Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Sweeter Taste of Kentucky's Finest

Bourbon: the Spirit of Kentucky. Aged in new, charred oak barrels for a minimum of 2 years, the flavor of Bourbon Whiskey is one of the most authentic of spirits – no additional coloring or flavoring, merely corn mash and grain. It is this distinct taste that makes Bourbon an ideal match for any dessert. I’ve baked with Bourbon in the past (most notably in pies and cookies), and have come to appreciate the sweet, spicy profile it provides. With the University of Kentucky as her alma mater, my friend Beth knows good Bourbon. So when she asked me to bake desserts for a small gathering, I chose to bring out the sweeter side of  Kentucky's finest by making Bourbon Balls and Bourbon Chocolate Chip Blondies
Bourbon balls were the creation of Kentucky native Ruth Hanly Booe. Hailing from Frankfurt, Ruth co-founded Rebecca Ruth Candy with here friend Rebecca Gooch in 1919, though it wasn’t until 1938 (after prohibition, naturally) that Bourbon Balls made their famous debut (according to She knew that chocolate and bourbon were a match made in heaven, and I wholeheartedly agree. 
Today, there are two different forms of the classic. The first is your Betty Crocker classic: crushed cookies, chopped nuts, corn syrup, cocoa powder (optional), and bourbon. This mixture is formed into balls and coated in confectioners’ sugar or cocoa powder to seal in the flavor. A variation of this recipe uses rum in place of bourbon (click here for my version - second recipe down). These should be made at least one day in advance to allow the flavors to fully develop.
The second type is plain and simple: crushed nuts, powdered sugar, butter and bourbon. I hadn’t heard of this variety until recently, but had to try it! The chocolate coating is what gives these confections a gorgeous finish. These took three days to make, so I recommend planning ahead. The result was a creamy filling coated in silky chocolate. Trust me, these are worth every second! 

Kentucky Bourbon Balls
Adapted from AllRecipes
Yields: 24-30 balls

   - 1 cup chopped nuts
   - 5 to 7 tablespoons Kentucky bourbon (I used Maker's Mark®) 
   - 1/2 cup butter, softened
   - 1 (16 ounce) package confectioners' sugar
   - 18 ounces semisweet chocolate
   - 1/4 cup heavy cream, or more if needed 

Place the nuts in a sealable jar. Pour the bourbon over the nuts. Seal and allow to soak overnight. 

Mix the butter and confectioners' sugar; fold in the soaked nuts. Form into 3/4" balls and place in a sealable container; refrigerate overnight.

Line a tray with waxed paper. Melt the chocolate with heavy cream in the top of a double boiler over just-barely simmering water, stirring frequently and scraping down the sides with a rubber spatula to avoid scorching. Using toothpicks, roll the balls in the melted chocolate to coat; arrange on the prepared tray. Carefully remove toothpicks. Store in refrigerator until serving.
A hybrid of bar and cookie, Blondies are notable for their rich texture and buttery taste.  Made from your everyday staples, Blondies leave room for creativity: coconut, chocolate chips, peanut butter - you name it, it’s possible. According to, the appearance of Blondies predates that of brownies. The main ingredient is brown sugar, which was more readily available than cocoa powder (brownie’s main ingredient).
This recipe is from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything – a great book that provides an overview of the basics followed by a plethora of variations. These blondies have a moist crumb with a crunchy exterior, making them all too good to resist. The bourbon adds just the right level of spice, and I added chocolate chips, well…just because. Enjoy!  
Bourbon Chocolate Chip Blondies 
Yields: 16-20 squares

   - 8 tablespoons butter, melted
   - 1 cup brown sugar
   - 1 egg
   - 1 teaspoon vanilla or 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
   - Pinch of salt
   - 1 cup all-purpose + 2 tablespoons flour
   - ¼ cup bourbon
   - 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Butter an 8×8 pan
Mix melted butter with brown sugar – beat until smooth. Beat in egg and then vanilla.
Add salt, stir in flour. Mix in bourbon, then fold in chocolate chips.

Pour into prepared pan. Bake at 350°F 20-25 minutes, or until set in the middle. I always err on the side of caution with baking times — nobody ever complained about a gooey-middled cookie. Cool on rack before cutting them.

Friday, January 21, 2011

"There's No Wrong Way to Bake a Reese's"

There is something sacred in the simple tasks of measuring flour and cracking eggs, and I always find my best refuge in baking cookies. Granted, cakes always provide a challenge and new tiers of technique. But cookies, for me, are analogous to your local corner store: that familiar place where “everybody knows your name”. Whether of a classic or decorated variety, cookies are and always have been simple perfections. Yet when recently approached by a coworker to bake a batch, I was in more of the “challenge” mindset, and chocolate chip cookies just wouldn’t cut it. And then I remembered my pantry held a hidden treasure: an unopened bag of Reese’s® Peanut Butter Cup Miniatures…there was no stopping me now, and so I created Reese’s Peanut Butter Cookie Cups. Warning: these cookies are extremely addictive and may induce behavior akin to the capriciousness to Taz the Tasmanian Devil.
Reese’s® Peanut Butter Cups made their debut in 1928, when Harry Burnett Reese, a dairy farmer and shipping foreman for Milton S. Hershey, made "two great tastes that taste great together” a sweet reality (Wikipedia). Following his death, Reese’s® Peanut Butter Cups became a part of the Hershey®’s “Empire” and have since captured the hearts of candy lovers across the world. According to their website, Reese’s® creates enough peanut butter cups to provide every person living in the United States, Japan, Europe, Australia, China, Africa, and India with one cup per year! 
Note: I made the dough for these cookies ahead of time, knowing full-well they would be best freshly baked. I wrapped the dough in plastic wrap and stored it in the refrigerator overnight, then allowed it to thaw for 5 minutes the next morning prior to baking. These cookies were also my first run with my new cookie scoop (see photo above), and I loved it! I also refrigerated the peanut butter cups the night before, unwrapped, in an airtight container. While preparing the cookies the next morning, I transferred the tray of Reese's to the freezer - this prevented the chocolate from melting while being pressed into the freshly baked cookies (but boy did they melt after...yummy!)    
Reese's Peanut Butter Cookie Cups
Yields: 36 - 40 cookie cups

  - 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  - 1/2 teaspoon salt
  - 1 teaspoon baking soda
  - 1/2 cup butter, softened
  - 1/2 cup white sugar
  - 1/2 cup peanut butter (I used chunky)
  - 1/2 cup packed brown sugar 
  - 1 large egg, beaten
  - 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  - 2 tablespoons milk  
  - 40 Reese's® Peanut Butter Cup Miniatures, unwrapped (and frozen for at least 10 min)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly spray a mini muffin pan/two mini muffin pans with cooking spray. Stir together the flour, salt and baking soda; set aside.

Cream together the butter, sugar, peanut butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Beat in the egg, vanilla and milk. Add the flour mixture, mix well (if making ahead: shape the dough into a ball and wrap tightly in plastic wrap; store in the refrigerator - will keep for 1 day).

Shape into 40 balls and place each into the mini muffin pan(s). Bake for about 8 minutes. Remove from oven and immediately press a (frozen) peanut butter cup into each cookie. Let cool for at least 10 minutes, and carefully remove from pan.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Bearable Lightness of Cake Flour

I went against my own baking standards with this one - prior to this cake, I had never used Cake Flour when a recipe called for it. When I decided to make a Classic Genoise for a small dinner party I  was hosting, I thought I would give it a shot. Let's just say the light, fluffy result of this cake made me a convert for the more delicate flour. This cake was fantastic! It was also a chance for me to use my new cookbook holder (basically a plexiglass stand with a splash guard - silly as it seems, it's truly useful). The Joy of Cooking, for those of you don't own it, is a fantastic cookbook, and helped me try out this beautiful cake: Genoise Cake with Grand Marnier Berries and Mascarpone Whipped Cream.  
Cake flour is different from all-purpose given its lower level of protein, or gluten: while regular flour has 10-12% protein, cake flour only has 6-8% (according to This lower level of gluten is achieved through chlorination, and results in a softer texture. There are two ways to substitute cake flour: one is to under-measure all-purpose flour (as I had always done with past recipes), or to measure ¾ cup all-purpose + 2 tbsp cornstarch for 1 cup cake flour. This recipe calls for sifting the flour twice – I don’t own a sifter, so I use a sieve (see above – also picture is my new cookbook holder!)
This recipe is a little tricky in the start: it calls for heating eggs over simmering water, then beating them with a hand mixer until they reach “au ruban”: a term used for describing the when the batter runs from the spoon in a broad, shining “ribbon”. Above shows the process - the batter will nearly triple in size. The result is a beautiful, light fluffy cake that is perfect with berries, hence my choice of berries macerated with Grand Marnier (Note: this process does not call for cooking the berries, so it will be boozy). Since I've also been on a mascarpone kick lately, I decided to include a Mascarpone Whipped Cream as well.  
Genoise Cake with Grand Marnier Berries and Mascarpone Whipped Cream
Adapted via Joy of Cooking
Yields: 8 to 10 servings

Genoise Cake:
  - 1 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
  - 1/4 cup sugar
  - 1/3 cup unsalted butter, preferably clarified
  - 6 large eggs
  - 3/4 cup sugar
  - 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
Grand Marnier Berries:
  - 1 (16-oz) package frozen mixed berries
  - 1/3 cup Grand Marnier®
Mascarpone Whipped Cream:
  - 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
  - 1 (8-oz) package mascarpone
  - 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  - 2 teaspoons orange zest 

For cake: Grease and flour the bottom(s) of two 9x2-inch pans or one 9-inch springform pan; line with wax or parchment paper. Sift together cake flour and 1/4 cup sugar twice; set aside. Melt butter in a small saucepan; off the heat and let sit for 4 minutes. Once cooled, remove the film from the top; carefully pour into a heatproof bowl, leaving the solids behind - set aside. 

Whisk the eggs and 3/4 cup sugar in a large heatproof bowl; set over a pot of barely simmering water - whisk constantly until the mixture is warm to the touch (about 110 degrees F). Remove the bowl from the heat and beat on high speed until the mixture is lemony-colored, has tripled in volume, and has reached the stage known as au ruban (see photos above) - like a continuous flat ribbon when dropped from a spoon (5 minutes in a heavy-duty mixer with the whisk attachment, 10 - 15 minutes with a hand-held mixer). 

In 3 additions, sift the flour mixture over the top and fold in very gently with a rubber spatula. If the butter has become to solid, reheat briefly and transfer to a medium bowl. Fold about 1 1/2 cups of the egg mixture into the butter until completely incorporated, along with the vanilla extract. Bake until the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan(s) and the top springs back when lightly pressed, about 15 minutes in cake pans, 30 minutes in a springform pan. Let cool in the pan(s) on a rack for 10 minutes. Slide a thin knife around the cake to detach it from the pan(s); remove the side of the springform pan, if using. Invert the cake and remove the paper liner(s). Let cool right side up on the rack. 

For berries: While the cake is baking, place all the frozen berries in a glass bowl and pour Grand Marnier on top. Allow 30 to 40 minutes for the berries to macerate and thaw. 

For the mascarpone whipped cream: whip the heavy cream in a large metal bowl, then (using the same hand mixer), whip the mascarpone, sugar and orange zest into a smaller separate bowl.  Fold the mascarpone into the whipped cream.

Slice the cake into wedges and place on individual cakes - spoon berries and sauce onto each slice, and serve with a dollop of the mascarpone whipped cream. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"Two Birds with One Stone" - Desserts Find Their Match in Mascarpone

There’s cream cheese, and then there’s mascarpone – while the former is known for its versatility and texture, the latter is renowned as an Italian indulgence, both sweet and rich. Whether lending its velvety texture to cheesecake or  frosting, mascarpone is without a doubt. In order to showcase said miracle cheese, I have included two recipes: Mascarpone Cheesecake with Almond Crust and Tiramisu Cake.
According to Wikipedia, mascarpone is "a triple-cream cheese made from crème fraîche, denatured with tartaric acid."(Now I had never heard "denatured" before, so I had to look it up - denaturation: a process in which proteins or nucleic acids lose their tertiary structure and secondary structure by application of some external stress or compound, such as a strong acid or base, a concentrated inorganic salt, an organic solvent...or heat). Mascarpone's main event is tiramisu, but it has a number of other uses outside of dessert as well: it can be used as a butter replacement in creamy dishes such as risotto or spread on slices of toast as an hors d'œuvre. An alternative context is to simply place the cheese by itself in a bowl and serve with a sweet sauce, mascarpone is just that good. 

This first cake was cheesecake at its finest. The marriage of mascarpone and Nutella makes for an irresistible dessert. Having made this cheesecake once before, the second try proved just as successful as the first, and was just as well-received. I decided to garnish the cake with blackberries for the extra panache. This cheesecake was for Christmas Day – my parents invited a small group of friends over for lunch, and this delight was the grand finale. Enjoy! 

Mascarpone Cheesecake with Almond Crust
Yields: 12 to 16 servings

  - 1 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted
  - 2/3 cup graham cracker crumbs
  - 3 tablespoons sugar
  - 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
  - 2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature
  - 2 (8-ounce) containers mascarpone cheese, room temperature
  - 1 1/4 cups sugar
  - 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  - 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  - 4 large eggs, room temperature
  - 1/2 cup chocolate-hazelnut spread (recommended: Nutella)
  - 1/4 cup whipping cream
  - Whole blackberries, for garnish

For the crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Tightly wrap the outside of a 9-inch diameter springform pan with 2 3/4-inch-high sides with 3 layers of heavy-duty foil. Finely grind the almonds, cracker crumbs, and sugar in a food processor. Add the butter and process until moist crumbs form. Press the almond mixture onto the bottom of the prepared pan (not on the sides of the pan). Bake the crust until it is set and beginning to brown, about 12 minutes. Cool. Decrease the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.

For the filling: Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese, mascarpone cheese, and sugar in a large bowl until smooth, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Beat in the lemon juice and vanilla. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until blended after each addition.

Pour the cheese mixture over the crust in the pan. Place the springform pan in a large roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan. Bake until the center of the cheesecake moves slightly when the pan is gently shaken, about 1 hour 5 minutes (the cake will become firm when it is cold). Transfer the cake to a rack; cool for 1 hour. Refrigerate until the cheesecake is cold, at least 8 hours and up to 2 days.

For the topping: Combine the chocolate-hazelnut spread and cream in a small bowl. Heat in the microwave until warm, stirring every 20 seconds to blend, about 1 minute. Cut the cake into wedges. Drizzle the chocolate sauce over the wedges and serve.
Mascarpone plays a key role in this next classic. I’ve made Tiramisu a number of times, and it is certainly one of my favorite desserts. This is likely due to my affection for combining espresso with chocolate. This recipe places a slight twist on the classic by substituting layers of genoise for the ladyfingers traditionally called for, as shown below: 
This cake was baked for a friend's surprise birthday party. His favorite dessert is tiramisu, and considering this lovely gem had been anxiously waiting on my "to bake" list for quite some time, I felt it only appropriate to allow its debut. It's also a Dorie Greenspan creation, which almost always guarantees greatness. 
Tiramisu Cake
Adapted via SmittenKitchen
Yields: 10 - 12 servings

Cake Layers:
  - 2 cups cake flour
  - 2 teaspoons baking powder
  - 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  - 1/4 teaspoon salt
  - 1 1/4 sticks (10 tbsp) unsalted butter, room temperature
  - 1 cup sugar
  - 3 large eggs
  - 1 large egg yolk
  - 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  - 3/4 cup buttermilk
Espresso Extract:
  - 2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
  - 2 tablespoons boiling water
Espresso Syrup:
  - 1/2 cup water
  - 1/3 cup sugar
  - 1 tablespoon amaretto, Kahlua, or brandy (I used Kahlua)
Filling and Frosting:
  - 1 (8-ounce) container mascarpone
  - 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  - 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  - 1 tablespoon amaretto, Kahlua, or brandy (I used Kahlua)
  - 1 cup cold heavy cream
  - 2.5 oz bitter/semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (1/2 cup mini chips)
  - Chocolate-covered espresso beans, for decoration (optional)
  - Cocoa powder, for dusting

Getting ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9×2 inch round cake pans, dust the insides with flour, tap out the excess, and line the bottoms of the pans with parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

For the cake: Sift together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add the sugar and beat for another 3 minutes. Add the eggs one by one, and then the yolk, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in the vanilla; don’t be concerned if the mixture looks curdled. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk, adding the dry ingredients in 3 additions and the milk in 2 (begin and end with the dry ingredients); scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed and mix only until the ingredients disappear into the batter. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.

Bake for 28 to 30 minutes, rotating the pans at the midway point. When fully baked, the cakes will be golden and springy to the touch and a thin knife inserted into the centers will come out clean. Transfer the cakes to a rack and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unmold them, and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature right-side up.

For the extract: Stir the espresso powder and boiling water together in a small cup until blended. Set aside.

For the syrup: Stir the water and sugar together in a small saucepan and bring just to a boil. Pour the syrup into a small heatproof bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon of the espresso extract and the liqueur or brandy; set aside.

For the filling and frosting: Put the mascarpone, sugar, vanilla, and liqueur in a large bowl and whisk just until blended and smooth.Working with the stand mixer with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, whip the heavy cream until it holds firm peaks. Switch to a rubber spatula and stir about one quarter of the whipped cream into the mascarpone. Fold in the rest of the whipped cream with a light touch.

For assembly: If the tops of the cake layers have crowned, use a long serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion to even them. Place one layer right-side up on a cardboard round or a cake plate protected with strips of wax or parchment paper. Using a pastry brush or a small spoon, soak the layer with about one third of the espresso syrup. Smooth some of the mascarpone cream over the layer – user about 1 1/4 cups – and gently press the chopped chocolate into the filling. Put the second cake layer on the counter and soak the top of it with half the remaining espresso syrup, then turn the layer over and position it, soaked side down, over the filling. Soak the top of the cake with the remaining syrup.

For the frosting: Whisk 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of the remaining espresso extract into the remaining mascarpone filling. Taste the frosting as you go to decide how much extract you want to add. If the frosting looks as if it might be a little too soft to spread over the cake, press a piece of plastic wrap against its surface and refrigerate it for 15 minutes or so. Refrigerate the cake too.

With a long metal icing spatula, smooth the frosting around the sides of the cake and over the top. If you want to decorate the cake with chocolate-covered espresso beans, press them into the filling, making concentric circles of beans or just putting some beans in the center of the cake. Refrigerate the cake for at least 3 hours (or for up to 1 day) before serving. 

Just before serving, dust the top of the cake with cocoa. I cut a star shape out of waxed paper and placed it lightly over the cake, and shaved a layer of chocolate over it with a microplane, before carefully removing the star to leave a stenciled shape.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Christmas Cookie Chronicles, Part II

Now for Part II of the the Christmas Cookie Chronicles. These three recipes were by far my favorites of the season. These three were so remarkable given how simple they are and yet oh so delicious! These three are proof that the right combination of flour and sugar in the right circumstances can make something wholly irresistible (words to "bake" by). I loved these holiday classics, and I hope you do to! Ps. Did I mention we had a white Christmas this year in Georgia? It was the first time Georgia has seen snow for Christmas since 1882!!! 
The first recipe here was a first for me: Mexican Wedding Cakes. My mother had told me about these delectable “cakes,” and I knew I just had to take a shot at baking a batch. If asked what my favorite cookie was from the season, this would undoubtedly be it! The family loved these treasures to! Especially my stepdad (see the end of the recipe) 
Mexican Wedding Cakes
Adapted via Bon Appétit
Yields: 4 dozen 

- 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 cup pecans, toasted, coarsely ground
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until light and fluffy. Add 1/2 cup powdered sugar and vanilla; beat until well blended. Beat in flour, then pecans. Divide dough in half; form each half into ball. Wrap separately in plastic; chill until cold, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk remaining 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar and cinnamon in pie dish to blend. Set cinnamon sugar aside.

Working with half of chilled dough, roll dough by 2 teaspoonfuls between palms into balls. Arrange balls on heavy large baking sheet, spacing 1/2 inch apart. Bake cookies until golden brown on bottom and just pale golden on top, about 18 minutes. Cool cookies 5 minutes on baking sheet. Gently toss warm cookies in cinnamon sugar to coat completely. Transfer coated cookies to rack and cool completely. 

Repeat procedure with remaining half of dough. (Cookies can be prepared 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature; reserve remaining cinnamon sugar.) Sift remaining cinnamon sugar over cookies and serve. 
This second recipe are little treasures that are a true holiday classic: Rum Balls. They are enjoyed in a number of cultures and a number of ways! These cookies are different from other "cookies with booze" considering they are unbaked (meaning the alcohol's flavor and kick isn't cooked off). The following recipe is my way of making rum balls. I used Emeril's recipe, but made quite a few changes - these turned out great! 
Rum Balls, My Way!
Adapted via Emeril Lagasse
Yields: about 5 dozen 

- 1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
- 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 1/3 cup Myer’s® dark rum
- 2 to 3 tablespoons Kahlua® liqueur
- 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
- 2 1/2 cups finely crushed cinnamon graham crackers
- 1 cup finely chopped, toasted pecans

Into a large bowl, sift together 1 cup of the confectioners' sugar, the cocoa powder and allspice. Stir in the rum, coffee liqueur and corn syrup. Stir in the cinnamon graham cracker crumbs and pecans, and mix well. Place in the refrigerator to firm up slightly, about 30 minutes. (The mixture may appear crumbly and dry; this is O.K.)

Place the remaining 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar in a shallow bowl or dish. Using a tablespoon, scoop out portions of the chocolate mixture and press into 1-inch balls. Using your hands, roll the balls in the confectioners' sugar, coating evenly.

Place on a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, placing waxed paper between the layers to prevent sticking
This last recipe is a Lund tradition: Raspberry Thumbprints. Straight from good ol’ Betty Crocker herself, my mom has made these year after year with amazing success. Thumbprints, whether filled with fruity jam or silky chocolate, are a gorgeous presentation and a must at any Christmas gathering. 
Raspberry Thumbprints
Adapted via BettyCrocker Cookbook 
Yields: about 3 dozen cookies 

- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 1/2 cup shortening
- 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
- 2 large eggs, separated
- 1 tsp vanilla 
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
- raspberry jelly or preserves 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix thoroughly the butter, shortening, sugar, egg yolk, and vanilla. Work in the flour and salt until dough holds together, Shape in 1-inch balls.

Whisk egg whites slightly with whisk or fork. Place the egg whites into one bowl and the chopped nuts into another. Dip each ball into egg whites, then roll it into the chopped nuts. 

Place the balls on an ungreased baking sheet. Make "thumbprints" in the center of each dough round. Bake 10 minutes or until light brown. Remove from the baking sheet and let cool. Once cooled, fill the "thumbprints" with jelly or preserves.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Christmas Cookie Chronicles, Part I

It's that time of year again: strings of lights are aglow, carols are sung for the thousandth time, and of course, sugary goodness awaits you. Cookies and Christmas are as inseparable as Bert and Ernie - you can't have one without the other. ‘Tis the season to be a baker, and I baked a LOT of cookies. Nothing can beat the smell of fresh-baked sweets on Christmas morning (they are, after all, Santa's favorite). 
Cookies, in my opinion, are one of the most versatile of the dessert categories. You can alter flavors with simple add-ins, such as flavored extracts or dried fruit and nuts, and change the shapes with cookie cutters or by hand. These cookies made for one sweet holiday season!
I went out on a limb for this first recipe: Mint Chocolate Chip Brownies. I had purchased two bags of Nestle® Dark Chocolate and Mint Morsels, a seasonal variety, and began searching for dessert options. I couldn’t shake the idea of mint chocolate brownies, and thus chose to employ my favorite chocolate chip brownies recipe, substituting these chocolate chip and ½ tsp mint extract.
Mint Chocolate Chip Brownies
Adapted via
Yields: about 15 brownies 

- 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
- 1 cup butter or 1 cup margarine (2 sticks)
- 4 large eggs
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 
- 1/2 teaspoon pure mint extract 
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 (12 ounce) package Nestle® Dark Chocolate and Mint Morsels 

Place the semisweet chocolate chips and the butter in a saucepan on very low heat, and stir, until melted, being careful not to scorch. Allow melted chocolate to cool to room temperature.

Mix together eggs and sugar in a large mixing bowl; stir in vanilla and salt. Sift flour, and add in small portions to egg, mixing well after each addition, until thoroughly blended. Stir in cooled chocolate and mix well; then fold in half the bag of Nestle Dark Chocolate and Mint Morsels.

Pour batter into a greased 9x11-inch pan and spread evenly; sprinkle the remainder of the chocolate and mint morsels on top. Bake at 325 degrees for approximately 25-30 minutes, then allow brownies to cool in the pan on a wire rack; cut into squares once cooled. 
The second recipe is the “original” Christmas cookie itself: Big Soft Ginger Cookies. While I chose to exempt the traditional shape of gingerbread men, they were too delicious for anyone to notice or care.
Big Soft Ginger Cookies
Adapted from 
Yields: about 2 dozen cookies

- 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup margarine, softened
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1/4 cup molasses
- 2 tablespoons white sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Sift together the flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, cream together the margarine and 1 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, then stir in the water and molasses. 

Gradually stir the sifted ingredients into the molasses mixture. Shape dough into walnut sized balls, and roll them in the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar. Place the cookies 2 inches apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet, and flatten slightly.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.
If you're baking lots cookies, then you have to make this third recipe: Old-Fashioned Oatmeal Raisin Cookies. These fail to "get old", and one is never enough. I bought a bag of brown sugar and found this recipe on the back. If anyone knows how to make a good cookie, it would have to be the Domino® sugar company. Enjoy! 
Old-Fashioned Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
Adapted via Domino®Sugar
Yields: about 3 dozen cookies

- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 cup firmly packed Domino® Light Brown Sugar
- 1/2 cup - butter or margarine, softened
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 teaspoon - vanilla
- 1/4 cup - milk
- 1 cup - rolled oats*
- 3/4 cup raisins
- 1/2 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped

* Old fashioned or quick-cooking rolled oats may be used

Preheat oven to 375°F.
In small bowl, combine flour, salt, cinnamon and baking soda; set aside. In large bowl, combine brown sugar and butter; beat until creamy. Beat in egg and vanilla until light and fluffy. Stir in milk. Add flour mixture and rolled oats separately to creamed mixture, blending well after each addition. Stir in raisins and nuts.

Drop by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned.