Friday, August 24, 2012

Pulverize Me!

I'll admit it:  I had my suspicions.

I'd never made a recipe from Saveur before, but the word on the street (so to speak) was that the magazine was more to look at and dream about than to actually use to make something.

And when I launched into this recipe for Mexican-style pecan shortbread cookies from Saveur's recent Mexico issue, I was a little dubious. For example, the ingredients called for 1 1/2 tsp of vanilla "preferably Mexican." I've made a number of baked goods with both Madagascar and Mexican vanilla and defy any blind taster to tell the difference.

I was even more doubtful when I saw the huge imbalance in the wet to dry ratio, only 6 tablespoons of butter for 3 cups of crushed pecans, sugar, and flour. And in fact, when I made the dough as instructed, it failed to "form a ball" in my food processor as promised. However, after adding 2 more tablespoons of butter to make an even stick, the dough came out just fine.

The results, however, have made a Saveur believer out of me.  Called "Polvorones" (which sounds like it should mean "Pulverized thing" to my tin Spanish ear), these earthy cookies have a rich pecan flavor with slight heat from ground "true cinnamon" or canela, which I bought in a Spanish grocery store. If you bake them just right, they're slightly chewy inside with a light powdery glaze on the outside that strikes a sweet high note.

This is definitely an instant classic.

(Mexican Pecan Shortbread Cookies)
Adapted from Saveur Magazine

3/4 cup pecans
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon (if you can find it, get canela bark or "true cinnamon" in a spice store or Mexican market, then grind it right before adding to the dough)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
8 tbsp unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup confectioner's sugar for dusting

1.  In a large food processor (not your mini-chop) process pecans and sugar into a fine meal. Then add the flour, cinnamon, and salt and pulse to combine.

2.  Add butter and vanilla and process until dough comes together (hopefully in a ball). Transfer to lightly floured work surface and form into a disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.

3.  Line two cookie sheets with parchment.  Press, roll, do what you have to to roll out dough until it is just under 1/2 inch thick. (The dough's a bit crumbly, so you may have to work it with your hands--it doesn't roll out nicely.) Using a 1 1/4" round cutter, cut out cookies and transfer to cookie sheets, about 1 inch apart. Reroll scraps and continue cutting until the dough is finished. Place in fridge to chill for 30 minutes and preheat oven to 350.

4.  Bake until lightly browned and set, about 14 minutes.  Place confectioner's guar in a large bowl and set aside. Let cool for five minutes on sheets, then transfer to wire racks.  You can A) Let them cool completely and then roll in confectioner's sugar for a more powdery coating or B) As they're still warm, roll them in confectioner's sugar for more of a wet glaze. The choice is yours.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Ice Cream Without a Machine--or Guilt!

Here's a quick test.

Take a look at the picture and tell me what you see.

Is this:

A)  A rich scoop of chocolate mousse

B)  A dollop of chocolate pudding

C)  A creamy bowl of full-fat chocolate ice cream

D)  None of the above

In fact, D is the answer. The above is my latest dessert experiment:  healthy, low-fat, and quite delicious ice cream made with frozen bananas.

The method couldn't be simpler. For each serving, peel a banana, cut into about four chunks, and freeze for several hours. (I tried freezing it in the peel and had a devil of a time trying to get the peel off.) If you want a fruit flavor, like blueberry, cherry, strawberry, or tangerine, freeze several chunks of those as well.

When you're ready, get out your food processor and toss in the banana chunks and flavorings (which could include cinnamon, as they did last night, or a heaping teaspoon of cocoa powder, as above, or maybe some delicious extract), plus a scant quarter cup of fat-free milk and some sugar or sweetener to taste. Whatever the flavor, you need to use the frozen banana to make your creamy ice cream base.

Churn, churn, churn, until the ice cream is smooth and creamy. Taste and adjust flavorings, and then you're done. You can also store the ice cream in the freezer, but let it sit for a bit on the counter before eating to soften.

The ice cream doesn't have the tang of dairy product or the richness of egg yolks you'd find in Ben and Jerry's, but it does have a light, fresh taste that surpasses some of those weirdly chalky "soft-serve" 99% fat free concoctions they sell in shopping malls. Plus, it's easy, fun, and inexpensive to make at home.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Cinnamon Coffee Cookies

Last December, I made these cookies as part of my holiday cookie spread. Imagine a chocolate chip cookie, now add some cinnamon-nutmeg-cloves and a dash of espresso powder to the batter and then replace the chocolate chips with crushed chocolate covered espresso beans.

Absolutely delicious--and I don't even like coffee!

I got this recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens Christmas Cookies magazine, and it's pretty straightforward.

These cookies are great both soft-baked or crisp, perfect for dunking in a mug of hot chocolate or coffee...
Cinnamon-Coffee Cookies
(adapted from BHG Holiday Cookies)

Yield:  about 42 cookies


1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening (I just substituted more butter here)
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp instant coffee crystals (I used Medaglio instant espresso powder)
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cloves
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1/2 cup chopped chocolate-covered coffee beans
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon

1.  In a large bowl, beat butter (and shortening if using) for 30 seconds, then add brown and 3/4 cup white sugar, coffee, and 2 tsp cinnamon, baking powder, nutmeg, baking soda, salt, and cloves. Beat to combine, then add eggs and vanilla, beating until combined. Beat in flour until combined, then fold in coffee beans.  Cover and chill for 1 hour.

2. Preheat oven to 325 and line cookie sheets with parchment.  In a small bowl, combine 3/4 cups of sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon.

3.  Remove chilled dough from fridge, roll 1 tbsp of dough into a ball, then dip in sugar-cinnamon mixture to coat. Place balls 2 inches apart on prepared cookie sheets.

4.  Bake for about 12 minutes, or until edges are set. Cool on cookie sheet for 2 minutes. (Leave longer for crisper cookies).  Transfer to wire rack and cool completely.