Magical baking tricks for treats from a kitchen witch

By Dana Zia, The Golightly Gourmet
Halloween is the gateway season for me. It opens up my imagination, turns my oven on and lets the baking begin! It’s magical how it happens. The pumpkins start appearing on doorsteps and all’s I can think about is what sort of goodies I can bake with them. Then next thing I know, the house is filled with the warm spicy scent of fall baking and I gain weight. Magic, I tell you!

I realized as I was miraculously making cookies and pumpkin pie bars appear from my enchanted oven that I have actually amassed a fair amount of tricks for treats. I thought I would share my secrets with you so that with the wave of your magic rubber spatula and a little work you can have charmed baked goods popping out of your bewitched oven too. (Hopefully sans the weight gain.)
I could wax on like the full moon about all my tips but we are just going to focus on ingredients this article. Every kitchen witch knows that her finished spells are only as good as her ingredients. There is nothing more disappointing than lack luster spices that have lost all their enchantment. I recently bought some cinnamon that had no fragrance or taste and was super light brown in color. I threw it out. I suggest that you go through your spice cabinet and do the same to your fizzled out spices before the magical baking season starts. I do it every year.
Dig through all your spices and separate them into two categories; good and questionable. Test the questionable spices by smelling them, checking their color and tasting them. If they have none of the above going for them, toss em out with the old batwings. I suggest one year expiration date on most baking spices before they turn into (rotten) pumpkins.
The very best place to replace these spices is Mother Nature’s in Manzanita. They have bulk spices that are organic and non-irradiated. Buy only as much as you can go through in a year. Get nutmeg whole and grind your own with a micro plane grater. (BTW a micro plane grater is the best kitchen tool ever! And if you find you don’t use it that often you can apply it to your heels like my sister-in-law.)
For cinnamon I must recommend that you buy Vietnamese Cinnamon from King Arthur Flour online. This spice is enchanted! I am a cinnamon connoisseur and this is by far the best I’ve ever had. It is worth the trouble, One sniff and you will fly around the room and thank me. You will notice the difference in your baked goods.
Let’s talk of chocolate… my heart’s delight, another product that I can’t do without is dark chocolate baking powder! This is black gold and has the richest chocolate flavor. I mix it half and half with regular cocoa powder for magical results. Hersey’s carries one now and you can find it at your grocery store. The best and easiest chocolate chips are Ghirardelli 60% chocolate chips. These are delicious and gluten free too! (Most chocolate has gluten in it, crazy huh?)
Always use unbleached organic flour, for health and perfect baked goods. Conventional flour has enough pesticides, herbicides and anti-fungal chemicals to curl even an evil witch’s toes. Make an effort to buy unbleached organic flour and you will taste the results in your baked goods.
These cookies have been a favorite cookie in our house for years, before I went gluten free (Well mostly gluten free) They are warm with the spices of fall and filled with the magic of the season. The frosting really makes them so don’t skip on it and also make sure and toast your walnuts for the full flavor. Have a magical baking season!

Walnut Maple Spice Cookies

1.5 cups of unbleached organic flour
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1/4 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of ground ginger
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon of ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon of ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
3/4 cup of brown sugar
1/4 cup of butter, softened
2 tablespoons of maple syrup
1 farm fresh egg

Preheat that enchanted oven to 350 degrees and lightly oil a couple of baking sheets. To get the magic stirring, place the flour into a medium bowl and make a well in the center. Dump all your spice and baking soda and powder into the center of the well and whisk well till well mixed. Then blend the butter and brown sugar with an electric mixture until it gets super creamy and fragrant, about 4-5 minutes. Add the maple syrup and egg in there and mix some more till well blended.

While your electric mixer is going on slow, add the flour mixture to the wet gradually till it is just mixed. Scoop out blobs of batter (about 1 tablespoon) and drop them on the cookie sheet leaving room between the cookies. Wet your (clean) hands and flatten the cookies a bit, (they don’t flatten well on their own) and bake for about 12-14 minutes until just barely brown around the edges and no longer shiny. Cool completely before frosting. (They are much better frosted so don’t pop that cookie in your mouth!)

Maple frosting
1 cup of powdered sugar
2 tablespoons of maple syrup
2 teaspoons of butter, softened
1 tablespoon of milk or cream
½ cup of toasted walnuts

With your magic electric blender, whip up all the above ingredients till well blended and fluffy. Spread on cookies and then sprinkle the walnuts on top, rather quickly, as the frosting will start to harden. Serve up with warm apple cider and love.