Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Everything and the Kitchen Sink Cookies

I just realized the other week that this blog is nearly two years old, and I still haven't told you about one of my favorite cookies ever.  Oops.  Sorry about that.  No, really, I am.

They come from Dorie Greenspan (adorable and so talented!), and can be found in her book Baking: From My Home to Yours.  I don't have the book, but at some point the recipe was published in a cooking magazine, which is where I discovered it.  (Judging from the font I'm going to say it was Bon Appetit, but I managed to trim away any real identifying details).  Dorie dubs these cookies, which are absolutely packed with oats, nuts, fruit, and chocolate, Chockablock cookies.  The type of nuts & fruit you use is entirely up to you, depending on what you have kicking around the pantry.  This time around I used dried cherries and apricots, pecans, and lots of chocolate, but I've tried lots of combos, all tasty and delicious.  My only minor change to the recipe is nixing the dried coconut (hate it!) and upping the oats and other add-ins to equal an extra half cup of stuff.  The cookie purists in your life might find these babies a little overwhelming, but if you like a cookie with a lot of flavor and texture, they are definitely worth a try.

Chockablock Cookies (From Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)
About 30 cookies

* 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
* ¾ teaspoon baking powder
* ½ teaspoon baking soda
* ¼ teaspoon salt
* ½ stick (4 tablespoons/2 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
* ¼ cup solid vegetable shortening (i.e., Crisco)
* ½ cup sugar
* ½ cup molasses (not blackstrap)
* 2 large eggs
* 1 ½ cups old-fashioned oats
* 1 cup coarsely chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds or peanuts are good)
* 1 cup coarsely chopped dried fruit (apricot and cherries are my faves, but I also love raisins, prunes, and cranberries, and I'd like to experiment with apple at some point)
* 12 ounces of bittersweet chocolate coarsely chopped, or about 2 cups of chocolate chips
* ½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut (or add an extra half cup of oats & fruit/nuts)

1. Place your oven racks in upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat it to 325 degrees F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

3. Fit your stand mixer the paddle attachment if you have one, or with a hand mixer and a large bowl, beat together the butter and shortening until very smooth, about 2 minutes.  Add the sugar and beat two minutes more.  Add the molasses and beat for 1 minute more.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating for a minute after each addition. 

4. With the mixer on low, mix in the oats, then the dry ingredients, mixing just until they are incorporated.  Add the nuts, fruit, chocolate chips and coconut (if using), and pulse the mixer a few times to incorporate them (or just use a sturdy rubber spatula to fold them in).

(At this point, the dough can be refrigerated, covered in plastic, for two days.)

5. If you have a 2 tablespoon cookie scoop, that's a perfect size for these cookies.  If you don't, simply drop rounded tablespoons of dough onto the prepared pans, leaving about 1 ½ inches between the mounds.  Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, rotating pans from top to bottom and front to back at the midway point, until the cookies are just set.  (Because they are dark in color, it's hard to judge done-ness by the color.  When in doubt, underbake I always say!)  Remove the baking sheets to cooling racks and let the cookies rest on the sheets for at least 5 minutes before transferring them to racks to cool.  Cookies keep for about a week in an airtight container.  

Another do-ahead trick is to scoop the dough into mounds onto a cookie sheets and freeze them.  Once they're frozen solid, the mounds can be transferred to a freezer bag and kept for up to 2 months.  You can bake the cookies right out of the freezer, simply add a couple of minutes to the baking time.


Monday, May 30, 2011

My New Lemony Love

Can I tell you what I'm obsessed with right now?

Lemon Curd.

Because if there's one thing I like as much as chocolate, it's lemon.

Unfortunately chocolate and lemon don't go all that well together (in my opinion, anyway--I've always preferred the more classic chocolate and orange combo).  But do you know what goes REALLY well with lemon curd?  Whipped cream.  It's my new favorite combo.  Swear to god.  I eat it plain.  I just ate it with soggy berries too, and that was fantastic.  And not that I like to brag, (but I will for a minute), my culinary school instructors said that the dessert I made for my final project, which was a lemon layer cake with strawberries, was the best in the class.  I chalk it up to the GENIUS use of lemon curd/whipped cream filling that glued the whole thing together.  (But shhh, don't tell anyone.  That was basically the only "secret" ingredient.) 

I was intimidated by lemon curd after reading somewhere in the blogosphere about a blogger's inability to master it even after multiple attempts.  Luckily for me (or perhaps unluckily, since I now know how fast and easy it is to make), we made it in class a couple of weeks ago as part of a mini-pastry unit, so I'm feeling confident.  The recipe was provided to us by Janine Sciarappa, our awesome pastry instructor.  What I like about it is it's simplicity, but also how easy it is to tweak to one's palate.  When I first tasted it I found it sweet for my palate--I almost had to search for the tangy lemon flavor I was expecting.  When I made it again I upped the amount of lemon zest considerably and used a few teaspoons less sugar.  While that was a good start, the texture of all the extra lemon zest was not appealing on my tongue, and I ended up straining it out, and then adding another few teaspoons of lemon juice after it cooked.  Ultimately I think the best technique is to use the recommended amount of lemon zest, and to chop it even after grating so that its texture isn't noticeable.  Use less sugar, and stir in more lemon juice at the end if further adjustments are needed.  Below you will find my tweaked version of the recipe, which is tangy but certainly not sour!

So what do you do with this magical stuff once you've made it to your liking?  Other than eating it plain out of the pot, it is great folded in with whipped cream on top of fresh berries, as filling in a layer cake, or on top of plain or lemon cheesecake, which was the way it was originally presented to us.  Pastry Chef extraordinaire David Lebowitz also suggests spreading it on crumpets (I think those are like scones?), and he ALSO had the idea of mixing it with whipped cream, but to be served alongside gingerbread--genius!  Although it's not gingerbread season yet, I love love love that stuff, so I will have to get back to you on that one come fall.

Lemon Curd (Adapted from Janine Sciarappa)
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

* 4 large eggs
* 1 cup + 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
* 6 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (1/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons)
* 2 Tablespoons finely grated lemon peel
* 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter

1.  In a heavy bottomed non-reactive (i.e., stainless steel) saucepan, whisk together the eggs and sugar.  Then whisk in the lemon juice and peel.

2.  Cook the mixture over medium heat for about 5 minutes, whisking the whole time, until the mixture is nice and thick--I'd say somewhere between ranch dressing and mayonnaise, and just on the verge of boiling.

(You may say here, Macy, if I am whisking the whole time I will never know if the mixture is about to boil because I'm constantly agitating it.  Good point.  You can stop whisking for a few seconds now and then to assess thickness, and see if any bubbles are starting to form around the edges.  But for the most part, whisk whisk whisk.)

3.  When the curd has reached a good thick consistency, remove it from the heat and whisk in the butter.  Taste it and if it's not tangy and lemony enough for you, stir in a few more drops of fresh lemon juice.  Transfer to a small bowl or a plastic container and chill until cold, about 2 hours.  To prevent a skin from forming on top of the curd, press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface.

The curd will keep for about a week in the fridge, so you can make it several days ahead of time if needed.  If you want a super smooth texture, you can push the curd through a mesh strainer with a rubber spatula when it's warm or cold.  Sometimes the zest bugs me and sometimes it's fine--can't really explain it.  But it's easy enough to get rid of it, so do that if you like.