Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Tastes of the Season


So I saw these Eggnog Mini-Cakes in the King Arthur Flour catalog along with a recipe, and couldn't wait to make them. I ordered the festive holiday molds, but decided to pass on the eggnog flavor, and just replace the milk with eggnog. Wrong move. The cakes came out all right, like your average yellow cake, but they didn't taste noggy. I was guilty of licking the batter bowl, though, and that did taste like eggnog. Go fig. Decorating with royal icing is a fun project.

I also visited the family in New York for the holidays. Instead of a single birthday cake, my twin sister made the long trip to Carrot Top Pastries in Manhattan's Washington Heights and got slices of 3 cakes to create a sampler. I doubted it was worth the trip, and was so wrong! The Black Forest and Chocolate Mousse cakes were to die for, and I'm told the German Chocolate was good (I have a prejudice against baked coconut). I also went to Sunday brunch at B Bar and Grill in Manhattan, but my Eggs Benedict played second fiddle to the fresh-baked banana bread they bring you in place of a traditional bread basket. The bread is filling, but you can take the leftovers home. And their Peach Bellini was tasty, too. My dad's birthday falls near mine, and I took him and the family out to nearby Casa Calamari in Bensonhurst. Go if you're in the neighborhood. The prices are good, the portions are huge, and the food is fab -- I highly recommend the penne vodka and seafood ravioli. Happy new year!!

Eggnog Mini Cakes by King Arthur Flour
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) vegetable oil
1/2 cup (4 ounces) softened butter
3 large eggs
1 1/4 cup (8 3/4 ounces) sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon eggnog flavor
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 1/4 cup (9 1/2 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup (8 ounces) milk
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease the wells of a holiday mini-cake pan or 12 silicone cupcake molds.
Beat the oil, butter, eggs, sugar, salt, eggnog flavor and nutmeg until pale yellow and thick. Whisk the flour and baking powder together, and blend into the egg mixture alternately with the milk, beating until smooth. Use 2 tablespoons batter per cup, for the holiday cupcake pan; or 1/4 cup batter per silicone cupcake mold. Bake for 16 to 18 minutes, until the cakes spring back when touched in the center. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then turn out onto a rack. To finish, sprinkle with confectioners' sugar.
Yield: 30 mini cakes.
Variation: Bake in a full-size (9-cup minimum) bundt-style pan for 50 to 60 minutes.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Thumbprint Trios

These are fun to make, and to eat. They're three thumbprint cookies stuck together and filled with different jams -- strawberry, raspberry, and apricot. I also like how easy they are, and how decorative they look for the holidays.

Trios from Gourmet (December 2007)
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2 sticks (½ lb) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
About 2 tbs each of seedless raspberry jam, apricot preserves, and strawberry preserves

Whisk together flour and salt. Beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until very pale and fluffy, about 4 minutes, then beat in egg and vanilla. At low speed, mix in flour mixture in 3 batches just until a dough forms. Divide dough in half and form each piece into a 6-inch disk, then chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350° with rack in middle. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Roll 3 separate level teaspoons of dough each into a ball, then flatten each ball slightly (to 1 inch wide and less than ½ inch thick). Arrange them in a triangle with edges touching in center.

Then make a deep indentation in the center of each round with a wooden spoon handle. Make more cookies, arranging them 1 inch apart on baking sheets.

Fill indentations in each cookie with about 1/8 tsp jam (each cookie should have 3 different fillings).

Bake until cookies are baked through and golden brown on edges, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on baking sheets 5 minutes, then transfer to racks to cool completely. Bake more batches on cooled baking sheets lined with fresh parchment.

Dough can be chilled up to 2 days. Cookies keep, layered between sheets of parchment, in an airtight container at room temperature 1 week.

Friday, December 12, 2008

It's Almost Christmas: Linzer Cookies

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My sister pleads with me to make these throughout the year, but they're a bit labor-intensive so I only make them before Christmas. The hazelnut dough lends a bit of spiciness, the red raspberry jam makes them festive, and the snowy dusting of confectioners sugar reminds me of Christmas. I bake the cutouts from the middle as bonus bite-sized treats. I also give them away as holiday gifts in colorful Chinese take-out boxes I get from the party store. They won't fail to please!

Linzer Hearts from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook
Instead of hearts, I use a round cookie cutter and holiday-themed mini cutters
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp salt
1 cup (4½ oz) blanched hazelnuts
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 large egg yolks
½ tsp pure vanilla extract
½ tsp freshly grated lemon zest
½ cup raspberry jam, for filling
¼ cup confectioners sugar, for dusting

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. In a food processor, pulse hazelnuts until finely ground. Whisk the ground hazelnuts into the flour mixture; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and granulated sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the egg yolks, vanilla, and lemon zest; beat to combine, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. With mixer on low speed, add hazelnut-flour mixture, and beat until just combined, 10 to 15 seconds.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface, divide in half, and shape into flattened disks. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.

Remove one disk of dough from the refrigerator, and let stand until softened slightly. (This will help keep the dough from cracking when rolled.) On a large piece of parchment paper lightly dusted with flour, roll dough to 1/8-inch thickness. To prevent sticking while rolling, occasionally run a large offset spatula under dough, and add more flour to the top or bottom of dough. Transfer parchment paper and dough to a baking sheet; freeze until firm, about 20 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough. (You can stack the parchment and dough.)

Preheat the oven to 325°. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove one sheet of dough and parchment from freezer; working quickly, cut into heart shapes with a 3-inch cookie cutter. Cut out center from half the shapes with a 2-inch cutter. Using a wide metal spatula, transfer open hearts to prepared baking sheets, about 1½ inches apart; freeze until firm, about 15 minutes. (You can bake the cutout centers for bite-size cookies, or reroll them to make the larger hearts.)

Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until cookies are crisp and lightly golden all over, about 15 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. (Cooled cookies can be stored overnight in an airtight container at room temperature before filling.) Spread the flat sides of the whole hearts with about 1½ tsp jam. Sift confectioners sugar over the open hearts. Just before serving, top open hearts with jam. Cookies should be eaten the day they're filled.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Beverly's Pumpkin Bread

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This pumpkin bread is seriously good. It's also one of the easiest recipes you'll ever make. Beverly, who is the master scone-maker at work, serves mascarpone (an Italian cream cheese) on the side. I love the combo because the mascarpone is rich but not sweet, so it tempers the sweetness of the bread (I dislike overly sugary toppings on already-sweet baked goods). I made it on Thanksgiving morning, and it was easier than pie.

Beverly's Pumpkin Bread
4 eggs
1 can (15 or 16 oz.) pumpkin
1 cup oil
2/3 cup water
3 cups sugar

Beat all the ingredients together until smooth.

3¼ cups flour
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda

Sift all the dry ingredients together, then beat them into the first batch of ingredients until smooth. Pour into 2 greased and floured bread pans. Bake in a preheated 350° oven for about 1 hour. That's it!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Italian Tricolor Cookies


These cookies take me right back to childhood. The section of Brooklyn we lived in had lots of Italian bakeries, so we never lacked sweets. These "rainbow cookies" or "7-layer cookies," as they're known, are my favorite, along with those butter cookies sandwiched with the apricot or raspberry jam half-dipped in chocolate with sprinkles (anybody got a recipe for that?). These tricolor cookies are sweet and almondy, and a perfect way to kick off Christmas cookie season.

The recipe calls for flavoring one layer with cocoa, and coloring another layer orange. I was out of red food coloring and unable to make orange, so I went with green, which looks avacado-y in this photo. I also only had one 8x8 inch pan, but these round cake pans worked out ok. The shapes didn't match up at the end, but I cut my way around them.

I don't recommend cookie cutters for the finished product, since the assembled layers were taller than the cutters. Sliced rectangles worked out the best. However you cut them, though, they'll taste great!

Baked Tricolor Cookies from Baked by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito
For the cookie layers
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ tsp salt
7 oz almond paste (recipe follows, but I used storebought)
¾ cup sugar
½ tsp pure almond extract
1½ sticks unsalted butter, softened
3 large eggs
Grated zest of 1 orange
Orange food coloring (liquid or gel)
2 tbs dark unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted

For the filling
2/3 cup apricot jam
2 tbs amaretto liquer (I left this out)

For the glaze
6 oz dark chocolate (60% cacao)
1 tsp light corn syrup
1 stick unsalted butter, softened

Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter three 8-inch square baking pans. Line the bottom of each pan with parchment paper and butter the parchment. Dust with flour and knock out the excess flour. (I used cooking spray in place of the butter.) Sift the flour and salt together in a small bowl and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the almond paste, sugar, and almond extract together until small crumbs form. Add the butter and beat on high speed until the mixture is combined. Scrape down the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated. Add the orange zest and beat until combined. Add the flour mixture in three parts, beating on low speed after each addition until combined.

Divide the batter among three small mixing bowls. In the first bowl, add a few drops of orange food coloring to the batter, and mix well. Continue to add a few drops of food coloring and mixing until the batter is medium orange in color. In the second bowl, add the cocoa powder to the batter and whisk until fully incorporated. Leave the third bowl plain.

Pour each batter into a prepared pan and smooth the tops. Bake the layers for 12 to 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of each layer comes out clean. Transfer the pans to a wire rack and cool for 20 minutes. Invert the cakes onto the rack, remove the pans, and let cool completely. Remove the parchment.

In a small saucepan over low heat, stir the jam and amaretto until warmed through and completely blended, 3 to 5 minutes.

Place the chocolate layer on a serving rack and evenly spread half of the apricot jam over the top. Top with the plain layer and spread with the remaining apricot filling. Top with the orange layer and let the layers sit in the refrigerator for 5 minutes (or while you make the chocolate glaze).

In a large nonreactive metal bowl, combine the chocolate, corn syrup, and butter. Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and cook, stirring with a rubber spatula, until the mixture is completely smooth. Remove the bowl from the pan and stir for 30 seconds to cool slightly.

Spread the glaze over the top of the bar cookies, completely covering the orange layer (some glaze may spill down the sides of the cake). Place the tray in the refrigerator until the chocolate topping completely sets (about 1 hour). Remove the tray from the refrigerator, wait 30 minutes for the chocolate to warm up, and cut into 20 individual squares or use a small cookie cutter to cream your own shapes.

The bars can be stored in the refrigerator, tightly covered, for up to 4 days.

Almond Paste
1½ cups finely ground almonds
1 cup confectioners sugar, sifted
½ tsp pure almond extract

Put all the ingredients in a food processor with 2 tbs water and process until a paste forms. Remove from the processor, wrap tightly in plastic, and refrigerate until ready to use. Extra almond paste, tightly wrapped, keeps well in the freezer.