Category Archives: Special Treats

05 December 2018: More Classic Holiday Cookies – Natale Cookies

2018-Dec-05_stuff_2793Unbelievably, this year, I’ve been drawn away from chocolate cookies toward citrus-y cookies! I know, there are Peanut Butter Blossoms in my (baking) future, but so far I’ve been working on something entirely different.

Again, The Boston Globe’s Classic Holiday Cookie article is my source. Three bakes in and every single one has been a winner!  Today’s recipe for Natale Cookies comes from Linda Marino and is a great nod to my ethnic heritage. Can Feast of the Seven Fishes be far behind?

Natale Cookies

adapted by Linda Marino

Ingredients for cookies:

  • 2 1/2 cups flour, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon orange extract

Ingredients for Icing

  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons milk (I used Flor d’Sicilia in place of OJ – about 1/2 tsp; and substituted the other tsp of OJ with milk)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons rainbow nonpareils or sprinkles or colored sugar, for decorating

Method

  1. In a bowl, whisk the flour, salt, and baking powder to blend.
  2. In an electric mixer, cream the butter and cream cheese at medium speed until well combined. Add thesugar and beat until smooth. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, followed by the vanilla and orange extracts.
  3. With the mixer set on its lowest speed, blend in the flour mixture just until no white patches show. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours or until the dough is cold.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  5. On lightly floured counter, pinch off a generous teaspoon of dough. Roll it under your palm into a rope about 6 inches long. Gently knot the rope to create a round. Set knots on the baking sheets with the ends tucked under, about 1 inch apart. Continue rolling and shaping knots until all the dough is used.
  6. Bake the cookies for 20 minutes, or until they are set and starting to brown. Transfer the parchment sheets to wire racks; leave the cookies to cool.
  7. Make the icing: Sift the confectioners’ sugar into a small bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of the milk and 1 teaspoon of the orange juice and stir until the mixture forms a smooth icing. Add the remaining milk and orange juice and stir until the icing falls easily from a spoon.
  8. Remove the parchment sheets from the wire rack. Set 1 rack on a rimmed baking sheet.
  9. Pick up a cookie, turn it upside down, and dip it into the icing. Set it right side up on the wire rack. Continue until all the cookies are dipped. Sprinkle with nonpareils, sprinkles, or colored sugar. Leave to cool completely
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29 November 2018: Laura Raposa’s Coconut Orange Macaroons

2018-Nov-29_Fournightsaweek_2767In general, I don’t keep a lot of home-baked sweets in our house. I do so, not as a lofty statement against sugar consumption. I do it because I love them too much! But after Thanksgiving has gone by, there is some strange phenomenon that occurs: I feel the need to bake cookies.

I like to make something either from my heritage or childhood, or something that might not be the usual. Oh, I like sugar cut-outs (and I do have my Aunt Eleanor’s killer recipe for cut-out cookies using Jello as one of the sugars), and I enjoy decorating, but I love to find a cookie with an unusual taste or texture.

Sheryl Julian, the Boston Globe’s excellent food editor, recently published this article about Classic Holiday Cookies in the Sunday Globe magazine. So far, I’ve made 2 of these recipes and plans are materializing to bake the others. Today I made Laura Raposa’s Orange-Coconut Macaroons and promptly froze them for our holiday dessert plate.  The fragrance of orange completely blew me away.

Laura Raposa’s Orange Coconut Macaroons (as adapted by Sheryl Julian)

Makes about 22

Ingredients

  • 1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • Grated rind of 1 navel orange or scant 1/4 teaspoon or orange oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 1/2 cups flaked, unsweetened coconut
  • 3 1/4 cups flaked, sweetened coconut
  • 1 1/2 cups (9 ounces) bittersweet chocolate chips

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. (Either my oven is too hot or this temperature was a bit too much for the cookies to bake 18 minutes; monitor and turn down as needed)
  2. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  3. In an electric mixer, combine the condensed milk, egg whites, vanilla, orange rind or oil, salt, and unsweetened and sweetened coconut. Beat on low speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl often, until thoroughly incorporated.
  4. Scoop 2 tablespoons of the batter (a small ice cream scoop works well) onto a baking sheet, and continue making mounds, leaving 1 inch between them. Dip your fingers into a bowl of cold water and shape the dough into mounds, smoothing out any feathery edges.
  5. Bake the macaroons for 18 to 20 minutes, or until they are light golden brown. Let them cool on the baking sheets.
  6. Meanwhile, fill a saucepan with several inches of water and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Place the chocolate chips in a heatproof bowl that will fit neatly into the pan without touching the water. Melt the chocolate in the bowl, stirring occasionally.
  7. Remove the chocolate from the heat and wipe the bottom of the bowl dry. Dip a fork into the melted chocolate and drizzle it over the macaroons in a crisscross pattern. (I skipped this, but for gifting or to be fancy, it sounds delicious).
  8. Let the chocolate cool on the cookies. Use a wide metal spatula to remove the cookies from the baking sheet.
  9. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

18 May 2018: Not a Birthday Cake

2018-May-18_food_2362Today is Adrien’s birthday and, I will be cooking tonight’s celebratory meal. While I am a big fan of birthday cake, he is not. So we are having a very un-birthday like dessert: chocolate mousse.

The absolute best chocolate mousse we have ever eaten was served at a lovely Paris restaurant in the Marais just a few blocks from Places de Vosges, Chez Janou.  There is nothing quite so delightful as ending a wonderful meal with a giant copper bowl of chocolate mousse, trust me. This recipe from Martha Stewart comes pretty close to perfection, however, and it is fairly uncomplicated. Chocolately and light, forget counting calories. This is an indulgently rich dessert worthy of someone’s birthday.

Martha Stewart’s Chocolate Mousse

Ingredients

  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 4 TBSP sugar
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (I substituted vanilla paste here)

Method

  1. In a medium saucepan, whisk together egg yolks, 2 TBSP sugar, and 3/4 cup heavy cream. Cover over medium-low heat, stirring until mixture coats back of a spoon (3-4 minutes). Do not allow to boil. Remove from heat, whisk in melted chocolate and vanilla. Strain into a bowl. Chill until cool.
  2. With an electric mixer (I used my trusty stand mixer with the whisk attachment), beat remaining 1 1/4 cups heavy cream with remaining 2 TBSP sugar until stiff peaks form. Stir 1/3 of the whipped cream into the cooled custard mixture, then GENTLY FOLD (!) in the rest of the whipped cream with a spatula.
  3. Spoon into serving dishes, chill covered at least 30 minutes and up to 3 days. Bring to room temperature before serving. Or if you are dreaming of Chez Janou, put the mousse in a big serving bowl and enjoy the memories!

 


8 April 2018: Easy Italian Pear Cake

2018-Apr-07_FourNightsAWeek_2048I discovered two pears in the ‘fridge the other day and sought to use them before, you know, they become part of a compost heap. Also, had a partially consumed container of mascarpone, so this recipe seemed meant to be

My only criticism of this particular pear cake was that it baked up very dry. Maybe I overbaked. It just didn’t seem right to toss the cake that I made with the purpose of eliminating wasted fruit, so I needed to figure out a fix.  

I had a half-bottle of Ipsus Passito di Pantelleria Dessert Wine waiting to be finished. Using a skewer, I poured the dessert wine onto the cake which not only moistened it, but gave it a great flavor as well.  Cutting down on food waste is a personal goal in this house, and if dessert helps us cut out the waste, well, that’s a good thing, right? 

Easy Italian Pear Cake from An Italian in My Kitchen

Ingredients2018-Apr-07_FourNightsAWeek_2028_edited-1

  • 1-1/2 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup + 1-1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 1-1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 34 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup mascarpone
  • 2-1/2 Tbsp vegetable oil (coconut or olive oil are my choices here)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 pears

Method

  1. Pre-heat oven to 340 degrees F. Lightly grease and flour and 9-inch cake pan (author used a springform pan).
  2. Clean and peel the pears, chop one pear into medium-sized cubes and the other pear into thin slices. Set aside.
  3. In medium bowl (I used my stand mixer), at medium speed beat eggs and sugar until creamy; add mascarpone and continue beating until smooth.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, cornstarch, baking powder, salt and baking soda.
  5. STIR the flour into the egg mixture by hand (wood spoon) to combine gnetly, then add oil and stir to combine.
  6. Fold in the pear cubes, spoon into prepared cake pan.
  7. Top the batter with sliced pears and sprinkle 2 TBS sugar on top.
  8. Bake approximately 45-60 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.

 


14 February 2018: Ina Garten’s Lemon Mousse

2018-Feb-15_fournightsaweek_mousse_1773Happy Valentine’s Day! With Valentine’s Day falling in the middle of the week this year, we decided to stay in, cook, and enjoy one of our favorite movies. Just because it was a quiet night, doesn’t mean the food didn’t need to be spectacular and this Lemon Mousse recipe from Ina Garten was a great finish to our meal.  The most difficult part of the process was stirring the egg yolk mixture for 8-10 minutes, but after that, it came together easily. 

See the original – and accompanying video here.

Ina Garten’s Lemon Mousse

Ingredients

  • 3 extra-large whole eggs
  • 3 extra-large eggs, separated
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (4 lemons)
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup good bottled lemon curd, at room temperature
  • Sweetened Whipped Cream, recipe follows
  • Sliced lemon, for garnish (I used raspberries – equally good)

Sweetened Whipped Cream:

  • 1 cup cold heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (I purchased perfectly acceptable whipped cream from Whole Foods – not the stuff in the aerosol can!)

Directions

  1. In a large heat-proof bowl, whisk together the 3 whole eggs, 3 egg yolks, 1 cup sugar, the lemon zest, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water and cook (NOTE: Get that water simmering before you start timing), stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, for about 10 to 12 minutes until the mixture is thick like pudding. Take off the heat and set aside for 15 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours, until completely chilled.
  2. Place half the egg whites and a pinch of salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on high speed. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and continue to beat until the whites are stiff and shiny. Carefully fold the beaten whites into the cold lemon mixture with a rubber spatula.
  3. Place the cream in the same bowl of the electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (no need to clean the bowl) and beat on high speed until the cream forms stiff peaks.
  4. Carefully fold the whipped cream into the lemon mixture. Fold in the lemon curd, and pour into a deep bowl OR pipe smaller amounts into dishes.
  5. Top with whipped cream and lemon slices (or as I did, fresh raspberries)

Sweetened Whipped Cream:

Place the cream, sugar, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whip on medium and then high-speed until the cream just forms still peaks. Spoon the whipped cream into a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip.

 

 


02 February 2018: Healthy Dark Chocolate Oatmeal Bars

2018-Feb-02_fournightsaweek_oatmeal_bars_1739Whenever I can use up the remaining bits of something I’ve only partially utilized during the week, it’s a win.  This week, I had most of a container of plain, nonfat Greek yogurt leftover from a spicy bean dish, and rather than just eat it or (horrors!) wait until it was no longer edible, I went on a search for a way to incorporate Greek yogurt into another recipe. The fact that this recipe not only used up the yogurt but was a dessert AND used dark chocolate was something like winning a lottery.  Here is a recipe for Healthy Dark Chocolate Oatmeal Bars from A Mindful Mom’s blog. Be sure to check out blogger, Kristen for other great healthy choices.

Healthy Dark Chocolate Oatmeal Bars

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 cups oats (I used old-fashioned, not quick)
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 1/3 cup Greek yogurt (I used 0% fat)
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2/3 cup dark chocolate, chopped (I used dark chocolate chips)

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8×8 pan with parchment paper or foil.
  2. In large mixing bowl, mix all dry ingredients together.
  3. Add oil, yogurt, egg, honey and vanilla. Mix until just combined.
  4. Stir in dark chocolate chips
  5. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 20 minutes. Allow to rest for 10-15 minutes before eating (good luck with that).

23 January 2018: Cocoa Brownies

2018-Jan-23_fournightsaweek_brownies_1694We recently purchased a condo unit in the building in which we have been renting. Our new neighbors gifted us with the wonderful bottle of wine which we have determined would go quite nicely with some chocolate. I mean, what doesn’t go with chocolate? I’m not sure I want to live in that world.

There are plenty of brownie recipes made with cocoa in place of bar chocolate, but oftentimes I’ve found them to be pretty dry. This recipe comes from Bon Appetit and is hands down one of the most chocolate-y of cocoa brownie recipes I’ve ever tasted.  And, it is quite tasty with our bottle of Ipsus 2008 Passito de Pantelleria.

Cocoa Brownies

Bon Appetit, December 2012.

Ingredients

  • Nonstick oil spray
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter cut into approximately 1 inch chunks
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used King Arthur’s Triple Chocolate)
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (I used vanilla bean paste)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup all purpose flour

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line and 8-inch square pan (glass) with foil, pressing firmly into pan and leaving a 2 inch overhang. Coat foil with nonstick spray and set aside.
  2. Melt butter (I microwaved, BA suggests doing this in saucepan). Let cool slightly.
  3. Whisk sugar, cocoa and salt in a medium bowl. Pour butter in a steady stream into dry ingredients, whisking constantly to blend. Whisk in vanilla.
  4. Add eggs one at a time, beat vigorously to blend after each addition (make sure the butter has cooled a bit or you’ll end up with bits of scrambled eggs – yuck).
  5. Add flour and stir until just combined – do not overmix. Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth top. (I added some chopped up dark chocolate dove bar here just for fun).
  6. Bake until top begins to crack and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. 25-30 minutes.
  7. Transfer pan to wire rack; let cool completely in pan. Use foil overhang and lift 2018-Jan-23_fournightsaweek_brownies_1692brownies out of pan. Cut into 16 squares.

Ipsus 2008 Passito di Pantelleria
I love, love, love that this moscato dessert wine comes from Sicily. Smooth and a golden color your can practically taste the sunshine!  The wine is produced in a southernmost island near Tunisia; somewhat sweet (but not overly so) there are notes of apricots and raisins. Definitely great sipping wine to go with dessert. To find out more about these wines, link to the Wine-searcher site here.

 

 


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