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.