Monday, December 25, 2006

Buche de Noel


Buche de Noel
I hope everyone has had a Merry Christmas. I spent some of Christmas Eve baking the sponge for our Buche, then took some time out Christmas day to come home and finish the marscapone cream and chocolate ganache. This was my first Buche de Noel, and I can honestly say I don't think I need to make another. I used the recipe from Baking Illustrated. It was good, but not totally awe-inspiring. I found the marscapone cream to be not creamy enough. The ganache was delicious, but it was chocolate, so how can you go wrong? The most fun came in the decorating. The pine needles are sprigs of rosemary dipped in egg-wash, and sprinkled with superfine sugar. The mushrooms were made from meringue, then brushed with cocoa powder using a pastry brush. I already have some ideas for next year....

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies

Another recipe from Gourmet- but this year's issue. Absolutely-delicious-make-again cookies. They were like little brownies out of the oven, and got better with age. You could really taste the hazelnuts. Hazelnuts are a giant pain. I don't care how long you roast some of them, their little skins aren't coming off. Do the best you can. Be careful with the nuts in the food processor. It's easy to end up making hazelnut butter.

Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies
2/3 cup hazelnuts
2 tbs. granulated sugar
6 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (no more than 60% cacao if marked), finely chopped
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbs. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/4 cup whole milk
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup confectioners sugar

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.
Toast hazelnuts in a shallow baking pan in oven until skins split and nuts are pale golden, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven (turn oven off), then wrap hazelnuts in a kitchen towel and rub to remove any loose skins. Cool nuts completely. Pulse nuts with granulated sugar in a food processor until finely chopped.
Melt chocolate in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water or in top of a double boiler, stirring until smooth. Remove bowl from heat and set aside.
Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.
Beat together butter and brown sugar in another bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until creamy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in melted chocolate until combined. Add milk and vanilla, beating to incorporate. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture, mixing until just combined. Stir in nut mixture. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill dough until firm, 2 to 3 hours.

Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Sift confectioners sugar into a bowl. Halve dough and chill 1 half, wrapped in plastic wrap. Roll remaining half into 1-inch balls, placing them on a sheet of wax paper as rolled. Roll balls, 3 or 4 at a time, in confectioners sugar to coat generously and arrange 2 inches apart on lined baking sheets.
Bake, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until cookies are puffed and cracked and edges feel dry (but centers are still slightly soft), 12 to 18 minutes total. Transfer cookies (still on parchment) to racks to cool completely.
While first batch is baking, roll remaining dough into balls. Line cooled cookie sheets with fresh parchment, then coat balls with confectioners sugar and bake in same manner.
Cookies keep, layered between sheets of parchment or wax paper, in an airtight container at room temperature 5 days.

Makes about 7 dozen cookies.
December 2006

Friday, December 22, 2006

Spoon Cookies

This is another recipe from last year's December Gourmet. It was fetaured with an article that begins, "Every year, at Christmas I make the best cookies". With a claim like that, I had to make them. They really are delicious, yet tedious to make. They have a lot of butter flavor, and despite being on the large side for a cookie, very delicate. These were my mother in law's favorite. You must wait to eat them- they definitely get better with age.

Spoon Cookies

2 sticks (1 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt, slightly rounded
1/3 cup fruit preserves (your choice)

Special equipment: a deep-bowled teaspoon (not a measuring spoon)

Make dough:
Fill kitchen sink with about 2 inches of cold water. Melt butter in a 2- to 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until butter turns golden with a nutlike fragrance and flecks on bottom of pan turn a rich caramel brown, 10 to 12 minutes. (Butter will initially foam, then dissipate. A thicker foam will appear and cover the surface just before butter begins to brown; stir more frequently toward end of cooking.) Place pan in sink to stop cooking, then cool, stirring frequently, until butter starts to look opaque, about 4 minutes. Remove pan from sink and stir in sugar and vanilla.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl and stir into butter mixture until a dough forms. Shape into a ball, wrap with plastic wrap, and let stand at cool room temperature 1 to 2 hours (to allow flavors to develop).

Form and bake cookies:
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 325°F.

Press a piece of dough into bowl of teaspoon, flattening top, then slide out and place, flat side down, on an ungreased baking sheet. (Dough will feel crumbly, but will become cohesive when pressed.) Continue forming cookies and arranging on sheet. Bake cookies until just pale golden, 8 to 15 minutes. Cool cookies on sheet on a rack 5 minutes, then transfer cookies to rack and cool completely, about 30 minutes.

Assemble cookies:
While cookies cool, heat preserves in a small saucepan over low heat until just runny, then pour through a sieve into a small bowl, pressing hard on solids, and cool completely.

Spread the flat side of a cookie with a thin layer of preserves. Sandwich with flat side of another cookie. Continue with remaining cookies and preserves, then let stand until set, about 45 minutes. Transfer cookies to an airtight container and wait 2 days before eating.

Cooks' notes:
• Dough can be made 12 hours before baking and chilled, covered. Bring to room temperature to soften slightly before forming cookies, about 30 minutes.
• Cookies keep in an airtight container at room temperature 2 weeks.

Makes about 30 sandwich cookies.
December 2005
Adapted from Celia Barbour

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

White Chocolate Bark

Another of the gifts for friends. Absolutely delicious, and practically no cooking. I made gift baskets for friends with homemade treats in one afternoon. So cute, greatly appreciated and very easy. I used the mini candy canes becasue the grocery store was out of the big ones. This is another Martha Stewart. I added the chocolate drizzle on the top.

Peppermint Bark

Makes 2 1/4 pounds or one 11-by-17-inch sheet
If you don’t have a double boiler, use a metal bowl set over a pot of simmering water.

2 pounds white chocolate, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces

12 large candy canes

1/2 tsp. peppermint oil

2 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, melted

Line an 11-by-17-inch baking sheet with parchment, and set aside. In the top of a double boiler, melt white chocolate, stirring constantly. With a chef’s knife or meat tenderizer, cut or pound candy canes into 1/4-inch pieces. Stir pieces of candy canes and peppermint oil into the melted chocolate. Remove from heat, and pour the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet; spread evenly. Chill until firm, 25 to 30 minutes. Drizzle melted semisweet chocolate over the top, if desired. Break into pieces, and serve. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Nut Brittle

This nut brittle was made for gifts for friends. It was so easy and so much fun to break. But beware of very hot melted sugar. It can be scary stuff. I used pecans, cashews and hazelnuts becaus that is what I had in my freezer. Martha Stewart featured this recipe as part of her home-made gifts series. She suggested you buy a small baking sheet and give the brittle with a tiny hammer, letting the recipient break it herself. It's a cute idea.

Nut Brittle Block

Makes one 9-by-13-inch pan

unsalted butter, softened, for baking sheet
vegetable oil, for spatula

1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
pinch of salt
2 1/2 cups unsalted nuts, such as dry-roasted peanuts, cashews, hazelnuts, almonds or pecans, or toasted pumpkin seeds
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. baking soda

Brush a 9-by-13-inch rimmed baking sheet with butter, and oil an offset spatula; set aside. Put sugar, corn syrup, and salt in a medium saucepan with 1/4 cup cold water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Wash down sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush to prevent crystals from forming. Cook, swirling the pan occasionally, until the mixture registers 238° on a candy thermometer (soft-ball stage). Stir in nuts, and continue to cook, stirring often so that the nuts do not burn, until the mixture is medium amber in color, 10 to 15 minutes.
Carefully stir in vanilla and baking soda (the mixture will foam up). Pour onto prepared baking sheet, and using oiled offset spatula, quickly spread into a 1/2-inch-thick layer. Let cool completely. Break brittle into pieces if desired; store in an airtight container at room temperature up to 1 month.

Recipe from Martha Stewart Holiday Handmade Gifts, December 2006. When giving as a gift, package this brittle block with cellophane, and include a small hammer and bow.

Seven Layer Cookies

I really wanted to try to make these after I saw the recipe in the December Gourmet last year. They just looked so pretty. Two of the cookie recipes featured reminded me of my east coast bakery experiences, these and the black and white cookies. I made the black and white last year. I think these came out beautifully. You really have to like almond flavor. Abbie wasn't crazy about them.
Seven Layer Cookies

4 large eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1 (8-oz) can almond paste
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
25 drops red food coloring
25 drops green food coloring
1 (12-oz) jar apricot preserves, heated and strained
7 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped

Special equipment: a heavy-duty stand mixer; a small offset spatula

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 13- by 9-inch baking pan and line bottom with wax paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on 2 ends, then butter paper.

Beat whites in mixer fitted with whisk attachment at medium-high speed until they just hold stiff peaks. Add 1/4 cup sugar a little at a time, beating at high speed until whites hold stiff, slightly glossy peaks. Transfer to another bowl.

Switch to paddle attachment, then beat together almond paste and remaining 3/4 cup sugar until well blended, about 3 minutes. Add butter and beat until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add yolks and almond extract and beat until combined well, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low, then add flour and salt and mix until just combined.

Fold half of egg white mixture into almond mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly.

Divide batter among 3 bowls. Stir red food coloring into one and green food coloring into another, leaving the third batch plain. Set white batter aside. Chill green batter, covered. Pour red batter into prepared pan and spread evenly with offset spatula (layer will be about 1/4 inch thick).

Bake red layer 8 to 10 minutes, until just set. (It is important to undercook.)

Using paper overhang, transfer layer to a rack to cool, about 15 minutes. Clean pan, then line with wax paper and butter paper in same manner as above. Bake white layer in prepared pan until just set. As white layer bakes, bring green batter to room temperature. Transfer white layer to a rack. Prepare pan as above, then bake green layer in same manner as before. Transfer to a rack to cool.

When all layers are cool, invert green onto a wax-paper-lined large baking sheet. Discard paper from layer and spread with half of preserves. Invert white on top of green layer, discarding paper. Spread with remaining preserves. Invert red layer on top of white layer and discard wax paper.

Cover with plastic wrap and weight with a large baking pan. Chill at least 8 hours.

Remove weight and plastic wrap. Bring layers to room temperature. Melt chocolate in a double boiler or a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat. Keep chocolate over water.

Trim edges of assembled layers with a long serrated knife. Quickly spread half of chocolate in a thin layer on top of cake. Chill, uncovered, until chocolate is firm, about 15 minutes. Cover with another sheet of wax paper and place another baking sheet on top, then invert cake onto sheet and remove paper. Quickly spread with remaining chocolate. Chill until firm, about 30 minutes.

Cut lengthwise into 4 strips. Cut strips crosswise into 3/4-inch-wide cookies.

Cooks' note:
Cookies keep, layered between sheets of wax paper or parchment, in an airtight container at room temperature 2 weeks.

Makes about 5 dozen cookies.
December 2005

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Cookie Decorating

Abbie's playgroup has had a cookie exchange party for the past 2 years now. It's really cute and fun to see the kids running around (someone's else's house) on a total sugar-induced euphoria. I asked Abbie what kind of cookie's we should bring this year. She quickly responded "cookie friends". I understood this to mean, "Mommy, I would like to make the delicious iced sugar cookies that we've made for my friends before. But these cookies should be decorated in a delightful Christmas theme. I will lick off the icing and discard the cookie with each one you give to me."

So we made cookies! I put aside a little more than half the dough for the cookie exchange, then Abbie and I made cookies for our family. Abbie did all the decorations for the home cookies. They were adorable.

I decorated the rest. At the party, they were the first things to go. Kids and royal icing. They dig it.
I picked up my new favorite cookie decoration at the cake decorating store. Look closely at the snowman and Christmas tree cookies. Those are tiny little candy canes! They're extruded little sprinkle things. They actually taste like peppermint, too.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Chocolate Truffles

As I said, I really like to give homemade gifts. Not only is it more economical, but I think people are more impressed that you actually spent the time to make them something. I really have some issues with chocolate. I love to eat it, but I haven't learned the science behind it. I'd love to take a class. Anyway, I saw that Ina had made truffles and it looked so easy. And it is! I've made Hazelnut truffles and Kahlua truffles so far. Just substitute in your favorite liqueur. I did have one probelm. I tried to make Ina's white chocolate truffles as well. They're flavored with Bailey's, but I just couldn't get it to solidify. I don't know why. Some day I'll find out. However, the dark chocolate ones do not disappoint. Eat one with a warm cup of coffee. I think I may do that right now.
This recipe comes from Barefoot in Paris.

Chocolate Truffles

3 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate
3 1/2 ounces semisweet chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 tbs. liqueur (Grand Marnier, Frangelico, Baileys, Kahlua)
1 tbs. prepared coffee
1/2 tsp. good vanilla
cocoa powder
chopped roasted hazelnuts

Chop the chocolate finely and place in a bowl.
Heat the cream in a small saucepan until it boils. Immediately pour the hot cream through a fine-mesh seive into the bowl with the chocolates. with a wire whisk, slowly stir the cream and the chocolate together ubtil the chocolate is completely melted. Whisk in the liqueur, coffee, and vanilla. Cover with plastic wrap, and chill until set, about 45 minutes.
With two teaspoons, or a 1 1/4 inch ice cream scoop, make dollops of the chocolate mixture and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Refrigerate 15 minutes, until firm enough to roll into balls. Roll in cocoa powder or nuts and chill.

Ina says don't use chocolate chips, as they may have stabilizers.
I had a 3 ounce bar of bittersweet chocolate, so I did 3 ounces bittersweet, 4 ounces semisweet.
The kind of chocolate is important. It needs to be really good. I used Scharffen Berger and Ghirardelli.
You'd be surprised how easily choclate melts from the heat of your hands. Try not to touch it when you're chopping it up.
Roast whole hazelnuts 25 minutes, 350 degrees. Put all the nuts in a kitchen towel, and rub the skins off. Roast chopped hazelnuts 350 degrees, 10 minutes.
I needed to put the choclate over a doulbe boiler to get it completely melted.
Keep the truffles refrigerated. Remind the recipient that they should keep the truffles in the fridge.
They shouldn't be prefect little balls. They are supposed to look like the mushroom truffles that those pigs find in Europe. Yes, those pigs.

Mommy's Cookie House

I've never made a gingerbread house before. I looked on the internet for ideas. I checked my various baking books. I looked in catalogues for decorating ideas. Here's what I found out. Most people buy a kit, or a ready-made gingerbread house. Most people like to decorate their house with lots of candy. Many gingerbread houses are ugly. Gingerbread houses are expensive. Royal icing is the glue that keeps a gingerbread house together- use lots of it. Many people make their own design for gingerbread houses.

So- I got out my gingerbread recipe. I figured out that what makes a good gingerbread cookie, doesn't neceassarily work for a gingerbread house. A cookie should be moist and lovely. A house needs to be cardboard-like. I decided I would bake my pieces longer, so they would dry out. I had a recipe for royal icing, that would keep a real house together. I really didn't like the candy houses, though. I wanted my house to be more organic, and earthy. Forgive me for sounding like a hippy. I wanted it to smell delicious, and it does. I got to work. It took me about an hour to come up with the design, and make a cardboard cut out. I made and baked the gingerbread parts to the house. They expanded. And the dimensions changed. Hmmmm. How do people deal with that? Royal Icing! I used lots of it. And I added some well hidden cinnamon sticks to fill the very large gaps. I used star anise, cloves, pink peppercorns, rosemary, and allspice for the decorations. The roof is lined with pecan shingles. I think it's cute. Abbie calls it Mommy's Cookie House- no touch. Although she has nibbled the threshold, and ate the doormat completely before I could glue it to the house. But I have one more question. Now what do I do with it?

I had a bit of a problem with the longevity of Mommy's Cookie house. It colapsed shortly after I made it-3-4 days. We had a lot of rain, and my gingerbread was too moist. I was told at my favorite cake supply store to not use butter-but replace it with shortening, and also decrease the baking temperature but bake it longer. Hmmm. Next year.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Pumpkin Bread

Aundra had a Christmas party to go to, and wanted to make a pumpkin pie. She came over and made a beautiful pie that I think was a big hit at her party. When we were cleaning up, I noticed we had some pumpkin left over. If you've ever baked and pureed your own pumkin, you know how precious the stuff is. So I decided to whip up some pumpkin bread. I like to make the little loaves, and use them with cookies and candy to make homemade Christmas gifts for friends and the mailman. We have the best mailman. Anyway, my pumpkin bread recipe comes from The All New All Purpose Joy of Cooking. I thought it was going to be the last Joy of Cooking, as it was a big deal when this version came out, but they just recently came out with a newer All New All Purpose Joy of Cooking. The Joy of Cooking is a total go-to book for anything you think you'd like to make. We've used it many, many times, which is possibly why the index pages keep falling out. Or could it be becasue I bought it at Costco? So now I guess I'll have to get the newer updated version. After all, my old one is falling apart.

Pumpkin Bread

1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/3 cup milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla
6 tbs. unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar, or 1 cup sugar and 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 1 large or 4 mini loaf pans. Whisk together dry ingredients in a large bowl. Pour out the milk in a measuring cup, and add the vanilla to it. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until creamy. Gradually add the sugar, and beat on high speed until lightened, about 4 minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time. Add pumpkin and beat on low until just combined. Add the flour mixture in 3 parts, alternating with the milk mixture in 2 parts, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
Scrape the batter into the pans and spread evenly. Bake 1 hour for a large loaf and about 30 minutes for mini-loaves, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Make sure your homemade pumpkin puree is always drained. I put mine in a fine mesh stariner lined with cheesecloth for about 1/2 hour before using.
A little note about eggs. I used to be very bold about eggs. I'd just crack them into the bowl without a care. Then one time, I was making cookie dough, and I accidentally dropped egg shell into the batter. I thought I had gotten it all out, until I started rolling out the dough and saw that it was speckled with egg shell. I had to throw it all out, and start again. Now I always crack the eggs into a bowl or a measuring cup first.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Louise's Ginger Crinkles

I know I've been neglectful in not posting this month- but that doesn't mean I haven't been cooking! These cookies are absolutley delicious. When December rolls around, I start thinking about what cookies I'm going to make for Christmas. We just couldn't wait to have a batch of these in the cookie jar. This recipe is from Louise, who wrote at the bottom of the recipe, "Never fails". Indeed.

Louise's Ginger Crinkles

2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses (I use Grandma's)
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/2 cup coarse sugar for dipping

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Int he bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the oil and sugar well. Add the egg and beat well. Stir in the molasses. Whisk the dry ingredients together in a medium bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the mixer bowl and beat until the dough comes together. Maek 1/2 oz. balls of dough, and roll in coarse sugar. Bake on a silpat or parchment lined baking sheet 10 minutes. Move cookies to a rack after 2-3 minutes cooling on the baking sheet. Makes about 5 dozen.

I buy coarse sugar at the cake decorating shop. It really makes a difference in the texture of the crinkle.
I know it's a little obsessive to weigh each cookie, but it keeps them uniform in size.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

It's the PIES! Part 2: the Apple Pie

I wanted to work on my apple pie recipe this year. The one I usually use- it's great don't get me wrong- but it's from the back of the frozen pie crust box. My secret is out! But it's not a bad recipe. And it always comes out just fine. But I wanted to try something a little more daring. Ina has an apple pie recipe that I've tried before, but I felt like it had too much citrus. Everyone at my party thought it was great, but I wasn't crazy about it. I am really in love with a cookbook I received last Christmas- Baking Illustrated. It's from the Cook's Illustrated/ America's Test Kitchen people. I looked up their recipe for apple pie and thought I'd give it a go. The juice was really wonderful, but I think I would try different apples in the future. I didn't care for the McIntosh, and would prefer some Romes, Gravensteins or Galas. Because I used my crust recipe, I had one of those big airy crust tents, where the crust sets up before the apples cook down and settle, but that was OK. Once you cut into the pie, the crust fell neatly over the apples. I loved the hint of lemon, from the zest. This pie was delicious- especially good with some Hagen Daas, or fresh whipped cream.
A note about the pie plate- My mother-in-law bought me this pie plate a couple of years ago and I was very skeptical. But I have to say, it works brilliantly. It's got these little bumps in it that make the crust so crisp, even underneath where it's usually kind of soggy. It comes with a ring that you can put over your crust if it's getting too dark, as well. I give it a big kitchen tool thumbs up!

Apple Pie

1 recipe double pie dough
2 tbs. all-purpose flour
3 large Granny Smith apples (about 1 1/2 pounds)
4 large MacIntosh apples (about 2 pounds)
1 tbs. juice and 1 tsp. grated zest from 1 lemon
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 egg white, beaten lightly
1 tbs. coarse sugar

Place a rimmed baking sheet on the lowest oven rack. Preheat oven to 500 degrees.
Repeat the process for the pumpkin pie crust as follows. When you're ready to make pie, take the dough out to temper a bit before you try to roll it. Spray your pie plate with a little Pam, or vegetable oil. (In theory, this means you could remove your pie from the pie plate before you serve it, because it won't be stuck to the plate (big oooo! factor here), but I do this because I think it helps the bottom brown, and it makes serving easier.) Roll out the dough to fit your pie plate, on a lightly floured board. Gently transfer the dough to the pie plate without stretching the dough. (Stretching is bad, it means shrinkage.) Press the dough along the sides of the plate, and then refrigerate the dough-lined pie plate.
Peel, core and quarter the apples. Cut the quarters into 1/4 inch slices, then toss with the lemon juice and zest. In a medium bowl, mix 3/4 cup granulated sugar, the flour, spices and salt. Toss the dry ingredients with the apples. Turn the fruit mixture, including the juices into the chilled pie shell and mound it in the middle.
Roll out the second piece of dough. Place it over the filling. Trim the edges of the top and bottom layers to 1/2 inch over the edge of the pie plate. Tuck the dough over itself so that it is even with the pan lip. Flute the edge, or seal it with a fork. Cut 4 slits in the top. Put the whole pie in the freezer for 10 minutes. Brush the egg white on the top crust, and sprinkle it evenly with the coarse sugar.
Place the pie on the baking sheet in the oven and lower the temperature to 425 degrees. Bake the pie until the top crust is golden, about 25 minutes. Rotate the pie from front to back and reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees. Continue baking until the juices bubble and the crust is deep golden brown, 30-35 minutes longer. Transfer the pie to a wire rack to cool.

I use a melon-baller to core the apples.
Trying to mound all those apples in the pie shell is hard, but totally worth it. Do your best.
A note about the coarse sugar- I really like the way coarse sugar looks on baked goods. It's got much larger granules than regular granulated sugar. I buy it at the local cake supply shop, but I bet you could find it at Michael's as well.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

It's the PIES! Part 1: the Pumpkin Pie

Thanksgiving for me really isn't about the turkey, or the stuffing, or anything else- it's the pies! I always make 2 pies, one apple and one pumpkin. Because we were up at Lake Tahoe, I was nervous about the pies. We've done Thanksgiving there before. In past years I made the pies at home, then brought them up. I will never forget the year I made the pies at home on Tuesday night after work (too early), and by the time we were ready to eat the pumpkin pie, it had mold on it. Yes, mold. My mother-in-law (future mother-in-law at the time) had to scrape the mold off the pie. I was mortified. Then there was the year that I used the food processor to puree my pumpkin, instead of the blender. The pie had strings of pumpkin in it. It tasted like pumpkin pie, but was just a stringy mess. But this year I was feeling a little brave. I have a good crust, I've been making pies for many years now. I thought I could handle a high altitude operation. In the end, they came out great. I wish I could find a crust that is as attractive as it is good-tasting. I've found that the flakier my crust, the less pretty it is. But I'm willing to make that sacrifice! Here is my favorite part about this recipe. I was talking to my mom after Thanksgiving, and I asked her what she had made, and she too made a pumpkin pie. But she said she made it differently this year- with molasses. Now the recipe I have is from my mom, from many years ago, and it has molasses. So I'm not sure what recipe she used, or which one she gave me, but this is the one I have always referred to as "My Mom's Pumpkin Pie Recipe". So I will give her credit- this is from the wonderful Mom, with a few things I've learned about pie-making added in.

Pumpkin Pie

For the crust: (makes 1 double crust pie, and 1 single crust pie)
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cold!
1/2-3/4 cups ice water
Cut the butter into 1/2 inch pieces, place in a bowl, then in the freezer. Place the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor, and process for a few seconds. Put the bowl of the food preocessor with the flour mixture into the freezer. Fill a measuring cup with ice water. Take the butter and flour out of the freezer, and add the butter pieces to the flour mixture. Process for 10 seconds- pulsing 1 second at a time. The butter should be big pea size. Dump the mixture into a bowl, drizzle 1/4 cup ice water over the mixture and using a spatula, press the dough together with the water. (This feels like it takes forever, and it does, but you will be rewarded with big chunks of butter in your crust. Remember- big chunks butter=flaky crust.) Turn out dough onto a lightly floured board, and divide into 3 disks. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate atleast 1 hour. You can make this ahead and refrigerate 1 day, or freeze up to 1 month.
When you're ready to make pie, take the dough out to temper a bit before you try to roll it. Spray your pie plate with a little Pam, or vegetable oil. (In theory, this means you could remove your pie from the pie plate before you serve it, because it won't be stuck to the plate (big oooo! factor here), but I do this because I think it helps the bottom brown, and it makes serving easier.) Roll out the dough to fit your pie plate, on a lightly floured board. Gently transfer the dough to the pie plate without stretching the dough. (Stretching is bad, it means shrinkage.) Press the dough along the sides of the plate, and then trim and crimp the edge however you like. I cut the dough 1/2 inch over the edge, then fold it under all the way around, and attempt the little pie crimping scalloped edge. Place the prepared pie crust in the fridge while you make the filling.

For the filling: (makes 1 deep pumpkin pie)
3 eggs
1 1/2-2 cups drained pureed pumpkin
3/4 cups sugar
2 tbs. molasses
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
3/4 cups whole milk
3/4 cups heavy cream

Preheat oven to 425 degrees on convection bake. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs; add the sugar. In a small bowl, combine the spices. Add the spices to the egg mixture. On low speed, add the pumpkin. Stir in the milk and cream. Pour mixture into a prepared pie crust. Bake at 425 convection for 15 minutes, then turn the heat down to 350 degrees and bake another 45 minutes. Cover the crust with foil if it's browning too fast.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Turkey Tail Rolls

These are a sympton of my inner desire for cutesiness, which comes out every once in a while. It's from the same urge that had me folding the napkins for Easter into little bunny rabbits. I just thought they looked so cute! Little turkey tails. Who doesn't love food shaped like animals? My grandmother used to make crescent rolls for Christmas or Thanksgiving. Not from scratch, but from the wonderful round can you buy at the grocery store, that went pop! when you twisted it open. I could down three of those little rolls in one sitting. But I'm not making crescent rolls- crescent rolls are the back-up plan for my turkey tail rolls not making it up to Tahoe. Because of the altitude, I'm baking these rolls here, freezing them, then thawing and heating them up in the mountains. I'll let you know how it went. I plan on testing one before we go. This is a delightful Martha Stewart recipe.

Turkey Tail Rolls

14 Tbs. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, plus more for bowl and tin
1 1/4 cup warm milk (about 110°)
1 envelope (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
3 Tbs. sugar
1 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
3 large eggs, lightly beaten

Butter a large bowl and a 12-cup standard muffin tin; set aside. Stir together 1/2 cup milk and the yeast in a bowl. Let stand until foamy, 5 minutes.
Bring remaining 3/4 cup milk to a simmer in a medium pan. Remove from heat. Add 6 tablespoons butter, the sugar, and salt; stir until butter melts. Set aside.
Put 4 1/2 cups flour into the bowl of an electric mixer. Make a well in the center, and pour in yeast mixture, butter mixture, and the eggs. Attach bowl to mixer fitted with the dough hook; mix on low speed until dough just comes together, about 2 minutes. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and no longer sticky, about 5 minutes, adding remaining cup flour as needed. Transfer to buttered bowl, turning to coat. Cover with a clean kitchen towel. Let rise in a warm, draft-free place until almost doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. Punch down dough; let rest 10 minutes.
Divide dough in half; cover half with a towel. On a lightly floured surface, roll out remaining half to 1/4 inch thick. Cut to 12 by 9 1/2 inches, discarding scraps. Position short side of dough parallel to counter's edge. Cut crosswise into six 2-inch strips. Cut strips crosswise into 3 1/2-inch, 3 1/4-inch, and 2 3/4-inch pieces.
Preheat oven to 375°. Melt remaining 8 tablespoons butter in a skillet. Brush all pieces of dough with melted butter; reserve some for brushing tops. Center and stack pieces from each strip, largest to smallest (you will have 6 stacks). Fold each stack in half lengthwise; fit, folded edge down, into a prepared muffin cup, making a V. Cover with a towel; let rise in a warm, draft-free place 30 minutes. Repeat process with remaining dough.
Brush melted butter over top of each roll. Bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Brush with more melted butter; serve hot or at room temperature.

The recipe was really quite easy, but I found that I had a lot of dough leftover. I froze the rolls the day I baked them, then defrosted and heated 1 the next day. It was delicious- nice and buttery and light. By the time they got up to the lake, they weren't so great. They were a little heavy, and needed a pat or two of butter. Abbie enjoyed them immensely, and ate nothing but the rolls and a little turkey at dinner. I do need to say this though- we didn't need to throw any away.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Pecan Bars

We've been traveling. We had a lovely visit back east with my family. I was itchin' to get back in the kitchen, though. Eileen made the banana bread while we were there. She used margarine, instead of butter, and baked the bread as one loaf in a glass pan. Delicious! We celebrated my grandmother's 88th birthday. We had a good time. Sending thanks to my family- we had a great visit!
While I was away, I kept thinking about Thanksgiving. This being a cooking holiday, I get very excited. I'm making the pies- pumpkin and apple, and I made some dinner rolls( for a future post). My father-in-law likes pecan pie. We never had pecan pie in my family. It was always pumpkin and apple- maybe some rogue cherry would show up, but always apple and pumpkin. I don't make pecan pie. It's not that I'm against it, but jeez, there's only going to be 6 of us this year, including the baby. We can't eat 3 pies. Well, we could, but we shouldn't. And I have to have apple and pumpkin. So I was watching Ina the other day, (you know where this is going: BUTTER), and I saw her make these pecan squares, dipped in chocolate. I don't know how you could eat one of these dipped in chocolate. They are so sweet and so good. I really wasn't crazy about them the first or second day. By today, though, I ate 1 1/2, and had to force myself to forget they were in the fridge. Ina says this yields 20 bars. I got 48. You should cut them small. They are super rich. So my father-in-law will have some pecan something, and I don't think he'll miss his pie. This comes from the indispensable Barefoot Contessa Cookbook.

Pecan Squares

1 1/4 pounds unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
3/4 tsp. good vanilla
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt

1 pound unsalted butter
1 cup honey
3 cups light brown sugar*
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
1 tsp. grated orange zest
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 pounds pecans, coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
For the crust, beat the butter and granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until light, approximately 3 minutes. Add the eggs and the vanilla and mix well. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Mix the dry ingredients into the batter with the mixer on low speed until just combined. Press the dough evenly into an ungreased 18 X 12 X 1 inch baking sheet, making an edge around the outside. It will be very sticky; sprinkle the dough and your hands lightly with flour. Bake for 15 minutes, until the crust is set but not browned. Allow to cool.
For the topping, combine the butter, honey, brown sugar, and zests in a large, heavy bottomed saucepan. Cook over low heat until the butter is melted, using a wooden spoon to stir. Raise the heat and boil for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in the heavy cream and pecans. Pour over the crust, trying not to get the filling between the crust and the pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the filling is set. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold. Cut into bars and serve.

* I ran out of brown sugar and had to use the home substitution- molasses and granulated sugar. 1 cup of brown sugar= 1 cup granulated sugar + 1/2 cup molasses. I wonder if the bars are different if you follow the directions.
The dough was indeed very sticky. It was pretty tough getting into the pan and making it even.
You really do want a large saucepan. The sugar can boil up and scare the bejeesits out of you.
You will get the filling between the crust and the pan.
Husband was at a driving event and Abbie and I went to see him. I wanted to bring him some bars, so I cut them before they were cool. Don't do that.
Ina puts in a note that the filling will bubble over the edge of the pan in the oven. It does, and it did. But she says to put tinfoil or a larger baking sheet on a lower oven rack. I did, but I thought, why didn't I just put the tinfoil directly under the pan in the oven, instead of letting it drip between the racks.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Whole Wheat Bread

My brother is vegan. I find this sometimes difficult to understand. How could a person limit themselves so severely? How could anyone have so much self-control?! But I also find it fascinating- another way that people relate to food. It also presents a challenge. How do you cook or bake when so many ingredients are not allowed? When I do make something that happens to be vegan, I get so excited. Gary could eat this!! I must tell him! I must share this new vegan knowledge. So this post is for my brother- I made vegan bread! You must try it. This bread is not only for the vegan in your life. It actually just happens to not have any animal products in it. This recipe calls for honey, but I've used molasses instead. Now I'm wondering if molasses are one of those no-no ingredients. I don't think so. So this is great bread for anyone. It is the perfect peanut butter and jelly whole wheat sandwich bread, or for toast in the morning. It's easy to prepare, so I bake a couple of loaves every week and a half or so. Eat one now, and freeze the other for when you run out. When you get the hang of this, you can bang out a couple of loaves in the morning and have it for sandwiches at noon. The original recipe is from the Cheeseboard Collective Works.

Whole Wheat Bread
1 tbs. active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (100-110 degrees)
6 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tbs. kosher salt
1 1/2 cups warmish water
1/2 cup molasses (honey or maple syrup)

In a measuring cup, whisk the yeast into the cup of warm water until dissolved. Let stand 5 minutes.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour and salt. Add the yeast mixture, warmish water, and molasses. Mix on low speed until the ingredients are combined, about 2 minutes. Switch to the dough hook, increase the speed to medium, and knead for 10 minutes. While the dough is kneading, brush vegetable oil in a large bowl, and on a piece of plastic wrap. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface, and knead by hand for a few minutes. Form the dough into a ball, and turn it in the bowl until it is coated with oil. Cover the bowl with the plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place 1 hour.
Brush vegetable oil on 2 loaf pans. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and divide it into 2 pieces. (If you don't mind the mess, leave the flour from the first kneading on your board, and use it again.) Don't throw away your plastic wrap! Gently form each piece into a loose round, and cover with your oiled plastic wrap. Let rest 10 minutes. Gently press each round into a rectangle 9 inches (the width of your loaf pan) by 11 or 12 inches. Roll it up like a jelly roll, pinching the seam closed. Place the dough into the oiled pan seam side down, and gently press it into the pan to fill the gaps on the ends and sides. Repeat with the remaining round. Put the oiled plastic wrap over both loaves, and let rise again 45 minutes to an hour. Slash the loaves 15 minutes before the rise is finished, and preheat your oven to 450 degrees.
Place the loaves in the oven for 5 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 400 degrees, and bake 20 minutes. Turn the loaf pans around front to back, and left to right. Bake another 20 minutes, for a total of 45 minutes. Take the bread out of the pans, and let cool completely on a rack.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Banana Chocolate Chip Bread

I am often in the uncomfortable position of having several bananas gone past their prime in my kitchen. They sit in my fruit bowl slowly turning a darker shade of brown. What do I do? I can't throw them away. That's good food for god's sake! So I desperately look for something to do with them. Smoothie? No, Abbie won't drink them. Ah, banana bread, you say. That's an excellent idea. However, most banana bread recipes call for one measly rotten banana. I have four on the counter, and two I threw in the freezer. I need more banana investment here! So I made something up. This is hardly bread. I should call it cake. It has chocolate. It uses THREE bananas. I feel so resourceful.

Banana Chocolate Chip Bread
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
3 mashed ripe bananas
1 1/2 tsp. good vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus 1 tbs.
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a bread loaf pan, or 4 mini pans.
In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs. Add bananas and vanilla; blend well. Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. In another bowl, mix chocolate chips, pecans, and 1 tbs. flour. Beat the flour mixture into the banana mixture just until combined. With a rubber spatula, mix nuts and chocolate into batter. Spread evenly into pan or pans.

Bake for 50-60 minutes for one loaf, or 30 minutes for mini loaves, until toothpick inserted in center
comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes. Remove from pan. Cool completely.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Graham Crackers

I really like the idea of making things usually store-bought at home- just to see if it can be made at home, and made better. In this case, the answer is yes. Graham crackers are really wonderful. They are one of the perfect afternoon snacks. These crackers are quite different from store bought. They aren't as flaky, but are much more like a cracker. Inspired by my recent visit to the Ferry Building and Miette, I made my graham crackers round, instead of little rectangles. I think they actually taste better this way. For this reason, I also changed the directions slightly, needing to roll out the dough to make my rounds. I also added a little molasses. It gave the crackers just the right dark color. I found this recipe in dear Martha's Baking Handbook. I'm slowly working my way through it.

Graham Crackers

1 1/2 cups all prupose flour
1 1/2 cups graham flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
2 sticks, (1 cup), unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tbs. honey
1 tbs. molasses

In a medium bowl, whisk together both flours, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle, beat butter, brown sugar, and honey on medium speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. With mixer on low, add the flour mixture; beat until just combined.
Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured suface. Divide dough in half, and shape into disks. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill until firm. Place cookie sheets lined with Silpat baking mats or parchment in refrigerator as well.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove dough from the refrigerator to temper slightly.
Roll out dough to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut using a biscuit cutter, then place cookies on chilled baking sheets. Place baking sheets with cookies back into the refrigerator for 10 minutes. Prick crackers with a fork. Transfer baking sheets to oven, and bake until edges are starting to brown, 15-18 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through baking. Leave cookies on sheets 2-3 minutes after taking them out of the oven. Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool completely.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Popcorn Balls

I had more fun making these than anything I've made in a long time. I've always wanted to make popcorn balls. I have this faint memory of Christmas time and visiting Santa. After sitting on Santa's lap, my brother and I were given wrapped popcorn balls. They tasted like the most delicious sweetness, with a little salt and crunch. The popcorn balls I made for Abbie's Halloween party came close to this memory, but aren't all food memories unattainable in real life?
I found this recipe on Baking Space. I changed a few things- the recipe calls for margarine. I NEVER use margarine. I think they could have used a little salt as well, 1/4 tsp. maybe? It might be fun to add some different flavors, or nuts, or chocolate next time.

Popcorn Balls
3 bags popped popcorn
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2 tsp. cold water
2 5/8 cups confectioner's sugar
1 cup marshmallows

Lay out parchment paper for your finished popcorn balls. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the corn syrup, butter, cold water, confectioner's sugar and marshmallows. Heat and stir until the mixture comes to a boil. Carefully combine the hot mixture with the popcorn in a BIG bowl, coating each kernel. Grease hands with butter and quickly shape the coated popcorn into balls.

I used Paul Newman's Natural microwave popcorn. One box has three bags-how about that!
I used mini marshmallows. When you're making the balls, you'll need to work fast- the sugar sets up quickly. When I say grease hands with butter, I mean get 3 tbs. of butter, and get it soft. Every few balls, coat your hands in the butter like you're putting on skin cream.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Halloween Sugar Cookies

Today was Abbie's playgroup's Halloween Party at our house. What fun! The kiddies were all dressed in costumes and there was plenty of sugar to go around. The moms all brought a little something to make goody-bags for the kids, and my offering, as usual, was a monogrammed cookie for each child. I love decorating sugar cookies, and the holidays give me a perfect opportunity. Along with sugar eating and socializing, we had pumpkin decorating and cookie decorating. I made a bunch of sugar cookies in Halloween shapes, some royal icing, and put together some bowls of sprinkles. It took 1 1/2 hours to clean my house after the party, but it was worth it! They had a great time- what kid doesn't like royal icing? I did have to stop Abbie from putting the squeeze bottle directly up to her lips and sucking the icing out. She does decorate a mean cookie, though.

After testing many recipes over the years, I have found that Martha Stewart's Sugar Cookie recipe works without fail every time. Here is her recipe, with my small changes mixed in.

Sugar Cookies
4 cups sifted all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract (good vanilla)
royal icing (recipe follows)

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla until combined.
With mixer4 on low speed, gradually add flour mixture, and beat thoroughly until combined. Divide dough in half, and shape into disks. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill until firm, atleast 1 hour. Place cookie sheets lined with Silpat baking mats or parchment in refrigerator as well.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Remove dough from the refrigerator to temper slightly.
Roll out dough to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes, then place cookies on chilled baking sheets. Place baking sheets with cookies back into the refrigerator for 10 minutes. Transfer baking sheets to oven, and bake until edges are starting to brown, 15-18 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through baking. Leave cookies on sheets 2-3 minutes after taking them out of the oven. Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool completely. Decorate as desired with royal icing.

Royal Icing

1/4 cup meringue powder
1/2 cup water
4 cups confectioners sugar
1/4 tsp. lemon extract (optional)

In a small bowl, beat together meringue powder and water until soft peaks form. Stir in sugar until fully incorporated. Add vanilla. Add water as needed to adjust consistency.

I put leftover dough in the freezer before I roll it out again. Try not to roll the dough out too many times, it makes the dough tough.
I bake each cookie sheet separately in my oven; 7 minutes, rotate, then 8 minutes.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Ina's New Cookbook and Pumpkin Scones

It's here, it's here, it's here!!! I have received Ina's new cookbook and am just pleased as punch! It was just the motivation I needed to come into the kitchen and make my husband some much deserved pumpkin scones. We are hosting Abbie's playgroup's Halloween Party, and I intend to make everyone GO OUTSIDE. My dear husband cleaned the leaves off the lawn and picked up all the dog poop. Hmmm, I'm in love. So while he was at work, I whipped up some scones. Abbie often accompanies me in the kitchen, but today was the first real cooking she's done. Abbie stirred the pumpkin mixture together. Delicious the first day, they get a little less crisp on day two. These are from the wonderful Cheeseboard Collective Works.

Pumpkin Scones

1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 cup canned or homemade pumpkin puree
3 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tbs. baking powder
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1 inch cubes

1/4 cup sugar
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a baking mat.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the cream, buttermilk, and pumpkin.
Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg together into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the salt and the sugar to the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until combined. Add the butter and cut it in on low speed for about 4 minutes, or until it is the size of small peas. Make a well in the center and add the pumpkin mixture. Mix briefly, just until the ingredients come together; some loose flour should remain in the bottom of the bowl.
Gently shape the dough into balls about 2 1/4 inches in diameter, and place them on the prepared pan about 2 inches apart.
For the topping, mix the sugar and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Sprinkle the mixture on the top of the scones. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer the scones to a wire rack to cool.

I like to use my big ice cream scoop to get the dough on the baking sheets. They all come out about the same size, and you don't need to get your hands dirty. I hope you enjoy making these for the dog-poop-picker-upper in your life.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Chicken Noodle Soup

Today is Ina Day! Ina Garten's new cookbook "Barefoot Contessa At Home" was released today. I'm expecting my signed copy in the mail any day now. In honoring Ina Day, I had to make an Ina recipe. I had just made loads of chicken stock a few days before, and had a chicken breast in the freezer. Abbie is a huge soup freak, and loves this. It makes a ton of soup, so you can freeze some. Home-made stock is always better than store-bought, but if you have to use it, buy Swanson's. Ina starts by roasting chicken breasts, then shredding them into the soup. Do yourself a favor, and buy a whole chicken. Eat half of it for dinner, make stock with the carcass, then make soup with your stock and leftover chicken. You won't be sorry.
Congratulations Ina!

Chicken Noodle Soup

1 whole (2 split) chicken breasts, bone in, skin on
olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 quarts homemade chicken stock
1 cup medium-diced celery (2 stalks)
1 cup medium diced carrots (3 carrots)
2 cups wide egg noodles
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place the chicken breast on a sheet pan and rub the skin with olive oil. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until cooked through. When cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones, discard the skin, and shred or dice the chicken meat.
Bring the chicken stock to a simmer in a large pot and add celery, carrots, and noodles. Simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes, until the noodles are cooked. Add the cooked chicken meat and parsley and heat through.
Season to taste and serve.

Shredding the meat makes it look kind of earthy, and not manufactured. I like it better that way.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Pear and Ginger Upside-Down Cake

My sister-in-law came over for dinner with her new boyfriend. She often brings a new special friend over to meet us first- before she brings him home to the parents. This is wise, I believe. It gives the boy an opportunity to meet some family, with out the hardcore question and answer that comes with meeting a girl's parents for the first time. My husband and I question the fella in a kind, but probing way, then are required to report back to my mother-in-law with any information worth repeating. In this case, I really liked the boy who came to dinner. I think they make a good match. I never know what to make for New Boyfriend. I wanted he and SIL to feel comfortable and have a good time. There were initial fears that NB didn't like soy sauce. This would be a big problem in our family. But he is fine, no apparent eating issues. So what did I make? I roasted a chicken, of course! Who doesn't like a roasted chicken in October, with potatoes for god's sake! So dinner was taken care of, what about dessert? I had ripped out this recipe from Sunset magazine in November 2004, and tucked it into my "things I'd like to make at some point" file. I took this new boyfriend opportunity to make it. It was certainly a fall dessert. Very gingerbread-y, the pears are pretty, but didn't seem to add much flavor. I served it with whipped cream, but vanilla ice cream would have been nice too.

Pear and Ginger Upside-Down Cake

2 tbs. plus 1/2 cup (1/4 lb.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
3 tbs. chopped crystallized ginger
2 firm-ripe bosc pears (1 lb. total)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
2 large eggs
3/4 cup dark molasses
1 1/4 cups buttermilk

Lightly butter a 9-inch springform pan that is atleast 2 1/2 inches tall. Line pan with a 10 inch round of cooking parchment, pressing into the bottom of the pan and up the sides about 1/2 inch. Cut 2 tbs. butter until about 1/4 inch chunks and drop evenly over parchment in the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup brown sugar and the crystallized ginger.
Peel pears and cut in half lengthwise, then slicing parallel to cut edge, cut into 1/2 inch thick slices. With a small knife, cut core from each slice. Arrange slices flat in a single layer, over sugar mixture in pan, trimming pieces as needed to fit.
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt and allspice.
In another bowl, with an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat remaining 1/2 cup butter and 1 cup brown sugar until well blended. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce speed to medium-low and beat in molasses.
Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately, beating until incorporated, then beat on high speed just until well blended. Pour batter over pears.
Bake in a 325 degree regular, or 300 degree convection oven until a toothpick inserted in center (not in fruit, the recipe reminds us) comes out clean, 1 hour AND 35-40 minutes. Center may settle slightly. Let cool in pan 20 minutes. Remove pan sides. Invert a platter over cake, then holding the two together, invert again. Carefully remove pan bottom and parchment. Make real whipped cream from whipping cream, and serve cake with a dollop of whipped cream.

Some thoughts:
It would have been easier to keep the 2 tbs. of butter cold, then cut them into 1/4 inch chunks.
For the pears, I cut them lengthwise slightly off center to keep the stem in place, then used my melon-baller to scoop out the core. I patched in the hole with scrap pieces of pear. You'd never guess it was patched in after it was baked.
When I first read the recipe I thought, "Oh good, this bakes in 35-40 minutes. I'll have plenty of time to roast the chicken afterwards." I was wrong. And then my meat thermometer is broken...
The magazine says, "Leave the stem on one slice of pear for an artful presentation". My husband asked if there was a stick in the cake. You make the call on your own cake.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies

I was looking for a good pumpkin cookie recipe when our internet service failed. My husband called the company, who said they were having a technical problem that wouldn't be fixed until 3:00. Hmmm. What to do? Make up your own recipe! So here is my recipe for Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies. I wanted a cookie that was like a regular oatmeal raisin cookie, with lots of pumpkin flavor, that reminded me of pumpkin pie. I didn't add nuts, because Abbie prefers cookies without them. The only criticism I have for these cookies is that they were a little cakey. I think I would either increase the amount of granulated sugar to 1 cup, or decrease the baking soda some. Earlier in the month I baked a sugar-pie pumpkin, pureed it, then measured and froze 1 cup portions. So I used my pumpkin here, but I don't see why you couldn't use canned. I was tempted to put a nice little glaze on these, but am trying to cut back on the sweets a little in preparation for those mini Almond Joys on Halloween!

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies
1 cup, (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar (increase to 1 cup?)
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. good vanilla
1 cup pumpkin puree'
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
3 cups oats
1 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla. Add the pumpkin. Mix until combined.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, spices, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture with the mixer on low speed, until just combined. In another bowl, combine the oats and raisins. Stir into the dough to combine. Drop dough onto cookie sheets covered with silpats or parchment using a 1 1/2 inch scoop. Wet 2 fingers and press cookies down to flatten slightly. Bake 10-12 minutes. Cool 2-3 minutes on cookie sheet, then cool completely on a rack. Makes 5 dozen.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Tomato Tart

There are many tomato tart recipes out there. I've got three in my recipe book right now. I've borrowed bits and pieces from the ones I like, and created a tart which made my husband proclaim, "This is the one". I like to serve this to vegetarian friends, who are too often served some sort of pasta dish when invited for dinner at a friend's house.
I've used heirloom tomatoes here, but it is easier to use Roma or Plum tomatoes because they have less water. The colors and taste of these tomatoes make me think of the tomatoes from my father's garden. This was a last chance tart, as the tomatoes are almost gone for the summer. The flavor of the tomatoes really comes out in this dish, and the combination of goat cheese, tomato, and basil is great. The fontina buubles slightly under the broiler. Melted cheese. Delicious!

(Draining the tomatoes is optional. Drain them if they are very ripe.)

1 head roasted garlic (recipe follows)
1/2 recipe Martha Stewart's pate brisee, or 1 Pillsbury Pie crust
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 cup crumbled goat cheese
3/4 cup grated italian fontina
2 lbs. tomatoes
3 tbs. olive oil, divided
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
10 basil leaves, in chiffonade

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Drain the tomatoes. Slice tomatoes 1/4" thick and lay on a rack over a cookie sheet. Sprinkle tomatoes with salt and pepper. Let drain 30 minutes.

Spray a 9" tart pan with Pam cooking spray. Form crust in pan, prick with a fork, and chill. Line the crust with tin foil and pie weights, rice or beans, then blind bake the crust for 20 minutes. Remove the weights, prick again with a fork, and bake for 8 minutes more.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread roasted garlic over the bottom of the tart. Heat 2 tbs. olive oil in a large pan over medium-low heat. Cook onion with 1/4 tsp. salt and 1/8 tsp. pepper until golden, about 10 minutes. Spread onions over garlic, then top with 3/4 cup crumbled goat cheese and 1/4 cup grated fontina. Arrange tomato slices over the cheese. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of fontina and a 1/4 cup of goat cheese. Drizzle with 1 tbs. olive oil. Bake 15 minutes at 350 degrees, then place 7" under broiler for about 5 minutes. Let cool slightly, and top with basil. Serves 4.

Roasted Garlic
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Trim the top off of 1 head of garlic. Place garlic in a square of parchment paper. Pour 1 tbs. olive oil over garlic. Wrap parchment-covered garlic in tin foil. Bake in the oven until soft, about 1 hour.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Chocolate Skeleton Cookies

Many of the things I bake are for my daughter, Abbie. Two things are accomplished here- I get to bake, and I have a willing party to eat what is prepared. These cookies are going to the pumpkin patch tomorrow with Abbie's playgroup.

I've seen several recipes for Skeleton cookies, but most are made with a gingerbread cookie. I used a chocolate cookie recipe from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food magazine, and made a few changes. The cookies are delicious, very chocolatey, like an Oreo. The skeleton bones are royal icing. I had elaborate plans for the bones, but modified my design when I saw how little space there was to decorate. I added a little black gel food coloring to some royal icing at the end to make the eyes and nose.

Chocolate Skeleton Cookies
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Droste)
1/2 tsp. salt
12 tbs. unsalted butter, room temperature (1 1/2 sticks)
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/4 tsp. good vanilla
1/4 tsp. espresso powder
royal icing (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, and salt; set aside.
In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy; beat in egg. Add vanilla and espresso powder. On low speed, mix in flour mixture. Divide the dough in half and form into 2 disks. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 45 minutes, and up to 2 days.
Chill cookie sheets. Roll out dough to 1/4 inch thick on a floured board. Using a 5 inch gingerbread man cutter, cut out men and place on chilled cookie sheets about 1 inch apart. Chill formed cookies on cookie sheets in the refrigerator about 10 minutes. Bake cookies 10-15 minutes. Cool on cookie sheets 2-3 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool completely. Decorate with royal icing using a pastry bag with a number 2 tip. once cooled completely. Let icing dry overnight before storing cookies.
Makes 22 cookies.

Royal Icing
1/8 cup meringue powder
1/4 cup water
2 cups confectioners sugar
1/8 tsp. good vanilla (optional)

In a small bowl, beat together meringue powder and water until soft peaks form. Stir in sugar until fully incorporated. Add vanilla. Add water as needed to adjust consistency.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

So I've finally decided to begin. I'm not really a writer, but I love to cook and to bake, and I love to share food with others. I am also completely fascinated by food blogs. I love to see what other people are making in their kitchens. Especially what people are cooking for dinner. But that's for another day. So let's begin. I'll cook, you'll read, (hopefully), and perhaps be inspired.