Monday, January 30, 2006

Mondays with Maida - Cinnamon Almond Cookies

Page 106 in the old book / page 145 in the new book

These are another of my old favorites from this book. It's possible they were the first cookies I made from the book, but I can't remember for sure. They are rich, buttery cookies with a generous dose of cinnamon, topped with sliced almonds and finshed with a lemon glaze.

I purchased the pan I use for these cookies (a 10 by 15 jelly roll pan) years ago, specifically for the purpose of making these cookies. At that time the only properly sized pan I could find was one of those Cushionaire pans which has two metal layers with a space in between. I think the idea behind the design is that your cookies won't burn on the bottom. Bad idea. Your cookies won't burn, but they won't cook properly either.

This is a long-winded way of telling you that I suspect I've been undercooking these cookies for years. Maida describes the cookies as crisp, but only the edge pieces are crisp when I make them. Not that I'm complaining... I love these cookies regardless of the texture.

I hadn't noticed before that the recipe actually calls for sliced blanched almonds - something I had never seen before, but which I just came across in Whole Foods today. I think I'll stick with the regular sliced almonds, though. I prefer the way they look, and almond skins are loaded with good-for-you flavanoids.

Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "I liked the cinnamon almond bar because it had a crunchy cookie base and a crunchy almond topping. There was a definite lemon taste to the cookie. Rating - 4.5"

Denny: "I think they are fairly crunchy but a tad non-descript. I'd give them a 2.5 as fairly average. Rating - 2.5"

Laura: "Crunchy and yummy. Rating - 4.0"

Phil: "Elegant almond coated squares with just the right combination of sweet, buttery and curious (cinnamon & lemon). Seemed out of place for office fare but sure helped endure the email/to do list onslaught. Rating - 4.5"

Overall rating by the panel - 3.9

Next week - Georgia Pecan Bars

Nutrition Facts

Saturday, January 28, 2006

BBM4 - My Package from Lindy

Wow. I'm still collecting my thoughts about what to include in the BBM4 package that I'll be sending, but my package from Lindy arrived yesterday. It was packed to the gills, with music, homemade goodies, and an assortment of interesting ethnic ingredients from Pittsburgh's Strip District. Lindy also included a wonderful handwritten letter explaining what was included and where it was from and recipes for the things she had made.

Lindy sent two of her homemade jellies: White Peach and Basil Preserves, and Rosemary Garlic Jelly. The first is sweet with a firm set - perfect for toast. The Rosemary Garlic Jelly has a softer set and is also sweet but with the not-so-breakfasty flavors of rosemary and garlic. Lindy suggests using it as a glaze, an accompaniment to roasted lamb, or added to gravy. I've had little tastes of each and they're both wonderful.

Unbelievably, Lindy sent a third homemade treat - Chinese Chews. I love these! Actually, it would be more proper to say I loved these. They're gone. I was so busy scarfing them down I almost forgot to take a picture. So what you see above are the last three just moments before their demise. They are basically date nut bars, but somehow more addictive. I think it's safe to say I'll be making these myself in the not too distant future!

Since Lindy was unable to pack up some pierogis for me, she hit upon the brilliant idea of sending a selection of goodies from some of the many ethnic food stores in Pittsburgh's Strip District, aka "the Strip". She sent amaretti from the Italian grocery, dried chestnuts from the Chinese supermarket, Sumac from the Greek store, and some Harissa Sauce from the Middle Eastern market. And if the abundance of ethnic markets in Pittsburgh isn't enough to make you green with envy, they also have a Penzeys! Lindy included a packet of their Herbes de Provence, one of her favorites.

As for the music, Lindy sent a full length recording of La Traviata with Teresa Stratas and Fritz Wunderlich. I love opera and I especially love La Traviata - it has beautiful, haunting music and a great (but of course tragic!) love story based on Alexandre Dumas' La Dame aux Camélias (Camille).

Thanks very much Lindy for such a thoughtful and generous package!! Thanks too to Jason for hosting this Music Edition of Blogging by Mail. Keep an eye out for the round-up here.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Pink is for Patty

When I was little, my Mom color-coded my brothers, sister, and me. It wasn't for everything, mostly those things that we all used and needed to keep straight like bathroom cups, camping towels, etc. I think my sister and I were most closely associated with our colors, which also showed up in our bedroom decor, our clothing, and even gifts from our grandparents. I don't know when or how our colors were chosen, but since my color was blue, I do wonder about it.

My sister Patty was pink. So when I was choosing a recipe for her birthday cake last weekend, the promise of pink icing was too much to resist. Against my better judgement, I chose the "Illinois Jam Cake" from my go-to cake cookbook, The Wooden Spoon Dessert Book. Though I love fresh strawberries and good strawberry jam, I've never been one to choose strawberry flavored anything. In fact, I expect that if I'd come across this recipe in any other cookbook, I would have flipped right by it. But as I've said before, I've come to trust this book... and the idea of presenting Patty with a pink cake was irresistible.

The cake itself has a whole cup of strawberry jam in it, but it is merely a background for the spices. The cream cheese icing has a more modest 3 tablespoons of jam, but the tanginess of lemon juice and cream cheese bring out the strawberry flavor nicely. The cake was very good - I'd describe it as "strawberry and spice" - a very moist spice cake complented by a tangy strawberry icing. Oh yeah... and it's pink.

Happy belated birthday Patty!!!

Monday, January 23, 2006

Mondays with Maida - Butterscotch Walnut Bars

Page 104 in the old book / page 144 in the new book

These were fine - very sweet, but otherwise unremarkable. Some people were crazy about them, but I think most were unimpressed. I was put off right from the start by the fact that the cookies contained butterscotch morsels. It's not that I have anything against them, it's just not the type of thing I expect to encounter in a Maida Heatter book.

Once again, these were very easy to make and didn't require greasing the pan or using a mixer. Because I was using that cheapo, dark, "non-stick" pan again, I lowered the temperature and reduced the cooking time slightly. I think I got them out before they were overdone, but I think I was just in the nick of time!

The shortbread crust on these cookies (made with brown sugar) is barely noticeable beneath the ultra-sweet topping which includes both corn syrup and butterscotch morsels. Thank goodness there is a generous amount of walnuts to tame the sweetness somewhat! The melted mixture of butterscotch morsels, corn syrup, and butter was an alarming shade of orange... ugh.

Here's the panel...

Terri: "These are very 'butterscotchy' and particularly good if you like butterscotch and nuts. Very sweet and rich in taste. Rating - 4.0"

Denny: "I'd give them a 3. I don't like butterscotch much, but it was good and crunchy, maybe a tad too sweet. Rating - 3.0"

Laura: "Tasty and delicious. However... I like walnuts and I like butterscotch. Somehow the combo of the two didn't work for me. Rating - 3.0"

Phil: "Comparable to the peanut brittle bar yet sweeter and more chewy while not as dentally challenging. The strong butterscotch flavor coupled with walnuts, several varieties of sucrose, plus butter was a winning combination for this sweet tooth. Rating - 4.6"

Overall rating by the panel - 3.7

Next week - Cinnamon Almond Cookies

Nutrition Facts

Monday, January 16, 2006

Mondays with Maida - Hungarian Walnut Bars

Page 102 in the old book / page 142 in the new book

This was entirely different approach to bar cookies for me... both the top and bottom layers are rolled pastry flavored with lemon zest and leavened with baking powder. In between is a sweetened walnut filling. The end result is a crumbly, nutty, lemony bar.

These were quite easy to make - you really don't even need a mixer. Unfortunately, I made the walnut filling more difficult than necessary. The recipe says to beat rum (or water) with an egg white "only until it increases in volume and starts to thicken". I started out beating with a whisk and wasn't seeing much change, so I dumped the mixture into the bowl of my mixer and tried that. I still saw little to no change in volume or consistency, so I had dirtied an extra bowl needlessly. I could be wrong, but I really think the only goal here is to break up the egg white so that it can mix well with the nuts. Briefly beating the mixture by hand with a whisk should be sufficient for that purpose.

I thought the cookies were very good and quite different from most bar cookies. I used dark rum in the filling, but couldn't taste it at all - no one else seemed to pick up on its presence either. I'm fascinated by the way these cookies are constructed and the texture of the pastry (I think the baking powder makes the pastry lighter and more crumbly). It would be fun to play with different fillings and flavorings.

Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "This cookie was great! Lots of walnuts, sandwiched in between the cookie, and a slight lemony taste. Rating - 5.0"

Denny: "Definitely 5.0. Particularly liked the lemon taste after I figured it out. I think they're the best ones so far, although I loved some of the chocolate ones. Believe it or not, they may be better than my Mom's and Grandmother's nut horns. Thanks for those memories triggered by taste. Rating - 5.0"

Terri: "Outstanding - crunchy but moist with walnut paste-like filling. Rating - 5.0"

Phil: "A sweet layered combination of a generous portion of walnuts sandwiched between pastry dough. While a definite "keeper" this sampler kept searching for a moment of click like flavor which distinguishes the best from the very good. Rating - 4.1"

Overall rating by the panel - 4.8

Next week - Butterscotch Walnut Bars

Nutrition Facts

Monday, January 09, 2006

Mondays with Maida - Brittle Peanut Bars

Page 101 in the old book / page 141 in the new book

When you think of a bar cookie, generally you think of something moist and chewy, possibly with a little crunch on top. Most of the bar cookies sampled so far have fit that bill - but not these. Maida describes them as "hard, chewy, and crunchy like brittle candy". They were a nice change of pace.

Nic made these a few months ago (be sure to check out her post - her photo is just gorgeous) and found them to be more like shortbread than brittle. Mine were brittle just after cooling (which is when I sampled one) and reportedly quite brittle the next day. Either way, they are delicious - I love that contrast of sweet and salty.

As Nic said, they are "dead easy". They have all of 4 ingredients and you don't even have to grease the pan! The cookies are cut in the pan after having cooled just slightly (wait too long and a knife will be of little use). The bars lifted out of the pan easily and cleanly.

Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "The cookie was very sweet, but I like anything that's crunchy and with nuts. This truly did taste like a cookie. Rating - 4.0"

Denny: "Very brittle and well named. I'd give them a 2 and I love PB cookies. Rating - 2.0"

Laura: "De-lish! Crunchy, peanutty, and fabulous. Rating - 4.5"

Phil: "As advertised crunchy, buttery, and (yes) brittle. The buttery and nutty attributes were most prominent while the bar was not particularly sweet. Rating - 3.6"

Overall rating by the panel - 3.5

Next week - Hungarian Walnut Bars

Nutrition Facts

Monday, January 02, 2006

Mondays with Maida - Hermit Bars

Page 99 in the old book / page 140 in the new book

I don't make many notes in my cookbooks, but this recipe has a note that reads "Everybody likes these - Mom and Auntie Bee have recipe." No wonder I made a note - after eating these, both my Mom and Auntie Bee asked for the recipe. I think I must have been feeling pretty proud!

More recently, I made these Hermits to send to Melissa for the first BBM. It had been a while since I last made them, but I remembered liking them and more importantly Maida's note implied that they might ship well, "The ladies on Cape Cod packed Hermits for their men who went to sea because the cookies kept well." I knew my Hermits had a long voyage ahead of them and was curious how they would hold up for the couple of weeks it would take them to reach their destination. I decided to keep a few in an airtight box until I heard from Melissa that she had received her package. Though the cookies grew less attractive as they aged (the glaze discolored slightly) and perhaps a bit drier, they remained quite tasty.

The last couple of times I've made these cookies I've overcooked them. I pulled them out early this time, but they were still overcooked on the edges and generally drier than I think they should be. I'm not sure whether to blame the recipe, my oven, or my pan, but I'm inclined to believe that my pan is at fault. It's one of those cheap 13x9 pans from the grocery store that has a dark gray finish. Anway, "forewarned is forearmed" as they say... you might want to start checking on these after 20-22 minutes.

Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "Hermits should stay hidden. The cookie (cake) was dry and I guess I don't care for spice cakes. Since I did like the nuts and icing, I'll give it a rating of 1.5. Rating - 1.5"

Denny: "Very good. Moist and fruity. Rating - 4.0"

Laura: "Tasty and yummy - the perfect amount of spices and nuts. Rating - 4.0"

Phil: "A hearty, dense and spicy concoction. Maida points out that Hermits were particularly suited for men who went to sea because they kept well. This reviewer loved the spice combo while finding the glaze a bit too sweet when added to raisins, sugar, and molasses. Rating - 3.7"

Overall rating by the panel - 3.3

Next week - Brittle Peanut Bars

Nutrition Facts