Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Cookie Time: Mexican Wedding Cakes

This is, hands down, my favorite christmas cookie. I remember when I was little, my grandma (who lived in New York) would send our family (in California) a tin of her cookies, and this cookie was always in it. I can remember rummaging around in the tin looking for one of these little guys. The insides are sandy and crumbly, but, because they are rolled in powdered sugar while still hot, there is a smooth, almost cooling sweetness to the coating on the outside. Made from butter, nuts, sugar and flour, they are pretty simple to make en masse.

Cookie baker's tip: let the hot cookies cool a tiny bit before tossing in the powdered sugar. If they're too hot, they'll fall apart and you'll have to eat the busted ones yourself.

Mexican Wedding Cakes (From Joy of Cooking)

1 cup coarsely chopped pecans

1/2 lb butter, softened

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 c powdered sugar

2 tsp vanilla

2 c all purpose flour

1/3 cup powdered sugar, for rolling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) and place rack in center of oven.

Toast Nuts: Place nuts on a baking sheet and bake for about 8 minutes, or until lightly brown and fragrant. Cool. Once the nuts have cooled completely place them, along with 2 tablespoons (25 grams) of the flour from the recipe, into your food processor, fitted with a metal blade, and process until they are finely ground (but not a paste).

In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the butter and 1/2 c sugar until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes). Beat in the vanilla extract. Add the remaining flour and salt and beat until combined. Stir in the nuts. Cover and refrigerate the dough for about one hour or until firm.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Form the chilled dough into 1 inch (2.5 cm) balls and place them 2 inches (5 cm) apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for about 12 - 15 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies start to brown. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool for about 5 minutes.

Roll the cookies in powdered sugar until coated.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Cookie Time: Calginetti

Everyone's heard of pizzelle and biscotti, but I'm betting that these intriguing little fried pastries are new to even some die-hard Italian cookie aficionados. As a kid, I remember them popping up at my grandmom's house around the Christmas season, and I can't say they were always my favorite – the combination of cinnamon and citrus zest flavors with chocolate, along with the somewhat unusual texture of the filling (and the fact that there were chick peas - in a cookie?), was a bit of a challenge to my young palate. But as time went on, I gained an appreciation for these crunchy morsels, not just because they tasted good, but because they represented a who-knows-how-old tradition.

Calginetti ready to be fried

So it was a little bit heartwarming, a little bit fun, and a fair amount of work when my mom showed up to join Lauren and me in making these Christmas treats, pronounced cahl-jin-EETS (or at least that's how we say it in the South Philly Italian-American dialect). For a sense of historical perspective, here's the original recipe card upon which my grandmother passed down the instructions for making these. Like a lot of old recipes, this one doesn't tell the whole story, because when we followed it we ended up with WAY more filling than dough to wrap it in, so you may want to either half the filling portion or double the dough recipe to start out with. I'm also going to attempt to streamline the process versus what you'll find in the above-linked original recipe.

Calginetti (Mrs. Curcio)
1 (small) can chick peas/garbanzos/ceci
Zest of one tangerine, grated
1 8 oz. semisweet chocolate bar, chopped
1-1 1/2 C chopped walnuts or almonds
3/4 C cocoa
2 tbs cinnamon
Honey (about 3/4 of a bear's worth)

Rinse and drain the chick peas. Skin them by squeezing or rubbing with a towel. Place in the bowl of a food processor along with all of the ingredients aside from the honey. Process until mixture is finely chopped, then add honey until it has a firm consistency. Place in refrigerator while preparing the dough.

1/2 C rosé wine
1/2 C water
1/2 C vegetable oil
Flour (about 2-3 C)

Combine wine, water and oil, then mix in enough flour to make a dough that is thick enough to be rolled out. Divide dough into manageable portions and roll out to about 1/8" thick. Cut circles out of the dough with a three-inch diameter glass, biscuit cutter or ring mold. Place about a scant teaspoon of filling in each dough circle, then moisten the edges with water, fold over, press to seal and crimp with a fork (similar to making ravioli).

Deep-fry in hot vegetable oil (a deep fryer at 375° is best) in small batches, turning once, until golden brown all around. Drain and remove to a rack to complete draining and cooling. When cool, sprinkle with confectioner's sugar. Store in an air-tight container once totally cool and sprinkle with more confectioner's sugar before serving.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Cookie Time: Chocolate Espresso Snowcaps

Paul loves these crackley cookies, so I make sure to make them every year. They have a dark cake-y center and sweet crunchy outside that makes for a delicious combination. These have the added depth of espresso powder, but we have made them without coffee, and they are just as delicious. The dough freezes well, which helps those of us who bake in quantity and have to plan ahead.

Cookie Baker's Tip: These would be delicious with other flavorings that complement chocolate. I'm thinking orange? raspberry? rum?

Chocolate Espresso Snowcaps

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
4 teaspoons instant espresso
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2/3 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 large egg
4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled
1 tablespoon milk
Confectioners' sugar, for coating

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, espresso, baking powder, and salt. With an electric mixer, cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg until well combined; mix in cooled chocolate. With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture; beat in milk until just combined.

Flatten dough into a disk; wrap in plastic. Freeze until firm, about 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Pour confectioners' sugar (about 1/2 cup) into a medium bowl; working in batches, roll balls in sugar two times, letting them sit in sugar between coatings.

Place on prepared baking sheets, 2 inches apart. Bake until cookies have spread and coating is cracked, 12 to 14 minutes; cookies will still be soft to the touch. Cool cookies on a wire rack.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Cookie Time: Pecan Tassies

This recipe is from Paul's family, from his father's side. Apparently, tassies are popular cookies that can feature a variety of fillings, but I had never had them before moving to Pennsylvania. These are like mini pecan pies. What is not to love about mini pecan pies?? really, people.

Pecan Tassies (with thanks to Grace Cozzubbo)

Preheat oven to 350

cream together:
6 ox cream cheese
1/2 lb bitter
2 c flour

Roll dough into 48 balls and press in the bottom of small tins (I have a "tassie pan" which is essentially a mini muffin pan), making an indentation into each- they should be like small cups of dough.

3 eggs
2cups light brown sugar
pinch of salt
3 Tbs melted butter
1 tsp vanilla
crushed nuts (I use pecans)

Beat eggs, add other ingredients except nuts. Pour this mixture into the indentations in the dough. Sprinkle with crushed nuts. Bake 12-15 minutes.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Cookie Time: Linzer Cookies

These cookies, an addition from Tuesdays with Dorie, found a comfortable home in my holiday repertoire due to my love of nut-based cookies and any excuse to use jam. They're only a teensy bit more complicated than a sugar cookie, and the finished product has a great sandy, crumbly texture. These cookies look elegant, too, thanks to the snow-like dusting of confectioner's sugar at the finish.

Cookie Baker's Tip: using a small star, christmas tree, or candy cane cutter for the center cut out would make these cookies super-festive.

You can find the recipe here, straight from Dorie's book, Baking, From My Home to Yours.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Christmas Cookie Time: Almond Spice Wafers

I tried these cookies, from Martha Stewart, last year because their picture looked irresistible. They have a delicate, almost melt in your mouth flavor, and remind me of the incredibly thin, crispy ginger cookies you can buy at ikea, but jazzed up with nuts (call me lame but I am a sucker for all things ikea).

Again, I only have pictures of the rejects (when baking 13 types of christmas cookies one forgets about the important things, like saving some for your "beauty shots").

Cookie Baker's Tip: slicing the dough while still somewhat frozen helps you get ultra thin slices.

Almond Spice Wafers
from Martha Stewart's Cookies

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups packed dark-brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 cup sliced blanched almonds

Line 2 mini loaf pans with plastic wrap.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. Beat butter and sugar with a mixer on medium speed for 4 minutes. Reduce speed to low. Add eggs and spices. Beat in flour mixture in 3 additions.

Press cookie dough into pans, and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Freeze for 1 1/2 hours (or up to 1 month).Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove dough from 1 pan. Let soften slightly. Cut eight 1/8-inch-thick slices with a sharp knife. Cover remaining dough, and freeze in pan until ready to slice and bake.

Place slices 1 1/2 inches apart on a cookie sheet lined with a nonstick baking mat. Top each with 2 to 3 almond slices. Freeze until firm, 5 minutes. Bake until dark golden brown, 10 minutes. Let cool on sheet on a wire rack. Repeat.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Harry Potter Birthday Cake

This weekend Paul threw me a wonderful surprise party for my 30th birthday. My family was there, my friends were there, but do you want to know what the best part was? My cake. A Harry Potter themed cake featuring the Hogwarts seal, a fondant me flying on a broom and a 3 headed dog that resembled our own pups, Clementine and Oliver. Underneath the fondant fun was a vanilla cake with raspberry filling and butterbeer buttercream. Butterbeer. Check out the awesomeness:

Don't you wish it was your birthday cake?

The cake was made by Brittany at Splendora Cake and Tea- check her out if you have a local cake need. She's working towards her own storefront and does lovely work.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas Cookie Time: Seven-Layer Cookies

I saw these cookies last year on Smitten Kitchen and it brought up instant memories of boxes full of italian bakery cookies.

The recipe is a bit more complicated and labor intensive then your usual christmas cookie, but it's well worth the extra effort. They were by far the crowd favorite amongst the many cookies I baked and distributed last year. This pic is of one of the rejects, so I apologize in advance for it's super wonkiness.

Cookie baker's tip: Change up the color of the layers as you wish to suit the occasion - I'm thinking red and green stripes for this year's batch.

Seven-Layer Cookies
Gourmet, December 2005

Makes about 5 dozen cookies (or more, if you cut them as small as I did)

4 large eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1 (8-oz) can almond paste
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
25 drops red food coloring
25 drops green food coloring
1 (12-oz) jar apricot preserves, heated and strained
7 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped

Special equipment: a small offset spatula, a heavy-duty stand mixer if you have one; a hand-mixer should work as well

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 13- by 9-inch baking pan and line bottom with wax paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on 2 ends, then butter paper.

Beat whites in mixer fitted with whisk attachment at medium-high speed until they just hold stiff peaks. Add 1/4 cup sugar a little at a time, beating at high speed until whites hold stiff, slightly glossy peaks. Transfer to another bowl.

Switch to paddle attachment, then beat together almond paste and remaining 3/4 cup sugar until well blended, about 3 minutes. Add butter and beat until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add yolks and almond extract and beat until combined well, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low, then add flour and salt and mix until just combined.

Fold half of egg white mixture into almond mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly.

Divide batter among 3 bowls. Stir red food coloring into one and green food coloring into another, leaving the third batch plain. Set white batter aside. Chill green batter, covered. Pour red batter into prepared pan and spread evenly with offset spatula (layer will be about 1/4 inch thick).

Bake red layer 8 to 10 minutes, until just set. (It is important to undercook. They’ll look like they’re not done, but a tester does come out clean.)

Using paper overhang, transfer layer to a rack to cool, about 15 minutes. Clean pan, then line with parchment or wax paper and butter paper in same manner as above. Bake white layer in prepared pan until just set. As white layer bakes, bring green batter to room temperature. Transfer white layer to a rack. Prepare pan as above, then bake green layer in same manner as before. Transfer to a rack to cool.

When all layers are cool, invert green onto a parchment or wax-paper-lined large baking sheet. Discard paper from layer and spread with half of preserves. Invert white on top of green layer, discarding paper. Spread with remaining preserves. Invert red layer on top of white layer and discard wax or parchment paper.

Cover with plastic wrap and weight with a large baking pan. Chill at least 8 hours.

Remove weight and plastic wrap. Bring layers to room temperature. Melt chocolate in a double boiler or a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat. Keep chocolate over water.

Trim edges of assembled layers with a long serrated knife. Quickly spread half of chocolate in a thin layer on top of cake. Chill, uncovered, until chocolate is firm, about 15 minutes. Cover with another sheet of wax paper and place another baking sheet on top, then invert cake onto sheet and remove paper. Quickly spread with remaining chocolate. Chill until firm, about 30 minutes.

Cut lengthwise into 4 strips (I cut them into more, because I wanted them 1 to 1 1/2 inches wide, as I remember them). Cut strips crosswise into 3/4-inch-wide cookies.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Christmas Cookie Time: World Peace Cookies

The instant I saw the recipe for these cookies in Dorie Greenspan's book Baking, from my home to yours, I knew they were a must try: crunchy, crumbly thins with a deep cocoa flavor flecked with salt. The perfect match for my sweet/salty obsession. Their name, world peace cookies, make them the perfect gift this time of year, (or really any, since we really could do with a little world peace.)

Cookie baker's tip: Making the dough ahead of time and freezing it in empty paper towel tubes makes for a perfectly round cookie when you are ready to bake.

World Peace Cookies (adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)


1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (11 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips, or a generous 3/4 cup store-bought mini chocolate chips


1. Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together. Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more.

2. Turn off the mixer. Pour in the dry ingredients, drape a kitchen towel over the stand mixer to protect yourself and your kitchen from flying flour and pulse the mixer at low speed about 5 times, a second or two each time. If there is still a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple of times more; if not, remove the towel. Continuing at low speed, mix for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough. For the best texture, work the dough as little as possible once the flour is added, and don’t be concerned if the dough looks a little crumbly. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate.

3. Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you’ve frozen the dough, you needn’t defrost it before baking — just slice the logs into cookies and bake the cookies 1 minute longer.)

4. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

5. Using a sharp thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are 1/2 inch thick. (The rounds are likely to crack as you’re cutting them — don’t be concerned, just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.) Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them.

6. Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes — they won’t look done, nor will they be firm, but that’s just the way they should be. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest until they are only just warm, at which point you can serve them or let them reach room temperature.