Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike. -John Muir

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Black and White Cookies

Imagine the hour and a half train ride to NY city, the hustle and bustle of Grand Central Station, the magnitude to the big city, your very first Broadway show.  Now imagine the whole time holding onto your daddy's hand for dear life because the big city scares you.  And then you stop in the most special bakery your eyes have ever seen and get the most wonderful cookie that your 8 years had ever tasted.  This is my memory of black and white cookies.  While fearing the fast passed life of the city I remember everything melting away for this... of course I was a complete copy cat and making my sisters favorite treat my own.

 Many of you may know how a sibling can be.  You are eternally bonded to them.  My sister has been my best friend from the moment I was born.  When I applied to colleges I followed her to Ohio State.  She means a lot to me, even though she now lives very far away (California) and I haven't seen her in over a year.  So for Easter this year I decided to make her some cookies, but not just any cookies, her childhood favorite.  

What you need:
2 cups cake flour
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 sticks butter (salted - room temp)
1 3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
zest of one lemon
1 cup milk
5 oz chocolate
1/2 cup water
3 tbsp honey
5 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla

For the cookies:  Cream together sugar and butter.  Add eggs one at a time until combined.  Mix in vanilla and lemon zest.  In a separate bowl whisk together the flour and baking powder.  Add this in 3rds to the butter mixture alternating additions with 3rds of the milk.  Scoop 1/4 cups full of the batter onto a baking sheet (leave plenty of room btwn cookies).  Bake at 375 for 12-15 minutes or until the bottoms are golden (see below).

For the frosting: Over low heat combine honey and water in a small saucepan.  Once combined add the vanilla and pour 3/4 of the honey mixture to the powdered sugar.  Stir to combine and add extra honey mixture to the powdered sugar if needed.  Spread white icing on 1/2 of all the cookies.  Melt the chocolate and add it to the remaining sugar mixture.  Add more honey water if needed (I needed).  Spread chocolate frosting on the 2nd half of the cookie.

Hope you enjoy these as much as I do.  (A little bit of home away from home)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Can't Sleep? Then Bake...

Recently I've had quite a bit of stress in my life.  This past Sunday, my fathers best friend suddenly passed away.  So with all the other stresses, I am now worried about my parents coping with their grief over the loss of a very dear friend.  As a child, whenever something bad would happen, my mother would be right into the kitchen baking cookies.  She always said 'You need a little sweet to go with the bitter'.  That has been something that has always stuck with me.  Whether its the relief that I get from being in the kitchen, or the beautiful pairing of bittersweet in life and in food, I find that somehow being in the kitchen tonight at midnight helped relieve some of the stress.  I plan to mail some of these cookies of to my folks tomorrow morning.

Lemon Curd Thumbprint Cookies: The Bitter and the Sweet

What you need
 for the curd:
     3 eggs (whole)
     1/3 cup lemon juice
     3/4 cup sugar
     2 tbsp lemon zest
note: this is lemon zest and lemon juice from 3 large lemons
     4 tbsp room temperature butter
for the dough:
     1/2 room temperature butter
     1/4 cup sugar
     1 egg
     1/2 tsp vanilla
     1 cup all purpose flour

For the lemon curd: In a stainless steel bowl over a pot of boiling water whisk together eggs and lemon juice and sugar.  Keep whisking the mixture until it thickens (this will be a few minutes, be patient).  Then the mixture thickens, take it off the heat and add the butter and lemon zest.  Stir until everything is combined.  I had enough lemon curd to fill a small mason jar.  (It is yummy in place of jam on toast and scones too).

For the cookies: With an electric mixer combine butter and sugar.  Add the egg and vanilla and combine.  Add the flour in 2 portions mixing completely.  Make 1 inch diameter balls of dough and lay out on baking sheet.  Gently press thumb into center of dough to form a well for the lemon curd.  put about 1/2 tsp lemon curd into each well.  Bake on 350 for 13-15 minutes.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Pamesan and Thyme Crackers

When I was in undergraduate chemistry I was almost afraid to do my experiments because I thought doing the slightest thing wrong would cause a great catastrophe.  My friend in the class realized this and whenever he finished his lab he would come over to my station and set something on fire or cause some undesired chemical reaction.  This would make me laugh and let me finish the lab without worrying about setting the building on fire.  What exactly am I getting at?

When I started baking I was exactly the same way.  I was afraid I had to do everything exactly as the recipe said or my kitchen would spontaneous light on fire or my food would be awful.  These days I feel like my own grandmother in the kitchen.  I add things to improve texture and color instead of going by a recipe verbatim.  I now can feel how bread dough should be and either add flour or water to it to fix it.  There are some quantities I never measure, and I never use unsalted butter.

Which brings me to the following recipe.  The texture of a shortbread cookie, the taste of a artisan cracker, these babies are simple enough for any home-cook to make.  Here's how...

What you need:
2 sticks of butter (room temperature)
8 oz (2 cups) of Parmesan cheese (grated)
2 tsp fresh thyme
1 tsp ground black pepper
2 cups all purpose flour
2-3 tbsp water

With an electric mixer, beat the butter until creamy, about 1-2 minutes.  Then on a low speed blend the Parmesan cheese, thyme, and pepper into the butter.  Slowly add the flour.  Add water as needed to make the dough moist and easy to work with.  When the dough is mixed, divide into 2 portions.  Roll each ball of dough in waxed paper to create a log.  Chill this log for at least 30 minutes in the fridge.  Once the dough has been chilled, slice 1/4 inch pieces and lay them on a baking sheet.  Bake at 350 for 10-15 minutes or until edges start to brown.  Enjoy!

Homemade Naan

When I decided to make naan I came across a variety of recipes ranging from yeast to no yeast and yogurt to no yogurt.  Using the ingredients I always have readily available in my kitchen here is my take on naan.... yum

What you need:
1 cup milk (warm)
1/2 cup water
3 tsp olive oil (plus more for brushing the naan with)
3 cups bread flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp yeast

Add all the ingredients (minus those in parenthesis) to your bread machine.  Turn your bread machine on to the dough cycle and wait for the magic to happen.  One your bread machine is done, take the dough out and lay on a floured surface.  Divide dough into 8 pieces.  Carefully flatten each of the 8 dough pieces.  At 1st I used a rolling pin to do so, but I found that pulling the dough apart must like pizza dough actually helps retain those charming bubbles.  Brush the tops of the naan generously with olive oil and garlic.  Place in hot skilled (medium heat) olive oil side down.  Brush the other side of the naan with olive oil and garlic.  You are looking for the side of the dough that is on the skillet to become firm, much like when making pancakes.  This should only be 1-2 minutes depending on your heat.  Once it is firm, flip the naan and cook the other side. 

Good thing these babies are intended to be eaten warm off the skillet because they are hard to resist.  They will keep for a few days in Ziploc bags, but I recommend them popped into the toaster oven and warmed up if you don't polish them off right after making them.