Dandelions do not lie. Hold one of those wild flowers under my chin and you will see. A sunshiny reflection of that yellow dandelion will show up on the skin just under my chin. As a child, my friends and I would play that game as we braided dandelions to make necklaces and bracelets. Always, the test results would show I loved butter. And, always, a couple of my jewelry-making friends would fail the test. No yellow reflection would show up under their chin. They did not love butter.
My mother was raised on a farm with fresh milk and creamy butter. I learned early on that butter made the best cookies. And, butter is the only thing that should be spread on toast, pancakes, waffles and French toast. Everything is better with butter. That’ been my motto.
Recently, when I discovered my cholesterol is a little elevated, I’ve started being more conscious of the fat I’m consuming. I guess all that butter has finally caught up with me.
Several years ago, when I was in San Francisco, I picked up a copy of "The Olive Harvest: Olive Oil Lore and Recipes from the McEvoy Ranch." Along with a bottle of McEvoy Ranch olive oil. The book includes several recipes that use olive oil for cakes and cookies. I’ve been intrigued with the thought of using olive oil rather than butter in sweet treats.
This, along with a book about olive oil that my friend brought back for me from her trip to Greece, made me decide to start experimenting with olive oil in baked goods.
Yes, butter is real food. But, it is also a saturated fat, what is often referred to as "bad" fat. Saturated fats can boost cholesterol, which in turn thickens arteries which leads to heart attacks and strokes. So, butter, take a back burner. I’ll be eating you in strict moderation.
Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat, a "good" fat, in fact the best kind of fat. Monounsaturated fats have a beneficial effect on cholesterol and are good for your heart. Though fancy olive oils can be quite expensive, you can get the same health benefits from reasonably priced house brands at your supermarket. Olive oil is used extensively in the famed Mediterranean diet, which is also rich in fresh fruits and vegetables. Because of their diet, southern Europeans have some of the lowest rates of heart disease in the world, and obesity is not the problem in those countries as it is here in the United States.
After doing a little research and experimentation, I’ve learned it is not always possible to swap out butter for olive oil in everything. In baking, it is a bit scientific. Some sources recommend using 3/4 cup olive oil to replace 1 cup of butter. When I tried that formula in cookies, I wasn’t happy with the final results. The cookies were dense and seemed oily to me.
I finally came up with very good results in these Almond-Olive Oil Cookies (which, by the way, is an adaptation of the Raspberry Ribbons in my last post) by using 10 tablespoons of butter and 6 tablespoons of olive oil to replace the 1 cup of butter called for in Cori’s recipe for Raspberry Ribbons. Now, I know there is still butter with its saturated fat in these cookies. But, there are also lots of almonds in this rendition, which also contributes more monounsaturated fat. You get some flavor from butter and health benefits from olive oil.
I guess what it all bakes down to is this: Everything is better with butter. But, butter in moderation, please.
One little nibble of these cookies was all I needed. Nutty, full of almond flavor, and chewier than all-butter cookies. And the fact that my husband started gobbling them down two minutes after they were out of the oven was all the proof I needed that these cookies, are indeed, delicious.
Even if you pass the dandelion "Butter Test," I think these cookies made with olive oil will pass your taste test.
Almond-Olive Oil Cookies with an Apricot Ribbon
- 2 cups whole almonds, toasted
- 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil ( I didn’t use anything fancy — just some everyday Greek olive oil from a 3L can)
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
In batches, finely grind the toasted almonds in a food processor.
Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Use a spoon to mix the ground almonds into the flour mixture.
Using a stand mixer or an electric hand mixer, cream butter and sugar together. Add olive oil, eggs and almond extract and blend. Add dry ingredients and mix on low speed until dough comes together.
Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. On a parchment- or silpat-lined baking sheet, shape each portion into a 10-inch x 2-inch flat log. Make a 1/2-inch depression down the middle of each log.
Place baking sheet in freezer to chill dough for 1 hour.
Remove from freezer and bake logs in preheated 350-degree oven for 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Fill depression of each log with jam. Return to oven. Bake 10 to 15 minutes, until edges of logs begin to turn light brown. Remove from oven. Cool 2 minutes. Use sharp knife to slice log into 3/4 inch cookies.
When completely cool, drizzle with glaze. Makes 4 1/2 to 5 dozen cookies.
In a small bowl, mix 1/2 cup powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon half-and-half, 1/4 teaspoon almond extract.
- To toast almonds, place them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake in 350-degree oven for 6 minutes. Cool completely before grinding.