Zoinks Scoob! Scooby Snacks

Does anyone not love soft pretzels? For me, if nostalgia had a flavor, it would be soft pretzel. Soft pretzels remind me of baseball games and roller rinks and college road trips and summer jobs (the McDonalds up in Lake Arrowhead where I spent three of my  summers during college  sold the things).

Lately it seems, the soft pretzel has appeared in all sorts of incarnations from hotdog and hamburger buns to dinner rolls. My favorite happens to be these little marble-sized pretzel nuggets sold at our local farmer’s market. At nearly six dollars a bag I reasoned I could probably figure out how to make my own. I did. And so was born the scooby snack.

I mean really, it makes sense that scooby snacks are actually soft pretzel nuggets. After all, would you go down a creepy mine shaft, take on a ghostly globe trotter or–ruh-roh–be willing to spend your life cruising along in a psychadellic van with a (very) poor man’s James Franco as your best friend for anything less?

I didn’t think so.

This recipe is actually an adaptation of the one and only pretzel roll recipe from the January 1994 edition of Bon Apetit Magazine. I’ve use it to make all sorts of pretzel-like creations from rolls to actual soft pretzels to the scooby snack.

This recipe starts with the worker bee of baking: yeast.

Combine the dry ingredients in a food processor and pulse, pulse, pulse!

Next slowly add in the hot water and knead until you’ve got dough (it takes my processor three-to-four minutes).  After all that hard work, it’s time for the dough to rest up. Into a greased bowl it goes for about half and hour.

Be sure to cover it in plastic wrap and then a towel in a nice warm place. Nighty night.

Come back 30 minutes later and my, how your dough ball has grown.

Punch this baby down and turn out onto a floured surface. Cut the dough into eight pieces. Working with one piece at a time, form a snake with the dough and cut into six to ten pieces depending on how big or small your like your scooby snacks. Roll each little nugget into a ball. Repeat with remaining dough. Now, even though you are the one who did all the hard work, your dough needs another nap. Twenty  minutes or so. Cover with a towel.

While your nuggets are napping, it’s time to do some magic. You know how soft pretzels have that uber tasty, chewy  skin? This is how they get it. Bring a stock pot of water to boil (see below for specifics).

Once it is boiling you  are going to add baking soda and sugar.

Whaaaat? You feel like you are back at your seventh grade science fair and and you suddenly have an urge to make volcanoes with baking soda and vinegar? Well, this kind of like that. As soon as you add the soda and sugar, you get froth. Yes, the sea is angry my friends. And hungry for some pretzel nuggets.

Now that your pretzel nuggets have napped, it is time to give them a bath. Yes, I too  can hear the natives chanting in the background asking for a dough ball sacrifice. Working in batches, boil the nuggets on each side for about 30 seconds. I use a bamboo kabob skewer to quickly poke and turn the little nuggets.

After their minute is up, remove from the boiling water and set aside on a baking sheet that has been dusted with cornmeal.

Repeat until you’ve boiled all the balls. Then, brush with egg wash and sprinkle on a little coarse salt if you are into that sort of thing. Finally,  into the oven they go for 15 minutes or until they reach your desired level of golden brownness.

And now it’s time to call in Scooby and ask him to do just about anything you want. Because he will. If his reward is a warm, golden, soft and chewy  scooby snack. Alternately, you could take them out to the Mystery Machine where that strange smoky haze coming out through the vents is a sure sign the gang could use some snacks.

Here is the thing. They really don’t save well. So, you and Scooby should probably eat them immediately.

Scooby Snacks

Adapted from the Pretzel Roll recipe

Bon Appetit Magazine, January 1994

Ingredients

  • 2 3/4 cups bread flour
  • 1 envelope quick-rising yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (about) hot water (125°F to 130°F)
  • Cornmeal
  • 8 cups water
  • 1/4 cup baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 egg white, beaten to blend (glaze)
  • Coarse salt

Process

  • Combine bread flour, 1 envelope yeast, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon sugar in a food processor and blend. With machine running, gradually pour hot water through feed tube, adding enough water to form smooth elastic dough. Process 3 minutes to knead. Grease medium bowl. Add dough to bowl, turning to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, then towel; let dough rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 35 minutes.
  • Flour baking sheet. Punch dough down and knead on lightly floured surface until smooth. Divide into 8 pieces. Roll out each piece and cut into 6-10 smaller pieces depending on desired size. Form each dough piece into a ball. Place the dough balls on prepared sheet. Cover with towel and let dough balls rise until almost doubled in volume, about 20 minutes.
  • Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease another baking sheet and sprinkle with cornmeal. Bring 8 cups water to boil in large saucepan (I use a stock pot and so double all ingredients in this part of the recipe). Add baking soda and 2 tablespoons sugar (water will foam up). Working in batches, carefully add dough balls and let boil for 30 seconds per side (I use a kabob skewer to quickly turn the balls) Using a slotted spoon or mesh scoop, transfer rolls to prepared sheet. Repeat with remaining rolls.
  • Brush rolls with egg white glaze. Sprinkle rolls with coarse salt. Bake rolls until brown, about 15 minutes. Transfer to racks and cool 10 minutes. Serve scooby snacks warm or room temperature.

Pucker Up for Valentine’s Day

Ah Valentine’s Day.

When I was in the second or maybe third grade I happened to have the chicken pox on Valentine’s Day. In order to sooth her feverish and itchy child, my mother painted a calamine lotion heart over each pock. Knowing my mother’s sense of humor, this gesture was probably one part love to one part ‘hey, wouldn’t it be hilarious if I painted hearts all over my kid.’ A little sweet and a little tart; an apropos description of my feeling about Valentines Day in general.

There are tons of romantic chocolate recipes out there.  So, I thought I’d offer up a little something for those of us who subscribe to a tartier brand of love: the Longfellow Lemon Tart.

A couple of years back, I went through a phase whereupon I was near obsessed with lemon squares and tarts. From this phase came the following recipe named for the street where I lived at the time.

This recipe starts with a removable ring tart pan and, of course, parchment paper. Be sure to butter the pan well.

To make the shortbread crust, just pulse.

Add butter and pulse some more.

Until you get sand. You can actually also use a blender for this as well. I know because when I started making this tart years ago, I didn’t have a food processor. But, I did have a blender.

Then, very carefully and with much patience (just like love), mold the crumbly dough into the pan. Yes, this is a pretty horrible picture but it’s the only one I took. Then, into the oven to bake.

While the sand is transforming into shortbread in the oven, it’s time to make the custard. It starts with the zest of a lemon. Let me tell you, fruit zest is some pretty magical stuff. Perhaps it is what cupid dips his arrows in.

Whisk together eggs, sugar, lemon juice and zest.

Just about the time you are done mixing, the crust should be ready to come out of the oven. Now comes the tough part–filling the crust and getting it into the oven without spilling it.

Here is how I do it. About halfway through the baking process, add a baking sheet to the over to warm. When the crust is brown, remove both and place the tart pan on the sheet (don’t forget it is hot). Then, pour the custard into the tart pan and, with a steady hand, transfer the whole party back into the oven. Bake until it just jiggles.

And the crust is golden brown.

Let it cool. Then, loosen the edges with a butter knife. Take a deep breathe and remove the outside ring.

All this tart needs now is a little powdered sugar.

Luckily for my household, this tart is best eaten the day it is made. At least that’s the excuse we are using for scarfing down most of it immediately.

Ahhh loveeee.

Longfellow Lemon Tart

Shortbread Crust

  • 8 TBS cold unsalted butter cut into cubes
  • 1 1/4 C sifted flour
  • 1/3 C packed golden brown sugar
  • 1/4 TSP kosher salt
  1. Preheat over to 375 degrees
  2. Butter and line with parchment 1 tart pan.
  3. Pulse dry ingredients in food processor to blend. Pulse and add-in cold butter until the mixture resembles sand.
  4. Slowly mold shortbread “dough” into tart pan until bottom and sides are evenly covered.
  5. Bake for 15 minutes until light gold.

Custard

  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 C. superfine sugar
  • 1/2 C freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 C heavy cream
  • pinch of salt
  1. Whisk together filling ingredients.
  2. Fill warm tart
  3. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until filling jiggles.

French Macarons, part I of ???

I had no idea. Really, I didn’t.

What began as a (self-deemed) creative attempt at gift giving has turned into a burgeoning obsession. The French macaron. How I hate thee. And love thee. And hate thee. To make matters worse, the little buggers have begun to show up everywhere. Haunting me. Whereas months ago I’d never even seen one outside of the recipe books, they’re now stalking me from magazine covers, bake shops and Starbucks. That’s right, Starbucks is selling them. Sheesh.

And they aren’t cheap. There is a store in Beverly Hills that only sells French macarons. The price: $1.60 a piece. This has me knocking my head against the wall and (not for the first time) asking myself…why…why did I not think of this 12 months earlier? I’d have the market cornered and  would certainly be well on my way to appearing in the Forbes top gagillionaires under 40 list.

But, I didn’t. And so I probably won’t.

Here is how my relationship with the French macaron began. Over the summer I read David Lebovitz’s The Sweet Life in Paris http://www.davidlebovitz.com/books/. Now, I don’t know where Mr. Lebovitz has been all my life, but man, I’m glad he’s in it now. If you don’t already know (and you probably do), he was a pastry chef at Chez Panisse and now lives in Paris and writes cool cookbooks and a really funny blog http://www.davidlebovitz.com/. The Sweet Life is sort of a living memoir with recipes. And, as soon as I read it, I knew I had to give it as a holiday gift. What better to pair the book with than with a bag of the quintessential French treat (and there is a recipe for them in the book), that’s right, le macaroon Françoise (made by me of course).

Ha!

Are you getting the feeling that my seminal adventures with this sandwich cookie may not have been entirely successful?

Turns out, there is a reason that little shop sells them for nearly two dollars each. Much like the Parisians themselves (yes, I am about to stereotype), they are fussy, finicky and rather unpredictable. But, I’ll admit, also like the city of lights and its culture, the entity (when it does turn out) is worth the hassle.

So, this is my first of who knows how many posts on French macarons. I am determined to get them right. And, I am determined to try each and every flavor (except for the ones I don’t think I’ll like because, really, what would be the point?). Right now, my success rate is about 50%–but I promise to share my successes and failures along the way.

To start, this recipe calls for not only a food processor but also a standing mixer (or some really strong biceps that can create stiff peaks with a whisk). The recipe also necessitates a pastry bags and tips. This is indeed a gadgety recipe.

Next, you make your own flour. Yep, flour from blanched almonds. Using food gadget #1, the food processor (mine’s named Bertha), grind the almonds into a powder. You want the mixture to be super duper fine. I got it as fine as I could. I’ve recently read that you should sift the flour a couple of times after grinding. I’ll try that next time and report back.

To continue with a theme, you then grind together the almond flour, confectioner’s sugar and cocoa.

So as not to make the standing mixer jealous (yes, this too has a name: Marta), egg whites are whipped into lovely silky peaks. A couple of my batter attempts turned out very dry (more on this later). In retrospect, I think I must have over-whipped the egg whites and sugar.

Once you’ve got peaks, very carefully fold in the dry mixture. I’ve read that the resulting batter should act like lava. Indeed, I believe this is an apt description. The batter is definitely liquidy but also has a certain viscosity.

Once you’ve corralled the batter into a pastry bag, pipe disks onto parchment-lined baking sheets. And, into the oven they go. But wait, there seems to be some speculation on whether to let the raw batter harden some before going in to the oven. I think this may make a difference if you live in a humid environment. In dry Southern California the disks were already beginning to harden as I finished each sheet.

Remember my mention of  over-whipping the eggs whites.? Look at the picture below, specifically the, uhm, piles ones on the right. What do they look like? Uhhuh. On the over-whipped batch they piped out in coils and baked in the same form. My husband was incredibly amused and I apologize to anyone who may have been the recipient of a “liberated” french macaron.

Done right, the cookies have “feet” and do not crack or split across the top. Lets talk about the feet first. Take a look at the picture below. See the little base at the bottom? Those are feet. If your cookies crack, they won’t grow feet. And apparently that is a major macaron faux pas.

Through trial and error I discovered that I could only use the top rack in my oven. Lower racks caused the cookies to crack.

After they are nice and cool, you marry up the halves. Fill them (this time around I used a chocolate ganache–though not the one David Lebovitz has with his recipe).

Et voila, you are one step closer to speaking French.

From The Sweet Life in Paris (Broadway) by David Lebovitz

http://www.davidlebovitz.com/archives/2005/10/french_chocolat.html
Batter

  • 1 cup (100 gr) powdered sugar
  • ½ cup powdered almonds (about 2 ounces, 50 gr, sliced almonds, pulverized)
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 2 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 5 tablespoons granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350º F .
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and have a pastry bag with a plain tip (about 1/2-inch, 2 cm) ready.
Grind together the powdered sugar with the almond powder and cocoa so there are no lumps; use a blender or food processor since almond meal that you buy isn’t quite fine enough.

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, beat the egg whites until they begin to rise and hold their shape. While whipping, beat in the granulated sugar until very stiff and firm, about 2 minutes.
Carefully fold the dry ingredients, in two batches, into the beaten egg whites with a flexible rubber spatula. When the mixture is just smooth and there are no streaks of egg white, stop folding and scrape the batter into the pastry bag (standing the bag in a tall glass helps if you’re alone).
Pipe the batter on the parchment-lined baking sheets in 1-inch (3 cm) circles (about 1 tablespoon each of batter), evenly spaced one-inch (3 cm) apart.
Rap the baking sheet a few times firmly on the counter top to flatten the macarons, then bake them for 15-18 minutes. Let cool completely then remove from baking sheet.

Match up pairs and fill with ganache.

Chocolate ganache (recipe by Martha Stewart)

note: I used this recipe not because I don’t like Mr. Lebovitz’s but because I had made this ganache recipe a couple of days before for sundaes and just tripled the batch at the time…you know, kill a couple of birds with diabetes at once.

  • 4 cups heavy cream
  • 2 pounds best-quality semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

In a small heavy sauce pan, bring cream to boil over medium heat. Remove from heat and add chocolate, swirling the pan so the chocolate is completely covered. Wait a couple of minutes and carefully mix the chocolate and cream together with a spatula. Mix in corn syrup and salt. Transfer to a clean bowl and refrigerate until the consistency of fudge (this makes filling the cookies easier).

The brownie stands alone

I have learned that there are two types of people in the world: ones who like cakey brownies and ones who like fudgy brownies. Note: I have not provided an option for people who do not like brownies. This is because those people do not exist. While I do have a great cakey brownie recipe that I’ll share this summer (it calls for fresh zucchini and so in my head is a summer recipe), it’s my fudgy brownie recipe that is a true ace in the hole.

Seriously.

If ever confronted by the devil Charlie Daniels style, I’d wager this recipe for my soul. And. I’d win that shiny brownie pan made out of gold.

Over the years, I’ve searched far and wide for a good brownie recipe and I couldn’t tell you how many recipes I’ve tested and had to toss for one reason or another. This recipe though, it’s fail-proof. Calling for nothing more technologically advanced than a wire whisk and a rubber spatula, I found the original recipe on Chowhound and have since adapted it to fit my own brownie needs.

Because of its simplicity, the key to this recipe are the ingredients and how you combine them. Use. The. Best. You. Can. Find. The best chocolate, the best butter and the best eggs. And, make sure these fantastic ingredients are all at room temperature before you combine them.

While you can use chocolate chips for this recipe, my advice is to chocolate-up and use the good stuff.

Give it a good chop so that it will melt uniformly.

I’m serious here, once you have smooth glossy molten chocolate and butter, turn off the burner and set it aside to cool to room tempurature.

Here is the deal on the espresso/coffee: it’s just there to enhance the flavor of the chocolate, you won’t actually be able to taste it in the brownie. While the original recipe calls for cooled espresso, I don’t happen to have an espresso machine. In the past, I’ve just used instant coffee. Now that we have a cool Keurig machine, I just make a single cup of dark roast. Again, let it cool to room temp before using.

I’ve also done a stout beer reduction and replaced the coffee with it. That’s always fun too.

While the chocolate cools, whisk together sugar, cocoa and salt. Then, beat in the room temp eggs, vanilla and coffee.

Now can you add the chocolate? You bet!

Once combined, FOLD in the flour. Gently, very gently.

These are like the Men’s Warehouse of brownies: I guarantee them!

Brownies

Ingredients

  • 2C superfine sugar
  • 2 TBS unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 ½ t kosher salt
  • 1 C butter
  • 12 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 TBS coffee, espresso
  • 1 TBS vanilla
  • 2 C flour, sifted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Line with parchment and grease a 9X13” baking pan

Over low heat, melt together butter and chopped chocolate. Once melted, set aside until cool.

In large bowl, whisk together sugar, cocoa and salt. Beat in eggs one by one. Mix in vanilla and coffee. Whisk in cooled, melted chocolate and butter mixture. Fold in flour until just combined. Pour batter into prepared baking pan, cook 35-50 minutes until cake tester or toothpick comes out with dry crumbs.

Note: This makes a thick brownie. Often if I am going to use the brownies for hot fudge brownie sundaes or if I need a lot of them, I’ll one-and-a-half the recipe and use a 10X15” jelly roll pan. The brownie will be thinner but in my experience, more uniformly fudgy. Just be sure to adjust the baking time down (start checking at 30 minutes).

Of course, you can add just about anything to theses: nuts, more chocolate, fruit, candy. While less is often more and these brownies stand sturdy on their own, sometimes more is more too.

Whoopie [sic] for Devil Dogs

I lost a bet.  It had to do with a football game between the college I went to and the college where I work.  And, unlike a certain coach who not only allowed—but celebrated a very un-sportsman-like play in the last 44 seconds of said game, I am always a good sport.

Of course, the wager was for baked goods.  With the veritable deluge of work-related holiday parties, potlucks and general food-related merriment, it was decided that I would not pay up until the actual week of Christmas.  My original plan was to bring in red velvet cupcakes.  However, I’d already made several batches for other events by the time it came to pay up and though I never I’d say this, I was red-velvetted out.

In looking through my very ratty book of recipes for something “new,” I came across a childhood favorite that just felt like the perfect pay-off for my ill-fated bet.

The Devil Dog.  At least that’s what they are called where I come from.

Until this blog post, I had no idea where the name “devil dog” came from.  Though, I’ve always had a romantic notion that they were named after a fierce yet amiable squad of WWII bombers who ate them for good luck before each mission.

A quick Google search revealed a significantly less interesting explanation.  There is a snack cake company in New Jersey called Drakes Cakes; maker of the original yodel and ring ding.  According to its website Drakes Cakes has been giving Little Debbie, Hostess and even Tastykake a run for their money for over 100 years.  Drake happens to make a treat called a devil dog (which coincidentally also looks a lot like a Suzy Q).

So, I’m guessing that the recipe I have must have originally been a homemade version of the Drakes Cake devil dog.  However, somewhere along the way something must have gotten lost in translation because while the original devil dog was meant to look like a hot dog, the ones we grew up with look a lot more like hamburgers.

This recipe is very similar to an array of whoopee pie and giant oreo recipes I’ve seen floating around.  The truth is, it really doesn’t matter what they are called because what they are is pretty darned delicious.

Yes, this recipe calls for marshmallow fluff.  It’s creepy and yet invitingly soothing at the same time.

The cake will rise to look like little burger buns.

Once the cakes are cool and the filling is made, match up the halves and give half of the halves a hearty dollop of filling.  Watch out–this stuff is sticky.  Super sticky.  I despise sticky stuff and so used my trusty scooper to minimize having to touch the bionic super fluff.

Top each half with its mate and you have a devil dog. Or a whoopie pie.  Or a giant oreo.

Devil Dogs

This recipe is adapted from my original since the original calls for…gasp…boxed cake mix.  The recipe below is a mash-up between my original and a July 2009 Gourmet Magazine recipe for whoopie pies.  Also, the original recipe calls for each half to be made from ¼ C of batter.  This yields a ginormous “dog” that really is too big to eat as a snack.  I prefer to use my handy one-ounce scooper.  Even then, this resultant has about as much cake and “frosting” as a regular-sized cup cake.

Makes 20 if using 1 ounce scooper, 10 if using ¼ C

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

For the Dog (cakes)

  • ½ C unsalted butter, room temp.
  • 1 C packed golden brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temp.
  • 2 C sifted all-purpose flour
  • ½ C cocoa powder (man-up and use the good stuff)
  • 1 t kosher salt
  • 1 C room temp. dairy (you can use buttermilk, whole milk…or even egg nog as I used for the bet)
  • 1 t vanilla

For the Devil (filling)

  • ½ C unsalted butter, room temp.
  • 1 ¼ C confectioners sugar, sifted
  • 1 14oz container marshmallow fluff
  • 1 t vanilla

Sift together dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, cream butter and brown sugar with standing or electric mixer until light and fluffy (3-5 minutes).  Beat-in egg and vanilla.  Reduce speed to low and add dry ingredients and buttermilk in alternating batches (start and end with dry ingredients).  Mix until smooth, scraping down sides along the way.

Using 1-ounce scooper or ¼ C., scoop level amounts of batter onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, 1-2 inches apart.  Bake until tops are puffed and spring back when touched (10-15 minutes).

For filling, beat together butter, sugar, marshmallow fluff and vanilla in standing mixer or with hand-held mixer until smooth.

Note, the filling is very, very sticky you may want to refrigerate the filling for half an hour before putting the dogs together.  If you are working in a warm kitchen, you may also want to stick the completed batch in the fridge to firm up.

March of the penguins (into my mouth)

If I could afford it, I’d ask Morgan Freeman to narrate this post. But, I can’t. So watch this first to get you in the mood.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MB_GisVFboU

I have a very cute penguin cookie cutter and when Deb from Smitten Kitchen posted her mother’s recipe for Brownie Roll Out cookies, I knew I had a match made in heaven. I’m linking to the recipe instead of listing it below because, well, I have a baking crush on this blog and if you haven’t heard of it or read it regularly, you should.

http://smittenkitchen.com/2008/04/brownie-roll-out-cookies/

The resulting cookie is chocolate perfection. Not too sweet and acts just like a roll-out cookie, so it keeps its shape. I followed her recipe exactly up until the part where you chill the dough. At this point, I used the roll-out and chill method discussed in my sugar cookie recipe.

Obviously, you can make them any shape you want but, I promise they make extra good penguins (with white chocolate tummies).

Seriously, just like March of the Penguins…right?

…yes, even chocolate penguins mate for life.

Baklava makes the world a better place

I love baklava. Though really, it’s much more fun it you pronounce it ‘baaaaklaaavaaaa.’ Go ahead, try it. Feels good doesn’t it? For me it is one of those foods that while available all year, speaks inexorably of the holiday season.

This year I finally got up the courage to make it from scratch. And, now that I’ve done it, I have to tell you, making baklava some scratch needs no courage at all. If you buy the phyllo dough it is very easy and very fun.

Before we get to the baking, let’s talk a little bit about baklava’s origins. A brief review of its history reveals that this sweet sticky treat may very well be one of history’s first party foods. After all, much of the evidence points toward the confection as Greek in origin. Though, Mesopotamia was inevitably involved as well. While the word baklava is Turkish in derivation, many culturally specific varieties exist from Greek to Turkish to Middle Eastern. In this sense, baklava truly is a celebratory food of the world.

While I prefer it made with pistachios, I actually used walnuts because I was hoping to limit my own consumption. Sadly, or happily, it didn’t work and I managed to consume more than my fair share of the pans I made.

Phyllo dough can be found in freezer section of any grocery store. The kind I bought fit perfectly into a 9X13” pan. So, I adapted the original recipe to fit.

I went ahead and defrosted the dough in the fridge over night. This yielded perfect results as the dough did not stick and was very easy to work with.

The spice base is a combination of cinnamon, cloves and cardamom. Remember the Strawberry Shortcake dolls that smelled like fruits and spices? If I were one, I’d be Carly Cardamom.

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For the first batch, I chopped the nuts myself. For the second, I busted out Bertha, my trusty food processor. There is no shame in technological progress. The chopped nuts, sugar and spices all get mixed together in a sort of exotic orgy of awesome smells and textures.

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Each layer of phyllo dough is separated by a brushed-on layer of melted butter.

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The sugar and nut mixture gets added in at regular intervals.

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This goes on for about 20 or so layers until all the butter, nuts and dough have been utilized. Then, you cut the pieces into your desired shape and into the over goes the whole lot until everything is a nice golden brown.

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While things are already looking really tasty, the best is yet to come. Right out of the oven, you pour a fantastic syrup of honey and spices right into the pan. By the time everything cools down, the syrup gets absorbed and the result is nothing short of a pastry worthy of whatever deity you happen to worship.

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Baklava

Adapted from Epicurious, epicurious.com

Makes one pan 9X13″ pan

3 1/2 C chopped walnuts

1/2 C sugar

1 TSP ground cinnamon

1/2 TSP ground cardamom

1/4 TSP ground cloves

1/2 LB phyllo dough sheets

1.5 C melted butter

Syrup*

1 C sugar

1 C water

1/3 C honey

1/4 lemon, peel only

1 clove

* I substituted 1/4 C orange blossom water for 1/4 C of the water and did not use the lemon peel and clove.

To Make

1. Mix the walnuts, sugar and spices.

2. Remove phyllo dough from packaging, lay out flat and cover with plastic wrap and a damp towel (keep covered as dough will dry out quickly).

3. Melt the butter.

4. Starting with a single layer of phyllo, lay-out in pan and lightly brush butter over entire surface. Repeat this step until you have 8 layers in the pan.

5. Spread 1/3 of the nut mixture evenly across the 8th buttered layer of dough.

6. Add 4 more layers of phyllo, brushing each layer with butter.

7. Repeat steps 5 and 6 until all of the nut mixture has been layered.

8. Top the last layer of the nut mixture with the remaining phyllo dough (should be about 8 layers).

9. Cut the pan into desired number and shape of pieces–but try not to cut through the bottom layer of phyllo.

10. Bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes, until the pastry is a deep golden brown.

11. While pastry is baking, make syrup. Combine all ingredients and bring to a boil. Remove from heat.

12. Once the pastry is done, immediately pour hot syrup over the entire pan.

13. Allow to stand at room temp. until completely cooled and the syrup has been absorbed into the pastry.

14. Re-run knife through dough, this time cutting through to the bottom of the pan.

15. Serve, enjoy and try not to eat the entire pan!

THE Sugar Cookies

I’ll admit, as much as I love baking, I’ve always had a bias against the cut-out sugar cookie. As a child I would carefully study the pictures of beautifully decorated sugar cookies in my mom’s illustrated Betty Crocker Cookbook. However, my batches of never looked anything close to the pictures. They’d puff. They’d bake unevenly. They’d stick to the rolling pin. Cats looked like panda bears, flowers like clouds. So, I dropped them off my list.

Until a few years ago that is.

My mom, ever the friendly consumer, somehow talked the proprieter of a cooking supply shop in Bozeman Montana into giving her their commercial recipe. Let me tell you, this recipe changed my life. Whether it has changed for better or worse has yet to be determined. You see, this recipe creates such beautiful cookies that people will beg you to make them. So you will. Then, they’ll get bitter when it’s been a couple of months and you haven’t produced any more. These may well be as close to crack as you can get with legal ingredients combined in a legal manner.

The recipe is simple if not a little labor intensive. Lots of butter. Lots of flour. Fragile, flaky, crumbly cookies these are not. The recipe is designed to get the little buggers to hold their shape when cooked. And they will—if you are careful about your technique. As good as the recipe itself is, the way in which you prepare the cookies is what makes them truly successful. That’s right, sugar cookie methodology. For this reason, I’ve listed the simple recipe below and then annotated the crap out of it with my own tips.

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Once you have the dough mixed up, abandon all you were ever taught about forming it into a ball and refrigerating. First you are going to roll it out. And THEN refrigerate it. So, grab a handful of dough and place in on a flat surface between two sheets of parchment.

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Now, roll it out. I like a thicker cookie (less chance of breakage), so I roll to somewhere between 1/4 and 1/8 inch. Do whatever works for you.

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Now, go ahead and clear some space in the fridge and stack the rolled -out dough one on top of the next. Let the dough chill for at least an hour. I usually let it cool over night. Once the dough is chilled, cut out your desired shapes and you are ready to bake. Note-you’ll have lots of scraps. Just ball then together, re-roll them out between parchment and store in fridge until ready to cut out next batch.

If you are anal retentive like I am, you add in one more step before baking.

I cut all of the dough out at once, and stack the un-baked cookies on to a cookie sheet (with layers separated by parchment) and put them back in to the fridge. Then I begin baking.

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Bake in the over for 12-15 minutes until the edges are just barely starting to brown.

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What’s that you say? You want some to have sugar sprinkles? Okay, here is the super secret method to getting a ton of sugar sprinkles or sanding sugar on to the cookie. First, pour a generous amount of your selected decoration into a shallow dish.

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Next, take a very cold un-baked cookie and place it front side down into the sprinkles.

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Now, push the cookie into the sprinkles. Don’t be shy, the cookie should be cold enough that it doesn’t lose its shape. Flip cookie back over and then bake as directed. The results are usually pretty cool.

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While we are sharing secrets, I might as well reveal what was until this very moment, my proprietary icing recipe.

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Ready? You Sure? Okay. To a bowl of sifted confectioner’s sugar, add fresh squeezed lemon juice. Then mix until you get the desired thickness. Pretty mind blowing right? Of course you could also use water or any other flavoring.

I like to use a two-step decorating process (really, it’s because I’m lazy and don’t have the patience to make a border and then foundation frost each cookie). First, I ice the cookie. Then I decorate it.

To ice, I get the icing very then. Then I quickly dip the tops of the cookies.

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I set the cookies on cooling racks and let the icing completely set up.

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Once the first coat of icing is set up, the cookies are ready to be fancified. Decorate as desired (same icing recipe, just thicker).

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And now you know all of my secrets.

THE Roll-out Cut-out Sugar Cookies

Makes about 6 dozen 3 inch cookies of 1/4 inch thickness

Ingredients:

  • 6 C flour, sifted
  • 1 TBS baking powder
  • 1 TSP salt (I use kosher)
  • 2 C sugar (I use ultrafine)
  • 2 C unsalted butter (same as 4 sticks), softened
  • 2 large eggs, room temp
  • 2 TSP vanilla
  • Parchment paper
  • Rolling pin
  • Cookie cutters

In standing mixer, cream butter and sugar. While mixing, sift together flour, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl. Once butter and sugar are creamed, mix in eggs one at a time. Add in vanilla. Decrease mixer setting to low and add in flour in 2-3 shifts. Mix until dough forms.

Roll out dough between parchment paper in three batches. Refrigerate for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut dough into desired shapes and place on parchment-lined cookie sheets. Bake for 12-15 minutes until just turning gold on the edges.

I’ve added some pictures of sugar cookies past just to show they work with any shape.

bees, butterflies and flowers

B is also for baby

And break a leg.  Ironically, the only year I made these since my employment for the enemy has been the only year the blue and gold have won.  I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to realize this but next year, my work colleagues are getting more gold and cough…cough…cardinal sugar cookies around the first week of December than they’ll know what to do with.

The many aliased Chocolate Peanut Butter Bonbon

AKA: White Trash Bon Bons

AKA (if you are my husband): Pete’s Schweedy Balls

When I was a kid, my mom only made these babies during the holidays. Once made, she would horde them in a very miserly and un-holiday-like fashion, dispensing them one at a time and only to those she deemed deserving. This may sound strange at first because a quick look at the ingredient list doesn’t hint at anything special. If anything, it suggests (at least to me) one of those strange recipes only found in Reader’s Digest and only ever made by grandmothers (you know, like chocolate covered chow mein noodles or green salad in a jello mold). This is where the first AKA name comes from. The second AKA is a reference to a very funny, very perverse Saturday Night Live skit with Alec Baldwin and those naughty, naughty NPR ladies on the Delicious Dish.

Something cool happens when the melted peanut butter and butter (that’s right-BOTH) melds with the rice crispies and diabtes inducing amounts of confectioners sugar. I’ll be honest, these are a little labor intensive and are best made with some patience over a couple of days. But, they aren’t hard and, if you like chocolate and peanut butter together, they’re worth the effort. Another bonus: they don’t really go stale. After the chocolate has completely and totally tempered (seriously, like, entirely, trust me), store them in an air-tight container or freezer bag and they’ll be good through New Years. If they last that long. Ha!

First, get the biggest bowl you have. The recipe below is doubled but take my advice, bigger is better here.

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Once the peanut butter and butter are melted and molten hot, carefully add to the dry mix.

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Make a marginal effort to mix this up with a spatula and then abandon ship and just do it with your (clean) hands. Remember, this stuff is hot at first. Mix until everything starts to clump together. If, even after thorough mixing the “dough” is very dry, feel free to melt some more butter and add. I won’t tell anyone.

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Now you are ready for balls. I like mine to fit into cute little wrappers so I weigh out each ball at 1/2 ounce. For this phase, the work is made easier if you have two people: one to measure out portions and the other to form the balls. In the photo below, my husband is playing the role of hand model. Luckily, he works for peanuts (or, in this case, peanut butter).

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Once you’ve formed all of the “dough” into balls, line them up in a single layer on a cookie sheet or two, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate over night.

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Now for the dipping. You’ll need a double boiler. I know that they actually sell pots called “double boilers” but the truth is, a stock pot and large glass bowl work just as well. If you’ve never used a double boiler, just add a couple of inches of water to the bottom of the stock pot and fit the bowl over. You want the water to simmer but not boil.

A note here on chocolate. I like to use chocolate chips for a  chocolate coating. They come with a stabilizer in them that helps them keep their cute little chip shape when baked. This also comes in handy when using them as a candy coating because the stabilizers will help keep the candy form once it has hardened. You could also use dipping or molding chocolate  here as well.

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As the chocolate melts, gently stir. When melted, the chocolate will be too thick to properly dip your balls into. So, you are going to want to thin-out the melted chocolate with vegetable oil. This isn’t as weird as it sounds. In fact, if you’ve ever been to an event with a chocolate fountain (or if you have one at home like my friend Amber), they use the same process to get and keep their chocolate flowing.

I don’t have use a standard amount of oil. I just add it a tablespoon at a time (incorporating in between) until the chocolate is smooth and runs off the spatula in a thick by steady (ie, not gloppy) stream when lifted out of the chocolate.

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Now, take a deep breath. The next part isn’t as scary as it seems. To dip the balls, I like to use wooden bamboo skewers (the kind you use for BBQ kabobs). I spear a ball with the sharp end and insert it just far enough that the ball feels stable (maybe 1/8 “).

Next, I quickly dip the ball and cover it in one swoop. I then let it drip over the bowl and use an additional bamboo skewer to help set it on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. My mom uses spoons with successful results. Try a few methods and find one that works for you. This phase takes some patience. It takes me about an hour to dip a batch (70 or so) balls.

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Now, set the dipped balls in a cool, safe place and let them set-up and temper over night. As they harden, their appearance will change from shiny-wet to a nice soft sheen.

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And now, you’ve got peanut butter bonbons and the world at your feet.

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Chocolate Peanut Butter Bonbons

Makes about 70 ½ ounce balls (before they are dipped in chocolate)

2 C peanut butter (smooth or creamy)

.5 C Butter

4.5 C sifted powdered sugar

3 C rice crispies

12-24 ounces semi sweet chocolate chips

Wooden kabob skewers (available at the grocery store)

To make balls

Melt together peanut butter and butter. Meanwhile, in a large bowl (largest you have), sift in powdered sugar. Add in rice cripsies and combine. Once peanut butter and butter mixture is melted and combined, pour over sugar and rice cereal. Using an oiled spatula, fold mixture until combined (it will be hot, but this is sometimes easier to do with clean hands). The mixture will be crumbly and if it is too dry, melt additional peanut butter and add until dough comes together.

Using a 1 ounce scoop or spoon, form into balls. Place balls onto a cookie sheet or large plate and refrigerate at least two hours (I just do it over night).

To dip in chocolate

Melt chocolate chips in a double boiler. Add oil as needed until chocolate is melted but consistency of hot fudge (not too runny, not too gloppy). To dip balls, spear one about ¼ way through with a wooden skewer. Quickly dip it in the chocolate to the entire ball is covered. Hold over chocolate and let extra chocolate drip back into the pot.

Set aside on parchment lined cookie sheets or plates to harden.

Notes:

For a firmer chocolate shell, you can add a stabilizing ingredient to the melted chocolate (such as paraffin or uncolored unscented candle wax). The chocolate will already have some stabilizers in it if you are using chocolate chops but adding the additional wax will help them harden.

The venerable rum butter nut

This is my absolute favorite holiday cookie. It’s a rich shortbread bite with pecans, butterscotch bits and a light rum-laced icing. Come December, radio stations can ring out holiday music and stores can deck the halls all they want, but for me, it isn’t Christmas until my first flaky bite of a rum butter nut cookie. Those who know me will probably chalk it up to the rum. Those who know me even better will know that on their own, I’m not a particular fan of any of the cookie’s main ingredients—even the rum. But, combine them and something miraculous happens.

I have absolutely no idea where the original recipe came from. My mom’s version is written on a pink card stock note card.  It’s so old that it calls for a margarine-like substance called Oleo. I have no idea if the stuff exists anymore which doesn’t matter because I’ve always just used butter.

I will warn you that this tends to be a polarizing cookie. People either really love it. Or don’t. To those who don’t, I say “more for me,”

The dough, once mixed, will be crumbly. Back in the dark ages, I used to form my own balls. Now I use a one-ounce scooper. The result is that mine come out as domes–not balls. I happen to be okay with this geometric configuration. If you are not, form the dough into balls of your desired size.

Go ahead and line them up on the cookie sheet in close proximity. Like any shortbread, they won’t expand during the baking process. You’ll know they are done when the bottoms are a light golden brown.

But wait, there’s more. Once completely cooled, these little nuggets get a nice bath in icing made of rum and confectioner’s sugar (you can always replace the rum with water).

The result? Pure cookie perfection.

Rum Butter Nut Cookies

Preheat over to 325 degrees

Makes about 5 dozen 1.5” balls

Cookies

  • 1.5 C butter, softened
  • 1 C confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • ½ t. salt
  • 3.5 C flour, sifted
  • 12 oz butterscotch chips
  • 2 C pecans

Glaze

  • 2 C confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • ¼ C light rum (or water)

With a standing or hand mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Sift salt and flour together. With mixer on low, add in flour mixture until dough just comes together. By hand, mix in chips and pecans. Shape into 1-1.5” balls (I use a 1 ounce scooper). Space evenly on parchment covered cookie sheets. Bake for 15 minutes or until the bottoms are just starting to brown.

Let cool completely.

Mix up glaze to desired consistency. Glaze cookies. Tip: Once glaze, I set them on a cooling rack to let the excess glaze drip off.