Sunday, December 30, 2007

My New Favorite Cookie

Even though I didn't participate in December's Daring Bakers Challenge, I have been baking up a storm. Baking my least favorite things to bake, cookies.

This year, I decided to take the bull by the horns and pretty much jettisoned virtually every cookie I had baked previously, with a couple exceptions. Those exceptions were due to great taste, in the case of my mother-in-laws bourbon balls, and emotional appeal, in the case of Hershey's peanut blossom cookies.

The first cookie I decided to test was a butter cookie. I pulled the recipe from an add for Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter that I found in a recent issue of Gourmet magazine. Instead of Kerrygold, I used an Icelandic butter that I had purchased at Whole Foods, and that I needed to use up.

The butter was amazing - the texture was like cutting into a soft cheese or a fudge. The flavor was clean, with no aftertaste. And it produced the best butter cookie that I have ever made. Ever.

Butter cookies and shortbread are my favorite cookies. They are simple, satisfying, and melt in your mouth. When the butter you have used is top quality, that is. Some folks are very sensitive to the flavors in coffee, or cabbage, or wine. In my case, I can really taste when the oil in fats or nuts is even slightly off.

I will make these again, and again, and again. But using only a great European butter. I've tried butter cookies with Plugra brand, and while they were good, they were not outstanding.

And if you're wondering what the little pink dots are in the middle of some of the cookies, they are pink peppercorns. When you bite into them, you get a jolt of a vibrant, flowery flavor, not any heat. I took a cookie making class with Betsy Cukla of Hammersong (a great cookie cutter manufacturer) at La Cuisine a couple years ago, and that was something that she taught us. If you freeze the cookies after baking them, keep them in their own individual container so that they don't pick up other cookie flavors.

Elinor Klivans’ Slice and Bake Butter Cookies
Pastry chef and cookbook author, Elinor Klivans, developed this crisp and buttery cookie recipe for Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter. Adapted from an ad in Gourmet Magazine, 2007.

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 package (8 ounces or 1 cup) salted Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter, at room temperature, or another premium European butter
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg white
1/3 cup granulated sugar or coarse sugar crystals for rolling the cookie log
Pecan halves, walnut halves, or pink peppercorns (optional)

Sift flour, baking powder and salt into medium bowl and set aside. In large bowl beat butter and sugar until lightened in color and fluffy, using an electric mixer on medium speed, about 2 minutes. Mix in egg yolks and vanilla. Add flour mixture, mixing on low speed just until flour is incorporated and soft, smooth dough forms. Do not over beat, or you will have a tough cookie.

Divide dough into 2 pieces; form each into a log about 7 ½ inches long and 1 ½ inches in diameter. Wrap each in plastic wrap. Refrigerate about 1 hour until cold and firm, or overnight. I chilled mine overnight, which is longer than I'd chilled cookie dough before, and it made a big difference in maintaining the shape of the log later on as I cut the cookies. Or freeze, wrapped securely, for up to 1 month. (Defrost in the refrigerator before slicing and baking.)

Position rack in middle of oven. Heat oven to 325° F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. In small bowl, use fork to beat egg white until foamy, about 30 seconds. Use pastry brush to brush each log with egg white. Sprinkle the 1/3 cup sugar on strip of wax paper then roll each log back and forth in sugar to coat lightly. Use large sharp knife to cut each log into ¼-inch-thick rounds. Place 1 inch apart on prepared baking sheets. Press nut half or peppercorn into each cookie before baking, if desired. Bake one sheet at a time until cookie edges and bottoms are light brown, about 18 minutes, but start checking on your cookies before then, at about 10 to 12 minutes. Cool 5 minutes on baking sheet, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely. Store in tightly covered container at room temperature up to 3 days, or freeze.
Makes 40-60 cookies.

Cooking Tip

When you chop nuts or chocolate, do you find that the pieces jump off your cutting board? You can always place the items to be chopped in a plastic bag or kitchen towel, and then whack it with a rolling pin. But what if you don't want to do that?

A few years ago, I read a tip that I've used successfully ever since: use two chef's knives simultaneously to chop. It really works! And if you're wondering what's all over my knives, I'll have you know it's chocolate and butter. Yum.

The Daring Bakers: Yule Log

I was not able to participate in this month's challenge, but be sure to check out the Daring Baker's blogroll to view the beautiful Yule Logs!

And a very Happy New Year to everyone!


Monday, December 17, 2007

Gifts for the Cook and/or the Foodie

Someone around here has the good sense to take a nap.

Like many of you, I'm busy cooking, cleaning, baking, decorating, etc. My least favorite thing to bake are . . . cookies. Yep, cookies. And I'm baking dozens of them. I realized that I was bored out of my gourd baking the same old things every year, many of which I never really liked. So this year I decided to shake things up a bit. I'll be posting about that later, but take a hint: if you haven't baked Dorie Greenspan's Chocolate Chunkers from her marvelous book,Baking: From My Home to Yours, you should. I doubled the recipe and I am so glad that I did.

Because I had Dorie on my mind, I decided to take a long overdue cruise to her blog, and discovered a link with her suggestions for gifts for the cook. Homesick Texan has a post on her suggestions for gifts from Texas, including Dr. Pepper made with real sugar, not corn syrup.

I have a few suggestions myself:

(1) a Microplane Grater/Zester
(2) a gift certificate to Penzey's, a great resource for spices, herbs, and rubs
(3) Chicago Metallic Professional 8-inch Round Cake Pan - a lot of recipes call for eight inch cake pans, and most cooks have a standard nine inch pan.
(4) Pralus Infernale Bar, a chocolate bar filled with the most exquisite gianduja
(5) Slitti Nocciolata, which makes Nutella taste like old wax. I have to restrain myself from eating it out of the jar with a spoon, and I must say, I do not succeed.
(6) a Le Creuset Dutch oven, one at least 7-1/4 quarts.
(7) a heat resistant silicon spoonula, such as this one from Le Creuset, which is what I use every day.
(8) a set of Boyajian's citrus oils
(9) a baking stone

And finally, for the baker in your life, who needs something more powerful than a KitchenAid, there's always:

(10) a 5 qt. Hobart mixer. You can always go bigger, of course.

Now, I think I'll join the pups for a nap!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

I'm Going to a Housewarming Party! I Hope Everyone Likes Coconut Cake with Lilikoi Curd

*** Scroll down for update***

Hosted by Peabody, at Culinary Concoctions by Peabody, another Daring Baker with a fun and drool-worthy blog!

As is clear from the picture above, we had to slice into the cake - we couldn't wait until Saturday, but there's plenty left for a virtual housewarming. The recipe is adapted from yet another Ina Garten winner from her book, Barefoot Contessa at Home: Everyday Recipes You'll Make Over and Over Again.
I used buttermilk instead of plain milk, and increased the amount of almond extract in the frosting. I also decided to make my own passion fruit (lilikoi) curd using Goya brand frozen passion fruit pulp, which some of you may be lucky to find in your frozen food section under its Spanish name, maracuya. In my opinion, ambrosia, that legendary food of the gods, must taste like passion fruit. I know I'm right on this, so there's no sense arguing about it!

Instead of putting frosting between the layers, I used the passion fruit curd. I actually had enough curd to make the cake, despite spooning it into my mouth at any given opportunity. "Oh, I've opened the refrigerator - I'd better check on the curd," or "I see it's a full moon out tonight - I'd better check on the curd." And the always popular, "I'll go on a diet tomorrow. I'd better check on the curd."

In the end, the result: a dense but moist layer cake, laced with almond and coconut, sharpened by the brilliant, intense flavor of the passion fruit. For what it's worth, Master Chow dislikes coconut, and he really liked this cake. He could taste the coconut, but it was not overpowering. And, hey, who doesn't like ambrosia? See you at Peabody's!

Note: My recipe for the lilikoi (passion fruit) curd came from The Hali'imaile General Store Cookbook: Homecooking from Maui, which I can't seem to find in my pile of books at the moment. When I do, I promise to update this post with the recipe. Please do not think that you can use a lemon curd recipe and substitute passion fruit for the lemon - it won't work. Passion fruit needs more sugar. If you absolutely can't wait and want to make this immediately, look for some bottled curd (Heidi vouches for one on her blog), or you may consider using this recipe. Now, I haven't used that recipe, but the restaurant from which it comes, Chef Mavro, is considered by some to be one of the best in the nation.

Coconut Cake
3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
5 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons pure almond extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk
4 ounces sweetened shredded coconut (set this out on a plate ahead of time so it dries out just a bit - it will be easier to handle)

For the frosting
1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 pound confectioners' sugar, sifted (don't skip the sifting, or you will have a lumpy, grainy frosting!)
6 ounces sweetened shredded coconut (set this out on a plate ahead of time so it dries out just a bit - it will be easier to handle)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Set a rack in the middle of the oven. Grease 2 (9-inch) round cake pans, then line them parchment paper. Grease them again and dust lightly with flour.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until light yellow and fluffy. Crack the eggs into a small bowl. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs 1 at a time, scraping down the bowl as needed during mixing. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well. The mixture might look curdled; don't be concerned.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the dry ingredients and the milk to the batter in 3 parts, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. Fold in the 4 ounces of coconut with a rubber spatula.

Pour the batter evenly into the 2 pans and smooth the top with a knife. If you have cake strips, use them to prevent doming. If not, build up the batter towards the perimeter of the cake to help keep it as flat as possible. If you don't understand what I'm talking about, don't worry - have fun, it will taste great!

Bake in the center of the oven for 45 to 55 minutes, until the tops are browned and a cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a baking rack for 30 minutes, then turn the cakes out onto a baking rack to finish cooling.

For the frosting, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and almond extract on low speed. Add the confectioners' sugar and mix just until just smooth (don't whip!).

To assemble, place 1 layer on a flat serving plate, top side down, and carefully slice in half. Using a piping bag, or an offset spatula, create a thin "dam" of frosting along the outer circumference of the layer. This is to prevent the curd, which you will spread withing this circle, from leaking out. Place the second half of the layer on top, top side down, and repeat the "dam" and curd process.

Now, take your second layer, split it in half, and repeat the dam and curd process. When you put the second half of the second layer on top of the cake, place it top side up. At this point, I would recommend you refrigerate the cake for least an hour to help stabilize it before you frost the top and sides.

After an hour, remove the cake from the refrigerator and frost the top and sides. To decorate the cake, sprinkle the top with coconut and lightly press more coconut onto the sides. Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled.
Update: found the lilikoi curd recipe! Here it is, and this makes a LOT of curd, so you will have some left over:
Liliko'i Curd
6 whole eggs
6 egg yolks
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups lilikoi (passion fruit) puree (unsweetened)
You will be using a double boiler, so get a pan of water boiling. In a stainless steel or other non-reactive, heat-proof bowl whisk together the egg yolks and eggs until well blended. Add the sugar and the puree, and mix well.
Place the bowl on top of the pan of boiling water, and whisk continuously for 10-15 minutes until the mixture thickens to a consistency of a thick pudding. Mine never got quite that thick until I chilled it; it is important not to let the mixture boil. If you have to, take the pan with the lilikoi mixture off the double boiler periodically to prevent boiling.
When the mixture has thickened, immediately pour it through a strainer for a silkier texture, and to strain out any bits of egg that may have cooked.
Store in the refrigerator for up to one week, with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd to prevent the formation of a crust. I've actually frozen this for up to three weeks, and the taste was outstanding. The curd was slightly less creamy, but not by much!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Cranberry Orange Bread

Behold, my lopsided cranberry orange bread, another winning recipe from Beth Hensperger, this time from her classic tome,The Bread Bible: 300 Favorite Recipes. I confused the cooling instructions with another one for a different bread, which said to cool the bread on its side. This resulted in my tasty but deformed loaf.

This is a wonderful little bread that takes advantage of the cranberries, oranges, and walnuts that are filling our markets this time of year. It is not too sweet, and the flavor of the cranberries really comes through, despite the presence of the zest of two whole oranges in the batter. The bread freezes very well, if you wrap it carefully. I wrapped it in plastic wrap, then foil, and then put the whole packet in a freezer-safe plastic storage bag.

I was out of ground ginger, so I substituted very finely minced crystallized ginger, which dissolved in the batter. This bread is definitely on my repeat list. And take a look at the batter - isn't that a beautiful pink color?

Cranberry Orange Bread
Adapted from The Bread Bible: 300 Favorite Recipes by Beth Hensperger
Makes one 8 1/2 inch-by-4 1/2 inch loaf
1 1/2 cups cranberries, fresh or frozen (if frozen, do not thaw)
1 cup sugar
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 T baking powder
1/4 t salt
1/2 t freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 t finely minced crystallized ginger
grated zest of 2 oranges
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
3/4 cup fresh orange juice
2 large eggs
1 t pure vanilla extract
4 T unsalted butter, melted
Position rack in the center of the oven, and preheat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour a 8 1/2 inch-by-4 1/2 inch loaf pan.
In a food processor, coarsely chop the cranberries and set aside.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, and ginger, and mix well. Add the orange zest and walnuts, and toss to mix well.
In another bowl, combine the orange juice and eggs, and mix until frothy. Add the vanilla and cranberries. Pour over the dry ingredients, and then drizzle with the butter. Stir until just moistened (do NOT over mix) and the cranberries are evenly distributed.
Pour batter into the loaf pan. Place pan on a rack in the center of the oven. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes. The top should be crusty and golden, and a skewer inserted into the center of the loaf should come out clean.
Transfer to rack to cool. Wrap in plastic wrap and let bread sit overnight before serving. Believe it or not, I actually was able to do this last step!