Seven Days of Cookies: Cornmeal Fruit Biscotti

img_7733Here’s a thought. Make holiday cookies in September and take all photos. Then simply post, post, post in December.

Anyway, just in time for an afternoon break, these wonderful Cornmeal and Dried Fruit Biscotti from Alice Medrich are just waiting for a sip of Vin Santo.

The genius here is the addition of crushed aniseed. The licorice aroma might scare you at first, but steady on. It perfumes the cookies beautifully and is especially nice with the dried cranberries and apricots.

I love cornmeal-based sweets, both cakes and cookies. These do not disappoint. It took willpower not to tinker and add some orange  (because I love cranberry and orange so much), but Alice is a master of distinct flavor notes. Girlfriend does not need my help.

These cookies can be fragile so use a sharp serrated knife when cutting the baked loaf.

Cornmeal and Fruit Biscotti

Adapted from a recipe by Alice Medrich, Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies

Makes about 30

Ingredients

1 c plus 2 Tbs (5 oz) all-purpose flour

1 c  (5.375 oz) cornmeal (I used white)

½ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

4 Tbs unsalted butter, softened

1 c (7 oz) white sugar

2 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp finely grated lemon zest

1 Tbs aniseed, crushed

½ c  coarsely chopped dried cranberries

½ c  chopped dried apricots

1 c toasted, coarsely chopped almonds*

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

img_7722Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment and set aside.

Whisk the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt to blend.

Add flour mixture, mixing  until moistened. Mix in dried fruit and nuts.

Turn the dough out onto the parchment lined baking sheet, and with damp hands, pat and squish the dough into a 12-inch by 2-inch log. Usloafse a spatula or bench scraper to clean up any bits of dough clinging to the parchment around the log. (See pic at right: Pretty loaf on marble – no way to move that sticky baby to the pan. Use the parchment.)

Bake on the center oven rack for 35-40 minutes, rotating pan halfway through, until lightly browned and cracked on top. Cool on the cookie sheet on a rack for at least 15 minutes.

Slide the parchment onto a cutting surface. Use a long serrated knife to cut the loaf on a diagonal into slices about 3/8-inches wide. (If the loaf is too crumbly to cut, let cool completely.)

img_7730Transfer slices to cookie sheet, standing them ½ inch apart. Bake 15-20 minutes, until barely beginning to brown. Cool on rack. Once completely cooled, can be stored airtight for about two weeks.

Note: I cut my biscotti slices in half to increase my yield and, because, I don’t really like a long stick of biscotti.

Enjoy!

 

 

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Bonus Holiday Cookie!

OK, so yes, we completed the Seven Days of Cookies, but in the course ofIMG_3696 all that baking, I came across a recipe from Alice Medrich that cried out to be tried. So even though I’ve been rolling [in] dough for a week, I had to make one more batch of cookies.

These are called Pebbly Beach Fruit Squares. The recipe is from Medrich’s Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies. These are beyond delicious, a crispy-chewy sandwich of delightfulness.

Notes

  • Alice says these cookies can be customized to your taste through your choice of fruit and spice. I love cranberry and orange so I used dried cranberries and candied orange peel with just a touch of cinnamon.
  • Make sure your fruit is moist! If it’s not, Alice says to soak it in water, juice or spirits for about 20 minutes (any longer and it will be too mushy to use). Pat dry before using.
  • Do the best you can when rolling the dough. It was a bit sticky so I rolled it between two pieces of parchment, flipping it several times and smoothing the paper. Even then I fell short of the desired 16.5 inch length.

I wasn’t sure whatIMG_3697 to expect from this cookie. I knew it would be good (Medrich, dried fruit, butter), but I wasn’t prepared for just how good. The kind of good that makes you laugh out loud.

Which is truly the best way to conclude a “baker’s dozen” of Seven Days of Cookies.

Enjoy! And have a beautiful Christmas!

Pebbly Beach Fruit Squares

Adapted from Alice Medrich

Ingredients

1 3/4 c plus 2 Tbs flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

8 Tbs (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened but still cool

3/4 c granulated sugar

1 large egg

1 tsp vanilla

Finely grated zest of one medium lemon and one smallish orange

1/2 c moist candied orange peel

½ c moist dried cranberries (coarsely chopped to about the same size as the orange peel)

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/4 cup crystal sugar

Preparation

Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and set aside.

squareIn a medium bowl (with a mixer set on low), beat butter with the granulated sugar until smooth and well blended but not fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla, and both zests, and beat until smooth. Add flour mixture and mix until completely incorporated.

Divide the dough in half and form each into a rectangle about ¼ inch thick. Wrap the patties in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of oven. Line two large baking sheets with parchment and set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together the dried fruits with the cinnamon.

Remove dough from the refrigerator and let sit for 15 minutes to soften slightly.

IMG_3682On a sheet of parchment at least 17 inches long, roll one piece of dough into a rectangle 8.5 inches by 16.5 inches. With a short side facing you, scatter half of the dried fruit on the bottom half of the dough. Fold top half of the dough over fruit, using the paper as a handle. Gently peel paper from the top of dough. (If it sticks, chill dough for a few minutes until the paper peels easily.)

Press the top of the dough down lightly, then dust with half of the coarse sugar, again patting it lightly to make sure the sugar adheres. Use a heavy knife to trim thIMG_3683e edges. Then cut it into 4 strips and then cut each strip into 4 pieces to make 16 squares. Place cookies 2 inches apart on lined or greased cookie sheets. Repeat with remaining dough, fruit, and sugar.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Rotate pans from top to bottom and from front to back halfway through the baking time to ensure even baking. Let cool on sheets for about 10 minutes, then move to racks to cool completely.

Cookies keep in an airtight container for a week. Yields 24 to 32 squares. I wasn’t able to roll my dough to the full 16.5 inches so I ended up with about 24 cookies.

These are insane.

 

 

Pitch Black Cocoa Brownies

I was going to title this “The 40 Stroke Brownie” but my editorial staff felt that could go offIMG_2531 in too many unintended directions. Whatever. I still feel it’s interesting to note that many, many recipes instruct one to “beat vigorously for 40 strokes.” Not sure where it comes from and a Google search was exhausting scrolling through pages of health-related results. (Point taken, editors!) What I find, though, is that those 40 strokes with a wooden spoon are magical – your batter transforms into something satiny and wonderful. And whatever you’re baking is heightened – heavenly textures.

40 strokes of beauty

40 strokes of beauty

As was the case yesterday when, in mid-afternoon, I was toiling away at my desk and thinking I’d like something chocolate. And knowing there was nothing to be had at the moment (having finished my usually reliable supply of frozen chocolate bars). What to do?

Basic brownies. One bowl. 45 minutes from start to finish. Let’s go!

I was interested primarily in speed and ease so considered making from memory the recipe from the Baker’s box. But instead I once again invited Alice Medrich into the conversation and pulled together her Cocoa Brownies tout suite.

Because she’s Alice and therefore the bomb, her recipe includes a little discussion about cocoa and the flavor profiles when using natural (nonalkalized) or Dutch-process (alkalized) cocoa. She remarks that Dutch-process cocoa delivers a flavor reminiscent of Oreo cookies. Interesting. I use Droste Dutch-process cocoa and have never noticed the Oreo effect. I have noticed it, though, quite robustly, when using something called “Black Onyx” cocoa.

AccordingIMG_2532 to the Savory Spice Shop website, “[Black Onyx] has been alkalized to the extreme, producing a dark, purplish black cocoa that makes for an impressive black-as-coal baked good. This extreme alkalization neutralizes the natural bitterness, removing some of its chocolate flavor and a lot of its butter fat (10-12%).” I discovered it at my local heaven, er, specialty food shop, Surfa’s. It’s definitely black and definitely delivers the Oreo notes. You’ve got to be judicious in its use unless you love Oreos that much.

Yesterday I was also out of Droste, but did have a tub of Hershey’s cocoa in the cupboard. So I measured two ounces of Hershey’s and one ounce of Black Onyx into the recipe.

The results? Black as night, Oreo note present and accounted for, moist and slightly chewy texture. And exactly what this hardworking girl needed to get through the afternoon! I do believe it’s those last 40 strokes that make the texture so delightful.

Because the brownies are so intensely dark, these would make an excellent Halloween treat with just a single candy corn slightly off center on top.

Enjoy!

Pitch Black Cocoa Brownies

Adapted from Alice Medrich, Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cookies

Preheat oven to 325. Butter an 8-inch square pan, or line with parchment or foil, creating overhangs. Set aside.IMG_2530

Ingredients

10 tablespoons (1 ¼ sticks) unsalted butter

1 ¼ c sugar

2/3 c (2 ounces) natural unsweetened cocoa powder such as Hershey’s

1/3 c (1 ounce) Black Onyx unsweetened cocoa powder

¼ tsp salt

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

2 cold large eggs

1/3 cup plus 1 Tbs (1.75 ounces) all-purpose flour

Preparation

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven.

Melt butter gently in heatproof bowl in the microwave. Add the sugar, cocoa powders and salt to hot butter, stir to combine, and set aside to cool until just warm.

Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon.

Spread evenly in the prepared pan.

Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool completely on a rack.

Remove from pan and cut into squares.

Magical Tweed Torte

When I tell people about my mother, the word I most often use is “magic.” She proved it again and again during walks in our favorite nature sanctuary. We’d sit very still on rocks,252097_10150282511387375_7182998_n barely breathing, and suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, deer appeared. It felt like Mom apparated them just for me. (Perhaps it was her Finnish heritage, but my mother made all of nature an enchanted forest.)

She revealed a most potent magic one afternoon when I was about three or four. I wanted cookies. “We can make them,” she said. Wha-a-t? What was this “making” of cookies? She parked me in a kitchen chair, pulled ingredients from shelves, and made a quick batch of drop sugar cookies. I was amazed. It was magic how an assortment of ingredients could come together and become something else, something delectable. That moment lit the spark for baking that still burns. I feel the same amazement today when a pile of stuff becomes a cake, or bread, or pie.

Slide1I’ll admit, though, that some transformations amaze me more than others. Few more so than egg whites beaten with sugar until stiff, additional elements folded in and baked until it becomes a CAKE. How is that possible?

A favorite version of this manifesting comes from another wonderful Alice Medrich* book, Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts (Quicker Smarter Recipes by Alice Medrich). The recipe, Chocolate Walnut Tweed Torte, is simplicity defined but complexity experienced. (The fact that it’s gluten free is a happy bonus.) It’s dense, sort of chewy, chocolaty, but exceptionally light – exquisite. I’m not a walnut fan so I make it with almonds.

Chocolate Almond “Tweed” Torte Adapted from a recipe by Alice Medrich

  • 1 cup almonds (3.5 ounces) – I’ve used slivered, sliced and whole almonds and always measure by weight
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 9 ounces 70% cacao bittersweet chocolate (I use Valhrona)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 7 large egg whites (about 1 cup)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Put oven rack in the center. Preheat oven to 350.

  • Lightly grease a 9 inch spring form pan.
  • Pulse the almonds with 1 Tbs of sugar in a food processor until finely ground. Wipe out the processor bowl with a paper towel to remove any lingering oils.FullSizeRender
  • Pulse the chocolate with one tablespoon of sugar until crumbled into small pebbles (no larger than ¼-inch).
  • Combine the chocolate and almonds with the salt and side aside.
  • Fit your electric mixer with the whip attachment and Slide1 copybeat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Continue beating at medium speed while slowly adding the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar and beat until the egg whites are stiff and glossy, but not dry.
  • Fold half of the nut and chocolate mixture into the egg whites with a large rubber spatula until nearly incorporated. Then add the remaining nuts and chocolate, and continue folding until evenly incorporated.
  • Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly with an offset spatula.IMG_9774
  • Bake for 30 minutes or until the torte is puffed and brown. A toothpick will come out clean except for some melted chocolate.
  • Cool the torte on a rack. Run a knife around the edge before removing the spring-form.
  • Transfer to serving platter and serve with coffee whipped cream (I just add a touch of coffee extract to lightly sweetened whipped cream).

IMG_9818It’s just terrific and comes together in about an hour. It doesn’t really need the whipped cream. The torte keeps covered for about two days, but I freeze remaining slices after serving. To me, it’s just as delicious ice cold, but frozen slices can sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes before serving.

My mom would love it.

*I first “met” Alice through her 1990 book, Cocolat (now out of print, but available through Amazon resellers), named for her chocolate truffle and baked goods empire. Cocolat is a beautiful book. The recipes are complex but extraordinary, and there are copious tips and notes throughout. I didn’t start small with this book. My first outing was a dessert called Pate Trompe: A deep, dense chocolate mousse chilled in a loaf pan containing about ¼-inch of coffee gelee. Plated, surrounded by mounds of diced gelee, the effect is of a traditional liver pate. It’s a show stopper. I have made many cakes from Cocolat in the ensuing years, but none as often as the Aztec Layer Cake, tantalizing layers of pecan meringue, chocolate genoise, and chocolate buttercream, scented with coffee and cinnamon. It’s divine. Alice is definitely a soul sister.