Saturday, January 22, 2011


Apologies for the small bout of radio silence. I had assumed that providing Neen with the means to take pictures of her food would lead her to post more blog entries -- at least enough for me to take a small break. But alas! She has been so affixed to her camera that she's been unable to pry herself away, not even enough to visit the computer. I appreciate the irony.

My absence has a variety of causes. First off, of course, there's the wonderful ladyfriend (<3!) acting as a new, and very welcome, distraction. But since a monologue of cooking & canoodling seems, uh, awkward, I'll just spare you. Secondly: a tale. I returned from my excursion to the Helvetica country armed and rarin' to go. I had acquired the December edition of the Food & Wine magazine (which, I must say, is excellent) and America's Test Kitchen 2010 collection of holiday cookies. I was so excited to try all of these new dishes, I was practically twitching. Before I fully shook off the seven hour jetlag, I was on a maniacal cooking spree. I made everything I had room & ingredients for: cookies, biscuits, breads... there were no limits.

And then... nothing.

I put everything out in public areas, where folks know to help themselves. But with only the occasional exception, the food just sat out there. It seemed to get nibbled on from time to time, but with such rarity that I started getting doubts. What happened to the days that I could throw an overabundance of food at the world and it would disappear in a matter of days? Were fewer people than usual passing through the apartment? Maybe they had all made resolutions regarding the intake of sugar. Or maybe they actually didn't like the food I made for them! I slowly started sinking into the role of a wounded artiste. I felt like the Players at the beginning of Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead: duped into performing for an audience that wasn't there.

I realised the levels of my own ridiculousness, and that for once, it wasn't necessarily helping anyone. So I stopped. I am still restless. I want to bake, but know I can't eat it all myself. This stifled urge, not to mention the weather, my two unengaging part-time jobs, and the dullest academic class since I came to the University, has turned me into a character from a Chekhov play: the intelligentsia burdened with the unbearable weariness of being. That's me, a regular Uncle Vanya.

But I digress.

Really, my goal here is to use you, Denizens of the Internets, as the audience to my madness. Sorry, you don't get a choice in the matter. If those physically around me don't want the glorious products of my labour, then maybe you can do something with them instead. Here are some of the cookies I've been making. I'll leave other products for later posts.

Russian Tea Cakes
I've heard these are also called Snowballs, but I shun such plebeian nicknames. They are definitely my favourites so far. Unlike so many other cookies, they are not overly sweet. Despite the fact that you toss the entire cookie in confectioners' sugar after baking, the attractive aspect is instead the amount of butter that you use. A full 2 sticks, creamed to within an inch of their lives, make for a light and delicate texture. And don't skip the pecans! They are a must-have for this simple and delicious bite.
  • 16 tbs (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup pecans, toasted and chopped fine
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar
With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt until very light and fluffy, 3min. Reduce speed to low, add flour, and mix until just combined. Add pecans and mix until evenly distributed. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1hr, or up to 2 days.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll dough into 1-inch balls and place 1,1/2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake until edges are light golden brown, 10-12min, switching and rotating sheets halfway through baking. Cool 5min.

Sift confectioners' sugar into medium bowl. Working with 4-5 warm cookies at a time, gently toss each in sugar to coat. Transfer cookies to wire rack and cool to room temperature. Toss cooled cookies once more in remaining sugar to coat.

Molasses-Spice Lemon Cookies
The process of making these cookies is actually a little unappetising. Probably sleep-deprived at the time, we gleefully cackled at how the icing looked like snot and the rolled dough like "little turds!". For those of you not deterred and disgusted, let me convey to you that these are fantastic. I have always liked the [judicious] use of molasses, especially coupled with such spices. The addition, albeit messy, of the lemon filling makes it all the more worthwhile. Citrus-y, spicy, sugary goodness.
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cloves
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup dark molasses
  • 1 large egg
  • 15 Tbs butter (12 Tbs melted, 3 Tbs softened)
  • 3 Tbs lemon juice
  • 2 cups confectioners' sugar
Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and cloves in a bowl. In separate bowl, whisk 1,1/2 cups sugar, molasses, egg, and melted butter together until combined. Add flour mixture to butter mixture and stir until incorporated. Chill until dough is firm, 1hr.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Place remaining 1/2 cup sugar in bowl. Roll dough into 3/4 inch balls, toss balls in sugar, then place 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake until tops are just beginning to crack, 8-10min, switching and rotating sheets halfway through baking. Cool 5min, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough.

Combine remaining 3 Tbs butter, lemon juice, and confectioners' sugar in bowl and whisk until smooth. Spread heaping teaspoon filling over bottoms of half of cooled cookies. Top with remaining cookies and let filling set, 1hr.

Chocolate Turtle Cookies
I confess, I made these principally out of curiosity. I was definitely attracted by the idea of a chocolate cookie, covered in pecans, and with a caramel center. But really, I wanted to find out how well using cannibalised candy as an ingredient would work -- wouldn't the overprocessed, super-sweet goodies affect the outcome of the baked goods? Surprisingly, no; at least, not adversely. The other alluring features of the cookie speak for themselves.
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 8 Tbs (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg, separated, plus 1 egg white
  • 2 Tbs milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1,1/4 cups pecans, chopped fine
  • 14 soft caramel candies
  • 3 Tbs heavy cream
Combine flour, cocoa, and salt in bowl. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 2min. Add egg yolk, milk, and vanilla and mix until incorporated. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture until just combined. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, 1hr.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk egg whites in bowl until frothy. Place pecans in another bowl. Roll dough into 1-inch balls, dip in egg whites, then roll in pecans. Place balls 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Using 1/2 tsp measure, make indentation in center of each ball. Bake until set, about 12min, switch and rotating sheets half through baking.

Microwave caramels and cream bowl, stirring occasionally, until smooth, 1-2min. Once cookies are removed from oven, gently re-press existing indentations. Fill each with 1/2 tsp caramel mixture. Cool 10min, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.


mox said...

I'm sorry my stomach is just not big enough to eat all the cookies you make. :D
besides, I like watching you decimate the kitchen almost more than the finished product anyway.

mums said...

The Russian Tea Cakes look a lot like the Dominican "Polvorones". In fact, the recipe seems similar as well....

Neen said...

I heart pecans, molasses, and minimal use of sugar in any desert. You know, there is this thing called the post office. I would be more than happy to subsidize postage costs for you to mail me some next time you find yourself with surplus!

Spuds said...

@Neen: because clearly you are unable to procure such things where you are...? I agree, though. I wish I could find more desserts that are more creative with their use of sugar.

@mums: really? I wouldn't have thought of this as very Dominican. The cakeyness maybe, but not the powder sugar or the pecans. You wouldn't happen to have a polvorones recipe lying around would you?

@mox: more sappiness: <3