Friday, December 26, 2014

Hazelnut Crumble Cookies

As we near the end of the holiday season and the great joy of sharing our favorite culinary traditions, we look forward to celebrating the coming of a new year.  I’m thinking one great way to do that is to share a platter of good cookies. 

I’m a hazelnut fiend.  Actually, I guess it’d be more accurate to say I simply love nuts.  These Hazelnut Crumble Cookies are my idea of a really good cookie. They’re made quickly in a food processor with a few simple ingredients and baked to a perfect crispness.  If you, too, love hazelnuts, I invite you to take a bite of these perfectly simple and delicious cookies as you toast the stroke of midnight.  They’re light, not too sweet and a great way to ring in the New Year.

Sending my very best wishes for a very Happy New Year to you and your families.  Here’s hoping for a good measure of love, great food, friendship and many new opportunities in 2015.  Cheers!!

Bench notes:
- To toast hazelnuts, spread them out in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast in a 350 degree F oven for about 10 minutes.  Rub them in a towel to remove most of the skins.
- I make the cookie dough one day ahead, shape it into cookies, place them on to a baking sheet, wrap it tightly with plastic wrap and chill overnight.
- I use a #40 scoop (1 tablespoon) to portion the cookie dough.  It speeds up the process and creates uniform cookies.
- These cookies don’t take on any color except the bottoms should be golden brown.  To check for doneness, give one a nudge with your fingertip.  If it moves easily without any resistance, check the bottoms to see if they’re golden brown.  They will crisp up as they cool.

Hazelnut Crumble Cookies
Makes about 3 dozen cookies

2 cups (10 oz) flour
1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 oz) toasted hazelnuts
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) sugar
1/4 t salt
8 oz (16 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract           
1/8 teaspoon almond extract

1/2 cup (2 oz) powdered sugar, for dusting

Place the flour, hazelnuts, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and process until the nuts are finely ground.  Cut the butter into 1/2” pieces and add.  Process until the mixture looks like course meal.  Add the egg yolk, vanilla and almond extracts and process just until the mixture starts to collect into damp clumps.  Scoop or shape the dough into 1 1/4” balls and place them on a baking sheet.  Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 4 hours or overnight. 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Prepare baking sheets with parchment or silpats. 

Place 12 cookies on each baking sheet.  Bake until the cookies are golden brown on the bottom, about 22 to 24 minutes.  Rotate the baking sheets half-way through to ensure even baking and browning.

Place the cookies on a wire rack to cool.  Dust with powered sugar.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Chocolate Cranberry Walnut Cake

This is a very easy but festive cake if you need a quick dessert to serve after a meal or as a treat to be enjoyed during holiday rituals.  It doesn’t require any fancy ingredients or equipment and can be ready in just over an hour or so.

It’s a basic chocolate cake made with oil for a supremely moist crumb.  I’ve added dried cranberries that have been soaked overnight in port and a handful of chopped walnuts for texture.  There’s buttermilk for tenderness and cocoa for some earthy richness.  A little bit of cinnamon rounds out the edges.  Dust with a blanket of snowy powdered sugar and there you have it.  A rich dark cake to celebrate the season.

Here's wishing everyone a very, very happy holiday spent filled with the gift of loved ones, laughter, joy and great food prepared and shared together.  And my sincerest appreciation for your wonderful readership throughout this year.  Very best to you!


Bench notes:
- I chose Tawny port for soaking the dried cranberries because I think it has the right nutty, fruity notes to complement the chocolate and other components of the cake. Soak the cranberries overnight to ensure they are fully hydrated. 
- Substitute dried cherries for the cranberries if you prefer.
- To toast walnuts, place them in a single layer on a baking sheet at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes. They should be slightly fragrant.  I chop them into fairly small pieces so they don’t sink to the bottom of the cake.
- I use undutched natural cocoa powder.
- This cake can also be dressed up with chocolate glaze:  Place the cooled cake on a cardboard round or removable tart pan bottom.  Set it on a cooling rack placed on top of a baking sheet lined with parchment.  Finely chop 5 oz bittersweet chocolate into very small pieces and place in a bowl.  Bring 3/4 cup heavy cream and 1 tablespoon corn syrup to a simmer.  Just as it begins to boil, take off the heat, pour it over the chopped chocolate and let it sit for about a minute or so. Then stir slowly and gently, starting in the middle until thoroughly combined and then working outward in concentric circles until the mixture comes together. To glaze the cake, pour the warm glaze quickly inthe center of the cake and then move out around the edges. Let it run for a few seconds and then gently jiggle and tap the baking sheet on the work surface to encourage the glaze to run down the sides of the cake. Let glaze firm up before serving.
- The Global Pastry Table ecookbook makes a great last minute gift for pastry lovers!

Chocolate Cranberry Walnut Cake
Serves 8 – 10

1/2 cup (2 1/4 oz) dried cranberries
1/4 cup (2 oz) port
1 1/4 cups (6 1/4 oz) flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons (53 grams) cocoa powder
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons (5 oz) hot water
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (3 oz) canola oil
3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz) granulated sugar
3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz) dark brown sugar, packed
2 eggs @ room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup (4 oz) buttermilk @ room temperature 
1/2 cup (1 3/4 oz) walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped

powdered sugar, for dusting

Combine the dried cranberries and the port in a single layer and soak overnight in a covered container.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease a 9” x 2 1/2” cake pan and line the bottom with a circle of parchment.  

Sift the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon together. 

In a separate bowl, whisk the cocoa and hot water together until smooth.

Whisk the oil, both sugars and eggs and blend well.  Add in the cocoa mixture and vanilla.  Stir in the dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with half the buttermilk and beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.  Mix just until well blended.  Stir in the soaked cranberries, any residual port and chopped walnuts.  Pour into the prepared pan and gently tap the bottom of the pan a few times on the work surface to remove any air bubbles.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center releases with a few moist crumbs attached, about 40 - 42 minutes.  Cool 10 minutes.  Run a thin bladed knife around the edges and invert the cake.   Gently peel off the parchment and invert again.  Cool completely.  Dust with powdered sugar.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Apple Cranberry Turnover

This is the season for cranberries.  Bright red, full of acidity and pectin, they make beautiful company with other fruit.  In pastry, you often see them paired with the more subtle flavors of apple and pear.

This is an apple cranberry combination in the very simple form of a turnover.  Cranberries add a beautiful bright tartness.  There's also a bit of orange zest and cinnamon to round things out.  I really love this fruit pairing.

I prefer making free-form pastries and galettes because I think the crust crisps up so nicely and I like the rustic appearance.  The pastry here is very tender and flaky.  It's pretty easy to handle and makes a really delicious encasement for the fruit.  This is one of my favorite pastries of the season.

Bench notes:
- The pastry dough and cranberry filling can be made up to 2 days ahead and stored in the refrigerator.
- The secret to rolling out pastry dough is to make sure it’s chilled properly.  Too cold and it cracks and splits.  Too warm and it softens and tears.  As you begin to roll it out, if there’s resistance and cracking, let it warm up for another minute or so.  If it starts to feel too soft as you lift and turn it, chill it again until firm enough to handle easily.  Use a light dusting of flour as you go and lift it after each turn to make sure it isn’t sticking.
- The cranberry filling will thicken as it cools.  Stir to loosen before spreading it over the pastry.
- I use Fuji apples, which have a natural sweetness.
- I don’t use a lot of sugar in this pastry because I really want to taste the fruit.  If you prefer, add more sugar to each of the fillings.
- I add the sugar to the apples just before I’m ready to place them in the turnover.  Avoid letting them sit in sugar too long or you’ll have juices running everywhere as you place them on the pastry.
- If you want a glossy finish, instead of melted butter, use an egg wash: mix 1 egg + 1 teaspoon water.  Brush the tart lightly and evenly with the wash.  You won’t use all of it.
- The turnover needs to cool thoroughly so the juices have a chance to set up.
- Another seasonal pastry to try: Winter Fruit Crisp with apples, pears, dates and dried cranberries.

Apple Cranberry Turnover
Serves 8

Pastry Dough
1 3/4 cup + 3 tablespoons (9 1/2 oz) flour                                                         
2 tablespoons (26 grams) sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 oz (12 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter                  
1/3 cup (2.6 oz) cold water                                                  

Cranberry Filling
2 cups (8 oz) fresh cranberries
1/4 cup (2 oz) water
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (2 3/4 oz) sugar
1/4 vanilla bean
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
zest of 1/2 orange

Apple Filling
2 large (about 1 lb) apples
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons (39 grams) sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon (1/2 oz) unsalted butter, melted

1 tablespoon (1/2 oz) unsalted butter, melted, for glazing
1/2 tablespoon (6 grams) sugar, for dusting

For the pastry dough, cut the cold butter into 1/2” cubes.  Place the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and blend. Add the pieces of butter and pulse until they resemble pieces the size of oatmeal.  Add 1/3 cup ice water and pulse until the dough looks a bit like cottage cheese. The dough should be soft, pliable and will just hold together when you press a clump between your fingers. Be careful not to overmix.  Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap and form it into a disc. Wrap tightly and chill thoroughly.

For the cranberry filling, place the cranberries, water, sugar, 1/4 vanilla bean, cinnamon and orange zest in a saucepan over medium heat.  Bring to a simmer, stirring to blend all the ingredients.  Lower the heat and cook, stirring periodically to avoid scorching, until the mixture becomes jammy and the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes.  Remove the vanilla bean piece.  Pour into a container and chill until ready to use.

Let the chilled dough rest on a lightly floured piece of parchment or a silpat for a few minutes so it can soften just a bit to prevent cracking.  Then roll the dough out to about 16” x 10” rectangle, lifting the dough and keeping the parchment or silpat lightly floured as needed.  When you have the desired rectangle shape, trim the edges.  Lift and slide the parchment or silpat with the pastry onto a baking sheet pan.  Chill while you prepare the apples.

Place the lemon juice in a bowl big enough to hold the sliced apples.  Peel and core the apples.  Slice them fairly thin and toss them in the lemon juice as you go to prevent browning.  Add sugar and cinnamon and toss thoroughly.

Take the rolled out dough from the refrigerator and leave it on the baking sheet. Place it in front of you so the long side is closest to you.  Make a slight mark at the halfway point on the long side so you know where the fold will be.  Spread the cranberry filling evenly on half the rectangleleaving a 3/4” border along the 3 sides.  Place rows of sliced apples (about 3 slices across) on top of the cranberry.  Brush the apples with melted butter.  

Brush the borders of the dough with water.  Fold the other half of the rectangle over the apples and press the edges to seal. Turn up the edges to make a border and press with the tines of a fork to seal.  Chill the formed turnover until the oven is ready.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut 8 air vents across the top of the pastry.  Brush the turnover with melted butter and sprinkle lightly with sugar.  Bake until the crust is browned and the fruit is bubbling, about 35 – 40 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Sweet Potato Biscuits

I had some extra sweet potatoes leftover from Thanksgiving projects so I turned to the alluring idea of Sweet Potato Biscuits.  Who can refuse a fresh biscuit?  And as it turns out, these are terrific on their own, served with a big breakfast or as a canvas for a great little sandwich. 

This recipe is from Molly Wizenberg, perhaps better known as Orangette.  However, I made several adjustments: I deleted the cayenne and added a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg.  I increased the baking powder to 1 tablespoon and dialed back the salt, using a scant 1/2 teaspoon.  I also lowered the oven temperature down to 400 degrees F and baked them for 15 – 16 minutes.  I post Molly's recipe as written along with my modifications.

These are a nice change from regular biscuits.  They are good just with a dollop of butter, honey or your favorite jam.  They’d be great with ham, mustard and honey, as Molly recommends.  Or if you happen to have any turkey leftovers hanging about, with an indulgence of gravy.  After all, 'tis the season.

Bench notes: 
- The recipe calls for boiling the sweet potatoes in water until tender.  I had leftover roasted sweet potatoes from my Spiced Sweet Potato Pie, which were roasted with butter, orange zest and spices.
- Let the sweet potatoes cool completely to let the steam escape so they won’t be too wet.
- Use a pastry blender if you'd rather not work the butter into the flour mixture with your hands.
- The recipe says to bake these in a buttered 9” x 1 1/2” cake pan but I just placed them on a baking sheet lined with a silpat.
- Once the biscuits are cut out, turning them upside down before placing them on prepared pan to bake gives them better loft.
- Molly's yield of 25 biscuits seems like a stretch.  Doesn't seem like you could get 25 biscuits in a 9" cake pan.  My biscuit cutter is 2 1/2” and I got 10 biscuits.  I think if you use her recommended 1 1/2" biscuit cutter, you'll probably get around 15 or so.

Sweet Potato Biscuits
Makes about 25 biscuits

12 oz sweet potato             
1 3/4 cups (8 3/4 oz) flour                                     
1 tablespoon (13 grams) dark brown sugar. packed                         
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder  [I used 1 tablespoon]
1 teaspoon salt                            [I used scant 1/2 teaspoon]
1/2 teaspoon baking soda                                                           
Pinch of cayenne pepper          [ I used a pinch of cinnamon & nutmeg]
4 oz (8 tablespoons) cold butter, cut into 1/2" cubes                   
1/3 cup cold buttermilk 
melted butter, for glazing                                                      

Peel and cut the sweet potato into chunks.  Cook in boiling water until tender, about 8-10 minutes.  Let them drain and cool thoroughly, then mash them.  Portion out 3/4 cup.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F [I baked them at 400 degrees F].  Butter the bottom and sides of a 9” cake pan with 1 1/2" high sides.  [I just placed them on a silpat-lined baking sheet.]

Whisk together the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, baking soda and cayenne (or cinnamon and nutmeg, if using).  Add cold butter pieces to the flour mixture and toss to coat thoroughly.  Working quickly with your fingertips, pinch and rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture looks like pebbles the size of peas with some smaller crumbs.

Whisk together the 3/4 cup mashed sweet potatoes and buttermilk. Add to the flour mixture and toss with a fork.  Gather it with your hands and knead gently just a few times until a soft dough comes together.  About 3 or 4 turns should be enough to consolidate the dough.

Turn the dough out onto a very lightly floured work surface and gently pat into 1” thick round.  Cut using 1 1/2” biscuit cutter [I used a 2 1/2" cutter], flouring after each cut and pushing straight down and lifting straight up to cut rather than twisting.  Turn the biscuits over (bottom side up) and place them in the prepared cake pan.  Brush the tops lightly with melted butter. 

Bake until puffed and golden on top and a toothpick inserted into the center biscuit comes out clean, about 22 minutes.  Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then turn the biscuits out and gently pull them apart.  Serve warm.