It’s that time of year when my kitchen often turns into a cookie factory. Each year I try to come up with a few new treats, as well as tried and true Christmas favorites like – Sugar Cookies, Gingersnaps, Peanut Butter Blossoms ,Jam Thumbprints, and Mexican Wedding Balls. This year I decided to focus on “icebox cookies” – I love the “slice and bake” ease of this type of cookie. Most recipes make fairly large quantities of small round buttery cookies. If you like shortbread, Lorna Doone’s or Pecan Sandies, then you’ll love this recipe. The brown sugar and butter create a wonderful caramel/butterscotch-like flavor which is a perfect match to the finely chopped walnuts. Great with a cup of tea or coffee, these crunchy cookies just melt in your mouth.
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup lightly packed dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon (optional)
½ cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans
Turbinado sugar (commonly sold as Sugar in the Raw. Demerara sugar, sanding sugar, or another coarse sugar can be substituted.)
1. Sift the flour and salt together in a small bowl and set aside.
2. Cream the butter, brown sugar, vanilla and cinnamon (if using) in a stand mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 ½ -3 minutes. Stop the mixer once or twice to scrape down the sides of bowl.
3. Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed to combine, about 45 seconds. Scrape down bowl again.
4. Add the nuts and mix on low speed just until incorporated, 5-10 seconds.
5. Using a rubber spatula or bench scraper, divide dough in half and place each on a large piece of parchment or wax paper and shape into logs about 9-10 inches long. Roll the dough up in the paper and twist the ends. Refrigerate the dough for 4-5 hours or overnight. (After the dough has been wrapped in parchment, it can be double-wrapped in plastic and frozen for up to 2 weeks.)
6. Remove the dough from refrigerator and carefully unwrap dough. Let stand for 5-10 minutes and then sprinkle paper with sanding sugar and roll log to coat completely.
7. About 15 minutes before baking, preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a few rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
8. Using a chef’s knife, slice dough into 1/3” thick pieces. Place the cookies 1 inch apart on prepared sheets (you can also dip the tops of the sliced cookies in more sanding sugar, and place them on the sheet, sugar side up)
9. Bake the cookies until they are golden, about 40 minutes. Cool cookies on baking sheet for 10 minutes; using thin metal spatula, transfer cookies to wire rack and cool to room temperature. Store cooled cookies between sheets of parchment paper in airtight container for up to 1 week.
A friend of mine called this morning and said she was having 12 people over for dinner and having brisket and potato pancakes. She sounded a tad overwhelmed and I thought that the least I could do is make some festive cupcakes to celebrate Hanukkah. I rarely use cake mixes but given the late hour I decided to spruce up a plain white mix. Cake mixes usually work pretty well and are nearly foolproof and when you make your own frosting, they’re a first cousin to homemade. (The Hanukkah sprinkles are from Surfas in Cuvler City, CA (click here - Surfas Culinary District) or online at The Baker's Kitchen (http://www.thebakerskitchen.net)
1 package (18.25 ounces) Duncan Hines White Cake Mix
1 cup sour cream
½ cup milk
½ cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 large eggs
3-4 drops blue food coloring (more if needed)
1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 24 cupcake cups with paper liners and spray lightly with non stick cooking spray. Set the pans aside.
2. Place the cake mix, sour cream, milk, oil, and eggs in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
3. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat two minutes more, scraping down the sides again if needed. The batter should look thick and well combined.
4. Using ice cream scoop or large spoon, place batter into 12 of the cupcake papers.
5. Add blue food coloring to remaining batter and mix to combine. Spoon remaining batter into each lined cupcake cup, filling it three quarters of the way full. (You will get between 22 and 24 cupcakes; remove the empty liners, if any.) Place the pans in the oven.
6. Bake the cupcakes until they spring back when lightly pressed with your finger, 18 to 20 minutes. Remove the pans from the oven and place them on wire racks to cool for 5 minutes. Run a dinner knife around the edges of the cupcake liners, lift the cupcakes up from the bottoms of the cups using the end of the knife, and pick them out of the cups carefully with your fingertips. Place them on a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.
Easy Fluffy Buttercream Frosting
The buttercream frosting can be made ahead and refrigerated; if refrigerated, however, it must stand at room temperature to soften before use. If using a hand-held mixer, increase mixing times significantly (at least 50 percent).
20 tablespoons (2 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 ½ cups Confectioners' sugar (10 ounces)
1/8 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1. In standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat butter at medium-high speed until smooth, about 20 seconds. Sift confectioners' sugar into mixer bowl and add salt; beat at medium-low speed until most of the sugar is moistened, about 45 seconds. Scrape down bowl and beat at medium speed until mixture is fully combined, about 15 seconds; scrape bowl, add vanilla and heavy cream, and beat at medium speed until incorporated, about 10 seconds, then increase speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down bowl once or twice.
Sticky Buns can often be a challenging and time consuming recipe. Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry makes this recipe fast and easy to throw together. I like the combination of dried cranberries and golden raisins, but currants would also work well. The recipe easy doubles to make a full dozen. (Make Ahead: Up to 1 day ahead, prepare the rolls, but don’t bake. Cover with plastic wrap and keep in the refrigerator until ready to bake)
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and adjust rack to middle position. Place a 6-cup muffin tin on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the 6 tablespoons butter and 1/3 cup brown sugar. Place 1 rounded tablespoon of the mixture in each of the 6 muffin cups.
3. Distribute the chopped pecans evenly among the 6 muffin cups on top of the butter and sugar mixture; set aside.
4. Combine brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and salt in small bowl and mix until thoroughly combined, using fingers to break up sugar lumps; set aside.
5. Lightly flour a wooden board or stone surface. Unfold 1 sheet of puff pastry with the folds going left to right. Brush the whole sheet with the melted butter. Leaving a 1-inch border on the puff pastry, sprinkle the sheet with brown sugar mixture, and then the cranberries and raisins. Starting with the end nearest you, roll the pastry up snugly like a jelly roll around the filling, finishing the roll with the seam side down. Slice the roll in 6 equal pieces, each about 1 1/2 inches wide. Place each piece, spiral side up, in 6 of the muffin cups.
6. Bake for 30 minutes, until the sticky buns are golden to dark brown on top and firm to the touch. Be careful – the filling is very hot! Allow to cool for 5 minutes only, invert the buns onto the parchment paper (ease the filling and pecans out onto the buns with a spoon) and cool completely.
Last year I was in Spain for Madrid Fusion, one of Spain's biggest gastro-festivals that included a “who’s who” of culinary heavyweights from Spain and elsewhere, including Ferran Adrià (who announced his two-year sabbatical from his famed El Bulli restaurant), Sergi Arola (in the photo below), Grant Achatz, Sergi Arola, Alain Ducasse, Cheong Liew and Mark Best.
While there, I enjoyed an extravagant lunch at the 2 Michelin star rated Sergi Arola Gastro (www.sergiarola.es), a top restaurant in Madrid and probably one of my best dining experiences in Spain. It is presided over by avant garde chef Sergi Arola, who enjoys a unique culinary pedigree. A disciple of Ferrán Adrià (who has redefined culinary techniques with over-the-top creations like freeze-dried foie gras, atomized martinis and edible hibiscus paper) Arola trained in Adrià’s kitchen laboratory in Barcelona, working alongside the master chef for 8 years.
Make sure you set aside two to three hours for this extraordinary gastronomic experience.The menu is simplified by offering 3 “sampler” selections – a “Gastro” menu (160€) , “Sergi’s” menu (125€) and a “Basics” menu (105€).There is an incredibly extensive wine list that features over 500 labels, mostly from small producers, which are, shockingly, all available by the glass. I was dining with two wonderful food journalists from Sydney and Singapore, and we chose the “Basics” menu – which consisted of 10 courses from the “Sergi’s” 14 course menu,.
Patrons are first served some “snacks”, consisting of large olives, croquetas, thin plantain chips, Arola-style spicy stuffed, potatoes and spicy tomato toasts.
This is followed by Sushi-sashimi
Marinated Hake with rice ice cream
Maki - Squid stuffed with vegetable and monkfish liver
Sausage of duck liver and sweetbreads
Baby Scallops with Creamy rice cooked with Idiazάbal cheese, bacon and asparagus
Roasted Skate with Green Lentils du Puy
Slow cooked Sirloin braised with turnip from la Cerdaña, carrots, and salsify
And finally, we chose a "light" dessert -
Sliced Granny Smith Apple, confit of celery, and apple and celery ice cream
And just in case that didn’t satisfy your sweet tooth, a canister full of macaroons, grated chocolate, and hard candies, was presented as a final touch.
Traditional Russian Tea Cakes/Mexican Wedding Cookies
These have to be one of the quintessential Christmas cookies. They are known by many names but Mexican Wedding Cookie seems to be the most common. There are several variations of this cookie in many countries – Biscochitos in Mexico (always made with lard), Kourabiedes in Greece, Polvorones in Italy and Spain - making them a universal holiday cookie treat. It’s important to use the highest quality butter when making these melt-in-your-mouth morsels.
½ pound unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened (preferably Plugra)
1/3 cup superfine sugar
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon, optional
1 ½ cups confectioners' sugar for rolling cooled cookies
1. Adjust oven racks to upper- and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 325 degrees. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
2. Finely grind 1 cup nuts in a food processor to the texture of coarse cornmeal, 10-15 seconds, then transfer to a medium bowl. Coarsely chop remaining nuts in processor, about 5 seconds, and transfer to same bowl and stir in flour, salt and optional cinnamon.
3. In bowl of an electric mixer at medium speed or by hand, beat butter and superfine sugar until light and creamy, about 1 ½ - 2 minutes with an electric mixer; beat in vanilla. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl with rubber spatula; add flour mixture and beat at low speed until dough just begins to come together but still looks scrappy, about 15 seconds. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl again with rubber spatula; continue beating at low speed until dough is cohesive, 6 to 9 seconds longer. Do not overbeat.
4. Working with about one tablespoon dough at a time (or using a small cookie scoop http://bit.ly/vv1g0s) roll and shape cookies into balls and place on prepared sheets about 1 inch apart. Bake until tops are pale golden and bottoms are just beginning to brown, turning cookie sheets from front to back and switching from top to bottom racks halfway through baking, 17 to 19 minutes.
5. Cool cookies on sheets about 10 minutes; then transfer to wire rack and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Working with three or four cookies at a time, roll cookies in confectioners’ sugar to coat them thoroughly. Gently shake off excess. (They can be stored in an airtight container up to 5 days.) Before serving, roll cookies in confectioners’ sugar a second time to ensure a thick coating, and tap off excess.
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened but still cool
½ cup packed dark brown sugar
½ cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup molasses (about 6 ounces), light or dark
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Place 1/2 cup sugar for dipping in 8- or 9-inch cake pan.
2. Whisk flour, baking soda, spices, and salt in medium bowl until thoroughly combined; set aside.
3. In standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter with brown and granulated sugars at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-low and add yolk and vanilla; increase speed to medium and beat until incorporated, about 20 seconds. Reduce speed to medium-low and add molasses; beat until fully incorporated, about 20 seconds, scraping bottom and sides of bowl once with rubber spatula. Reduce speed to lowest setting; add flour mixture and beat until just incorporated, about 30 seconds, scraping bowl down once. Give dough final stir with rubber spatula to ensure that no pockets of flour remain at bottom. Dough will be soft.
4. Using tablespoon measure, scoop heaping tablespoon of dough and roll between palms into 1 1/2-inch ball; drop ball into cake pan with sugar and repeat to form about 4 balls. Toss balls in sugar to coat and set on prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Drop 2-3 drops of water to create crinkled surface. Repeat with remaining dough. Bake 1 sheet at a time until cookies are browned, still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft (cookies will look raw between cracks and seem underdone), about 11 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Do not overbake.
5. Cool cookies on baking sheet 5 minutes, then use wide metal spatula to transfer cookies to wire rack; cool cookies to room temperature. When completely cool, return cookies to cooled parchment-lined baking sheets. Whisk confectioners' sugar and 2 ½ tablespoons dark rum in medium bowl until smooth. If the glaze is too thick to drizzle, whisk in additional tablespoon rum. Dip spoon into glaze and then move spoon over cookies so that glaze drizzles down onto them; repeat as necessary. Transfer cookies to wire rack and allow glaze to dry, 10 to 15 minutes.
These are always a big hit at parties, so I when I saw this recipe on Cook’s Country I knew I had to try them. The most common method is to use store bought crescent dough or puff pastry, but the crust used here is based on a cream biscuit recipe. You can make them ahead and keep them in the freezer until ready to bake.
4 tablespoons vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 ½ cups heavy cream
1 large egg, lightly beaten
¼ cup flour (for hot dog rolling)
6 hot dogs
1. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Pulse 2 cups flour, shortening, baking powder, salt, and cayenne in food processor until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Transfer to large bowl. Stir in cream until combined. Turn onto lightly floured surface and knead dough until smooth, 8 to 10 times.
3. Roll dough into 15- by 10-inch rectangle. Brush dough with egg wash and cut into six 5-inch squares.
4. Place remaining flour in shallow dish. Pat hot dogs dry with paper towels and coat with flour, shaking off excess.
5. Arrange 1 hot dog in center of each dough square. Roll dough around hot dog and pinch seam closed. Cut each hot dog into 4 rounds and place on prepared baking sheet. Freeze until firm, about 30 minutes. Transfer to zipper-lock bag and freeze for up to 1 month.
6. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Arrange rounds, seam side down, on parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes. Serve warm.
These make a great gift and can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks. Do not use salted nuts. Recipe can easily be halved.
Makes about 10 cups
2large egg whites
2pounds unsalted raw pecans, cashews, walnuts, or whole unblanched almonds
1 cup sugar
4teaspoons ground cinnamon
1. Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 300 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk egg whites, water, and salt in large bowl. Add nuts and toss to coat. Drain in colander for 5 minutes.
2. Mix sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and coriander in large bowl. Add drained nuts and toss to coat. Spread nuts evenly on prepared baking sheets and bake until dry and crisp, 40 to 45 minutes, rotating and switching position of baking sheets halfway through baking time. Cool nuts completely. Break nuts apart and serve.