Sunday, June 27, 2010

Favorite Cookie [071-080]

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Howdy there! I sure don't got much to say right about now, so let's just get started here. Favorite's of spring/summer oh-ten!


1st place (Blue Ribbon!):
Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars
These guys were a shoe-in. The only thing I didn't like about them was how they turned me into an absolute monster with an insatiable appetite. Had to get them out of my kitchen if I wanted to ever be able to wear a bikini again. What I'm trying to say is, they're really fucking delicious. That is all.


2nd place (Honorable Mention!): Cream Cheese Walnut Cookies
What I loved about these was how humble they are--unlike the PB&J bars, they don't look over the top, or even that remarkable in any sense. But once you take a bite, they have this really fantastic flavor and perfect snappy crunch to them. The cream cheese really gives the cookies a nice after taste that's almost a little bit sour (in a really good way). I couldn't stop eating these either. I think I'm noticing a pattern in my behavior.


Another subtle cookie that surprised me with its flavors. Not only are these super simple to make (and to make a lot of!), the cornmeal really adds a nice texture to both the outer edge of the cookie as well as the crunchiness on the inside. The flecks of orange zest also give the otherwise plain cookie a nice little decoration.


These took a lot of time, but the end result was really pretty and tasty, and perfect for the bridal shower I brought them to. They're definitely a cookie to bring to some sort of party, because people will think you are very talented and sophisticated and fascinating and charming if you do (...or just that you have too much time on your hands, whatever).


Okay, so the peanut butter filling in these will KILL you, it is just so good. Has that same addictiveness as the PB&J bars. But the chocolate cookies that sandwich this filling are a little too big, fluffy, and dry. I think it's just the ratio of filling to cookie that needs changing: thinner cookies, more filling, and you've got a winning whoopie.


Mine definitely were not crisps at all, but I can't deny anything that is lemon and poppyseed flavored! These cookies couldn't be easier--seriously, a baby baby could do it. A baby's baby. HAhaha, I'm sorry...


Once again, mine did NOT look like the picture in the book--they spread out thin, instead of forming hearty chunks of cookie dough. Regardless, I really loved how they tasted, and enjoyed feeling super Jew-y in the kitchen with my matzo meal and farfel. The use of oil instead of butter gave the dough a different flavor too, which I liked a lot. As for finding dairy-free chocolate chip cookies, gimme a break. I might be Jewish, but it's more "Jew-ish."


These were a bit of a let-down, to be honest. They sounded really great on paper, but once again the rum flavor was all but lost by the time they came out of the oven. Obviously the rum burns off, but there was literally no leftover rum flavor--let alone any flavor for that matter. Needed more spice! More taste!


In all honesty, these were very good...for what they are. Maybe it's because I think that candy inside cookies is criminal, but besides my bias, they are actually quite beautiful and unique. So maybe I should have put them before the last cookie. Yeah. Whatever.


10th place (Brown Ribbon!): Double Chocolate Coconut Cookies
Yo, these pissed me off! Whassup Martha, these tasted like AIR. Not really, but still, the ingredients must have worked in reverse and taken flavor away from the cookie instead of adding to it. Dunno what happened here, but it was a big let-down. I'm crying, Martha. Look at what you've done to me!!

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WHOOP WHOOP!! Look who's more than halfway through the book now! Oh boy oh boy oh boy. Boy-oy-boyo-bobo! Wabba dabababdababdaaaaaaaaokay see you next week.

Cheers.

Monday, June 21, 2010

[Cookie 080] Stained Glass Trees

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Happy Solstice! Happy first day of summer! Are you celebrating? I absolutely am! I'm sitting here in my living room, windows and doors open to the backyard, with The Beach Boy's "Endless Summer" on the turntable. While it's not my favorite Beach Boy's album, it seemed like the thing to do--songs of surfing, sun, summer, sand, and other sibilant synonyms. But, as those of you who live in California can attest, June is never that hot and summery; it's actually a little on the cool side, temperatures staying in the mid-70s with the occasional overcast sky. Weird. But, in my opinion, nothing beats a nice cool breeze as the sun beats down through the smoggy air. None of that nasty humidity that those east-coasters have to suffer through, oh no. Just dry, arid days ahead of me. But until those truly Californian oppressive heat waves really begin to set in, I'll be able to rev up my oven without worrying about dying of heat stroke in my kitchen. Good! Good! That's very promising, don't you agree?

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So what's a nice summer cookie? Something colorful? Yeah! Something sweet, like popsicles and snow cones! Something a little childish, because summer is really a season owned by children and childhood memories, right? Something fun to make, definitely not boring or too sophisticated for that matter. Okay, okay, I've got it. Although these Stained Glass Trees might seem like a Christmas cookie, screw it--make them into stars, and you've got an instant 4th of July cookie.

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Okay, so I'll admit, these cookies were literally at the bottom of my list. I did not want to make them. Nope, they looked pretty gross in my opinion. Jolly Ranchers in my cookie?! No!! Sounded entirely blasphemous and contrary to all my beliefs regarding the noble baked good that is the Cookie. You don't mix candy and cookies. One or the other, choose. So, I decided to make these and give them away so I wouldn't have to eat them.

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So I did just that--I gave them away. But, truth be told, they were actually pretty tasty! Besides being quite beautiful in their own right, the super thin layer of melted Jolly Rancher in the cookie's "window" provides just the right amount of sweetness and delicacy. If the layer of candy was any thicker it would probably be gross and hard to eat, but as it is, the thin glass-like layer melts in your mouth without getting all stuck in your molars. And it shatters in such a fun way when you bite into it--really, just like glass, except totally NOT deadly to eat!! Awesome!! No trips to the hospital! Ok, what I'm trying to say is that these guys were a pleasant surprise and far better than I had expected.

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And they are really fun to make: You get to unleash your inner fury and smash the hell out of these candies! I used a big ol' hammer to crush the candies (which are actually a little difficult to break), but that was only after I had tried to break them with the bottom of a can of sardines, which got badly dented. Could have had a really disgusting disaster on my hands if I broke that can. Sardines and Jolly Ranchers. Let's not talk about that.

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So, use a hammer. Or rolling pin. Or your BARE HANDS, which I think is what Martha probably did (great mental image, amirite?!). Wouldn't want to mess with her, no no no. Once you've broken them up, you roll out the dough, use your favorite cookie cutter and then take a paring knife or small round cookie cutter to cut out the windows in the center of each cookie. Sprinkle a few chunks of Jolly Rancher into the middles and bake. Use just the blue and red candies inside star-shaped cookies and you are ready for your Independence Day picnic! Or use yellow and purple candies and you can go ape-shit over the Lakers like everyone else in Los Angeles, except myself. Am I really the only person who doesn't give a shit about sports?? Sorry, tangent--back to cookies.

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Anyway, I hope you give these cookies a try and not be as judgmental of them as I was when I first laid eyes on the recipe. If you're looking for a good cookie to give to kids, or to make with them, I'd definitely recommend these. But I think grown-ups would like them too--especially grandparents! Aren't grandparents the patron saints of hard candies?

Stay cool, folks...

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Stained Glass Trees (or Stars)
Makes about 3 dozen

Ingredients
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 7 ounces assorted clear colored hard candies, such as Jolly Rancher, colors separated and finely chopped (about 30)

Directions
  1. Sift together flour, salt, and baking powder into a large bowl; set aside.
  2. Put butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg; mix until smooth, 1 minute. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture, and mix until combined. Stir in vanilla.Wrap dough in plastic, and refrigerate until cold, about 45 minutes.
  3. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.with racks in upper and lower thirds. Roll out chilled dough on a well-floured surface to a little more than 1/8 inch thick. Cut out shapes using a 5-inch tree-shape cookie cutter. Using a metal spatula, space 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Using the tip of a paring knife, make a triangular cutout in center of each cookie for candy filling. Reroll scraps, and cut.
  4. Sprinkle candy in a single layer in hole of each cookie, avoiding edges of triangle. Refrigerate until dough is firm, about 15 minutes.
  5. Bake cookies until candy has melted and completely filled cutout and cookie edges are just starting to turn pale golden brown, 11 to 12 minutes. Do not let the cookies brown, or the candy centers may become bubbly. Let cool completely on sheets on wire racks. Use a metal spatula to remove cookies from parchment. Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature up to 5 days.

****
{End Results}
Baking Difficultly: 3.5/5
Ingredient Accessibility: 5/5
Tastiness: 2.5/5 (The cookie itself has no flavor, a little disappointing)
Attractiveness: 4.5/5
Is it worth it?: Maybe. Not for the taste of the cookie, but worth it for the uniqueness of the end result, I guess.

{Pairings}
Drink: Iced tea! Something cold and refreshing and summery. Maybe this delicious fizzy cucumber drink?
Song: Good Vibrations -- The Beach Boys
Activity: It's time to relax on the back porch, I say. Or don you best bikini and head to the shores!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

[Cookie 079] Citrus Cornmeal Shortbread

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Hellloooooooo world!! Risen from the grave, brought back to life, reincarnated into a zombie Cookie Monster, whatever you want to say, I'm really ready to get back in the swing of things (and apparently I don't have a choice, anonymous! You know who you are.). The wedding is over--isn't it weird when you're preparing so long for something so huge, and then it's over in a flash?--and it was amazing and beautiful and really really incredible (click the link for pictures, because those vague adjectives definitely don't do the whole event any justice!). The backyard looked amazing with it's overabundance of sunflowers and other potted blossoms, and the tables were set with centerpieces compiled of a potted sunflower, utensils tied together with twine, chalkboard table numbers, a bottle of cucumber-infused vodka for the wedding toasts, and a bottle of Sriracha! Why the Sriracha? Because......

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...THERE WAS A TACO TRUCK IN MY VERY OWN DRIVEWAY! And it was the Kogi Taco Truck no less. I can't begin to describe the feeling that came over me when I witnessed it pull up. My dream come true.

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Overall it was an incredible wedding, worth all the stressin' and wigging out that we all did...I think. The after-party was...good, I think. I don't remember a lot of it, so that's either a sign of a good party, or my own bad choices, or both. It was a good choice to drink that cucumber vodka, and I like whiskey too, but I think the Tequila can be labeled as the start of my own bad choices. Post-wedding hangover was a given, but totally worth it. The subsequent mortifying hazy memories that will plague my brain for months to come, maybe not.

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But enough about my family's crazy antics (?). I made cookies for this big ol' event--no, no, I did not cater to the entire 120 guests! Just the visiting relatives who received little traveler's goody-bags complete with a bag of 6 Citrus Cornmeal Shortbread cookies.

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Were they good? Well, I'll let my 6 year-old cousin (second cousin?) do the talkin': He said that these cookies were the best cookies he had ever had...in his entire LIFE! And that he, not his mom, wanted the recipe. He wanted it. Excellent. Commence baker's-brainwashing!

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They were really delicious, it's true. Subtle, with a nice cornmeal texture, and a hint of citrus sweetness. For the first batch, I used lemon zest instead of orange zest, and it definitely wasn't as good as the orange zest ones, which had a much more citrusy flavor. Plus, the orange flecks stand out more than the lemon-yellow ones. Other than that, the recipe is fun to make, and you can keep the dough in the freezer for a while so you can bake them whenever you want. Also, the cookies themselves hold for up to a week, so they're perfect for wrapping up and giving to other people, if that's your thing. Not really my thing, but when called upon I might engage in an act of kindness.

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So, in conclusion, make these cookies, and I'll post more often. Deal? Great.

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Citrus Cornmeal Shortbread
Makes 2 dozen

Ingredients
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons orange zest
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 2 tablespoons yellow cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt

Directions
  1. Put butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium speed until creamy and smooth, about 2 minutes. Add vanilla and zest. Mix until combined, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Reduce speed to low. Add flour, 2 tablespoons cornmeal, and salt; mix until well combined, about 3 minutes. Halve dough; shape each into a log about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap each in plastic, and refrigerate until cold, at least 1 hour.
  2. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place remaining 1/4 cup cornmeal on a sheet of parchment paper. Roll in cornmeal to coat. Cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds, and space them 1 inch apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake until pale golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool on sheet on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container at room temperature up to 1 week.

****
{End Results}
Baking Difficultly: 2/5
Ingredient Accessibility: 3.5/5 (just the almond flour and proper jam!)
Tastiness: 4/5
Attractiveness: 4/5
Is it worth it?: Yep!

{Pairings}
Drink: A shot of that delicious cucumber vodka--try it!
Song: Surprise! Opinions?
Activity: It's marryin' season, right? Right?? Yeah!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

[Cookie 078] Lemon-Apricot Sandwiches

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So, things have been a little hectic round these parts, which I'll use as my excuse for lack of posting (I'll always have an excuse...always). My brother is getting married next weekend, and in our very own backyard no less, so we've been going crazy prepping and setting up for a party of 120+ guests, which will all be catered by Kogi Korean BBQ (taco) Truck. Which will be parked in our driveway. Can't wait for the entire block to smell like kimchi!!!!! But really, as any other LA eater will attest, this taco truck is off the hook.

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Right, anyway, last weekend was the bridal shower, so I of course jumped at the idea to make a batch of cookies for the party. I think and I think--what would be the perfect bridal shower/girly brunch cookie? Something not too intense and decadent, something easy to eat and pick at, dainty, pretty, girly, tasty. Oh, I've got it! Lemon-Apricot Sandwiches: they are light and fluted, dusted with powdered sugar, and have the perfect summery flavors.

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I turn to the page, and what do you know, the description even suggests making these for bridal and baby showers! Martha, girl, you and me are two peas in a pod baby! I think I am finally starting to channel her twisted wisdom. I smell a collab project!! I'll have my people your people, aiight Big M? Good.

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The recipe for the dough is simple and straightforward. You need to have almond flour (which is the same as almond meal, which is what I used), but that can be a little bit pricey depending on where you shop. You can always grind up raw almonds in a food processor to get the same product, but that's probably even more expensive. But don't substitute it with regular flour: the almond flour gives the cookie a great flavor that without it would leave the cookies really bland.

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Okay, so the dough's chillin' in the fridge, and now you're ready to make the filling. One thing: I bought Apricot PRESERVE which is most definitely not the same thing as jam. Not advisable. Preserves are way more syrupy and, at least with the kind I got from Trader Joe's, will drip out of the sandwiched cookies and get all over your hands and be disgusting. At this point, after I had strained the preserves and added the lemon, I realized I had a major problem on my hands, and elbows and forearms and mouth (heehee). My mom and I tried everything: boiling and reducing it down; adding cornstarch; refrigeration. Nothing worked. So we pitched it and used some straight up marmalade from the jar, and added the lemon juice. This worked perfectly, but we had to avoid scooping up too much orange rinds because it made the cookies hard to sandwich. Other than that, it made a really tasty cookie and was the perfect consistency for sandwiching!

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By this point all that needs to be done is the final dusting of powdered sugar on top. Tres jolie. Oui. And off we went to the bridal shower. Cookies were a hit. Alongside some divine coconut cupcakes. Perfect combination. Perfect little party. Good good good! Now I gots to make some more cookies for the visiting guest's gift bags. Busy lady, I am.

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Oh, and one last thing! Once you fill the cookies, they really should be eaten that day. That being said, you can store the dough (before baking) in the freezer for a good long while, and even keep the baked cookie rounds in an airtight container for up to 3 days without the filling in them. They store/stack adorably too:

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In conclusion, as long as you use a good hearty jam for the filling, you'll end up with some really lovely cookies to snack on. I suggest you give it a try. I do I do. But now I shall leave you in peace, Tu es vraiment d├ęgueulasse.

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Lemon-Apricot Sandwiches
Makes 20

Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar, plus more for dusting
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • Finely grated zest of 2 lemons, plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup apricot jam

Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk flours, cornstarch, and salt in a medium bowl.
  2. Put butter, sugars, lemon zest, and 1 tablespoon lemon juice into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing well after each addition.Cover dough with plastic wrap; refrigerate 30 minutes.
  3. Place cold dough between 2 pieces of parchment paper, and roll out to 1/8 inch thick. Transfer dough on parchment to a baking sheet; freeze 10 minutes.
  4. Using a fluted 1 7/8-inch round cutter, cut out dough; transfer to parchment-lined baking sheets. Reroll scraps, and cut out (you should have 40 rounds). Bake until pale golden, 10 to 11 minutes. Let cool slightly on sheets on wire racks. Transfer cookies to racks to cool completely.
  5. Using a rubber spatula, press the jam through a fine sieve into a small bowl. Stir in remaining tablespoon lemon juice. Spread 1 teaspoon jam mixture on flat side of half of the cookies, and sandwich with the remaining cookies. Dust with confectioners' sugar.

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{End Results}
Baking Difficultly: 3/5
Ingredient Accessibility: 2.5/5 (just the almond flour and proper jam!)
Tastiness: 4/5
Attractiveness: 4.5/5
Is it worth it?: I'm sure you'll have an event that these are just perfect for, but even if you don't, they're worth it!

{Pairings}
Drink: A Mimosa! Or maybe just some light tea...
Song: Dracula's Wedding -- Outkast (cool video!)
Activity: Definitely an outdoor brunch, with quiches. Something painfully girly...