December 14th, 2015

Favorite Cookies of the Moment

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I have a friend who has a nice philosophy about food. If ever asked, “What’s your favorite _________?,” —-and you can fill in that blank with burger, cupcake, taco, milk shake —- she’ll respond,

“It’s the one I’m eating now.”

I love that comment, her expression of pure appreciation, relishing the delicious moment in whatever form it takes.

I’m hard-pressed to pick favorites, but I have my opinions. Yes, we all know there are hundreds of thousands “Best-Ever” cookie recipes circulating the ‘net. I won’t make that claim. But these three current faves follow my holiday baking protocols:

1. They are easy to make, even in big batches
2. They are different in flavor and appearance
3. They have great taste, without being overly sweet
4. They keep well in a cookie tin, ideal for gift-giving or sharing at home over coffee or tea

Scroll on down for Maggie’s Mama’s Date- Nut Pinwheels, Garam Masala Kitchen Sink Cookies, and Glazed Lemon Rosemary Shortbreads.

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Maggie’s Mama’s Date-Nut Pinwheels

Over the years, I’ve written about my cooking adventures in the country with my friend Maggie.

She and I baked these beautiful pinwheels on the fly last year–and they were so good, I had to make them again. This recipe was handed down from her mama, also an excellent cook, and the dough actually benefits from being made up ahead of time, wrapped, and frozen.

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If Maggie ever saw rolls wrapped in wax paper in the family freezer, she knew that her mama would soon be baking the date-nut pinwheels. So much anticipation! Those cookies signaled the Christmas season.

There are two parts to the recipe–the brown sugar dough, and the date-nut filling. Living in Louisiana, Maggie’s mom always used pecans, but walnuts work just as well. The only update that we made to this old-fashioned recipe was substituting butter for shortening in the pastry.

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Here’s an i-Phone image of Maggie’s recipe, circa 1977, handwritten on loose leaf notebook paper with a Bic green ink pen. (in the South we don’t just say “pen,” we say “ink pen.” A means of differentiating it from its Southern sound-alike “pin,” I suppose.)

Next up, Garam Masala Kitchen Sink Cookies

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These might look like ordinary oatmeal cookies, but don’t be deceived.

Joy Martin, a fine baker (winner of many blue ribbons at county fairs) and avid potlucker brought these ingenious treats to one of our Third Thursday Community Potlucks several years ago. She took a basic oatmeal cookie recipe and elevated it with chocolate chips, walnuts, orange zest, and the warming Hindi spice blend, Garam Masala.

That bit of citrus coupled with the aromatics of cinnamon, coriander, cardamom, clove, fennel, black pepper, and bay leaf brings incredible dimension to the cookie. The spice mix is remarkable in this sweet application, imbuing as much flavor and satisfaction here as it does in savory dishes.

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These drop cookies are truly delicious, and I had to include them in my cookbook. Joy happily contributed her recipe, which makes a huge batch–at least 5 dozen. (Potluck standards, don’t you know!)

You can cut it in half without sacrificing anything. Customize them, too, if you like. I added a handful of dried cherries to the latest batch, which added luscious dark fruit pops to some bites.

Last, but not least, I give you the delectable Glazed Lemon-Rosemary Shortbreads.

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Marla brought these brown-edged, butter-rich cookies to a potluck and I fell in love with them. There’s lemon zest and finely chopped fresh rosemary folded throughout the dough. The glaze is a whisk of olive oil, fresh lemon juice and confectioners sugar. Fresh rosemary leaves embellish each one.

The recipe also found in my cookbook, these cookies have become one of my signature offerings at my book presentations and signings. They are easy to make (you can make the dough up ahead of time, shape it into a log, wrap and refrigerate it until ready to slice-and-bake) They transport well. They are pretty, and not too sweet. Lemon and Rosemary–how can you go wrong? People go crazy for them. Every time.

I’m convinced I’ve sold more books because of them! (Thanks, Marla.)

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LEMON-ROSEMARY SHORTBREAD COOKIES
(from Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook)

For the shortbread:
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 large egg
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups all purpose flour

For the glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2-3 tablespoons water
rosemary sprigs for garnish

In a mixer bowl, cream butter and sugar together on medium speed for 3 minutes. Add zest, rosemary, egg, lemon juice, vanilla and salt, and beat for 1 minute. Scrape down bowl. At low speed, add flour and mix just until combined; do not overmix.

Roll dough out between two large sheets of parchment paper to 1/4-inch thickness. Chill dough for 30 minutes. (or form into logs; wrap and refrigerate overnight. then, slice into rounds.)

Preheat oven to 350.

Cut out dough using your favorite cookie cutters. Place cookies onto parchment-paper-lined baking sheets, and bake for 16 to 18 minutes or until edges are golden. Remove to a wire rack.

Make the glaze by combining powdered sugar, olive oil, lemon juice and 2-3 tbsp of water as necessary to achieve a spreadable consistency. Drizzle and spread glaze over each cookie and top with rosemary sprigs.

Makes 35 to 40 cookies

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GARAM MASALA KITCHEN SINK COOKIES (from Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook)
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon fresh orange zest
1/2 teaspoon orange extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons Garam Masala
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 cups chopped, toasted walnuts
2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips
1 cup dried cherries (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Beat butter and sugars until creamy. Add eggs, orange zest, orange extract and beat well. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, and Garam Masala. Beat the flour mixture into the creamed sugar mixture a little at a time until combined. Fold in oats, toasted walnuts, chocolate chips and dried cherries.

Drop rounded tablespoons full onto a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper and bake for 12 minutes, or until golden brown.

Makes 5 dozen

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MAGGIE’S MAMA’S DATE-NUT PINWHEELS
2 1/4 cups pitted dates, chopped
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 cup chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts)
1 cup butter
2 cups light brown sugar, firmly packed
3 eggs, well beaten
4 cups sifted all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Combine the dates, sugar and water in a saucepan set on low hear. Cook until thickened, about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally. Add nuts and cool.

Meanwhile, beat the butter until fluffy and add the brown sugar gradually, work until light.
Add the eggs and mix well.
Add remaining ingredients (sifted together) and mix well.
Cover and chill thoroughly.
Roll out chilled dough and spread with filling.
Roll up tightly, wrap in plastic, and place into the freezer

To Bake:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Remove rolls from freezer. Unwrap and slice about 1/2 inch thick and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silpat.

Bake for 10-12 minutes.

Makes 5 dozen pinwheels

HAPPY HOLIDAY BAKING TO ALL!

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Posted in Cookies, Desserts, Recipes | 16 Comments »




December 5th, 2012

Cookies and Patience

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Hello out there!
I realize that I’ve been away for awhile, but I have a few moments to check in, say hey, and share an update or two.
I am posting today from the Washington DC area, where I have been since Thanksgiving.

We are on Baby Vigil.

This baby, my first grandbaby, could be born at any time.
His or her “due date” was December 1st. (I know, it’s an approximation. Only 4% of the babies are born on the due date.)
But
The nursery is ready. The parents are ready. My daughter is really ready.

It’s just a matter of time. A lesson in patience. This miraculous thing will happen in its own rhythm.

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So, what to do while Waiting for Baby?
Time to exercise my grandmotherly skills.
Bake cookies.

It requires its own kind of timing and patience—although within a very tight framework.

I hadn’t made cookies for a while, and I was reminded of the art of the bake:
One minute can make the difference between a moist chewy cookie and one that shatters at the bite.
One minute–and a cookie could have a nice brown edge, or an overall brown burn.

Cookies are done when you think they aren’t quite done.
They continue to crispen on the sheetpan after they come out of the oven.

Timing and patience. Every oven is a little different. It requires the tricky but rewarding art of discernment.

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Today, I baked two kinds of drop cookies, contemporary takes on classic goodies. We’ll bring them to the hospital to share with the birth team, if we don’t eat them all. While waiting.

Number one is a double chocolate pistachio cookie, its dough rich with dark cocoa, butter, brown sugar, and a generous chop of bittersweet chocolate. Creme de cassis–just a splash– adds an intriguing hint of berry. I think you’ll like its topping of pistachios, toasted and flecked with salt.

The second takes the traditional oatmeal cookie as its base. Here I use organic brown sugar whipped into butter. Along with the rolled oats, I fold in dried blueberries and chopped bittersweet chocolate.

Blueberries and dark chocolate make an uncommon, but delicious pairing in the cookie. These are especially for the expectant father, my son-in-law. Blueberries and dark chocolate are his favorites.

While you’re in the midst of the holiday hustle, take a little time for yourself. Treat yourself with kindness and patience.
Have a cup of coffee or tea and a cookie or two.
Or three.
I’ll be back, soon I hope, with news about this baby. Or another cookie recipe.

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DOUBLE CHOCOLATE PISTACHIO COOKIES
1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
3/4 cup cocoa
2 eggs
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons creme de cassis (optional)
2 cups chopped bittersweet chocolate
1 cup chopped toasted pistachios

Cream softened butter and sugars together until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs.
In a separate bowl, whisk cocoa, flour, baking soda, and salt together. Beat into egg mixture.
Fold in vanilla, creme de cassis, and chopped bittersweet chocolate.
Line baking sheets with parchment.
Gather the dough in tablespoon-sized lumps and drop onto the baking sheet, leaving about 1″ space between cookies.
Sprinkle the tops with pistachio pieces. Gently press pieces into the dough.
Bake cookies in the center of a preheated 350 degree oven for approximately 10 minutes.
Remove from oven and allow to cool on a rack before using a spatula to remove from baking sheet.

Makes 4 dozen cookies
Note: both cookie recipes can be cut in half with fine results, if you want to make smaller batches.

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BLUEBERRY-OATMEAL-CHOCOLATE CHUNK COOKIES
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 1/2 cups Demerara (or turbinado, or organic brown) sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups oats (not the “quick” kind)
2 cups dried blueberries
2 cups chopped semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate

Cream softened butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs.
In a separate bowl, whisk flour, baking soda and salt together.
Beat into egg mixture, a little at a time.
Beat in oats.
Fold in dried blueberries and chopped chocolate.

Drop by the tablespoon onto parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving 1″ space between cookies.
Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 12 minutes.
Remove and cool on a rack.

Makes 4-5 dozen cookies

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Posted in Chocolate, Desserts, Recipes | 24 Comments »




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

Posted in Desserts, Recipes | 41 Comments »