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Posts Tagged ‘Cookies and Bars’

It’s a lazy Sunday here in Berkeley, and I was getting the cooking itch.  My dinner tonight is easy – meat is marinating and there’s not much left to do.  I was having a cookie craving and decided to whip up a batch of shortbread.  This recipe could not be easier.  As proof, I offer up the fact that it’s just 2 hours since I decided to whip these up, and I’m now on the couch with a couple cookies, a glass of Lemon Verbena Elixir straight from my freezer, my laptop, and a Law & Order SVU on the DVR.

Life is good.

Citrus Shortbread Cookies
Adapted from Epicurious

Ingredients
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
Finely grated zest from a lemon and an orange
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

Directions
Preheat oven to 300°F.  Butter or grease a 9-inch-diameter springform pan.  Whisk flour, sugar, and salt in medium bowl to blend.  Add the butter and using a pastry cutter, two knives, or your fingers until it starts to come together.  

At this point, the recipe suggests rolling it out, then pressing it into a pan.  I skipped that step and just pressed it evenly right into the greased pan.  Using tip of small sharp knife, score the into 8 equal triangles, then pierce all over with fork.   It’s a little flaky, so just do it gently and carefully. 

Bake until shortbread is cooked through and pale golden, about 40-45 minutes.  At the 30 minute mark, I pulled it out of the oven, re-scored it again to make sure it wouldn’t crumble when I cut it, and gave it a light sprinkling of sugar.

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I wanted to make a cranberry dessert for a Thanksgiving potluck.  Martha Stewart had this recipe for a New England Cranberry Duff.

I am from New England and have never heard of a duff before.  After playing around with The Google and learning way more about this dude than I have ever cared to know, I learned that it’s usually made with plums, and better known as plum pudding.

Also, it looks nothing like this recipe.

So between Martha’s screw up, and my changes, I’m calling it a snack cake.  A very delicious, buttery, fruity snack cake.

And if it’s not cranberry season, I think this would be excellent with fresh berries.

Cranberry Snack Cake
Adapted from Martha Stewart

Ingredients
1 cup unsalted butter, (2 sticks), softened
1 12 ounce bag of cranberries
1/2 cup ground almonds
2/3 cup plus 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. 
 
Melt the remaining butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat, being careful not to brown., and set aside to cool slightly.

Line a 9X13 glass baking dish with parchment paper and generously butter it, using about 4 tablespoons of the butter.  You don’t want this to stick, so just spread it thick.   Then, pour the cranberries evenly over bottom of dish.

Sprinkle the ground almonds and 2/3 cup of sugar on top and set aside.

 Mix the eggs, the remaining white sugar, and the brown sugar in a bowl, until thoroughly combined and thick.  Add the vanilla extract.  Gradually stir in the flour and salt.

Add the melted butter to the mixture slowly, stirring until smooth.

Slowly pour batter into pan to cover cranberries, making sure that they stay spread out evenly.   Bake until golden brown and a cake tester inserted in center comes out clean, about 30-40 minutes.


Let cool on a wire rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge to loosen, and invert to unmold.  It will be somewhat upside down cake like, so you want to flip it so the cranberries are on top.


I sliced mine into 28 wedges, which made for a perfect size for a party with lots of desserts.  If this was the only dessert you were serving, you would probably want to cut bigger slices.  You can serve it warm or at room temperature, with forks or without. 

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Here’s the thing with food blogging.  You cook food for your friends, then you go online and tell everyone how awesome your food is.  It’s a little weird.  You just have to hope that you are an objective critic of your own cooking and that your friends aren’t just being polite when they tell you how much they enjoyed what you served them.   Or that your friends aren’t offended by your total and complete lack of modesty.

And that brings us to these blue cheese and walnut cookies. 

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They were delicious.  I hate blue cheese and I thought they were delicious.  A couple party guests told me that they hated blue cheese and they thought they were delicious.  And of course, people who loved blue cheese also found these cookies delicious.  I have emails from some attendees stating this fact, so it must be true.

This recipe comes from the blog Pastry Studio, who graciously agreed to let me reprint this.  She impressively made her own fig jam.  I bought a jar of Bonne Maman fig preserves and rather than making sandwiches, put it as a spread or dip on the side.  The cookies worked plain or with the jam, so feel free to choice your poison.

Blue Cheese and Walnut Cookies
Adapted from Pastry Studio

The original recipe notes that it makes 24 2 inch round cookies.  I made 1 1/2 inch square ones and probably got about 40 out of the dough.

Ingredients
6 oz blue cheese, softened
4 oz butter, softened
1/2 cup walnuts
1/4 C + 2 T granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 C flour

Directions
Pulse the walnuts in a food processor until there’s no real big chunks but before it turns totally to meal.  Basically, you will be rolling these cookies out very thin, and you don’t want any shards sticking up.

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Remove the walnuts.  Add the blue cheese, butter, sugar and salt to the food processor and blend until creamy.  Add the flour and walnuts and pulse until mixture just starts to come together and forms a clump.  Gather dough and place on a piece of plastic.   Refridgerate until thoroughly chilled, at least an hour or two, and preferably overnight.

Preheat the oven to 325 and line baking sheets with parchment paper or a silpat.

Roll out the dough.  Use a cookie cutter if you’d like, but if you want square cookies like mine, get a ruler and trace a grid into the dough.  I made mine in 1 1/2 inch squares.

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You want to work as quickly as possible so that the dough doesn’t warm up.  Since it took me a long time to draw the squares, I put the trays of cookies back into the fridge for a half hour before I baked them just to be safe.  So clear some room in the fridge before you do it.  You want these to hit the oven cold so that they retain their shape while baking.

Bake for about 12 minutes or up to 18 minutes if they are larger, until the edges just start to turn golden.  I baked mine one batch at a time in the middle rack, but if you put two trays in, be sure to rotate pans halfway through. 

Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for several days.  I made mine on Saturday and today, Wednesday, they are still good.

To serve, spread with fig jam and make sandwiches, put the jam on the side, or just eat them plain with a glass of wine.  These little things are definitely cookies.   Similar to shortbread, but a bit chewier.  The cheese flavor is strong enough that they could be served before dinner as an appetizer, but they are sweet enough that you could serve them as dessert with some fruit or port. 

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I made something chocolate.

brownies

Not just anything chocolate.  But the best brownies you will ever eat in your life.  I’m not kidding.  I don’t make a lot of chocolate desserts because I don’t really like them that much.  There are so many other things that are more interesting and more delicious, and I’m just never inspired by all the same old brownie and molten chocolate lava cake recipes out there.   But this recipe is actually special. 

What makes it good?  First, it has Mexican chocolate.

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You need this to do the recipe.  It’s a sugary chocolate with a hint of cinnamon.  It comes in discs and is usually used to make hot chocolate.  Check the international aisle of your grocery store or find a little Latino market.  There is no substitute and it’s worth seeking it out.

But, it’s also good because the cinnamon in the recipe mellows out the chocolate a bit.  So it doesn’t taste like a big, sugary, chocolately mess.  You actually taste the chocolate in this and not just the sugar.

The recipe comes from LittleMsFoodie, who in turn found it from Teresa on the Foodie Blog Roll forums site.

Mexican Chocolate Brownies
 
Ingredients
For the brownies
½ cup all purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
½ round disc Mexican chocolate, pulverized (I used 3/4 of a disc)
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped  (I used Ghiradelli 60% cacao chocolate chips)
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, diced, room temperature
4 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

For the glaze
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (same as above)
½ round disc Mexican Chocolate, pulverized (again, I used 3/4 of a disc)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons whipping cream 

Directions
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°.  Butter a 8 x 8 x 2 inch metal baking pan and dust with flour.  
Stir chocolates and butter in top of double boiler set over simmering water until melted and smooth. Turn off heat. Let chocolate stand over water to cool. 
  
Mix the flour, cinnamon, and salt in small bowl.
 
Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sugar in large bowl until mixture thickens and falls in soft ribbon when beaters are lifted, about 5 minutes, then beat in the vanilla.  Slowly beat in the flour mixture in 2 additions, blending well after each.

Gently beat in the melted chocolate to the egg and flour mixture,  mixing until just combined.  Stir in walnuts.  Pour batter into the greased and floured pan.  Bake brownies until top is set and tester inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 35 minutes.  Cool completely in pan on rack.

 To make the glaze, whisk the remaining ingredients in small saucepan over medium-low heat until melted and smooth.  Pour evenly over hot brownies in pan.  Chill brownies until topping is set, about 2 hours or overnight.

The biggest you’ll want to cut these is into 16 squares.  I usually go much smaller, like into 30 squares.  They are rich and decadent and you really only need a couple bites.  They also freeze really well.

Enjoy!

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When I got a huge bunch of rosemary in my recent farm share box, I started looking around for fun things to do with it.  Because I have an undying devotion to putting herbs in desserts, I went searching for something sweet.  This recipe from the New Orleans Times-Picayune came up, and I couldn’t resist.

It’s incredibly easy and you can have it mixed, baked, and in your mouth in about 30 minutes.   It’s like a Rachel Ray recipe, only it actually tastes good.  

Do not fear the addition of rosemary in this cookie.   It goes very well with the lightly sweet, buttery taste.  The end result tastes like a cross between pie crust and short bread.  It went well with a glass of limoncello after dinner, and with coffee the next morning (they are that addictive).

Tuscan Pine Nut Cookies with Rosemary

Ingredients
¼ cup pine nuts
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
½ cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 cup all-purpose flour

Directions
Preheat oven 350 degrees. 

Toast the pine nuts.  The recipe suggests putting them in the oven, but really, there is no need to bother with at.  Get the pot that you will be making this batter in, toss the pine nuts in, put the burner on medium, and just let them toast up.  Give them a shake every 20 seconds or so and keep an eye on them as they’ll go from toasted to burnt very quickly.  Remove from the pan and set aside.

In that saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Remove pan from heat and stir in the powdered sugar, rosemary and pine nuts. Then stir in the flour to make a stiff dough.

Spread dough evenly into an ungreased 8-inch-square baking pan.  Bake until bars are golden and firm at the edges, about 18-20 minutes.  Cool pan on a rack for about 2 minutes, and use a sharp knife to cut into 16 squares.  Let bars cool in pan at least 10 minutes before removing them with a small spatula.

Ok, so maybe with cooling time these things technically take longer than 30 minutes.  But not much.  And they are totally yum-o.

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Over the weekend, we took a friend on a drive up to Napa Valley for some wine tasting and gorgeous views.  I packed a picnic lunch and we stopped at the gorgeous Diamond Oaks winery to eat.

On the menu were chicken salad sandwiches, olives and roasted peppers, fresh strawberries from the farmers’ market, olive oil cookies, and Diamond Oaks Mina Ranch Chalk Hill Chardonnay.

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Chicken Salad with Grapes and Tarragon

I’ve seen this combination pop up on menus and most recently, on Barefoot Contessa.  She’s got a couple different versions, but I mostly improvised. To make mine, I roasted a mix of boneless, skinless chicken breasts and thighs on 350 for about a half hour.  I used about five pieces combined.  Before baking, I drizzled them with some olive oil and salt and pepper, but other than that, I kept it simple. 

After they had cooled, I diced the chicken up into small cubes, and tossed it with a small shallot, a cup or so of green grapes that I had halved and quartered (cut before measuring), and a tablespoon of tarragon.  I mixed it all together with about a half cup of mayonnaise, maybe a bit more, and a bit of salt and pepper to taste.

I served the salad on thick slices of Acme’s pain au levain.  It’s the best bread ever.  If you live in the Bay area and have not tried it yet, go buy some now.  It’s like the perfect mix of sourdough and wheat bread and makes any sandwich taste magical.

Lemon Scented Olive Oil Cookies with Citrus Glaze

I stumbled upon Joy’s blog doing a Google search for olive oil cookies.  I had never eaten one, but I figured that they must exist and I wanted them for my wine country lunch.

This is a really fun recipe.  The cookies had a wonderful flavor – very fruity and light.    I didn’t want to buy almond extract for the glaze that she recommends, so I mixed the confectioner’s sugar with one part milk and one part orange juice, then added a pinch of lemon and orange zest to the mix.  I think the almond glaze would probably taste better, though I did like my improvisation. 

They are very cake like cookies, so I definitely want to make them again, but I’m thinking of making them into sandwich cookies with a fluffier icing in the middle, sort of like a food snob’s whoopie pie. 

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All in all, a delicious lunch.

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Welcome to the new place!  I decided to switch over because I liked the design options in WordPress better, and the site has more interesting tools to manage and monitor my posts.  I’ve still got a few kinks to work out (like the tag/categories feature), but I think this should be a better home. 

Now, on to the fun stuff.

Months ago, the spice counter at Oxbow Market in Napa had hibiscus powder on display.  The color was gorgeous, so I couldn’t resist buying a bit.  I had no idea what I would do with it, but who doesn’t want bright pink spice in their spice rack?

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At some point, the idea came to me that hibiscus powder would make an excellent meringue flavoring, as the egg whites seemed like a great canvas.  Alone, the powder is quite sour and not at all floral, so I knew I needed to add other stuff.  It being Valentine’s Day, pink became my guiding theme, and these meringues were born.

If you ever happen to come across hibiscus powder, I recommend picking it up.  These meringue cookies are delicious.  They are very tart and bright, and nothing like the more delicate meringues you usually see.  To make this recipe, I just looked at a few different meringue recipes in Joy of Cooking and on the internet and adjusted them to fit my needs.  So, this is mostly an original recipe.  I hope you enjoy it!

Hibiscus Meringue Cookies with Pomegranate and Blood Orange

Ingredients

2 large egg whites, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 tablespoon hibiscus powder
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out
zest of one blood orange, finely grated
1 teaspoon juice from the blood orange
1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a food processor, pulse together the sugar, hibiscus, vanilla seeds, and orange zest until completely mixed together.

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In a stand mixer, add the egg whites and cream of tartar and mix on high speed for about 3-4 minutes or until the whites are fluffy.

Slow the mixer down to medium speed, and slowly add half of the sugar mixture, a tablespoon or two at a time, until incorporated.  Add the orange juice.

Slowly and gently mix in the remainder of the sugar and the molasses by hand.

Spoon out on a baking tray lined with parchment paper or fill a pastry bag with the mixture and pipe out in desired shape.

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 Place tray in oven and turn off heat.  Leave in the oven for at least one hour for a soft, chewy inside, longer if you’d like them crunchy all the way through.

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Good god.

I had a holiday party to go to and wanted to make Christmas cookies for it. I was torn, however, between making really delicious cookies and making really beautiful cookies.

Then, this piece about Zimtsterne, the German meringue-like Christmas cookie,popped up on my blog reader, prompted me to seek out a recipe, and I realized I could have the best of both worlds.

While the end result does indeed live up to that goal, it did not happen without a lot of hard work, patience, and cursing.

Thankfully, they taste amazing and while not flawless, still pretty damn beautiful. They taste unlike any Christmas cookie I’ve ever had. They are both crunchy and soft, and have such a wonderful flavor. Once I got the hang of it, they got a little easier, but they do take a long time (particularly if you want the Martha-esque frosting and almond topping). If you are patient and ambitious, I highly recommend attempting these things. Or if you really want to make a gluten-free holiday dessert and are a glutton for pain.

Inspiration from these recipes comes from David Lebovitz, and the recipe used comes from the Food Network. I’ve changed the directions significantly, based on other information I read online before embarking on this project (many from the Food Network commenters) and my own trial and error attempts to make these cookies.

Ingredients

2 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
Lots of granulated sugar for rolling
15 ounces sliced almonds, with skin (about 4 1/2 cups)
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 large egg whites, room temperature
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest

The one nice thing about this recipe is that it’s very forgiving, flexible dough. I could see using other spices or other nuts in the mixture, so I think you could adapt this based on preferences and what you have in the cupboard.

While the recipe calls for lemon zest, I used orange zest. It seemed more holiday-like to me. This was a good choice. The cookies are more cinnamon-orange flavored than almond flavored, so I think if there were lemon there, they might taste a little strange. A couple other recipes online used either Kirsch or brandy in place of the zest. I think those would be good too, particularly because it would be good to have alcohol on hand for when you are ready to throw the dough out the window. Vanilla extract would probably work well too, though you’d lose the nerve-soothing qualities of something more alcoholic.

Also, the Food Network recipe called for confectioners’ sugar for rolling. Don’t even think about it. Use granulated. Other recipes online were split between the two sugars and when the confectioner’s sugar was giving me trouble, I switched to granulated and this became much, much easier.

Directions

The first thing I did, since I’m OCD, is sort through the almonds to find nicely shaped ones to use for decorating the cookies. I don’t know if all sliced almonds are as broken and chipped as mine were, but I wanted perfect cookies, so I painstakingly combed through my almonds to make sure I had enough perfectly shaped ones to use for the tops. Skip this step if you aren’t insane.

Ugly Almonds for grinding

Pretty almonds for decorating

Sift the confectioners’ sugar. Put 1/2 cup of the sifted confectioners’ sugar, 10 ounces (3 heaping cups) of the almonds and all the cinnamon in a food processor. Process until the nuts are finely ground, with just a few larger pieces.

Whip the egg whites in a large, clean bowl with an electric mixer on high speed until they hold soft peaks, about 1 minute. Gradually add the remaining confectioners’ sugar while whipping, until the whites are thick, creamy and somewhat stiff, about 2 minutes more. Set aside 2/3 cup of this meringue for topping the cookies.

Fold the ground almond mixture and the lemon zest into the remaining meringue to make a stiff dough. The dough is going to look chunky and weird. Don’t worry.


Divide in into two portions, wrap it in plastic wrap, and stick it in the freezer for at least 30 minutes, though longer won’t hurt it.

Now the easy part is over.

The recipe recommends laying parchment or wax paper down to roll the dough out. I didn’t have any, and frankly, I’m not sure it would make a difference. Instead, dump a handful of granulated sugar down on the counter (or the paper, if you want to use it), and spread it out, like it was flour and you were making normal, sane people cookies.

Take one of the dough balls out of the freezer and put it down on the work surface. Keep the plastic wrap and put that over the dough to roll out (actually, here I think wax paper probably would be helpful). Roll the dough until it is about 1/4-inch thick. I found it helpful to keep turning and lifting the dough, and adding more sugar beneath it whenever I thought it was sticking to the counter. As I said before, it’s forgiving, so if you tear it, you can just roll it back together.
Cut cookies with a 3-inch star cutter and place about 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets.

Cutting the cookies is also a pain. Don’t do this:

You will never be able to get them off the counter.

Instead, cut one star, use a butter knife to get underneath it, and carefully move it to the cookie sheet (greased or lined with parchment) and poke it through the cookie cutter onto the cookie sheet.

Keep a bowl of lukewarm water handy and rinse your cookie cutter off every couple of stars.

The saving grace in all of this is that excess dough can be rerolled, over and over again. I just would put it back in the freezer for 5-10 minutes before doing it because it does make things much easier.

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats, or just grease them.

At this point, I stopped taking pictures because I was covered with sugar and getting kind of cranky.

Use a small spoon, brush or offset spatula to spread the reserved meringue over the top of each cookie, taking care not to let the meringue drip over the sides. I used that weird-shaped butter knife thing that comes in most cutlerly sets. That worked well, since it has a little point to it, making it easy to spread the frosting on the star points. It still takes forever though, and then you get to painstakingly press remaining sliced almonds in a decorative pattern into the meringue.

See? Total labor of love.

You could also just grind up more almonds and sprinkle those on the meringue. Or save yourself the headache, and leave the meringue plain.

Bake cookies until bottoms are light golden brown and meringue is set and crisp, about 30 minutes. (Adjust this time based on the size of the cookie cutter. Food Network recommended 30 minutes for a 3 inch cutter. I did it for 20 minutes with my 2 inch cutter.) I think this is an area where you can use your judgment. Cook them the maximum time if you want them crispy, cook them for less if you want them chewy. I’d just keep an eye on them. When they are done, turn off the oven and open the oven door to release heat and dry cookies out in the oven for 10 more minutes.
And there you have it.

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For my elections return party tomorrow night, I embraced my inner political nerd by baking cookies in the shape of swing states. I found the cookie cutters for sale online, and followed Martha’s sugar cookie recipe, which The Good Wife used a few weeks ago for her gorgeous fall sugar cookies.

The recipe was fairly straight forward and I had a lot of fun baking these. Since it’s a basic cookie recipe, I’ll spare you the baking details and skip ahead to the finished product.
The Bellweather State

Is that a Florida cookie, or are you just happy to see me?


Real and Fake Virginia


So many undecided voters…

Later this week, I’ll post a few other recipes from my party. In the mean time: GO OBAMA! And NO ON PROP 8!

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Rose Geranium Cookies

This week’s CSA box contained lots of fun fall produce…sweet potatoes, chard, a pumpkin, and something called rose geranium. I assumed it was a flower, but it’s actually a very floral smelling herb. Imagine a cross between rose and sage.
I wasn’t sure what to do with it, but Google came through. I found a recipe for cookies that looked intriguing. It seems about 15 or 20 different sites print the same recipe, so I have no idea where it originated, so I’ll just credit the internets for this one and hope the copyright police don’t come after me.

The recipe says it makes 4 dozen, though I made my cookies much too big, so I wound up with only 24. That said, they are spongy and light and remind me more of a scone than a cookie. So, if that appeals to you, I suggest making them big.


Rose Geranium Cookies

Ingredients

1/2 c Butter (room temperature)
1 c Sugar
1 Egg
1/2 c Milk
1 ts Rosewater
2 ts Rose geranium leaves finely chopped
2 1/2 c Flour
1 1/2 ts Baking powder
4 Dozen small rose geranium leaves for garnish

I’ve never used rosewater before, but for whatever reason, my grocery store had it in the liquor section next to the grenadine. So, if you can’t find it, maybe check a liquor store. I think it’s common in Middle Eastern cooking, so a specialty store would probably carry it as well.



Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in egg milk and rose water.



Sift together dry ingredients and add them together with the chopped leaves to the creamed mixture stirring until well mixed.



Drop heaping teaspoons onto lightly greased cookie sheet and press a single rose geranium leaf deep into each cookie.

Bake for eight to ten minutes. They didn’t look as pretty as I had hoped, but they taste wonderful. Lightly sweet and very floral. And, they make your kitchen smell like roses.


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