Monday, December 22, 2014

Holiday Cookie Blowout

Maybe I went overboard.  But I was having too much fun!

This year, when I was planning my usual holiday cookies, I resolved to limit myself to a dozen or so favorites, like gingerbread trees, girl scout thin mints, and my mom's sugar cookies. But as I got going, I started thinking about how to balance textures, flavors, and colors, adding an oatmeal lace cookie for crispness, linzer cookies to get some fruit flavors in there, and Italian rainbows for color.

Sometimes I was intrigued by the look of a cookie, like the chocolate rosette sandwiches with marshmallow buttercream.  Or I was seduced by the concept, like chocolate brownie-stuffed chocolate chip cookies.  I had almond paste left over from my rainbow cookies--what to do?  I know, make pignoli cookies!

The result was a total of 32 different kinds of cookies, which I'll list below, with as many links as I could find so you can try making them yourself.  My secret was to get started before Thanksgiving (and not to host Thanksgiving!).  Almost all cookie dough can be made in advance and frozen, which I did by wrapping the dough in plastic wrap, then a layer of tin foil, and then inserted into sealed freezer plastic bags to ward off any potential for freezer burn.  Many cookies also freeze well after they're baked, particularly shortbread-style cookies, but even my raspberry crumb bars come out of the freezer perfectly fresh and delicious.

Judging by my and my friends' reactions, the biggest crowd pleasers were:  red velvet whoopee pies, chocolate rosettes with marshmallow buttercream, peanut butter sandwich cookies with peanut butter and chocolate filling, lemon goodies, brownie-stuffed chocolate chip cookies, Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies strawberry linzer cookies, and girl scout thin mints.

I think 32 may be a record I won't try to beat in the future, but you never know...

Here's the list!

1.  Red Velvet Whoopie Pies with Cream Cheese Frosting Filling
2.  Banana Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting
3.  Palmier Pinwheels with Jam Centers
4.  Brownie-Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies
5.  Chocolate Rosette Sandwiches with Marshmallow Filling
6.  Lemon Rosette Sandwiches with Marshmallow Filling
7.  Chocolate Cookie Cups with Whipped Milk Chocolate Ganache (I filled the cups with a ganache from a different recipe, found in the cookbook The Cake Book by Tish Boyle)
8.  Raspberry Crumb Bars
9.  Browned Butter Shortbread
10. Italian Rainbow Cookies
11.  Red Velvet Crinkle Cookies
12.  Lemon Goldies
13.  Chocolate-Dipped Coconut Macaroons
14.  Strawberry Linzer Cookies
15.  Pignoli Cookies
16.  Pecan Cinnamon Sledges
17.  Peppermint Sugar Chocolate Chip Cookies
18.  Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies with Peanut Butter and Chocolate Filling
19.  Girl Scout Thin Mints
20.  Orange Cinnamon Cookies
21.  Lemon Cardamom Cookies
22.  Martha Stewart's Favorite Cookie:  Chewy Chocolate Molasses Cookies
23.  Gingerbread Trees with Lemon Icing
24.  Chocolate Dream Cookies with M&Ms or Thin Mints
25.  Iced Sugar Cookies
26.  Pistachio Mexican Wedding Cookies
27.  Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies
28.  Cinnamon Roll Cookies
29.  White Chocolate Dipped Green Tea Shortbread
30.  Berry Glazed Earl Grey Shortbread *for the tea-flavored shortbreads, I used the same recipe for the green tea shortbread and tried different flavors of tea*
31.  White Chocolate Dipped Chai Shortbread
32.  Berry Glazed Jasmine Shortbread

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Ding-Dong--Your Cake is Done!

This cake turned out to be a hefty investment of time, labor, and dirty dishes. But when I saw the recipe from Bon Appetit, "Salted Caramel Ding Dong Cake," how could I not give it a whirl?

As a kid, I never used to get Ding Dongs or Ho Hos or Twinkies in my lunchbox--my mom usually baked her own desserts--which meant that these desserts were incredibly exotic to me. I loved the smoothness of the thin chocolate coating of a Hostess cupcake or the careful edges of a Ding Dong, exactly like a hockey puck. Never mind that the actual desserts always had a kind of chalky, brittle flavor.

On the other hand, this gourmet version of the Ding Dong tastes sweet yet rich, earning a bit of edge from a coffee-flavored chocolate cake and a salted caramel ganache glaze that gets poured over the top.

If you do attempt this at home, pace yourself. There are quite a few steps, and a good deal of cooling, cooking, and chilling. The good news is that once the cake is done, it will last a while in your fridge--I'd say a week.

Begin with the cakes. Then prepare the caramel ganache. When you're ready to begin assembling, set one layer of cake in a springform pan, then pour a cup of the ganache over it. Chill to set. Next prepare the marshmallow fluff filling, spread over the cake, and set the second layer over that. Chill that at least 6 hours, and probably better overnight.

I told you this takes a while.

The last step is to cover the entire cake with the ganache and chill once more to set, about an hour. Garnish with flaky sea salt. Take a nap. Then slice and enjoy.

Salted Ding Dong Cake
from Bon Appetit


Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
4 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup hot strong coffee
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 large eggs

Caramel ganache:
9 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/8 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Filling and assembly:
1 1/4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1 1/2 cups chilled heavy cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)


For cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat cake pans with nonstick spray. Line bottom of pans with parchment-paper rounds; coat paper. Place cocoa powder and chocolate in a medium metal bowl. Pour hot coffee over. Let stand for 1 minute. Stir until smooth. Stir in buttermilk and vanilla; set aside.

Whisk cake flour and next 3 ingredients in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating to blend between additions and occasionally scraping down sides and bottom of bowl. Beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with chocolate mixture in 2 additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Divide batter evenly between pans; smooth tops.

Bake cakes until a tester inserted into the centers comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Transfer to wire racks; let cakes cool in pans for 10 minutes (cakes will deflate slightly). Run a knife around pans to loosen cakes; invert cakes onto racks. Peel off paper and let cakes cool completely. Turn cakes over.

If needed, use a long serrated knife to cut off bumps or trim dome from top of each cake to create a flat, even surface.

For caramel ganache:
Place chocolate and salt in a medium bowl. Stir sugar and 1/4 cup water in a medium deep saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and cook without stirring, occasionally swirling pan and brushing down sides with a wet pastry brush, until sugar is deep amber, about 9 minutes. Remove from heat and gradually add cream (mixture will bubble vigorously). Stir over medium heat until caramel bits dissolve. Pour over chocolate in bowl. Add vanilla; stir until mixture is smooth. Let cool slightly.

Place 1 cake layer in springform pan. Pour 1 cup ganache over. Chill until set, about 30 minutes. Cover remaining ganache and let stand at room temperature.

For filling and assembly:
Place 2 tablespoons cold water in a small heatproof glass or metal bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over; let stand until gelatin softens, about 10 minutes.

Pour water to a depth of 1/2" into a small skillet set over medium heat. Transfer bowl with gelatin to skillet; stir until gelatin dissolves, about 2 minutes. Remove bowl from skillet. Set aside.

Place cream and powdered sugar in a large bowl. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean. Using an electric mixer, beat cream until soft peaks form. Add gelatin; beat filling until firm peaks form.

Spoon filling over chilled ganache on cake layer in pan; smooth top. Gently place second cake layer on top. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill until cream layer is set, at least 6 hours or overnight.

Remove sides from springform pan. Using a knife or offset spatula, scrape off any filling that may have leaked out from between cakes to form smooth sides. Transfer cake to a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet.

Rewarm remaining ganache until just pourable. (Microwave in a microwave-safe bowl, or set a metal bowl over a large saucepan of simmering water until just warm, not hot.) Pour ganache over cake, tilting cake as needed to allow ganache to drip down sides and using an offset spatula to help spread ganache, if needed, to cover sides of cake. Chill until ganache is set, about 1 hour. DO AHEAD: Cake can be made 2 days ahead. Cover with a cake dome; chill. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour before serving.

Sprinkle cake with flaky sea salt.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Revisiting the Tart of Death

Three years ago, I attempted this nectarine tart, a.k.a., the Tart of Death. It's from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook, and it requires you to thinly slice about 8 nectarines, and then wind the slices into rosettes and place them in a pre-baked tart shell. Which is about as easy as trying to mold live worms into tulips. Slimy, sticky, stubborn nectarine slices simply do not make great candidates for rosettes. In fact, in my frustration at trying to create the rosettes, I actually sliced off part of my finger.

And yet there is something daunting about this tart that I've never forgotten. If a team of Martha's minions could make nectarines into rosettes, then so could I! And so, three years later, I attempted this recipe once more, with success.

A few things to keep in mind.

When slicing your nectarines, slice them as thin as possible. Choose one of the thinnest slices you can find and wind it into a cone shape for the center of your rose. Then quickly wind a few more thin ones around it to form a somewhat stable core. Pinch the core together and quickly transfer it into the pie shell, then keep winding more nectarine slices around that one to keep it in shape.

If you don't drive yourself crazy, you may actually succeed in doing this. Leave yourself a lot of time.  Put on some good TV in the background.

Another key for this recipe:  You need to make a brown-butter/egg filling to pour over the rosettes and then bake it.  Double the filling that Martha calls for and use almost but not all of the doubled filling.  The first time I made the tart, I could barely taste the filling, but this time, I had the right amount.  I also think it might be nice to sprinkle some turbinado sugar on top to add a bit of crunch.

I have defeated the tart of death!

Nectarine Tart of Death:



2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter chilled and cut into small pieces
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter, and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8 to 10 seconds.

2. With machine running, add ice water in a slow, steady stream through feed tube. Pulse until dough holds together without being wet or sticky; be careful not to process more than 30 seconds. To test, squeeze a small amount together: If it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time.

3. Divide dough into two equal balls. Flatten each ball into a disc and wrap in plastic. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill at least 1 hour. Dough may be stored, frozen, up to 1 month.

4.  Roll out and fill an 8 inch tart shell pan.  Prick dough and blind bake (cover dough in parchment and pie weights) at 350 for 20 minutes, until firm and just golden, then remove pie weights and parchment and continue to bake another 20 minutes until deep golden brown.  Remove pie shell and cool.

Filling: (This is Martha's original recipe, but I doubled mine.  The choice is yours)

3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 large egg
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tbsp Chambord or brandy (I used Grand Marnier)
1 1/2 tbsp all-purpose flour 
1/4 tsp salt 
8 nectarines

1. Make and pre-bake a tart shell in an 8-inch tart pan.  Set aside to cool completely. 

2. Melt butter in small saucepan over medium heat, whisk occasionally until butter solids begin to brown, about 5 mins. Remove from heat, set aside. 

3. In medium bowl, whisk egg, sugar, lemon juice, Chambord and salt until light in color and double in volume, about 2 minutes. Add flour, salt, and reserved brown butter, whisk until well combined. 

4. Slice nectarines into 1/8 inch slices. Make roses by loosely coiling a thin slice of nectarine for the center, then wrapping each additional slice around it, offsetting each slice from the previous one. Make and transfer enough roses to fill tart shell, filling any gaps with extra nectarine slices. 

5. Whisk filling briefly, pour evenly over fruit, using a spoon to fill empty spaces. Bake at 375F, rotating tart halfway through, until filling has slightly puffed, about 40 mins.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Not So Unhealthy Valentine Treat

Why is it that January is our unofficial go-on-a-diet/New Year's resolution/lose-the-hoilday-weight month, while February becomes let's-stuff-ourselves-with-chocolate month because of Valentine's Day.

Either you're in a relationship, so you have to provide and consume sweets to celebrate, or you're not, so you have to simply consume sweets on your own to comfort yourself! And let's not forget the day after Valentine's Day, when all that candy that didn't get purchased goes on sale, so that we're tempted to indulge even more.

If you're looking for a chocolate treat that won't break your calorie bank, here's one that I've found, which if you follow this Chocolate Sweet Hearts recipe, is less than 50 calories per cookie. Yet it tastes rich enough to satisfy any chocolate-lover's craving.

The downside is that these chocolate heart cookies don't have a really long shelf life (or maybe that's a good thing--as they won't hang around long enough to tempt you after the holiday).  You get, three days tops before they go stale.

And if you feel frisky, you might drizzle them with melted white chocolate or dip them into melted dark chocolate.

NOTE:  I made these with a tablespoon of my secret chocolate weapon, black cocoa powder. Any chocolate recipe becomes far richer and more intense with a bit this magic stuff substituted for part of the cocoa powder called for in the recipe? It's the stuff the Oreo people use to make their cookies. I get mine from King Arthur's...

Chocolate Sweet Hearts
Adapted from Everyday Food


1 cup all-purpose flour, (spooned and leveled)
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (or 3 tbsp regular cocoa powder and 1 tbsp black cocoa powder)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 large egg


1. In a bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. In another bowl set over (not in) a saucepan of simmering water, place chocolate, butter, and brown sugar; stir frequently until almost completely melted. Remove from heat, and stir until completely melted; let cool slightly.
2. Add egg to chocolate mixture. With a mixer on low, beat until well blended. Gradually stir in flour mixture (dough will form a ball).
3. Divide dough in half; roll out each half on a sheet of parchment paper to a 1/4-inch thickness. Transfer each half (still on paper) to a baking sheet; freeze until firm, about 20 minutes.
4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Working with one half at a time, flip dough onto a work surface; peel off paper. Using a 2-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut out cookies; place, 1/2 inch apart, on two baking sheets. Bake until firm and fragrant, about 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer cookies to a rack to cool. If desired, drizzle with melted white chocolate.