Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Another Look at Cookies

Again, let me apologize for not sharing a good recipe with you last week.  I have a better one this week – I promise. 
So toward the end of college I was working for a cookbook author, preparing to work again with the Smithsonian Folklife Festival’s Foodways section, and waitressing in a bar.  That meant I was thinking about and dealing with food pretty much continually.  I didn’t eat too much food as I was incredibly busy, subsisting off of single pop tarts and hamburger halves through thesis writing and graduation.  (I realized this was a bad idea when I grabbed a hamburger from the bar I worked at, ran to pick up graduation tickets, said hello to a friend’s family, answered two telephone calls from my own family and began choking on said hamburger in front of my former advisor; I thought I should really move on to something that required less chewing.)
Anyways, around this time I started tinkering with my own recipes.  I made a pretty awesome strawberry rhubarb pie and some wonderful cookies.  I wrote down the recipe for the pie, but neglected to take my cookie recipe to paper.  Thus, I forgot the recipe.  But, I remember what those cookies tasted like. 

Have you ever eaten something but wanted it to be a little more spectacular?  Like, wow this chocolate chip cookie is good, but what if it had peanut butter in it too?  That’s the way I felt about the Archway chocolate cookies you find in the grocery store.  I had bought them for a project my step-sister was doing for her special-ed classroom – Ice Cream sandwiches.  The Archway cookies are big, flat and easy to handle.  They offer a large area for spreading ice cream which is always a big deciding factor in making ice cream sandwiches.  The chocolate cookies are good, but they were missing something – mint.  Now, if you are not a fan of chocolate and mint I am sorry, you are missing out.
These cookies are a little temperamental, they are superb when cooked exactly right and kind of duds when baked a little too long.  Although as long as you use a timer when baking, you should be fine.  (I don’t use a timer, and this comes back to bite me in the butt every so often).  These cookies store well in an air-tight container making them perfect for baking and sharing, but they also make a very handsome ice cream cookie sandwich.

Chocolate Mint Crinkles
as adapted from Bon App├ętit Dec. 2000

2 sticks butter, softened
1 ¾ c sugar
2 eggs
¾ tsp peppermint extract
2 cups white whole wheat flour
1 c cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
Large Granulated decorating sugar

Preheat oven to 350°.  Line 4 baking sheets with parchment paper.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs and peppermint extract and mix to combine.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix until just combined.  Roll dough into 1 ½” balls and place on a cookie sheet spacing about 2” apart.  Press dough on the balls to flatten them to about ½” thickness. 

Sprinkle cookies with decorating sugar, and bake until the cookies are firm around the edges, but soft and crackled in the center – about 12 minutes.  Rotate pans if the cookies are baking unevenly.  Cool on trays for about 5 minutes and then move the parchment with cookies off of trays.  Allow to cool, and enjoy.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Christmas Cookies Part I

Alright here is my first installment of trying out cookie recipes for the Holidays and sharing them with you.  This week was Chocolate Pistachio Biscotti from an old Food & Wine recipe.  It looked quite delicious and biscotti keep very well so I thought I would give it a shot.
I don’t know about you, but I have binders (yes that’s plural) filled with torn out pages from magazines and handwritten recipes I scribbled down on something random.  Hello, torn piece of cardboard or back of “To Do List” from 2003.  My first binder is very well organized, with tabs distinguishing poultry from appetizers from desserts.  However, that binder got full real fast.  I also have a special purple binder emblazoned with Jewel (the singer) stickers that I brought with me to college.  This has in it my own recipes and other special ones, I know exactly which recipes are where in there and how each grease stain and food spot got onto the pages.  I love that purple binder (and no, not just because it has Jewel stickers all over it). 
The third binder is a bit more haphazard.  It’s kind of dangerous actually.  When I open it I have to be careful the recipes don’t take out their vengeance on me and cut me with a million paper cuts.  They are so poorly thrown together, some not even hole-punched (gasp!) that I am sure they feel their very nature has been compromised.  I am always hesitant to reach for that binder because I know it will take me an hour to go through it and find the recipe I want.  Seeing that binder reminds me why I should never take up scrapbooking. 
Perhaps if I have a snow day and some tabs and a hole-punch I can make an honest binder out of it.  Until that day comes, though, I will continue to add torn pages from magazines to the top of my book shelf and neglect them with all the others. 
Luckily for you though, this recipe came from the previous well-organized binder.  But I never had a chance to make it before now.  And the verdict is – it’s not really worth it to make these biscotti.  I know right!  What a letdown.  I had high hopes for these – pistachios, chocolate, almond extract, more chocolate – what could be bad about these.  It turns out that second addition of chocolate just doesn’t work.  Since biscotti get baked twice, they tend to be crisp and sturdy.  These took a little longer to cook then I prefer drying out parts but not the whole thing.  They were also very delicate to handle and tended to crumble since I had to move them around so frequently during the baking process. 
They taste fine, and they are pretty neat to look at but they kind of leave me with a ‘so what?’ feeling.  I figure that when trying to make cookies to encourage your neighbor to snow blow your walk way throughout the entire winter – you had better make some pretty spectacular cookies.  These were not snow blower approved.   If you would like to try them out for yourself, the link to the recipe is here.  So because of this, I do not have recipe per se to share with you today.  However, I am on the prowl for a scrumptious cookie and hopefully I can share a recipe with you next week!

In the Jamie v. Cookies battle so far:

Christmas Cookies – 0
Jamie - 1

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Curious Cannolis

First, I need to apologize to Joe’s Nana.  (by the way it’s pronounced ‘Nah-Nah’) I fear that she would not approve of the recipe I am about to share with you here.  She takes her cannolis very seriously.  These qualify as being too fussy or new to meet her exacting cannoli standards, and for that I understand.  But I will push on anyways without her blessing and share this recipe anyways.

Oh wait, so you want to know more about how seriously Nana takes her cannolis? Alright, I will indulge you.  I once made cannolis for Joe’s grandparents when we went to visit around Halloween one year.  He said his grandfather liked cannolis, so I thought that would be an excellent surprise to bring along.  Well, that and it gave me an excuse to buy cannoli forms.  What are cannoli forms?  Oh they are just over priced pieces of pipe that you wrap cannoli dough around and then deep fry. 
I made sure to follow a traditional recipe for both the cannoli shells and the filling.  Joe advised me that I should keep the filling in a separate container and only fill them once we were about to eat dessert, otherwise the shells would get soggy. (I’m telling you, these people do not mess around!) 
I managed to keep everything intact through a Halloween party and a short flight – I typically carry food with me as a carry on – doesn’t everyone? 
When I announced what I brought for dessert, Joe’s grandfather was excited but Nana was hesitant.  She told me she needed to taste the cannoli cream before I could serve it.  I opened the ziplock bag and she stuck her finger right in and popped it in her mouth.  She closed her eyes and nodded – it would do.  I am sure she was being nice, but at least it passed.  And she told me she couldn’t stand it when they put in different things like cinnamon into the cream.  She went on to tell me that she would always insist on tasting the cannoli cream before purchasing any cannolis from a new bakery, and that she had told the proprietors no on more than one occasion.  So at least I had passed this test.

However delicious regular cannolis are, I thought I would try something a little different for Halloween this year and perhaps even throughout the Holidays.  Plus, I am super obsessed with pumpkin flavored things this year.  Below is the complete recipe for the cannolis, but if you can find cannoli shells at the store, or if you can buy empty shells from a bakery – do it.  It is not really worth the hassle of frying your own.  I thought that after one greasy form slipped into my pot of oil and sprayed the entire kitchen.  Save yourself the trouble – unless of course you want an excuse to run out and buy cannoli forms.

 Pumpkin Cannolis
As adapted from the recipe inside the cannoli form packaging.

For the Shells
1 ¾ c flour
½ tsp. salt
2 Tb sugar
1 egg
2 Tb butter, cold and cut into small pieces
About ¼ c sweet Marsala
1 egg white, slightly beaten

Vegetable oil for deep frying

For the Filling
2 c ricotta cheese
1 c canned pumpkin
¾ c powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla
¼ tsp anise extract
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp all spice
1/3 c mini chocolate chips

For the Shells: Sift the flour, salt and sugar together into a large bowl.  Make a well in the center, add the egg and butter.  Slightly beat the egg, and then with a fork begin to moisten the flour working from the center outward.   Add Marsala one tablespoon at a time, working until the dough comes together (it will still be a bit dry).  Cover and let stand for 15 minutes at room temperature.

Roll out the dough to about 1/16” thick and cut into circles 3 ½” in diameter (or 2 ½” for smaller cannolis).  Then with the rolling pin, make the circles into ovals.  Heat oil in a heavy bottomed pot, so there is about 2 – 3” of oil for deep frying. 

Wrap the dough around the cannoli forms, dip your finger into the beaten egg white and wipe it where the dough overlaps each other t seal it.  Then turn out the edges of the dough around the form slightly.  Once the oil reaches 350° begin frying.  Fry each shell for about 1 or 2 minutes until golden brown, remove to a paper towel lined platter and let cool.  Once cool, slide form out of shell and wrap another piece of dough around it.  Repeat until all the shells are fried. 

For the Filling: Blend the ricotta in a food processor or blender until very smooth, add in pumpkin, sugar, vanilla, anise and spices and blend until well combined.  Add chocolate chips and stir to combine.  Place filling in a pastry bag, or a ziplock bag. 

When ready to serve, pipe filling into each shell, dust with powdered sugar and enjoy.

 Makes about 15-18 cannoli shells (with some extra filling).