Category Archives: Special Treats

23 December 2020: Egg-Free Cutout Cookies

One of my fondest childhood food memories is of the big rectangular tin of cutout cookies my Aunt Eleanor used to make for the four of us each Christmas and Easter. She had collected an impressive array of cutout shapes which, when I had to downsize, went to another family member. I love her recipe – which includes a box of lemon or orange gelatin as one of the cups of sugar.

I wanted to keep this memory going with our granddaughter who has an egg allergy, so my Aunt’s recipe needed to be replaced. Fortunately, many cooks and bakers are replacing or eliminating eggs these days, so the choices were plentiful; however, this was the recipe that I used for this year’s holiday bake and it is delightful – the website, Safely Delish, has quite a nice collection of allergy-friendly recipes.

There is nothing more fun than decorating cookies with a toddler! When I say sugar goes everywhere, believe me – sugar in shoes, on fingers and in every possible nook and cranny. Any cleanup is definitely worth the fun and laughs. Looking forward to our next session and more cookie decorating!

Egg Free Cut Out Cookies from Safely Delish

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened slightly
  • 2 TBSP milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Cream together butter, sugar, milk and vanilla in a large bowl.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.
  4. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir until combined. Cover and chill dough in refrigerator for about 30 minutes (I put the dough aside overnight – you can do this, but you may need to allow the dough to come up in temperature a bit in order to roll it out).
  5. On parchment paper (used a silicon mat) roll dough out to 1/4-1/3 inch thickness. If the dough warms up too much during the process, refrigerate rolled dough an additional 10-20 minutes before cutting shapes).
  6. Cut out shapes with cookie cutters. Press one side in sugar or sprinkles if desired (I did not do this as we wanted to save for decorating day) Re-roll any remaining dough for additional cutouts.
  7. Bake at 350 degrees F for 10-12 minutes depending on cookie shape, size, and thickness. Allow to cool on the pan for at least 5 minutes before transferring to wire cooking rack. Cool completely before frosting.


20 December 2020: Union Square’s Chocolate Biscotti

Each holiday season, I choose a biscotti recipe – or two – to make for my family as a way to honor my Sicilian heritage. This year’s bake comes from New York’s Union Square Cafe and melds chocolate, espresso and white chocolate (the original calls for milk chocolate). The condo filled with the aroma of dark chocolate and espresso which, for me, was transformative. I honestly don’t think there are any two flavors the complement each other more than chocolate and coffee.

I made a few tweaks to the baking instruction: I like to use white chocolate with a cookie that is already off the charts in chocolate flavor. I also use the baking shortcut of standing up each cookie for the second bake. To me, it saves having to flip cookies from one side to the other and gives a really even bake. I also would recommend creating four dough logs on the first bake – the yield will be closer to the 60 in the original recipe and the dough does seem to spread out quite a bit. However, to honor Union Square’s recipe, I’ve included their original recipe and method below.

No matter how you bake them, they are delicious.

Union Square’s Chocolate Biscotti Recipe courtesy of NYT Cooking

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 ¾ cups lightly packed dark brown sugar
  • ⅓ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 ounces (4 tablespoons) butter, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon double-strength brewed espresso (I used espresso powder)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 7 ½ ounces (1 rounded cup) small milk chocolate chips (I used white chocolate)
  • 1 large egg, beaten and mixed with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash (don’t skip this!)
  • 2 tablespoons raw sugar

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12- by 17-inch baking sheet with parchment paper or nonstick liner. Sift together the flour, cocoa, salt and baking soda; set aside.
  2. Using a heavy-duty electric mixer, cream together the brown sugar, granulated sugar and butter for 3 to 5 minutes at medium speed. Add vanilla extract and espresso. Mix for 10 seconds. Add eggs one at a time, mixing for 10 seconds at medium-low speed after each addition. Add sifted flour mixture and mix at low speed until dough comes together, 1 to 2 minutes. Add chocolate chips and mix just until chips are evenly incorporated, 15 to 20 seconds.
  3. Transfer dough to a work surface and divide in two, shaping into balls. Form each ball into a log 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide. Transfer logs to prepared baking sheet and flatten slightly. Brush tops of logs with egg wash and sprinkle each log with 1 tablespoon raw sugar. (Here’s where I took some advice on the recipe website: CHILL THE DOUGH – wrap in wax paper or cling wrap and allow it to chill to make handling easier.)
  4. Bake until biscotti have spread, have a few cracks and bounce back slightly when pressed with fingertips, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely, about 1 1/2 hours.
  5. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Using a sharp serrated knife, cut logs into 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch slices. Place each slice with a cut side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or nonstick liner. Bake until firm, crisp and slightly dry, about 15 minutes. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days, or freeze for up to three months.

15 December 2020: Nut Brittle

I remember tins of peanut brittle although I don’t remember exactly where they came from so when King Arthur Baking sent out this Microwave Nut Brittle recipe in a weekly email blast, it seemed like an opportunity to try something from long-ago memory.

When I think of handmade gifts for giving at the holidays, I’ve shied away from making nut brittle, especially now, as I don’t do enough candy-making to warrant having a candy thermometer in my tool drawer. Also, the making part of this involves corn syrup, something I don’t often keep in the pantry.

With a thought that perhaps COVID lockdowns are making me a bit nostalgic, I decided to give this candy a try. It looks similar to the peanut brittle we used to get out of those tins and by preparing it with a microwave, it seemed pretty easy to pull off. The original post on King Arthur’s website contains nutritional information.

King Arthur Baking Microwave Nut Brittle

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (198g) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (156g) light corn syrup
  • 1 1/2 cups (213g) salted peanuts
  • 1 tablespoon (14g) butter
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method

  1. Spray a wooden spoon (or other heat-proof stirring implement) with non-stick cooking spray. Lightly grease a 10″ x 15″ or larger baking sheet, or line it with parchment.
  2. Mix together the sugar and corn syrup in a large microwave-safe bowl and stir until well combined; the mixture will be stiff and hard to stir. Be sure to use a large enough bowl; the sugar/corn syrup should fill it no more than 1/4 to 1/3 full.
  3. Microwave the sugar mixture uncovered on high power for 5 minutes; it will bubble vigorously.
  4. Add the peanuts and butter, and stir well to combine. Speed is key! The cooler the mixture becomes the harder it will be to stir.
  5. Replace the bowl in the microwave and cook on high for 2 to 4 minutes, until the mixture turns a nice medium-brown caramel color. Start watching carefully around the 2-minute mark, and remove when the caramel color is achieved. (I found 2 minutes to be the right timing)
  6. Add the baking soda and vanilla. The mixture will bubble furiously upon the addition of these ingredients — this is what gives the candy its hallmark airy texture. (This is also why you need to use a large bowl.) Stir quickly to combine. The finished mixture will look creamy and caramelized.
  7. Working quickly, pour the mixture onto your prepared baking sheet and spread it as evenly as possible. If you end up with an uneven spread, don’t worry — the candy should still set up nicely, even in the thicker areas.
  8. Once the brittle has set and cooled (30 to 60 minutes), break it into pieces.

12 Dec. 2020: Cranberry Nut Chocolate Bark

And just like that, it’s time to start Holiday Baking again. This year, I’ve made fewer cookies, and included some other confections in my repertoire. King Arthur Baking share a couple of recipes over the last week that I am working on for family and friend homemade gifts. The contrast of cranberries, roasted pecans, and sweet chocolate, easy and quick way it comes together and a decent yield (2 dozen pieces) makes it a keeper! Visit the KAB recipe post for the nutritional information – and why spoil such a good treat, but there you have it.

Cranberry Nut Chocolate Bark from King Arthur Baking

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 3/4 cup toasted, diced pecans
  • 2 2/3 cup chopped semi-sweet or bitter sweet chocolate, melted
  • 2 2/3 cup chopped white chocolate, melted.

Method

  1. Toss the cranberries and pecans together. Set aside.
  2. Melt the dark chocolate and spread it into and 8″ x 12″ oval on parchment paper.
  3. Allow the chocolate to set, but not harden completely.
  4. Melt the white chocolate and mix it with about 3/4 cup of the cranberries and pecans.
  5. Spread the cranberry/nut/white chocolate over the dark chocolate.
  6. Sprinkle the rest of the nuts and fruit on top, pressing them in gently.
  7. Allow the candy to cool until hardened, then break it into chunks.

09 Aug 2020: Yellow Squash Bundt Cake

I did a double-take when I spotted this recipe for Yellow Squash (!) Bundt Cake. Yellow squash, seriously?

But with an enormous haul of yellow squash in our CSA share the last 2 weeks, it felt as if this recipe from Southern Living was meant to be baked. So I did.

Yellow Squash Bundt Cake (Southern Living)

Ingredients for Cake

  • 2 cups All Purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup canola oil (I used coconut oil)
  • 2 cups grated yellow square
  • 1 TBS lemon zest plus 2 TBSP lemon juice

Ingredients for Lemon Buttermilk Glaze

  • 2 cups unsifted powdered sugar
  • 2 TBSP buttermilk
  • 1 tsp lemon zest plus 1 TBSP fresh lemon juice

Method

  1. Prepare the cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 10-cup Bundt pan with baking spray (or just oil it). Stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Place eggs, sugar and oil in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until light and airy (about 3 minutes), stopping to scrape down sides as needed. Stir in the squash, lemon zest and juice. Gradually add flour mixture, beating on low speed until just combined (about 45 seconds). Pour batter into prepared pan.
  2. Bake in preheated oven until a wood pick inserted in the center comes out clean (50-55 minutes). Cool in pan for 10 minutes. Invert onto wire rack and cool for 1 hour.
  3. Prepare the glaze. Whisk together all ingredients into a bowl until smooth. Drizzle over cooled cake.

26 June 2020: The Perfect Scone

Up until about a week ago, we have been without an oven for about two months. As you can imagine, that put quite a damper on baking during our self-quarantine; no home-baked bread, and no morning baked treats. Happily, we were able to resolve some installation issues in our kitchen and now have a working stove and oven at the ready.

One of my favorite breakfast pastries is a scone, so it seemed like the celebration of a return to baking should include a batch of them. This is my current favorite recipe, a guide really, for scone-making. It includes some really helpful techniques that result in flaky, buttery scones and can be adapted for different add-ins and flavors of sweet scones.

Sally’s Baking Addiction: How to Make Perfect Scones

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned & leveled)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (FROZEN – this is key)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream or buttermilk (plus additional for brushing)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup to 1 1/2 cups add-ins (chocolate chips, berries, fruits, nuts, etc.)
  • OPTIONAL: 1/2-1 tsp ground cinnamon, coarse sugar, toppings/icings etc.)

Method

  1. Whisk flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder together in a large bowl. Grate the frozen butter using a box grater. Add it to the flour mixture and combine with a pastry cutter (2 forkes, fingers) until the mixture comes together in pea-sized crumbs. Place this mixture in the refrigerator or freezer as you mix the wet ingredients together.
  2. Whisk 1/2 cup cream/buttermilk, egg and vanilla extract together in a small bowl. Drizzle over the flour mixture, add the add-ins of choice, then mix together until everything appears moistened.
  3. To make triangle scones pour onto counter and, with floured hands, work dough into a ball as best you can (dough will be sticky). If too sticky, add a little more flour, if too dry, ad 1-2 more Tbsp cream. Press into an 8-inch disk and cut into 8 wedges.
  4. To make 10-12 drop scones keep mixing dough in the bowl until it comes together. Drop scones, about a 1/4 cup of dough each, 3 inches apart on a (parchment) lined baking sheet.
  5. Brush with milk.
  6. Meanwhile preheat over to 400 degrees F. Drop scones or place triangle cut scones on parchment lined sheet and refrigerate while oven preheats.
  7. Bake for 18-26 minutes or until golden brown around the edges and lightly browned on the top. (Larger scones will take 25 minutes or so). Remove from oven and cool a few minutes before topping (optional).
  8. Leftovers will keep at room temperature for 2 day or in the refrigerator for 5 days.

2 April 2020: Ellie Krieger’s Blueberry Coffee Cake

_DSC9169While we are all sheltering in place I can imagine that people are indulging in some comfort foods. This is a recipe that helped me not only use the blueberries I bought, but use up the yogurt we had in the fridge as well. Also, it satisfied a craving I had for something sweet.  As expected, it was delicious! Ellie Krieger, who hosts Healthy Appetite on the Food Network and Good Food on PBS, always finds a way to make things more healthy – and a little more guilt-free. Follow Ellie Kreiger on her website here.

Ellie Kreiger’s Blueberry Coffee Cake

Ingredients

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1 c all purpose flour
  • 1 c whole wheat pastry or regular whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 TBSP granuated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 c chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 c packed brown sugar
  • 2 TBSP butter (room temperature)
  • 2 TBSP canola oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 c plain nonfat yogurt
  • 1 c fresh blueberries (or used frozen & thaw first)

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray and 8-inch square cake pan with cooking spray (I used two mini loaf pans in place of 1 larger pan).
  2. Whisk together the AP flour and whole-wheat flour, the baking soda, and salt. In a small bowl, stir together granulated sugar, cinnamon and walnuts. In a large bowl (mixer), beat the brown sugar, butter and oil until fluffy. (this needs to be smooth and lump-free). Beat in the eggs 1 at a time, beating until fully combined. Beat in the vanilla and the yogurt.
  3. Add flour mixture in 2 batches, stirring until just combined.
  4. Spread half of the batter into the prepared pans (or if using 2 mini pans, spread 1/4 of the batter in each of the mini pans). Sprinkle half (quarter in each for mini pans) the nut mixture over the batter and top with blueberries, gently pressing them into the batter. Spoon the rest of the batter into the pan(s), smoothing the top. Sprinkle the remaining nut mixture over the top(s), pressing gently. Bake until a wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 30 to 35 minutes (my oven needed closer to 40). Let cool slightly and the unmold and allow to cool completely on a cooling rack.

 


A Quebecois Treat for Christmas

DSC_0017-1Baked from “Sap Happy” written by OLIVER SCHWANER-ALBRIGHT. New York Times, March 2, 2008

I’m sure there are other more traditional sweets from my husband’s Québécois heritage that we could roll out for the holidays, but this one was a special family request: Sugar Pie (always Maple) or Tarte au Sucre.  It ticks all of the boxes for Québécois delights – maple sugar and fat, in this case butter and cream.

While we’ve both enjoyed my mother-in-law’s recipes for sugar pie – she had two – but this one from Chantal Séquin seems to be more a more traditional take on the tarte au sucre we’ve sampled in Montréal, so we went with that this holiday season.

Joyeaux Noël!

Tarte au Sucre (Maple Syrup Pie) based on a recipe by Chantal Séquin

Ingredients

For the crust:

  • 1 cup flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 5 tablespoons butter, cubed
  • 3 tablespoons ice water

For the filling:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup maple syrup, preferably medium dark

Crème fraîche, for serving.

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Make the crust (we’ve also used a good quality pre-made crust, especially handy for those who are pastry-challenged) by combining the flour, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Cut the butter into the flour with a fork or pastry blender until the mixture is the texture of coarse meal. Sprinkle a tablespoon of ice water at a time over the dough, lifting and tossing it with the fork. When it begins to come together, gather the dough, press it into a ball and then pull it apart. If it crumbles in your hands, it needs more water. Add a teaspoon or two more water, as needed.

2. Flatten the ball of dough and roll between two sheets of plastic wrap into a circle 10 inches in diameter. Remove the plastic and lay the dough into a 9-inch tart pan, press into place and remove excess dough. Place in the freezer.

3. Meanwhile, make the filling by beating the eggs in a bowl. Gradually whisk in the flour. Add the cream and maple syrup and whisk until combined.

Pour into the crust-lined pan. (Helpful hint: protect the crust edges with foil to prevent burning). Cook until the middle still jiggles but is solid, 25 to 30 minutes. Serve with crème fraîche.

Serves 12.

 

 


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

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.

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