Sunday, November 28, 2010

Christmas Baking Extravaganza, Part I

A Delicious Pair
 Over the course of the next few weeks, I intend to do lots of baking. I want to bake cookies and brownies and crackers and truffles and barks and toffees and and and... You get the picture. So my sister and I got an early start on our baking this weekend. Hey, if the tree is already up in the living room , I think it's perfectly acceptable to start Christmas baking.

So Frakah and I put in a steady stream of Christmas movies (The Leprechaun's Christmas Gold, anyone?), and baked some Chocolate Mexican Wedding Cookies and Orange Nutmeg Cookies. We started on the Chocolate Mexican Wedding Cookies first since they needed to chill the longest in the fridge. The recipe comes out of an awesome Ghirardelli Chocolate cookbook I picked up in Monterrey last year when I visited one of my best friends. The recipe was actually pretty easy to prepare. The hardest part was lugging out my mom's super-heavy food processor to grind the pecans. Frakah took over the creaming process while I handled the dry ingredients and the dough came together in no time. While the dough chilled in the fridge, we prepared the dough for the Orange Nutmeg Cookies. I had the luxurious duty of grating orange zest and nutmeg. Needless to say, my hands smelled nice afterward. Again, Frakah took over the wet ingredients while I measured the dry. Once the dough came together, it too went into the fridge. We had a half hour to relax before it was time to roll the Orange Nutmeg dough into logs.

Pre-Powder
After chilling, the Mexican cookie dough was ready to be rolled into balls and baked. The dough was very tender and crumbly after coming out of the oven, so I'm sad to say there were a few casualties when I transferred the cookies to wire racks. While warm, we rolled the cookies in a mixture of powdered sugar and cocoa. There was another casualty or two, but it was a tasty casualty.

The Orange Nutmeg Cookies, after chilling, were covered in egg wash and rolled in turbinado sugar. They looked so blingy and fancy before going into the oven. Frakah and I dreamed of fancy cocktail parties with these fabulous-looking cookies. They even looked and smelled delicious fresh out of the oven.

To celebrate our first baking success of the season, Frakah and I enjoyed some homemade eggnog lattes. I brewed some espresso in my stove top Italian coffee maker while Frakah whipped up the special stuff. We tinkered the recipe a bit to make it more eggnogy (what is eggnog without nutmeg and booze?). I suppose I should delay the recipe no further so that you, too, can enjoy the fruits of our success.

Chocolate Mexican Wedding Cookies
from The Ghirardelli Chocolate Cookbook

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temp.
1/3 cup powdered sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup ground pecans
1/2 cup Ghirardelli Sweet Ground Chocolate and Cocoa
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt

1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup Ghirardelli Sweet Ground Chocolate and Cocoa

To make the cookies, in a large bowl, cream the butter and powdered sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla.

In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, pecans, ground chocolate, cinnamon, and salt. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture and mix until well blended.

Powdered
Wrap the dough with plastic wrap and chill for 1 to 2 hours, until firm.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Shape the dough into 1-inch balls. Place the balls 1 inch apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until the cookies are firm to the touch. Cool for 1 minute on the cookie sheet, and then transfer to a wire rack.

To make coating, sift powdered sugar and ground chocolate into a shallow bowl. While the cookies are still warm, roll them in the coating.

Note: Our cookies took less time in the oven. We produced about 44 1-inch balls.

Orange Nutmeg Cookies
from The Grand Central Baking Book

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temp.
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg, at room temp.
2 tbsp finely chopped orange zest
Egg wash (mix an egg, 1 tbsp water, and pinch of salt)
Turbinado sugar, for rolling

Measure the flour, salt, and nutmeg into a bowl and whisk to combine.

Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and granulated sugar together on medium speed until very smooth and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

Add the egg and orange zest and reduce the mixer speed to low.

Add the dry ingredients and mix just until they disappear into the dough. Chill the dough for approximately 30 minutes so it will be easier to handle.

Shape the dough into 2 logs 2 inches in diameter, then chill for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days. I used wax paper the shape and cover the logs.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Lightly brush each log of dough with the egg wash, then roll in the turbinado sugar, using some pressure so that the sugar adheres to it. Slice the cookies 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick and place them about 1 inch apart on the prepared pans. Bake for 20 minutes, rotating pans halfway through the baking time. The cookies are ready when the edges have browned slightly and the centers are light golden brown.

Note: Our cookies took significantly less time in the oven. We also learned thicker is better. We made maybe 3 1/2 dozen cookies. Maybe.

Eggnog-Flavored Latte
adapted from Coffee by Avner Laskin

2 egg yolks
3 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp rum
2 cups milk
4 servings espresso, short
freshly grated nutmeg, to taste

1. Place the egg yolks and sugar in an electric mixer and blend until smooth and bright yellow.

2. Whip the cream and rum until it forms stiff peaks and fold into the egg yolk mixture.

3. Heat the milk in the microwave until it is just below boiling. Fill each mug halfway with hot milk.

4. Prepare espresso and pour 1 serving in each cup.

5. Top each glass with 3 or 4 teaspoons of the egg and cream mixture. Grate nutmeg on top and serve.

Note: This makes four servings, We cut it in half and made 2 and still had cream left over.

Enjoy!

Eggnog and Cookies!


Friday, November 26, 2010

World Peace Cookies

World Peace Cookies
Well, folks, it's here. The Christmas Season has begun, which also means that cookie season is here. In fact, I got into the cookie spirit a little early this year and made some cookies on Tuesday. They were very easy to make and happened to require ingredients I'd already had on hand.

I think I got into the spirit so soon this year because of the significant change in the weather. Winter arrived early in the Pacific Northwest, bringing some premature snow flurries and freezing temperatures. We usually only get maybe one or two snows a year, and those are usually between December and February, so this was definitely an early start. But I knew this was coming based on the number of squirrels and birds gathering peanuts in my parents' backyard and the fact that my feet have been permanently cold for weeks.

So to help make winter a little brighter, I opted for some World Peace Cookies, which are essentially a chocolate shortbread with chocolate chunks. They're soft, crumbly, chocolatey and delicious. And they make me super-excited about cookie season. And I think these hold true to their name, for they inspire me to seek world peace. But chocolate usually has a calming effect on me. Can't say the same for some other people out there...

I took the recipe from another blog, which you can find here.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tiramisu!

Tiramisu!
Let me preface this post by saying I love tiramisu! Exclamation point! It is decidedly my favorite dessert of all time. I actually judge Italian restaurants by their tiramisu. If they can't make a good tiramisu, then what are they good for?

Tiramisu is actually a fairly easy dessert to make, if you ask me. A good tiramisu should be creamy and have a distinct coffee flavor. It's basically a fancy Italian trifle.


Yummmmm...
 I've made this particular recipe for tiramisu a few times before. It has always been quite a hit with everyone. This week I made it for family dinner. We were planning to have salad, lasagna and bread, so an Italian dessert was in order. Enter: tiramisu.

Classic Tiramisu
from allrecipes.com

6 egg yolks
1 1/4 cups white sugar
1 1/4 cups mascarpone cheese
1 3/4 cups heavy whipping cream
2 packages ladyfingers
1/3 cup coffee liqueur

1 tsp unsweetened coca powder, for dusting
1 square semisweet chocolate

1. Combine egg yolks and sugar in the top of a double boiler, over boiling water. Reduce heat to low and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and whip yolks until thick and lemon colored.

2. Add mascarpone to whipped yolks. Beat until combined. In a separate bowl, whip cream to stiff peaks. Gently fold into yolk mixture and set aside.

3. Split the lady fingers in half and line he bottom and sides of a large glass bowl. Brush with coffee liqueur. Spoon half of the cream filling over the ladyfingers. Repeat ladyfingers, coffee liqueur and filling layers. Garnish with cocoa and chocolate curls. Refrigerate several hours or over night.

Note: The longer this sits, the better it will taste. My ladyfingers were particularly crisp, so they were not softened enough after sitting in the fridge for six hours. I may recommend more liquid for crispy ladyfingers. I used Kahlua Especial.

Monday, November 8, 2010

An Afternoon Tea with Buttermilk Chocolate Chip Crumb Cake

Ah, afternoon tea. It's one of my favorite things. Nothing feels more special and relaxing than sitting down to a nice spread of food and hot tea. I've been doing afternoon teas for several years now, usually with my sister or sister-in-law. On a good day, every one's here for tea.

I know some people may have their reservations about afternoon tea. It does sound awfully fancy and hoity-toity. But it's not! Sometimes it is, and though I like it that way, I know far too many people who don't. Afternoon tea at home is much more, well, homey. I usually whip up whatever I can by way of sandwiches and try to bake some sort of scone or cake. We do use fancy tea cups, but none of the dishes match. We even use fancy little tea spoons, but that just makes it fun. Even my nephew wanted in on the tea fun!

So today's spread featured a smoked salmon and potato galette, asiago cheese bread, sweet potato cupcakes, and a buttermilk chocolate chip crumb cake. The tea was a vanilla rooibus. All was delicious.

Buttermilk Chocolate Chip Crumb Cake
from Chocolate Chocolate by Lisa Yockelson

Butter Crumb Topping
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
2 tsp vanilla extract

Buttery Buttermilk-Chocolate Chip Batter
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup bleached cake flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups miniature semisweet chocolate chips
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups superfine sugar
3 lg eggs
2 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
3/4 miniature chocolate chips, for sprinkling on top of the baked cake
Confectioners' sugar, for sifting over the baked cake

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease and flour a 13 by 9 in. pan.

Make the topping. Thoroughly mix the flour, granulated sugar, light brown sugar, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Drop in the chunks of butter and, using a pastry blender, cut the fat into the flour until reduced to small pieces about the size of large pearls. Sprinkle the vanilla extract over. With your fingertips, knead the mixture together until moist, clumpy lumps are formed.

Mix the batter. Sift the dry ingredients (flour through salt) onto a sheet of wax paper. In a small bowl, toss the chocolate chips with 1 1/2 tsp of the sifted mixture.
     Cream the butter in the large bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed for 3 minutes. Add the sugar in 3 additions, beating for 1 minute after each portion is added, then beat another minute. Blend in the eggs, one at a time, beating for 45 seconds after each addition. Mix in the vanilla extract. On low speed, alternately add the sifted mixture in 3 additions with the buttermilk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with the sifted mixture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl frequently to keep the batter even-textured. Stir in the chocolate chips.
     Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Smooth the top with a rubber spatula.
     Sprinkle the streusel topping evenly over the cake batter, taking care to cover the four corners and long edges. Use all of the topping- the covering will be generous.

Bake and cool the cake. Bake the cake in the preheated oven for 1 hour, or until risen, set, golden, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
     Place the pan on a rack. Immediately sprinkle the 3/4 cup chocolate chips on top of the cake. Cool completely.   
     Sift confectioners' sugar lightly over the top of the cake just before cutting into fingers or squares directly from the pan.

Note: this cake is very sweet, so the powdered sugar is optional- it looks pretty, but can be a bit too much.