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Posts Tagged ‘cookies’

A crunchy crust, a gooey caramel layer and a ganache topping--the perfect toffee bar at last.

By Laurie A. Perry
I’ve been making toffee bars since I was nine years old–but not the same toffee bar. I’ve tried a dozen recipes by that name, and I started numbering the ones I liked enough to make twice. Toffee bar number one had coconut and brown sugar. Toffee bar number two had a brown sugar and butter crust and a topping of melted Hershey’s milk chocolate (milk chocolate–no wonder that one fell by the wayside). Number three, from an ancient Better Homes and Gardens cookie cookbook, calls for a sweetened condensed milk filling and a fudge frosting. I liked it–and Mel really liked it–but it never quite worked.

So I’ve been tinkering with the recipe, and I think the current version is pretty darn good. Try it; see what you think. I’m taking a batch to a New Year’s Day gathering. Because, you know, there just aren’t enough sweets this time of year.

GANACHE-TOPPED TOFFEE BARS

Crust
2 cups flour
1 cup melted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

Filling
1 can sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons vanilla

Ganache topping
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 cup cream

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9×11-inch baking pan with foil.*
Make the crust: stir together the dry ingredients. Melt the butter; add the vanilla to the butter, and mix both into the dry ingredients. Pat the mixture into the prepared pan; it will be soft and easy to spread out. Bake for about 20 minutes, until lightly browned.
While the crust is baking, make the filling. Pour the sweetened condensed milk into a medium saucepan, add the butter and bring to a simmer. Simmer for about five minutes, stirring to keep it from burning. The mixture will thicken. Add the vanilla.

Pour the filling over the baked crust, making sure to cover all of the crust. Bake for another 20 minutes. It will bubble and turn a lovely golden brown (toffee-colored, in fact).
Remove from the oven and let cool for about half an hour. Make the ganache: break up the bittersweet chocolate and place in a heavy-bottomed saucepan; pour in the cream, and put the pan over low heat. Melt the chocolate, stirring. When the mixture is nice and smooth and glossy, it’s ready to pour gently over the first two layers. Once again, go for coverage–you want the ganache to cover the entire surface.

Chill. Remove the confection from the pan, using the overhanging foil as a handle. Cut into bars. These are rich, so don’t make the pieces too large.

*Maida Heatter’s fool-proof method for lining a pan with aluminum foil: Turn the pan upside down. Tear off a large piece of foil and press it over the pan, so you have the basic shape. Then press the foil into the pan, using a dish towel to keep the foil from tearing.

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Snickerdoodles

Crunchy, a little chewy, and truly old-fashioned, snickerdoodles may be the perfect cookie for any picnic.

I love snickerdoodles, but they have always kind of baffled me. They are traditionally leavened with baking soda and cream of tartar. Cream of tartar is the kind of ingredient that most kitchens just don’t stock these days. I know of only two uses for it off-hand–to stabilize egg whites for meringue and for snickerdoodles.

Pretty much every snickerdoodle recipe I’ve encountered calls for a ratio of one part baking soda to two parts cream of tartar. That is essentially the recipe for single-acting baking powder–and yet baking powder doesn’t yield the classic snickerdoodle flavor. Apparently there’s just something about cream of tartar…. The King Arthur Flour site has an intriguing disquisition on leavening–hartshorn? really? I thought hartshorn was strictly for fainting ladies in Victorian novels–that discusses cream of tartar at some length.

You’ll find lots of variations–I’ve seen people boast of adding chocolate chips and dried apricots and coconut to snickerdoodle dough–but I think the point of a cookie like this is its very simplicity. So you won’t find any extras here, and you won’t find baking powder either. I’m not saying a snickerdoodle made with baking powder isn’t good–it is–but it’s a sugar cookie, not a snickerdoodle. Go figure.

Classic Snickerdoodles

1 cup butter
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 3/4 cup flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

For Rolling:
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Cream together the butter, sugar and eggs. Sift the dry ingredients. (Modern flour doesn’t require sifting, but it’s important to distribute the baking soda throughout the batter, and sifting is an easy way to do that.) Stir the dry ingredients into the butter-egg mixture.

If the dough is too gooey to handle, chill it for about half an hour. I generally do not chill my dough, which might be why my cookies turn out different from Hazel’s, even though we use the same recipe. I wet my hands and roll dough into one-inch balls. Dip each one into the cinnamon sugar and place on an ungreased cookie sheet (I love my Silpats and always use them) about two inches apart. Bake for eight to ten minutes, until they are barely brown. They will puff up and then flatten out, leaving the tops crinkled. This recipe makes about five dozen cookies, just the right amount for a party, but you can halve the recipe–useful tip: half of 3/4 cup is six tablespoons.

You know my usual advice: Eat them hot out of the oven.

Laurie

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These may be Mel's guys, but this is not the Star Trek cookie jar of Mel's dreams. Not at all. He wants one in the shape of the Starship Enterprise.

By Mel Gilden

Like most people, I love cookies. And Laurie is one of the queen cookie makers of the world. (Watch this space for cookie recipes to come.) I assure you that this presents a problem because, unless I want to look like a sumo wrestler, I am not able to, nor should I, eat all the cookies she makes. Short of inviting the neighbors in, the question is what to do with the extras — which is to say the dozens that are left after I’ve eaten a few when they are still warm.

I will certainly eat more of them over the following days, and meanwhile one can store them in plastic bags or jars or tins. That will certainly work, but bags and jars lack a certain — how shall I say? — style. I prefer a cookie jar.

I’ve always liked to own things that remind me of things that I enjoy, so it stands to reason that I would love cookie jars — and I do. Not holiday jars in the shape of snowmen or Santas or turkeys but jars shaped like Sherlock Holmes, Klingons, Darth Vader, or Yoda — but most especially like spaceships.

The first cookie jar I purchased was actually a sculpture done by my friend Max. It was painted-and-fired clay, and it looked like a stubby spaceship held together by rivets. You could lift off the pointy bow of the ship to see that there was plenty of room inside for cookies. Of course, in those days I had no need to watch my weight, and so there were usually more cookies in me than in the cookie jar.

I have never owned a cookie jar in the shape of Holmes or of an alien, though I still have high hopes. I do have a bottle that has a stopper in the shape of Mr. Spock’s head, but the neck of the bottle is way too small for cookies.

Speaking of Mr. Spock: I have been hunting for years for a cookie jar in the shape of the Starship Enterprise and have never found one, not even for ready money. If you honestly ponder the shape of the Enterprise, you’ll see that unless the jar were enormous, there wouldn’t be room inside for cookies or anything else.

Currently the cookie jar of my dreams is the TARDIS, Doctor Who’s abode and, for lack of a better description, time machine. Aboard the TARDIS the Doctor can travel through time and space — Time And Relative Dimensions In Space, get it? The TARDIS looks like a police call box; I understand there was a time when one of these blue emergency boxes stood on almost every street corner in England. These days, the Doctor has one of the very few.

As you might guess, a big rectangular box would be a very practical shape for a cookie jar. One of these days I will look on eBay and see if such a thing actually exists. The real problem is this: While the Doctor’s TARDIS is bigger on the inside than on the outside (don’t ask me how this works, I’m no Time Lord), any TARDIS I am likely to find for sale would be the same size on the inside or smaller. Heavy sigh. Sometimes reality is so disappointing. I’ll just have to eat more cookies.

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Crispy and chewy at the same, chocolate chip cookies are pretty much the perfect party dessert.

Ask me what’s for dessert on an average day, and I’ll say, “Cookies.” Ask me what the perfect party dessert is, and I’ll say, “Cookies.” Ask me what the perfect breakfast food is, and I’ll say, “Cookies.” (With coffee, of course. I mean, it’s breakfast, right?) Really, you can’t beat them. They’re tidy and simple. You don’t need a plate (neither paper nor plastic–nor porcelain); you don’t need a fork. You might need a little self-control, but that’s another issue.

I love bar cookies for their speed and convenience, but I have to say that drop cookies are my favorite. And of all the drop cookies I make, and I make lots, chocolate chip tops the list. There are many recipes, ranging from the Toll House recipe on the Nestle chocolate chip bag to the much-circulated but totally bogus Neiman-Marcus version (kids, don’t try that recipe at home unless you’re planning to build a wall with the results).

Here’s my version.

Chewy and Crispy Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 cup butter, almost melted
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 large egg

1 cup + 1 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup chocolate chips
2/3 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Cream together the butter, sugars, egg and vanilla. Beat in the dry ingredients. Stir in the chips and nuts. Drop by spoonsful on a parchment-paper-lined cookie sheet and bake for about eight minutes. Keep a close eye on them–they should be lightly browned but not dark brown. Take them out when they look almost but not quite done and let them finish cooking on the sheet. Try not to burn your fingers as you devour the first one. They will never be better than the moment they are just cool enough to eat, while the chocolate is still melted.

This recipe makes about two and a half dozen, and it can easily be doubled (in case you’re one of those people who like to eat half the batter and still have enough to bake some too). Like any very simple dish, its flavor depends on the quality of the ingredients. Use good chocolate chips–Valhrona or Callebaut or Trader Joe’s. I usually use Trader Joe’s unless I’ve been to Surfas and had a chance to stock up on Valhrona. Don’t use Nestle chips; they’re awful. Use good vanilla and good butter.

Laurie

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Today we have a guest blogger from the frozen north. Mary Wallgren, a longtime friend of Hazel’s, is now living in northern Idaho (Hazel and I spent our childhood in northern Idaho, so we know all about that December weather–which I, personally, hope never to experience again!) Mary has very kindly shared her recipe for gingerbread men.

I just got back from our December bunco night and cookie exchange. Claudia hosted a great party, and her home was decorated beautifully for the festive season! If you haven’t participated in a holiday cookie exchange, I would highly recommend it. Last month we agreed to each bring four dozen cookies for the exchange. While I considered making frosted sugar cookies, my husband’s favorite, I thought it would be fun to take gingerbread men, my personal favorite and a holiday tradition since I was a little girl. I haven’t had a Christmas without them. One of the fun things about a cookie exchange is getting to try new recipes and having a wonderful assortment of treats for all of your holiday guests. The cookies also make great hostess gifts if you don’t want to be tempted to eat them all yourself. While I know some people bake dozens of five or six different cookie recipes for the holidays, I never do. With the cookie exchange, I get a wide variety to enjoy.

Mary Wallgren's gingerbread men ready for the cookie exchange

The exchange itself is simple. Display all of the cookies on one table and determine how many cookies each participant gets. Each person goes around and puts her share of the cookies in a second container. (Don’t forget to bring a container for your share.) If you like, you can take copies of your recipe, or send out electronic copies when you get home. For convenience, you can also prepackage your cookies in sandwich bags, if you know how many people will be at the party.
Our party had a great assortment of treats, including: chocolate chip cookies, lemon delights, brownies, snicker doodles, chocolate crackle cookies, chocolate cherry mice and the gingerbread men. Every cookie was fabulous!

Here is my mother’s recipe for gingerbread. Enjoy!

Gingerbread Men
Cream thoroughly:
½ cup margarine
½ cup brown sugar
Blend in:
¼ cup corn syrup
¼ cup light molasses
(Note: Spray a measuring cup with Pam so the corn syrup and molasses won’t stick)
Sift, mix together, and stir into syrup mixture:
1 ¼ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon
Add: ½ teaspoon cider vinegar
Add alternately and mix thoroughly:
2 ¼ cups flour
½ cup buttermilk
Chill dough, then roll out one-quarter-inch thick on floured surface. Keep dough cool until you roll it out.
Cut out gingerbread men and decorate with candy, nuts, colored sugar, and cake decors.
If you have lots of time or a lot of help, you can also cut out bits of gingerbread to add clothes and shoes. (A garlic press works great to make hair.)
Bake 10 – 15 minutes at 375 degrees.
Makes 24 to 26 four-inch gingerbread men.

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