Sunday, December 20, 2015

Fancy Cookies: Cocoa Nut Swirls

I'm always on the hunt for a new cookie recipe. Especially a fancy cookie that offers more interest than a drop cookie. These nut swirls have a unique shape and a surprising flavor combination of nuts, spice and cocoa...and other good stuff.

While these cookies pair well with a cup of coffee or tea, they stand out on a cookie tray. They're more understated that their sugary counterpart - rather a gown up treat with a hint of chocolate, spice and essence of liqueur. And they're much easier to make than their shape suggests.

I included Nocino in the filling. It's a liqueur made from walnuts, orange peels and spices (and a local distillery just started making it). The Nocino compliments the nuts and spices in the filling. If you prefer, you can substitute coffee or hazelnut liqueur.

Feel free to roll the cookies as you like to form the design. I rolled each half of the recipe differently to make traditional palmier and circular shapes.

Make dough. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes until easy to handle.

I like the flavor of Nocino for this cookie. If you
prefer, use a coffee or hazelnut liqueur.

Roll each dough portion to a 12x8 inch rectangle. Spread
the filling to within 1/2 inch of the long edge.

Roll the long edges inward until the dough meets for a palmier
shape. Refrigerate dough log for 4-24 hours. Slice and bake.

Or roll up beginning with the long edge for a circular shape.

I made both shapes.

These cookies add an interesting design
(and unique flavor) to your cookie trays. 

Cocoa Nut Swirls
Adapted from Better Homes & Gardens
Yield: 72 cookies

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sifted powdered sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons Nocino, coffee liqueur or hazelnut liqueur
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans or hazelnuts, toasted
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
3 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

Make filling: combine cream cheese, powdered sugar, cocoa powder, 2 tablespoons flour, and the liqueur with an electric mixer on low to medium speed until smooth. If desired, stir in nuts. Cover; set aside.

Make dough: beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add granulated sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Beat until combined, scraping bowl occasionally. Beat in egg, milk, and vanilla until combined. Beat in as much of the 2-3/4 cups flour as you can with the mixer. Using a wooden spoon, stir in any remaining flour. Divide dough in half. Cover and chill about 30 minutes or until dough is easy to handle.

Assemble: On a lightly floured surface, roll dough, one portion at a time, into a 12x8-inch rectangle. Spread each rectangle with half of the filling, spreading to within 1/2 inch of the long edges. For palmier shape roll up the two long edges to meet in the center. For circular shape, roll beginning with long edge. Brush the dough seam with water and lightly press together. Wrap each roll in plastic wrap. Place on a tray or cookie sheet. Chill for 4 to 24 hours.

Bake: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease cookie sheets; set aside. Using a thin-blade knife, cut rolls into 1/4-inch slices. Place slices, cut sides down, 1 inch apart on the prepared cookie sheets. Bake about 8 minutes or until edges are firm and bottoms are lightly browned. Transfer to wire racks; cool.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Fancy Cookies: Tassies

My family refers to tassies as "little pecan pies". I've made these cookies with several nut varieties, but the shells make a great crust for lots of fillings including pastry cream, pumpkin filling or even savory seasoned eggs.

The trickiest part of these cookies is making uniform shells. I divide the dough into eight equal pieces, then roll each dough piece into three balls. Each dough ball gets pressed into the well of a mini muffin tin.

Pressing the pastry into cups is much easier with the use of a tart tamper. This simple tool helps spread the dough evenly in the cup. It's a cheap investment and works with both a mini and regular muffin tins, depending on the size of your tarts.

For these tassies, I used hicans, a cross between a hickory nut and a pecan. Feel free to use the nut you prefer: pecans, walnuts, pistachios, macadamia, filberts or a mix. These cookies hold well in the freezer - just place in an airtight container and consume within six months.

Begin by making pastry: combine cream cheese, butter and flour.

Form dough into a flattened circle, wrap and refrigerate for one hour.

While the dough rests, prepare the nuts. These delicious hicans grow well in Ohio.

Divide dough into eight wedges. Form each wedge
into three balls for a total of 24 balls.

Drop pastry into the wells of a mini muffin pans.

A tart tamper makes quick work of forming the shells.

Just coat the end in flour, then push into dough ball.

The dough will be pushed around the tamper, lining the well.

Two pans done in a couple minutes!

Make the filling. I like using a measuring cup with a spout to help fill the cups.

Fill the cups with about 1 Tbsp. filling and bake.

Little pecan (hican) pies!

Pecan Tassies
Makes 24
Adapted from Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook

1/2 cup butter, softened
3oz full fat cream cheese, softened
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 egg
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 Tbsp butter, melted
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans (or substitute your favorite nut)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Make pastry: Beat 1/2 cup butter and cream cheese until combined. Stir in flour. Form into a ball, flatten slightly, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour. Divide pastry into eight equal pieces. Roll each piece into three balls for a total of 24 pastry balls. Place one each in the wells of a mini muffin pan. Using a tart tamper, or your fingers, push pastry into the bottom and up the sides of the well.

Make filling: Combine egg, brown sugar and melted butter. Stir in nuts. Spoon or pour about 1 Tbsp. filling into each pastry cup. Bake in a 325 degree oven for 30 minutes. Cool slightly in pan. Remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Homemade Dressing (aka Stuffing)

What the difference between dressing and stuffing? It depends on where it's cooked. Dressing is cooked in a baking dish while stuffing is cooked inside meat (like a turkey or pork chops). Growing up we ate dressing primarily around the holidays. Today, we eat it at the holidays and occasionally as an accompaniment to less formal meals including pork chops and chicken breasts.

A dressing is a combination of starch, fruit, veg, nuts and seasonings. You can make new varieties just by swapping out ingredients. Below is my recipe for turkey dressing. When making a traditional dressing, I always include carrots, onions and celery. But that's just the beginning.

Starches: If you have a favorite dressing, you can switch up flavors by changing the starch. Instead of white bread, consider using wheat, cinnamon raisin, corn or pumpkin bread, any kind of grain (cooked rice, farro, barley), or omit the starch and pump up the veg.

Fruits, veg and nuts: Begin with a saute of carrots, celery and onions and then add in your favorites: mushrooms, roasted root vegetables, shredded cabbage or Brussels sprouts, spinach, fresh apples or pears, raisins or other dried fruits like dates, apricots, currants or cranberries. I also like a bit of crunch in my dressing and often add walnuts, pecans, hickory nuts, chestnuts or almonds.

Herbs & seasonings: I always add fresh parsley to dressings. Plus rosemary, sage, chives, thyme or lemon/orange zest.

Here's a few of my favorite combos. All include chopped, sauteed carrots, onions and celery in addition to:
  • Corn or pumpkin bread, cooked breakfast sausage, dried cranberries, pecans and sage
  • Cinnamon bread, bacon, fresh apples, walnuts and rosemary
  • Rice, dried apricots, almonds, thyme and lemon zest
  • Skip the starch: Mushrooms, spinach, walnuts or pine nuts, parsley, blue cheese (I like this in a rolled beef roast).

Slice and cube bread. Toast cubes in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes to dry.

Start by cooking bacon in butter. Using two fats enhances flavor of the finished dressing.

While bacon cooks, chop onion, carrot and celery.

Saute veg until onions are translucent, about 10 minutes.

While veg cooks, chop herbs. I use a mix of parsley and sage.

In a large bowl, combine bread, cooked bacon, sauteed
veg, pecans, cranberries and herbs. Toss to combine.

Mix in 3 cups stock. Allow bread to absorb liquid. Add more stock
if necessary. Bread should be moist, but still hold together.

Place in a 9x13 pan. Cover with foil bake at 375 degrees
for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 15 minutes.

Traditional Poultry Dressing
Makes 10 servings

2 Tbsp butter
4 slices thick cut bacon, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
8 cups bread cubes, toasted if fresh
1 cup pecans
1 cup dried cranberries
3 Tbsp fresh parsley chopped
2 Tbsp fresh sage, chopped
3-4 cups poultry stock

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large pan, saute bacon in butter until bacon is crispy. Remove bacon and drain on a paper towel. Saute carrots, onion and celery in remaining fat in pan until vegetables are softened and onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. While veg is cooking place bread cubes to a large bowl. Add cooked bacon, veg, pecans, cranberries and herbs to bread. Toss to combine. Add 3 cups stock, allow bread to soak all stock. Add up to another cup, if necessary (liquid required depends on dryness of bread). Place in a 9x13 baking dish and cover with foil. Bake 30 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 15 minutes. Serve.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Fancy Cookies: Pistachio-Vanilla Bean

We eat more pistachios around the holidays. Something about pistachios with a side of red wine reminds me of Christmas festivities. So when I saw this recipe I thought it might make the perfect addition to the holiday cookie box (minus the wine).

These shortbread cookies are stuffed with pistachios, then dipped in white chocolate and sprinkled with more pistachios. They come together fast and I like the ability to mix up a batch and store in the fridge for up to two days until I'm ready to bake.

The white chocolate is a nice foil to the salty, dry roasted nuts. If your tastes lean towards less sweet, more savory shortbread, you could omit it. Or swap it out for a dip in dark chocolate. These cookies freeze well. Just place in an airtight container and place in the freezer. Consume within three months.

Mix dough ingredients, form into a log and refrigerate at least 2 hours.

Refrigerated dough is easier to slice. 

Slice logs into 1/4 inch slices. Place on baking sheet
and bake at 375 degrees for about 8 minutes.

Allow cookies to cool slightly on baking sheet. Remove to a rack to cool completely.

Melt chocolate and shortening. Dip half of cookie in
chocolate and sprinkle with additional nuts.

Sweet, salty, buttery deliciousness!

Pistachio-Vanilla Bean Cookies
from Better homes and Gardens
Makes about 50 cookies

1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
1 vanilla bean
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup finely chopped salted dry-roasted pistachio nuts
6 oz white chocolate, cut up
2 tsp shortening
1/4 cup finely chopped salted dry-roasted pistachio nuts

In a large bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high for 30 seconds. Add sugar, vanilla, and salt. Beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Split vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Using the tip of a knife, scrape seeds from vanilla bean halves into butter mixture. Beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Using a wooden spoon, stir in any remaining flour. Stir in 1 cup pistachios.

Divide dough in half. Shape each half into a 1 1/2-inch-thick log (about 7 inches long). Wrap each log in waxed paper; twist the ends. Chill for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper; set aside. Cut chilled logs into 1/4-inch slices. Place slices about 1 inch apart on prepared cookie sheets. Bake about 8 minutes or just until firm and browned on the bottoms. Cool on cookie sheets for 1 minute. Transfer to wire racks; cool.

Combine white chocolate and shortening in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat in 30 second increments, stirring often, until melted. Dip half of each cookie into melted chocolate mixture. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup reserved nuts. Place on a wire rack over waxed paper and let stand until set.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Fancy Cookies: Molasses Spice Cookies with Orange Drizzle

Molasses and spice remind me of my grandmother. She introduced me to traditional gingerbread cake - straightforward with lots of molasses and ginger topped with a bit of whipped cream. The cake was one of her favorites. Growing up in Appalachia her family often used molasses, rather than sugar, in confections, as a pancake topper, even to sweeten coffee.

These cookies are inspired by those flavors. The drizzle of orange glaze adds brightness and complements the cookie's cinnamon and ginger. They're not too fancy (or, fussy as grandma said of overly done baked goods), but they are tasty and pair well with a cup of coffee or tea. Grandma would've approved!

Start by creaming butter and sugar until fluffy.

Mix in egg and molasses.

Mix in combined flour, baking soda, spices and salt. Batter will be thick.

Using a small dasher or teaspoon, place dough on lined cookie sheet.
Bake 7 minutes. Cool 1 minute on baking sheet
before removing to a rack to cool completely.

Combine drizzle ingredients. Using a teaspoon, lightly drizzle over cookies.

Soft, spiced cookies topped with sweet orange glaze. 

Molasses Spice Cookies
makes about 2 1/2 dozen cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/4 cup molasses

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger and salt. With an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until combined. Beat in egg and then molasses until combined. Reduce speed to low; gradually mix in dry ingredients, just until a dough forms.

Using a 1-inch dasher, scoop dough onto parchment lined baking sheet. Bake 7 minutes. Cool 1 minute on baking sheet. Transfer to racks to cool completely.

Orange Drizzle
1 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
grated zest of 1 orange
4-5 tsp milk
Combine sugar and zest. Add enough milk to make icing easy to drizzle. Using a teaspoon, drizzle over cooled cookies. Allow icing to harden before storing.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Fancy Cookies: Peanut Butter Sandwich

I have a few holiday cookies that I make each year (like cream horns and decorated cut-outs) but I also like adding a few new varieties to the mix. This year I'm adding this tasty peanut butter sandwich cookie.

I'm a big peanut butter fan and these cookies don't disappoint. Tender peanut butter cookies are filled with peanut butter and marshmallow creme - similar to fluffernutters.  If you prefer less peanut butter, consider using a chocolate or hazelnut filling.

Sandwich cookies are as easy as drop cookies but seem much fancier. These come together fast and hold well in the freezer. 

Combine butter or margarine and peanut butter. 

Add sugars, baking soda and powder.

Add eggs, vanilla and flour.

Using a small dasher, place batter on a cookie sheet.
Bake for 7-8 minutes at 375 degrees.

Combine filling ingredients, beating until well combined.

Place filling between cookies. Enjoy!

Peanut Butter Cookies
adapted from Better Homes and Gardens
makes about two dozen sandwich cookies

1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/2 cup chunky or smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine butter/margarine and peanut butter. Beat on medium high speed for 30 seconds. Add sugars, baking soda and baking powder. Beat in egg and vanilla until combined. Stir in flour.

Scoop dough using a 1-inch dasher. Roll in granulated sugar if desired. Place on baking sheet 1 inch apart. Bake in preheated oven for 7-8 minutes. Cool. 

Peanut Butter Cream Filling
3/4 cup chunky or smooth peanut butter
3/4 cup marshmallow creme
3 Tbsp milk
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 Tbsp powdered sugar

In a medium bowl whisk together peanut butter, marshmallow creme, milk and cinnamon. Gradually whisk in powdered sugar.

Assemble: Turn half of baked cookies so bottom side is up and top each with about a teaspoon of filling. Top each with a second cookie. Serve.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Baking Now Tour: Petit Fours

Welcome to the Baking Now Tour! I'm excited to be a part of a conversation of favorite holiday treats. In case you're unfamiliar with Baking Now, a new tour stop features a cherished recipe each Tuesday until Christmas. Guests also have a chance to win an ebelskiver pan! My friend Beth over at More Than Oregano organized the tour and has all the details (including how to enter the contest).

I have a love of baking that started with my grandma and mom, two fantastic bakers who eschewed store bought baked goods. Homemade dessert was a part of every meal. I didn't really eat commercial confections until I started visiting the homes of my friends. And, to my young way of thinking, I thought my friends were SO LUCKY! Oreos were the bomb!

Growing up we made a handful of Christmas cookies, most of which were offered on party buffets. Desserts at our sit-down meals were cakes and pies. The recipe below is a combination of cake, pie and cookie: white cake, filled with lemon curd all in a bit-sized package. My no-nonsense grandma would've found these Petit Fours fancy, and I know she would've loved them!

I usually begin my holiday baking in late October. In addition to seeking out cookies that are unique, I need cookies that freeze well. I like being able to pull them from the freezer, fill a box and give to clients, friends and family. Frozen cookies also make entertaining easy - I have dessert ready to go should guests drop in.

These Petit Fours are the perfect two-bite after dinner sweet. The cake has a fine, tender crumb, reminiscent of a traditional white wedding cake. If you don't like white cake, substitute your favorite cake flavor (any 9-inch, two layer recipe will work).

I filled the cakes with lemon curd which is best made a day in advance. If you don't want to make curd, feel free to use commercially prepared or your favorite cake filling, jam, fondant, etc. This method can yield a variety of flavor combinations (I especially like chocolate cakes with peanut butter filling for Ohio State tailgates).

Happy Holidays y'all! Wishing you a bountiful table surrounded by people you love.

Make the lemon filling. I use a makeshift double boiler: place
a pot on the stove. Fill with 2-3 inches of water.

Place a bowl on top of the pot. Make sure the pot doesn't sit in the water.

Combine filing ingredients in the bowl. Cook
and stir over medium heat for 15 minutes.

The curd is ready when it coats a spoon. Resist the urge to
continue cooking as the curd will continue to thicken as it cools.

Cover and chill in refrigerator overnight. The filling will become very thick.

Make the cake. Begin by greasing a 12"x17" baking sheet. Line with
parchment paper, leaving an overhang. Grease paper.

Cream together butter, shortening, baking powder, sugar, salt and extracts until fluffy.

Add egg whites, flour and milk. Batter will be creamy and light.

Spread batter evenly in prepared pan. Bake & cool.

Using paper overhang, lift cooled cake from pan.

Slice in half, making two 12" x 8.5" halves. Spread lemon filling on one half.

Stack other half of cake on top of filling.Trim cake to 
even edges. I usually remove 1/2 inch from each side.

Cut cake into 1.5" x 1.5" squares.

Make fondant: Melt chocolate. Combine with
powdered sugar, corn syrup, hot water and vanilla.

To coat, place cake on fork. Use a spoon to drizzle fondant over cake. 
Set covered cake on cooling rack to dry. If fondant becomes 
thick, place bowl over a pot of simmering water to warm.

If desired, decorate dipped cakes with colored sugar or piping icing.

Allow fondant to dry. Serve or place in freezer and consume within three months.

Lemon Filling
Makes 1 1/2 cups
This tangy filling pairs well with white cakes, but is also great served with fresh berries. Resist the urge to cook more than 15 minutes. While the curd will seem loose, it thickens as it cools. It's finished when it coats the back of a spoon.

4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup lemon juice
zest of 3 lemons
1/8 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
6 Tbsp butter, cut into pieces
Combine all the ingredients in a double boiler. Cook and stir for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, place in a bowl and place plastic wrap coated with cooking spray directly on curd to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate overnight.

Makes 26-30 finished petit fours

8 Tbsp butter, softened
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 3/4 cups superfine sugar
3/4 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
5 large egg whites
2 3/4 cups cake flour
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 12"x17" rimmed baking sheet. Fit with parchment paper leaving overhang on sides. Grease the parchment paper. 

In a large mixing bowl cream together butter, shortening, baking powder, sugar, salt and extracts until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add egg whites, one at a time, beating after each addition. Stir one-third of the flour into mixture, then half the milk, another third of the flour, remaining milk and remaining flour. Scrape the bottom and sides of bowl occasionally.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 23-25 minutes. Cool completely. Lift cake out of pan using parchment paper. Set aside.

Poured Fondant
2 cup white chocolate chips
8 cups (2 lb.) confectioner's sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp hot water
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt

Melt the white chocolate in the microwave, stirring until smooth. Sift sugar into a large bowl. Add the corn syrup and hot water to sugar, stirring until smooth. Stir in melted chocolate and vanilla to the sugar mixture. If the mixture is too thick to pour, reheat it briefly over a pot of simmering water. The mixture pours smoothly at about 100°F.

Cut cake in half to make two 12" x 8.5". Spread 1 1/2 cups filling evenly over one of the pieces. Place the second cake half on top. Trim edges. Cut cake into 1 1/2" strips. Cut each strip into 1 1/2" wide pieces.

Using a fork, dip bottom of each cake into warm fondant. Using a spoon, drizzle additional fondant over top and sides to encase cake. Set petit four on a cooling rack. Decorate if desired. Let fondant completely set up. Serve or place in freezer and consume within three months.