Showing posts with label cookies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cookies. Show all posts

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Christmas fig cookies



These ain't my mother's fig cookies.

If they were they would be topped with a thick, sweet white frosting and colorful rainbow non pareils. This would justify the cookies being called cuccidati, the traditional Sicilian Christmas cookie that I and many others like me grew up craving around this time of year.

But here's the thing (and with deep respect and sincerest apologies to Cousin Josephine, Aunt Anna, Aunt Laura and, of course, mom): I have grown to like my fig cookies without the frosting and the sprinkles on top.

There, I said it.

For the past several holiday seasons I have been sneaking around the very fine bakers of my family and quietly acquiring my Christmas fig cookies at a place called Ragtime, in Howard Beach, Queens. In between visits to one family member or another I will park my car in an inconspicuous location, quickly slip into the store's small bakery department, order up a couple pounds of their excellent (non-frosted) fig cookies, and retreat just as fast as I am able, so as to remain undetected.

The cookies remain hidden in the trunk of my car until after the holidays are over and I have safely arrived back home in Maine. Never—and I mean never—is their existence revealed to a single family member back home.

I'm going to Hell. I just know it.

This Christmas will be different, however. After decades in the same location, Ragtime recently closed its doors forever. Those in the tightly knit, largely Italian-American neighborhood lost a food shop of iconic stature.

Me, I lost the source for my favorite (non-frosted) fig cookies.

And so...



For starters, this recipe will make around 5 dozen cookies. Mix together 4 cups all-purpose flour, 3/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon baking powder, and 1 teaspoon salt. Add two sticks of cold unsalted butter (cut into small cubes) and work the butter into the flour mixture using your hands.



After a couple minutes the flour and butter will kind of clump together, like so.



Add 2 extra large eggs (beaten), 1/2 cup milk, and 2 tablespoons Anisette. Mix together thoroughly by hand until a dough forms.



The dough will be on the moist side, which is okay, that's what you want. Wrap it in plastic and chill in the fridge for a good couple hours or more before making the cookies. (I actually kept the dough chilling overnight and made the cookies the following day.)



For the filling we've got one ring of dried figs (pinch off the hard ends), 1/4 pound pitted dates, 1/2 cup raisins, 1 cup pecans, 2/3 cup walnuts, 1/2 cup candied orange peel, 1/2 cup honey, 1/3 cup whiskey (I went with Jack Daniel's), 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Put them all together in a food processor and mix into a paste.



Like so.



Cut the dough ball into quarters (put the dough you aren't working with back in the fridge until ready to use, so it keeps cold). On a well-floured surface roll out one of the pieces of dough until it's roughly 4 inches wide by maybe 18 or 20 inches long. The rolled dough should be around 1/8-inch thick, give or take. Take a quarter of the filling and roll it along the center of the dough.



Brush the dough with an egg wash and then roll it from one side to the other.



Make sure to pinch along the seam when you're done rolling.



Making sure that the seam is on the bottom, brush more egg wash along the entire roll.



With a pastry cutter or sharp knife cut the roll into pieces that are around an inch and a half wide. At this point all that's left to do is put them on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. The cookies should bake in a 350 degree F oven for around 20 minutes, give or take. At the halfway mark rotate the baking sheet so the cookies cook evenly. Allow to cool thoroughly.



Oh, and here's the most important part: Sprinkle some confectioners sugar on top before serving.

And please don't tell my family.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Almond cookies



If these specimens remind you of traditional pignoli (pine nut) cookies, there's a good reason: They are exactly the same cookies, just with almond slices outside instead of pine nuts.

There's also a reason that I bothered to do this, though how good a reason I'm not entirely certain. See, I get a lot of emails around the holidays asking about my pignoli cookie recipe. Some ask why I use a little flour (I think it improves the texture and makes the cookies easier to make); others bemoan the fact that they can't find almond paste in their part of the world. 

This year I've been approached by several people who've complained that pine nuts mess with their taste buds. The specific charge is that some pignolis leave a bitter or even metallic taste in their mouths. And not just for a few moments, but possibly as long as days. 

I poked around some and, sure enough, found that there is something called "pine nut syndrome." It's a mystery what this is exactly. But it's a real thing. Even the Food and Drug Administration is onto it, noting that for certain people eating pine nuts "decreases appetite and enjoyment of food."

We cannot have any of that around here, of course. Certainly not around the holidays. And so allow me to present a new holiday tradtion to the pine nut-afflicted among us: The pignoli-less pignoli cookies, made not with pine nuts but with almonds instead.

Hey, we're all about inclusion here.



First of all, the only kind of almond paste you can use is the kind that comes out of a can like this. I get a lot of emails asking if it's okay to use the paste that comes out of a tube or a box. It isn't okay. I realize that some people have trouble finding canned paste where they live, but it's what you need if you want to make these cookies.



Break up the paste and put it in a food processor with 1/4 cup sugar, 1/2 cup confectioners sugar, and 3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour (the complete ingredient list is below). Process until fine.




Here's what it'll look like, and getting to this point won't take very long at all, less than a minute I'd say. At this point add one egg white and process until a dough forms,



Again, this won't take long at all.



Here's the completed dough. It's not a lot, fits in the plam of my hand.



Empty 6 to 8 ounces of sliced raw almonds into a plate or bowl (or any work surface you prefer). Sliced almonds come in different forms; use whatever type you like.



Have a bowl of water on hand. Dip your fingers in the water, take a small piece of dough, then roll it in the almonds until completely covered. Don't bother being delicate with the dough, just work things until the almonds adhere.



Like so.



Line the cookies on a parchment-lined baking sheet and place in the oven preheated to 300 degrees F. After 10 minutes rotate the sheet. After another 10 minutes check to see if the cookies have gotten golden brown. If they haven't rotate the tray again in 5-minute intervals until the cookies are done, at which point place them on a rack to cool.



This batch wound up taking just under 30 minutes, and they tasted totally swell.

The pignoli-less pignoli cookie tradition might actually have some legs.


Almond Cookies

Recipe

Makes around sixteen cookies

1 8-oz can almond paste (do NOT use the tubes; the texture is different)

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup confectioners sugar

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 extra large egg white

6-8 oz raw sliced almonds


Preheat oven to 300 degrees F

In a food processor, crumble the almond paste, then add the sugars and flour and mix until fine

Add the egg white and mix until dough forms

Empty the almonds into a plate or bowl

Scoop out small amounts of the dough (wet hands help and so I keep a bowl filled with water on hand), then roll in the almonds until coated

Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 10 minutes

Rotate the sheet and bake another 10 minutes. If cookies are not golden rotate pan in 5-minute intervals until they are

Allow to cool on a rack, give a light dusting of confectioners sugar, and serve

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Chocolate almond cookies


I'm not going to lie to you. I screwed up with these cookies. Just ask my friend Joe, he'll tell you. For days he'd helped me to unravel the mystery of, well, let me just show you.
This solid brass die fits onto an extruder known as a torchietto, one of several fine pasta-making tools gifted to me on a recent trip to Italy. As it turns out, this particular die, which I purchased separately and without first investigating, is not designed for making pasta at all. 

I discovered this the hard way, of course—after preparing a batch of my tried and true fresh pasta dough and then running it through the torchietto. I mean, just look at those giant things, would you! Pasta this ain't.

Turns out the die is for making this Piedmontese biscotti (photo not mine) known as Quaquare di Genola. Neither Joe nor I were familiar with the exact term; we just knew that we liked the cookies. And so the next day I brought out both the torchietto and the die again and set out to make a chocolate-and-almond version of the Quaquare di Genola.

Which brings us back to me being such a screwup—one who probably ought to stick to pasta-making, not baking. The cookie dough came out of the torchietto looking a little like the Piedmontese biscotti but in no way would the forms hold together well enough to get onto a baking sheet.

Which is too bad. Because once I ditched the torchietto the cookies turned out to be really excellent—totally worth giving a try, I think.

Though considering my now well-documented deficiencies as a baker I wouldn't blame you for looking the other way.

Chocolate almond cookies
Makes 70 cookies

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup high-quality Dutch cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 sticks plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3/4 cups sugar
Zest of 2 oranges
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon orange liqueur
1/2 cup almonds, run through a food processor until fine but not powdery

Mix the flour, cocoa, salt and baking soda in a bowl.
In an electric mixer blend together the butter, sugar and orange zest until fluffy. 
Add the egg, egg yolk, orange liqueur and almonds and mix thoroughly.
Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for an hour.

On a floured work surface divide the dough in four and roll out each piece into a log around 1 1/2-inch around. One at a time slice each roll into pieces that are around 1/4-inch thick, then lay the pieces out on baking sheets covered in parchment paper.
Bake for around 9 or 10 minutes in a 350 degree F oven.


Sunday, March 20, 2016

Flourless walnut chocolate cookies



Tonight there's gonna be a pretty swell homecoming dinner at my house and all I got to cook was a batch of these lousy cookies.

Seriously. There's several courses planned. Not even a pasta course am I asked to contribute!

Jeesch!

Anyhow, what I'm lacking in quantity I'll make up for in class. These cookies are really delicious, and on the elegant side (just like my friend Scott, the one who's returning home after several months away). I got the idea for them after seeing this dolci di noci recipe from Calabria, but decided to mess with the recipe and also add the chocolate and the orange.

I should mention that the kitchen has been in constant use all day (by the real cook in the house). To pull off this important "cookie course" of mine I had to get in and out of the kitchen quickly. In other words, they're some of the easiest cookies you will ever lay eyes on.



There's no flour in this recipe. This is 1 pound of walnuts and 1 cup of sugar that's been ground in a food processor. It's ground very finely but not to a powder.



Add 1/2 cup of cocoa powder and the zest of two large oranges.



Then add two large eggs and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract.



Mix everything together with a spatula until it starts to clump up.



But I find it best to use my hands to finish up the mixing.


Here's the finished mixture; it only takes a couple minutes to pull together.



Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and form balls with the dough (around 1 inch high by 1 1/2 inches wide). Place in an oven preheated to 375 degrees F for anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes.



This batch baked for just shy of 20 minutes. It amounted to 25 cookies.



Allow the cookies to cool, then top with confectioners sugar and have at it.

If they let me cook an actual appetizer or entree next time people come over I'll be sure to let you know.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Pistachio cookies


Still into the whole holiday baking routine? Allow me to throw another idea into the mix.

Basically all I did was take my pignoli cookie recipe and turn it into my pistachio cookie recipe.

Who knew this baking game was so simple!


You get yourself a can of pistachio paste, see. Then empty it into the food processor and add sugar and a couple egg whites.


In about 30 seconds your dough is done.


Pinch out some dough and form a cookie, then top with three or four raw pistachios.


Line them up on parchment paper and toss in the oven at 300 degrees F for around 25 minutes.


And that is that.

This batch is on its way to Shyster Jersey Lawyer Friend. Who, coincidentally, left a batch of very fine pignoli cookies at my front door only yesterday.

Thanks, Shy! See you in a bit.

Pistachio Cookies
Recipe
Makes about a dozen cookies

1 11-oz can pistachio paste
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup confectioners sugar
6 tbsp flour
2 extra large egg whites
unsalted pistachios

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F
In a food processor, crumble the pistachio paste, then add the sugars and flour and mix until fine
Add the egg whites and mix until dough forms
Scoop out small amounts of the dough (wet hands help and so I keep a bowl filled with water on hand), then press three or four pistachios on top
Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 15 minutes
Rotate the sheet and bake another 10 minutes
Allow to cool, give a light dusting of confectioners sugar and serve

Monday, December 5, 2011

My best pignoli cookie


I am not going to bother being humble about this, okay. For some absurd reason I was gifted an ability to produce a fine pignoli cookie.

A very fine pignoli cookie.

As the holidays approach, I anticipate producing several batches of the chewy, almondy things. Just last week a delivery went out to Shyster Jersey Lawyer Friend. She had intervened on my behalf in a matter of (absolutely no conceivable) consequence. Still, my social etiquette-powered GPS pointed me in the direction of reciprocity. Shyster being rather sweet of tooth, cookies seemed the way to go.

A specialty of Southern Italy, pignoli cookies (so named for their outer layer of pine nuts) are a beloved dolce among Italian-Americans, especially around the holidays. It is not always easy to find a really good example of the cookie, as getting just the right texture and degree of sweetness can be tricky. Pignoli cookies must be chewy but not soft; sweet, but mildly so.

On the other hand, I can make a damned good cookie. So how hard can it be, right?


The full recipe for the dough is below, but there is not much to it at all; it is mainly almond paste and sugar, and takes only a few minutes to prepare. Once it's made just put the dough in a bowl so you can start forming the cookies. In a separate bowl you've got your raw pine nuts.


The size of the cookie is up to you, but I make them about two inches around. All you do is pinch a bit of dough with your fingers and begin to form what approximates a cookie shape. You'll see a separate bowl filled with water at the top. It's best to wet your fingers before pinching a piece of dough; things go a lot more smoothly that way, believe me.


The only thing left to do now is roll the dough around in the pine nuts.


Then arrange the cookies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and toss it in the oven.


About half an hour later you've got these pretty swell cookies to enjoy.

In this particular case it was a shyster lawyer from New Jersey who actually got to enjoy them, but you get the idea.

Pignoli Cookies

Recipe

Makes about a dozen cookies

1 8-oz can almond paste (do NOT use the tubes; the texture is different)

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup confectioners sugar

3 tbsp flour

1 extra large egg white

8 oz raw pignoli (pine nuts)


Preheat oven to 300 degrees F

In a food processor, crumble the almond paste, then add the sugars and flour and mix until fine

Add the egg white and mix until dough forms

Empty the pignoli into a bowl

Scoop out small amounts of the dough (wet hands help and so I keep a bowl filled with water on hand), then roll in pignoli until coated

Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 15 minutes

Rotate the sheet and bake another 10 minutes, or until cookies are golden

Allow to cool, give a light dusting of confectioners sugar and serve
 
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