Tuesday, December 30, 2008

TWD: Grandma's All-Occasion Sugar Cookies

This recipe of choice for this week’s Tuesdays With Dorie was Tall & Creamy Cheesecake. I had good intentions to make it over my five-day weekend last week, despite the fact I don’t really enjoy cheesecake, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I appeased Mr. Penpen by bringing our dangerously wonderful ice cream maker out of retirement and making peppermint ice cream instead.

Luckily, thanks to the relaxed TWD December schedule, I have a reserve recipe for the last Tuesday of 2008. I made Grandma’s All-Occasion Sugar Cookies, which Ulrike of Küchenlatein hosted back on December 9th. I baked these to bring to a party where there would be a lot – well, seven seems like a lot – of small children. I had the adorable idea that I would bring cookies and icing to the party so everyone could decorate cookies, and then I could post photos of everyone’s creations on my blog the following Tuesday. I barely ended up having time to make the cookies, much less dig out my decorating gear and make various colors of icing. The cookies were delicious with just sanding sugar, though I can’t help thinking how fantastic they would have been with crunchy Royal Icing.

Thanks for reading my new blog in 2008, I look forward to more culinary adventures in 2009. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

TWD: Butterscotch Pudding

I was thrilled when I saw that Butterscotch Pudding was on the December schedule for Tuesdays With Dorie. I tagged a bunch of “must-try” recipes when I first purchased my copy of Baking and this was one of them yay! The night I decided to make the pudding was my first night home alone with our new dog, Eloise. I had a sweater sleeve to finish for my knitting class, but my little gray ghost tends to behave better when I am in the kitchen than when I’m on the couch knitting. I decided my sweater might bear greater resemblance to a wearable garment if Mr. Penpen were around to help ward Eloise away from it. I also knew I would be serving kind of a boring/healthy squash dinner the next evening, so a special dessert would be appreciated.

I wasn’t completely delighted with the results; I suppose my expectations might have been a bit high since I had book-marked this recipe back in August. I thought the pudding was tasty and creamy, but nothing special. The scotch to butter ratio was a bit high for my taste. If I made it again, I would add the scotch while the pudding was on the stovetop so the alcohol would evaporate. Or leave it out – I sampled the pudding pre-scotch and really liked the flavor. This recipe exemplifies why I am so happy to belong to a baking group: I have loved some of the recipes I never would have glanced twice at and one I had been anticipating for months was disappointing. I gave this recipe a 6 for D and 3 for E, giving it an EDR of 2.

Many thanks to Donna of Spatulas, Corkscrews, and Suitcases for picking one of my “must-trys.” You can find the recipe on Donna’s site and visit the TWD blogroll to see the other bakers’ puddings.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Zuni Roast Chicken

The Zuni Café has been on my short list of restaurants to try since I bought a copy of the Michelin Guide over a year ago. (And no, I do not eat at Michelin Star restaurants all the time. The book has a lot of great recommendations for moderately priced restaurants, and I have quite a penchant for food guides.) Somehow it keeps getting passed over for other restaurants. I’ll see a place I want to try on "Check Please Bay Area," or we’ll call too late to get a reservation and end up eating somewhere more local, etc. – it just hasn’t happened.

Upon delivery of my most recent CSA box, I went to the library to check out Chez Panisse Fruit for the second time, and I saw a copy of The Zuni Café Cookbook. Since the Zuni Café is known for its use of seasonal ingredients, I went ahead and grabbed it, too. The Zuni Café is much lauded for its Roast Chicken with Bread Salad, so when I saw it in the book, I knew must make it. Later that night I was browsing the internet, and saw that the inimitable Deb of Smitten Kitchen had just posted about the Zuni Roast Chicken! She had lovely pictures of the chicken and salad, along with reassurance that the recipe is worth your while.

I made the recipe several days later and it was fantastic! I don’t usually get overly excited about chicken recipes, but this is an exception. And the chicken part is actually very simple; you just have to salt the bird a day ahead of time (my second bird is in the refrigerator as I type this) and not get too scared by chicken crackling on high heat. The bread salad is wonderful, too, though not essential to the enjoyment of the chicken if you aren’t in the mood for an involved side dish. If you would like the recipe, I would recommend going over to Smitten Kitchen, where there is an excellent abbreviated version of the original four-page recipe. Or purchasing The Zuni Café Cookbook, which is definitely on my wishlist this Christmas – I have made three recipes from my library copy in the past week, which makes it a keeper.

This recipe rates a 10 for D and a 4 for E, giving it an EDR of 2.5. Eloise agrees, too. She always stops by the kitchen to check what I’m working on, but this is the recipe that she has been most interested in. And hopefully I will dine at the restaurant one day, but for now, I am happy to make this terrific dish in my own home.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

TWD: Buttery Jam Cookies

When I first saw the recipe for Buttery Jam Cookies, I thought it sounded a little boring. However, this was my first weekend with a curious Weimaraner underfoot, so I was quite relieved that this week’s Tuesdays With Dorie recipe was lacking the multiple steps and chilling periods that many recipes have. And they didn’t turn out to be boring!

I made mine with apricot jam and the suggested ginger chunks, and they were delicious. The cookies didn’t spread too much (I mixed a little more than I should have and ended up having to refrigerate them for several hours before baking), but they weren’t dense. I would definitely agree with Dorie’s assessment that they are a cross between sturdy cookie-jar cookie and a tea cookie. I appreciate that they aren’t too decadent – I haven’t been making Mr. Penpen eat all the treats this week – and that you can easily make them with pantry staples. (Unless you discover your apricot jam has gone moldy and have to send your boyfriend to the store, like I did.)

This recipe rates a 7 for D and a 3 for E, giving it a very respectable EDR of 2.3. Many thanks to Heather of Randomosity and the Girl for picking this simple, flavorful cookie at just the right time. You can find the recipe for Buttery Jam Cookies on Heather’s site and you can check out the other TWD bakers’ cookies via the TWD blogroll.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Introducing Eloise

This is meant to be a cooking blog, but I can't resist introducing the newest member of our household. Eloise (or Elle for short) is a very sweet Weimaraner rescue dog and we are delighted to have her as part of our family. So far she has been very well-behaved when I've been cooking, though she did want to help put some cookies in the jar earlier today. Eloise is an excellent runner, so she'll make sure any extra calories consumed during the holiday season are burned off (we even ran in the rain tonight, something that usually does not happen). Don't be surprised if you see Eloise drop in to assist me with recipes in the future!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

TWD: I heart Linzer Sables

When I first read that the Tuesdays With Dorie baking schedule would be flexible for the month of December, I didn’t think much of it. After all, I had been diligently concocting every treat proffered the whole four weeks I had been a member of TWD. Then Thanksgiving happened and my normal culinary enthusiasm was nowhere to be found. I was then grateful for the relaxed schedule, since I still wanted to bake the Linzer Sables and thought Grandma’s All-Occasion Sugar Cookies would best “saved” until closer to Christmas.

I was pleased to find a Linzer cookie cutter for only $6 at Sur la Table. The cut-out has a heart, which would be better suited for Valentine’s, but for $6 you can’t be too particular. I wasn’t so pleased with the actual cutter. Without going into too much detail, I’ll just say I had to learn to be smarter than the cookie cutter. That aside, making the Linzer Sables was a rewarding experience, as the recipe does deliver a very tasty and quite impressive looking cookie.

The recipe says you can use almonds, walnuts, or hazelnuts for the cookie dough. Hazelnuts sounded tempting, but I had a bag of almonds on hand, so I went ahead and used those. I filled the cookies with the traditional raspberry jam, though I was too lazy to heat it with water as suggested—they still tasted great!

This recipe rated an 8 for D and a 5 for E, giving them an EDR of 1.6. As I have explained before, the EDR system is subjective, depending on factors such as mood or tiredness. This was definitely a case where the E got bumped up due to my frustration with the cookie cutter and overall time in the kitchen last weekend. Thanks to Dennis from
Living the Life for picking such a gem! You can find the recipe on his site and you can go to the TWD blogroll to see the other bakers’ take on Linzer Sables, though many may be on to Grandma’s All-Occasion Sugar Cookies by now.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

It’s Tuesday, but I shirked on baking for Tuesdays With Dorie this week. After hosting my--very first--Thanksgiving last week, I channeled all my domestic energy into knitting rather than baking. I have been meaning to post about this pear tart, though, so here is a Tuesday post, with a little Dorie thrown in.

I have received four CSA boxes, and three have contained pears. This has posed a bit of a problem as, I am a little embarrassed to admit, I don’t really like pears unless they are macerated in sugar. Instead of trying to appreciate the nice fall fruit on its own, I have been turning the pears into desserts. The first two times I made crisps, which were very easy and delicious. I had been eager to make a cranberry-pecan tart the week the third batch of pears arrived. I decided a pear tart would be a good compromise: I would still get to make the type of dessert I wanted and I wouldn’t feel guilty about not using the fresh produce in my kitchen.

I then set upon a mission to find the perfect pear tart recipe. I consulted several different cookbooks and searched the internet, and ended up making a hybrid recipe from three different sources. The crust was The Art of Simple Food’s Sweet Tart Dough (Pate Sucree), the pastry cream was from Chez Panisse Fruit (with inspiration from Dorie Greenspan for the almond flavor), and the instruction for poaching the pears came from Dorie’s Baking: From My Home to Yours.

I don’t know if this was the perfect pear tart, but it was very tasty. This recipe rated a 7 for D and a 4 for E, giving it an EDR of 1.75. Here is the recipe:

Sweet Tart Dough,adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters
1 ¼ cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
One stick cold butter
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg yolk

Pulse the flour, sugar and salt in food processor for approximately ten seconds. Add the butter and process until the dough is crumbly. Once the dough is crumbly, add the egg yolk and vanilla, and pulse until incorporated. Remove the dough from the processor and knead until no flour patches show. Form dough in disc and refrigerate for at least four hours. Roll the chilled dough on a floured surface into a twelve-inch circle and shape into a nine-inch tart pan (it could also be patted in rather than rolled). Lightly prick the dough to prevent air bubbles from forming. Chill the dough in the freezer for thirty minutes. Remove the shell from the freezer and bake for fifteen to twenty minutes at 350 degrees. Since the dough is very cookie-like, the recipe calls to bake blind. My crust puffed quite a bit, so I would use weights next time. Remove the pan from the oven and cool.

Almond Pastry Cream, adapted from Chez Panisse Fruit by Alice Waters
3 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons sugar
11/4 cups milk (I used 1%)
1 pinch salt
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon almond extract

Mix flour and sugar in a bowl. Warm the milk and salt in a saucepan over low heat. Whisk in flour and sugar mixture when milk is warm, about five minutes. Whisk for about eight to ten minutes, until flour mixture is fully integrated to milk; it should look thick and creamy. Whisk egg yolks in a bowl, then add to mixture and cook for one more minute. Remove pastry cream from heat, stir in the almond extract and butter. Refrigerate until cool.

Poached Pears, adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours
4 medium-sized pears
1 cup sugar
lemon juice (from one lemon)

Peel the pears, leaving them whole. Place water, sugar, and lemon juice in small saucepan and bring to boil. When liquid is at a boil, add pears and reduce heat so the syrup is simmering. Simmer the pears until tender, which should take about fifteen minutes. Remove saucepan from burner and cool pears to room temperature.

When all components are cool, slice the pears, fill the tart shell with pastry cream, and top with the sliced pears.