Cookies

Pumpkin Carving 2013

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Hey everybody!  Happy Halloween!  I just had my annual Pumpkin Carving this past weekend.  Sure it was cold and it did rain a little bit, but I think everyone had fun.  We even did it up a little bit and put some bales of hay around the fire pit so folks could carve and still stay warm.  And we did have a fire extinguisher on hand because having a bunch of dry straw next to an open flame isn’t exactly the safest thing to do.

How autumny!
How autumnal!

Folks brought some stuff to share like a nice rice salad and a yummy warm spinach dip.  We provided the pumpkins and made a big batch of chili.  I baked a whole bunch of stuff as well:

Gluten Free Pumpkin Cupcakes with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

I haven't made these extra festive yet with my Halloween accoutrements
I haven’t made these extra festive yet with my Halloween accoutrements

Pepita Lavender Brittle

I love this stuff!
I love this stuff!

Savory Pumpkin Rugelach

Savory and sweet!
Savory and sweet!

Ciderhouse Whiskey (Saveur)

I am clearly not talented at making acceptable lemon twists.
I am clearly not talented at making acceptable lemon twists.

I also made a Harvest Spread, but that was from a mix (I know).  I’ll get the recipes up as soon as I can.  Well, maybe not the Brittle recipe because I have done a Lavender Pepita Croquant before and the recipe is very similar.  On a weird side note, apparently I am the country’s leading expert on Pepita Croquant.  I did a Google search to do some research and there I was — I took up the top three spots.  Weird and unexpected, but still kewl.  Anyhoo, keep an eye out for the recipes and be safe during the holiday!

Lemon Macarons

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Now I’ve done a lot of research on macaroons.  Alright, it’s not like I’ve done a dissertation on the topic but I’ve done comparisons on lots of different recipes.  And what I’ve found is that all the recipes are pretty much exactly the same.  Well, not exactly — they do differ on different flavorings and whatnot.  But since the base recipe is pretty simple and standard, you can get a little creative with flavorings.

I admit, this is not my best batch ever.  Guess I'm out of practice.
I admit, this is not my best batch ever. Guess I’m out of practice.

Of course, “lemon” isn’t exactly creative, but I had some lemons in the fridge already so that was an easy choice for me.  Plus, the zest won’t really change the moisture content of the ingredients.

But let me backtrack a little bit.  If you don’t know what macarons are, they are those really colorful, round, meringue-based, French cookies that looks so intimidating to make but really aren’t.  They have some specific requirements though.  Anyhoo, here’s what you’ll need. . .

Still, some turned out okay.
Still, some turned out okay.

For the cookies:

  • 3/4 c. almond flour
  • 1 c. powdered sugar
  • 2 egg whites
  • pinch of cream of tartar
  • 1/4 c. superfine sugar
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • yellow food coloring (optional)
  • lemon oil (optional)

1.  Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or a silicone mat.Sift together the almond flour and powdered sugar together twice.  Set aside.

2.  In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, start to whip until foamy.  Then add the cream of tartar and whip until soft peaks.

3.  Once you get soft peaks, start gradually adding the superfine sugar with the mixer on low.  Then continue to whip on high after all the sugar has been incorporated until you get stiff peaks.  Add the food coloring and lemon oil (if using) and whip until combined.

4.  Add the zest and flour mixture in three batches, folding well each time.  Continue folding until the mixture is smooth and shiny.

5.  Transfer the mixture to a piping bag fitted with a 1/2-inch round tip.  Pipe into small circles, about 3/4 inches across.  Rap the pan on the counter to release any bubbles (I don’t think I did that hard enough this time).  Now let sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes.

6.  Bake in a preheated oven at 325 degrees F for 10 – 15 minutes, until the edges are slightly browned.  Cool for about 10 minutes on the pan, then peel off parchment and transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.  Set aside whilst you make the filling.

I like smaller macarons.  They're cute!
I like smaller macarons. They’re cute!

For the filling:

  • 8 oz. cream cheese
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/4 c. superfine sugar
  • 1 t. vanilla

In the bowl of a mixer using the paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese, lemon juice, lemon zest, sugar, and vanilla.  Mix until smooth.

Assemble the cookies by matching up similarly sized cookies.  Spread a small amount of the filling on one of the matching pair and sandwich them together.  Serve immediately.

I found this on the interwebs (the website is in the bottom corner of the pic).  Hope the pic helps clear up any confusion.
I found this on the interwebs (the website is in the bottom corner of the pic). Hope the pic helps clear up any confusion.

Notes — I could not find the piping tip that I needed so these didn’t exactly look the way I wanted. . . Try not to diddle with them too much after you pipe them. . . Now I made a lot of filling for this (again, I had a brick of cream cheese available) — just cut it in half, or just make a double batch of cookies, or just use it to make a cheesecake, or schmear it on a bagel. . . I have read that you should age your egg whites.  Not sure why.  Haven’t done it before.  Maybe I’ll try that out just to see what differences there are. . . I’m also not sure you’ll need the cream of tartar, but whenever I make a meringue I always throw some in there. . .

Chocolate Caramel Bars

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I love these cookies.  Or bars.  Or whatever.  It’s not important what they are — I still love them.  These are one of the cookies that I like to make for parties, then someone always remarks that these are essentially fancy Twix bars.  I kinda get annoyed, until I taste one and remind myself that these really do taste like Twix, which isn’t a bad thing at all cuz Twix are awesome!  And these are even better (in my opinion); just give me the pan and a fork and I’ll be happy.

Caramel Bars 1

Now these are relatively simple to make.  There’s a shortbread base, a “caramel” filling, and a multi-chocolate topping.  Easy-Peezy!  Plus, this is easy to convert to a gluten-free recipe.  I have done a switch out with some coconut flour and everything tasted great!  Here’s what you need:

Caramel Bars 3

For the shortbread:

  • 2 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 c. superfine sugar
  • 3/4 c. unsalted butter

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Spray a 13×9 pan with cooking spray and line with parchment.

2.  In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and sugar to combine.  Using a pastry knife, cut in the butter until the mixture looks like fine sand.  Now work with your hands until the dough comes together.

3.  Press the dough into the pan and smooth it out with a spatula.  Dock the dough with a fork and bake for about 20 minutes, until lightly browned around the edges.

4.  Cool in the pan and set aside.

For the “caramel”:

  • 7 T. unsalted butter, diced
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 2 14-oz. cans sweetened condensed milk

1.  In a medium pan, place the butter, sugar, and condensed milk.  Heat on low until the sugar has dissolved.  Stirring constantly, bring the mixture to a boil.

2.  Reduce the heat to simmer, again stirring constantly for another 5-10 minutes.  The mixture is done when it has thickened and turned light brown in color.  Be careful not to burn.  Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

3.  Pour the caramel over the shortbread base and smooth out with a spatula.  Cool completely and set aside.

For the topping:

  • 3 oz. dark chocolate
  • 3 oz. milk chocolate
  • 3 oz. white chocolate

1.  Melt each chocolate in separate heat proof bowls.  You can do this in a microwave or over a double boiler.

2.  Spoon the chocolate in an alternating pattern.  Using a toothpick or a skewer, swirl the chocolate to create a marbled pattern.   Chill until set.

3.  Slice and serve!

Caramel Bars 2

Notes — As you can see from the pictures, I did not take time to temper the chocolate.  They still tasted fine. . . I have a tendency to add too much chocolate for these because I just can’t help myself.  You could thin out and soften the chocolates by melting in a little bit of butter or shortening.  In theory, that should help with keeping the sheen of the chocolate.

Gluten-Free Caramel Nut Brownies (a.k.a. Failed Rocky Road Brownies)

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Who doesn’t like a good brownie?  I know I do.  This is my take on a good brownie recipe with a little twist.  Originally I had wanted to do a Rocky Road recipe but it didn’t quite work out.  So this really turned out to be more of a Caramel Nut Brownie, which is still good and tasty!  See, what had happened was I had added the marshmallows to the recipe, but in the process of baking they had melted down to form a caramel-ly nugget in the brownie.  It tasted great, but not exactly the intent.  But that’s how we got penicillin, right?  Well, not really but same principle.

Caramel Nut Brownies!
Caramel Nut Brownies!

On another good note, these are actually gluten-free.  Brownies are one of those things that are easier to make GF since the ratio of flour in the recipe is quite low when compared to a cake.  So you could just swap out the flour with anything that you have on hand, like bean or coconut flour.  I had some GF flour and some xanthan gum on hand so that’s what I used.  Yay me!

Breakfast of champions!
Breakfast of champions!

This recipe was adapted from Ina Garten / Barefoot Contessa and you’ll need a half sheet pan.  Here’s what else you will need:

  • 4 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1 lb., plus 12 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
  • 6 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 7 large eggs
  • 3 T. instant coffee granules
  • 2 T. vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1 c. gluten-free flour
  • 1/4 t. xanthan gum
  • 1 T. baking powder
  • 1 t. salt
  • 2 c. chopped walnuts
  • 2 c. mini marshmallows
  • 2 T. cornstarch

1.  Preheat your oven to 350  degrees F.  Now butter and flour your half sheet pan and set aside.

2.  In a heatproof bowl, melt the butter, 1 lb. of the chocolate chips, and the unsweetened chocolate in a double-boiler.  Allow to cool.

3.  While the chocolate is cooling, in a large bowl mix the eggs, instant coffee, vanilla, and sugar.  Once combined, gradually add the cooled chocolate mixture.  Let cool to room temperature.

4.  In a medium mixing bowl, sift together your flour, xanthan gum, baking powder, and salt.  Add this to the chocolate mixture and stir to combine.  In a small bowl, toss together the walnuts, marshmallows, and cornstarch.  Add them to the batter and incorporate.  Pour into the prepared baking sheet.

5.  Bake for 20 minutes, then gently drop the baking sheet onto the oven shelf to help any excess air escape from the pan.  Finish baking for about another 15 minutes, until done (test with a cake tester).

6.  Allow to cool completely.  Cut and serve.  You could dust with a little powdered sugar if you like.

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Here you can see what I mean about the marshmallows melting down into a caramel nugget, right in the center of the picture.
Here you can see what I mean about the marshmallows melting down into a caramel nugget, right in the center of the picture.

Easter Christmas Cookies

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Happy Easter everyone! Just a little quick post to let y’all know that my blogiverary giveaway is closed.  And thanks to everyone who participated in my giveaway.  I will make the pick tomorrow and let y’all know.

White Chocolate Chip Chocolate cookies with M&Ms

Now I took some time off for a little bit there, but I am celebrating my Easter holiday by baking some Christmas cookies!  Yes, I understand that Christmas is not the same as Easter, but I hadn’t made these cookies yet and they were a gift from some in-laws over the Christmas holiday.  It was a nice homemade mix with white chocolate chips and chocolate candies.  Gifts like these are awesome; plus you get cookies!

But since we needed an Easter cake, I did decide to make the Lemon Sour Cream Cake from my giveaway cookbook (eve, by Chef Eve Aronoff).  I will post on that sometime this week!  Good luck to everyone who entered my contest!

Trusting your food

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I saw this today on Pinterest and it made me laugh ’til I peed, because it’s so true for me!  And given the week I’m having, I needed a good guffaw!  What do y’all think?

I don't like raisins. Really, they're gross.

I luv all kinds of dried fruit, but raisins?   Maybe it’s just psychological, especially when you get raisins as a gift from your piano teacher when you’re a kid.  Who gives a kid raisins?  I’d rather have nothing!  But raisins really are gross.  Use currants instead (real currants, not those tiny raisins)!

And don’t forget to visit me on Facebook!  And oops! — I just realized that I haven’t posted an actual recipe for some time.  So tune in tomorrow!

Christmas Biscotti (with boozy cranberries and pepitas)

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Happy Boxing Day everyone!  Alright so I’m a little bit behind schedule with a “Christmas cookie”, but I know folks that have holiday celebrations for several weeks after Christmas.  These days with multiple-family households, and in-laws, and friends, it seems like we have this party and that party and an open house here and a potluck there.  At all these get-togethers, all kinds of cookies come out of hiding.  And for whatever reason, biscotti really makes a big appearance during the holidays.  So I offer up this for those that still have some Christmas obligations coming up.

Biscotti” is a term that means “twice baked“.  Now here’s a cultural nugget for ya — back in ye olden days, baking something twice was just another way of preserving your baked goods.  When you bake something again, it helps to dry it out further and thus increase its self-life.  That’s important when refrigeration isn’t as readily available.

I’m pretty sure y’all have seen recipes for this out there.  They usually have either cranberries or cherries with some pistachios.  Now I was fresh out of pistachios, but I had lots of pepitas about, so those will have to do.  You still get the classic Christmas colors of red and greed, and you still get some additional nuttiness and flavor from the pepitas.  This was adapted from Giada de Laurentiis and her Chocolate Chip Anise Biscotti or maybe it was just Chocolate Biscotti.

Here’s what you need:

  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 t. baking powder
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 1 stick butter at room temperature
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 c. pepitas
  • 2/3 c. dried cranberries
  • 1/2 c. rum

1.  Place the cranberries and the rum in a bowl.  Microwave for about 30 seconds.  Let steep for about 30 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment or with a silpat.

2.  Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium-sized bowl.  In the bowl of a mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until well combined.  Beat in the eggs one at a time.  Add the flour mixture and blend together.  Fold in the pepitas and the drained cranberries.

3.  Form the dough into a 16 x 3 in-wide log on the prepared sheet pan.  Bake for about 30 minutes, until slightly golden.  Cool on the rack for 30 minutes.

4.  Transfer the log to a cutting board.  Using a serrated knife, cut into 1/3 – 1/2 inch slices.  You can cut on the diagonal if you like.  Arrange on the baking sheet cut side down.  Bake for another 15 minutes.  Transfer to wire rack to cool completely.  Store in an air-tight container.

Sugar Plums

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I love Sugar Plums!  Even though they don’t seem to be popular at my holiday gatherings, I will stand by them.  It is a nice holiday alternative to the richness and sweetness of other holiday treats; essentially these are made of dried fruits, nuts, and spices.  How healthy is that?  Sure it’s rolled in sugar, but that’s beside the point.  Now often times we associate sugar plums with Christmas (e.g. — “visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads” and “the dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”), but that’s not necessarily the case.  The Food Timeline website offers a little bit of information on the history of Sugar Plums, in addition to some other traditional Christmas fare.

This recipe was taken from Alton Brown’s Good Eats program; and the link is nice because there is also a video available.  Here’s what you need:

  • 6 ounces slivered almonds, toasted
  • 4 ounces dried plums
  • 4 ounces dried apricots
  • 4 ounces dried figs
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon anise seeds, toasted
  • 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, toasted
  • 1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds, toasted
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 cup coarse sugar

1.  Coarsely chop the nuts in the bowl of a food processor.  Add the plums, apricots, and figs.  Pulse about 20 – 25 times until coarsely chopped, but before the mixture forms into a ball.

2.  Combine the powdered sugar, anise seeds, fennel seeds, caraway seeds, cardamom, and salt in a medium mixing bowl.  Add the nut and fruit mixture and the honey and mix using gloved hands until well combined.

3.  Scoop the mixture into 1/4-ounce portions and roll into balls.  If serving immediately, roll in the coarse sugar and serve.  If not serving immediately, put the balls on a cooling rack and leave uncovered until ready to serve.  Roll in the coarse sugar prior to serving.

Notes — The sugar plums may be stored on the cooling rack for up to a week. After a week, store in an airtight container for up to a month. . . I didn’t have almonds so I just used some walnuts as a substitute. . . I’m sure you could substitute any number of dried fruits. . . maybe add just a touch of booze?  but I’m always trying to add a touch of booze to everything.

Peach Drop Cookies

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So just to continue with the peach theme, I found a recipe for some drop cookies on Martha’s website.  I did make some minor changes to it because I ran out of vanilla.  Of course, it’s not an equal substitution since I used 1 T. of rum instead of 1/2 t. of vanilla (I can get a little enthusiastic when it involves rum and bourbon).  Also, I didn’t peel any of the peaches.  I like the contrasting color that the skin provides.  Here’s what you need:

  • 2 c. all-purpose flour, plus 2 T.
  • 3/4 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 c. granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 T. rum
  • 2 large ripe peaches, peeled, pitted, and cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 1 3/4 cups)
  • 1/3 c. peach jam or preserves
  • 2 T. fine sanding sugar
  • 1/8 t. ground cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 375 F.  Sift together flour, salt, and baking soda.

2.  Beat butter and granulated sugar with a mixer on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 4 minutes.  Reduce speed to low.  Beat in egg and rum.  Add flour mixture, and beat until just combined.  Add peaches and jam, and beat until just combined.

3.  Using a 1 1/2-inch ice cream scoop or a tablespoon, drop dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment, spacing about 2 inches apart.  (If not baking all of the cookies at once, refrigerate dough between batches; dough can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days.)  Combine sanding sugar and cinnamon.  Sprinkle each cookie with 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon-sugar mixture.

4.  Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through, until golden brown and just set, 13 to 15 minutes.  Let cool on sheets for 5 minutes, and then transfer cookies to wire racks to cool completely.

Notes — The fresh fruit does add a lot of moisture to the batter and the cookies, so they will get softer after time.  These are best on the day that they are baked.  That way you’ll still get the softness of the cookie with the crunchiness of the crust.  But they will still taste great otherwise. . . Like I said before Martha’s recipe uses vanilla instead of rum, but I was out of vanilla.  And I was surprised about how much I really liked the flavor of the rum in the cookie.  I will have to see what else I can cram some rum into. . . I did forget the cinnamon in the topping, but I was happy with the end product because the rum flavor really stood out :)

Cardamom Scented Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Happy Chocolate Chip Day!!! (or is it on May 15th?)  You should always have a good chocolate chip cookie recipe.  Whether it’s something you that you develop on your own, or find something that you love, keep one in your baking arsenal.  Usually when we think of chocolate chip cookies, many of us think of the good ol’ Toll House cookie.  This recipe came about in 1937 at the Toll House Inn which was owned by Ruth Graves Wakefield and her husband.  She wanted to make some of her favorite cookies for her guests but was missing a key ingredient.  But she did have on hand a semi-sweet chocolate bar (made by Nestlé) which she crumbled up and mixed into the dough.  She thought that the chocolate would melt and spread out into the mixture.  To her surprise, the chocolate held its shape which she thought was weird but decided to serve it anyway.  It was a big hit, and thus the Toll House Chocolate Crunch cookie was born.  Now right on the bag of Toll House chocolate chips, it lists the date of origin at 1939.  That’s when Ruth and Nestlé settled into an agreement where she could get chocolate for life and Nestlé got to print the recipe on some of its packaging.  Here are a couple of links (here and here) that you should check out to find some additional info.  Exciting stuff!!!

On to some recipes.  Now everyone should be familiar with the tried and true Toll House Cookie recipe.  If not, just go check out a bag of Nestlé Toll House Chocolate Chips.  Now I won’t be making those, but I did come up with a couple of recipes — Chocolate Chip Molé cookies  and Cardamom Scented Chocolate Chip Cookies.  Let’s talk about the latter one here.  The recipe isn’t too far from your basic cookie recipe, save for one step where I infuse some melted butter with the cardamom.  Not too complicated, right?.  Here’s what you need:

  • 2 sticks of unsalted butter
  • 12 cardamom pods
  • 2 1/3 c. flour
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1/4 c. brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 c. chocolate chips

1.  Melt the butter in a small saucepan with the cardamom.  When melted, let simmer on the stove on low (if it is too high the butter will burn!) for about 30 minutes.  The cardamom should swell.  Set aside to cool and re-solidify.

2.  Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.

3.  Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt into a large mixing bowl.  In the bowl of a mixer, cream together the cardamom butter, sugars, and vanilla.  Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.

4.  Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture.  Mix well until just combined.  Do not over mix!  Gently fold in the chocolate chips.

5.  Drop cookies onto a sheet pan and bake for about 15 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.  Eat up!

Notes — This does have a lower proportion of brown sugar when compared to other recipes.  I did this so that the cardamom could stand out and not be overpowered by the molasses in the brown sugar.  You can change this if you like. . . You may have noticed that the cookies in the pictures are a little bit dark.  There is a good reason for this.  I was out of brown sugar, so I tried to make my own which should just be some regular granulated sugar and some molasses.  Now I don’t know why I didn’t use a measuring cup, but I ended up putting waaaay too much molasses.  But the cookies still tasted great and you could still taste the cardamom throughout, just not as much as it should have.  Hence the previous “note”.  The second batch turned out better. . . You could try this with some other herbs / spices.  I’m sure cinnamon would be great in this or maybe some cloves.  Maybe some peppercorns to make a variation on pfeffernüssen.  Lemon peel and ginger sound good too!