Tuesday, December 27, 2011

My 500th post: the final recipe of TWD {Peanut Butter & Jam Thumbprint Cookies}

Although I baked these cookies three weeks ago, I'm hurrying to write this post in the remaining few minutes of Tuesday. Hurrying, that is, after I have procrastinated and found countless excuses to postpone sitting down at the keyboard. The reason for my hesitation? This post is all about milestones and their accompanying transitions.

The first milestone: My 500th post! This is the 500th time that I've filled a blank white box on the computer screen with words and images and shared it electronically under the banner of The Dogs Eat the Crumbs. 500 is a big round number so it's a good reason to pause for thought. But there's an even bigger reason to pause, and to think, remember, sigh, dab the corner of the eye. The second milestone of today: the baking group Tuesdays With Dorie has reached the final recipe in Dorie Greenspan's book, Baking; From My Home to Yours.

Tuesdays With Dorie began on the first Tuesday of 2008 with two or three bakers joining Laurie (of the blog Slush) in her invitation to bake through all of Dorie's Baking. Today, the last Tuesday of 2011, the group finishes the book. The group has assigned every recipe in the four years of Tuesdays, and I'm guessing that at least one baker in the group may have completed the entire book.

I have baked every recipe since I joined TWD in July of 2008, but there were seven months of recipes chosen before I was a member. It's impossible for me to come this far and not finish the task so even though the TWD group is finished with the book I intend to bake all of the recipes that I missed, beginning next Tuesday. I'll bake them in the order that they were originally chosen, and post them on the corresponding Tuesday to their original baking date. Given that schedule, I'll finish all of the recipes in July. That will be a momentous day, but it will not touch the bittersweet feeling that has haunted me all day today - the final day of the group.

The past four years have brought some of the most challenging and busy times of my life. I've dealt with joy and loss, with extended periods of travel, and months and months of ongoing renovations in my house. Making sure I published a blog post for TWD every single week - on Tuesday - and planning my schedule so that I could bake ahead if necessary - gave me a steady outlet for much needed creative activity. And there was something else: the support of dozens of other bakers, who offered encouragement, tips, comments and support, for matters in the kitchen and out.

It is this original community of TWD bakers that is ending (even as plans are being made for a second round of TWD to begin in February 2012, using Dorie's book Baking With Julia.) Dorie wrote a lovely post on her blog today about the ending of TWD, and the connections we all have made over our common experience of baking her recipes. I have been fortunate to have met about a score of TWD bakers in real life in the past several years. I previously wrote about the TWD friendships and about being interviewed about the TWD community for O Magazine.

Not all of the bakers will continue in the new version of Tuesdays With Dorie. And while the new book will have wonderful recipes, and present even greater technical challenges, the freshness of our shared experience of "I really can bake that successfully" or "Wow, that was such a failure" is behind us. Thanks to Dorie's steady guidance and the support of fellow bakers, we've all become much more competent and confident in our own kitchens.

Transitions are often difficult, and this one has made me quite sad. I'll miss the sense of purpose of the original TWD community: the weekly rhythm of writing, posting, comparing notes with many other baking buddies, and then stealing the time to visit other blogs to see, read, and leave comments.

And now, onto the week's recipe: Kids' Thumbprint Cookies.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- Dorie herself is the host for this last recipe of the TWD group. You can find the recipe, and a lovely reflection about what TWD has meant to her (she calls it "the end of a delicious journey") on Dorie's blog post today.

- I baked these cookies with my daughter JDE and our friend JH in a marathon Christmas cookie-baking session. It felt so right to be baking and sharing these cookies. JDE was responsible for getting me started in TWD in the first place, and JH has been one of my blog's most loyal readers over the past several years.

- After a little bit of debate, we skipped the egg white wash + chopped peanuts on outside of the cookies. I knew I would like the texture better without the crunch peanuts, but the peanuts make the cookies look quite festive.

- Our cookies baked faster than the recipe; we had to watch them for doneness beginning at 9 minutes. When they were out of the oven and still hot, I pressed the indentation again, to make sure there was plenty of room for jam (the cookies puffed when in the oven).

- We had one "awkward batch," the one where the oven got turned off and I didn't realize it until the cookies had been baking in a - cooling - oven for a while. Then I turned the oven back on and got distracted looking for cookie cutters for another recipe and JH had to remind me of the cookies in the oven. The ended up just a little browned and crispy, and I managed to ruin several of them by poking holes all the way through them so they resembled little donuts and wouldn't hold any jam.

- I grew up eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and so did my daughters. My mom always bought grape jelly but I used strawberry jam for my girls' sandwiches. For these cookies I used both flavors of jam: a jar of French strawberry preserves for most of the cookies, and a few cookies got the remaining drops of a jar of muscadine grape jelly that my daughter ALE had made last year.

the verdict:

One bite and I knew exactly why Dorie called these thumbprints for kids: they taste exactly like a pb+jam sandwich in cookie form. The cookies were even better when they sat for a day or so. They were tender and delicately peanutty in flavor, with an intense jolt of strawberry (or grape) from the boiled jam. I loved this recipe, and I loved being a member of the Tuesdays With Dorie group!

Thank you Dorie (for the wonderful book)
Thank you Laurie (for starting the group)
Thank you Julie (and others who have helped administer the group over the past 4 years)
and finally, Thank you fellow bakers and friends and readers for sharing the sweet journey of Tuesdays With Dorie!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Recipes, Old: David Eyre's Pancake, and New: Culinary Apps

Here's my daughter, ALE, last Christmas with a double batch of David Eyre's Pancake

Merry Christmas to all of you who celebrate the holiday! For today's Christmas post, I want to share something from the past and some things very much from the present.

First things first: one of my favorite recipes from my childhood; its flavors resonate deeply, inextricably tinged with my memories of time and place, of pleasures experienced in my mother's kitchen long ago.

My father clipped the recipe for David Eyre's Pancake out of The New York Times newspaper when it was first published in 1966 (it was a Craig Clayborne recipe). It became one of our family's favorite special-occasion dishes. And we weren't the only ones; apparently this recipe is the most popular that the Times every published. The skillet-sized pancake was impressive as it came out of the oven all golden and puffed. And when it was dusted with confectioner's sugar, spritzed with lemon juice, and cut into wedges, we savored its delicate sweetness.

When my children were young I introduced the recipe to them, and it became one of the first things that they could prepare themselves (with a little help putting the skillet in and taking it out of the hot oven). Even though the pancake is relatively easy to make, for us it remains a dish for special occasions, particularly Christmas morning.

The recipe can be found here along with a fascinating account of the recipe's history. The recipe is also contained in Amanda Hesser's 201o release, The Essential New York Times Cookbook (I've spoken about this book before - I cannot recommend it highly enough.)

My mother always made the pancake from the original 1966 newspaper clipping. Soon after it was published the recipe was discovered to have too much butter, and a correction was quickly published in the newspaper (the measurement of butter should be 4 tablespoons, rather than 8 - the or half a stick was correct), but Dad never saw the correction and we always went by the yellowed clipping taped to the front and back of a recipe card:

Last Christmas, rather than pulling out the recipe card, we opened my brand-new copy of The Essential New York Times Cookbook for the pancake recipe. My daughter read for the first time that there had been a correction to the recipe over 40 years ago! I'm sure that somewhere along the line we may have periodically used less butter but I have to say, the pancake we typically made, swimming in butter, highlighted by the lemon juice and powdered sugar, is part of my memory of the deliciousness.

I heartily recommend this celebrated recipe for your Christmas breakfast (preferably without the extra butter!) It would be equally good for any lazy Sunday, or a weekend when you have house guests. But unless you make a double batch in a large skillet - as my daughter did in the photo above - you might have to make a second pancake so everyone has enough!


And now for the present:
If you have just received an iPad, iPhone or Android under your tree, or if you need a very last minute gift for the cook or baker in your life, a culinary app might be just the thing!

Similar to my cookbook post, here I've gathered a few links to lists of "best apps" of a culinary/food nature. At the end I'll put in a plug for a couple apps that have caught my attention.

Bon Appetit's Top 10 Best Food & Cooking Apps for the iPhone and iPad
Huffington Post's Best Cooking Apps for iPad, iPhone and Android
Nextweb, 12 Seriously Tasty Apps for Foodies
Gizmodo, The Best Cooking Apps
The Washington Post's Top 10 Food-Related Apps

n.o.e.'s notes on apps:

I have only dipped a toe into the proverbial sea of culinary apps, and here are a few that I've experienced:

In a stunning technological achievement, The Professional Chef (the Culinary Institute of America's textbook) is now available as an iPad app., enhanced by video how-tos. You can buy the entire book for $59 or individual chapters for $2.99 (which is what I did). The soup chapter is available as a free download. [in the interest of full disclosure; one of my daughter's lifelong friends works for Inkling, the company that developed this app, but I did not receive anything from the company. I paid for my own app download]

Given how much I've enjoyed the Food 52 website (see, for example, the rum balls recipe I posted earlier this week) I had to give the Food 52 Holiday Recipe and Survival Guide app a try. It's smart and beautiful (just like the website!) and has a nice selection of recipes, both sweet and savory, as well as a video on making a gingerbread house. We baked the brown butter and cheddar apple pie for Thanksgiving and it was heavenly.

Dorie Greenspan's app, Baking With Dorie, is on my Christmas list this year. Although it doesn't have a ton of recipes, I'm looking forward to seeing Dorie demonstrating baking techniques via video clips. Dorie's cookbooks give the feeling that she is right there stirring and measuring with you; this app brings her even more vividly into your kitchen!

If you have a favorite childhood Christmas recipe, or a favorite culinary app, please share in the comments!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Ginger Plum Rum Balls (gluten-free)

Bourbon balls were a fixture of my childhood at Christmas time. My mother's recipe - as most - used vanilla wafers as a base, combined with sugar, nuts, and of course booze. I could eat them by the handful. Even as an adult, if there aren't bourbon balls in the house Christmas is always missing a small but vital element.

About a month ago the home-cook-sourced site, Food 52, featured Ginger Plum Brandy Balls in their "Best Holiday Confection" contest. These were based on gingersnaps, and I knew I had to try them.

As luck would have it my fabulous daughter JDE needed to bake something gluten-free for a party. I had some Trader Joe's gluten free gingersnaps in the cupboard, so she threw these together and kindly left me some. Christmas bliss!

n.o.e.'s notes:

- You can find the recipe here on Food 52's site.

- These couldn't be easier for me to make, because all I did was gather a few ingredients and my daughter prepared them in my kitchen! Happily this recipe was quick and easy for her also; there's no baking involved and most of the prep is done in the food processor.

- The recipe gives a pretty wide latitude as to the type of alcohol to use. We had a bottle of spiced rum on the counter, so that's what we used.

- Cocoa powder is optional in the recipe. JDE opted to use it.

- I love the way the recipe's title uses the word "plum" - if it said prunes (which in fairness really are dried plums) it wouldn't sound nearly as appetizing I suppose. Our prunes were the cherry-flavored ones. For the rest of the dried fruit JDE used a mixture of dried cherries and cranberries (translate: whatever we could scrounge in the dried fruit drawer.)

the verdict:

These rum balls were very good, so good that I plan to make another batch to have on hand for our house guests during the holidays. Next time I'll skip the cocoa powder (I think chocolate tends to mask the flavor of spices) and try bourbon. They'll be a true throwback to my childhood Christmas treats!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

{TWD} Soft Chocolate Cakes

When I baked these back in November I didn't think to photograph them in a holiday setting. The clip art holly sprigs add a festive touch, don't you think?
We're within a week of Christmas so the top brass at Tuesdays With Dorie headquarters have given us TWD bakers a bit of a break from our normal routine. Instead of baking an assigned recipe, we have a "rewind" week: we each choose a recipe from Dorie Greenspan's book Baking; From My Home to Yours that we did not bake at the time the recipe was originally chosen for the group (or revisit an old favorite recipe).

There are a couple dozen recipes that were chosen in the early days of TWD, before I joined the group. I've been very slowly trying to bake some of those recipes on my own, so that I can - eventually - say that I've baked every single recipe in the book. Such is the case with Dorie's Gooey Chocolate Cakes, which I baked in early November when I was stuck at home waiting for repair people and it was chilly and gray outside: perfect baking conditions!

n.o.e.'s notes:

- This recipe is Dorie's take on the craze for molten/lava chocolate cakes. You can find the recipe on this blog post from the early days of TWD on the blog Lemon Tartlet.

- I made 1/2 recipe and used silicone mini cake pans, similar to these. Because the pans were silicone, I didn't need to butter or flour the pans, and after they were baked the cakes slipped right out.

- The timing is critical in this recipe. Because the cakes are supposed to end up being liquid in the center, doneness tests don't work. You have to use your timer and trust that it will all come out correctly. In my case, however, the cakes didn't end up molten. I was baking in a different oven from my usual, so it might run a bit hot, or I might have baked a minute or two too long.

- Although my cakes were not totally molten in the middle, they were soft. I served them with whipped cream, which melted into the warm cake in a most appetizing fashion.

the verdict:

These were perfectly portioned little cakes, and even if they weren't exactly gooey inside, they were soft-ish and quite good. This recipe is ideal for instant-gratification: the cakes are not too difficult to put together, have a short baking time, and are designed to be eaten hot. Win, win, win!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Church Windows Marshmallow Candy

It's Sunday, and just a week before Christmas - what better time is there to post Church Windows Marshmallow Candies? From the first minute that I saw these candies I knew that I wanted to make them. They are pretty and unusual and they looked relatively easy to make. I loved that they evoked a church, which makes them perfect to mark the holiday (holy day) season.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- You can find the recipe on this blog post.

- After melting butter and chocolate chips, and cooling the mixture a bit, you stir in the marshmallows. Then you divide the mixture in two and roll each half into a log shape.

- I experimented a bit with the coating for the chocolate rolls. For half the recipe, I rolled the chocolate log in in dessicated coconut, and the other log in hazelnut meal. In the future I'd like to experiment with different rolling and coating techniques. I think powdered sugar would be nice, or chocolate sprinkles, or crumbs of chocolate wafer cookies.

- The colored mini marshmallows can be a bit difficult to find. The first couple of grocery stores that I checked didn't have them, so I was thrilled to find them in Target. In theory each of the 4 colors of marshmallows has a different flavor, and if I concentrated very hard I could detect it - but that was before putting the marshmallows with the chocolate.

- I'm sure that you could make your own marshmallows for this candy; if you do, let me know how it goes!

- Be sure to use a very sharp knife to cut slices of the candy, so the chocolate doesn't drag through the marshmallow, and so the marshmallow cuts cleanly.

the verdict:

These are good at room temperature and straight from the fridge. Because they are so quick to throw together, they're perfect for adding to Christmas trays.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

{TWD} Puffed Double Plum Tart and Chocolate Blueberry Ice Cream

OK, folks, *it's* getting real in the Tuesdays with Dorie baking group. We are down to our last 3 recipes in Dorie Greenspan's book, Baking; From My Home to Yours. This week's host blogs are the two head honchos of the group: Laurie of Slush, who started this whole project 4 years ago, and Jules of Someone's in the Kitchen, who has been doing yeoman's duty administering the group.

Next Tuesday we all get to choose something from the past recipes to make and post. And the last Tuesday in December?

On December 27 Dorie Greenspan herself is choosing the final recipe of the book. Well when there's only one recipe left, I'm not sure you can really call it a choice, but Dorie is hosting us for the final week of TWD. I'm sure I'll be smiling through the tears at Dorie's "party" on the last week.

This week was another double header. First, a lovely tart:

Puffed Double Plum Tart

n.o.e.'s notes:

- You can find the recipe for this tart on Jules' tart post today.

- Back in October I found some Italian (prune) plums at the grocery store so I went ahead and baked this tart then.

- I made 1/3 recipe, using 6 dried prunes and 3 Italian prune plums. I didn't realize when I bought them, but the dried prunes were cherry flavored (and quite delicious!). Following Dorie's directions, the prunes are steeped for 15 minutes in spiced red wine. Then the wine mixture is boiled down to make a syrup which is dabbed on the tart before baking.

- For sprinkling on the edges of the crust I used turbinado sugar, figuring that the sugar crunch would add a nice texture.

- Once it's in the oven, I always halfway hold my breath until the puff pastry actually puffs

- I used duFour all-butter puff pastry that I had in the back corner of my freezer. Its directions say that moderate oven temperatures are best for this pastry, recommending the temperature of 375, so I baked the tart at 375 for 15 min + 360 for 10 minutes. At that point it was nicely golden and puffed around the edges.

- The pastry under the fruit didn't puff, so perhaps my tart might have needed more time in the oven. Also, syrup ran off the edges of the tart so it's possible that I was too generous with my "dabbing" of the (delicious) syrup!

- Although Dorie said to put some of the fresh plums cut side up and some cut side down, next time I would keep all of the fresh ones cut side up because their more golden color provided a greater contrast with the dried ones (which were dark).

the verdict:

This tart was a perfect autumnal treat. The buttery crust paired beautifully with the deeply intense wine-steeped plums. My husband said it was "a gustatory delight" and I totally agree with him. We ate the entire tart in one sitting and were very regretful that I'd only made a mini tart. I'd have to say that this was one of the top fruit desserts in Dorie's book; it was just that good.

...and the second recipe for this week:

Chocolate Blueberry Ice Cream

I'm not sure why this recipe's flavor combination sounds so odd; chocolate and fruit are an age-old pairing. And I've been known to toss of handfuls of chocolate-covered blueberries at a time. But odd or not, after all these years of TWD I finally know well enough to trust Dorie's instincts, so I decided to make this ice cream as she developed it.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- Laurie's ice cream post has the recipe and her reflections 4 years after starting the TWD group. Head over there and check it all out from the original TWD member!

- This was the kind of ice cream base that after an overnight in my fridge turned pudding-like and too thick to churn. I think this probably comes from using so much chopped chocolate. I guess the solution might be to not chill the base quite as long, and/or stir in preserves (and alcohol if you use it) before putting the base into ice cream maker rather than afterwards, as the recipe directs.

- My blueberry preserves had whole blueberries in it. I was hoping that they wouldn't turn into icy pieces as they froze but luckily they didn't.

- Per a tip from ice cream guru David Lebovitz, I added 1.5 T kirsch liqueur to improve texture of the ice cream and add a subtle fruity boost.

- This is a small-yield recipe; it made a heaping pint of ice cream

the verdict:

The blueberry is subtle in this ice cream, providing a hint of fruit to the intense chocolate flavor. The bits of blueberry in my preserves provide little fruity punctuation and a fun textural note.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Big Cookbook Roundup, 2011 version

I had so much fun compiling last year's cookbook post, that I thought I'd do it again for the 2011 holiday gift-giving season! I've kept my eyes peeled for links and lists of top cookbooks and giving guides and other cookbook-related information. Most of the links feature cookbooks published in 2011, but there are some more far-reaching cookbook projects worth mentioning.

I hope that by perusing the lists and compilations you will find some gems to give as gifts or to round out your own cookbook holdings. You can purchase the books
at your local independent bookseller, or order from Amazon up until the very last possible moment.

[edited December 31, 2011 to add:]
The wonderful search-your-own-cookbooks site, Eat Your Books (see my description below) has amalgamated voting from 195 "best of 2011" cookbook lists (including my post!), to come up with a consensus top cookbooks of 2011. Check out their findings here, and click on links to all of their individual source links of lists.

Cooking Light; 25 years:

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the magazine, Cooking Light is compiling a list of the 100 best cookbooks of the past 25 years:
"As we contemplate turning 25, we decided to pick our favorite 100 cookbooks, which we’ll unveil over the next year across 15 categories. We looked at best-seller and awards lists, and talked to editors, authors, and experts. For consideration, books had to be published in the United States since 1987 and either be in print or easily available online. Winners emerged after passionate debate about voice, originality, beauty, importance, and a clear mission or vision. Yes, we tested the recipes. "
In November, the magazine listed the 9 Best General Cookbooks (I was pleasantly surprised to find that I own 5 of the 9 - and the yellow gourmet but not the green). Next came December's compilation of the 7 Best Baking Books (I have 3 of the 7) Tune into Cooking Light's site each month for more categories of Best Cookbooks of the past 25 years.

Best Cookbooks of 2011 ~ lists from media & content sources

New York Times - The year's notable cookbooks (registration may be required for access to New York Times articles)
New York Times Sunday Book Review - Embracing Home; Books About Cooking
Bon Apetit - Best Cookbooks of 2011
Zagat - Holiday Gift Guide: Cookbooks
The Guardian - list of Books for Giving; Food
NPR - 2011's Best Cookbooks: Revenge Of The Kitchen Nerds
...and NPR's runners up
NPR interview - 2011's Best Cookbooks, Tested and Tasted
Chicago Tribune - Holiday Cookbook Haul
The Seattle Times - cookbooks by local Seattle authors
Huffington Post - The 11 Best Cookbooks of 2011
Epicurious list of The 10 Best Cookbooks of 2011
The Eater Fall 2011 Coobook and Food Book Preview
Amazon's recommended best cookbooks of 2011
Top 10 Cookbook Bestsellers (on amazon: updated hourly apparently)
Esquire, Best New Cookbooks 2011 (five word reviews of selected cookbooks)
Fox News, Top 10 Best Holiday Cookbooks
Irish Times, Best Foodie Books of 2011
[edited Dec 13 2011 to add:]
Washington Post, Top 10 Cookbooks of 2011
[edited Dec 18 2011 to add:]
Lynne Rossetto Kasper of the Splendid Table's Not-So-New Books for Entertaining Ideas
[edited Dec 19 2011 to add:]
Food & Wine editor's picks of 5 Favorite Cookbooks of 2011

Best Cookbooks ~ lists from food writers and bloggers

David Lebovitz, Best Cookbooks of 2011
Ruhlman, Season's Best Books and Others I Like
Pioneer Woman, Cookbooks for Christmas (some current books, some old chestnuts)
Running with Tweezers, 2011 Cookbook Roundup
Cheryl Sternman Rule's list of 16 cookbooks to give
Simple Bites (blogger) list of top cookbooks of 2011
Pastrygirl 2011 holiday baking cookbooks
[edited December 20 to add:]
Dorie Greenspan, Cookbooks by Friends: The 2011 Collection
[edited December 21 to add:]
Nancie McDermott's Holiday Gift List: Cookbooks from the 2011 Bumper Crop
[edited Dec 25 2011 to add:]
Shine (Yahoo), 16 Cookbooks Every Home Should Have
[edited December 28 to add:]
Sarah Moulton's Favorite Cookbooks of 2011 (on Good Morning America)

Also of interest:

- Check out this fascinating article "Recipe for Paring a Cookbook Collection" by Amanda Gold of the San Francisco Chronicle about how she and her husband winnowed their cookbook shelves complete with lists of their favorite cookbooks. Following that article, Bill Daley of the Chicago Tribune listed his 10 keeper cookbooks.

- SF Foodie has been compiling a list of best of cookbooks lists, which are posted here, with promises to update the list:

- Goodreads Award for Best Food and Cooking Book (by popular vote)

- New York Times article about cookbooks written by chefs for home cooks
(registration may be required)

- the kitchn asked: What Was Your Favorite New Cookbook of 2011?

- Observer Food Monthly had a reader poll of best cookbook of 2011

- the 2011 James Beard Foundation cookbook nominees and winners

Cookbooks in favor in my kitchen in 2011:

When I was in my kitchen in 2011, these are the books that most frequently graced my kitchen counters. Because I don't get any free cookbooks, I tend to buy them when I can, and consequently, I'm rarely cooking from the very latest. That's fine with me; when I find a book I like I tend to use it for a long time. I hope you find books here (and among the 13 I recommended at the end of last year's cookbook post) worthy to add to you own bookshelves.

Amanda Hesser, The Essential New York Times Cookbook, - This cookbook falls in the "brick" category; so chunky and substantial that it could double as a doorstop (of a very heavy door). It is comprehensive and impeccably edited. I've tried a dozen or more recipes from this book and all have been exceptional; the Spicy Red Chili is our new go-to recipe.

Dan Lepard, Short and Sweet, - I am a huge fan of the British baker Dan Lepard. He understands both the science and the art of baking, and is always exploring new techniques and flavors. The "short" in the book's title doesn't refer to the length of the cookbook - it's a hefty tome that manages to reassure and instruct beginning bakers while still providing delightful inspiration to more those more comfortable with their ovens. I've made his vanilla ice cream (good) but otherwise have only delved into its riches by while sitting on the sofa. This book isn't yet available in the US; I ordered it from amazon.co.uk and it arrived in a week's time at a total cost $30 including delivery from England. That's not bad for an excellent 576-page book.

Coleman Andrews, Country Cooking of Ireland - I discovered this book when I was writing last year's cookbook roundup post, and I'm glad I did! Although there are entire chapters I'm not likely to explore, there are enough wonderful, rustic, intriguing dishes that call me to turn to this book when I'm looking for something just a bit different, such as a memorable soda bread that I made with freshly ground whole wheat flour.

Sam Beall, The Blackberry Farm Cookbook - This book, from the country resort hotel the Inn at Blackberry Farm, is glossy and pretty and just a little highfalutin' to read, but the recipes are quite accessible and top-notch in flavor. I've made some lovely pies and exceptional ice cream.

Molly O'Neill, One Big Table - I think of this book as a super-charged (in size and quality) version of those spiral-bound regional cookbooks. Molly O'Neill traveled across the US gathering recipes and talking with restaurants and home cooks. She makes the pages come alive by including stories about the people who contributed the recipes. This book is as fun to read as it is tasty to cook from.

I haven't cooked from this book, not one thing, but I didn't have any of Jacques Pepin's cookbooks and when I saw this one at Costco in November I pounced on it. I've been happy to see that it's made some of the top cookbook lists, above, and look forward to exploring it.

I wrote about meeting Jeni Bauer and about her ice cream previously, but wanted to mention her book again. Jeni has devised a startlingly different way to make ice cream, using no egg yolks, but adding cream cheese, corn (or tapioca) starch, and corn (or tapioca) syrup to her ice cream base. The resulting ice cream has great texture and the book presents a wide array of creative flavor combinations for which Jeni's ice cream is famous.

Finally, if you love cookbooks (and I cannot imagine that you've read this far if you don't care about them) I highly recommend the web service Eat Your Books. It acts as a search engine for your own collection of cookbooks and helps you find the perfect recipe in books on your very own shelf. I receive nothing from the site; I pay for my $25 annual membership just as you would (although membership is free if you index 5 books or fewer), and believe me, it pays me back in savings of time and in providing the satisfaction of using my own beloved cookbooks more fully.

If you have cookbook recommendations you can leave them in the comments. I'd love to hear them!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

{TWD} Russian Tea Madeleines and Honey Almond Pluot Tart

This is another one of those weeks where the Tuesdays With Dorie baking group is doubling up on recipes - after 4 years of weekly baking, the group will finish Dorie Greenspan's book Baking; From My Home to Yours by the end of 2011. I'll no doubt have some reflections in the final post (December 27) but until then I'm not letting myself think about it too much - too sad!

Today we have another tart and another recipe for madeleines. My Honey Almond Pluot Tart hearkens back to autumn while my Russian Tea Madeleines are decidedly wintry, featuring satsuma and grapefruit flavors.

First, the madeleines (pictured up above):

Russian Tea Madeleines

Dorie's recipe is for Earl Grey Madeleines, but I have completely run out of Earl Grey tea. I keep running across recipes needing Earl Grey and I have scavenged and scrounged the last of the Earl Grey from the recesses of my tea drawer. Since that drawer is still bursting with other varieties of tea, I am holding out on replacing the Earl Grey. But one byproduct of all that scrounging is that at the very back of the tea drawer I found an unopened tin of Russian tea. As it happens, this tea has orange bergamot oil - just like Earl Grey! - and also tangerine and grapefruit flavors. It sounded perfect for my madeleines.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- The madeleine recipe is hosted by Nicole of Bakeologie. You will be able to find the recipe on her cute madeleine post.

- Dorie's recipe calls for lemon zest, which is rubbed with the fingertips into granulated sugar before beating both with the eggs, I decided to use satsuma tangerine zest and grapefruit zest to complement the flavors of the Russian tea.

- This recipe uses an unusual technique to incorporate the tea: leaves of tea are infused in hot melted butter for 15 minutes. Then the butter is strained and added to the batter, carrying the tea's flavors with it.

- Unlike the last time I baked madeleines, I tried to not overfill the molds. They turned out just right, characteristic humps and all, even though I forgot to use Dorie's trick of setting the mold onto a hot baking stone.

the verdict:

These were delicious little cookies - crunchy edges, and softer centers, with the citrus and tea flavors adding complexity and holiday cheer. My husband and I enjoyed them with ice cream and a cup of tea, respectively.

And now, on to the tart:

Honey Almond Pluot Tart

I love baking tarts. Even if f this group were "Tuesdays With Tarts", and we baked a tart every single week, I don't think I'd get tired of baking - or eating - tarts. This week's tart has plenty of appeal. It started as a fig recipe, but there are many other fruits that Dorie suggests as possible variations on the recipe.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- The tart was chosen for TWD by Kayte of Grandma's Kitchen Table (she's a tart fan also). You will be able to find the recipe for the tart and her lovely grapefruit variation if you click to her blog post, but what's even better, you will find her reflections on nearly 4 years of TWD participation. I couldn't say it better.

- Earlier in the fall I looked at the remaining TWD recipes and decided to bake all of the ones that needed seasonal autumnal fruit while it was still in stores. At that point I could still find figs but I had just baked a honey fig cake for TWD and decided to branch out to one of Dorie's suggested alternate fruits. I was hoping for apricots or nectarines but there were none to be found so I picked up some pluots. They're half apricot so I deemed them "close enough."

- For the tart's crust, I made Dorie's Sweet Tart Dough with Nuts, using Bob's Red Mill Almond Flour. I love that tart dough recipe and thought the almond would complement the almond filling. Also, I managed to run out of flour so it was fortuitous to replace some of the recipe's quantity of flour with ground nuts.

- I added almond extract to highlight the almond flavor of the filling.

the verdict:

This was a lovely tart, accompanied nicely by a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The brightness of the pluots was a counterpoint to the sweet creamy almond filling.

All in all, two more delicious recipes, and just three more remain until the book is finished!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Soft Gingerbread Molded Cookies

Three times in the past decade I had the good fortune to travel to Germany in December. Each city and town we visited had its own Christmas Market and I loved poking around the wares in the stalls of the market vendors.

Christmas market in the Gendarmenmarkt, Berlin
I browsed through woolens, and toys, and acres of Christmas decorations - wood, straw, glass, lead, cloth - and I always kept my eyes open for carved wooden cookie molds. Over the several visits, I managed to put together a little collection of pretty molds. (In case you'd like cookie molds of your own, I've included some information at the end of this post.)

My German molds are a mixture of Christmas/winter (snowman, Father Christmas, church, tree) and general (flowers, birds, fruit) in subject.

The molds below are especially nice because the carving is deep and detailed.

The mold below is one of my favorites. When I bought it I had no idea who it was or what it meant.
After a bit of internet sleuthing my good buddy Wikipedia turned up the answer for me:

Münchner Kindl is German for "Munich child", the symbol on the coat-of-arms of the city Munich. This symbol has been the coat-of-arms of Munich since the 13th century. The figure portrayed was originally a monk (or friar) holding a book, but by the 16th century it evolved in different portrayals into the figure of a small child wearing a pointed hood, often shown holding a beer mug and a radish. It has been theorized that the name for the city of Munich (München in German) comes from the term "Kloster von Mönchen" or "Cloister for Monks" due to the Imperial Abbey of Tegernsee--a Benedictine Monastery near which the original town of Munich was built.

It took me a while to actually use my molds, though. The prospect was a bit intimidating; I didn't have a tried-and-true recipe, and I wanted the recipe to be as wonderful as the molds. In my mind, it added up to an Epic Project, and, as such, it never actually got started.

Then I got my copy of the lovely baking book Tartine, and saw molded cookies on the cover. I knew it was time to try out my German cookie molds with the Soft Gingerbread recipe in Tartine.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- Tartine's recipe for soft gingerbread can be found here, or buy the book! Of all the bakery cookbooks I've seen and baked from, this one's the best, and I highly recommend it.

- Blackstrap molasses gets very little love, and I was glad to see it featured in this recipe.

- This dough is perfect for rolling in a gallon ziploc bag.

- The way that I found to work in shaping the cookies in their molds is to place the mold face down on the rolled dough, and cut around the outside with a bench scraper. Then turn mold over and press dough gently so it fits into the indentations. I've even rolled the back lightly with the rolling pin. The next step is to turn the mold over onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, remove mold, trimming as necessary with the bench scraper, before baking as directed.

- The cookies puffed in the oven more than I expected, so some of the definition was unfortunately lost.

- I didn't glaze the cookies with the optional glaze in the recipe because I prefer my cookies plain.

- I also used this dough for gingerbread cookies made with regular cookie cutters and they came out beautifully.

the verdict:

This recipe makes the perfect gingerbread cookies, either rolled/pressed into molds or rolled/cut with cookie cutters. The taste is fantastic, with the perfect balance of molasses and spices. I love working with this dough, and it has become my go-to gingerbread cookie recipe. The molded cookies lost more definition than I'd like, but with flavor this good, it's hard to care.

This cookie is my contribution to the 2nd Annual Virtual Cookie Exchange over at Di's Kitchen Notebook. Visit Di's blog in about a week to see a roundup of all participating blogs and delicious cookies, still in time for Christmas baking! I'll add that the cookie exchange badge was painted by my daughter Allison; if you need any form of custom art visit her website.

Christmas market in Leipzig
more about cookie molds:

An article in the December, 2008 Martha Stewart magazine featured molded cookies and included a recipe for Speculaas cookies, a spice cookie traditional in the Netherlands and Germany. The online reviews were very mixed, however, so I never baked that recipe. The source for Martha's cookie molds is House on the Hill (www.houseonthehill.net) I have ordered a couple of molds from House on the Hill to supplement my collection, and they are beautiful.

If you have a Springerle rolling pin, you can use that to make molded cookies, cutting them apart either before or after baking. You can also find molds on ebay, or keep your eye open at the local thrift shop or antiques market.