zaterdag 27 oktober 2007

Italian shortbread

Looking for something new to bake, as usual, I asked the ladies and gents at the Fine Cooking forum what they were baking. Heather mentioned an Italian shortbread she had tried and liked a lot. She was also kind enough to share the recipe, and I'm doing that here as well:

Italian Shortbread with Almonds and Jam
Desserts: Mediterranean Flavors, California Style
by Cindy Mushet

Yield – 6 – 8 servings

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup apricot jam or other not-too-sweet jam (I used strained raspberry jam)
1/3 cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and set the rack in the middle of the oven. Have ready a 9-inch ungreased fluted springform pan. (I used a 4” by 13” tart pan with removeable bottom)

Beat the butter and sugar on medium speed in a stand mixer for 3 to 4 minutes until very light, scraping down the sides of the bowl and the paddle from time to time. Add the almond extract and beat on medium speed for 30 more seconds to blend.

In a small bowl whisk the flour and salt together. Add to the butter mixture and beat on low speed to combine, just until the dough is thoroughly blended, 30 to 40 seconds. The dough will be stiff. Remove 1/2 cup of dough and spread it on a small plate in a thin layer; place it in the freezer.

Press the remaining dough into the pan evenly – it can be a little higher at the edges, but the center shouldn’t be elevated. Spread the jam evenly over the dough to within an inch of the edge. Retrieve the remaining dough from the freezer and crumble it over the jam. Sprinkle the almonds evenly over the top.

Bake the shortbread for 40 to 50 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool completely on a rack before removing from pan.

Cut the shortbread into serving sized triangles. (Can be frozen)

Despite the fact that I have made more cookies than I can ever recall or count, I haven't made much shortbread. I always thought it somewhat boring, with just the butter, sugar and flour, and ventured more into the -studded with nuts, chocolate and everything else you can imagine- category.
I am so glad I tried this one though. It is very simple to prepare, and just very delicious and interesting with the jam and almonds. This recipe made my top ten of favorite cookie recipes easily, and I know I'll be making it often from now on.
I was looking for a rectangular pan to bake it in (like Heather did) and had to increase my ingredients because I didn't have a small enough one. It was no problem at all. I bet you could easily double the recipe too, and freeze part of the cookies (Heather said they freeze beautifully) so you always have something nice at hand for unexpected occasions.
I used store bought cassis jelly, just because that sounded good and it definately was a great choice. But I'm sure this would be nice with any not overly sweet kind of jam (I have some homemade blackberry jam left that I think would be marvelous too). Just another picture in case more convincing is needed for trying this one:

Edited to add that Heather recommends to freeze the cookie as a whole, and only cut them after thawing. I can see how that would help prevent them from drying out. Thanks Heather!

zondag 21 oktober 2007

Sugar cookies

I was suddenly in the mood for plain, sugar cookies and Maida Heatter has just the ticket. The title only made it sound as if I didn't have to look any further: plain, old fashioned sugar cookies. I used vanilla infused sugar, my best vanilla, and looked for some nice cookie cutters that fit the season. And there you have it: delicious cookies in leave and acorn shapes. When they were baked it did think that they looked a bit too 'plain' so I jazzed them up with some nuts and a little chocolate:

Aren't they just beautiful? If you want to give them a try, I just have to warn you that they are not all that suitable for cookie cutters with intricate designs, as the cookies will puff up and lose some of their shape. If you need crisp, clean lines, this is not a suitable recipe. For these acorns it worked perfectly though:

zaterdag 20 oktober 2007

Apple pie

The markets are still overflowing with gorgeous looking crisp apples, and I realized it had been ages since I made apple pie. So apple pie it was. I have a few favorite recipes that I tend to fall back on. There is the luxurious looking apple pie from Rose Levy Beranbaum's 'Pie & Pastry Bible', where she has you arrange thinly sliced apple slices like a blooming flower. Another tried and true is a recipe for a deep dish caramel apple pie I found on epicurious and have been making many times since. It is sweet, but definately delicious. I was looking for simple this time though, and as the ladies on the Fine Cooking board were raving about Dorie Greenspan's apple pie, while I was about to give up on the book as I hadn't liked the few recipes I tried from it, I thought it would only be fair to give it another go. So many skilled bakers couldn't be wrong!
So I got to work. The crust calls for both shortening and butter, and I personally prefer them over all butter crusts. They are just flakier. The recipe is easy, calls for straightforward foodprocessing of the ingredients, and isn't as fussy as RLB's (which is admittedly delicious, but still fussy). I made a double crust recipe and found my foodprocessor was a bit too small, as the ingredients weren't getting mixed properly. So I dumped the whole batch out, put half back in, and went from there. Went without a glitch :o). I let the pastry rest in the fridge over night, but I'm sure with freezing all ingredients before making it, I could have rolled it out directly. (Great to know if you're pressed for time). I subbed the sugar for brown sugar (great idea) and for the spices I used a mix called 'apple bake' from Watson that my dear friend Jane sent me and which I use only very sparingly.

The crust behaved perfectly when rolling (although I started out lining the pan with earlier prepared sugar cookie dough, wondering how the dough behaved so differently, duh!!). The apples were piled high into the crust, covered with the second crust, painted with cream and sprinkled with sugar. And into the oven it went. The house still smells divine hours later. We tried our first piece when the pie was still slightly warm and we both *loved* it. A winner!! Which means, there is no such thing as giving up on this book yet. I'll have to try more from it now, with newly gained confidence ;o). Here is the master piece:

Even after my oven leading a life of it's own again (it miraculously switches to different settings while baking, this time switching from lower/upper heat to only lower heat, leaving me wondering why the crust didn't brown as quickly as usual) you can see how nicely the crust baked into this flaky, crackly-with-sugar perfection:

zondag 14 oktober 2007

Dutch baking

With fall making its entrance, and speculaas and fall spices popping up everywhere, I was looking for recipes for some nice seasonal treats. I'm a big fan of 'gevulde speculaas' (filled speculaas)as we call it, which is basically a spiced cookie, filled with almond paste, baked into a big slab of cookie that you cut into pieces after baking (you could compare it with a bar cookie I guess).
When browsing my books and the web for recipe, I stumbled onto a recipe for another Dutch treat as well, also using almond paste but without the spices. We call them 'gevulde koeken' which translates into 'filled cookies'. Both came out so well, I decided to post a full report with instructions and the recipe here.
I have to thank Chufi on Egullet, who described the proces and the recipe before. I have slightly altered it to our likes.

Let's start with the filled cookies. It really is a fairly easy process, just takes some time because the dough needs to be chilled and rolled/cut, but I promiss, if you're an almond lover, you will be glad you gave it a try.

This is the recipe and the directions:

300 g / 10.5 oz AP flour
200 g / 1 cup - 2TBS cold butter, cubed
150 g / 3/4 cup sugar
200 g / 7 oz almond paste

1 egg for egg wash, with a little milk added and beaten
blanched almond halves

Preheat oven to 350 F / 175 C.

In a stand mixer with paddle attachment, mix butter, flour and sugar to form a dough. You may need to add about 1 tsp - 1 TBS of cold milk or water for the dough to come together. Wrap in foil and refrigerate for about an hour (up to a few days)

Mix almond paste with egg.

Roll out the dough on a floured surface, until fairly thin. Cut out rounds with a fluted round cutter. I used a 2.5 inch cutter, which yielded 44 rounds for 22 cookies. Put half the rounds on a baking sheet, and place filling in the middle of each cookie. It's okay to make a mound.

Moisten edges with a little water, put pastry round on top and seal edges. Generously brush with egg wash and put an almond on top. Brush again with egg wash.

Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown. I got them out of the oven twice to brush them with the egg wash again, to give them an extra lovely color. This is how they look right out of the oven:

Now to the filled speculaas, which is basically the same proces, but it's quicker because it is traditionally baked into a large slab and cut after baking. If you're into the cutting proces and like to make individual little tarts, you can follow the same procedure as described above.
The recipe and instructions:
To make these cookies the traditional Dutch spicemix (speculaaskruiden) is used. You can make your own, the spices that should be in there are: cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, aniseed, coriander, cardamom, in a ratio: cinnamon 3 : cloves 2: nutmeg 2: ginger 1/2: aniseed 1/2: coriander 1/2: cardamom 1/2.

300 g / 10.5 oz of selfrising flour (or use AP flour with 1 tsp baking powder)
150 g / 11 TBS of cold, cubed unsalted butter
150 g / 1/2 cup + 1TBS brown sugar
1 to 2 TBS speculaas spices, to taste (I use 2)
pinch of salt
about 1 TBS milk

350 g / 12 oz almond paste
grated rind of half a lemon
1 egg

1 egg for eggwash, beaten with a little milk or cream
blanched almond halves or slivers

Preheat oven to 350 F / 175 C.

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, mix the forst 5 ingredients for the dough. You may have to add the milk to make it come together.

Divide into two parts, wrap in saran wrap and refrigerate for an hour, up to three days (it will stiffen the dough and help to develop the flavor).

Mix the almond paste with the lemon zest and the egg until you have a spreadable mixture.

On a floured counter, roll out one part of the dough into a rectangle (or any other shape you like). Put on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Spread the almond paste on top, leaving a 1 inch border. It will still be pretty stiff. Carefully spread it over the pastry with the back of a spoon, wetting it to keep the paste from sticking.

Roll out the other part of the dough and place on top. Press the edges to seal and trim all around with a knife to make a neatly shaped log.
Press the almond halves on top and genrously brush the log with the egg wash.

Bake for approximately 25 minutes. Let completely cool before cutting into pieces. This could also be made in a tin or as individual filled cookies.

The speculaas will keep pretty well and improve in flavor. Just store in an airtight tin. Enjoy!!

zaterdag 6 oktober 2007

Fall is here!

It's fall. The leaves are changing colors, the days are getting shorter, and there's that fall like smell in the air, makes you want to cuddle up inside with candles lit, a hot cup of tea and a nice piece of something sweet. Now what to make? The apples are so beautiful right now, that I just couldn't resist buying them, so I went looking for a nice apple-y cake. I remember making an apple cake from the Lisa Yockelson book 'Baking by flavor'. I haven't tried much out of the book yet, but this recipe had a 5-star rating in the book (added by me ;o)) so I figured it was worth making again.
The recipe calls for 3 large apples, grated, and lots of spices that make me long for december and speculaas (the typical dutch cookie that basically has gingerbread-like spice combinations). So apart from the cinnamon in the recipe, I subbed everything else for a healthy amount of speculaas spices and for an extra kick, I subbed the vanilla extract for cinnamon liqueur I happened to have. When the cake was baking, I wished that there were people in the house for a showing (our house is still for sale) because *I* would buy a house that smelled like ours did at that point in a heartbeat.

M. couldn't wait to try the cake just 2 hours after it was baked and swooned over it, but when we shared a piece for breakfast this morning, it was even better. It's moist, apple-y, spicey and fall-like all at once. I'm sure I'll be making this again and again.