Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Holiday Baking - 12.23.08

The past few weeks have been rather hectic. I've been juggling finishing my first semester of graduate school, Christmas shopping and doing what in hindsight appears to be a ridiculous amount of baking. Here's an overview of my culinary activities over the past few weeks:

Very Veggie Chili

My sustenance for the past week was a very veggie chili. After cooking some onion in garlic and oil, I added canned tomatoes, pinto beans, corn, chopped cilantro, cumin, salt, and pepper. At the end (since meat is a very prominent staple of my diet), I added some rotisserie chicken that I got at the local grocery store. This turned out to be one of my better chilis and it was very simple to put together. The recipe called for hominy, but I could not find any, so maybe next time. Now on to the good stuff...

Limoncello Cookie Dough

Limoncello Ricotta Drops

While in Italy this summer, we found out how to make limoncello, a delightful lemon liqueur (if done right). Some of my family made a batch and gave it to me for my birthday. Since I'm not a heavy drinker (I failed binge drinking 101 at UF), I decided to put the limoncello to better use: in baking. The cookie itself has a base of ricotta cheese, giving it a cakey texture. You can see in the above pictures how much the cookies puffed up from the small dough balls on the baking sheet. The limoncello in the dough is backed up by vanilla and lemon extracts as well as some lemon zest. The glaze on top is a basic confectioner's sugar glaze with limoncello to make it spreadable. I was very happy with this cookie and it took me back to our enormous afternoon lunch in Rome where we first had this delightful drink. Warning: limoncello may induce napping.


To continue our world cookie tour, the next stop is Germany for some lebkuchen. The cookies themselves contain a base of toasted nuts (hazelnuts and almonds), cinnamon, cardamom, orange and lemon zests, and cocoa powder. After baking the cookie is accompanied by a simple glaze of confectioner's sugar and milk. These cookies came out dense, nutty and full of holiday spice flavors. For the recipe, see the January 2008 Cooks' Illustrated.

Potato Chip Sandies

Now for an American twist on a classic favorite. These are potato chip cookies, in the family of pecan sandies. In fact, the probably are pretty much pecan sandies with crushed potato chips replacing some of the pecans. Don't worry about them being too salty or oily. These cookies bake up nicely with a salty undertone that is great for those who can't get enough of the salty-sweet combination (like chocolate-covered pretzels).

Gingerbread Blossoms

For those who want a quicker holiday cookie that is still a step above store-bought, these are the cookie for you. Anyone who enjoys peanut butter blossoms will recognize the general idea behind them. You can either use pre-made gingerbread dough, a gingerbread cookie mix, or you can start from scratch. I decided to try the first choice to save myself some time this year. After baking the cookie, you place a Hershey's chocolate kiss (or hug if you want something different) in the middle. You may notice the cookies in the picture have two different textures - this is what happens when you forget to roll half the dough balls in sugar before baking. Oh well, they were delicious anyways, but the peanut butter blossoms will still be my favorite.

Thumbprint Trios

If you've ever had thumbprint cookies and wondered, "Why do I only get to have one flavor of filling?" these are your cookie. You prepare three mini thumbprint cookies and add a small dollop of three types of jam - raspberry, apricot and strawberry. If you can fit it in your mouth at once (might be difficult), you can enjoy all three at once. Even if you can't, though, you still get to have a nice triplet of fruit flavors.

Red Velvet Crinkles

I love the look of crinkle cookies, and for the holidays, what better compliment to the white of the powdered sugar than a healthy red from a red velvet cookie? These cookies come out cakey with a slight chocolate flavor (red velvet technically is a chocolate cake, after all). Be warned, however, if you have allergies to red food dye, you should definitely avoid this cookie. I used 1 full ounce (4 little bottles) of red food coloring to get this color. But the end result is a cookie that I think Santa would enjoy.

Chai Shortbread Cookies

Chai is a wonderful tea that has some strong, spiced flavors from cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and a variety of others (including but not limited to allspice, vanilla, anise, clove, and orange). While this version of shortbread cookies contain no actual tea, they do utilize some of the flavors, including cardamom, cinnamon, clove, and even a dash of black pepper. Feel free to substitute in your favorite holiday spices to add some punch to your holiday treats.

Orange Poppyseed Cookies

Though my favorite type of cookie is the drop-and-bakes, this set of cookies is a slice-and-bake. Poppy seeds are combined with orange juice and the zests of an orange and a lemon for a more refreshing, light cookie. Be careful about eating too many and taking a drug test, though (don't worry, you would probably pass unless you ate the entire batch of cookies...though that is a definite possibility).

Lemon-Rosemary Trees

Another type of cookie is the cut-and-bake, seen here in the shape of Christmas trees. The difference in these sugar cookies is the lemon zest and chopped rosemary to give the cookies a woodsier, earthier taste. Feel free to decorate them as you wish. I opted for simple white icing and some dragees (the edible silver balls...don't worry, I did not know what they were called either).

Chocolate Souffle Cookies

For a lighter cookie, here is a set that is similar to a meringue. After melting some chocolate, whip up some egg whites with cream of tartar, vanilla extract and sugar. Fold in the chocolate and some chopped walnuts. Bake the cookie until shiny and cracked. These cookies almost melt in your mouth and have a decidedly bittersweet chocolate flavor. Thanks to Fine Cooking magazine for the recipe.

GF Apple Butter Sugar Cookies

Gluten addicts look away. This batch of sugar cookies has two surprises: first, there is no gluten in this recipe. I used a gluten-free (GF) baking mix so my mom could eat them. The second surprise is that they are stuffed with apple butter. You can make these cookies normally. Just take your sugar cookie dough, roll it out a little thick, and sandwich two cutouts around some apple butter, sealing the edges before baking. You can add some glaze to these if you want to hide the pocket of apple butter.

Pomegranate Arils

Pomegranate-Chocolate Chunk Cookies

I bought a pomegranate and was looking for something to do with all of the arils (first picture, above). I had been using them as part of snacks and desserts for myself throughout the week as the fresh pomegranate is a lot sweeter than the juice you buy in the store (be careful because they will stain like nobody's business). Then I found a recipe for a chocolate chunk cookie using the pomegranate seeds. Be sure to delicately fold the pomegranate arils into the dough, otherwise you will end up with something that looks like the red velvet cookies. The pomegranate added a nice, fresh, fruity flavor to brighten up the basic cookies.

Brown Candy

Here ends the cookies, but now begins the parade of other confections. In the south, the above are only known as brown candy. They taste like a cross between fudge and a pecan praline. I was wary of making this because I recently failed at making caramel, but these candies came out very nicely. Be sure to toast your nuts if you can because the flavors are much more intense.

Pecan Candy

If you want an easier pecan candy, here it is. You simple melt together some candy coating (vanilla or chocolate) with sweetened condensed milk, salt and vanilla, then add in chopped pecans. Simply let it cool in the fridge then cut. Even though you did not slave over the stove for an hour to make this candy, they still come out quite nice.

Peanut Butter Fudge

Speaking of easy recipes, here is the world's fastest and tastiest peanut butter fudge, courtesy of Alton Brown. You microwave 1 cup of butter with 1 cup of peanut butter in the microwave until it is all melted. Stir in 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and 1 pound of confectioner's sugar. Pour into a pan and refrigerate until it is cool, et voila! This recipe used half of a regular jar of Jif peanut butter (is there any better). I don't normally keep peanut butter in the house, just because I finished off the other half of a jar in about a week.

Pumpkin Cider Bread

Those who have followed this blog for a little while know I like to make fruit and nut breads. I found this recipe on foodnetwork.com and had to make it. The bread features pumpkin puree, raisins and apple cider, along with some extra cinnamon to bring together many of the holiday's best flavors. While I could not taste it myself (the one drawback of gifting someone a bread is you can't taste it without making it obvious), I hear the bread turned out nicely.

Vin Santo & Grape Cakes

Lastly, one of the first things I did upon arriving in Florida for the holidays was to bake. This month's Gourmet magazine had a recipe that, like the limoncello cookies, reminded me of our trip to Italy. Vin Santo is a grape-based, sweet wine that can be served with biscotti. This recipe, though, pairs Vin Santo with red grapes and orange zest. The batter is baked in cupcake molds (1/2 cup- or 1 cup-sized) and served warm. The Vin Santo flavor permeates the cakes and gives them a wonderful, fragrant flavor.

After all that, you would think I would take the rest of the year off, but my family has enlisted me to assist in making various dishes this year, including Pietro's cheese bread. I hope everyone has a safe, fun holiday season. Look for more cooking in 2009!

1 comment:

Lindsay said...

I haven't checked out your blog in a while so I thought I'd see what you've been up to. Wow, that's a lot of baking! I'll definitely come back more often for the delicious food and humorous narrative. And maybe I'll be inspired to make something other than grilled cheese sandwiches...