of the slices. The first time I did this I ended up with 2 dozen instead of 4 dozen cookies. If you’re more experienced with the chill-slice-n-bake method you may have better results. I get a lot more cookies using the drop method. It all depends on what you’re experienced at, I guess.

The Vegetarian Times site has nutritional information for the original recipe. My version, given above, is a lot less healthy because of the butter. If you use margarine then the only difference in terms of calories, nutrition, etc between my version and theirs would be from the substitution of hazelnuts for flour.

If you’re a coffee-drinker, these cookies are some of the best you can have with a mug of coffee! 🙂

Raisin Buns

raisin tea bunsA childhood favourite of mine, I have adapted this recipe to my grown-up vegan requirements (which was quite easy to do).  Lovely and sweet, these buns go well with a cup of tea or coffee.  They are also a replacement for cookies when it comes to dessert.  You may notice this recipe is similar to my recipe for tea buns.


  • 2 1/2 cups of flour (I have used whole wheat and spelt, but also good with all-purpose)
  • 25ml  (5 tsp) baking powder
  • 5ml (1 tsp) salt
  • 1/2 cup organic sugar
  • 1/2 cup Earth Balance butter
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 3/4 cup milk (soy or almond)

Combine flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar.  Cut in butter so the consistency is like breadcrumbs.  Add raisins and milk.  Roll out onto floured surface.  As is the family tradition, use a drinking glass to cut out circles.  Whilst I use a small glass for tea buns, raisin buns are so yummy I use a large one!  A large glass will still deliver a dozen buns.

Place on baking sheet and bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes.  Let cool…if you can resist that long.