Saturday, September 25, 2010

Hurry Up! Butter Cookies!

photo by Anthony Palatta

A former creative writing student of mine sent me this recipe, a favorite in her family which comes from the Settlement Cookbook. They're called Hurry Up Butter Cookies, and if you're in a hurry, these are easy to mix together, though I found they took a while to bake in my dysfunctional oven. (More on that, another time.)

The ingredients include the usual suspects:  flour, butter, sugar, egg, plus some lemon zest and juice. I added 1/4 teaspoon of salt for good measure. You press the mixture into a 9 x 9, then sprinkled with chopped nuts. I went for almonds, my favorite.

My student, the talented fiction writer/poet/quilter Cathleen Bailey, told me to bake the cookies in a slow oven, meaning 300 degrees, for 20 to 30 minutes. I'm never sure what temperature is happening in the clunker in my apartment, so mine took a lot longer than that. One thing to note:  let the cookies sit for a while. They need time to settle.

After cutting them into squares, they taste a bit like a rich shortbread candy, perfect with tea or coffee. Here's Cathleen's recipe (plus my addition of salt).

Tip:  Often I cut the recipe in half. There is still enough batter to spread in the pan, but the cookies are just a little thinner.

1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg, separated
Juice and zest of 1/2 lemon (back in the day, the ladies just said rind instead of zest, we're so fancy)
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped nuts
Cream butter and sugar, add egg yolk, continue beating, then add lemon and flour.  Mix thoroughly until well blended.  Pat dough into a greased and floured 9 inch square pan.  Brush with slightly beaten egg white, and sprinkle with nuts.  Bake in slow oven, 300 F for 20 to 30 minutes.  Cut while hot into squares.
My mother loved The Settlement Cook Book (c. 1950) which is where this recipe originates. 

Friday, September 17, 2010

Is Noodle Kugel a Dessert?

photo by Anthony Palatta

How is "Kugel," or the Jewish version of noodle pudding, like a platypus?  Because they're both unclassifiable.

Is kugel a dessert, a side dish, a main course, or an appetizer?  If it's a dessert, what kind of dessert is it?  A sweet casserole?  A cake?  I ultimately decided on the label of "pudding," though I'm not wedded to that decision.

Whatever kugel is, it is certainly delicious and easy.  You begin by boiling egg noodles according to the directions on the package for baked noodle dishes (meaning you want to err on the side of undercooking).  Drain the noodles, then mix in your favorite dairy products. My mom's version has sour cream and cottage cheese, plus some butter and beaten eggs. Almost all versions have cinnamon and sugar in the mix. Many include raisins, but my family has never been that big on raisins, so we do drained crushed pineapple.

Throw it all in a 9 x 13.  At this point you can reserve it in the fridge if you want and just bake it off when you're ready to eat it.  Or go ahead and sprinkle with a crumb topping, consisting of cornflake crumbs, brown sugar, and melted butter. Bake it for about an hour,
until you see some golden brown action. Cut into squares that are crunchy on the outside, soft, buttery, and sweet inside.

I find that kugel tastes best when it's fresh. Leftovers tend to dry out, resulting in the rubbery stuff you may have tasted in restaurants.

Here's the exact recipe:

Noodle Kugel

16 ounces egg noodles, medium are preferred but any size will work.
1 lb cottage cheese  
½ pint sour cream
½ stick butter
3 eggs beaten
2 tbsp sugar
a little cinnamon
½ tsp salt
1 cup of drained crushed pineapple

Cook noodles according to directions on package for casseroles, drain, and then mix all the rest of ingredients in a 9 x 13 pan.  Add milk if needed (though my mother notes it's never needed).  Can be made a day ahead, and stored in fridge, but don’t put on the topping.

When you're ready to bake it, cover with the topping (recipe below) and bake at 350 for about 45 minutes.  You want the kugel to be golden brown, not burned.


½ cup brown sugar
½ cup cornflake crumbs
½ stick butter

Melt the butter, add crumbs and then sprinkle on top of kugel.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Ice Cream Cake

photo by Anthony Palatta

If you're eager to impress your friends with a homemade dessert but not much of a cook, go out and buy a springform pan and make an ice cream cake.

This version is simple to put together, especially if you use all store-bought ingredients. The recipe comes from It begins with a batch of small chocolate chip cookies. Again, you could buy these in the store, but I decided to bake my own, from this Alton Brown recipe.

I ended up with twice as many cookies as I needed, so I'm freezing the extras and will bring them to class this week for my students.

Next, crush about 20 cookies, either by hand or in the food processor, to get cookie crumbs, mixed in with melted butter. Then press the results in the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan to get your crust. I did this while the cookies hadn't quite cooled so the chocolate chips melted into the crumbs, resulting in a candy-like bottom for my cake.

Cover the crust with some hot fudge topping, line the edges of the pan with cookies, and freeze until firm. Meanwhile take some vanilla ice cream out of the fridge to soften. You want the best quality ice cream you can find. I went to my local Ben and Jerry's and bought two quarts of handpacked vanilla, as directed by the recipe, which can get pretty pricey. Actually, that turned out to be far too much ice cream. One quart and one pint will do just fine.

When the crust is chilled, spread 1 quart of softened ice cream on top and freeze that layer until firm. Next, with a small ice cream scoop, scoop your pint of ice cream into balls and cover the surface of the cake. Then drizzle with hot fudge topping. Wrap the cake very carefully, with plastic wrap and then double foil. Otherwise you'll get some freezer burn.

Freeze overnight, unmold the cake, and bowl over your friends.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Zucchini for Dessert

photo by Anthony Palatta

When I serve this delicious dessert, either as cupcakes or cake slices, part of the fun is asking friends to guess the key ingredient in what they're eating. They rarely believe me when I tell them it's zucchini.

I first made this zucchini cake when I was living in Italy in the month of August, prime zucchini season there. (I was lucky enough to be doing a writing residency at the Civitella Ranieri Foundation in Umbria.) Every day we ate zucchini, sliced and sauteed, stuffed with bread crumbs, and shaved over pasta.  But of course it takes an American to think of grating it up and adding it with brown sugar to cake batter.

When I made this in Italy, it was fun searching for the Italian translation for ingredients like "confectioner's sugar," which you need for the cream cheese frosting. By the way, "cream cheese" in Italian is "Philadelphia," as in the brand name.  It's the only kind available there, and the packaging is exactly the same as it is in the States.

The recipe, a reader contribution to Everyday Food, couldn't be simpler. (Click here for exact instructions.) I omit the nuts and sometimes vary the dark brown sugar with light brown. Also, I find the cooking time called for (40-45 minutes) is WAY too long. 25 minutes were plenty in my oven for cupcakes. 30 minutes is good if you're making this as a single layer cake.

The taste of zucchini cake is very similar to that of carrot cake, only a bit lighter and sweeter, and the texture is fluffier. The warm cinnamon-brown sugar flavor of the cake makes for a perfect pairing with a rich cream cheese frosting. And it's a great way to sneak in an extra vegetable serving to your day.