We usually look forward to bringing in the new year with friends, good food and plenty of bubbly. This year we've decided to do New Years Eve quiet. A party for 2 has been planned. Now of course that doesn't mean simple. We still have to do something special, just on a smaller scale. This picture should clear up how we are celebrating the arrival of 2009. 2 dozen beautiful West Coast oysters to be enjoyed raw with some splurge worthy Champagne. Well, there will be other things too, but these beauties are the star of the show tonight.
Thank you to all of you who have stopped by in the short while this blog has been alive, I hope to bring a lot more new and exciting things to you in 2009.
I've been making what I call "picture cookies" for over 10 years now. Despite all the work and time they take I still haven't let a Christmas go by without making a very large batch and decorating every single one of them, usually in much more detail than need be. This is a cookie for every age and a great way to put a smile on anyone's face. If you are looking for a little something to give this is it. Its a small gift with a lot of personality.
The secret to these cookies is a cookie base that is tastier than most. Many beautifully decorated cookies such as these have tastes similar to spicy cardboard and are really only for show. Well, these are really all about the cookie. A nice crisp base, although you could cook them for less time for a softer pillowy effect, and a big spice flavour, amped up by blackstrap molasses, makes these cookies a worthy partner to the bright colours and curly q's on the surface. The secret is using the best and freshest spices you can find. That means throwing out that jar of cinnamon that you used for Christmas cookies last year. Sorry. It must be done. It's cheap, so don't worry about it. It'll make a better cookie, trust me. Buy them in small quantities in a place that you know sells a lot. Or buy in whole form and have a spice grinder on hand.
Decorate them simply with a few strokes of Royal Icing and a jewel or two, or do what I do and flood the entire thing with beautiful colours and adornments.
Gingerbread Picture Cookies
adapted from: Martha Stewart note: this makes a very large recipe, but can easily be halved.
6 cups all purpose flour 1 tsp baking soda 1/2 tsp baking powder 1/2 cup butter 1/2 cup shortening 1 cup dark brown sugar 5 tsp ginger 5 tsp cinnamon 1 1/4 tsp pepper 1 tsp cloves 1/2 tsp allspice 1 1/2 tsp salt 2 eggs 1 cup blackstrap molasses
Whisk together flour, b. soda and powder.
Place butter and sugar in bowl and cream with hand mixer or paddle attachment. Beat on med for about 3 minutes until fluffy. Mix in spices, then add eggs and molasses and beat 1 minute more to throughly combine.
Reducing speed to low, add in flour and mix gently until flour disappears into mixture. Do not over beat. Put dough into large ziplock bag and put in fridge for about 1 hour.
Set oven to 350. Roll out dough, one quarter at a time, to 1/8 inch. You can go as thick as 1/4 inch, but no thicker. Space 1 1/2 inches apart on cookie sheet, refrigerate until firm and bake until starting to darken on the edges. They will crisp as they cool.
1 pound (1/2 package) icing sugar
2 eggwhites 2 Tbsp warm water
Beat on power 2 in mixer or low on handmixer, for 10 minutes. Adjust consistency by thinning with water if too thick or beating another minute if too thin.
Colour accordingly and thin with water for free flowing icing. Store in covered container or piping bags for up to 2 weeks, or freeze for longer storage.
Leave the cookies for a couple hours for a final set. These keep very well. Keep them in a container for 1 week or freeze.
I'm in prime baking mode right now, madly rushing to get all my holiday treats ready to go for the holiday season. I've never been very good at planning ahead, which is too bad because it seems pretty reasonable. So my baking regime tends to sneak up on me and then I bake like like a crazy person for a week straight. I just put the R&B on the stereo and let my KitchenAid work out with me, existing on dough and icing. A message in my inbox from Gourmet magazine really got me excited though. Every year I make some of my favourite cookies but always like to add a few newbies that may or may not make it to future years. Its sort of my own cookie tryouts. Well Gourmet Magazine has just published a compendium of their Best Cookies from 1941-today! This is a great list, with so many old forgotten favourites from my grandparents and parents' eras. Surely a few familar ones will be there and some old ones to give a new shot too. I'd love to hear about any successes from you bakers out there. And have fun baking!
Finally, my first recipe post! I didn't plan this to be it but after making these for a client I knew I had to share them as they are the perfect Christmas treat. Think of the richness, chocolaty-ness of Truffles, but in bar form. They pack a punch, look beautiful and make a lot for minimal effort, which make them the perfect cookie platter Christmas treat. The liqueur called for is Kahlua, but I would strongly recommend using any of the ones I've suggested depending on your tastes. Be sure to use a good quality chocolate as there are few ingredients. Happy Christmas baking!
Truffle Triangles from: Fine Cooking Magazine, No. 92
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar 1/4 tsp. table salt 12 Tbs.cold, butter,cut into pieces 1/2 tsp vanilla
Filling: 1 lb. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped 3/4 cup 2% milk 8 Tbs. butter, cut in pieces 4 large eggs 2/3 cup granulated sugar 2 Tbs. Kahlúa, Amaretto, Grand Marnier or Frangelico
an oven rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Line
the bottom and sides of a 9x13-inch baking pan with foil, allowing foil
to overhang the long sides of the pan. Lightly butter the foil.
In a food
processor, combine the flour, confectioners’ sugar, and salt. Process
the ingredients briefly to combine. Scatter the cold
butter pieces and the vanilla over the flour mixture and process, using
short pulses, until the dough begins to form small clumps. Turn the dough into the prepared pan. Using lightly floured
fingertips, press the dough into the pan in a smooth, even layer. Bake
until pale golden, especially around the edges, 22 to 25 minutes. Do
not overbake or the crust will be hard and crispy. Transfer the pan to
a cooling rack and lower the oven temperature to 325°F.
a medium bowl, melt the chocolate, milk, and butter together in the microwave. Whisk until smooth and
set aside to cool slightly.
In a stand mixer fitted with a
paddle attachment or in a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, and liqueur on medium-high speed until
foamy and lighter in color, 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and
gradually add the chocolate mixture. Stop the mixer and scrape down the
bowl and beater. Beat on medium speed until well blended, about 30
Pour the chocolate batter over the baked crust and
spread evenly. Bake until the sides are slightly puffed and a toothpick
inserted near the center comes out wet and gooey but not liquid, 30 to
35 minutes. Transfer the pan to a rack.
completely cool, cover with plastic and refrigerate until very cold, at
least 12 hours or up to 2 days. To serve, using the foil as handles,
lift the rectangle from the pan and set it on a cutting board. Tipping
the rectangle, carefully peel away the foil. Using a hot knife, cut into triangles.
A beautiful pre-Christmas Saturday night. Four comfortable friends. A cozy room. A lovingly set table with candles, flowers and plenty of utensils. Three enjoyable and affordable bottles of wine. Al Green on the stereo. This, the only photographic record of it.
Saturday, December 6
Gougeres, Dry cured cognac sausages, Home pickled Zucchini Raspberry Kir Royale
Creamy pumpkin soup with pumpkin seed oil and creme fraiche Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc
Quiche Lorraine with oil preserved oven dried tomatoes, mixed greens
This is the first in a series on less common or overlooked fruits and vegetables.
I have a love affair with this
fruit that is second to none. What's a quince? It's a hard yellow fruit with an uneven fuzz something like a pear, something like an apple and yet entirely different. They grow in temperate parts of the world including here in British Columbia and originated in Asia. It was very popular in ancient Rome, as well as Iran, Portugal, Greece and France. Indeed it is said that the first Marmalade was made with quince, not Seville Oranges as the word Marmalade is derived from the Portuguese marmelo which means Quince.
This is a fruit to which time and patience rewards. They are very hard, dry and tannic when raw and if you bit into one in its raw state you would never again. Leave them in a bowl in your home and they will give off the most amazing of fragrances, both fruity and floral, smelling partly of ripe apple and pear but with much more complexity. Indeed Victorian's are supposed to have used them as room or closet fresheners. I keep mine in a bowl until they no longer imbue my room with their perfume and then I get to work preserving their glories.
The Quince is high in natural pectin which is why it is most commonly used in jams and jellies. It poaches like a dream(future recipe on that coming soon) and can be easily added to any apple or pear desserts such as pies, crisps or cakes. Indeed that is the best place to cozy up to this beauty. Buy a couple and start experimenting. It can also be served alongside meats, stuffed with meat and spices like in Morocco, added to chutneys and mincemeat, made into a paste to have with cheese, and even infused in Vodka for the most beautiful liqueur.
So this is your Quince Primer. If you know anyone who has a tree, ask for some. They are generally regarded as very easy to grow, but since most people aren't familiar with them I would imagine anyone with a tree would be happy to find a home for them. Otherwise keep your eye out for them at Farmers Markets and Natural Food stores or enjoy the idea of them here on your computer screen. Soon I'll be poaching a batch with tips on flavours that complement them as well as what to do with all the parts of the fruit and liquid.