January 28th, 2014

Cookie Trials

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Yes, I realize that it has scarcely been a month since the holidays, ever a cookie fest. No matter. It is always a good time for cookies, especially ones that have noble aspects about them without sacrificing great taste.

Noble aspects, you ask? Indeed!

One recipe boasts reduced fat and sugar and the other is gluten free.

Ahhh.

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You see, I have become involved in Cookie Trials!

Today’s foray into Cookie Trials brings us Easiest Peanut Butter (remarkable, with only 4 ingredients!) and Cranberry-Orange-Oatmeal (orange zest, sour cream and egg white distinguish this batch). As the batches of both came together quickly, with minimal effort, I thought I would share them with you. Two more cookie recipes for your culinary stockpile…

We’ll start with our 4-ingredient wonder, with a confession.

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I love peanut butter, but I’ve never been crazy about peanut butter cookies. The ones I had have been either too dry and crumbly. Or too sweet. And not “pea-nutty” enough.

So, I was intrigued by the idea of a peanut butter cookie made without flour. Maybe flour has been the culprit in forming my distaste. Peanut butter, sugar, egg, and vanilla—that’s all that goes into this recipe. I could imagine the peanut taste really coming through. But, how would it bake up? Would it have a good cookie texture?

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The verdict: These are very good peanut butter cookies. They are crisp and a little chewy and have a rich, roasted peanut flavor.

They baked up nicely, thickly. I could have made them smaller. I used an extra-crunchy peanut butter, which fills the dough with plenty of peanut bits. A creamy peanut butter would result in a lighter batter that might spread out a bit more as it bakes.

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It should go without saying, but a peanut butter cookie is only as good as the peanut butter going into it. Be sure to use your favorite.

Next up is a “lightened” Cranberry-Orange-Oatmeal cookie, its recipe taken from Cooking Light’s Cranberry-Oatmeal Bars.

The ingredient list looks long, but likely you’ve got most of the items already in your pantry. I had to run out for some sour cream.

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I was excited to try this recipe; the classic oatmeal cookie ranks high in my world. So a variation on the theme is generally welcome.

The lightly beaten egg white helps bind the batter, making it a softer cookie: more airy and delicate, like a macaroon.

Orange zest and juice, paired with the sour cream, really bring this cookie to life.

The recipe calls for quick oats, (which I had) but I think you could use the regular “old fashioned” rolled oats, and actually have better results–the oats being more defining, in both taste and texture.

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Verdict: overall, a delicious cookie. I like that these can be made easily into a small size–another lighter aspect of the cookie.

Small but good bites are satisfying, especially in these starker, post-holiday times.

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GLUTEN FREE PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES from Southern Living
1 cup peanut butter (your choice of creamy or crunchy)
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla

Place all four ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Beat until the mixture is well-combined. Form into 1 inch balls and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, one inch apart. Flatten the tops gently with the tines of a fork.

Bake on the center rack in a 325 degree preheated oven for 15 minutes. Allow to cool on a wire rack for 5–7 minutes before removing the cookies from the baking sheet.

Makes 20-24 cookies

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CRANBERRY-ORANGE OATMEAL COOKIES adapted from Cooking Light
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 cup oats
1 1/3 cups dried cranberries
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
6 tablespoons melted butter
3/4 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg white, lightly beaten

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, oats, dried cranberries, both sugars, orange zest, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon.
Beat in the sour cream, melted butter, orange juice, vanilla, and egg white.

Scoop small rounds of dough, placing them onto the parchment lined baking sheet, each an inch apart.

Bake on the center rack for about 15 minutes. Allow to cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes before removing from baking sheet.

Makes 3 dozen cookies

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Posted in Desserts, Gluten Free, Recipes | 15 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 »