Monday, December 19, 2005

A little holiday baking

I couldn't let the holidays roll by without a little bit of holiday baking. Too tired to do the cutout cookies (well, too tired to want to deal with decorating the cutout cookies is more like it) and amazingly not in the mood for chocolate - I opted instead for cinnamon as the flavor of choice. The spiraly ones are Cinnamon Maple shortbread swirls from Mrs. Fields Cookie Book which, sadly, I think is out of print. I've historically had issues with the cinnamon sugar filling falling out of these cookies as I try to assemble them, so this time I tweaked the recipe a little to get the filling to stay in place. (Just how did I do that, you ask? I made cinnamon-sugar paste - by adding butter :D )

In the back, you might spy some Snickerdoodles....mmm...snickerdoodles. I had thought of making eggnog snickerdoodles, but resisted the urge.

And finally, I have some Mexican Wedding Cakes or Russian Tea Cakes, or Snowballs - or whatever you like to call them - whatever they are called, they are delicious (and mine are nut free, though I did use almond extract).

Recipe for these tasty bite sized confections below, adapted from Penzey's Spices recipe for Mexican Wedding Cakes:

1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup (or more) confectioners sugar, for finishing

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cream together the butter, sugar and extracts on high speed until light and fluffy. Add flour and salt, mix until combined.

Roll the dough into small 1-inch balls and place them on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Allow them to cool slightly on the sheet, then transfer them into a bowl with the remaining confectioners sugar to coat them. If the sugar melts, just re-roll them!

Yield: Approximately 4 dozen cookies

Thursday, December 15, 2005

What to do with Egg Nog?

Well, other than drink it, it can be used to make pastry cream and bake! Who woulda known?!

I couldn't resist the recipe recently posted by Chockylit - though mine are somewhat lacking in execution compared to her original masterpiece. I still can't figure out how the woman managed to get the frosting so gorgeously white when both brown sugar and butter are in the ingredient line up!

I had to tweak the recipe to account for things in the house (I was too lazy to go to the store) - so in the frosting, whipped cream cheese was used rather than regular, rum was used in place of bourbon and half and half was substituted for the heavy cream.

I confess to not reading instructions properly and I didn't make the caramel sauce properly (didn't cook it long enough), and that, along with the whipped cream cheese (what I had assumed to be equivalent weight to what was called for in the recipe, but I could be wrong) probably resulted in the more sloppy (but tasty none-the-less) frosting. Incidentally I have plenty of frosting left over, and it will be used to slather other cupcakes later on this week most likely.

Cake: Tasty, lightly spiced and an excellent use of Nog. Non-Nog fans still enjoyed the cakes without any mumbles or murmurs other than "mmmmmmmm - good." My cakes came out at 20 minutes, perhaps a little dark (and yes, I do have an oven thermometer in the oven).

Pastry Cream: I'm thinking an extra yolk (2 vs the 1 called for) may be in order - my pastry cream, even after chilling, was a bit on the runny side.

Frosting: The recipe calls for 1 1/2 packages of philadelphia cream cheese, but does not specify the size - I assumed it was 8 ounces, and happened to conveniently have a 12 ounce package of whipped cream cheese in the fridge. Rescued from mundane use on bagels, potatoes and/or scrambled eggs, it was happily combined with butter and other tasty things to make a wonderful frosting - more than enough to frost the cupcakes to my preferred level of frostiness.

Assembly: Easily completed, vacated the middles of the cakes, filled em with the pastry cream, added a little bit of my remaining (and probably undercooked) rum syrup, popped the cake middles back on, and went to town with my frosting spatula. Because the frosting was not very stiff, I didn't bother bringing out the piping tips and settled for an understated snowflake on each cupcake for accent (the plain tops just looked naked somehow).

Monday, December 05, 2005

It Slices, Juliennes, it Waffles and More!

Well, I'm not so certain about the "and more" part, but the Matfer Professional Mandolin does slice, julienne and waffle-cut quite well.

I'm putting mine up for sale on ebay, for anyone interested in easing your holiday prepwork by obtaining a well made Mandolin, feel free to check out the listing here.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Holiday Baking

Peppermint Spiral Cookies:
Shortbread spirals with delicate mint flavoring

Sadly, my holiday baking is not in quite as large volume as it usually is - though certainly not due to want (or lack of butter ;) )! Other things to conspire to limit my baking to this one batch of cookies - I'll call this the pre-holiday baking warmup, I guess.

All rolled up with sparklies and snowflakes for decoration

Recipe from the December 8th 2004 issue of the SanFransisco Chronicle - however, since I am somewhat paranoid about recipes disappearing, I will reproduce it here.

Peppermint Spiral Cookies
Yield: ~3 dozen cookies

2 cups unsifted cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup unsifted powdered sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
6 ounces ( 3/4 cup) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon pure peppermint extract
1/4 teaspoon bright red liquid gel or paste food coloring, or 9 drops red liquid food coloring*
1 tablespoon unsifted cake flour
1 1/2 cups multicolored nonpariels**

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugars in a food processor. Process briefly to mix. Add the butter in pieces; process with on/off bursts until the mixture has the consistency of cornmeal. Add the vanilla and process until the mixture just forms a ball.***

Divide the dough into 2 equal portions. Return one of the portions to the food processor. Add the peppermint extract, food coloring and the additional tablespoon of flour to the processor and process until just incorporated.

Roll out each portion of dough between sheets of waxed paper. You want a rectangle about 11 x 8 1/2 inches by 1/8 inch thick. Leaving the dough between their sheets of waxed paper, stack on a baking sheet and refrigerate until firm, for at least 2 hours or up to 3 days.

Remove dough rectangles from refrigerator. Pour the nonpareil decors into a shallow rectangular dish (such as a 9 x 13-inch pan); set it nearby.

Peel off the top sheet of waxed paper from both doughs. Brush the vanilla dough very lightly with water. Using the waxed paper, lift the peppermint dough and invert it directly on top of the vanilla dough. Press with your fingertips to seal the two doughs together. Remove the top sheet of waxed paper and trim the edges even.

When the dough is just pliable (but still cold), roll up the dough rectangles (begin with the long side) like a jellyroll. As you begin to roll, gently curl the edge with your fingertips so no space appears in the center as you roll dough into a log. As you roll, lift the waxed paper to help you roll the dough neatly and tightly.

After forming the dough into a log, discard the waxed paper, and roll the dough back and forth on the work surface to slightly extend and evenly distribute the dough. Gently lift the log on top of the nonpareil decors in the dish and roll until the log is completely coated with decors. Wrap the log in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm enough to slice (from 4 hours to a week, or freeze for up to 2 months; defrost in the refrigerator overnight before slicing).

Adjust rack to lower third of oven and preheat oven to 325°. To bake, slice the log into 1/8- to 1/4-inch-thick cookies and bake on parchment-lined baking sheets for 15 to 17 minutes, until the cookies are no longer shiny on top and the bottoms of the vanilla portion are golden.

*If you use regular food coloring, it is likely you will not get the brilliant red color observed as on my cookies - I used liquid gel food coloring. With regular liquid food coloring, the color will be more subdued.

**Obviously, I did not use multicolored nonpariels. The only nonpariels I have in the house right now are the silver dragee variety - so I replaced the outer decoration with coarse sparkling sugar and snowflakes.

***If your mixture refuses to come to a ball, you can add moisture to force the issue by adding ice water a teaspoon or so at a time - I think I had to add about a tablespoon or so of water to get my mixture to come together. That's living in an arid environment for you.

Comments: As observed above, I had a bit of difficulty ensuring there were no airgaps in the dough when I made my roll - during baking, the dough relaxed enough to fill the gaps quite nicely - perhaps a little bit more patience on my part would have prevented this.

These cookies came out beautifully - with a delicate shortbread crumble and what I think is subtle mint flavor (but my husband likens to toothpaste) - it could be that the peppermint extract did not get distributed evenly throughout the dough (I didn't want to overprocess). The coarse sugar made for a subtle sparkle on the outer edges of the cookies. I think I would have been better off sprinkling the snowflakes on top of the cookies, rather than pressing them onto the sides, as some of them fell off during slicing, and a fair number wound up getting cut during the slicing process.