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.
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 🙂
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!
Happy National Sugar Cookie Day! So to celebrate, I made some sugar cookies. Well, attempted, I should say. These were supposed to be sugar cookies. But these really didn’t turn out quite right. It’s not that they tasted bad, but they didn’t taste like “cookies”. I’d say that these were a lot closer to shortbread than to cookies. The flavor and texture were good, but it wasn’t what I was expecting.
Just another work in progress. So I won’t even bother with posting a recipe with this one. But I will say that these had some coconut and whole wheat flour. Maybe that was the problem. Sometimes I just go and make some changes without thinking. But again, cooking and baking is a process. But sometimes I should just stick to the recipe! Nevertheless, I am probably going to need to add more butter to this one. Butter solves everything!
Of course, I had to use up some of my sanding sugars. And here is my attempt at making them look pretty.
I will definitely have to retry this one. Hopefully I can do this national holiday that honors one of our most beloved cookies some justice. But at least I made some “whole wheat coconut shortbread“.
Now I this idea to make this because I had so much of that Orange Cream Frosting from the Easter Carrot Cake that I had posted earlier. Probably not my best idea I’ve ever had putting those two together. Not because it tasted horrible, but because trying to put some frosting on a delicate shortbread cookie just did not work out for me. I should have just stuck with my original idea of making some vanilla sugar cookies. But shortbread cookies are just so easy to make and they require so few ingredients.
So why is it called shortbread? From what I can find, it has to do with the “shortness” or crumbly-ness (probably not a real word) of the dough. Since this cookie has such a high fat content, the gluten in the flour can’t be developed like it is in a chewy loaf of bread or even a regular chocolate chip cookie. Again, historically this is a special occasion dessert due to the cost and availability of ingredients back in the day. Typically this was served on Christmas day and / or New Year’s.
The basic recipe can be adjusted in a variety of different ways: you can mix in some chocolate chips; you can make a more savory one with rosemary and lavendar in it which seems very Provencal; you can add spices or maybe some crystallized ginger. Just be sure not to add too much since the cookie might not be able to hold together. I added some lemon and lime zest to this recipe. The recipe itself is three basic ingredients — sugar, flour, and butter (and just a little touch of salt). They follow a simple ratio of one part sugar, two parts butter, and four parts flour. Sometimes there is the addition of some other kind of starch which can change the texture. For example, rice flour can add extra crunch and crispiness while cornstarch makes things softer and “shorter”. So here’s what you need:
- a 9×9 baking dish (if you don’t have one, just use what you have. the important thing is that the dough should be about 1/2 in deep)
- 2 sticks very room temperature butter
- 1/2 t. salt
- 1/2 c. granulated sugar
- 1 2/3 c. flour, sifted
- 1/3 c. cornstarch, sifted
- zest of 1 lime
- zest of 1/2 lemon
- superfine sugar for dusting
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter your pan or spray with cooking spray.
2. Place butter in your mixing bowl. Mix until very creamy and soft. Add the salt and mix. Now add the sugar and zests and mix together until just combined.
3. Sift together the flour and cornstarch (either into another bowl or a large sheet of parchment). Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix until a nice smooth dough forms.
4. Press the dough evenly into the prepared pan. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the top is lightly golden. Cool on a wire rack until warm.
5. Sprinkle the still warm shortbread with the superfine sugar. Cut the cookies into 1/2″ x 2″ strips (or whatever shape you want. I cut them into cubes cuz they kinda look like sugar cubes. again, probably not my best idea). You should use a thin knife when cutting — I have a small filet knife that I use for tasks like this. You could even try rolling out the dough and using cookie cutters. Traditional shapes for shortbread cookies are either those strips or fingers, individual formed rounds, or petticoat tails (larger rounds that have been cut into wedges).