Season of the Cookie: Cream Cheese Walnut Cookies (How to Make “Halloween Brains”)

Butter continues to be the primary ingredient in most of the latest creations that have sprung to life in my rinky-dinky Holly Hobbie kitchen. Papered in the image of an Indian maiden holding a butter box (Land O’ Lakes), salted or unsalted (my brief research into the subject indicates that either can be used in a recipe that demands one or the other – any argument?), I have not been able to keep enough on hand to prevent me from stopping at the Rock and Roll Ralphs on Sunset every other day to replenish my supply. But even I consider it a bit much when a recipe calls for FOUR FULL STICKS of the stuff.

Happily, I didn’t let that stop me from making this recipe. These babies will SET YOU FREE!

Here’s what you need:

  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 2 cups (clever way of covering up the fact that it’s FOUR FULL STICKS) of butter, unsalted, room temperature
  • 6 ounces cream cheese (not whipped), also room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (another item I’ve had a hard time keeping in stock recently)
  • 2 1/2 cups walnut halves – 1 cup finely chopped – the remaining 1 1/2 cups should be toasted and THEN finely chopped.

NOTE – The recipe make a distinction between FINELY chopped and COARSELY chopped.  I don’t know what that difference is so I didn’t bother with it, and it didn’t seem to affect the finished product at all. If anyone would care to enlighten me, feel free to comment.

First, whisk together your flour and salt in a bowl. Next, put the butter (ALL FOUR FUCKING STICKS) AND the cream cheese (cuz the butter isn’t enough) into a mixer or food processor and mix until pale and fluffy. If it’s TRULY room temperature, you can do it by hand.

Once pale and fluffy, mix in the sugar and vanilla. Then add the flour until JUST COMBINED! If you over mix, you will end up with the dreaded “Halloween Brains” (read on), but you’ll still be ok. Once this mixture is combined, add your toasted walnuts. Toasting is simple. Spread the walnuts out in a single layer on a pan and pop them in the oven for about 10 minutes at 350 degrees. The smell will wake the neighbors!

WARNING – “HALLOWEEN BRAINS” ALERT – I got distracted from my mixing by some diabolical internet issues and I’m pretty sure I over-mixed. Over-mixing will produce the image below. So not what I think you’re supposed to work with from this point on BUT a perfect way to make fake brains to scare off trick-or-treaters at Halloween. Set them out in a glass cake carrier with a green or red light shining on them and the weaker kids in your neighborhood will wet their little Harry Potter pants.

Transfer dough to a work surface and divide in two. Shape each half into a log about 2 inches in diameter. I further split each log in two because my Holly Hobbie kitchen has very limited counter space. Wrap each log in parchment paper and put in the freezer until firm, about 30 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 350. Unwrap your logs (or keep some frozen – they’ll stay good in there for at least a month) and roll in the chopped walnuts. Cut the log into 1/4 inch-think pieces. Space one inch apart on baking sheets (the recipe says to line the sheets in parchment paper but I didn’t and all was well).

Bake cookies, rotating halfway through, for about 18 to 20 minutes or until golden around the edges. Serve warm with a String of Pearls or bring them to work to share with co-workers and ensure your employment for weeks to come!

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