December 12th, 2011

Cream Cheese Crescents, and an early Christmas present

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A woman I scarcely knew gave me this cookbook, Blue Ribbon Recipes, in the summer of 1975, an unsold item from her yard sale. She was getting rid of everything–moving out of the sultry South to an arid intentional community on a mesa near Santa Fe. I don’t recall much more about the circumstances, how I’d come to briefly meet her, or why she thought I should have the book.

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But I’d like to thank her.

We all know how cookbooks can be—intriguing to thumb through, eye-feasting at times, with the occasional wonderful recipe that you actually use. But not so with this Blue Ribbon. Throughout the years, it’s been one bearing numerous good recipes, ones that I use again and again, such as these Cream Cheese Crescents.

The smudged and splattered pages tell the story.

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Mary Ann Hill of Perry, Ohio, won a Blue Ribbon at the Lake County Fair for these flaky confections, sometime in the early Sixties. Her recipe is deceptively simple, but the combination of cream cheese and butter whipped with egg yolks into all purpose flour yields a remarkably light and supple dough that bakes into tangy layers.

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I first tried Mary Ann’s recipe around 1980. My sister and I had a kiosk in an old warehouse, “Goodies” where we sold sandwiches and baked goods, including the famous Marbled Cream Cheese Brownies. We were always on the lookout for something delicious and different. This recipe caught our attention.

We tweaked it slightly, and substituted almonds for walnuts.

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The dough is made in advance, and can be divided and frozen, even, if need be.
The recipe can also be easily cut in half–but for catering purposes, it made sense for us to leave it as it is. The complete batch makes up to 8 dozen filled crescents!

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We also valued the recipe for its versatile nature. You could enhance that seductive meringue filling with cocoa, espresso powder, different extracts, if you wanted another flavor profile. You could add pecans, pistachios, even dried fruit and jam.

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The pastry dough is not sweet at all, and only gets its sweetness from being rolled in the powdered sugar on the work board.

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Indeed, Mary Ann Hill deserved the Blue Ribbon for this recipe, and should be pleased, if she’s still on the planet, that it is inspiring cooks today. It is a delicious shaped cookie.
I’d like to thank her, too.

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An afternoon of rolling, filling, twisting and folding–this is why I love baking cookies.

A soothing rhythm that results in a roomful of treats–
Crescents for now, Crescents for later, Cresents to keep, Crescents to share.

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ALMOND CREAM CHEESE CRESCENT COOKIES adapted from Blue Ribbon Recipes

Pastry Dough:
1 lb. softened Butter
1 lb. Cream Cheese
4 cups All Purpose Flour
4 Egg Yolks

Confectioner’s Sugar—at least 2 cups

Filling:
4 Egg Whites
1/2 cup Sugar
1 t. Almond Extract
1/4 t. Vanilla
1 cup toasted, ground Almonds

Method:
Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and cream cheese together. Beat in egg yolks, then the flour. Separate dough into 4 balls. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate overnight. Take reserved egg whites and refrigerate overnight as well.

The next day:

Make Filling:
Beat egg whites into soft peaks. Beat in sugar, almond and vanilla extract. Filling will hold its shape without being too stiff.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (325 degrees, if convection)

Sprinkle 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar on the work counter, and roll out dough ball. Flip and roll on the other side, so that the sugar gets layered in.

Score dough into 2″ squares, and sprinkle with ground almonds. Place a dab of filling in the middle of each, and roll up–diamond corner to corner.

Place rolled crescents onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Dust with more ground almonds, if desired.

Bake for about 20 minutes, until puffed and golden brown.

Makes 7-8 dozen crescents.

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Here’s a happy Post Script.

Many of you were so kind when I posted about the passing of our sweet old cat, Cass, just three months ago. Last week, I awoke early to the sound of plaintive crying somewhere outside, near my home. I investigated, called out, and this young fellow bounded up onto my front porch, encircling my legs, positively beaming that he’d been heard.

I’ve checked around the neighborhood, posted on the area list serv. No one has claimed him. I took him to the vet for a check-up. No micro chip in him. But the poor guy, neutered and declawed, had been somebody’s cat—and he had been out in the world for a while. Dirty, dehydrated, anemic, hungry, a terrible mouth infection….but he’s coming around nicely.

My vet says that sometimes that Cat Angels take over—send someone new to replace the one who died. Bill says that our previous cats sprayed the word “Suckers” all around our house, so that any in need would immediately know that ours was a cat-friendly place.

In any case, Sid is safe with us, in a good home. An early Christmas present!
We’re crazy about him already.

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Sid, the Christmas Cat, aka Sid-Not-Vicious

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