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For Three Days, A Student Again

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This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don’t get the opportunity to be a student much these days — usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.

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In reflecting on the conference and what I learned, one of the best parts about the whole thing was witnessing people so excited about their work and craft. Farmers talked about their grain-drying machinery with such excitement it was contagious (despite the fact I wouldn’t know a grain-drying apparatus apart from a hair dryer, in truth).

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I met Dawn Woodward of Evelyn’s Crackers and we chatted about Red Fife wheat, entrepreneurship and farmers markets. She led a great whole-grain baking class with cookbook author, writer and photographer Naomi Duguid. We huddled outside next to the wood-fired oven and made Montreal-style bagels, biscotti, pear cardamom skillet cake, and these little thumbprint cookies which Dawn sells at her farmers market booth back in Toronto.

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In all of the conversations I had over the three days, the one topic that kept coming up is how to balance the work we love with the life we envision for ourselves. One of the key presenters was a farmer who lives in Upstate New York, Thor Oechsner, and has an innovative business model in that he mills his own flour and has a bakery on site where they sell goods to the public. It’s not often that you can stroll into a bakery and purchase a muffin made from the wheat grown right on site. When asked by an audience member, “what’s next?” he paused for a long time and said he’s trying to figure out how to scale down, actually. He’s gotten so good at scaling up and adding on the next big thing — over and over — that now he wants to figure out how to make more time to play his accordion and eat dinner with his partner at night. The feeling seemed to strike a chord with many of us, and reminded me of an article I read in the New York Times a few weeks back.

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The piece was called “You Can’t Have it All But You Can Have Cake” by writer Delia Ephron, and it managed to connect the notion of “having it all” – that elusive and hotly-debated concept that has gotten so much press this year — with Ephron’s experience in New York City bakeries: “To me, having it all — if one wants to define it at all — is the magical time when what you want and what you have match up. Like an eclipse. A total eclipse is when the moon is at its perigee, the earth is at its greatest distance from the sun, and when the sun is observed near zenith. I have no idea what that means. I got the description off a science Web site, but one thing is clear: it’s rare. This eclipse never lasts more than seven minutes and 31 seconds … Which is why I love bakeries. Peace descends the second I enter, the second I smell the intoxicating aroma of fresh bread, see apricot cookies with scalloped edges, chocolate dreams, cinnamon and raisin concoctions, flights of a baker’s imagination, and I know I am the luckiest person in the world. At that moment, in spite of statistical proof that this is not possible, I have it all.”

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It’s notable because all of the talk around “having it all” tends to be focused on what is, often, our particularly American understanding of it: marriage, kids, the perfect work/life balance, interesting travel, local food. You get the picture. But here, Ephron talks about the smaller moments where we can feel the eclipse — where we can feel like we do have everything we need in that one moment. For Thor Oechsner, the farmer in Upstate New York, it sounds like this eclipse would happen in a quiet room with his accordion. For me, it happened sitting outside next to a warm oven amidst a layer of “Pacific Northwesty” fog with nowhere in particular to go.

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And this morning when I baked up these cookies before Sam got up (and maybe again when we had two with our coffee) I had it again. It was a slow morning, despite the weekday-ness of it. When I laced up my boots for the first time this season and noticed that particularly Autumn gold of the sunlight falling into our yard, I had it yet again.

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This cookie recipe is based on one that Dawn gave the group for Rye Poppyseed Thumbprint Cookies. I’ve been on a big buckwheat kick lately, so I used buckwheat flour instead of rye flour, thinking that the flavors of the buckwheat would compliment the very special apricot jam we’ve had sitting in our cupboard for awhile. I made them a few times, futzing with the flour measurement to get them just right, and made a few tweaks to the method to guarantee perfectly crumbly home-baked cookies. You could certainly play around with another whole-grain flour that you’re excited about — I can’t imagine a more forgiving recipe for such experimentation. You could also coat these in toasted sesame seeds instead of poppy seeds (next on my list) or even unsweetened coconut.

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The thing I love about these cookies is they’re pretty legitimately rustic. You can envision them being made in simple kitchens one hundred years ago, with no more in the way of equipment than a bowl and a fork to cream the butter and sugar. There’s no fear of over-mixing, perfect incorporating, aeration — anything other than just making sure all the ingredients are in your bowl. And combined well. That’s my kind of baking. I can become overwhelmed with fancy French recipes that require much tending and perfect, precise temperatures and techniques (Or, my imprecise oven can become overwhelmed with these). But this kind of rustic whole-grain baking? This is where I feel most at home.

To learn more about Kneading Conference West, check out their website.
The event is annual, so maybe you’ll join us next year?

Buckwheat Poppy Thumbprint Cookies
Keep in mind that these cookies are different from some other baking recipes in which you’re looking to cream the butter and the sugar for a number of minutes to introduce air into your dough. Here, you really just need to mash the sugar into the butter well.

Makes: 10-14 cookies

1/2 cup (4 ounces) room temperature unsalted butter
1/3 cup natural cane sugar
2 large eggs, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/3 cup (165g) buckwheat flour
1/4 cup poppy seeds
1/4 cup jam or fruit compote

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, cream the butter and sugar together with a fork (or your hands). Add the egg yolks, vanilla extract, salt and flour. Mix well and knead together a few times with your hands to gather the crumbly pieces of the dough together.

Roll walnut-sized pieces of dough into a ball.

Whisk the egg whites until slightly foamy and place poppy seeds in a nice, shallow bowl.

Roll balls of dough in egg white and then in the poppy seeds. Set on baking sheet and flatten slightly with the palm of your hand. Make indent with your thumb and fill with 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon of jam.

Bake for 18-20 minutes or until the dough has turned a golden brown — the cookies should feel soft and they will firm up as they cool. Cool on cookie sheet for 15 minutes. Enjoy warm. Or room temperature. In the morning — or in the evening. Store covered at room temperature.

  1. Posted September 20, 2013 at 2:24 am

    You had me at Montreal-style bagels.

    And eclipses. And 7:31 minutes, at most.

    All of it.

    Oh Megan, thank you for this.

  2. Posted September 20, 2013 at 2:33 am

    Megan I followed along in instagram the whole weekend but thank you for posting this. Sounds like a wonderful weekend indeed and those cookies? Yes please!

  3. Katharina
    Posted September 20, 2013 at 4:14 am

    I have read your blog regularly for some time now and have really enjoyed it a lot. But this piece especially stuck a cord with me. I think you created a little eclipse moment for me today! Thank you so much and the best wishes to you from rainy autumnal Berlin, Germany.

  4. Posted September 20, 2013 at 4:14 am

    Homemade soba noodles! How amazing. My kind of people too.

  5. Posted September 20, 2013 at 6:35 am

    I have been wanting to go the Kneading Conference in Maine for a few years and I hope I’ll get to go sometime in the next few. Sounds wonderful!

    I loved that article, too, because it so important to be reminded that there are moments, just moments when we do have it all and more.

  6. megang
    Posted September 20, 2013 at 7:29 am

    Thank you, Katharina! I’m so glad you’re enjoying the blog + thank you for taking the time to leave a sweet comment. Enjoy your rainy autumnal weekend. ~Megan

  7. megang
    Posted September 20, 2013 at 7:30 am

    Anna! You should go; it was an amazing few days and I’ve heard the one in Maine is equally awesome with some of the same folks. Enjoy your weekend! ~Megan

  8. megang
    Posted September 20, 2013 at 7:31 am

    Thanks, Mardi! I’m so glad you were enjoying the photos and yes — these cookies–. The best part is they’re such a breeze to make and kind of impossible to mess up. Hope you’re doing well; enjoy the weekend, ~Megan

  9. Posted September 20, 2013 at 8:19 am

    Sold! I just slid two trays of these in my oven. Can’t wait to try them!

  10. megang
    Posted September 20, 2013 at 8:47 am

    HOORAY! Let me know what you think. I’ve had two for breakfast again this morning :)

  11. Posted September 20, 2013 at 9:05 am

    UPDATE: Love them! Covered ‘em in chia seeds and filled the insides with pear compote, and i’ve already eaten four, and I can tell you I’m not done for the afternoon… Winner!

  12. megang
    Posted September 20, 2013 at 9:06 am

    SO AWESOME! Makes my day! Love the idea of chia seeds (you’re good!) … and the gal that gave us the recipe makes an apple/pear compote to fill hers with for the fall markets. So I think you’re onto something :) xox

  13. Kristin
    Posted September 20, 2013 at 11:24 am

    A recipe for a sweet bite that I actually have everything I need for already – thank you! The jar of peach compote I just opened yesterday will be perfect. On another note … I LOVE what you said about having it all. I haven’t read Ephron’s piece, but I know exactly what she/you mean by those small moments where what you desire and what you just “is” are both present, and your heart is both fully satisfied and fully at rest. Thanks for sharing. :)

  14. Posted September 20, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    Just wanted to say thanks for this delicious cookie recipe and for the link to the piece. Excellent food for thought. :)

  15. Suzanne Toaspern-Holm
    Posted September 20, 2013 at 5:46 pm

    Megan I love when your post so hit the mark. These cookies perfectly fit the way we have been cooking & eating in our house. Thank you, Suzanne
    P.S. I too love the feeling of being a student.

  16. Posted September 20, 2013 at 9:18 pm

    Sounds like a perfect way to enjoy an autumny weekend. I’d take a few of this delicious cookies to go :)

  17. momgordon
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 9:04 am

    Oh my gosh, Megan! It is so inspiring reading words from someone who loves what they do and is such an observer of life’s moments. It is softly raining here and will be a “making pumpkin cookies” kind of day. My small eclipse. Thanks to you I have something to muse about while I bake.

  18. Posted September 21, 2013 at 11:17 am

    your words have touched me very much, it could be my thoughts. just yor ‘seven minutes and 31 seconds bakery time’ – thank you!

  19. Posted September 21, 2013 at 2:23 pm

    What a lovely piece. “Rustic whole grain baking is where I feel at home”…I couldn’t agree more : )

  20. Posted September 21, 2013 at 4:15 pm

    I just made these with barley flour and a second batch with oat flour and used a blackberry-port jam I had made. I love the nutty flavor of the barley flour a lot. I have some buckwheat flour in the freezer that is locally ground that I will use tomorrow morning to make one more batch with some nectarine-pear jam I made to take a wine festival with me as a snack.

  21. Mary
    Posted September 22, 2013 at 7:50 am

    Magnificent post, Megan!

  22. megang
    Posted September 22, 2013 at 9:42 am

    Thanks, Mom! I miss your pumpkin cookies …. maybe I should whole-grainify them for the blog, hmm?

  23. Posted September 23, 2013 at 8:04 am

    lying on a fluffy pink blanket reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar to my 7 week old daughter this morning was a 7min 31sec slice of perfection. As were the minutes I spent eating leftover pork tenderloin while pouring over a new cookbook. It’s the little things. Thank you for posting that article, I had missed it. It’s one of those articles that I know I’ll read over and over again, because it’s so good and so true and because I often need reminding that I can’t have it all / don’t want it all and that all I really want is a chocolate croissant – ha! Excited to try these cookies, they look and sound delicious.

  24. Natasha Minocha
    Posted September 24, 2013 at 5:13 am

    Just made these with part finger millet flour and part all purpose, used sesame instead of poppy seeds and raspberry preserves…and they are awesome! Thank you so much for giving out such a fabulous recipe.

  25. Posted September 25, 2013 at 2:37 pm

    I randomly have a huge supply of poppy seeds and am constantly trying to think of ways to sneak them into recipes. These cookies are right up my ally. Beautiful, M!

  26. Posted October 5, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    Great ideas!

  27. Posted October 6, 2013 at 7:26 am

    I love a good thumprint cookie and this recipe sounds like a good one – I especially love that it sounds as though it isn’t too sweet. I have some homemade grape jelly at home and I am thinking that would work wonders in cookie like these!

    Beautiful post as well, my notion of ‘having it all’ keeps on changing and these days is far from what I thought would make me happy when I was younger – I think that is important too, to ensure we are happy right now and not to constantly plan for the future, not only because we cannot control it but also because we just don’t know what might make us happy years down the line.

  28. Jess
    Posted October 7, 2013 at 10:42 am

    These came together so easily. I used half poppy seeds and half raw sugar to roll the dough, less virtuous but so pretty. I did a few with apple butter and they’re less attractive than the ones I did with rose/crabapple jelly, be careful using too thick of a spread.

  29. megang
    Posted October 7, 2013 at 11:14 am

    Great flavor combination ideas, Jess. So glad you enjoyed the cookies — I’m making another batch myself this afternoon with pear butter. ~Megan

  30. megang
    Posted October 7, 2013 at 11:15 am

    Hi Sophia-
    You are absolutely right. I think our notion of “having it all” does change when we’re older. I used to feel it was so much about career, and while that’s important, I find quiet time at home to be equally so these days. I think you’ll really like the cookies: simple and delicious. Enjoy!

  31. elizabeth
    Posted October 8, 2013 at 10:48 am

    I really enjoy your writing and the recipes that you share. These cookies were delicious – thank you for sharing

  32. megang
    Posted October 8, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    Thanks so much, Elizabeth! Glad you enjoyed the recipe. Enjoy the rest of your week, Megan

  33. Posted October 13, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    What a wonderful event, and Montreal style bagels? Only the best there are …. I am wildly intrigued by this recipe, as I have never used buckwheat flour before. Looks like I need to hit baking season running by trying this recipe first!

  34. megang
    Posted October 14, 2013 at 9:01 pm

    It was a treat to be just hanging out learning, D. And you’d love buckwheat flour: it’s dark and almost silky in texture (and gluten-free!) and bakes up one mean cookie. I’ve had lots of readers and friends try these and all have loved them as much as we did. Hope you’re doing well. Miss you! Let’s catch up soon!

  35. Posted October 18, 2013 at 10:54 am

    Great post, beautiful images from both your photographs and your words.

  36. megang
    Posted October 26, 2013 at 9:26 am

    Thanks so much, Kendra!

  37. Posted November 5, 2013 at 7:51 am

    I love using buckwheat flour and I love the sound of these!

  38. Posted January 22, 2014 at 8:50 pm

    hey! what brand/kind of buckwheat flour do you use/recommend? I’ve been using Bob’s but it seems like a lighter one is better!

  39. megang
    Posted January 23, 2014 at 8:26 am

    Hi do like Bob’s too but I’ve tried Arrowhead Mills as well and theirs tends to be a bit on the lighter side. I hope that helps + enjoy the recipe! ~Megan

  40. jill
    Posted February 27, 2014 at 4:14 pm

    Thanks for sharing! For the record, they are quite delicious, even when seedless (I had mixed everything and only then did I discover I had no seeds, poppy,sesame or otherwise…). With a dollop of apricot jam- yum!

  41. megang
    Posted February 28, 2014 at 6:50 pm

    Awesome, Jess! Yes I haven’t made them in far too long … I Need to fix that asap. Glad to know they were good seedless, too. Have a great weekend, Megan

4 Trackbacks

  1. […] sleeping difficult - only with body contact from their parents :: but we’ll sweeten. Love these thoughts, it might be mine. A colorful sunday, maybe with apple cake and good […]

  2. […] Buckwheat poppyseed thumbprint cookies. So pretty and such a good use of jam! […]

  3. […] next-level obsession with these cookies (above) was born. They’re improbably delicious and naturally […]

  4. By Poppy Seed Thumbprints | Frankencookie on February 1, 2014 at 12:28 pm

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