Seven Days of Cookies: Lemon Almond Shards

Lemon is not your typical holiday flavor but I love these cookies during theDSC00551 holidays. The bright freshness of the lemon and the super crunch is refreshing amidst the heavier, spicier seasonal sweets.

I pulled the recipe card for these from a Martha Stewart Living magazine while at the salon a few years ago. I’ve been making them year round ever since. If you can get hold of some backyard lemons (or farmers market), it makes a difference. I think these are pretty special.

Lemon Almond Shards

From Martha Stewart Living

Ingredients

3/4 c flour

3/4 c fine ground yellow cornmeal

1 tsp anise seeds

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

3 Tbs unsalted butter, room temperature

1/2 c sugar

1 large egg

2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest

1 large egg white, lightly beaten for egg wash

2 tablespoons sliced almonds

Crystal sugar

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Gently crush the anise seeds a bit before whisking together with the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Beat butter and 1/2 cup sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in whole egg and lemon zest. Reduce speed and beat in flour mixture.

DSC00552Press dough into an even 1/4-inch thickness on prepared baking sheet. Brush with egg white; sprinkle with almonds and crystal sugar.

Bake until golden, 22 to 25 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack. Break into pieces.

Seven Days of Cookies: Almond Raspberry Thumbprints

I love a jam thumbprint, especially when the cookie has been baked with the jam – it getsIMG_3609 all chewy and delicious. There are a zillion thumbprint recipes but this one, adapted from Martha Stewart, is especially good.

Martha’s original version calls for hazelnuts and strawberry jam. I prefer the Linzer flavors of almonds and raspberries. I don’t toast my almonds beforehand because I feel they get toasted enough in the baking. You certainly can if you like.

As to jam, the best raspberry jam you can find is what you want here. (And make sure it’s jam vs. preserves. You don’t want big chunks of fruit in your filling.)

The cookies are rich. The recipe makes only 2 dozen, but on a cookie tray, that’s more than enough.

Enjoy!

Almond Raspberry Thumbprints

Adapted from Martha Stewart

Ingredients

1/2 c (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened (soft but sill ccol)

1/2 c plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided

1 large egg, separated, each part lightly beaten in separate small bowls

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/8 tsp almond extract (optional)

1 1/4 c flour

1/8 tsp salt

1/2 c slivered almonds, finely chopped (not powder fine)

Raspberry jam for filling

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350. Line two large baking sheets with parchment and set aside.
Cream butter and 1/2 cup sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add egg yolk, vanilla and almond extract (if using), and mix well. Reduce speed to low. Add flour and salt, and mix until just combined. Shape into a ball, flatten it slightly, cover in plastic wrap and chill for two hours.

Remove chilled dough from refrigerator and let sit for about 20 minutes.

IMG_3594Stir together chopped almonds and the 2 tablespoons of sugar in a small bowl. Set up a production line of your bowl of egg white, the nuts, and your prepared baking sheets. Using a small ice cream scoop (1-inch), scoop level amounts of dough and roll into balls. Dip balls into the egg white and then into the almond-sugar mixture.  Space 1 inch apart on prepared baking sheets.

Using the end of a wooden spoon or small pestle, press down the center of each ball. Make a fairly deep crater but don’t push through to the baking sheet. Fill each crater with a 1/4 teaspoon ofIMG_3606 raspberry jam.

Bake for 16 minutes until golden brown. Cool on racks.

Cookies keep 2-3 days in an airtight container.

Seven Days of Cookies: Peppermint Sugar Cookies

Peppermint is the flavor of the holidays, showing up in bark, hotIMG_3600 chocolate, cakes and the ubiquitous candy cane. There’s nothing more cheerful than a candy cane but many of us, after the age of 13, like looking at them more than eating them. I don’t know, hard candies and sugar sticks – it’s tough to keep the dentist out of my head.

This cookie gives you what you love about candy canes without the tooth-aching sweetness and guilt. Plus they’re pretty on the plate. And terrific with hot cocoa.

I have a handwritten version of this recipe so can’t credit it, but if I had to guess, it’s another Bon Appetit treat (although it doesn’t come up in an Epicurious search.)

Enjoy!

Peppermint Sugar Cookies

Ingredients

2 1/2 c flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 c (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 c powdered sugar
1 large egg yolk
2 large egg whites
1/2 tsp peppermint extract
1 c hard peppermint candies or candy canes, crushed powder fine (about 6 oz), divided
3-5 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted

Preparation

Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment and set aside.

Sift together dry ingredients.

IMG_3593In a large bowl, beat butter and powdered sugar with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add egg yolk and beat until blended. Add egg whites and extract, and mix well. The mixure will look grainy, don’t be alarmed. Gradually beat in dry ingredients. Stir in 1/2 c crushed candies.

Gather dough into a ball, flatten it slightly, wrap in plastic and chill for about an hour.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Position rack in middle of oven.

Using a small (or one-inch) ice cream scoop, scoop blobs of dough and dip rounded tops into remaining crushed candies. Place two inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake for 12-14 minutes until lightly browned on bottom. Transfer to racks to cool completely.

Melt chocolate and, using a small offset spatula, spread melted chocolate on the bottom of each cookie. Place cookies,  bottoms up, on racks until chocolate sets.

IMG_3599The recipe yields about 4 dozen cookies. The dough freezes well so you can make mini batches throughout the holidays. Just let it defrost in the fridge for several hours before using. (PS, I’ve never tried this, but I imagine you could scoop all the dough, dip the tops in the crushed candy and THEN freeze the dough balls. Give it a try!)

 

Seven Days of Cookies: Cherry Pistachio Mexican Wedding Cakes

One of the best parts of the holidays for me (as you might imagine) are theIMG_3589 copy cookies. I love to make them, give them, exchange them, receive them. Over the years, I’ve narrowed my personal baking selection down to a handful of exceptional, easy to make recipes. These are cookies that turn out great every time and each is a showstopper in terms of taste, texture, and beauty. Each also stands up to freezing, shipping and storing.

For the next week, I’ll share a cookie recipe every day so that by Sunday you’ll have everything you need to have the most delicious cookie tray ever.

Enjoy!

Cherry Pistachio Mexican Wedding Cakes

This recipe is adapted from Epicurious. I’ve been making these every year since I saw them in the December 2006 Bon Appetit. They are light, delicious, and wonderful to give. Make sure your butter is soft but not warm, and do sift your flours. You don’t want anything to weigh these babies down. Also, note, if you ever wondered what making cookies was like in the olden times, this is the recipe to work with: Mixing in the 5 cups of flour by hand is a bit of work, but like with scones and shortbread, the warmth of your hands does something magical to the dough. Just go slowly and be patient, the results are well worth it. PS, this is why you should use a very large bowl.

I use a rectangular 1 Tablespoon measure when forming the cookies, the results are more consistent. The original recipe says it yields 80 cookies. I reliably get about 60.

Ingredients

2 c (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 c powdered sugar plus more for coating

2 Tbs vanilla extract

1 tsp salt

1 c shelled unsalted natural pistachios (about 4 ounces), chopped (I use Trader Joe’s dry roasted, unsalted pistachios)

1 c dried tart cherries or dried cranberries (again, Trader Joe’s)

3 1/3 c sifted cake flour

1 2/3 c sifted all purpose flour

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350°F. Arrange racks on the top and middle of the oven. Line two large baking sheets with Silpat or parchment. Set aside.

Beat butter and 1 cup powdered sugar in large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla and salt, then pistachios and cherries. Dump in the flours and, usUntitleding your hands, carefully work the flour into the butter mixture. Be gentle, you don’t want to overmix the dough.

Using a rectangular 1 Tbs measure (or a generous round tablespoon), scoop dough and then roll in your hands into rough football-shaped ovals. Place on prepared sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through, until bottoms just begin to color, about 16 minutes. Cool cookies on sheets 10 minutes before coating.

powderPour generous amount of powdered sugar into medium bowl. Working with 5 or 6 warm cookies at a time, add cookies to bowl of sugar; gently turn to coat thickly. Transfer cookies to rack to cool completely.

Can be made 4 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature. (I store mine in single layers in 1 Gallon Ziploc bags.)

Peaceful Peppermint Bark

The holidays bring a lot with them. A Santa sackful of stress and fun byIMG_3536 turns. They always seem to catch us off guard and we’re out of time before we even realize it’s December. Finding moments of calm and peace among all the merry mayhem is the biggest challenge of the season. For many years, my moments came with a Starbucks soy latte and one of the individual squares of peppermint bark they sold at the register. I’d sit in my car, preferably on a quiet side street, and silently enjoy my coffee and treat. It helped.

I no longer drink coffee but peppermint bark is still my number one favorite holiday treat. I used to buy it from Williams Sonoma, but a few years ago I tried making it. It’s so easy! Yet even knowing that, I continued to buy it. This year, though, when this charming video popped on my FB feed of Bouchon Bakery elves making their bark, it inspired me. I got out the hammer and the peppermint.

So this is my prescription for this hectic holiday weekend: Get your kids, your partner, or yourself into the kitchen and make Peaceful Peppermint Bark. It’s a treat that delivers on many levels:

  • Stress-relieving benefits of the peppermint
  • Endorphin-releasing pleasure from the chocolate
  • Full-on “take that!” energy release from bashing the candies

Plus, it’s takes only about an hour start to finish so it really isIMG_3533 perfect to make with kids. And it gets you back out into the merrymaking maelstrom in no time. Added bonus: You can give it as gifts!!

A word on the peppermint candy: Candy canes are fine. I’ve always used Starlight Mints which seem to be difficult to find these days. IMG_3538When I was a kid there were stands in every grocery store for Brach’s Pick-A-Mix. You filled a bag with an assortment of individually wrapped candies and paid by weight. (Each had a fairly stern “NO SAMPLING” sign, but we always did.) Apparently, such stands are no more. In the candy aisle I often find Brach’s butterscotch discs, but no mints. This year, I went to a few stores before finding Kroeger brand at Ralph’s. I’m sure there are differences in taste across brands, but really – just use what you can easily find.

The recipe is a common one – its also the easiest. As with all recipes, use the best chocolate you can find, especially the white chocolate. You want to read the label and make sure it includes cocoa butter. Don’t use white chocolate chips because they won’t melt or adhere well. Also avoid any IMG_3528white chocolate branded as “confectionary.” It’s sickly sweet, doesn’t melt well and is just a waste of your time. (Want to know more about white chocolate? Here’s a terrific post by Serious Eats.)

I use a combination of Valhrona 64% and Valhrona 72% (the bars you can get at Trader Joes) for the dark chocolate, and either Valhrona or Lindt white chocolate. (I get the white Valhrona in blocks at a specialty store, but Lindt bars are readily available in supermarkets.) You can use 6 oz of any dark or semisweet chocolate you like.

Tips

  • You don’t need a hammer, you can use any 15 oz can of something, but the hammer is faster and more satisfying. Just make sure you put the bag of candies on a wooden cutting board – don’t smash on your tile, marble, granite, etc. counters.
  • Melting dark chocolate: I don’t use a double boiler when melting chocolate. I have a low wattage mini microwave which works perfectly for dark chocolate.
  • Melting white chocolate: White chocolate is delicate and burns easily! I use a small, nonstick saucepan and melt the white chocolate over low heat, watching and stirring until just melted. Beware any incidental moisture! Steam or water, even a droplet, will cause your white chocolate to seize into a pasty goo!
  • Peppermint extract is optional. I like a little zing in my dark chocolate.

 

Peaceful Peppermint Bark

Ingredients

3 oz 64% cacao dark chocolate, coarsely chopped

3 oz 72% cacao dark chocolate, coarsely chopped

1/4 tsp pure peppermint extract (optional)

2 tsps canola oil, divided

6 oz white chocolate, coarsely chopped

1/2 c crushed peppermint candies

Preparation
Line the bottom and sides of an 8 inch square baking pan with parchment, creating an overhang on two sides.

Put about 20 Starlight Mints (or other peppermint candies) into a Ziploc bag on a wood cutting board. Bash moderately with a hammer until you have a small crushed pieces. You don’t want a powder, nor do you want any big chunks. Think 1/8-inch dice. Bash until you have ½ cup.

Scatter abarkbout half the crushed candy across the bottom on the prepared pan. Set aside.

Melt the dark chocolate in a heatproof measure in the microwave on low, stopping and stirring every 15 seconds until just melted. Stir in 1 tsp of canola oil and peppermint extract if using. Pour over the crushed candy in the prepared pan, smoothly gently with an offset spatula. Place in the refrigerator to set, about 20 minutes.

Put the white chocolate into a small saucepan (preferably nonstick) and, over low heat, stir gently until just melted. Stir in 1 tsp canola oil. Pour the melted white chocolate over the set dark chocolate, spreading gently with an offset spatula to cover.

IMG_3531Immediately scatter the remaining crushed candies (to taste) over the top of the white chocolate, pressing gently with spatula. Set in the fridge for another 20-30 minutes until set.

Heat the blade of a small, sharp knife over a gas burner ( or in a glass of boiling water, wiping it dry before using), and run the blade along the sides of the bark in the pan that aren’t covered by parchment. Use the parchment overhangs to gently lift the bark from the pan.

From here you can cut or break the bark into pieces. If cutting, heat the blade of a long knife before making each cut to ensure smooth sides. You’ll get 20-30 pieces depending on size.

Enjoy!

Full disclosure: I wasn’t paying attention this go round and made two big mistakes…. My white chocolate seized and I didn’t have any more of it, so I spread the paste in the prepared pan set over low heat on the stove, and then put it in the fridge to set. Because of this, I forgot to add the canola oil to the white chocolate. Therefore, my layers separate, as is obvious in the pictures. I wanted to get this post up for the weekend, so didn’t run out for additional chocolate to make a picture perfect batch. I’m so ashamed.

 

 

 

Bread is Life Quick Bread

Friends, Paris. What can I add to the conversation about what happened last Friday?

"Peace for Paris" by Jean Jullien

“Peace for Paris” by Jean Jullien

I’m devastated and so very sad. Paris is one of my happy places. I’ve always felt safe there. Safe and happy. I’m heartbroken for the city and her people, for France and its citizenry, as they, like the rest of us, try to understand this very complicated world.

One of the bakers I follow on Facebook, Painrisien, posted a lovely sentiment on Saturday morning – that the boulangeries were open, even in the affected areas, and that the bakers were plying their centuries-old trade because life continues and bread is life.

DSC00064 I closed my laptop then and set aside my phone. I went to my kitchen, another of my happy places, and took down the flour and sugar, pulled out the butter. Baking is my security blanket when the world gets crazy. I love the alchemy and the physicality, I love knowing that ingredients, mixed in the right proportions, will always become bread. Reflexively, I began making Pulla, my mom’s Finnish bread. I wanted the familiarity of baking by heart, the homey fragrances of wDSC00220arm milk and cardamom, and the work of kneading the dough. Kneading bread, feeling it transform beneath my hands, gives me a soothing sense of control. Once the Pulla was set aside to proof, I washed the dishes and scrubbed the counters. I cleaned the stove and the floors. And it wasn’t enough. I needed more.

I scanned the cupboards and counters: There was the last of the candied orange peel, the rest of the chopped dried cherries/apricots/peaches from last week’s apple pie, a handful of dried cranberries. There was an apple in the bowl, an orange in the fridge. There was a dollop of creme fraiche and the last of a container of buttermilk.

I shredded the apple and zested the orange. I mixed all the dried fruit together. Flour, sugar in a bowl.IMG_2986 Eggs, crème fraiche, buttermilk whisked together with vanilla and a couple of spices. I combined it all and made what has to be said, is the most delicious quick bread I have ever had. Ever, no lie.

It never fails. The joy, the pleasure, the magic of baking – it brings me back from the brink every time.

Bread is life. Make the bread.

 

Dried Fruit Quick Bread

Set the oven to 350F. Butter a 9×5-inch loaf pan and line the bottom with parchment.IMG_3148 Set aside.

Ingredients

1 cup shredded apple, juice squeezed out

1 ¾ c chopped dried fruit – I used cranberries, cherries, apricots, peaches, and candied orange peel

1 ¼ c flour

¾ c sugar

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

½ tsp baking soda

½ tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp nutmeg

1 tsp – 1 Tbs orange zest, to taste

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

½ c melted butter, cooled

¼ c crème fraiche

¼ cup buttermilk

1 tsp vanilla

Preparation

Whisk together dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add dried fruit and stir to distribute evenly. Make a well in the middle.

Whisk together eggs, crème fraiche, melted butter, buttermilk and vanilla, and pour into the well in the dry ingredients. Stir with wooden spoon until well combined. The batter will be thick and sticky.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for about an hour, checking at 50 minutes. A tester inserted in the middle should come out clean. Cool in IMG_3146pan on a rack for about 10 minutes. Remove from pan, peel off parchment, and let cool to a warm room temperature. Wonderful with butter, or toasted with a little jam.

Enjoy.

And remember: If we stay away, if we become too afraid to go to Paris (or anywhere else our heart desires), the darkness wins. Which can’t happen, not in the City of Light, not anywhere. Blessings.

Three Soups for a Chilly Weekend

IMG_3123It’s finally cooled off here in LA, with chilly evenings dipping into the 40s. I know to those of you in Chicago, Canada, New England, you scoff at these temperatures. But trust me, to our lizard-like, sun-on-a-rock constitutions, it’s puffer coat weather.

Which as a native East Coaster, I love. I like cozy, I like pulling into the dark time, lighting candles, wearing my hairy house sweater, and making super easy, super delicious comfort foods. Which lately have been soups.

As we head into another cool pre-winter weekend, here are three super easy, ready in a jiffy, crazy delicious soups:

  • Lentil Soup with Andouille and Croutons
  • Cumin Scented Carrot Soup
  • Ovgolemono

All are ready in about an hour, using ingredients you likely have on hand. If not, all can be assembled from a quick run to Trader Joe’s (or your local market).

As to broth: I use chicken broth as specified in the recipes, but I’ve also made each using a vegetable broth. The lentil and carrot soups are great either way. The Ovgolemono needs some doctoring to bring up the flavor profile – herbs, extra lemon, garlic. I leave the prescription to you if you’d like to make it vegetarian.

10959623_10153756242427375_6940046747736783804_nLentil Soup with Andouille and Croutons

Adapted from Florence Fabricant in The New York Times

Ingredients

5 Tbs extra virgin olive oil, divided into 3 Tbs and 2 Tbs

1 c finely diced onion

⅔ c finely diced carrot (I use bagged julienned carrots and do a quick chop)

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

3/4 tsp dried thyme

Freshly ground black pepper

2½ c small green lentils (I buy French lentils at a specialty store; they’re also available at Whole Foods. Trader Joes has green lentils. They all work just fine.)

10 c chicken broth – divided: 8 c for soup, 2 c if resulting soup is too thick

2 slices whole wheat bread, diced (I use a gluten free whole grain I always have on hand)

4-5 Andouille sausages (about 5″ long) (I use the Trader Joe’s chicken Andouille, cut into ¼ inch slices)

Salt to taste

½ cup dry sherry (optional)

Preparation

Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a heavy soup pot or Dutch oven. Add onion, carrot and garlic, and cook over low heat until soft. Stir in thyme and a generous grinding of pepper. Add lentils and 8 cups broth. Bring to a simmer and cook until tender, about 45 minutes.

While lentils cook, heat remaining oil in a skillet. Add bread and sauté over medium heat until lightly browned and crispy. Remove to a bowl. Add kielbasa to pan and sauté until lightly browned. Place in bowl with croutons. Set aside.

When ready, purée lentils in a food processor in several batches, but do not allow to become perfectly smooth. Return to pot and reheat. If soup is too thick, add 1 cup or more of reserved broth. Season to taste with salt and stir in sherry if using. Serve, topping each portion with kielbasa and crouton mixture.

This is so delicious. Even if you don’t care for lentil soup, I’m betting you’ll like this.

FullSizeRender (2)Carrot Soup

My mom made carrot soup often. I’ve made so many variations over the years (Jane Brody’s is a particular fave) that this recipe is likely the result of many cooks.

Ingredients

2 Tbs butter

1 c chopped white onion

1 pound carrots, cut into smallish pieces (I use bagged baby carrots, cutting each in half)

1 medium apple, peeled, cored, cut into ½ inch chunks

2 ½ c chicken broth

¾ tsp ground cumin

1 Tbs white or brown sugar

1 tsp fresh lemon juice

Pinch of ground allspice

Preparation

Melt butter in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté until soft. Add carrots and apples. Stir together for 1 minute.

Add broth; bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until carrots are tender, about 20 minutes.

Drain soup in colander over a bowl to catch liquids. Return liquids to saucepan. Puree the solids in batches in food processor until smooth. Return to saucepan. Bring to a mild simmer over medium heat. Stir in the sugar, lemon juice, and spices. Season with salt and pepper. If the soup seems thin, let it simmer for up to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to cook off some of the liquid.

You can serve with a dollop of room temperature crème fraiche and snipped parsley. I enjoy it plain with a cheesy/harissa toast on the side.

332978_10150363587677375_1017777789_oOvgolemono a la Leslie Lewis

I lived for two super fun years just outside Stamford, CT, with a roommate whose love of food exceeds my own. We tinkered with starting a catering business using the slogan,  “Food that stimulates your glands.” As you can imagine, we didn’t get far out in the world, but we ate like kings in our apartment. This recipe is her recipe. It’s the ultimate chicken soup in my opinion. Comforting and easy. I have it at least once a week all year round. (This recipe can be easily halved.)

Ingredients

8 c chicken broth

½ c Orzo pasta

¼ c fresh lemon juice

1 large egg, room temperature

Snipped chives

Preparation

In a medium saucepan, combine broth and orzo. Bring to a boil and cook for 15 minutes.

Combine egg and lemon juice in a medium bowl.

When the broth is ready, ladle about a cup of hot soup into the lemon-egg mixture, whisking vigorously. Return the warmed egg mixture to the saucepan and stir gently over medium heat. You want to thicken the soup without bringing it to a boil. (A boil will curdle the eggs.)

Taste for salt, adding as needed. Serve with snipped chives. I like this with a frisee salad dressed in a mustardy vinaigrette (lunch), or with a couple of open-face grilled gruyere baguette toasts (dinner).

Enjoy!

Fall Back Orange Cranberry Scones

I hope everyone had a gentle “fall back” on the weekend. I, myself, fell into a BloodyFullSizeRender_1 copy Mary and sumptuous grilled cheese at the Napa Valley Grille. Followed by a nap. So my usual Sunday bake was not on.

Monday morning, though, was a different story: I’d made a mushroom pasta on Friday so had leftover crème fraiche; I also had leftover candied orange peel from last week’s chocolate orange soda bread. I don’t know what that says to you, but it says scones to me!

I’ve been making this recipe for so long I don’t remember its origins. All I can tell you is that it’s delicious and foolproof. And fun, if you get your hands in there. I read somewhere that Irish scones vary from the touch of the hand of the woman who made them. So if you cut in the butter with your fingertips, you’ll be part of a long tradition and you’ll impart your uniqueness to the dough. And you’ll have the tenderest scones ever.

Nothing wrong with that.

These come together fast and in one bowl. They’ll be ready pretty much when the tea is. Perfect for just about any morning, but especially great for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’m calling ’em “Fall Back” scones, not only because that’s what we just did, but because they’re so easy, they’ll be your fall back breakfast in no time.

Fall Back Orange Cranberry Scones

Ingredients

2 c flour

1/3 c sugar

2 Tbs grated orange peel

1 Tbs baking powder

½ tsp salt

½ c (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch dice

½ c dried cranberries

¼ – ½ c diced candied orange peel

¼ cup sour cream (or crème fraiche)

3 tablespoons orange juice

1 large egg

Turbinado sugar

Preparation

Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

UntitledWhisk together flour, sugar, orange peel, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Add diced butter. Using fingertips or a wire pastry cutter, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in cranberries and diced candied orange peel.

In a 2-cup measuring cup, whisk together the sour cream (or crème fraiche), orange juice and egg. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients in the bowl. Pour in the wet ingredients, stirring gently with a wooden spoon. Continue stirring until the dough just comes together and there’s no dry flour in the bowl.

Knead the dough gently in the bowl for a few turns to eliminate some of the stickiness. Then pat dough into an 8-inch circle on the prepared bakinFullSizeRender_3g pan. Using a pizza cutter, cut the circle in half one way, then in the other direction. Then cut across in a diagonal to create 8 equal wedges. Use the edge of the cutter to scooch them apart a little bit. Sprinkle with a generous amount of turbinado.

Bake until golden, about 12 minutes. Let cool about 10 minutes before serving with lots of good butter and jam. (They are also fantastic on their own.) These keep in a Ziploc on the counter for a day or two, or in the freezer for about a month.

IMG_2915Enjoy!

Trusting yourself + Everything Seasonal Bread

I know I’m not the only person who reads cookbooks like novels. (Especially since they are more and more often one-part memoir and two-parts recipes.) I always have. My motherFullSizeRender (1) had some real oldies I liked to read sitting at the kitchen table while she cooked. I adored the Better Homes & Gardens gingham book for its ring binding. I spent many childhood hours moving the pages around, sorting favorites or putting together “menus.” To this day, the BHG Baked Custard recipe is my go-to for almost instant homey gratification. (And, ps, if you use ½ milk, ½ heavy cream, it sets up with a moussey texture on the bottom and shiny custard on the top. Complete happiness.)

All that childhood reading has contributed to a sense for flavors and which will be complementary (on both the savory and sweet side). While I don’t have the most adventurous palate (“delicacies” are not my thing), I do think it’s fairly sophisticated. I can tell by the way a recipe is written whether it’s great or just serviceable, and I know when it will work and when it won’t.

Usually.

On the weekend I made a chocolate cake using a recipe from a respectable source. I had reservations – it called for cocoa and buttermilk which don’t harmonize for me – but since it was only one stick of butter, I gave it a go. Oy, friends. Bad. The overly sweet batter tasted “chocolaty” and the cake was…. Well, it was pretty: Dark. Good crumb. Good texture. It just tasted terrible. Thinking it might be my palate, I offered it around. No one cared for it. Well, one of my neighbor’s said, “It’s good. But I don’t want any more of it.” I let it sit for a day, loosely wrapped in plastic, to see if anything would meld or bloom. No. Bad. I trashed it (along with, apparently, all photos of it).

Lesson: Trust yourself. In the kitchen and in life.

IMG_2840So then I had the rest of a quart of buttermilk. And it is autumn, which calls for cozy, which calls for bread. Specifically Dark Chocolate Orange Soda Bread. Super easy, super fun, and super delicious. You can never go wrong with chocolate and orange, and it’s bread! Who cares if I have to run the AC in order to turn on the oven?

This is a recipe from Epicurious. I don’t make any changes to it. The dough is sticky sticky sticky. Scarily so. Be brave, dear reader, and don’t add a ton more flour to make it easier to handle! Just roll it around on your lightly floured work surface until you can take your hand off it without taking half of it with you. It can be done. I have a “vintage” kitchen that has tiled countertops (the horror!), so I work on a marble slab. And use a bench scraper to nudge my mound of dough off the marble and onto the prepared baking sheet.

I first made this last December for a holiday event. The dough was so crazy sticky that I just mounded it onto the sheet and said a prayer. Holy patron saint of bakers, is this stuff delicious! I mean seriously. For its ease and nothing fancy ingredients, it comes together like a trip to heaven. I’d never made soda bread before. I think I’d had it once at a St. Patrick’s dinner 30 years ago and that version was too rusk-like for me. The chocolate and orange drew me in like a moth to a flame. And, turns out, that 30 year old memory? That was just a bad loaf.

IMG_2836As to ingredients, I use Valhrona Manjari 64%FullSizeRender coarsely chopped and candied orange peel from local cooks’ store (oft mentioned here), Surfa’s. I’ve made this bread many times since, using orange peel from the Berkeley Bowl (similar to Surfa’s) and from the supermarket. The supermarket tubs (usually available only around the holidays) are a sweeter, stickier product. The orange bits tend to clump together in the bread, but it still tastes wonderful.

Important: Mind the time! Because the dough is so difficult to manage, my loaves have turned out differently every time. Sometimes wider and flatter, sometimes taller and more compact. The recipe calls for 70 minutes baking. I have never needed that much time, neither when using a fancy calibrated Wolf range nor when using the Home Depot special oven in my current place. The loaf needs to be brown, firm, with a tester coming out clean.IMG_2841 Check it at 40 minutes. I’ll be surprised if you need more than 60 total. It tastes as wonderful regardless of how the loaves appear.

It’s best to let this bread fully cool before cutting. Then you can slather it with butter, toast it, do whatever you like to do with bread. Baked up with a little vanilla custard, it also makes a nice bread pudding.

This baby will take you straight from Halloween through Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s brunch.

It’s that good.

Dark Chocolate Orange Soda Bread

From Epicurious

Ingredients

3 c unbleached all purpose flour

½ c plus 2 Tbs sugar

2 tsp salt

2 tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

6 Tbs (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

6 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened), cut into 1/3-inch pieces

6 ounces candied orange peel, diced

1 ¼ c buttermilk

1 large egg

Preparation

UntitledPosition rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper; butter parchment. Whisk first 5 ingredients in large bowl to blend. Add butter; rub in with fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in chocolate and orange peel. Whisk buttermilk and egg in medium bowl to blend; add to dry ingredients. Stir just until incorporated.

Turn dough out onto floured work surface and knead gently just until dough comes together, about 5 turns. Form dough into 6 1/2-inch-diameter round, about 2 to 2 1/2IMG_2839 inches high. Transfer to prepared baking sheet. Using sharp knife, cut 1-inch-deep, 3-inch-long slits in top of bread, forming sunburst pattern.

Bake bread until well browned and very firm when pressed and tester inserted into center comes out clean, turning baking sheet halfway through baking, about 1 hour 10 minutes total. Transfer bread to rack and cool completely, at least 3 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap in foil and store at room temperature.)

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Feelin’ Like Fall Peanut Butter Cookies

It’s been a tough autumn here in Southern California. Temperatures have been close to IMG_2682100 degrees all across the Southland, with regional blackouts due to 24/7 AC and beach dwellers who are normally proud of their “we don’t need AC” status, flocking to packed movie theaters for relief. There have been a few classic SoCal fall days mixed in, though, with breezy temps in the low 70s and cool nights that might tumble into the low 60s – those are baking days.

This past weekend was cool and cloudy, perfect for making soup and peanut butter cookies. I like my peanut butter cookies crisp with a hint of chocolate, so I use equal amounts of white and brown sugar, and add cocoa nibs. It’s the perfect cookie: Easy to pull together and, with a couple of hours of Hulu to catch up on, the right amount of baking time.

Feelin’ Like Fall Peanut Butter Cookies

Yield 2-3 dozen

Ingredients

1 ¼ c flour

¾ tsp baking soda

1 c (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened (beat cold butter between wax paper sheets with a rolling pin)

½ c light brown sugar, packed

1 large egg

¾ tsp vanilla extract

1 c chunky peanut butter (I use Skippy)

½ c cocoa nibs

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment (parchment makes a crisper cookie than Silpat).

Combine flour and baking soda in a small bowl and set aside.

IMG_2680Beat butter and both sugars in the bowl of an electric mixer on medium until fluffy. Add the egg and mix until combined. Mix in vanilla, then peanut butter. Beat well. Scrape down the sides and then add flour mixture. Beat on medium speed until well combined. Mix in cocoa nibs.

Remove bowl from mixer and give the dough a few turns with a wooden spoon or spatula to make sure the nibs are thoroughly mixed in.

Use a small ice cream scoop or rounded tablespoon to scoop up dough. Roll into balls and placeIMG_2684 on cookie sheets, spacing about 2.5 inches apart. Sprinkle generously with crystal sugar.

Bake, rotating sheets halfway through baking time, 20 minutes. Cool on rack.

Enjoy! Great with tea or cold milk. (The crispy makes ‘em dunkable.)