My Favorite Thick, Soft Cut Out Cookies

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I’m the kind of person who likes to learn to run before she learns to walk. I like trying the complicated way before trying the simpler way. I like doing more rather than doing less.

It’s a character flaw. But it’s just the way I am.

I remember before cooking became my sport, when just the effort of scrambling eggs and browning breakfast sausage in a skillet was a HUGE accomplishment for me, and I made the decision to begin to try to improve my cooking skills. There were a number of reasons why I wanted to give it a go and get better at the whole thing.

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One of the main ones was that I actually wanted to be able to bake my own desserts. I was under the HUGELY incorrect assumption that cooking was akin to baking. Cnce I figured out one, I would of course have the other one on lock as well. Tomato-Tomahto, right?

Heh.

Oh Jess. Sweet, simple, untried Jess. I had SO much to learn about the world and its ways. But honestly, that really was it. My mom had a pretty lit cookbook collection and I would peruse through them bookmarking a whole bunch of different dessert recipes that I would fantasize about being able to bake for and all by myself.

This was before I figured out that baking is a science and beginners in the kitchen should prooooobably try to become decent cooks before they dip heir toes in the baking pool. I actually know several outstanding cooks who are pretty “challenged” as bakers.

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But anyways, I started practicing my baking around the same time as I started cooking. It was a difficult learning curve with a LOT of trial and error but through it all I knew right from the beginning that if it was the last thing I did, there was if nothing else, one thing I was absolutely going to force myself to learn how to knock out of the park:

A bakery-style cut out cookie.

The cut out cookie is right at the top of my Favorite Foods of All Time. I mean, it’s even right up there with pizza, ice cream and pancakes (which are pretty much my Holy Trinity). Now when I say a cut out cookie, I’m NOT talking about something akin to the ones in clear plastic containers you can buy at Walmart with the pink frosting that tastes like sugary wax. Those are blegh and you deserve better things in your life. I’m talking about a real cut out cookie with a soft and tender crumb, a faint flavor of vanilla/almond and a smooth glossy icing on top that rounds out the mild sweetness of the cookie dough.

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Y’know…these.

Cookie baking is a learning process in and of itself that I’m totally willing to admit I’m still getting the hang of. You gotta practice. You gotta let your dough chill in the fridge. You MUST test-bake one cookie before the entire batch. And then, you can’t be afraid of sometimes just screwing up.  Because sooner or later you just will.

There is one recipe that I’ve become pretty awesome at though, and it’s this one.  I make absolutely DELICIOUS cut out cookies. These are probably some of the best cookies I’ve ever made/had, in general.

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These are a necessity for me and familiy now every year at Christmas but recently I also went ahead and made a huge batch to take to a baby shower, which is why they’re pretty in pink. The cookie itself is thick, soft and with a tender crumb on the inside. It’s versatile enough to where if you wanted these to have a different flavor than standard vanilla, you could easily swap in lemon, orange, lime or even cherry extract instead with wonderful results. I will strongly advise that you don’t swap out or exclude the almond extract; it’s the almond that gives the cookies that trademark “bakery-style” flavor in cut outs that you love but can’t ever quite pinpoint where it comes from.

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These would be just FANTASTIC for a kid’s birthday party where you have the cookies pre-baked and allow the kids to decorate them however they want. They’re also pretty thick and sturdy so they’ll travel VERY well. This recipe does bake a pretty huge batch, so if you’re wanting a smaller one you can feel free to cut it in half. But, I never do. Somehow, for some reason…the ones I make always end up being put to “good use”.

I’ll be taking my cookies to Fiesta Friday #125, co-hosted this week by Quinn @ dadwhats4dinner and Elaine @ Foodbod.

My Favorite Thick, Soft Cut Out Cookies

Recipe Adapted from Allrecipes.com

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Ingredients

For Cookies

  • 6 egg yolks
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 1/8 cups white sugar
  • 7 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking power
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon almond extract

For Icing

  • 4 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • About 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 tablespoon hot water, or more as needed
  • Food coloring, optional
  • Sprinkles, optional

Directions

For Cookies:

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs yolks, then the whole eggs, one at a time and mixing well after each. Add the extracts, mixing just until combined.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium sized bowl; stir into the butter-sugar mixture in about 1 cup increments. Cover dough and chill for at least one hour. I usually let this dough sit overnight for best results.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease cookie sheets. On a floured surface, roll the dough out to 1/2 inch thick and cut into desired shapes using cookie cutters. Place 2 inches apart on to the prepared baking sheets. Refrigerate the cut out cookies on the baking sheets for about 10 minutes.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. (My ‘magic’ number is 8 minutes, 35 seconds.) Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

For Icing

Mix together the confectioners’ sugar, oil, vanilla and corn syrup until smooth. Add a few drops of food coloring to your desired hue. Gradually add enough hot water to achieve a spreadable consistency, but keep it thick enough so that it sticks on the spoon. Spread icing over tops of cookies, then decorate with sprinkles.

Allow cookies to remain uncovered on wire racks until icing it completely set and dried.

3 Layer Coconut Sheet Cake

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So, before I get into the specific of this post, I feel I should make it clear that coconut cakes and I don’t really have much of a history of “getting along with each other”. I always tell people that ask me that I learned how to be a pretty decent baker through lots of trial and error. Best way to learn.

As it turns out, several of those “errors” have come through my attempts at making coconut cakes over the past few years. Sometimes it’s worked wonderfully.  Sometimes I’ve just blown it.

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Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I’ve never really been that much of a coconut fan in general; I don’t like Pina Coladas (or getting caught in the rain by the way). I think Mounds Bars are disgusting. Shredded coconut on its own reminds me of tasteless confetti or wood shavings. I do like to cook with raw, unsweetened coconut milk very much but on it’s own? Meh.

However…my grandmother’s favorite kind of cake is coconut cake. Therefore for the past four or five years, every June when her birthday comes around, I set out to bake her a coconut cake.

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I’ve baked about 5 different coconut cakes over the past few years; they’ve ranged from ridiculously basic to EXTREMELY complicated. Some have taken little to no effort and others have took me all day long. The first one I attempted was when I had first started my foray into baking. I wanted to make my grandma a cake for her birthday and my mom (in her infinte wisdom) advised me that I should start with something basic and easy to do. I found a recipe an old cookbook of hers that she suggested I try. I had my doubts about it: first, it was supposed to be made in a 13 x 9 pan. Me, being the naive over-eager overachiever I was, thought that was “too easy”. Second I was worried that because the recipe was in a fat free cookbook, it wouldn’t be very tasty.

Turns out, it was DELICIOUS. Seriously. I didn’t and still do not even like coconut cake…and I still ate a big slice of that one.

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I’ve made subsequent coconut layer cakes for my grandma after that one that turned out well. Some VERY well. However, it was always that first fat free, easy-peasy coconut cake that I made for her as a novice baker that remained the crowd favorite.

This year, I attempted to make one that I bookmarked from Food and Wine magazine. I’ll make a long story short by just letting you guys know right off the bat: it didn’t work. In retrospect I don’t think that I beat the ten eggs that were in the batter nearly long enough to make it rise high and fluffy. The cake came out SUPER dense and flat. I knew right away I had messed up and would have to make a  hasty adjustment/save if I was gonna have a cake ready for my grandma’s birthday. Once again, my mom suggested I just go back to the “Old Faithful” cake I made for her the first time. I started to brush it off…the I stopped to think a little bit.

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Once I finished thinking and mulling it over for the night, the next morning I decided to go ahead and bake the first cake again; but this time, I thought of several ways to “doll it up”.

The first way was based off the shape of a cake I saw on Pinterest. I did some Googling and baking science research and it turns out, that the same amount of batter that goes into a standard 9 inch two layer cake also goes into a 13 x 9 size cake. That amount of batter can also fit inside a 15 x 10 x 1 baking sheet without spilling over. The original recipe for the coconut cake was for a 13 x 9 cake pan.

It took me about .2 seconds to see how I could make this work rather nicely.

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Basically, what I did was bake the coconut cake in a sheet pan, cut the cooled & finished cake into 3 equal vertical pieces, and stack them on top of each other to form a square layer cake. For the frosting, I decided to adapt from the vanilla buttercream I made for my Funfetti Layer Cake; I swapped out vanilla extract for coconut extract, and plain milk for coconut water. Finally, I pressed coconut flakes I briefly toasted in a skillet to the sides and tops of the cake.

By the time I finished, I took a step back and felt pretty darn proud of myself.

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Let me just state again for the record: I do not like coconut.

I do not care very much for coconut cake.

But…. this cake. THIS CAKE.

I think what may blow my mind the most about this recipe is the cake itself; it’s a low fat cake, but holy cow is it MOIST and FLUFFY and yes, still plenty sweet. It’s perfectly complimented by the coconut buttercream–which I feel I ought to point out, is NOT low fat whatsoever. I mean after all, this is a birthday cake. Birthday cakes should never be completely low in fat. The sweetness of the buttercream is perfectly tempered by the subtle nutty flavor of the toasted coconut.

It went over like gangbusters with my grandparents and I gotta say, I was not surprised. This was just a great idea all around. I also think I may have found a new, preferred way of making layer cakes in general. Whoop Whoop.

Happy Fiesta Friday #124 and thanks to our co-hosts this week, Lindy @ Love in the Kitchen and Liz @ spades, spatulas & spoons.

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3 Layer Coconut Sheet Cake

Recipe Adapted from Secrets of Fat Free Baking and Southern Living Magazine

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Ingredients

For Coconut Cake

  • 1 1/4 cups coconut water
  • 3/4 cup shredded coconut
  • 2 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1 1/3 cups white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)
  • 2 tsp coconut extract

For Coconut Frosting

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (32 ounces.) package powdered sugar
  • 6 to 7 table tablespoons coconut water
  • 1 tablespoon coconut extract
  • toasted coconut flakes, optional

Directions

For Cake:

Preheat oven to 325°. Grease, flour and line a large rimmed 15 x 10 x 1 baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.

Place the coconut water and shredded coconut in a bowl and stir together.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and baking soda and stir to mix well. Add the coconut mixture, egg whites, vanilla extract and coconut extract and stir to mix well.

Spread the batter evenly in the baking sheet. Tap the baking sheet on a counter top a few times to release air bubbles.

Bake for about 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool in pan for about 10-15 minutes before flipping out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

For Frosting:

Beat butter and salt at medium speed with an electric mixer 1 to 2 minutes or until creamy; gradually add powdered sugar alternately with 6 tbsp. coconut water, beating at low speed until blended and smooth after each addition. Stir in coconut extract. If desired, beat in remaining 1 tbsp. coconut water, 1 tsp. at a time until frosting reaches desired consistency.

To Assemble Cake:

Place the completely cooled cake on a cutting board and cut into equal thirds. (About 4 1/2 inches) Make sure both cakes are evenly leveled before beginning to decorate. Line the edges of a cake platter with strips of parchment paper to keep the platter clean while you assemble the cake. Place one (evenly leveled) cake layer on the platter. Spread 1 1/2 cups of the frosting evenly across the top of the cake with a spatula. Place the second cake layer on top, then spread with just enough over the top and sides to make a crumb coat. (It should be thin). Refrigerate cake for one hour until the crumb coat is firm. Finish spreading the remainder of the frosting on the cake. Gently press toasted coconut flakes onto sides and tops of cake.

Popcorn Graham Cracker Toffee

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So you guys want to hear a pretty fun fact about my niece? She’s three years old and she already has an all-time favorite movie.

And nope. It’s not “Frozen”. (Thank God. She certainly loves Frozen but we’ve been given a temporary reprieve from Elsa and Anna for a long while now. I’d be fine if they made that reprieve permanent as well, but that’s probably wishful thinking).

Surprisingly, it’s also not one of the Pixar films like “Finding Nemo” “The Incredibles” or “Toy Story” (Come to think of it, I can’t remember right now if she’s EVER seen any of the Toy Story movies, which means I am majorly failing in one crucial aspect of my auntie duties.)

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There’s no point in me telling you guys to try and guess what her favorite movie is. You won’t guess. No way. This is NOT what you would think a typical three year old girl’s favorite movie would be. Kinda like…the exact opposite.

But we’ve all accepted long ago that my niece just isn’t a typical three year old and by now this is just normal to us.

Ok, so….her favorite movie?

Its’s “Jurassic Park”. Yeah. the ACTUAL “Jurassic Park” movie.

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See the thing is, my brother in law got her started on LOVING all things that have to do with dinosaurs. From there she graduated from playing with figurines to actually being able to sit through and be entertained by the actual movies with them. I have no idea why a tyrannosaurus rex doesn’t scare the living daylights out of a three year old. I’m pretty sure it would’ve scared the living daylights out of THIS girl when she was three.

But like I said: she’s not a typical three year old. And she loves the movie….to the point where she likes to watch it preeeeetty much every day. Seriously.

I have seen “Jurassic Park” so many times in the last year that I’m sick of it.

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What does “Jurassic Park” have to do with this post?

Well, there’s a scene in the move where the character Dennis Nedry is getting ready to try and sneak the dinosaur embryos off the island and in order to do so, he has to come up with a “believable” excuse for why he has to leave the control room of the park and shut off all the security systems so that he can leave undetected. He goes into this hilarious nervous rambling about going to the vending machine for something salty since he’s only had something sweet. I thought about that scene when I was making this recipe, since it’s a pretty good combination of both sweet and salty flavors.

Actually, correction: it’s an AMAZING combination of both sweet and salty flavors.

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I’ve made a recipe similar to this one before for the second year of the 12 Days of Christmas series on the blog; the main difference there with that toffee bark was that it was missing the extra add-ins that we see here. I’m pleased to announce that today’s recipe is actually a vast improvement. I first saw this on Bon Appetit and when I saw the list of ingredients, decided to go ahead and make my own modifications to it for my own personal tastes:

First, instead of using regular peanuts I went ahead and used the honey roasted variety, since those are a perfect mixture of sweet/salty all on their own. I also used cinnamon flavored graham crackers, as I do tend to prefer them to regular honey. However since having done this I CAN also see chocolate flavored graham crackers being a VERY delicious swap for choco-holics. I also made a note below regarding the sugar syrup mixture that gets poured over the add-ins before baking; if you prefer a very gooey toffee then I recommend you checking it out and reading the whole recipe before beginning.

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Look, I don’t have to sell you guys on this stuff, right?

You’ve got eyes. Use your “imaginatory” tastes buds to just stop and think about what this stuff would taste like: honey roasted peanuts, salty popcorn, cinnamon graham crackers, rice cereal that are all stuck together in a candy-toffee bite. It’s some SERIOUSLY addictive stuff.

Basically, it’s Moose Munch on steroids. And who doesn’t want some of that? Boom.

Happy Fiesta Friday #123, co-hosted this week by  Margy @ La Petite Casserole and Linda @ La Petite Paniere.

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Popcorn Graham Cracker Toffee

Recipe Adapted from Bon Appetit

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Ingredients

  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 15 cinnamon graham crackers
  • 4 cups popped popcorn (from ¼ cup kernels)
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped salted, honey roasted peanuts
  • ¾ cup puffed rice cereal
  • cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter*
  • ¾ cup sugar*
  • 1 cup chopped semisweet chocolate or chocolate chips (about 6 oz.)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil and lightly coat with nonstick spray. Arrange graham crackers in a single layer on baking sheet, breaking to fit as needed to cover entire surface. Top with popcorn, peanuts, and puffed rice.

Bring butter and sugar to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high. Once boiling, stir once, then reduce heat and simmer, swirling occasionally, until mixture is golden brown and syrupy, 8–10 minutes.
Pour toffee mixture evenly over graham crackers and popcorn mixture. Bake until toffee is slightly darkened in color (the shade of a brown paper bag) and bubbling, 10–12 minutes. Remove from oven and evenly top with chocolate.
Turn the oven off, then return pan inside, just long enough to let the chocolate chips start to begin to melt and get gooey.Remove baking sheet from oven and using a fork or butter knife, begin to swirl and smear the softened chocolate so that it ‘sticks’ to the popcorn/peanuts/rice cereal.
Let cool in baking sheet before breaking into pieces. You can also place the sheet in the fridge for about 30 minutes or so to harden faster.
*This recipe I found created JUST enough boiled sugar syrup to cover the ingredients, with a few loose leaf pieces escaping after they cooled. This was fine with me, but if you personally prefer a ‘gooier’ texture to your toffee, then I do recommend doubling the sugar syrup mixture. You’ll probably have a little bit of extra, but better extra than not enough.

Chicken Tikka Masala

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So I think I did a post a few months back telling you guys about how the pitcher and lid of my Ninja Blender died and went to Ninja Blender Heaven (i.e., they melted beyond repair in the stupid dishwasher of my apartment. Yes, I am still pissed off about that).

It took me a while to finally get around to going to the manufacturer’s website to go and order the parts for my replacement and when I finally did, I got yet another unwelcome surprise: the model of the pitcher and lid that I needed was temporarily out of stock and there was no EDT on when they would be in stock again.

Of course, this was something I wasn’t made aware of until AFTER I placed the order for them. Of course.

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To the company’s credit, they didn’t actually take the money out of my account until roughly about 3 weeks later when the pitchers were back in stock. A few days later and boom, the package came in the mail and I once again had a Ninja Blender that I could use.

I was relieved, because God knows the motor stand had been looking uber stupid by itself on my countertop for the past three months or so.

Now that I had my Blender back, I already knew the first thing I wanted to use it to cook. It was a recipe I’d seen a while back and gotten SUPER excited about…then got SUPER disappointed over because it would require the use of either an immersion blender or regular blender. Neither of which I had access to.

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Aarti Sequeira is still to date, my favorite of the winners of Next Food Network Star with Jeff Mauro coming in a close second. She’s just so bright and effervescent and it translates into her cooking, which mainly centers around Indian cooking. Indian cuisine isn’t something I’ve done a lot of cooking with, but I always knew that when I did finally give it a whirl, my introduction was going to be guided by Aarti.

And as expected, she did NOT disappoint.

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I don’t know why I seem to have a habit of using recipes that I’ve never made before to feature on the blog. It’s somewhat of a risk considering that it might not actually turn out. But as with the others, this wasn’t the time that that happened. My first attempt at Chicken Tikka Masala was…. successful.

Like, VERY successful.

As in “This chicken is long gone and I’m still thinking about and missing it like it’s an old friend” successful.

The thing is, you will need a blender (or at least a food processor to make it). The first application comes from throwing together a ginger-garlic paste used to marinade the chicken AND flavor the sauce of the dish. There is a substitution option given in the recipe for it but I’m pleading with you… if you’ve got the tools, just take the effort and initiative to make the paste. Please. Your taste buds will thank you.

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The second use of the blender comes in with pureeing the tomato sauce down so that it’s smooth. I didn’t mention this in the print out version of the recipe but I’ll go ahead and say it here: I have seen what happens when you put a hot liquid substance in a blender and crank it up high right off rip.

It ain’t pretty. Don’t do it. Before I even pureed the tomato mixture I took it off the heat and let it cool down for about 5 minutes or so. Even after that, I pureed the tomatoes in increments, and it only took about three blends before everything was ready. And most imporantly: I avoided making a HUGE mess. Just as you should.

My take on Chicken Tikka Masala differs from Aarti’s in several ways: number one, she used plain yogurt in her marinade. I don’t know, but whenever I marinade chicken in yogurt I am always predisposed to using Greek. I went ahead and did the same thing here and I don’t think it caused any huge issues.

Second, Aarti grilled her chicken before adding it to the tomato sauce. Most of you guys already know how grills and I get along (We Don’t. The End.), so I did go ahead and just sear my chicken in oil on the stove top. Once again: I think it was a perfectly fine substitution, but if you’d prefer to grill it, by all means do so.

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People stay hating on using chicken breast in cooking. I really don’t care. I know how to cook it so that it’s not dry and chalky and a hot mess soooo, I will always, ALWAYS default to chicken breast. Who’s gon check me, boo?

This dish cooks down to a stew like consistency and since I like extras in my stew, I went ahead and threw in a can of chickpeas to give the dish some extra protein. It was a good choice.

What can I say about the taste? Well I have to admit that going into making the dish I was worried about the acidity of the tomatoes overpowering everything else. That doesn’t happen. The Ginger-Garlic paste provides SUCH a strong and effective counter balance to the tomatoes. The chicken cooks down so nice and tender in the sauce–and I gotta say I think that Greek yogurt really helps in making it stay moist. Your tongue and stomach will just want to give you a great  big hug after you eat a huge bowl of this stuff. Mine did.

Oh yes! And eating bread on the side with this is just mandatory. Naan bread, preferably. Where are you supposed to get Naan you ask? Right here Silly Billy Gum Drops. Your’re welcome.

Happy Fiesta Friday #122 on this the first week in June!, co-hosted by Mollie @ The Frugal Hausfrau and Aruna @ Aharam.

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Chicken Tikka Masala

Recipe Adapted from Aarti Sequeira

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Ingredients

For Chicken Marinade:

  • 1 cup plain yogurt, whisked until smooth (I used Greek, but regular will probably be fine)
  • 3 tablespoons Ginger-Garlic Paste, recipe below (or 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger and 3 cloves garlic put through a garlic press or finely minced)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast (or thighs if that’s your preference; chicken breast is just mine), poked with a fork, and cut into large bite-sized chunks

For Masala Sauce: 

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons butter (or ghee if you can get your hands on some)
  • 1/3 cup Ginger-Garlic Paste, recipe below (or 6 cloves garlic and 2-inch thumb ginger minced)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 8 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 to 2 cups water
  • Oil, for the skillet
  • 1 tablespoon dried fenugreek leaves, or maple syrup (this is optional)
  • 1 15 oz. can of chickpeas, drained
  • Minced fresh cilantro, for garnish
  • Cooked rice, naan, or crusty piece of bread, for serving

For Ginger Garlic Paste

  • 1/2 cup cloves garlic, whole
  • 1/2 cup fresh ginger, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 1/4 cup canola oil

Directions

Make the Ginger Garlic paste first: throw all of the ingredients in a blender together and puree until it is smooth. It’s okay if it’s a little chunky, but it should have a ‘pasty’ consistency. You may not need it all, but DO NOT throw out the leftovers. Save it in a small jar for the next time you make this dish (there WILL be a  next time, trust)

For the Marinade: In a large bowl, mix together the marinade ingredients. Add the chicken and toss to coat. Marinate at least 30 minutes, or in the refrigerator up to overnight.

Place a Dutch oven or heavy bottom non-stick pot over your stove top and place over  high heat with the oil.  Try to shake off as much of the marinade as you can with your hands, but don’t sweat it if the chicken’s not completely clean. When the oil is hot, sear the chicken in the pot until browned on all sides. If you used Greek yogurt, some of the remaining excess may form “curds” in the bottom of the pot. That’s ok, the heat will cook off the majority of it and the rest dissolves in the sauce. (Don’t worry that the chicken will still be a little uncooked, it finishes cooking in the sauce). When the chicken is evenly browned, remove from the pot and place on a plate, cover with foil.

For the sauce:  When you’re ready to make the curry, lower the heat of the pot down to medium heat and add the olive oil and butter (or ghee). When the butter has melted, add the Ginger-Garlic Paste. Saute until lightly browned around the edges. Add the tomato paste and cook until the tomato has darkened in color, about 3 minutes. Add the garam masala and the paprika and saute for about 1 minute to draw out their flavors.
Add the tomatoes, salt, and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer, and cook until thickened, about 20 minutes. You may need more water depending on how much liquid the tomatoes give off.

Pour the sauce into a blender or food processor, or use an immersion blender, and process until smooth. Pour back into the pot and bring back up to a boil. Add the chicken and  chickpeas, fenugreek leaves or maple syrup, if using. Take the heat down to a simmer and cook for about 15-20 minutes or until chicken is fork tender.  Garnish with minced fresh cilantro, and serve over rice, with naan, or a crusty piece of bread!