Recipe // Pepper Peanut Butter Cookies

Texture matters a lot to me in baked goods. I love dense, sticky oatmeal cookies (sans raisins, obviously), flaky scones, creamy frosting. These peanut butter cookies, adopted from America’s Test Kitchen, are just perfect. Chewy and soft in the middle, a little crisp on the outside, and full of peanut-y goodness. The pepper adds an interesting, spicy kick to the smooth richness of the cookie.

Side note: I was looking up synonyms for “chewy” because that was the only thing that came to mind for describing these cookies. The top choices were “leathery” and “stringy.” I can assure you these cookies are the good kind of chewy.

Pepper Peanut Butter Cookies

Yield: 24 cookies

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tbsp pepper
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter (crunchy is okay too!)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350˚F. Whisk together flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and pepper in a large bowl and set aside.
  2. In a mixer, beat together softened butter and both sugars until light and fluffy (3-5 minutes). Mix in peanut butter until incorporated, about 30 seconds on medium. Add vanilla and eggs, one at a time, scraping after each addition. Reduce mixer to low and slowly add dry ingredients, just until incorporated.
  3. Take 3 tablespoons of the dough and roll into a ball and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Using a fork dipped in cold water, make a cross in the dough. Repeat with the rest of the dough, keeping 2 inches apart on the baking sheet.
  4. Bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating halfway between cooking time, and just until the edges are golden brown and the centers are puffy. Cool on a wire rack and then enjoy!

Recipe // Spiced Papaya Crumble Bars

This is definitely on my list of recipes that I am going to make again when I get home.

Since coming to Xizhou, I have been having so much fun experimenting with local ingredients. Some of my favorite recipes that I have developed include pu’er tea muffins, 5-spice sesame shortbread cookies, and rose jam scones. I am working on a Xizhou-inspired cookbook this summer… stay tuned!

Last week, I was talking to someone who grew up in Dali about my project and he immediately asked why I wasn’t using dried papaya, his favorite local snack as a kid. Dali people like to prepare dried papaya with sugar and local ingredients, like dried shiso plants and other spices I can’t recognize. The result is sticky, chewy, and delicious.

I had a lot of freedom when developing the other recipes; I alone got to decide what ingredients I wanted to use and what recipe to adapt it from. However, this presented a challenge. How could I bake with this local snack? Dried fruit is such an odd texture!

For more inspiration, I visited a Xizhou papaya shop (pictured above), which offers the fruit in dozens of different flavors. The vendor was so sweet and made me try probably at least 80% of her products. For this recipe, I ultimately settled on the traditional flavored papaya, but I am excited to use other flavors as well.

After searching through recipes and thinking more about the papaya, I decided to try crumble bars a try. The dried papaya  is delicious on its own, so I knew I wanted to find a recipe that would highlight the unique spice blend. I melted down the dried papaya into a sort of jam, then sandwiched it between two light, buttery layers.

The local dried papaya looks alien to me. It is thick with unrecognizable, dark spices, and curls up in the drying process. However, it melts down into a beautifully thick, spiced jam.

Spiced Papaya Crumble Bars
Adapted from Martha Stewart

*You can easily substitute the dried papaya with other leathery dried fruits such as apricot or mango. This dried apricot comes with so many spices that I didn’t add anything to the filling, but if you are using regular dried fruit I suggest adding cinnamon, star anise, pepper… get creative! The sugar balances it out 😉

3/4 cup butter, room temperature, plus more for the pan
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar

Papaya Filling
1 cup dried papaya
1/2 cup flour
1 cup light-brown sugar, firmly packed
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt

½ cup sugar
½ cup flour
¼ cup butter, softened

  1. Heat oven to 180˚C. Butter an 8-by-8- by-2-inch baking pan, and set aside.
  2. Make the crust: In a large bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups flour, butter, and granulated sugar. Using a handheld electric mixer on medium speed, blend until crumbly and combined. Transfer mixture to prepared pan. Using your hands, pat crust evenly into pan. Bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool.
  3. Place papaya in a small saucepan with just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until soft and most of the water has evaporated, about 15 minutes. Finely chop until it resembles a jam.
  4. Combine 1/2 cup flour, chopped apricots, brown sugar, eggs, baking powder, vanilla, and salt. Using a handheld electric mixer on medium speed, beat until combined; scrape down sides of bowl twice. Pour papaya mixture over crust.
  5. Make the crumble: mix the sugar, flour, and butter together until it resembles coarse crumbs. Evenly spread over the papaya mixture. Place in oven and bake until the papaya mixture is no longer glossy and a little firm, about 20 minutes.
  6. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool. Cut into squares and enjoy!

Recipe // Mini Matcha Pie

This year I got the incredible opportunity to attend the Cherry Bombe Marketplace in New York, which was so inspiring that it deserves its own blog post (coming soon!). I loved meeting so many different female entrepreneurs who started their own food-centered companies, ranging from homemade pop tarts to fancy chef pants. I was most excited to see that Four & Twenty Blackbirds, the famous pie shop based in Brooklyn, also had a booth. All their pie flavors sound delicious: salty honey, black sesame, black bottom oat pie…  the list goes on.

This past weekend, I decided to take a (temporary) break from my muffin tins and ramekins and make mini matcha pies from the Four & Twenty Blackbirds cookbook. The recipe is simple and not too sweet, which allows the matcha flavor to come through really nicely. The matcha pairs well with the extremely smooth texture of the custard.

Above is a sample of the real matcha pie from Four & Twenty Blackbirds. Even though I doubled the matcha in the recipe, my pies did not have the same deep green. The next time I try this recipe (and trust me – there will be a next time!) I will try quadrupling the matcha. I love matcha, but I find that most matcha recipes are too subtle.

While at the Marketplace, I got to meet Emily Elsen, one of the co-founders of Four and Twenty Blackbirds. It was so inspiring to see her come in person, despite how big her shop has become!