Sunday, December 26, 2010

Killer Biscuits for Christmas Brunch

A Handsome Crowd
Ah, Christmas. It's the time of year that brings out the best and worst in all of us. It's when people come together to bask in the glory of Christmas lights and rip each other's eyeballs out of their sockets. My family is your (mostly) typical dysfunctional American family. We love each other and enjoy spending time together, but after awhile we go bat crazy.This Christmas was no different.

It all started on Christmas Eve with a rushed photo session, even though we built extra time in this year to account for a certain two-year-old's lack of cooperation. You see, my family's Christmas Eve tradition is getting dressed up, taking pictures of the family in front of the tree, and then going out to eat. This year I was very excited about wearing my purple satin sheath, and I daresay I looked quite lovely. Everyone arrived on time for photos, but a certain family member felt it was necessary to yell and make everyone hurry through the photos. Because we only had more than a half hour before we needed to leave for the restaurant, but for some reason, said person felt that we had to rush and take off right away. Right. The most difficult part of the photo session was the two-year-old, my dear nephew, who just did not want to be held nor stand still. Then there was trouble with my dad's camera remote. Oh geez. So it's already a little stressful, but we head to the restaurant anticipating a wonderful dinner.

But wait, there's more! We had made reservations for 12 initially, then changed to 11 when the restaurant confirmed our reservation earlier in the day. When my big bro, Frakah, her husband, and I arrived at the restaurant, my big bro checked us in and notified them that there were 10 of us- 9 adults and one child. Simple and easy, right? Wrong. Because this was the year that will go down in infamy as the great seating fiasco of 2010. hen we got to our table, I headed for the far end because our family tends to be reluctant about making anything easy (hey, I got to the table first, so I took the closest seat and now you'll have to climb over my shoulders to get to your seat). I thought I was doing something right. I should have known better. My sister in law came from behind trying to take the end where there was no place setting, so I tried to explain that either everyone in my row needed to move don one place, or we needed to move a setting for my SIL. My always-right mother started going off about how there is an extra place setting because she told the person who called from the restaurant earlier that there would be eleven of us. I said, non, big bro checked us in as 10. Well, even when I'm right, I'm wrong apparently, and everyone eventually sat down, but by then my mom did her sassy arms thing she does when she's mad, my sister started crying, and I was so upset I just didn't want to be anywhere at that table. So, yeah, Christmas fiasco: check.

The strangest gift I've ever received

Luckily, our food was delicious, thanks to Mama Mia (PDX). I enjoyed a delicious butternut squash ravioli with a browned butter sage sauce and balsamic reduction. And, cannoli for dessert (gotta love cannoli)! When we got back to my parents' house we held our sibling exchange, wherein all the siblings exchange gifts. This year we did it white elephant style, which was rather tricky to plan for. We each bought one $30 gift and one $5 gift, gave them to my mom who wrapped the $5 gifts identically and the $30 gifts identically. When we came together, little nephew drew a name from a box and that person chose a gift. The big laugh of the night came when I opened my $30 gift. It was a creepy picture of all the siblings, but what I didn't know was that there was a gift card behind the picture. When I opened it, I thought someone had spent $30 on a frame. Instead, it was $30 of hilarity.

Christmas morning was another story. No fiascos here. Oh, no. Instead, we engaged in what is becoming a bit of a tradition in our house: brunch. We love brunch. Whenever there is an occasion, we usually decide to have brunch. Why not? Brunch contains all of the best foods anyway. Our brunch consisted of baked french toast, hash browns, smoked salmon hash, cinnamon bun bread, scrambled eggs (my way, mostly), sausage gravy, and biscuits. I know what you may be thinking- meh. No, you are wrong. These biscuits were little clouds sent down from Heaven, intended for my intestinal tract. Oh yes, these were some killer biscuits. And, they were incredibly easy to make! I was concerned because the recipe makes 18 biscuits, but as I write this, there is only one left (6pm the day after). I would seriously fight someone over the last biscuit. I'm considering holding it hostage in my room to be eaten tomorrow. But I probably just want the recipe, right? Okay, here you go. But if you're feeling generous, why don't you share with me one of your holiday traditions?


Mother's Biscuits
from Mother's Best by Lisa Schroeder

6 cups self-rising flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
2 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 1/3 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, for dredging
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted

1. Heat the oven t 450 degrees F. Spray a 13x9-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

2. In a large bowl, combine the self-rising flour, sugar, and salt. Using a pastry blender, cut the cold butter into the dry ingredients until the butter is the size of peas.

3. Combine the buttermilk and heavy cream in a measuring cup. Pour it into the butter-flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until mostly incorporated. Then, using your hands, mix until just incorporated- no more than 3 or 4 quick kneadings. (Don't overmix, and don't worry that the batter is wet, goopy, and nonuniform. It is OK to have some pockets of flour and chunks of butter. That's what will make the biscuits flaky and moist. The most important thing is not to overmix!)

4. Put the all-purpose flour in a shallow bowl. Using an ice cream scoop with 1/3 cup capacity, scoop out a heaping portion of the batter and drop it into the flour. Sprinkle some flour on top, pick up the dough, and cup it in the palm of your hand. Gently jiggle the dough in your palm so that the excess flour falls away, leaving just a light coating.

5. Starting in one corner, arrange the biscuits in a row down the long side of the pan so you have a row of six. (You must start the first one very close to the corner and place the next one nearly on top of the first in order for all six biscuits to fit.) After filling the row, place two more biscuits across the short side (you should now have 3 across and 6 down). Continue scooping and arranging the remaining dough in pieces directly next to each other (they should be touching and just slightly squished) in rows until you have used all the dough.

6. Bake for 10 minutes, or until the biscuits start to brown, and then reduce the heat to 375 degrees F and bake until the biscuits are light brown all over, being sure to rotate the pan now and then (so the biscuits bake evenly), another 20 to 25 minutes. You'll know they're done when the biscuits start to pull away from each other, they don't have any bounce left when poked, and a knife inserted between some of them in the middle of the pan comes out clean.

7. Remove the pan from the oven, brush the tops of the biscuits with the melted butter, and let cool for 10 minutes before cutting into individual biscuits and serving.


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Eggnog Creams and the Cookie Party

Ahh, Christmas Cookies!
So today I went to my second out of three cookie swaps I am a part of this Christmas season. I only decided on what cookie to take last night, which is very last minute for me, but you must remember that I began my Christmas cookie baking before Thanksgiving. I was feeling a bit uninspired this week, and after those amazing chocolate mint cookies I made last weekend, I had no idea what to do with myself. So, last night I found myself perusing my mom's 2010 copy of America's Test Kitchen's Holiday Cookies magazine. In it were many yummy-looking recipes, but none appealed to me more than the Macadamia-Eggnog Creams (minus the macadamia nuts for me). I had everything I needed on hand (minus the macadamia nuts), so I went ahead and prepared the dough, which needed to chill in the fridge for an hour. I left it there overnight, since it makes no difference. When I woke up this morning, as soon as I was done with breakfast, I turned on this week's episode of Millionaire Matchmaker and started rolling, cutting, and baking my cookies.

I am hooked on Millionaire Matchmaker. I can't explain it. I like Patty's no-nonsense approach to finding love for rich people. I also like the freak show of some of the strange people she pulls into her office. I guess this was a sidebar, but oh well. Now you know where I stand.

Unfinished Cookies

Back to the cookies, I remembered that I don't like rolling out cookies as I was trying to roll out these cookies. I do not like the method this magazine prescribed, so I went to my own tried-and-true method. I used four cookie cutters: a bell, a star, a tree, and a snowman. I really like decorating the trees and snowmen. Once I got to the baking part, everything was a breeze. The cookies really only needed 6 minutes in our oven, and they came out looking puffy and barely golden on the edges. Once they were cooled, I packed them in a plastic container and prepared the rum glaze to take with me to the cookie party. The glaze was such a cinch to put together, and I used our aged rum because you can really taste it in the glaze.

Some Crazy Girls

The party was quite fun. My friend Kelsey invited me to her annual cookie swap that she and her family and friends do each year, and it was at her mother-in-law's house. There were lots of cookies, and it turns out three of us brought cookies for decorating. Everyone was impressed with my Martha Stewart sprinkles in blue and white (which, by the way, can be found at Michael's). Decorating cookies is always fun, and we joked about having a competition for prettiest cookie/weirdest cookie. All in all, a good day with some delicious cookies. I actually think that these eggnog cookies will become part of my annual Christmas cookie repertoire.

Pretty Cookies!

Eggnog Cookies
adapted from America's Test Kitchen Holiday 2010 Holiday Cookies

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 lrg egg, room temp
1/2 cup plus 3 tbsp eggnog
2 tbsp rum
2 cups powdered sugar

1. Combine flour, baking soda, nutmeg, and salt in bowl. With electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter and both sugars until light and fluffy, 2 minutes. Add egg and beat until incorporated. Reduce speed to low and alternate additions of flour mixture and 1/2 cup eggnog, mixing after each addition until combined. Divide dough into quarters, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, 1 hour.

2. Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 375 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Toll each dough quarter on a lightly-floured flat surface to 1/8-inch thickness.Using cookie cutter, cut out cookies and place 1 inch apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake until edges are light brown, 6-10 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking. Cool 10 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

3. Whisk remaining eggnog, rum, and powdered sugar together until smooth. Spoon scant teaspoon glaze over cookies, then decorate with sprinkles- be creative!


Tree and Snowman

Monday, December 13, 2010

Baking Compulsion, Part 2 wherein I bake cookies, crackers, rolls and truffles

Super Duper Chocolate Mint Cookies
So my baking compulsion is getting a little out of control. Not only do I feel the need to keep my hands busy with baking, but I feel the need to be perfect at it. I want to make the best cookies, the best cakes, the best everything, really, and it's just too much. This weekend the stress got to me. Granted, my perfectionism isn't limited to baking. I'm also a perfectionist with my schoolwork (I'm allergic to anything that is not an A) and really any work that is examined or seen by another person. This might make me a type A personality, but it also means I'm a good baker. I'm lucky in that respect.

Dinner Rolls

This weekend my baking compulsion kicked into high gear and I produced cheese crackers, super super chocolate mint cookies, two kinds of truffles, and homemade dinner rolls. And it all turned out fantastically. I consider myself lucky. I won't get into the nitty gritty of my baking this time, except to say there was some watching of Prancer and Meet Me in St. Louis (both great movies). For my cookies, I had been dreaming of turning my famous Super Duper Chocolate Cookies into mint chocolate cookies, and that dream came true in what I believe to be the perfect cookie. To make the mint cookies, all I did was decrease the amount of coffee powder to 1 tsp and decrease the vanilla to 1 tsp and add 1 tsp peppermint extract. Then, instead of white chocolate chips, I added a cup of mint M & M's. 

For the rolls recipe, I used the one found here.

Peppermint Truffles


Ingredients (yields ~ 18 truffles)

Chopped hazelnuts or
Cocoa powder, sifted or
Crushed candy canes
3-1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate
3-1/2 ounces semisweet chocolate
½ cup heavy cream
1 tbsp Frangelico or Peppermint Schnapps
1 tbsp hot coffee
1/2 tsp vanilla extract


1. Chop the chocolate and place in a bowl.

2. Heat cream over medium-high heat until it reaches a boil. Immediately pour hot cream over bowl with chocolate and whisk until smooth.

3. Whisk in liqueur, coffee, and vanilla.

4. Cover mixture and transfer to refrigerator for about an hour.

5. Using a small ice cream scoop, make scoops of chocolate mixture and place on a lined cookie sheet. Transfer back to fridge for another 15-20 minutes.

6. Remove truffles from fridge only 4 at a time to prevent unnecessary melting. Roll dollops into balls with your hands (remember, doesn’t have to be perfect) and roll in either the hazelnuts, cocoa powder, or candy canes.

7. Package as you wish and store in the fridge until ready to serve.

Cheese Crackers
Oat-and-Cheddar Crackers
from December 2010 Food & Wine

1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 cup milk
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
4 oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
2 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 lrg egg, lightly beaten
Egg wash: 1 lrg egg yolk lightly beaten with 1 tbsp milk
Demerara or Turbinado sugar

1. In a small bowl, combine the oats and milk and let stand until the oats soften slightly, about 5 minutes.

2. In a food processor, combine the flour, baking powder and salt and pulse a few times to blend. Add the cheese and butter and pulse until a coarse meal forms. Stir the beaten egg into the softened oats, then scrape the oats into the food processor. Pulse until a dough forms. Scrape the dough onto a large sheet of plastic wrap and gently knead a few times until thoroughly blended. Pat the dough into a disk, wrap it up and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Work with half of the dough at a time: on a lightly floured work service, dust the dough with flour. Cover with a large sheet of plastic wrap. Roll out the dough 1/8 inch thick. Quickly cut the dough into 1 1/2 inch squares or stamp out different shapes. Brush off any excess flour and transfer the squares to one of the baking sheets. Refrigerate for at least 5 minutes, until the squares are firm. Repeat with the second piece of dough.

4. Lightly brush the squares with the egg wash and lightly sprinkle with sugar. Bake for about 16 minutes, until the crackers are golden brown. Transfer to a rack and let cool before serving or packaging.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Ginger Molasses Cookies, or, The Day I Realized I May Have a Compulsive Baking Disorder

Ooh, cookie jar!
Hello friends! So my baking was nearly sidelined this week when I contracted a yucky cold, but luckily today I woke up feeling like things are getting better. Frakah was supposed to come bake with me, but alas, she too has contracted the nasty cold making its rounds in my family. So I sat there eating breakfast this morning, trying to figure out what to do with myself. Sure, I had finals to study for and a 3 page memo to type up (which, unfinished, is 3 pages at this moment), but my hands were feeling a little restless and my brain a little useless. The dejected half of me got crafty made some salt scrub to give away as gifts (surprise!), but the baking warrior in me would not let this day, one of few weekend days before Christmas, go to waste. I felt a mysterious need to bake something, as if I would not be complete without baking something today. It's like baking has become a compulsion for me, something I can't help but do. So, what to make, you ask? Ginger Molasses Cookies!

I Have always had a fondness for molasses cookies. I love that chewy, warm, thick taste. To me, molasses cookies are like the Cabernet Sauvignon of cookies. And I love me some Cabernet Sauvignon. In fact, my dad poured me a glass while I was baking these very cookies. So anyway, my next decision was which recipe to use. I've been so happy with every recipe I've baked out of my Grand Central Baking Book that I just had to try its recipe for Ginger Molasses Cookies. I could not be happier with the end result, which is warm and delicious. The ginger heats up your tongue while the molasses gives a nice aftertaste, and the outside is crispy while the inside is chewy. All in all, a lovely Christmas cookie. Enjoy!

What a lovely pan of cookies!
Ginger Molasses Cookies
from The Grand Central Baking Book

3 cups (15 oz) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temp
2 cups (14 oz) granulated sugar, plus extra for rolling
1/2 cup (6 oz) unsulfured molasses (not black strap)
2 eggs, at room temp
1 1/2 tsp white vinegar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Measure the dry ingredients (flour through cloves) into a bowl and whisk to combine.

Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugar, and molasses on medium speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until the mixture is lighter in color and fluffy. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl several times during the process.

While the mixer is running, crack the eggs into a small bowl and add the vinegar. Reduce the speed to low, then slowly pour in the eggs, letting them fall in one at a time and incorporating the first egg completely before adding the next. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl once during the process.

Gradually add the dry ingredients (in 2 to 3 additions) with the mixer on low speed. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl once, to fully incorporate the butter and sugar.

Scoop the dough into balls about the size of ping pong balls and roll the balls in sugar, then arrange them on the baking sheets, 6 per pan. Press each ball into a 3/4 inch disk.

Bake for about 10 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time. The cookies should be rich brown in color, with crackly tops. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets.

Note: I baked my first batch a little longer, as the cookies didn't look quite done. I used a medium cookie scoop to scoop the dough. This produced 2 1/2 dozen cookies.