Nosh: Croatian Breskvice — Jammy Peach Cookies

HOLY PEACH MOTHER OF ALL COOKIE GOODNESS!

You know when you read about some recipe in a magazine and think, oh my word, what an interesting thing! And then for the life of you, you can’t remember what the name was of the thing you read, until–just a few days later, and by a few I mean maybe two–your professional baker friend posts a picture of her very own version of the thing you were just reading about? And out of the goodness of her heart sends you her very own recipe?

So. All that happened.

I forget where I first read about breskvice (BRESK-vee-tsye), the traditional Croatian cookie that looks like a boozy ersatz peach, but I was immediately smitten by the idea. Puffy, pretty, at first glance they totally resemble peaches (especially when they’re really glammed up with a clove “stem” and mint leaf…uh…”leaf”) but then when you bite into them…they still taste like peaches! Schnappsy peaches. With rum. Which is, basically, winning all around. The recipe I used was provided to me (with permission given to blog) by the equally insanely lovely and talented Diane of Cake Diane Custom Cake Studio near Dallas, and Texas people, what are you waiting for? Go make this woman a cake star.

Breskvice–not gonna lie–are kind of time consuming. Even more time-consuming: they may need to sit and dry for a day or two, so make them ahead of time. They’re occasion desserts, served at events like weddings and birthdays and holidays, where you want to let the recipients know they’re worth the effort. And you know? They really are worth the effort. Here’s the full recipe in .pdf format (which you’ll need the Adobe Acrobat reader to see, and if you don’t have this on your computer by now go here for the free download, and seriously? Welcome to the year 1996). First we’ll talk about how to make the cookies. You’ll need:

  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tsp peach liqueur
  • 6 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt

Preheat your oven to 350°, and line at least two (I used three) baking sheets with baker’s parchment or a silicone baking mat. Bust out your handy-dandy stand mixer (or a hand mixer, but once you add the flour prepare for an upper-body workout) and put eggs and sugar into the mixing bowl. Beat at a reasonably medium-working-it speed for about three minutes; your objective is to incorporate air into the eggs to build a fluffy, puffy cookie. Once the eggs and sugar look airy and have turned pale yellow, stream the vegetable oil in to incorporate, then mix that all together until it’s creamy.

Did my old-skool Sunbeam stand mixer. I'm going to petition the internets for a Kitchen-Aid.

Dig my old-skool Sunbeam stand mixer. I’m going to petition the internets for a shiny new Kitchen-Aid.

While the eggs are aerating and mixing and creaming with the oil, combine flour, salt and baking powder in another bowl. Yes, six cups of flour. Yes, it’s a lot of cookie. But you know…go big or go home. You don’t have to sift the flour but you should whisk your dry ingredients together so they’re well combined. Keep them off to the side for a minute.  Add milk, schnapps and vanilla to the eggs and give that a minute to combine. Then add your dry ingredient mix.

REMEMBER! If you keep your stand mixer running while you add the flour, drop the speed, and only add a little bit of flour at a time. Otherwise physics will go to work and the momentum will throw the flour back out of the bowl and all over you and your countertops. Incorporate the flour using your mixer for as long as feasibly possible, but at some point you’ll probably have to finish the mix by hand. My tell-tale signs that I need to make the mix-switch are when the mixer’s blades begin pushing the dough to the top of the bowl and adding more would create dough spillage, and also when I smell the motor of my mixer start to burn (seriously, I need a new stand mixer). When you’re finished, you will find yourself holding a bowl of the stickiest, thickest dough you’ve ever faced in your life.

Glob glob glob.

It’s like quicksand. Only yummier.

The recipe advises you to lightly coat your hands in oil before rolling these into balls and putting them on your parchment-lined baking sheets. That will work if you don’t mind having your hands covered in sticky oil. It didn’t work for me. I quickly realized I needed another plan; I took two spoons and rolled the dough between them like they’re quenelles. Here’s George hand-modeling it for you.

Bonus: discussed with and approved by Cake Diane herself!

Bonus: discussed with and approved by Cake Diane herself!

The tops of the cookies are uneven, but that’s OK. Just take a small spatula or knife, dip that in some oil, and smooth out the tops of the cookies.

It's like magic or something.

It’s like magic or something.

And then? Bake! They should take 15-20 (ish) minutes total, so check them after 8 minutes or so and rotate the pans. They should be nice and puffy on top, and lightly golden on the bottom.

Yep. That's it.

Yep. That’s it.

Set aside to cool.

While the cookies are cooling, you can start to assemble the filling. For that you’ll need:

  • 1-1/2 cups ground (not chopped) walnuts
  • 2 tsp cocoa
  • 2 tsp dark rum
  • 2 tsp peach liqueur
  • 12-oz jar peach or apricot jam*
  • 1-2 tablespoons milk
  • reserved cookie crumbs

Grind walnuts in a food processor until they’re small crumbly walnut bits, but don’t grind them into a fine meal. You still want some nubbly texture from them. Set aside.

Combine cocoa, dark rum, peach schnapps, and jam. *Here is where I deviate wildly from the printed recipe. The first time I made this I followed the recipe to a T and thought the filling was a bit too soupy, plus I had a ton of it left over that I had no use for. The second time I made them, I used a 12-oz jar of jam (as noted above), and pulled ½ cup of the jam to use as “glue” between the cookies, after it was mixed with the liquors and cocoa. The resulting final filling held together more to my liking and was exactly as much as I needed. Play around with the recipe, see what you like best. It’s your kitchen!

Anyway. Back to it.

Dig out a peach-pit sized hole in the bottom of your cookie, being careful not to poke through the outside. Reserve the crumbs.

Let us sing the praises of a good paring knife. Aaaaa-meeeennnnn!

Let us sing the praises of a good paring knife. Aaaaa-meeeennnnn!

Reserve ½ cup jam mixture, if you’re doing this my way, and fold in walnuts and cookie middles. If you’re following the printed recipe, take the entire jam mixture and fold in walnuts and cookie middles. You’ll end up with a setup that looks a little like this:

It's like the happiest assembly line, ever.

It’s like the happiest assembly line, ever.

Fill all the cookie middles, then coat one half of your cookie sandwich with jam-glue.

Yes, just like this.

Yes, just like this.

And then sandwich the halves together. Do this again and again until you have row after row of jam-filled sandwich sugar cookies. And when you think it can’t possibly get any better?

Hold on.

Take two utility bowls and add some peach schnapps to each of them (I’d start with ½ cup in each bowl, and work from there).  Add a few drops of red food coloring to one bowl, and a few drops of yellow to the other. In a third bowl (one large enough to roll the sandwich cookies in), add a pile of super-fine (a/k/a caster) sugar. Have a large roll of paper towels nearby. Take a cookie and dip it in the yellow dye, blot with paper towels to dry. Then dip the other sort of side/third/ish in the red dye, and blot again.

Time to play!

Time to play! Sooo, maybe your fingers get a little dye-ish. Wear gloves if that worries you.

You’re supposed to be imitating the look of a peach, so be creative and allow for color gradations and the nice round red butt of a ripe peach. Once they’re blotted dry, roll them in caster sugar to create “peach fuzz” and place them on your cooling rack to dry.

The trickiest part to this recipe is not letting them get too soggy in the coloring process, but the good news is, they’ll dry. And BONUS: they even taste better after sitting for a few days, so if you do get the soggies, put them on a cooling rack, loosely covered with wax paper, in your fridge. In a day or two all will be well, and you’ll have this:

HOLY MOTHER OF ALL PEACH GOODNESS!

HOLY PEACH MOTHER OF ALL COOKIE GOODNESS!

You can go all out and put in a clove “stem” and mint leaf “leaf”, but you’re not eating them so…why bother?  And yes, once they’re completely dry and ready to eat, you can also freeze any leftovers you might have. I know, I’ve tried it. Wrap each one in plastic and then store them in a plastic bag for extra protection, in the freezer. Just give them a couple of hours to thaw once you take them out.

When you cut the cookie in half, the walnut filling will look sort of like a peach pit. They’re unbearably cute and delicious. While they are outstanding all on their own, I have found that the best way to enjoy them is with friends, after dinner, over a robust and hearty conversation and a nicely chilled bottle of sparkling dry rosé.

This was a very good night.

This was a very good night.

Enjoy!  Happy eating!

About these ads

Merry Christmas!

I am an unapologetic Christmas junkie.  The lights, the colors, the sparkly decorations…they all totally appeal to my inner four-year-old’s desire to fly rocket ships through star fields of strung lights and roll around in an orgiastic riot of crinkly paper.

Full disclosure: I do that in my head most of the time, anyway.

So.  Here are some of my favorite photos of Christmas good tidings.  Enjoy!  And if Christmas isn’t your thing, then bear in mind that I wish you nothing but peace and good will, every day of the year.

Brookgreen Gardens, Nights of 1000 Candles, December 2013.

Brookgreen Gardens, Nights of 1000 Candles, December 2013.

A window diorama, Lewisburg PA, December 2013.

A window diorama, Lewisburg PA, December 2013.

This was one of my grandmother's ornaments.  December, 2013.

This was one of my grandmother’s ornaments. December, 2011.

Christmaxplosion!  Clifton, NJ, December 2013.

Christmaxplosion! Clifton, NJ, December 2013.

This is why I have a gym membership.  December 2013.

This is why I have a gym membership. December 2013.

Where at all began as a wee Paisley.  December, about a thousand years ago.

Where at all began as a wee Paisley. December, about a thousand years ago.

Nosh: Black Forest Cookies

No holiday cookie tray is complete without something chewy and fruity.  I think that’s how fruitcake has managed to hold on for as long as it has, despite the fact that it’s inherently creepy.  (Note to home fruitcake makers: I’ve never had a fruitcake that isn’t commercial, and gross.  I’m willing to give homemade cakes the benefit of the doubt.  And I digress.)

Thank you, but… No.
Image from jbinghamoc.wordpress.com

Never fear, good people!  I have the solution!  Plus, you get to mainline chocolate in the process and when is that ever bad?  Right.  Never.  Presenting: the Black Forest Cookie.

A take on the traditional black forest cake, the nominal cookie is made from dense, rich chocolate and is loaded with…what should ideally be entirely cherries, but you know…we’ll get to that in a minute.  This drop cookie is uncomplicated and comes together fairly quickly, so it’s going to find itself in my reserve of go-to recipes.  I got this recipe from one of those mini-cookbooks you can impulse-buy at the cash register of your local supermarket (because I impulse-bought one).  It’s a Martha Stewart recipe, which pains me because I have no love for her, and yes, I realize she’s crying over that all the way to the bank.  But more importantly (for our purposes), it’s readily available online.  Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup packed dark-brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 package (about 12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chunks
  • 1 1/2 cups dried cherries

Get the butter and chocolate going in a double-boiler.  If you don’t have a dedicated double-boiler, then do what I do and put a mixing bowl over a pot of boiling water.  There is one caveat: don’t let the bowl touch the water, because then you might scorch the chocolate, and who wants that?  You don’t need much water in the pot to get the job done, maybe just an inch or two.  And don’t bother chopping the chocolate (which, for some reason, I haaaaaaate to do); just break it into chunks and let heat do the work for you.

Behold the awesome power of buttery chocolate goodness!

Behold the awesome power of buttery chocolate goodness!

I promise you, if you keep it over the steam heat rising from the water in the lower pot, the butter and chocolate will melt.

While this morphs into a beautiful mass of buttery chocolate, measure out your dry ingredients and keep them handy, because you’re going to be mixing them all at the same time.

Measured and a'waitin'.

Measured and a’waitin’.

BUT FIRST!

When the chocolate is entirely melted, take your melting vessel (mixing bowl, top pot of the double boiler) off the heat and whisk in the eggs, one at a time.  Give yourself a minute between removing the chocolate from the heat and adding the eggs.  The chocolate mixture will cool slightly and you’ll run less of a risk of ending up with chocolate-covered scrambled eggs (which can happen if the chocolate is too hot when you add in the eggs.  See: don’t scorch the chocolate).  And, as always, add the eggs one at a time by cracking them into a separate cup first so you can retrieve any rogue bits of shell that end up in your egg.

Just a tiny bit of patience pays off in this step. Big time.

Just a tiny bit of patience pays off in this step. Big time.

Whisk that together, then dump in all your dry ingredients and give that a mix.  Don’t overmix, just incorporate.  You’ve got more mixing to come and you don’t want to toughen up your cookies from overmixage.

The next step is to add the bag of chocolate chips (yes, a whole bag, no real measuring required) and the cherries.

Ahhh…the cherries.

So I went into this recipe thinking, I have a giant bag of dried cherries (local peeps: that I got at the Natural Food and Garden Store), no need to check how much I have.  Conveniently forgetting, of course, the handful I would snack on with each trip into the pantry.  I pulled out the bag of dried cherries and…

Rut ro.

Nowhere near enough.  I had a moment of panic and then I thought…you know…here’s a golden opportunity to use those spare ends of bags of fruit I’ve had hanging around, and turn this into sort of a kitchen-sink cookie.  So.  In went the cherries, and some currants, and Craisins, and then raisins to top it off, until I reached my 1 1/2 cup mark.

Batter has become secondary. The chunky bits are all that matter.

Batter has become secondary. The chunky bits are all that matter.

Fold this all together with your trusty rubber spatula until it becomes a glorious riot of nuggety goodness and smooth, rich batter.

It's so hard to not just eat it like this.

It’s so hard to not just eat it like this.

Then cover this with plastic wrap and put the whole thing in your fridge for at least 30 minutes.  This is where you could park it for a while (up to overnight) if you don’t have the time to finish them.  Or, you could preheat your oven to 350° and line your cookie sheets with baker’s parchment and, after half an hour, take it from the fridge and get to spoonin’.  The dough becomes a pretty solid mass as you leave it in your refrigerator to set up, so it can be hard to scoop to the proper size, especially if you have not-necessarily-the-strongest measuring spoons.  Like mine.  So.  Use a heavy spoon to dig the first two tablespoons of dough’s worth of cookie out and measure that into a measuring spoon.

Use the resources available to you.

Use the resources available to you.

Then? Use that as a scale model to measure out the rest of your cookies.  It goes much more easily that way, instead of fighting with measuring spoons that would bend and/or break (I mean, look at them, they’re so thin).  Before you know it you’ll have…

Mmmmm...

Mmmmm…

…row after row of dropped chocolate cookies.  Put these beautiful tastebombs in your hot oven and bake for 11-13 minutes, until the edges look nice and firm.  Rotate them once halfway through bake time if you think it’s needed, then remove them from the oven and let them cool on the trays for five minutes, and then on racks until they’re thoroughly cool.  Bonus, holiday bakers: these cookies freeze well, so you can make them early and stick ‘em in the freezer until you’re ready to load them on gift trays.

Side note: is it possible to experience an independently generated smell memory?  Because there’s nothing baking in my house and I swear I can smell their chocolatey goodness right now.  Anyway.

Once they’re cool and ready to eat…don’t forget to have them with some milk.

Yay!

Yay!

Two things…  1) This cookie is little more than a hand-held chocolate delivery system with occasional pockets of fruit, and that’s not a bad thing.  EVER.  And 2) I enjoyed this cookies-and-milk photo op way more than I probably should have.  (No, I think we need another shot…TAKE TEN!)  (I’m only partially joking.)

Enjoy!  And happy baking.

Nosh: Tangerine Butter Cookies

It’s baking season! It’s baking season! I mean, yeah, the holidays are coming and Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and it’s late this year so Christmas is hot on its heels. But whatever.  It’s baking season! It’s baking season!

I don’t know why I don’t bake more often.  Clearly I enjoy it.  And I’m pretty good at it.  But, you know.  Ovens…measuring.  Pfft!  Who needs it?  (Other than people who want to make accurate recipes or care about things like proportion, but I digress.) My first cookies for the year were these beautiful, rich, citrusy tangerine butter cookies.  This is a gorgeous recipe.  It’s crisp, it’s satisfying, it’s got a great, round mouthfeel and it’s slightly savory from olive oil (and perhaps an additional thing or two).   As it is baking and successful baking relies largely on successful manipulation of chemistry, I deviated only slightly from the recipe.  I’ll just fill you in as we sit here and discuss.  Anyway.  Let’s get started. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 3/4 cup  butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups  sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons  baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons  cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon  salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons  finely shredded tangerine peel or orange peel
  • 1 teaspoon  vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon  orange extract
  • 3/4 cup  olive oil
  • 1/2 cup  white cornmeal
  • 4 cups  all-purpose (AP) flour
  • 1/2 cup  sugar

Get out a large mixing bowl and an electric mixer (or stand mixer…or wooden spoon).  Gather up the first five ingredients (butter, sugar, baking soda, cream of tartar and salt) and have them ready to roll.

This is a strong start to just about anything.

This is a strong start to just about anything.

The butter should be nice and soft so it will cream easily, which is a pretty way of saying it can be whipped into pillowy peaks; this should only take you about a minute.  I used a big bowl and a hand mixer; a stand mixer would also do the trick.  If you only have a whisk you’ll face a hearty workout for your stirring arm, but it can be done since your ingredients are so pliant.  The butter shouldn’t be liquid, but it should be entirely squishable.  Once it’s whipped, add the sugar, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt, then cream all that together until it looks fluffy and the butter’s turned a lighter color.  Then get ready to add the flavorings.

Truth: I used to cream butter and sugar together as a kid and eat it straight out of the bowl. #weirdkidhabits #badideas #afterschoolsnacks

Truth: I used to cream butter and sugar together as a kid and eat it straight out of the bowl. #weirdkidhabits #badideas #afterschoolsnacks

I have the shredded zest from two tangerines sitting in a bowl with the orange and vanilla extracts.  I thought it would be fun to let those flavors mingle.  And, know how I always warn that you should crack eggs into a small bowl and then into a batter so you can easily pick out a piece of eggshell if it chips off?  Today I was grateful that I took my own advice.  I did, indeed, have to pick out a bit of shell, which is so much easier to spot and retrieve in a small cup than in a large mixture.  And who wants sharp, crunchy eggshell cookies?  Not this girl.  Beat in the eggs and extracts and then…. I knew that things like cornmeal and olive oil were waiting in the wings to get used, so I also knew this cookie could stand up to a little savory manipulation.  Here’s where I get all crazy-like.  I added a teaspoon of coriander because I think it plays incredibly nicely with citrus (and the orange family in particular) and a few grinds of fresh-ground black pepper.  The black pepper flakes look interesting, and it adds a slightly spicy, savory undercurrent.  If pressed for a measurement, I’d say it was no more than a (scant) half-teaspoon.

Then beat in the olive oil, followed by the cornmeal and then the AP flour (which, as its name indicates, is general-use, generic building block flour, and I think outside the US it’s called “plain flour”, FYI), which should be added in incrementally.  If your beaters start to labor while adding the flour, make sure you mix the rest of it in by hand.  You’ll end up with a thick pile of dough that’s surprisingly soft and malleable.

...and I can't do a thing with it.

Truth: my cat goes berserk over raw dough. I have to put him outside when I bake.

Notice how it pulls cleanly up off the sides of the bowl?  Perfect.  Cover your dough mound with plastic wrap and let it chill in the fridge for a minimum of 30 minutes.  It can sit overnight (like mine did). When you’re ready to make your cookies, set up your mise en place, which basically means get yourself organized to process food efficiently.  Lay the recipe nearby for easy reference, set up your bowl with finishing sugar (I used two different colors because…holiday…festive…but you can use regular granulated sugar and that’s just fine), your cookie trays, and take the dough out of the fridge.

I know all y'all covet my turkey.

I know all y’all covet my turkey.

Preheat your oven to 350°.

Then stick your impeccably clean, freshly washed hands into the dough and roll roll roll.  You want dough balls that are about an inch across.

Toss three or four dough balls at a time in the sugar. It goes faster.

Toss three or four dough balls at a time in the sugar. It goes faster.

Line them up on the ungreased cookie sheets (because who needs to grease a sheet when you’re making cookies that are mostly butter and olive oil?  No one, that’s who).  The recipe wants you to make an X-pattern in the top of the dough by pressing a toothpick flat into the dough; first one arm of the X, then the other.  It does look nice.  Sounds time-consuming.  If you happen to have something–like a wire beater from your hand mixer–with a conveniently-X’ed butt end, press that into the cookie instead.

Work smarter, not harder.

Work smarter, not harder.

And bake, 9-11 minutes in the 350° oven.  My oven heats unevenly and it’s always hottest in the back, so I have to rotate my cookies once half-way through.  It’s always good to check, anyway.  When you’re finished…

Life = good.

Life = good.

You’ll find yourself with rich, beautiful, delicious, buttery-zesty cookies that freeze well, so they’re easy to make ahead for the holidays.  And this recipe makes a ton of cookies so you can give them to a bunch of people.  And it’s easy to mix and adaptable to your lifestyle, so you can park the dough overnight if you realize you don’t have adequate baking and cooling time.  Score!  This recipe rocks.

Enjoy!

Post-Holiday Cookie Roundup

Christmas is over, the presents are unwrapped, we are on a hiatus from overindulgence until New Year’s Eve, gym memberships are being activated, and the landfills are groaning with the excess influx of tissue paper and wrapping paper and no-longer-necessary packing materials.  Here in central PA, my cookie materials are packed away for the time being.  For now.  I mean, I have plans for cookies I want to experiment with throughout the year for next year’s bakestravaganza and will get to that sooner rather than later.  And I like baking cookies, so it won’t be all that long before I’m back in the kitchen, standing behind my thousand-year-old mixer, whipping up something else.

But.

Holy pockets.

Holy pockets!  That’s a lot of cookies.

So I had one of each tray, for both mine and George’s families, plus whatever else was given away individually to friends and urban family.  What can I say?  I’m a giver.  A friend of mine, a professional baker, started asking me about what I was making and let’s face it–flattery will get you everywhere.  Really, person who does amazing constructed theme cakes and icing art?  You want to know what I’m baking?  Me?  Really?

D’awww, shucks.  Oh…Okay!

Presenting!  The 2012 Christmas Cookie Bakestravaganza and Candification Explanator.  Broken down by tray.

Tray One: C is for Cookie

Tray One: C is for Cookie

I’m starting with the lighter brown cookies to the left (cookies at 9:00!) and going clockwise, and if I’ve blogged about it, I’m linking to it.

Pumpkin Cookies

Chocolate Sables

Peppermint Palmiers

Two-Tone Cinnamon Cookies

Molasses Snaps

Polenta Biscotti

Little Dippers

And here comes Tray #2.

Remember, kids: C can also stand for "Candy".

Remember, kids: C can also stand for “Candy”.

Starting with the pink squares at 12:00….

Bailey’s Irish Cream Marshmallows

Apple Cider Caramels

Italian Fig Bundles

Cinnamon Marshmallows (use the same recipe for the Bailey’s marshmallows; just substitute cinnamon extract where the Bailey’s should go)

Caramel Corn

Cherry-Lemon Shortbread with White Chocolate Drizzle

If anyone has any questions about anything I haven’t linked to (or anything I have, really), please feel free to ask!

So.  There you have it.  900,000 calories later, is it any wonder I feel so desperately in need of Zumba?  I think I have eaten twice my weight in these things, which then becomes a real conundrum as the weight goes up…must…keep…eating…

I hope you are all having a safe and happy holiday season, and that you’re ready with shiny new gym memberships come January.  :)

XOXO ***  Peace *** and Joy *** from Paisleyland

Nosh: Little Dippers Cookies

Take 3/4 cup of butter out of the fridge to let it soften while you read this.  And pre-heat your oven to 350°.  Don’t ask questions; just do it!  All will be revealed in good time.

There’s little that’s better than chocolate with some coffee.  Unless, of course, you’ve got a cookie that combines the two flavors.

Behold!  The little dippers.  These festive beauties are also hand-held comfort nuggets, so they look as good as they taste.  Added bonus: they’re really easy to make.  Here’s the recipe, and surprise, surprise!  I didn’t deviate from it much.  So let’s get to it.

Put your flour, cocoa and salt into a bowl.

Of course you’ll stir it together. But first, just notice that it looks cool.

Give it a stir to combine, then set it aside.

Put your nicely softened butter into a mixing bowl and whip it for a minute or so, and then add your sugar in and cream the two of them together.  If you don’t have nicely softened butter, you can of course do the “put it on a plate and in the microwave for eight seconds and see if it’s soft, and then microwave again” process, but please be careful. You don’t want the butter to liquefy, and as anyone who’s ever eaten butter knows, it’s verrrry easy to over-microwave into a puddle.  Should that happen you would have to wait for the butter to start to firm up again before cooking, which is an ironic way to complicate this recipe.

Creamed butter and sugar.

True story: when I was a kid, I would cream together butter and sugar and have that on bread as an after-school snack.  Of course I ate it on overprocessed white bread, too, so I was basically mainlining pure carbs.  What a rush!  I still sort of miss it.

Anyway.

Mix in your egg and your espresso powder.

If you ever wanted to know what buttery sweet coffee tastes like, here you go.

For those who think they’ve got such mad skills that they don’t need to crack eggs into a separate container in case they break any shell into it, let me remind you: I have been baking for years and did, indeed, break some shell into the egg.  I was so glad that for once, at least, I had actually taken my own advice  and cracked my egg into a little cup.  Fished the shell right out, no drama, no concern about my cookies coming out crunchy-style.  Since I’ve been able to find instant espresso powder even here in my tiny hamlet, I assume most people would be able to get their hands on some in their own grocery stores.  If not, check out Amazon or other online outlets.  Hooray, internets!  Ingredients can be had.

Then add in your cocoa and flour mixture.  What’s the magic word when mixing a powder into a whirring set of beaters?  Incrementally.  In this particular recipe, I was able to get all the flour added without having to mix by hand.  You’ll have crumbly dough that looks a little like rubble.

Mmmmm, rubbly deliciousness.

Here is one of the areas where I deviate from the recipe.  It doesn’t call for putting the dough in the fridge to firm up before you roll and cut them.  Here’s the problem with that: butter-based goods, like this one, become notoriously difficult to handle when they’re warm.  Rolling them out is fine.  Cutting them with a cookie cutter is fine.  Getting them up off your work surface and onto a baking sheet?  That can be a bit of a problem.  They’re too malleable and susceptible to tearing and distortion.  Regardless of what the directions say, once you divide your dough in half, wrap it in plastic and let it firm for an hour or so before rolling.

Once they’ve firmed, it’s time to roll them out on a floured work surface.  To preserve the chocolately goodness of the cookies, you can flour the work surface with a half-and-half mix of flour and cocoa powder.  Oh, snap!  Yes, you CAN do that, OMG!  Works like a charm, and I am a total tart for all things chocolate.  Then cut them out with a star-shaped cookie cutter (or whatever shape you prefer, actually.  I won’t judge), put them on an ungreased cookie sheet, and into your waiting, pre-heated oven.

I know I’ve mentioned this in another recipe and I’m a little surprised this recipe doesn’t mention doing this since you can’t even come near the yield the recipe claims without doing so, but gather up the scraps from your cuttings, put them in the fridge (or freezer, if you’re in a rush) to let them firm up again, re-roll and re-cut the scraps to coax even more cookies out of your dough.  And then bake those, too.  Rotate the cookies once halfway through your bake time, and you’ll get gorgeous little chocolate-coffee stars that look something like this…

No matter how good they are right now, they’re going to be even better by the time we finish with them.

Once they’ve cooled, melt the chocolate in something nice and heatproof and deep enough for good dipping, in the microwave (or a double-boiler, if you don’t have a microwave, and check out this post to find out how to make an ersatz double-boiler without buying fancy dedicated equipment).  Dip each cookie, one-third to one-half deep into the chocolate.  Resist all urges to dunk the entire thing in a chocolate craze.  Lay the cookies out on wax paper so the chocolate can get and then?

Chocolate-coffee cookies stretch as far as the eye can see.

Enjoy!

Nosh: Two-Tone Cinnamon Cookies

In my frenzy of Christmas baking, I do always try to find new goodies to bring…or new interpretations of classics…or forgotten recipes that I’ll revive for a season.  The point is, I don’t want to be known the person who always brings the platter of dependable sugar cookies.  Take a risk!  Mix things up!  (Though fam, you can relax.  I promise, I’ll bring the caramel popcorn again this year.)

One of the recipes I found was for these beautiful cinnamon-frosted cookies.  For me, cinnamon equals hell yeah!, with the exception of cinnamon sugar on my toast because I don’t know why but I just don’t care about it.  So cinnamon + white chocolate + cookie + I get to make swirly patterns?  That’s a multi-pronged mega-win.  When food and arts & crafts combine, there is little that makes me happier.  When your first step is to cream together butter and cream cheese, it approaches the nirvana of cookiedom.

Let us begin.

Then add in the sugar, salt, baking powder and cinnamon.

Prepare powdery goodness.

A few notes about this step:

1) This is powdered sugar.  Remember to pour your sugar in in parts, maybe a third at a time.  If you don’t, you’ll encounter the very real likelihood of blowing a cloud of powdered sugar all over your kitchen once you turn the mixer on and the beaters start whirring around.

2) This recipe can unquestionably take more cinnamon.  It only calls for a half a teaspoon, so the cookies themselves aren’t terribly cinnamon-y; they’re nice, puffy sugar cookies with a touch of cinnamon.  If you want to make them taste like a cinnamon cookie with some sugar, then up the amount of cinnamon.  It’s the one thing about the cookie I was a little disappointed in.

Don’t get me wrong; I got over it.

Next, you add the eggs and vanilla and then the flour.  The same principle for adding powdered sugar applies to adding flour, so add it to your mix incrementally, and be ready to give up your mixer early–especially if it’s hand-held, since their motor’s not as strong as a stand mixer–and finish mixing the dough by hand.  It won’t take long and in a matter of a few minutes you’ll have a beautiful, soft, slightly sticky dough.  Put it on a piece of plastic wrap, roughly form it into a disc and put it in the fridge for at least an hour, so it can get nice and firm.

To the fridge!

After it firms up in the fridge, take the dough back out with the objective of rolling it out, on a floured surface, until the dough is about a quarter-inch thick.  Don’t panic if it doesn’t roll into a professional-looking, tidy circle; when I rolled mine out, it ended up looking something like a map of Great Britain.

Perhaps I should start calling them two-tone cinnamon biscuits.

God Save the Queen, indeed.

Now you need to cut them.

So here’s the deal.  The recipe says to use a fluted cookie cutter.  I ended up using a flower-shaped cookie cutter because it was pretty, and the place I went looking for a fluted cutter didn’t have any, and I didn’t think to look for biscuit cutters, OK?  And by biscuits I don’t mean the UK equivalent of a cookie but rather, the big puffy things you get in American diners for a breakfast side, covered with gravy.  It would have worked great and, if I’d bought a biscuit cutter, I would now have the perfect excuse to make biscuits.  Sadly, that is not the case.

Happily, whether fluted or flowered, the cookies worked just fine.  Cut them.

And bake them.

For some reason, the directions in the recipe don’t call for you, the baker, to gather up the scraps and re-roll them so you can maximize your cookie load per batch made.  I nearly doubled mine from what the batch said it would yield, making it well worth my while.  Once the scraps have been gathered you might want to wrap them  in plastic and put them back in your fridge for twenty minutes or so to firm up again.  I didn’t do that and really the additional batch was fine, but not as easy to handle.  If I were to make them again?  I’d re-refrigerate the scraps.  That’s all I’m saying.

And!  It’s important to know how your oven performs.  I know mine runs a few degrees cool, so I left the cookies in for 10 minutes.  Since there were trays on both my upper and lower oven racks, I rotated them half way through and turned the sheets around, since the back of my oven tends to be a bit more warm than the front of my oven.  They came out perfectly!  Lightly browned around the edges, golden on the bottom, nice and puffy in the middle.  Let them cool for a minute more on the tray, and then get them onto cooling racks until they’re fully cooled and ready for icing.

Here is where the recipe and I wildly deviate.  There are two flavors of icing to make for this cookie, one cinnamon, and one white chocolate.  Both icings are made by mixing shortening with both white chocolate and cinnamon morsels–like chocolate chips, only different.  (As an aside, do you realize how sad I am to know that cinnamon morsels exist?  OMG, they’re fantastically delicious.  I want to eat the whole bag.)  So far, so good.  But the recipe tells you to melt the chips by putting them in a saucepan.

That?  Is a terrible idea.  It is so, so easy to burn your chocolate or cinnamon in a saucepan.  Unless you’re dying to throw out your batches of icing and start over, melt the chips in a double boiler, or do the every-15-seconds-give-it-a-stir-until-it’s-melted microwave method.  If you don’t have a fancy double-boiler, sit a metal or glass mixing bowl over a pot with about an inch or two of water boiling in the bottom.  Voila!  Double boiler.  Set yourself up for an operation that should be fairly efficient–bowls of icing, spoons for stirring and icing distribution and cookies should all be at the ready, because the icing will start to set fairly quickly.  You can always stick it back in the microwave to re-melt, but try to do apply heat to your food as little as possible.  After a while, it can stop playing nice with you.

So, spoon some white chocolate and some cinnamon icing side by side on each cookie.

And then take whatever you choose to use as a handy-dandy swirling utensil–I used a kebab skewer–and run it back and forth through the frostings until each cookie is smooth and marbled and beautiful.

This will proactively guarantee your inclusion on Santa’s “nice” rolls for the following year’s Christmas festivities.  Work smarter, not harder, people.  Because who can resist a swirly cookie?

Enjoy!

And speaking of God Save the Queen…

Nosh: Italian Fig Bundles

Fa la la la la, la la la LAAAAA!

Whatever, haters.  No, I know it’s not even Halloween yet, but I have cookies to bake for the Christmas holidays.  These things take time.  It’s not as though they’re going to bake themselves, ohhhh lawdie be, don’t I but wish sometimes.  I cruised my recipes, I cruised the internet, and finally started to settle on some (but not all) of what I hope to make by December 21st-ish, give or take a day or two for the inevitable pre-holiday, time-stealing, unforeseen gremlin attacks.  I tend to over-plan and then wean out what seems unreasonable or really difficult as Christmas day draws nearer and nearer.  What can I say?  I like to bake cookies.

The first recipe I settled on–the first one that profoundly caught my eye, really–were these Italian fig bundles.  I just went to Italy this past March so it seemed to tie in nicely as a retrospective, though since I’ve tied together “cookies” and “March” I now feel like I have invented my own personal challenge and have to come up with “my year in cookies”.  Don’t bet on it.  Maybe next year, when I’ve had time to think about it.

Anyway, these fig bundles.  Baking for me is quite different than cooking.  Dinner?  I play with food.  Recipes are guidelines, but they’re not something to hold to religiously.  But baking?  Not so much.  Maybe it’s because I’m much less comfortable with it, maybe it’s because it seems so much more chemistry-ish to me, but my inherent disrespect for any given recipe stops at dessert.  Normally I don’t go for sandwich-type cookies because by definition they’re double the work for one end product but…you know…these were fig, man.  And they look like little raviolis.  I couldn’t say no.

So even though they end up as a fountain of deliciousness, they have humble beginnings–creamed butter and sugar, some salt, some baking powder.  When you add the milk and egg to the butter mixture, it admittedly looks a little bit like the Delaware River at low tide but stick with it, it gets better as soon as you start adding flour.

Not yet graced with the beauty of figs, but happily pre-measured and a good start nonetheless.

If, like me, you tend to lose count of how much of a particular ingredient you’ve added when you’re supposed to incorporate slowly into a mix, then do yourself a favor and pre-measure said ingredient into a separate bowl before you start adding it to your main ingredient mix.  I never would have remembered if I was on my second-and-a-half cup of flour, or my third, but when you take a few moments to measure out three and a half cups beforehand then you can incorporate it slowly and not worry about screwing up your count.  Work smarter, not harder, people.  Once all the flour’s been added, divide the dough into fours, cover everything with plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge for at least a half an hour, while you make your filling.

The filling, the filling.  The filling is this luxurious amalgam of dates and figs and raisins and orange juice, and it’s rich and pungent and texturally interesting.  Again, I did NOT change a thing about the recipe (no matter how profoundly I may have wanted to), but for the next batch I’m probably going to set aside a few cookies so I can add rosemary to them.  Because rosemary is awesome.  And I think it would rock.  I digress.

So put your beautiful figs and dates in a food processor, with the raisins and pine nuts and orange juice and zest and whatever else it calls for.

Dates and figs, dates and figs…

And then grind the holy crap out of them until they’re well combined and ready to go into a cookie.  This is when you thank the almighty you have a food processor.  If you don’t…prepare to get sticky.  I’ve also just realized I’m wrong, I did NOT adhere to the recipe exactly as it is written because…and I’m almost positive this is true…I don’t think I’ve ever actually measured fresh citrus zest.  Like I have that level of patience.  And, OK, I had a tangerine, not an orange.  But I just zested one whole fruit and then had a little snack, since you can’t store it without the zest.  It will dry out almost immediately.

Once you finish your filling and your dough has firmed up for half an hour in the fridge, you can get to work on the cookie.  I am not gonna lie: they took a long time.  The 50 minutes the recipe people say it should take?  Lies!  Lies!  All damnable lies!  Unless, of course, you have a sous chef and a professional kitchen with a cool marble slab to roll out your dough on that will keep it firm yet workable.  Let me put it this way: the presidential debate last night?  Hour and a half long?  Yeah.  I listened to it from the kitchen, and while it was kind of interesting to form opinions based on what was heard rather than the combination of words and visuals, that’s another story for another day.  Of course, I did everything including make the filling during that hour and a half–I wasn’t just cutting dough–but forewarned is forearmed, they say.  Plan accordingly.

They are worth it.

Anyway.  Roll out your first quarter of dough and trim and cut them into 2×2-inch squares.  Yes, use a ruler.

Rulers are a surprisingly useful kitchen tool!

Since you’re basically assembling little, baked, fruity raviolis, make it an assembly line.  Set out all your bottom layers of cookie, then add your dollops of filling, then top with the top layer of cookie, then seal, then cut the X-es in the tops, then egg wash, then finish with coarse sugar.  So much easier than trying to finish one cookie at a time before moving on to the next.  It’s all about finding a rhythm.

Moving into the “topping” stage.

Once they’re finished, just pop ‘em in the oven.  The directions say to bake for 12-15 minutes.  In order to get the nice, light-toasty brown color they became, mine were probably in for about 18 minutes and I rotated them once after 7 minutes, but I think my oven is a few degrees off.  Let them cool for a few minutes on the baking sheets before moving them onto cooling racks.

It still kind of looks like an assembly line, no?

OK, so they’re not AS perfect as the cookies in the picture on the recipe website, but you know what?  The person who’s going to bitch about that doesn’t deserve to sink their teeth into my domestic largesse.  Because these little fellas are deeee-licious.

Thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all week.

If there’s a better way to kick off the baking season, I have yet to find it.  I’m looking forward to the rest of the goodies I’ll be churning out of my kitchen.

Nosh: Baby Bûche de Noël Cookies

I have always been a little bit intrigued by the bûche de Noël, a traditional French Christmas cake.  It’s been said that they began in response to a proclamation by Napoleon I to close the fireplace flues and ban new ones from being built to prevent letting in winter’s cold drafts that they believed cause sickness.  Because the hearth was dark and empty (or non-existent), bakers put together a tasty representation of a Yule log for people to gather around, and this tradition carries on to this day.  I don’t quite believe this, as Napoleon I reigned in the beginning of the 19th century, long before the invention of space heaters and range-top cooking, so I can’t imagine how people could survive without a functional fireplace.  There I go, being practical and ruining a good yarn, but whatever, it doesn’t make any sense.  Anyway.  Moving on.

Bûche de Noël are pretty and often quite elaborate.  They’re made to look like a woodland log, so they’re covered with icing “bark” and are often decorated with meringue mushrooms and confectioner’s sugar “snow”, but depending on the baker they can get a little…see for yourself.

A tree log...with trees...it's a cosmic bûche. Did I just blow your mind?

Jacques Torres goes the extra mile, it seems.

Anyway, when I saw a recipe in Food & Wine magazine for Baby Bûche de Noël Cookies, I was all over it.  Though, as always, I have made some modifications, which you are welcome to make use of (or not).  And so.  First things first:

Butter and sugars, ready for creaming.

How can anything be wrong that starts out this way?  And then gets this done to it:

I almost called this "Mount Cocoa", but that sounded a little risqué.

And once that’s all mixed together and some cream is added in, roll it into two 16″ logs.

For some reason, this has me thinking about taking art class and learning about perspective. But I digress.

For those of you who want to know how they can possibly be expected to know how long 16″ is, I would like to suggest making clever use of a ruler, perhaps a tape measure.  And keep it nearby, as it will also come in handy when you have to cut this down into two-inch pieces.

And at this point, the recipe and I somewhat diverge.  It will tell you to bake the cookies at 400° for twenty minutes, which I (and at least one other commenter on the F&W webpage) feel is just a little bit too long, as the first batch burnt a little (but were salvageable) and had to be trimmed.  Sixteen minutes works just fine, and rotate them once about half-way through.  It will also tell you to frost them and be done with that, but of course…that’s not good enough for me.

One of the things I have always loved about the bûche is the broken limb fragment sticking out of it.  I don’t know why, but for me it makes it fun and whimsical.  How could I possibly mimic that?

MINI REESE’S CUPS!

Oh frabjous joy!  Oh happy day!  Cookies AND Reese’s?  Perfection on a plate.  So go ahead, frost the cookies, and then invert the mini-Reese’s and frost those too.  And add in some holly berry sprinkles.   Sure it takes a little extra time, but this is a special cookie for a special day.

Festive noms!

So maybe it lacks the meringue mushrooms, but I am officially in love with this cookie.

Joyeux Noël, y’all.  Peace and health to you and your families.  XO

No more posts.