Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Baking Finale - Almost

I have been baking the Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake for about thirty years. The recipe was given to me so I don't know who created this exceptional cake, but it is everybody's favourite. The cake is delicious and it has a wonderfully decadent struesel topping. If you love chocolate, then this coffee cake will not disappoint.

All the cookies I have baked so far are the old standards that I’ve baked year after year, some older than others. I try each year to introduce a new recipe that I’ve never baked before. This year, as I was flipping through Martha Stewarts Cookies, which I recently purchased, the Rum Raisin Shortbread caught my eye. They are your typical shortbread, - butter, sugar and flour - and these are flavoured with orange rind and coconut and studded with currents which I like. Martha explains that currents, are tiny raisins made from the Zante grape that's why they are called Rum Raisin Shortbread. The currants are soaked overnight in rum, but I didn’t want to wait to make them the next day so I just let the currants soak for a few hours before preparing the dough. The dough is rolled into a log, wrapped and chilled for a couple of hours. The recipe says to bake at 325F for 20 minutes but they browned too quickly and the centers were still not cooked enough. I adjusted the temperature to 300F and baked for about 15 minutes, and they turned out just fine.

Finally, I made some Sugar Cookies that I really wanted to try from Rose's Christmas Cookies.

Again, these were very simple to make and after a two hour chilling period I rolled them out and cut them with Christmas cookie cutters. I dashed out to buy some meringue powder for the Royal Icing rather than use egg whites because then I would have yolks left over, which would mean I'd be looking for a recipe to use them up, (I feel wasteful throwing out yolks) and I really didn't feel like making more cookies. I was eager to decorate them and forgot how time consuming it was. Four dozen cookies may not seem like a lot, but when I was fiddling around with coloured icing and piping each cookie I started asking myself exactly what I was thinking going through this exercise? Would a dusting of sugar not have been easier? I just wanted to finish really quickly, so the decorating is just mediocre. I guess it doesn't matter, it's not like I will be selling these at my local bakery, but after I put them on a plate for a photo I thought they didn't look too bad.

Here is a tin filled with cookies ready to go to my parents home for Christmas.

Happy Holidays.

Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake

1 cup sugar
½ cup butter
2 s eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups flour
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup sour cream
1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips


½ cup brown sugar
½ cup chopped walnuts
¼ cup flour
2 tbsp. cocoa
¼ cup butter
½ cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven at 350 F.

Beat sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add eggs and beat well. Add vanilla. Combine flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Add dry ingredients to egg mixture alternately with sour cream, mix on low speed only to combine. Add chocolate chips and mix until combined. Do not over mix as this toughens the cake.

Combine topping ingredients to form a crumbly mixture and sprinkle over batter.

Bake for 60 to 65 minutes.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas Baking Part Two

As I mentioned in my last entry I used to start baking cookies in November, so that most of the baking would be done by mid December and not leave everything to the end and stress myself silly. This year I’ve left it too close to Christmas and I’m now stressing myself silly. You see if I don’t bake cookies that my family are use to it is not left unnoticed and I get comments like “didn’t you bake these” or “are you going to bake these” and “you have to bake these”, and I don’t want to let anyone down so there is a ‘must bake’ list of cookies with one or two new ones thrown in to keep things fresh.

A couple of days ago I baked the 'absolute must bake' Jewel Cookies from Martha Stewart. They are a favourite of both my daughter and son and they are pretty delicious. They are your typical thumbprint cookie rolled in chopped pecans with a raspberry jam center. I don’t use my thumb to make the depression but the end of a wooden spoon. I have to mention also that my husband doesn’t like jam, so I place a chocolate chip in the center of half of the cookies which is fine because they taste just as good, besides it looks like I’ve baked two different batches.

Today I baked three different cookies. The first I baked aren’t a cookie at all but Mini Pecan Raisin Tarts which I’ve been baking for ever. The recipe was given to me by a friend so I don’t know their origins but they are a favourite of mine. The original recipe was call Uva Tarts, (uva translated means raisins), but hubby doesn’t like raisins (are you seeing a pattern here?) so half the filling has pecans only and half has the raisin and pecans. One of the mini tart pans I have is slightly smaller than the other two and I make the raisin pecan tarts in that one and the slightly larger mini tart pans are used for the pecan only tarts, that way there is no confusion to which one is which. Again with the same recipe I get two different tarts. These are time consuming because you have to make the dough and prepare the filling, then roll out the dough, line the pans and fill with fillings and bake and repeat until all the dough and filling are used up. You get about a million tarts with this recipe but could certainly make half the recipe if you wish.

The second I baked were Evelyn’s Christmas Cookies, from John Clancy's Christmas Cookbook, that again I’ve been baking for ever. Evelyn was his friend and neighbour and from whom the recipe came from. They are super simple to make and they are simply flavoured with vanilla and you can’t just eat one. These are also a thumbprint cookie, filled with raspberry jam and yup, you guess it, I place a chocolate chip in about half the cookies. To shape the cookies fast and the same size, I divide the dough into two pieces and roll it out into a long rope and cut it into even pieces that will approximately give me a one inch ball and roll each piece into a ball. It almost looks like I'm making gnocchi doesn't it?

I was left with four egg whites from the last two recipes so I made Amaretti, (Almond Macaroons) a favourite Italian cookie which has a nice crisp exterior and soft chewy interior and are quite delicious. This recipe was also given to me by a friend many years ago and I have been baking them ever since. They are super simple to make with only four ingredients; egg whites, sugar, ground almonds and almond extract. I top half of the cookies with a whole almond and the other half with a whole coffee bean. No picky husband here, he likes both.

I feel good that I have got this baking done, now I only have some cakes to bake.
I don't have the Mini Tarts in my files yet but I have included the recipes for the other three. They all freeze beautifully.
Jewel Cookies
Martha Stewart

1-1/2 cups unsalted butter
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
2 large eggs, separated
2 tsp. vanilla extract
¼ tsp. salt
2-2/3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 cups finely chopped pecans
1 cup thick raspberry jam

Preheat oven to 350 F. and line baking sheets with parchment paper.
Cream butter and sugar. Beat in egg yolks, vanilla, and salt, then the flour. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Brush each dough ball with beaten egg whites, then roll in the chopped pecans. Place balls 2 to 3 inches apart on baking sheets. Press the center of each ball with your thumb, and fill with ½ teaspoon of jam.

Bake until just golden around the edges, 8 to 10 minutes. Cool cookies on rack.
Makes 5 dozen cookies.
Evelyn’s Christmas Cookies
John Clancy's Christmas Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 large egg yolks
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
½ cup raspberry jam

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Cream the butter and sugar until very light in colour. Add the egg yolks and continue to beat until the mixture is fluffy. Stir in the vanilla, and gradually add the flour.

To form the cookies, pat 1 tablespoon of dough at a time into a 1-inch diameter ball and place it on a lightly greased or parchment lined baking sheet. With your fingertip, make an indentation in the top of each cookie. I use the end of the handle of a wooden spoon to make indentations dipping it into some flour from time to time so that the dough doesn’t stick to it. Spoon raspberry jam into each indentation.

Bake the cookies on the middle rack of the oven for about 8 minutes, or until the edges turn a light golden brown.

For a different variation add a chocolate chip in the middle of each cookie instead of the jam.
Amaretti – Almond Macaroons

4 cups ground almonds
1-1/2 cups sugar
4 egg whites
1 tsp. almond extract
Whole Almonds

Beat egg whites till frothy, add sugar and beat until they are stiff. Add extract and ground almonds. Dough should be somewhat stiff. Take about one tablespoon of dough and roll into a 1-inch ball, and roll into granulated sugar. When your hand become sticky rinse with water. Place on parchment lined cookie sheet and top each one with a whole almond.
Note: You can also top the amaretti with a whole coffee bean, or red or green candied cherries that have been quartered.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Christmas Baking Begins

Every year I declare that I will bake less cookies and every year my daughter says she will believe that when she sees it.
I can remember when I was just married I use to do all the Christmas baking on Christmas Eve. I would get out of bed at 6:00 a.m. and begin the baking marathon. By noon I would have about four cakes and several types of cookies baked and wrapped up. Half would go to my husband’s family where we would celebrate Christmas Eve and the other half would go to my family the next day for Christmas.

Over the years my cookies and cake recipes grew and making everything on Christmas Eve would be impossible so I would begin baking at the end of November. By mid December my freezer would be full with cookies and cakes. Most were given away as gifts to dear friends and of course to our families for Christmas celebrations.

This year my baking has begun in earnest having baked four batches of cookies so far. I baked the first batch, Vanilla-Walnut Crescents, last weekend with my daughter’s help. They are an easy cookie to put together and the end result is melt in your mouth goodness. I was in the mood to bake today and decided on Pistachio Cranberry Icebox Cookies, a double batch of Date ‘N Walnut Delights, and Lora Brody’s Rugelach from Rose’s Christmas Cookies.
The Pistachio Cranberry Icebox Cookies which I love are from Gourmet magazine. They are flavoured with a hint of orange rind and cinnamon and when they are sliced they remind me of little stain glass windows.

I have been making Date ‘N Walnut Delights for I can’t remember how many years and are a particular favourite of my daughter Andrea. They are full of dates, walnuts and are cooked with butter, sugar and eggs in a skillet on the stovetop and after stirring for about 15 minutes the mixture transforms into a soft paste and when it has cooled, vanilla, cornflakes and coconut are added, formed into balls, rolled in coconut and chilled. I like them best out of the refrigerator.

The Rugelach is a newcomer on my Christmas cookie list that I have been baking for only a couple of years now and is a favourite of my son Steven. There is a bit of work putting them together but overall easy to make and utterly delicious.

I still have a few more batches to bake so stay tuned. I have posted the recipes for Vanilla-Walnut Crescents and the Date 'N Walnut Delights, the other two are in Epicurious.

Vanilla-Walnut Crescents

1 cup butter
2/3 cup icing sugar
2 tsp. vanilla or 2 envelopes of vanilla sugar
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup ground walnuts
icing sugar

In a large bowl, cream butter; beat in sugar with vanilla until light and fluffy. Gradually stir in flour and walnuts. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Divide dough into 4 portions. On a lightly floured surface, roll each portion into long thin ropes, about 18 inches long. Cut into ¾ inch pieces; then curve into crescent shape. Arrange crescents ½ inch apart on ungreased baking sheet or parchment and bake in 375 F. oven for 8 – 10 minutes or until no longer soft to touch. Transfer to wire rack; let cool for 10 minutes; Sprinkle generously with icing sugar while still warm. Makes about 8 dozen crescent.

Date ‘n Walnut Delights
A chewy no-bake cookie ball that is prepared in a saucepan for easy clean-up from Robin Hood’s Cookies and Squares.

1 cup chopped dates
½ cup chopped walnuts
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup butter
2 eggs
2-1/4 cups corn cereal flakes
¾ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 tsp. vanilla
½ cup coconut or sifted icing sugar

Combine dates, walnuts, sugar, butter and eggs in a saucepan or large frying pan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until dates soften and mixture is smooth, about 15 minutes.

Set aside and cool for 5 minutes.

Stir in cereal, ¾ cup coconut and vanilla. Cool until easy to handle.

Shape into 1 inch balls and roll in ½ cup coconut or icing sugar.

Chill until firm. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Makes about 36 cookies.