Friday, September 26, 2008

Sorta Alfajores

This is the third and final cookie I made for my Christmas in September party. These aren’t quite alfajores, because they don’t use dulce de leche. I had made some caramel a week ago for the apple cupcakes, but it ended up too burnt tasting for me to want to use it. Instead I put it in the fridge and saved it to make a burnt caramel frosting at some point in the future. I ended up using it for these cookies. The cookie base is an orange-almond shortbread, and the filling is the burnt caramel frosting. People really loved these, although they were a little messy to eat because the caramel would leak out. The recipe I’ve provided also makes WAY more caramel filling than you need for the number of cookies. Stick it in the fridge and use it to frost some cupcakes.

Almond-Orange Shortbread

Makes 18 Sandwiches (36 cookies)

1-1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter  
1 cup confectioners' sugar  
2 tablespoons granulated sugar  
1/4 teaspoon salt 
1/4 teaspoon orange extract  
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract  
1/3 cup ground almonds (I ground about ¾ of a cup of whole, blanched almonds to get this amount)  
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1. Cream together the butter and the sugars on medium speed until fluffy. Mix in the salt, the extracts, the almonds, and the flour. Once the dough starts to come together into medium sized clumps stop the mixer and press the dough together with your hands.

2. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Take the dough out of the fridge. Break the dough into two pieces. On a floured surface roll out one of the disks until it is about ¼ inch thick. Use a round cookie cutter, or a glass to cut 2 – 3 inch circles out of the dough. Pick up the extra dough, and transfer the circles to the cookie sheets. Roll out the second disk of dough and do the same, then combine the extra pieces of dough and roll it out. Continue rolling out the dough until you have made as many cookies as you can.

5. Bake for 12 – 14 minutes, or until the edges are just turning golden. Remove from the oven and let cool on the cookie sheets

Caramel Filling

1 cup sugar
6 Tbs butter
½ cup heavy cream
2 sticks butter softened
8 oz. fat free cream cheese
3 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Put the sugar in the bottom of a medium large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium high heat. Whisk the sugar constantly until it is fully melted and begins to bubble.

2. As soon as the sugar begins to bubble, add the 6 Tbs of butter and continue whisking constantly until the butter is melted.

3. Take the caramel off the heat. Count to three, and then pour in the heavy cream. Recipes say that the caramel will really bubble up at this point, but mine never does. If it’s not bubbling start whisking briskly to keep the caramel even. Once the caramel has cooled a little, pour it into a measuring cup to cool.

4. Once the caramel has cooled off, cream together the remaining two sticks of butter and the cream cheese until they are fluffy. Add the caramel and vanilla and beat to combine. Begin adding the powdered sugar. Beat in at least 2 cups and taste, add the third cup if you think it needs it.


1. Spoon ~ 2 tsp of caramel onto the bottom of a cookie, and press another cookie on top of the caramel.

2. Sift confectioner’s sugar over the cookies for decoration.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Look to the Cookie

This is the second type of cookie I made for my Christmas in September party. People thought they were really excellent, as black and white cookies go. The recipe I used came from Desserts by the Yard by Karen Yard. The only change I made was to make more frosting, because I didn’t think the recipe provided enough. I used the entire recipe to make the white side of the cookies, and then made it half again of the frosting for the chocolate part, which provided enough. I also had to add way more water than the recipe called more to make the frosting even remotely spreadable. I applied it with a butter-knife rather than a brush, because I found that to be a lot easier.

Black and White Cookies

Cookbook says the recipe makes 42 small  cookies, I found it made 32

1 cup cake flour 
1 cup all purpose flour 
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 sticks butter
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk

for the icing
2 1/2 C plus 1 tsp confectioner’s sugar
1 tbsp light corn syrup, plus more as needed
2 tbsp hot water, plus more as needed
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder (Not dutch process)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Sift together the flours and the baking powder, set aside.

2. Cream the butter and sugar at medium speed until fluffy, about two minutes. Add the egg and vanilla and mix at medium speed until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and paddle.

3. Begin adding the flour mixture and the buttermilk, alternating additions, doing it two or three times.

4. Put tablespoons of the dough on a parchment or silpat lined baking sheet. Put the cookies in the oven one sheet at a time. Bake for 8 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake for another 4 to 6 minutes, until the edges of the cookies are golden. Let cool completely before frosting.

5. While the cookies are baking, make the icing. Whisk together the confectioner’s sugar, the corn syrup, the water and the vanilla.

6. In a microwave safe bowl melt the chocolate by heating it for 45 seconds at half power.  Whisk in the cocoa powder. Add half of the frosting to the chocolate mixture. You may need to add more water (up to 2 T) and more corn syrup (up to 1 tsp) to make the frosting smooth.

7. Using a brush or offset spatula, frost the cookies. I did all of the one color, then all the other. If the chocolate frosting sets too much for it to be spreadable, microwave it briefly or add  a very little hot water.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Christmas in ... September?

Well, it’s not exactly the Christmas season, but that hasn’t stopped me from hosting a Christmas party. It’s been a pretty stressful time as a second year law student, so one of my good friends suggested that I host a Christmas in September party, in the interest of spreading some good cheer. My friend took care of the crafts and decorations, and it was my job to make the cookies. I made three kinds, each of which will be making an appearance throughout the week.

These first cookies are an old family favorite. My mom found the recipe at least a few years ago, and it has since been a favorite. The cookies are fudgy, and the nonpareils in the center add a nice hit of chocolate. It’s important to add the candies while the cookies are still warm from the oven, so that they melt into the cookie. This is also how they are best eaten. I found the recipe reprinted here, no idea where it originated.

I have no idea how many cookies this makes. The website doesn’t say. I made 42 cookies, and still have between ½ and 1/3 of the dough remaining.

Chocolate Fudge Cookies

1/2 cup vegetable oil 
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, melted 
2 cup granulated sugar 
4 eggs 
2 tsp vanilla 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
2 cup flour 
2 tsp baking powder 
Phocolate nonpareil candies 
Powdered sugar

1. Mix the oil, chocolate and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, beating fully after each addition. Sift the flour, salt and baking powder over the chocolate mixture, and whisk until a dough forms.

2. Refrigerate the dough for several hours, or overnight.

3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Take the dough out of the fridge, and roll teaspoons of dough into balls. Roll each ball in powdered sugar. Put the cookies on a baking sheet, at least three inches between each cookie, and bake for 10 minutes.

4. As soon as the cookies are out of the oven, press a nonpareil into the top of each cookie.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Another Trip to the Orchard

Sorry about the lack of posts of late, I know it’s been over a week since my last. It has been an incredibly busy time for me, I’ve been travelling a lot lately, and had a whole lot of work to do, and just haven’t had the time to bake. Fortunately, my schedule has opened up, and my friend C______ has come to visit. Today we made a trip to the apple orchard, and then made some apple cupcakes. It seems like every time I go to the orchard a cupcake results. These cupcakes were pretty similar to those actually, I made an apple chiffon cake, filled with apple curd, and topped with a spiced whipped cream. These cupcakes tasted really good, but were a bit messy to eat. The curd wasn’t quite firm enough, and so really leaked out when people bit into them. I used muscavado sugar in the cupcakes, which I was hoping would add some depth of flavor, which it did. If you don’t have it, substituting plain granulated is just fine.

I had a little trouble with the curd for these cupcakes. I used my standard curd recipe, but when it went to set it separated, I don’t know why. I ended up putting it back on the heat and adding another egg and more lemon juice. This caused it to come together. My guess is that if everything went in at the start, it would come out fine, and that’s how I’ve listed the recipe. If other people try it and have trouble, I can work on figuring it out, otherwise, there are other recipes for apple curd online.

Apple Cupcakes

Makes 14 cupcakes

1 ½ cups flour
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1 cup muscavado sugar
2 eggs
3/8 cup vegetable oil
½ tsp vanilla
½ tsp lemon zest
½ apple juice (I used Mott’s all natural) 

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk in the sugar.

2. In a separate bowl beat together the eggs, oil, apple juice, and vanilla

3. Fill cupcake liners with a ¼ cup measure. Bake cupcakes for ~20 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean (the recipe at cupcake bakeshop says to bake for 30 minutes). These cupcakes are very moist, and somewhat sticky on top.

Apple Curd

Makes about a cup

3 egg yolks

1 whole egg 

¾ cup sugar

½ cup apple juice (I used Mott’s all natural) 

¾ tsp lemon

3 Tbs butter, cut into chunks

1. Whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, Apple Juice, and lemon juice. Place the mixture over a double boiler and begin heating.

2. Stirring constantly, heat the mixture until it is hot to the touch, or 170 degrees F on a candy thermometer. Make sure you don’t let the mixture get to boiling.

3. Remove the mixture from the heat, and let it sit for 30 seconds. Stir the butter into the curd until it melts. Put the curd into the fridge to let it set.

Spiced Whipped Cream

Makes more than you need

2 cups whipping cream 

¾ cups powdered sugar 

¾ tsp cinnamon 

½ tsp fresh ground nutmeg

1. Using a chilled bowl and beaters, beat the whipped cream and the powdered sugar until stiff peaks begin to form.

2. Add the cinnamon and nutmeg. Beat to combine, scrape down the sides and beat to combine again. Refrigerate until using, and re-whip right before using.


1. Use a knife to cut a cone in the top of the cake. Cut off the bottom of the cone.

2. Fill the hole with apple curd, place the top of the cone back over the hole.

3. Frost with whipped cream.

Friday, September 5, 2008


I was at the farmer’s market the other day, and came upon a booth selling huge bunches of basil for $2 apiece. I promptly bought two bunches, and decided that I would take them home to make pesto. I think every family has its own Pesto recipe. It’s one of those recipes that is flexible to accommodate almost anything, so long as it’s green. I’ve seen recipes ranging from the spinach to fir sprigs; but for me Pesto is all about the basil. There is nothing quite like the taste and smell of fresh basil, and almost no dish better at bringing those flavors out than pesto.

I got this much basil for $4!

My father has been making the particular pesto recipe for as long as I can remember. When I was growing up my mother did most of the cooking, but every once in awhile it would be my father’s night to cook, which was not something I looked forward to. My father had a fairly limited repertoire, and attempts to go outside of that set led to some disastrous results (he once tried adding grapes to spaghetti sauce…). The two recipes were linguini with clam sauce, a recipe that we sadly can’t find anymore, and pesto. I always dreaded the nights he chose pesto, as a kid I hated it, then one day I was forcibly shoving a spoonful of the green pasta into my mouth when I suddenly realized it was delicious. I still remember the moment, sitting on our back porch, when it hit me, like an epiphany (I also, in similar form, remember the first time I liked a salad; it was Caesar ).

Years later (in college) I went to make this recipe with two of my friends. Unfortunately, I misread the recipe, and instead of the one clove of raw garlic it called for, put in one head of raw garlic. The pesto was so garlicky that it burned my mouth. That didn’t stop me from eating it though, as it was still delicious. It also left me stinking of garlic for several days, which was fine as I wasn’t doing anything important, less so for my friend who was working at a prestigious internship at the time (she has since been hired to work there).

This recipe has two origins. The majority of the recipe, and the technique for making it, come from Bert Greene (I have no idea what the name of the cookbook is). The remaining inspiration comes from an episode of Oprah, in which the chef suggested replacing the olive oil in Pesto with lemon juice to cut the fat. The cutting the fat part is unimportant, but replacing about half of the olive oil with lemon juice gives the Pesto a really nice kick.


Makes about 1 ½ cups of sauce, or enough for six servings

2 cups fresh basil leaves
½ cup chopped flat leafed (Italian) parsley
1 ½ tsp salt
1 ½ tsp fresh ground black pepper
2-4 large cloves garlic, chopped (depending on how strong you like it, and who you have to see the next day)
¼ cup pine nuts
3/8 cup olive oil
3/8 cup fresh squeezed, strained lemon juice
2-4 drops Tabasco sauce
½ cup freshly grated Romano cheese

1. Combine the oil, lemon juice, and Tabasco in a measuring cup, set aside.

2. In the bowl of a food processor combine all remaining ingredients, except for the cheese. Pulse the processor to begin grinding. Once the basil is chopped, begin to slowly add the lemon/oil mixture into the bowl. Continue processing until mixture is combined into a sauce.

3. Fold in the cheese. Serve over pasta (a pasta with lots of crevices, like rotini or radiatore works best), garnished with additional cheese and pine nuts.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Holy Cannoli Batman

A few days ago I was searching for cupcake inspiration. I ran through any number of ideas, some of which I plan to make, but none of which lit my fire right then. Desperate, I reached out to friends and acquaintances looking for inspiration. I got some pretty good ideas (Crème Brulee) and some pretty bad ones (fish), but still couldn’t find anything that I really wanted to make right now. Finally, someone told me about something called a Cannoli Cake, which is apparently very popular right now. It is a sponge cake, brushed with some kind of alcohol syrup (recipes vary), and filled and frosted with a ricotta based frosting, like a traditional cannoli. While I wasn’t a fan of the cannoli cake methodology, I liked the cannoli idea in its broadest strokes. I knew pistachios were a traditional ingredient in a cannoli, so I decided to go with a pistachio cake, which I would both fill and frost with a ricotta based frosting (essentially cannoli filling. To me, one of the joys of the cannoli is biting into it and having the filling burst into your mouth, so these cupcakes needed to be filled with the ricotta as well as frosted with it. I used a modified version of the pistachio cupcake recipe from Vanilla Garlic.

I was very happy with how these cupcakes turned out. I’ve never made cannoli before, and I’m not Italian, so I have no traditional family recipe for the filling. Instead I amalgamated recipes I found online in a way I thought I would enjoy. I thought they tasted a lot like cannoli that I am used to. The one thing they were lacking was the crunch of a traditional cannoli. I’m not really sure how to go about adding that though. I also would have liked to use some pistachios in the filling/frosting, but I ran out in making the cake (I actually had to substitute in 1/3 blanched, unroasted almonds in their place). Also, this frosting is not quite stiff enough to be pipable. You might be able to add more sugar too it to fix the problem, but I didn’t want to make it too sweet.

Pistachio Cupcakes

Makes ~15

1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
¼ tsp vanilla
½ cup whole milk
¾ cup of unsalted, unroasted pistachios (shelled) (If you don’t have enough/any pistachios, substitute blanched, raw almonds)
1 cup AP flour
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt

1. Preheat your oven to 350. Prepare cupcake pans. Cream the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Incorporate the eggs one at a time, mixing fully after each addition.

2. In the bowl of a standing mixer, grind the pistachios until they are chopped finely. Be careful not to over-mix, or you risk turning them into pistachio butter. Add the flour, cinnamon, baking powder and salt, and pulse several times until combined.

3. Add the milk and vanilla to the butter mixture, and beat to combine, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Set the mixer to low speed and add the flour/nut mixture in several small doses. Do not wait till each amount is combined to add the next amount. Once all the flour is added, scrape down the sides of the mixer and beat the batter for 30 seconds so that it is fully combined.

4. Fill the cupcake liners using a ¼ cup measure. Bake the cupcakes for 16-20 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Set aside on a rack to cool.

Cannoli Filling

This makes more than you will need for 15 cupcakes, but I’ll bet you can find something else to do with it.

30 oz ricotta cheese (My Kroger just sells it in containers this size)
1 ½ cups powdered sugar
2-3 Tbs Orange Liqueur (Grand Marnier, Triple Sec, etc) (use orange extract if you prefer, but use much less)
½ tsp finely chopped orange zest
½ cup miniature chocolate chips

1. Whisk together everything but the chocolate chips. Add more sugar or orange flavoring till you get it to your taste.

2. Fold in the chocolate chips.

3. Fill the cupcakes with the filling using the cone method. This is a cupcake that is about the filling, so try to get a lot of space in there to fill. Frost the cupcakes with the same stuff.

4. Sprinkle the tops of the cupcakes with chopped pistachios if you so choose (I didn’t).