Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Simple Pleasure of Shortbread

The holidays are a time when you, like me, probably pull out all the stops in the baked goods and dessert department. These might include an impressive assortment of highly decorated cookies, holiday cakes and homemade truffles and candies. For me, the 

dessert making frenzy generally culminates with the preparation of a special dessert for New Year’s Eve dinner, and then—just like that— I slam on the baking brakes. From here on my dessert endeavors are much more humble. One of my favorite simple treats to make 

in the New Year is shortbread. The dough comes together in minutes, and there’s no need to shape individual cookies—the shortbread is baked as a round and then cut in wedges after baking. I like to use some cornstarch to replace some of the flour, which 

makes for a meltingly tender crumb. A sprinkle of coarse sugar on top is a pretty finish and adds a bit of crunch. And, if you can’t seem to stifle your baking over-achiever instincts, you can always dip the tips of the shortbread wedges in chocolate for flavor and effect.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Holiday Linzer Cookies and Raspberry Macarons

Tart and refreshing with a brilliant red color, raspberries are an ideal fruit to serve around the holidays. They are an excellent foil for buttery cookies, chocolate cakes, and rich buttercream, and the fact that they’re not in season shouldn’t stop you from using them. 

Individually quick frozen raspberries, picked and frozen at their peak flavor, and homemade or store-bought raspberry preserves provide excellent alternatives to fresh berries. This week I’m showcasing one of my favorite Christmas treats, Linzer Cookies, 

made with seedless raspberry preserves. This recipe was adapted from one I developed for The Good Cookie, and it features a hazelnut dough that is extremely tender and flavorful, yet remarkably easy to work with. So easy, in fact, that you can even re-roll the dough scraps without chilling them. And they are quite 

delicious—I myself at several dozen (ok, maybe not that many) as an accompaniment to a pot of strong black currant tea.
            Running with the raspberry theme, I also made a batch of Raspberry Macarons, filled with a raspberry buttercream made with pureed frozen berries. I flavored my macaron shells with

raspberry powder, a powder made from freeze-dried raspberries, but this step is optional. The flavors of almond and raspberry marry well together, particularly in these crunchy little bits of fluff, and the puree provides plenty of raspberry flavor. I do dust the tops lightly with a little raspberry powder, though, for effect.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Chocolate Almond-Coconut Cake

My favorite candy bar as a kid was the Almond Joy bar—sweet, sticky coconut topped with almonds and enrobed in milk chocolate. I haven’t had one in years, but I’d probably still love it today. Second to this was the Mounds bar, which didn’t have the almonds 

and was covered in dark chocolate instead of milk. Not as good as the Almond Joy, but still pretty darned good. Years ago a pastry chef named David DiFrancesco sent me a recipe for a cake which, in my mind, combined the best flavors of those two classic candy 

bars. It’s a Chocolate Almond-Coconut Cake, and it continues to be one of my most requested recipes (even though it’s not my recipe at all). The recipe features a cake made with lots of almond paste, cocoa powder and very little flour, so it’s moist with an intense 

chocolate almond flavor. After it’s baked, the cake is topped with a sticky coconut layer, and then the whole thing is covered with a dark and shiny chocolate glaze. It’s chocolate, it’s almond and it’s coconut. And it’s really good.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Christmas Biscotti

Baking cookies is one of my favorite holiday rituals. In fact, I love it so much that I’ve even been known to participate in a cookie swap or two, which is a great way to bond with friends, get ideas and pick up new recipes (and an excellent excuse to indulge in a little eggnog, which is possibly the most unhealthy beverage on the 

planet). I have my standard favorites, but I usually like to add one or two new cookies to my repertoire. This year I decided to add Christmas Biscotti, which feature bright green pistachio nuts and dried cranberry pieces and the subtle flavors of cinnamon, honey and orange. Biscotti are usually thought of as Tuscan, but they 

can be traced as far back as Roman times. The word biscotto comes from the root “bis,” Latin for twice, and “coctum” or baked (which became “cotto,” or cooked). These unleavened biscuits were baked once to cook the dough and then again to dry them out. A staple of the Roman Legions, biscotti were the ideal sustenance for travelers, 

like modern-day power bars. They are not meant to be moist, and are usually made with olive oil—the fat of choice in Tuscany—instead of butter. Make sure you use an excellent quality extra-virgin olive oil in your biscotti. I like Lucini, which has bright, fruity character with just of hint of pepper at the end. These biscotti also 

look great dipped in white chocolate—try to use a high-quality white chocolate couverture, and, for a shiny, flawless finish, temper it first.