Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The long and shortbread of it


Not many people would call traditional Scottish food delicious, or even appetizing. My husband and I traveled throughout Scotland a few years back and I will say this. Neither would I. I can easily compare traditional Scottish food with my own regional and traditional Appalachian food.

The morning we left for Ben Nevis (the highest peak in Scotland) I ordered the seemingly innocent eggs Benedict from the hotel kitchen. Somehow I ended up with an undercooked egg on top of deep fried toast and a side order of baked beans.

I think I would have been alright that day, if it were not for the first stop we made at a Woolery and gift shop. It was raining and cold, and most all of us needed a warm pull-over or jacket. The store was very warm and inviting. As I browsed I happened upon a little nook away from the clothing department. There sat a small table with an attractive array of Scotch samples. "White Blended Scotch Whiskey" I read. I was overtaken by curiosity. Of course in hindsight it was stupidity. I sampled a few. It was 10 a.m. and I had a two hour jostling, nauseating bus ride ahead of me. And after that another hour long choppy boat ride.

After enduring them both, we arrived at the Colombia hotel. Nauseated and sea-sick I remember feeling relieved and thankful to finally be stationary. My stomach was in dire need of settling. While Mark kindly left to find a drugstore (or chemist), I found a little welcome sampler from the hotel staff. The gift pack held teas, candies and many packages of shortbread. I quickly plugged in the provided electric pitcher and soon had eaten several pieces of shortbread. The tea was warm and soothing and the short bread was delicious in it's plainness. I was feeling better already.

It was only recently that I had the notion to replicate the cookie that had been so comforting to me. I soon found a very old Scottish recipe that I altered slightly. The dough came together quickly.  It is buttery, crumbly, not too sweet and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. My shortbread tasted just as it had that night at the Columbia.


Shortbread
                                                                        [click to print]
1 pound unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
4 cups all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until incorporated.  Add the vanilla extract and mix again.   Add two cups of flour and the pinch of salt and mix on low speed until a dough forms.  Add the last two cups of flour and mix again on low until a very stiff dough forms.

Gather dough together with your hands and place on a lightly floured surface.  Divide into two pieces.  Using a floured rolling pin, roll each piece of dough until flattened to about 1” thickness.  Wrap in plastic film and place pieces on a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.  This dough will firm up in quickly because of the high butter content.  If your dough is difficult to roll, let it stand at room temperature for a few minutes until it is pliable.

While still cold, roll out dough to ¼” thickness.  For perfectly even shortbread, use two ¼” flat dowels on either side of the dough as a guide.  Rolling pin guide bands are also available in varying sizes at kitchen specialty stores.

Cut dough into desired shapes.  Bake on parchment lined cookie sheets until lightly golden around the edges:

7-10 minutes for small cookies
12-15 minutes for medium cookies
17-20 minutes for large cookies

Glittering Lemon Sandwich Cookies

Last year I came across these in the December issue of Gourmet magazine. They have not left my mind since. Is it the lemony aspect? No, although I do love lemon cookies. Is it the sandwiching of two itty-bitty bite sized cookies? Nice, but not that either. Is it the glittering that makes me have visions of them like sugarplums dancing in my head? Absolutely!

You can imagine my delight when I came across them again in an online article. But wait! What were those little forks beside the picture??

Reviews. And not of the rave sort that I expected. I was underwhelmed. Most people commented that these were fussy, and hard to sandwich because the filling was running and the cookies were sliding off one another. What else was ruining this beautiful cookie dream of mine? Cornstarch. 2/3 cup goes right into the batter. Two or three reviewers said the cornstarch gave them an "off" taste.

So I'm a little bummed until I realize I've never tasted these, nor have I gone through the laborious process of making them as the cookie reviewers had. God bless 'em. Everything I love about these cookies happens to be purely superficial. I'll admit it! I have an eye like a Magpie. But I also have a great basic vanilla bean cookie dough recipe. I have an even better Oreo-type cookie filling designed for sandwiching. All I am missing is a bit of lemon zest, and the one thing that drew me to them in the first place. The glittering sanding sugars. And! To my surprise and delight, they are sold by King Arthur's Flour (a favorite of mine) in many twinkling shades. I have several on order, and cannot wait to make my very own version. I'm crossing my fingers that my version will not only look beautiful, but will also taste much better than the original recipe.

I will post pictures of my version as soon as I can!

Trick or Treat!

I love this time of year. Here in East Tennessee the days get shorter long before the temperature cools. I can always sense the first changes in light early on, and it makes me anxious for all things Autumn.



I love Halloween too. I know it's early, but I just couldn't hold off baking spooky cookies any longer. These will soon be available in my Etsy shop!


I wanted to do something a little different design-wise this year. I kept thinking about all the cookie cutters I have that represent Halloween, but something was missing.


Trick-or-Treaters!




New sanding sugars were used on the little devil and kitty-cat.



I think it was in my first official post that I mentioned ordering sanding sugars from King Arthur's Flour. I received my order and was a little dismayed that they had sent the wrong colors, but I didn't complain. I knew I'd eventually find a use for them and went about my baking. It wasn't until much later I discovered sanding sugars locally at an Amish market for an insanely low price. Have I mentioned how much I love the Amish market?






I started playing around with some imperfectly shaped cookies (I call them rejects) and came up with a few designs. So, here they are, flaws and all. I think I'll make another batch and sell these as a set on Etsy also.



They look a little better with spooky lighting effect.


Happy Fall!

Picture post: Tea Party!

The weather was so pretty on Saturday, it was perfect for the tea party. We held the gathering at my mothers house, my childhood home.

The first course was broccoli and cheese soup with cucumber, pecan and pimiento cheese finger sandwiches. When we asked Mrs. Moneymaker if she had ever had cucumber sandwiches, she replied, "No, but I have read about them in romance novels."



She is adorable.




The second course consisted of a delicious fruited chicken salad with croissant and a baked tomato with cheese and bread crumb toppings. We had fruit, citrus and mint teas.




My mother's sister Pauline.





The lovely Megan. She's my sister-in-law and also a baker. She makes incredible pies and cheesecakes as well as other baked goodies.
Megan and her Momma.


My mother-in-law Gail and I. We have matching hearts.

The dessert course consisted of an iced lemon cookie, petit fours, Oreo truffles, an iced lavender cookie, white chocolate mousse and fruit salad. We may have gone a weensy bit overboard with dessert.


My lovely Mother Katie walking to the greenhouse with her cup of coffee.

Walking in the garden. Uh-oh! Ms. Bobbie spots some beans and other veggies that haven't been picked yet! We all got a lesson on conserving our bounty. We told her that tea parties are supposed to be relaxing, but she still insisted we work in the garden a little.

I mostly picked peppers and okra. I tried to help with the beans but there were too many little yellow bugs hanging around on the leaves. I can't help it. I realize that sounds wimpy but I really hate bugs!!!

Bobbie picking beans.
I just love her. We both like to collect rocks and I love that she starts each sentence with "Well, honey..."


After picking beans, you know what that means... snappin' beans!

My husband's Grandmother, Ruby.




We all had a such great time and really enjoyed each other's company. This would be a great September tradition since the weather is so mild in Tennessee during early Fall. I hope we can do this again next year!



Little old lady tea party




A Little old lady tea party.
Well, that's what I've been calling it.

This Saturday at noon we are hosting a Tea for the very important and influential elderly ladies in our lives. My mother who is a bit more refined than I am says we should call it the "Grand Ladies" Tea party. It scarcely occurred to me that "old" would sound offensive. The truth is, I love just about anything "Granny". I love Granny boots and spectacles, old fashioned soaps and tea towels. I can spend hours in antique stores, and even longer if they have a jewelry case. I love old people especially. They don't often mince words.

When my Mother and Sister-in-law approached us regarding this idea, you can imagine my excitement. We were all abuzz with the planning of menus and preparing tables. It was decided that I would do cookie favors as something the ladies could take away from the party. Today I dug out a teapot cookie cutter from my bottom drawer and got to work. The cookies need about 2 days to dry and they keep for around two weeks if stored properly. I'm grateful that these can be made ahead, because I have a more daunting task ahead. Petit Fours. But I'll talk about those later. I'll have a Petit Fours post on Friday.

I really enjoyed decorating these cookies. I was told most of our mismatched china was blue and pink, so those are the colors I mixed. I also added pearlized luster which I think makes these extra special. I'll try to get some pictures of them in cello bags and tied with ribbon. They should make really pretty favors.

I'm so glad that we have an opportunity to honor the ladies who have contributed so much to our lives. Mark's Grandmother said "Sounds like a lot of work just for a bunch of old ladies."
We don't mind. We recognize the tireless work and effort they have given on our behalf. It will be a treat for us to serve them and honor all they have done.

Say tuned! Next week: Pictures of the Granny Party.

Treats for your Tree

I can't believe I'm about to do a Christmas related post and we are only on the cusp of October. There's a good reason, I promise.




November 7th we'll be taking part in a benefit for the American Cancer Society, specifically "Relay for Life". Cookies and cupcakes will be for sale, but we will also be donating and decorating a tree for auction. We have a big tree, and plenty of ornaments will be necessary. I figured there was little sense in waiting, so I got started making cookie ornaments. It's an easy, fun and inexpensive way to decorate. You can make them too!
You will need very few items.

Cookie Ornaments

2 Cups flour
2 Cups salt
1 Cup water
Food coloring

A drinking straw
Ribbon

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
Mix flour, salt, water and food coloring together in a bowl. Knead in a little more flour until dough does not stick to your hands. Roll a small amount of dough directly onto your cookie sheet. While cutting your cookie, remove surrounding dough from the cookie cutter. Repeat this process until all dough is used. Punch out holes for hanging with a plastic straw. Bake for 25 minutes. Test the cookies with a toothpick to see if they are hard. If your toothpick pierces the surface, return to the oven for another 10-15 minutes. After cookies are completely cooled, you may choose to varnish them (or not). If you are adding decorative sprinkles, you will need varnish. Matte or glossy both look nice. Sprinkles can be added before the varnish dries. I also chose to "frost" mine with white paint before adding varnish.



Spiced Goldfish

A couple of weeks ago I ordered a very interesting Chinese cookie mold from a quirky import shop. When the package arrived, therein was the mold, a back-scratcher, (which stated "Reachable" Wok Shop) and two cookie recipes that are formulated to work well with wooden molds. Also included was a recipe for Moon Cakes. Apparently the intended use for wooden molds of this variety are for Moon Cakes.



What is a Moon Cake? Heck, I didn't know.

I learned they are made in celebration of the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival (or Moon Festival) when the moon is fullest and roundest. It is usually celebrated around late September or early October. I found this an odd coincidence that I just happened to order and receive this at the appropriate time of year! Serendipity! Neat-o.

I haven't tried the Moon Cakes recipe, but I did dive into an adapted recipe of Dorie Greenspan's for Sweet-Tart dough. It has a sable-like consistency that can be used for tart crusts and the like, but can also make an excellent cookie. It reminds me of shortbread, not too sweet and with the addition of Cinnamon it makes your kitchen smell like Autumn. If you'd like the original recipe, it's here as the crust recipe for a pear tart. It's an easy recipe that needs to be chilled at least 2 hours. I liked the results, although I believe chilling overnight would yield more detail in the cookie. I also added a drop of food coloring, to make my goldfish, well... gold.




As I was baking I started thinking about the small jar in my spice cabinet.

Not many people know this about me, but for as long as I can recall, I have saved almost every fortune I've ever received. Why? Perhaps it's a testament to my love of Chinese food. More likely, I am a sentimental fool and have memories attached to many of them.

Some are poignant...


Some are funny...


and some are plainly true.





Maybe I just like the idea of all those fortunes and possibilities being kept secretly in my spice cabinet, with all the other spices that make life tasty.

Extreme Blackout


Like most bakers, I have a habit of adapting recipes to suit my own taste. I can never leave a "good" recipe alone. One recipe that has always intrigued me is the flourless cake. I'm sure you've heard of it, and maybe even tried it. The texture is not cake-like at all. The crust is chewy like a brownie and wraps around a warm gooey custard filling. Delish? Definitely!

I love the simplicity of this cake, however, the original ingredients were a little run-of-the-mill. I definitely felt the texture of this cake could handle a little more depth of flavor. All chocolate elements have been replaced with dark chocolate and a dose of baker's espresso powder. This could easily be the perfect ending to a romantic dinner. It's rich, but in spite of the darkest elements, not too rich.

My new favorite ingredient just happens to be dark chocolate cocoa powder. This cake has an extra sprinkling on top. Do I see home-made Oreos in my future? I think so.

Petit Fours fiasco


Petit Fours are one of my favorite things to eat, but not to make. They are tedious, fussy and they make a mess of your kitchen. This batch was extra challenging because I had decided to make poured fondant for icing. I think the final result turned out okay, but far from what I had intended. The above pictured are not iced with poured fondant. After a disasterous first result, I had to revert to a recipe tried and true.

I have researched articles on poured fondant for about two weeks now. The name itself suggests that anyone could do it. Pour? I can pour. In my search I found several sites that suggested the same basic recipe. I gathered the ingredients and felt was confident that I'd be doing my in-kitchen victory dance very soon. I followed the recipe to the letter. I heated the mixture to 240 degrees, and made sure it was in the "soft ball" state. Perhaps my thermometer wasn't working correctly. I have no other explanation for the failure of this recipe other than inexperience.



I remember covering the first cake with poured fondant. The mixture slid right off the side of the cake and back into the bowl, like water off a duck's back. Hrrmm. Not good. I noticed the mixture was getting thicker by the minute so I microwaved it (as suggested) for about 30 seconds. I tried again and this time it stuck, but the mint green shade I had intended had now turned to a strange transparent green ectoplasm (see Ghostbusters) and had a weird consistency. Not very appetizing.

I decided to go back to the first recipe I ever tried, which is a powdered sugar based icing that sets nicely. It's a very tasty recipe, but it's missing the ultra-smooth glossy finish I've been looking forward to for so long. Oh well. I'm not going to let a bunch of little foo-foo cakes beat me. I'm still searching and practicing for Petit Fours perfection. I'll let you know when I get there.

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