about how my sister-in-law introduced me to the wonder of a versatile cookie that is a sable last Christmas, a tender French sugar cookie that can be endlessly varied and which never wears out its welcome-
about how I finally managed to make beautifully circular roll cookies rather than flattened tires (wrap your cookie roll tightly in parchment, cut the inner tube of a paper towel roll, slide your misshapen cylinder inside and roll it to cookie perfection and chill on a flat surface in the freezer, turning a bit in the first half hour or so to make sure it sets)-
about how these cookies are beautiful and festive all on their own–studded with glistening chocolate and green pistachios–without need of mixing up seven shades of frosting nor a steady decorative hand-
but we know I’m not so diligent about my posting these days. I trust you prefer a slightly abbreviated post now to a mid-January missive, so it’s time to get to the point and get you the recipe (from this month’s Bon Appetit). Absolutely a must make.
1¼ cups (2½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1¼ cups (lightly packed) light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg white
5 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup unsalted, shelled raw pistachios, coarsely chopped
Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon salt).
Whisk flour, cocoa powder, kosher salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl.
Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat butter, brown sugar, and vanilla until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Reduce speed to low and gradually add dry ingredients; mix just to combine, then mix in the egg white. Fold in chocolate pieces and pistachios. (While you want these to be roughly chopped, don’t worry if you have a few larger chunks. When you slice the cookies you’ll cut through any too-large pieces of chocolate or nut).
Divide dough into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into an 8”-long log about 1½” in diameter, pushing dough together if it feels crumbly. Wrap tightly in parchment paper and chill until firm, at least 4 hours. (The colder your dough, the easier it will be to slice.) As I noted above, roll inside a paper towel tube to get a uniform shape, and chill immediately.
Place racks in lower and upper thirds of oven; preheat to 350°F. Working with 1 log of dough at a time and using a serrated knife and a sawing motion, cut logs into ¼”-thick rounds and transfer to 2 parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing ½” apart. Be extra careful to keep up the sawing motion near the base of the cookie log as it otherwise might tend to break off with an uneven rough finish.
Sprinkle cookies with sea salt and bake, rotating baking sheets halfway through, until set around edges and centers look dry, 10–12 minutes. Transfer to wire racks and let cool.
Per Bon Appetit, the dough can be made 1 month ahead; freeze instead of chilling. Slice frozen logs into rounds just before baking.
Sad to say, this blog has a regrettable dearth of Christmas cookies. (Or cookies in general). I hope this post can help make amends. With marmalade (if like me you have too much), brown sugar, molasses, a riot of spices, plenty of eggs, and of course candied ginger, these cookies are full of flavor and well worthy of the holiday season.
I’ve loved this slightly chewy, soft gingerbread cookie (in contrast to the crisp, snappy variety) since enjoying is as often as I could in the Czech Republic. Besides beautifully decorated showpieces, every grocery store stocked multiple varieties single serving cakes filled with your selection of jam and glazed in a thin veneer of chocolate. Years later, I even imposed upon my friend Jennifer to bring me back some from her annual trip to Austria, along with marzipan and plum paste. (That’s sort of a lot, isn’t it?)
These cookies are so easy to make–it’s whirred up in the food processor and frozen for at least four hours to stiffen it up a little. I left mine in the freezer a full twenty four hours, and you can see how soft and viscous it is even after that–so don’t skip that step or you may turn an easy cookie making venture into a frustrating one.
Scooping out with a cookie scoop is definitely helpful (see that part about being sticky and viscous above), but the good news is even as imperfect as my scoops started looking, they all baked up into lovely rounds. Even my younger son enjoyed helping–that’s his cute little hand.
The frosting is as simple as can be–sugar held together by milk and a bit of butter. It’s nothing but pure saccharine, which actually is the perfect icing for such complex and rich cookies. Everyone I shared these cookies with gave them rave reviews, and I hope you enjoy them as much as we all did!
Preheat the oven to 350°. Spread the almonds on a rimmed baking sheet and toast for about 10 minutes, or toast, stirring frequently in a hot dry skillet for about 5 minutes, until fragrant and lightly golden. Remove to a plate to stop the cooking, and let cool completely.
In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ground ginger, cloves, allspice, salt and nutmeg.
In a food processor, pulse the cooled almonds until coarsely chopped. Add the brown sugar and pulse until incorporated. Add the marmalade, candied ginger and molasses and pulse until the mixture is well blended and the nuts are finely chopped. Add the eggs all at once and pulse until just incorporated. Add the dry ingredients and pulse until incorporated and the batter is uniform in color.
Scrape the soft batter into a bowl, cover and freeze until very firm, at least 4 hours.
Preheat the oven to 350° and line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
Using a 2-tablespoon ice cream scoop, scoop 8 level mounds onto each baking sheet, about 3 inches apart. Freeze the remaining batter between batches.
Bake the cookies in the upper and lower thirds of the oven for about 20 minutes, until risen and slightly firm; shift the pans from top to bottom and front to back halfway through. Transfer the sheets to racks and let the cookies and pans cool completely. Repeat with the remaining batter.
In a bowl, whisk the confectioners’ sugar with the milk and butter. The butter will eventually incorporate. Spread the cookies with icing (it’s easiest to pick each cookie up and frost it rather than frost them on a plate) and let dry completely before serving or wrapping.
The cookies can be stored between sheets of wax paper in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
I’ve been complaining that it’s too early for Christmas: not because I’m a Scrooge, but because I really don’t think it’s necessary to start the onslaught of marketing before Halloween has even passed. I grew up being told that Christmas season started the Friday after Thanksgiving. After all, that’s why Santa is the last float of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade! Apparently times have changed. I know retailers are trying to “move” products this year of all years, but still. It’s 2 major holidays away, people!
Christmas knitting is a different story! My leftover yarn from the Santa Hat, from the very first post, has been repurposed into a new Christmas hat. This pattern is from Handknit Holidays and based on the measurements, I made the woman’s size but at a slightly tighter gauge–I figured that would give some room to grow, plus a tightly knit hat will just keep out more cold air. And size wise it turned out about right: It’s a little big for little E, but too small for me.
This was not too difficult, though I should have put a stitch marker in place to mark the beginning of each row. As the pattern swirls into a candy cane shape, the first stitch of each row is constantly shifting. It didn’t cause too big of a problem, but I had to spend some extra time figuring out where I was in the pattern on occasion. Maybe there’s one side that therefore looks a little funny, but that always happens with circular knitting anyway (since I never bothered to learn “jogless joins”) so I’m not sure how noticeable it is to anyone but me (or if I even made a mistake at all).
Color’s a little off here, but you get the idea–it’s your standard red and white! Maybe I’ll be able to update this post with a shot of little E modelling, but even though my camera now works, I have yet to stop slacking off with the camera.
Happy New Year! But in this post, it’s time for Christmas Eve. A beautiful placesetting thanks to our mom (we ordered the linens from williams sonoma–12 days of christmas was the theme)
And a delicious dinner, courtesy of my mother in law: the eggplant and chard lasagna from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. Too bad it’s such a time-intensive recipe (many of the Deborah Madison recipes are: not necessarily hard but lots of steps)–it’s so delicious. Everyone has probably had a vegetarian lasagna with eggplant, but here the interesting touch was combining it with chard. Also, the eggplant was sliced thin and roasted before assemblly (did I say a lot of steps?) rather than just being chopped up which is what I’m used to seeing. It was absolutely wonderful. The colors were appropriate for Christmas (and also for the Italian origins of lasagna): red, green, and white:
Possibly the best lasagna recipe out there (and I'm not a vegetarian).
Finally a few kitchen odds and ends:
Butchering a chicken–it really is getting easier thoguh I don’t know if I can do it in 5 minutes just yet. I do hope to make it second nature as it saves money (in constrast to buying the pieces separately or all chopped up) plus you get the carcass for making soup stock. I also saved the chicken livers separately–one of those organ meats that I know Americans aren’t big on (I can’t say that this particular American necessarily is either) but that all my French and Italian cookbooks have loads of recipes for. We’ll see.
Cock a doodle doo! I'm using Mark Bittman's technique (whose book you can see in the background).
And finally for Santa: Those navettes a la fleur d’oranger (orange flower water boats) from the Chocolate and Zucchini cookbook. The best thing about making these was the perfume of the orange flower water as they baked. It wasn’t an aroma you are used to in a kitchen–it was really like a perfume. Especially in the middle of winter, it could really transport you: the warmth of the oven combined with the scent of orange blossoms and you are in the mediterranean. The cookies were OK, I liked them better right out of the oven when they were soft rather than once they had hardened (though you can apparently soften them right back up by popping them in the oven). I may try them with rose flower water next time–don’t see why it shouldn’t work!
Christmas is over–well that was a whirlwind. I have spent the last little while not just uploading photos to the blog but also family photos!
The Christmas baking wishlist got farther than I expected, and even though my personal “wishlist” was not all checked off I hardly think we needed more food. Unfortunately our camera did not keep up with everything we made…
Rather than try to put it all in one post, I’ll break it out into a few (and build up some dramatic tension). I also have some posting to do about knitting related matters–considering that knitting is a bigger hobby for me than cooking, it’s funny so far the turn my blog posts have taken. Must be the holidays…
First I’ll go way back to the beginning of the week. Friday night before Karen and my parents-in-law arrived, I made that cranberry ricotta cake from sassyradish that I’ve been talking about. I was surprised at how springy the batter was though after emptying in the tub of ricotta I shouldn’t have been. Nor should I have been surprised at how heavy the cake was going into the oven. I baked it in my springform pan as even a regular 9 inch cake pan would not have been big enough. My cake took a while to bake (though it shouldn’t happen the next time–we since learned that our oven is 25 degrees too low–thanks to buying an oven thermometer!) but came out well and was quite tasty.
I also made Natalizia (the “original Christmas Bread of Verona”) from Celebrating Italy as well as Pinza Friuliana (Epiphany bread from Friuli, made with polenta). I got a photo of the Natalizia, which I loved. For me it was just like the Pandoro sold in the gourmet shops, but moreso it has a certain sentimental value–I remember having a slice of pandoro with warm caffe latte every morning for breakfast while visiting my friend Raffaella’s over Christmas in Rome. Pannetone is better known, but I love Pandoro–no embellishments necessary, I love the flavor and taste of the bread itself. I guess that’s why on this recipe, the pine nuts are a nice decoration but I wouldn’t even bother the next time (but they are pretty, as I’ve tried to show). And it’s really wonderful toasted and keeps pretty well (for a few days) if you wrap it up well. I was especially happy to see that little E liked it as he stuffed it (literally) in his face. I cooked one in a souffle mold and one in a brioche mold (which was a little small) but both baked up quite well. The kitchen must have been warm as they rose wonderfully–no need to turn the oven into a proofing box. Not so with the Pinza, but with all the weight of the polenta as well as the pine nuts and currents stuffed inside, it’s hardly surprising. That was a bigger hit with everyone (except me) — maybe that’s why I didn’t manage to get any photos.
There’s more Christmas goodies on my wishlist than I could possibly ever make, but just to keep track, these are the things that are particularly interesting–(some of which must be made because ingredients have been purchased!) Given that we’re set to have a big snowstorm, this seems to be a good way to be housebound. (Although there are plenty of rather more urgent Christmas preparations that have to be done (no. 1–buy a tree! no. 2–assemble the guest bed! probably in the reverse order!) so again, this list is more aspirational than anything else).
Breads–while I am not into baking (despite what this post may indicate) I do love breadmaking! I haven’t done it in a while (knead for 10 minutes while pregnant? I don’t think so) but now that I’m trying to get myself back in the kitchen:
Brioche (again…why do I love making brioche so? Must be the butter content).
Some Italian christmas bread from Carol Field’s Celebrating Italy. (I have not made much from this book but I love the premise–various festivals in Italy throughout the year and the foods that accompany the events. What I really love is how each festival begins with a historical description of the origins of the festival and a discussion of how the food ties in. There is a bibliography that looks something like you’d expect in an academic work!) There’s quite a few bread recipes in here, some of which are quite complicated. Still, the following look good: the Pandolce Genovese, Natalizia, and Pinza della Befana (these are all of course from the Christmas chapter!). I have a Kitchenaid mixer, and I intend to use it…
Speculaas (we bought a rolling pin mold in Munich–where else for Christmas knicknacks but Germany?–which still has to be used.
Navettes a la fleur d’oranger–from the Chocolate and Zucchini cookbook. I have a bottle of orange water (why? I don’t know–it was for something out of Claudia) so this is a great way to use some of it. It may be one of the main reasons I am making it…
Madeleines–planning on using this recipe. I have a fair number of madeleine pans purchased in Paris (mainly because, they were cheap and it seemed like a good take home). I can’t say why these cookies (if they are cookies) attract me. I don’t know if it’s the name that reminds me of the children’s books, if it’s the fact that they have been immortalized in classic literature (In Search of Lost Time–which I’ve never read, and given how long it is, never will–I lose enough of my own Time on a daily basis to go off searching for Proust’s), but I am intrigued!
And finally, as I mentioned in an earlier post, sassy radish’s cranberry orange cake with ricotta!
My shopping list is made (as part of the emergency run to the grocery store tomorrow AM before the snow hits)–so hopefully I’ll have something to show for it.
Speaking of snow, I hope that Karen is able to get off the west coast and over here to the east coast. We have learned not to be optimistic when it comes to our family’s plane travel…but that would be a whole other post…