The Cook's Tour: December 2009

Monday, December 28, 2009

Sparkling Cranberry Gems





The luscious little sparklers you see before you are called "Sparkling Cranberry Gems," called that, I assume, from the coarse sparkling sugar coating them and the dried cranberries tucked inside (not much gets by me!).  


The fine folks at King Arthur Flour created this recipe and yesterday morning at 7am, I decided I needed one more cookie added to the "the list." For those of you playing along at home, you'll recall that I published my holiday baking list a couple of weeks ago and I have been very disciplined in sticking to it.  I did have one mishap:  Giada's Cornmeal Cranberry Cake.  A cake tester inserted into the middle of the cake came out clean, but as it started to cool it slowly cracked and fell in the center. When I tried to invert it onto a plate, the cake broke into a semi-liquid mess all over the counter!  So disappointing.  Well, as the French like to say, c'est la vie.  I guess one baking disaster out of all the baking I did this holiday season isn't too bad.

Back to the Sparkling Gems. These are super easy to make, delicious, and even a little bit healthy for you (check out the nutritional values at the end of the recipe).  Because I only had King Arthur whole wheat flour in the house, I used a half 'n half mixture of whole wheat and white. You can use 100% white flour if that's all you've got. Either way, I think you'll be happy.



Sparkling Cranberry Gems printable recipe

Cookies
1 cup (4 1/4 ounces) King Arthur White Whole Wheat 

Flour, organic preferred; or  King Arthur Unbleached 
All-Purpose Flour
1 1/2 cups (7 ounces) dried cranberries,  packed
2 tablespoons (1/2 ounce) confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) cold unsalted butter, 

cut into pats
3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) milk

Coating
scant 1/2 cup (about 3 1/2 ounces) coarse white 

sparkling sugar

Place the flour and dried cranberries in the bowl of a food 

processor. 
Process until the cranberries are coarsely shredded. 
Imagine a single dried cranberry cut into about 4 pieces: that’s 
your goal.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) 

two baking sheets.

Whisk together the flour/cranberry mixture, sugar, baking powder, 

and salt. Add the vanilla and butter, mixing until the butter is 
thoroughly distributed, but some pea-sized chunks still remain. 
Dribble in the milk while mixing; the dough will become cohesive.

Place the coarse sugar in a plastic bag; about 1-quart size 

should do.

Using a teaspoon cookie scoop (or a spoon), scoop the dough 

by 1 3/4-teaspoonfuls (about 1 ¼" balls) into the bag, 6 or 8 at 
a time. Close the top of the bag, and gently shake to coat the 
balls with sugar. Place them on the prepared baking sheet, 
and use the bottom of a glass to flatten them to about ¼" thick 
(about 1 ½" in diameter). Repeat with the remaining dough.

Bake the cookies for 16 to 17 minutes, until they’re set and 

barely, BARELY beginning to brown around the very edge; 
the tops shouldn’t be brown at all. Remove them from the oven, 
and cool right on the pan.
Yield: about 3 dozen cookies.

Nutrition Facts
Serving Size, 1 cookie (15g); Servings per Batch, 36; amount 

per serving: Calories 60, Calories from Fat 20, Total Fat 2g(3% DV), 
Saturated Fat 1g(6% DV), Trans Fat 0g, Cholesterol 5mg(2% DV), 
Sodium 30mg(1% DV), Total Carbohydrate 10g(3% DV), Dietary 
Fiber 1g(3% DV), Sugars 7g, Protein 1g, Vitamin A (2% DV), Vitamin C 
(0% DV), Calcium (2% DV), Iron (0% DV).


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Toffee Cookies with Dark Chocolate Glaze




These weren't on my baking list from the last post, but I came across this recipe on the wonderful Leite's Culinaria and they sounded so good I decided they deserved a spot on the list. By the way, if you don't already subscribe to David Leite's newsletter, I suggest you hustle on over to his site and sign up (the site has all kinds of fabulous recipes and great giveaways).


This recipe is from the cookbook Salty Sweets by Christie Mathieson. I am usually not drawn to toffee recipes, but something pulled me to it and I'm so glad it did. The cookie is rich and buttery (good just on its own -- well, I had to be sure it was worthy of the chocolate, didn't I?), and then you add this lovely layer of dark chocolate, top it with chopped, toasted pecans, and just the barest sprinkle of sea salt...need I go on? I'm sure no one is even reading the rest of this post because you are all running to the kitchen to gather the ingredients for this delectable cookie. That's OK, I'm not hurt. Go forth and bake!





Printable Recipe


Toffee Cookies with Dark Chocolate Glaze


Makes 20-24 Cookies


1 C unsalted butter
1 C packed dark brown sugar
2 egg yolks
2 C all-purpose flour
1 t sea salt
4 oz bittersweet chocolate
1/4 C chopped, toasted pecans


Preheat oven to 350. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.


In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and brown sugar. Add the egg yolks one at a time and mix well. Combine the flour and salt in a small bowl, then add the flour mixture to the butter-sugar mixture, mixing until well combined.


Shape the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 10 minutes.


Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to about 1/4 inch thickness. Cut out circles with a 2-inch round cutter and place cookies on baking sheet.


Bake the cookies for 11-13 minutes, until the edges are golden brown. Let cool completely on the baking sheet. Bring water to a simmer in a double boiler, or set up a heatproof bowl over a small saucepan with water in the bottom. Melt the chocolate over the simmering water. When the cookies are cool, spread them gently with a thin layer of melted chocolate. Before the chocolate dries, sprinkle lightly with the pecans and a few grains of fleur del sel. Let the chocolate set. The cookies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.




Sunday, December 20, 2009

Holiday Baking

How are you doing with your holiday baking? I have been doing alot of baking since our return from the islands a couple of weeks ago. Let's see, so far I have made:

  • Mexican Wedding Cookies
  • Chocolate Cream Cups
  • Lemon Pistachio Biscotti
  • Chocolate-Chip Walnut Espresso Biscotti
  • Toasted Coconut Shortbread
  • and just today, World Peace Cookies
Whew! That's alot of baking. And I'm not done yet. Before Christmas next Friday, I will probably bake another batch of Mexican Wedding Cookies (because they are that good and that easy), and perhaps more World Peace Cookies because they freeze so well. Also on my baking agenda this week: Cranberry and Cornmeal Cake with Caramel-Walnut Topping (for Christmas dinner dessert) and Holiday Bundt Cake (probably to take to our friends in North Carolina for the New Year - shhh, don't tell them).

I have not made the Cranberry-Cornmeal Cake (courtesy of Giada deLaurentis) before but it sounds good and quite festive so I thought I'd give it a go. You can get the recipe here if you'd like to try it.

The Holiday Bundt Cake is a favorite from Dorie Greenspan's award-winning "Baking From My Home to Yours." I made this a few times last year during the holidays and everybody loved it. I think my friends in NC will enjoy it. It includes all the fabulous flavors of the season: cranberries, pumpkin, apples, pecans, cinnamon (you get the idea) and it keeps well. It's great dressed up with a little freshly whipped cream for dessert or cut into nice thick slices, toasted up for brunch.

The World Peace Cookies (what a great name for a cookie) are also from Dorie Greenspan's book and couldn't be easier, or more delicious. Very chocolate-y and moist, with the added touch of sea salt, to give you that sweet/salty sensation that everybody loves.

Let me know what delicious holiday treats you are baking this week (use the comment section below)!

Finally, one quick housekeeping note: I've added a "search" function to the blog (over in the right-hand nav) to make it easier to find a recipe or a link from a past entry.

Happy Holidays!

Eat well, stay warm, and be happy!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Island Time






Where does the time go? I am terribly remiss in not having written to you in almost a month! It seems like yesterday when we were just about to leave for "Thanksgiving in the Islands" and now it's a week before Christmas. I don't know about you, but I cannot keep up with the whooshing of the days racing by me and not enough time to do the things you really want to do (like talking with you, my culinary friends).

Anyway, enough philosophical waxing, you're probably saying! What about the food? Yes, we'll get to that. But first let me tell you about St John. If you want an unhurried, relaxed vacation in the sun, in a tropical locale (in the US), where there is an "island vibe," get thee to St John. While not totally unspoiled, but with 75% of the island owned by the National Park Service, you can be relatively sure that high-rise condos will not appear on the shoreline.

And while beautiful vistas and cool rum drinks are always on my list for a tropical vacation, my real focus on ANY trip is, of course, the food! Since this was not my first visit to St John, I had a couple of "must have" foods on my itinerary. First stop: what I call the "ultimate cheeseburger in paradise." I have been reminiscing about this burger since my first trip to St John 17 years ago. This, my friends, is what a cheeseburger is all about: flavorful, juicy, charcoal-grilled, on a toasted roll; all made even better if eaten in a bar at the water's edge. Said burger can be found at "Skinny Leg's Bar and Grill - A Pretty OK Place." This is the formal name; locals just call it Skinny's. Needless to say, this was our first stop after getting settled and it did not disappoint.

Next up: one of the best known island foods, conch fritters. Conch (pronounced konk) is a shellfish, also known as whelk. In the Caribbean it is served raw with lemon, onion, and minced tomato for a cold cocktail, or minced and made into a chowder. Or fried into fritters, which is how I like mine. You really want to get your conch fritters made by a local, if possible. One of the most highly regarded native cooks on St John is Miss Vie. Miss Vie and her daughter operate "Miss Vie's Snack Shack" on the far end of St John. Miss Vie's is really just a roadside shack that you could easily miss (save the one or two signs along the winding road that point you in the right direction). There are three or four items on Miss Vie's menu, but conch fritters are what I came for. Sweet morsels of conch meat with a light breading, fried crisp. Served on a paper plate - it's just you, your food, and that gorgeous blue water a short walk away. Does it get any better than this? Only when accompanied by Miss Vie's delicious Coconut Tart. Made with a cookie crust and exploding with fresh coconut, this was the perfect ending for a tropical lunch.
Miss Vie's has a private beach ($2.50/pp on the honor system) and after you've feasted on the delicious West Indian fare, you walk through the family cemetery (I'm not kidding) to a gorgeous, soft powder beach. All you need is a towel, Miss Vie even provides the beach chairs. A lovely way to spend an afternoon, I think.

Echo