Friday, December 25, 2009

Cookies Galore

This year for the holidays, instead of giving gifts that I bought in the store, I decided to gift tins of  homemade cookies to friends and family.  Being inspired by the NYTimes feature on holiday cookies, I decided to try a few recipes out.    I ended up making 5 different types of cookies. 

1.  Chocolate Shortbread Hearts:  When I saw the recipe for these in the NYTimes, I was really excited because I LOVE chocolate shortbread cookies.  The recipe tells you to chill the dough overnight.  I found the dough to be too difficult to work with after a whole night of chilling.  So next time I will just chill for an hour.  I would also up the cocoa powder and use a little less sugar.  These cookies, while good, are not chocolatey enough for my tastes and a tad too sweet as well.   But they sure are beautiful!

2.  Russian Snowballs:  These cookies are not only easy to make, but super super delicious as well.  I used slivered almonds in the dough that I processed in my mini-prep food processor and then toasted.   Toasting the almonds is worth the extra step.    The double dipping they get in powdered sugar, once while they're still hot, once after they've cooled, is a very important step.  A friend of a friend told me they are also called Mexican Wedding Cookies.  They are buttery and delicious.  

3.  Since I am obsessed with all things chocolate, I decided to see if I could make a chocolate version of the Russian Snowballs.  I used the same basic recipe, but added dutch-processed cocoa powder in at the butter & sugar step.  I then rolled them in powdered sugar while they were still hot and then in a mixture of cocoa powder and powered sugar after they were cool. A friend of mine suggested calling them Manhattan Snowballs.  I think I will call them Chocolate Surprises and put a dark chocolate chip in the center of each one. 

4.  Candy Cane Cookies:   The woman who posted the recipe for these cookies raved about them, so I decided to try them for myself. They are an almond shortbread with a dusting of candycane and powdered sugar.  They are a bit of a pain to make since you have to roll out two separate doughs and twist them together.  However, they are very tasty and beautiful as well. The crushed candy cane topping paired with the almond is an interesting and delicious flavor combination.
5.  Chocolate White Chocolate Chip: These cookies are simply divine.  If you like chocolate and you like cookies, you will LOVE these.  They look like they are just regular chocolate cookies.  But they are more like chocolate heaven.  They're best when they come right out of the oven and the chips are slightly melted.  I consider these my signature cookie and they are always a hit when I bring them to parties.  The secret is that there is hardly any flour in them.  For an entire batch, there is just 1/4 cup of flour.  I gave this recipe to one of my dearest girlfriends who made them and decided that I had screwed up the ratio, so she tripled the flour to 3/4 cup.  The cookies were just not the same.  I'm not giving out the recipe for these cookies anymore!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Wonders of Pavlova

Pavlova.  I had never even heard of Pavlova until I had a version of it (called Salzburger Nockerl) at Kurt Guttenbrunner's restaurant Wallse. It was heavenly and I became obsessed with it.  Apparently, it has quite a bit of history attached to is and was named for the Russian ballet dancer, Anna Pavlova.

It's basically a very large meringue cookie on the bottom and is topped with sweetened whipped cream and fresh fruit.  The version that you see to the left has fresh white peaches and blueberries that have been mascerated in lime juice and about a tablespoon of sugar.  I made this one this past summer during peak peach season.    I've also made it with different berries or with kiwi and strawberries. 

I've brought Pavlovas to parties and they are always a hit.  There's something about the crunchy yet chewy texture of the meringue and the topping is so creamy and delicious.  It also feels kind of healthy since it has fresh fruit on top.  Don't top the meringue with the whipped cream and fruit until you are ready to serve.  It will get soggy if you leave the whipped cream and fruit on for too long.  Bon appetit!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Banoffee Bananza

Before I discuss the wonders of Banoffee Pie,  I would like to acknowledge and thank Joyce Cohen from the NYTimes for doing her research by googling me, finding this blog, and inspiring me to post entries once again.  If you had not chosen to write about us in your column, I would not have had the motivation to start posting again. 

My first encounter with Banoffee Pie also happened to be my first encounter at The Spotted Pig, which is one of the best, if not the best, "gastro-pub" in NYC.  The Spotted Pig is a whole other story, which I will get to some other time.  The point is, I was having dinner a few years ago at "The Pig" for the first time and was ordered by my friend, Cecilia to order the Banoffee Pie for dessert.   So I did and yet another food obsession was born.  

As with most of my food-related obsessions, it's not within walking distance to my apartment and can get expensive.  The Banoffee Pie at The Spotted Pig is $9 a slice and is worth every penny, but with my eating behavior, $9 a slice can turn into a $90 a week habit!  So after tasting the pie, which, I discovered the disappointing way, is a seasonal dessert item at Spotted Pig, I decided to deconstruct it and reconstruct it in my own kitchen.  My version is not exactly the same as the one at SP, but it'll do in a pinch.  

I ventured into Banoffee-land last fall, recipe-less, guided only by my memories of the Banoffee from the previous winter since it was unavailable when I went in the summer.  (Although I have to admit, I didn't do a very thorough search, and I do believe there is an official SP recipe floating around out there in the ether.  If anyone has it, can you post it in the comments section?)   Version 1.0 had what we psychometricians call "face validity" or what regular folks call the "looks good on paper" effect.  It LOOKED really awesome and it tasted good, but it didn't taste as good as the one from SP.  It had a regular pastry shell (I used a recipe from  Chris Kimball's "The Dessert Bible"), dulce de leche that i made by baking sweetened condensed milk in the oven at 300°F for four hours (big mistake) because I was too chicken to put a can of sweetened condensed milk on the stove, sliced bananas, whipped cream and dark chocolate shavings.  The whole thing was just a little too underdone:  the pastry shell was too thick, the dulce de leche wasn't caramelized enough, and the bananas weren't quite ripe enough. 

Being a little obsessive-compulsive about developing recipes, I decided not to waste any more of my taste buds eating V1.0, and made V2.0 that same week.  This time, I made a graham crust instead of the pastry crust, caramel in lieu of the dulce de leche, riper bananas, whipped cream, piped, using a pastry bag with a fluted tip, and dark chocolate shavings.  This version had not only face validity, but taste validity as well.

So for thanksgiving this year, I attempted V3.0, which is a hybrid of versions 1.0 and 2.0.  V3.0 has a graham crust, like V2.0, but a dulce de leche like V1.0.  I decided that I liked the texture and flavor of the graham crust over the pastry crust but the complex texture and flavor of the dulce de leche over the caramel.  The dulce de leche was my biggest challenge for this version.  

My friend Allison makes her dulce de leche the super scary way by cooking an UNOPENED can of sweetened condensed milk immersed in water on her stovetop for like 4 hours.  She swears that it's perfectly safe, but because I am extremely accident prone and random unfortunate things tend to happen to me, I figured I'd play it safe by puncturing two holes on the top of the can and cooking the can partially submerged in a water bath (so water doesn't get into the can) on the stove-top for four hours.  This method worked amazingly well.  As you can see from the picture, the dulce de leche caramelized perfectly.  In fact, it was so delicious, I was eating slices of honeycrisp apples dipped in dulce de leche while I was assembling the pie.  

After layering sliced bananas (about 4 medium-sized bananas), I made a batch of whipped cream and used a pastry bag with a fluted tip to pipe the whipped cream onto the layered bananas.   The final step of the Banoffee Pie assembly was to grate dark chocolate on top of the whipped cream using a microplane.  Thanksgiving this years was even more delicious than in years past!