Oh Snap.

Gingersnap, of course!

My mother has thrown down the gauntlet, and challenged me to a gingerbread house contest. The deadline is New Year’s Eve, and I’m in the process of testing out gingerbread recipes, because mine has to win. Not every recipe is cut out for a career in architecture, so I’m finding other uses for the copious amounts of gingerbread dough in my fridge.

This particular recipe, the gingerbread from Bittman’s How To Cook Everything (which, side note, is becoming my new favorite resource, even though I totally used to say I wasn’t into cookbooks), makes perfect ginger snaps. I’ve been dipping them in my morning coffee.

The Recipe: Gingersnaps, adapted from Mark Bittman’s recipe featured in How To Cook Everything

Yield: 4-5 dozen
Time: 40 minutes

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar, plus 1 tsp for sprinkling
1 cup mild molasses (or blackstrap for more savory gingersnaps)
1 tsp baking soda
3 1/2 cups flour
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
pinch salt

Do This
Cream together the butter, sugar, and molasses. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, cinnamon, and ginger — which, by the way, smells really awesome.

Mix the baking soda with a couple of tablespoons of warm water, and add to the butter/sugar/molasses mixture. Gradually stir in the dry ingredients, and blend well. Shape the dough into a big lump, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for a couple of hours.

Preheat the oven to 350, and remove your dough from the fridge. While the oven is preheating, let the dough hang out and soften for a few minutes, then roll out to your desired cookie thickness. Gingersnaps are supposed to be fairly crisp, so I like to aim for about 1/4″ or thinner. Cut out desired shapes (I was boring this time and went with round, but you can use cookie cutters if you like) and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle with sugar, just for fun. Bake for 8-10 minutes (until the edges of the cookies start to turn golden brown) and cool before tasting. The cooling step? Not optional. If you try to sneak a cookie before they’ve cooled off, you’ll discover that they’re so soft that they’ll break into little mushy, delicious bits.

Of note: I chose to do round cookies with this recipe because the dough didn’t want to play nice with the more intricately-shaped cookie cutters. It was alternately too hard (right out of the fridge) or too sticky (after 10 minutes) and I couldn’t get the dough to the consistency I was looking for. But, that’s the way the cookie crumbles! I’ve got plenty of gingerbread recipes to try out, so expect to see an abundance of festive treats.


Sloppy Tiramisu Is Still Tiramisu

Let’s talk about the two things I messed up with this tiramisu:

1) I may have put a bit too much rum in the cream, preventing it from completely solidifying. I am not sorry about this.
2) I was led astray by the sales lady at Williams-Sonoma, and made the tiramisu in a trifle dish instead of the 9x12x2 dish Amber told me to use.

Okay, enough about that. It still tasted fantastic, and the only thing I really couldn’t do with this tiramisu was slice it into neat, pretty blocks.

Here’s the recipe, as emailed to me by the lovely Amber:

6 extra large egg yolks, at room temperature
1/4 cup of sugar
1/2 cup good dark rum, divided
1 1/2 cups brewed espresso, divided (I used intelligensia)
16 to 17 ounces mascarpone cheese
30 italian ladyfingers, or savoiardi (I finally found these at World Market)
Bittersweet chocolate, shaved or grated
confectioners’ suger (optional)

Whisk the egg yolks and suger in the bowl of an electric mixer with a whisk attachment on high speed for about 5 minutes, or until very thick and light yellow. Lower the speed to medium and add 1/4 cup rum, 1/4 cup espresso and the mascarpone. Whisk until smooth.

Combine the remaining 1/4 cup rum and 1 1/4 cups espresso in a shallow bowl. Dip one side of each ladyfinger in the espresso/rum mixture and line the bottom of a 9x12x2 inch dish. Pour half the espresso cream mixture evenly on top. Dip one side of the remaining ladyfingers in the espresso/rum mixture and place them in a second layer in the dish. Pour the rest of the espresso cream over the top. Smooth the top and cover in plastic wrap. Refridgerate overnight.

Before serving, sprinkle the top with shaved chocolate and dust lightly with confectioners’ suger if desired.

More pictures coming soon. I have a trifle dish full of tiramisu to consume.

Butter and Shortening. Not The Same.

So, I learned some things yesterday.

(1) My parents have not done much baking since I moved out of their house.

(2) Shortening does, in fact, have an expiration date. Even if it’s not printed on the container.

(3) Rancid shortening is one of the most foul things on the planet.

(4) Butter is only a semi-acceptable substitute for shortening.

All that aside, it is possible to make choreg without using shortening. It just doesn’t have the same dough texture — the dough is sticky and less friendly to work with. Simple solution: instead of braiding the choreg, make little roll shapes.
So…if your shortening happens to have gone rancid, and you’ve already started mixing everything else (cough, cough…who checks their ingredients first?), you can switch out the 1/2 lb of shortening for 1/2 lb (2 sticks) of butter. To compensate, you’ll need to add some extra flour — I honestly can’t tell you how much because I was just adding a tbsp at a time until it worked, but it was enough to make the dough not stick to my hands. Best guess? Another cup of flour.

(5) My old camera is not nearly as good as the other one. Everything looks so blurry!

On the bright side: no matter how ugly and pointy the choreg might look before they go in the oven, they’ll smooth out and look better during the baking process. I was seriously concerned with the sticky factor, but it looks like it’s not that big of a deal after all.

Want that choreg recipe? It’s right here.

Very Cordial Berries

I found these filled, chocolate-dipped strawberries over at Parsnip and Pear, and decided that they were a must-make. And now, they’re a must-make-again.

I made a few small changes to the original recipe, mostly because the oranges at Whole Foods were totally unimpressive and the clementines were fabulous. Also, sometimes I can’t read, and I added in an extra half tsp of vanilla. The cream filling is still lick-the-sides-of-the-bowl worthy.

The Recipe: Chocolate-Dipped Stuffed Strawberries
(adapted from Nikki’s recipe posted at Parsnip & Pear)

as many large strawberries as you can find (or a pint)
1 cup chocolate chips or chunks
1/2 package (4 oz) cream cheese
1/2 package (4 oz) neufchatel
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp clementine zest
2 tsp fresh squeezed clementine juice
splash of light rum

Do This

Wash the strawberries, and slice off the tops. Using a paring knive, hollow out each berry until they’re readily stuff-able. Side note: if anyone has a more efficient way to hollow strawberries, I would love to know what that is. I broke a few berries with the knife, and we’re not even going to talk about how poorly the melon baller worked.
Using your mixer, whip together the cheeses, sugar, vanilla, zest, juice, and rum until it’s all smooth and fluffy and looks like clouds with zest floating in them.

Try not to consume the creamy filling just yet. Put at least half of it into a piping bag fitted with a small tip (I used a #7 round), and pipe into the hollowed strawberries. Not your mouth. Yet.
Place the filled strawberries on a tray or foil-covered cutting board (it works really well!) and slide into the freezer until hardened.

Melt chocolate chunks in a metal bowl set over a pot of water on the stove. Using a toothpick (or your hands) to hold each strawberry, dip the bottoms of the strawberry in the chocolate as far as possible and place onto the tray to set.
When each strawberry is dipped, place tray in fridge until chocolate is set. Remove toothpicks, and serve.

Alternately (and especially if you still have lots of creamy filling left and you don’t want to waste it), pipe some filling in/on other fruits.

I sliced up a nectarine, and it went very well with the cream. The only other fruit I had on hand was that bag of clementines, so I opted out of using the rest of the cream filling tonight, but I’d love to pair this cream with blackberries, raspberries, peaches, and probably some non-fruit things like pound cake.

Or pipe it directly into my mouth.

The Last Cookie of Krypton

What’s this? An ordinary sugar cookie?

Tasty, but not very exciting.

But wait! It’s ducking into that phone booth over there.

That’s not a regular sugar cookie!

Surprise! There’s delicious raspberry filling hidden inside.

These unassuming little cookies have secret raspberry filling. It’s totally a Clark Kent/Superman situation. Except instead of ripping off a button-up shirt and glasses to reveal the Man of Steel, you get to tear into these plain-looking cookies to reveal Cookies of Steel (or, well, a tangy fruit filling).

The cookie part of the recipe is based on this one, but I didn’t have a jar of raspberry preserves, and the store down the block only had grape and strawberry. Since I’d already made the dough, I decided to do things the hard way (or, as I like to call it, the awesome way) and make my own raspberry filler.

The Recipe:
Surprise Raspberry-Filled Cookies, a.k.a. Super Cookies

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
3 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt

1 lb. frozen whole raspberries
3 tsp lime juice
5 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp strawberry jam

Do This
Preheat the oven to 350.

Start the filling first – it can hang out on the stove while you make/roll the dough, and consolidate your prep time. Thaw out the raspberries. Mine came in a plastic pouch, which I ran under warm water for a few minutes. Place the berries into a medium-small saucepan, and turn the burner to high. Stir in the sugar and strawberry jam, and bring the mixture to a boil. Turn the heat down to low, add in the lime juice, and let it continue to cook on low heat while you make the dough. Pop over to the stove to stir the filling occasionally.

Soften the butter (I used a hairdryer for this step, and it’s my new favorite way to do this), and cream it together with the sugar and egg. Stir the flour and salt into the mixture, and beat on low speed until blended into a dough. If it’s finicky, you may want to try mashing it together with a wooden spoon until everything is blended together.
Divide the dough into two parts (this makes rolling much easier). Place it between two sheets of plastic wrap or parchment paper, and roll to about 1/8″ thickness. Using a cookie cutter or a round glass, cut out circles of dough, and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.

Give the filling another quick stir, and spoon a dollop into the center of each dough circle. Cut out another set of circles, and carefully cover each raspberry-slathered circle with a plain one. If you’re able to manage this without causing any of the filling to spill out the sides, even better. If it spills over, don’t worry – you can trim the excess off once the cookies are done baking.

Slide the baking sheet into the oven, and set a timer for 10 minutes. Remove the baking sheet once the timer beeps, and let the cookies cool completely. Kryptonite topping is optional.

Speaking of Kryptonite, I think there was some in my bag of semi-sweet dark chocolate chips. These cookies were originally going to be drizzled with dark chocolate, but I couldn’t get it to melt properly at all. Lucky enough, the cookies taste excellent on their own. They would – they’re Super Cookies.

What A Beautiful Mess

This pastry isn’t pretty. In fact, I’m pretty sure it borders on “reject,” but it is so simple and so delicious that I love it anyhow.

This isn’t winning any beauty contests, but it tastes excellent.

Full disclosure: I don’t know whether to call it a tart or a pastry or what, since it lost all semblance of neatness or shape when I pulled it out of the oven. Maybe I was a little bit too impatient, and should have let it cool before scooping it onto a plate. Maybe it just didn’t want to be pretty.

The Recipe:
Red Pear and Phyllo Dough Delicious Mess
2 sheets phyllo dough
medium-sized red pear
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp butter
dash of cinnamon

Do This
Preheat the oven to 350.
Slice the red pear to just-slightly-thicker-than-paper thickness on a mandoline. If you’re skilled enough to thin-slice the pear with a knife, do that instead (and go ahead and feel good about it because I certainly can’t!).
Place the sugar and butter in a microwave-safe bowl, and nuke for about 30 seconds or until the butter is melted. Shake in just a small dash of cinnamon, and stir together until you have a well-blended, light brown sugary paste.
Stack the two sheets of phyllo dough on top of each other, on a foil-lined baking sheet. Place pear slices along one of the short edges of the dough sheets, and layer them along the edge, two “rows” deep. Spoon the sugar-cinnamon-butter mixture on top, and fold the dough over like a soft taco. Or roll it…folding just makes it have a neat edge that will not matter once it falls apart!
Slide the baking sheet into the oven, and bake until the dough is golden-browned, approximately 10-15 minutes. It’s probably a good idea to let the pastry cool for a few minutes, but I’m too impatient to tell you whether that has any effect.
Using a spatula and a fork, move the still-warm pastry onto a plate, mangling it as much as you like (because how it tastes is important, not how it looks, right?).
Serve warm, whipped cream or ice cream optional.

I think I put cinnamon and sugar in this because the red pears look so much like apples, and I may have had apple streudel on the brain. It’s a combo I’m happy with, and the messy-apple-streudel look is totally the next trend in food styling. Eh? Eh?

Medium Saucepan Corn!

I’d call it kettle corn, but I don’t have a kettle.

Sweet + salty = just perfect.

I based this recipe on the one found on the website for Velma’s Wicked Delicious Kettle Corn. There’s a cute little slideshow with the recipe, and I couldn’t resist giving it a try in my own kitchen. Obviously, I reduced the quantity…I don’t have a giant kettle! A medium-sized saucepan worked just perfectly.

The Recipe:
Medium Saucepan Corn
1/3 cup white popcorn kernels
2 1/2 tbsp sugar
several glugs of vegetable oil (I didn’t measure it, but use just enough to coat the bottom of the pan and dissolve the sugar)
salt to taste

Do This:
Find a medium-sized saucepan, and double-check the amount of popcorn. You should have just enough kernels to cover the bottom of the pan. A few more or less isn’t terrible, but there shouldn’t be lots of kernels on top of each other, nor should there be so few kernels that you could be using a smaller saucepan. My pan works perfectly with 1/3 cup of kernels, so that’s what I went with. If you use more (or less) than this, adjust the amount of sugar so it’s just around half of the measure of popcorn (the original recipe suggests that if you use 6 cups of corn, use 3 cups of sugar). Once you figure this out, set the kernels aside.
Put the sugar in the saucepan, and pour oil over the top until the bottom of the pan is coated, and there is enough that (with a bit of stirring) there isn’t a mound of sugar above the oil line. Turn the burner to medium-high heat, and brown the sugar. Stir constantly.
After a few minutes, the sugar won’t be visible in granular form, but will take the shape of a caramel-colored puddle at the surface of the oil. When this happens, turn the heat down to medium-low, dump the kernels into the saucepan, and cover with a lid.
Hang out near the saucepan, because once the popcorn starts popping, you’ll want to be in control. If you ignore it, you run the risk of burning the popcorn or having a serious mess on your hands when the popped corn forces the lid off and starts exploding all over your kitchen.
When the popped corn starts to near the lid, lightly hold onto the lid. Don’t push it down, but use it to keep the exploding corn contained. If the corn pushes too hard at the lid, carefully shake some of it into a bowl and return the pan to the stove while the remaining kernels pop.
Transfer all of the popped kernels to a large bowl. Shake salt onto the corn, and stir with a wooden spoon to distribute it evenly over the popcorn. Taste a few pieces, and when the batch has the right combo of salty and sweet, go ahead and serve it.

Accident-prone moment: I totally burned my hand when I took the lid off the pan too soon. Hot oil splashed up right along with the zooming popcorn, and it was unpleasant. You should…try not to do this. If you do burn yourself with the oil? The popcorn is not as important as fixing your burnt self, so if you have to remove it from the heat to the detriment of the batch (don’t leave it on the stove to burn!), life will go on and you can make another batch. Grab a towel soaked in cool water and cool your burnt skin (Alternately, run cool water from the faucet over the burn, or soak the burned area in water. Don’t use ice, though! Cool water is the best option), gently pat it dry, and apply aloe vera (but not lotion!) and a sterile gauze bandage if you so desire. If you happen to be unlucky enough to get a serious burn, bring in some reinforcements (emergency help).

This is a snack worth enduring a minor hot oil burn for.