Showing posts with label dessert. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dessert. 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.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Anna's rice pudding



Our story begins, as so many of them do, at a not-altogether chance encounter with a family member on the afternoon of Christmas Eve last.

"Open your mouth, Meatball, I made Anna's rice pudding," commanded Cousin Jennifer, pointing a half-filled spoon at my person and approaching from a distance of seven or so feet. "It's not any good but I want your opinion anyway. I've been waiting for you to show up."

I have never known Jennifer, daughter to Cousins John and Susie, to be the bossy type and so her aggression was unanticipated. Even Aunt Laura, her grandmother, whom we both were visiting on this holiday and whose diminished health leaves her senses somewhat compromised, looked surprised.

More shocking still is that Jennifer had "made" anything at all. So far as I am aware my cousin's stovetop is little more than overflow storage space in her small apartment-size kitchen. A story circulates that she once cleared off a burner in order to bring a bit of water to a boil, for tea I was told, but no evidence of this exists, and nobody believes the account anyway.

And yet, here we were, in Laura's living room, surrounded by other family, not to mention all the beautiful Christmas cookies and candies lined along a sideboard and available for all to enjoy.

Now, I love my cousin very much; let's be clear on this. Her spirit is generous, her heart full. Being spoon-fed by her hand, if only for a taste or two, was more an intimate familial moment than a culinary one, defined not by the quality of Jennifer's cooking but by her desire to share the experience with, of all the many fine people in her orbit, me.

"Well?" she said watching as the first bit of pudding made its way around the inside of my mouth. "It's terrible, right."

It was nothing of the kind and I said as much.

"Tastes like Anna's rice pudding, all right. You did good, Jen."

Just then a second spoonful arrived at my lips.

"But?" Jennifer challenged as I accepted a second taste of her experiment. "C'mon, just say it."

For someone with so little knowledge of things culinary my cousin proved to know more than I had credited her with. Her rice pudding might have tasted like Aunt Anna's but the texture... Well, it was all wrong—and she knew it.

"Okay, it's maybe just a little bit dense," I offered delicately. "But only a little, can hardly notice."

This was a yellow cream-colored lie, of course. On the density scale Jennifer's pudding was in the eighty percentile whereas our aunt's might sit more in the forty range. She simply had overcooked the pudding, that's all. At least in my view.

"For a first time out you did real good," I said encouragingly. "Maybe just cook it a little less next time, or at a lower flame. More importantly, don't give up. You can do this."



Arriving back home to Maine after the long holidays I received a text from Jennifer about an unrelated topic, which prompted me to scroll through past messages we had shared throughout the year. I stopped cold at this picture of her with Aunt Anna. They were in Anna's kitchen some months ago and had decided to say hello to me by sending this photo. "Wish you were here" was their message.

I am not readily moved to emotion and yet this simple, out-of-focus, poorly lighted, not in the least remarkable picture pretty much left me helpless. Certainly its message did. And so I went to my kitchen and did the one thing that I knew would bring the three of us together again: I called my aunt, got her recipe and made her rice pudding.

What else could I do?

Anna's Rice Pudding
Serves 4-6 people

1 quart whole milk
1/2 cup rice
Pinch of salt
8 ounces heavy cream
3 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup raisins

Add the milk, rice and salt to a saucepan and turn the heat to medium; stir frequently so that the rice doesn't stick to the bottom.

In a bowl beat the egg yolks and incorporate with half of the cream.

When the milk comes to a boil turn the heat to low and allow the rice to cook at a slow simmer for around 40 minutes or so, or until the rice has absorbed most of the milk. (Don't allow the milk to completely evaporate; this will stiffen the rice too much.)

Remove from heat and stir in the sugar and the rest of the cream (the cream that was NOT added to the egg yolks).

Add the egg yolks and cream and incorporate.

Cover the bottom of a serving tray with the raisins and pour the pudding over it.

Allow to cool, sprinkle with cinnamon and serve.

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, November 13, 2016

Pumpkin ricotta pie



There's a reason nobody ever asks me to cook Thanksgiving dinner: I'm not wired for it. And can't be trusted to do things the traditional way.

Let's face it, my idea of a Thanksgiving feast isn't so much about the bird and the stuffing and the side dishes as it is about starting things off with my mother's manicotti (and possibly ending them with cousin Josephine's biscotti). Not exactly what most folks expect when they gather to celebrate such a uniquely American holiday, and so I don't blame people for keeping me away from the kitchen year after year.

Last Thanksgiving I did manage to snooker my way into the dessert portion of the festivities, by promising to bake a simple and completely traditional pumpkin pie.

"You're not gonna screw around with it, right?" asked My Associate, understandably dubious of my intentions. "We're talking about a straight-up, old-fashioned pumpkin pie. That's what you're offering to make, nothing else?"

Anticipating the woman's resistance I had come prepared with unimpeachable evidence to prove that my motives were pure.

"Is this traditional enough for you?" said I confidently, holding in my hand an original edition of Joy of Cooking. "It'll be by the book, I swear."

Once given the go ahead I had every intention to follow Joy of Cooking's recipe to the letter, and in fact did so in every way but one: At the last minute—while no one was watching—I decided to, well, not exactly bake a straight-up old-fashioned pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving.

There was some very nice fresh ricotta in the fridge, you see. It was only a small amount, leftover from the batch of mom's manicotti that I had prepared and stored away earlier in the day.

"Why not?" I muttered, looking around to see that I was indeed alone. "Nobody will even notice."



The full list of ingredients is below but basically the deal is this: Instead of using the 2 cups of pumpkin that the recipe called for, I went with 1 1/2 cups pumpkin and that 1/2 cup ricotta in the fridge. They're about to be spoon-mixed with the two eggs that are in the recipe.



Then the white and brown sugar and spices are mixed in.



Along with evaporated milk.



The pie crust is one that I swear by. It's from Cook's Illustrated and the complete recipe is below. Pour the mixture into your pie shell and bake for 15 minutes at 425 degrees F, then reduce the heat to 350 and bake for another 45 minutes, or until an inserted knife comes out clean.



And there you have it, a not entirely traditional pumpkin (and ricotta) pie that'll go along just swell with your Thanksgiving feast.



One other thing. People did notice. Who knows, they may even request the pie again this year.

Of course, I can't promise not to mess with the recipe all over again.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

For the pie crust
From Cook's Illustrated
NOTE: This recipe is for a double crust but only the bottom crust is needed here.

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon table salt

2 tablespoons sugar

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices

1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces

1/4 cup cold vodka

1/4 cup cold water


Directions
Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses.


Add butter and shortening and process until homogeneous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds (dough will resemble cottage cheese curds and there should be no uncoated flour).


Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.


Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together.

Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

For the filling
Adapted from the original Joy of Cooking

1 1/2 cups cooked pumpkin 
1/2 cup ricotta (This is the only alteration I have made. Should you be looking for Joy's recipe simply ditch the ricotta and go with 2 cups of pumpkin.)
1 1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg or allspice
1/8 teaspoon cloves
2 slightly beaten eggs

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.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Candied orange in syrup


We're deep in Thanksgiving prep mode around here (not one but two turkeys, along with, well, all the things that go with two turkeys) and so I'll have to be quick.

These oranges are the first thing I got done today. I like them all by themselves but they're most useful for accompanying desserts, like a slice of pie or cake or even ice cream or gelato, even biscotti.

They take no time at all. You should make them.

Unless you've got something against oranges. In which case, we've got nothing to talk about.


These are extra large navel oranges. I've used two here. If you're using smaller oranges then use three instead; that way you won't need to alter the other ingredients.


First cut off the ends, then slice the oranges like so.


In a pan place 2 cups sugar, 3 whole cloves, 6 all-spice berries, and a cinnamon stick.


Add four cups of water and turn the heat to medium high.


When it comes to a boil add the orange slices and turn the heat down to medium or lower. Allow to boil for around an hour. (Rotate the orange slices from time to time so that they cook evenly.)


Turn off the heat and allow to cool. These cooked for exactly one hour. The syrup was tasty and thickened just slightly, the way I like it. The rind had softened nicely. If the rind is still too tough boil a little longer.


I'll be serving them with Thanksgiving Day desserts this week—if we still have room.


You can also put them in a jar with the syrup and keep in the fridge for a while.

If we don't talk before, have a real good holiday.

 
countercounter