Monday, March 26, 2007

Mondays with Maida - Fudge Mallows

Page 211 in the old book / page 235 in the new book

The Cookie Panel has spoken and they've said, no - demanded (think Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors), "CHOCOLATE!" Okay, so I'm still smarting from the panel's utter rejection of my beloved Big Newtons last week, but regardless, this week's scores are shocking. Their first 5.0 ever - and this for a cookie that I thought was only average.

It's appearance certainly is seductive, but these cookies are much too sweet for my taste. The cookie base has good flavor and alone wouldn't be overly sweet. Its texture is sort of blah though - firm but cakey. It is the marshmallow that puts the cookie over the top in sweetness, but on the other hand it also provides a chewy gooeyness that saves the cookie from being truly ordinary.

The cookies are quite easy to make. Maida recommends wetting your hands slightly before rolling the dough into balls (presumably to prevent sticking), but I didn't find that necessary. I used the marshmallows that Whole Foods sells in plastic containers. They're sort of like homemade, and I thought they'd have better texture than the "jet-puffed" variety. Which brings me to this:

I call it "cookie massacre". After baking the cookies you stick half a marshmallow on top of each and put them back in the oven for between one and one and a half minutes. I left mine in about a minute and 10 seconds. They actually didn't look this bad when I first pulled them out of the oven. The marshmallows on one sheet were still perched on top of the cookies. Those on the other sheet had mostly toppled off but had just started to melt. Unfortunately, the marshmallows continued to melt out of the oven. I probably should have slid the paper off the cookie sheets immediately rather than attempting to lift the cookies off individually, but even after the cookies were on the racks, the marshmallow situation got worse. I tried to do damage control for a little while and then just gave up and decided to wait until they cooled. The moral of this story is watch those suckers closely and consider taking them out before you think they're ready. I doubt I'll make these again - but if I did, I'd probably pull them out after 30 seconds or so.

Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "Wow! Yummy! This cookie had everything you could want. The cookie’s texture tasted more like chocolate cake then a cookie. There was a whole pecan in the center. On the top of the cookie was a blob of marshmallow and on top of that a thick blob of deep, rich chocolate fudge. Very sweet, but delicious! I think I've died and gone to heaven. Rating - 5.0"

Laura: "A. Maze. Ing! These cookies were very yummy fudgy brownie-like cookies topped with gooey marshmallow and fudge glaze. Terrific! Rating - 5.0"

Denny: "Excellent! Chewy and gooey. One of the best yet. 5.0!!! Just a wee bit sticky but worth it. The marshmallow makes it extra sweet but adds its texture to the chocolate icing above and the chocolate cookie below for a wonderful combination. Rating - 5.0"

Drucie: "These cookies were delicious! Sweet and chocolaty, and the marshmallow was a nice contrast in texture. I really like these cookies. Rating - 5.0"

Overall rating by the panel - 5.0

Next week - Chocolate Aggies

Nutrition Facts

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

My Favorite Rolled Cookies

These Swedish Ginger Cookies were a joy to make and tasted great too - they just missed my short list.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel! I miscounted the number of remaining chapters when I concluded the icebox cookie chapter, but though there are still two chapters remaining, there are just 32 cookies to go. 116 other cookies are but memories now, including 27 rolled cookies...

I have to say, this was probably the chapter I feared most. I've never been very good at rolling cookie dough and I'm not sure I improved much as I worked my way through this chapter. I wish there were tips I could pass along for rolling dough evenly or preventing it from sticking, but these things still seem to more dependent upon the character of the dough than anything I do. I have learned that I have a fondness for filled cookies over plain old rolled cookies and given a choice, I will shy away from thinly rolled dough.

Though the seemingly endless number of plain brown cookies (be they honey, ginger, or whole wheat) got a little boring, there was only one truly awful cookie. I found it difficult to narrow my favorites to just a few but though I was tempted to include just about all of the filled cookies, I finally managed to winnow the list down to six. So here's my quickie recap of the best of the best. As usual, the runners-up are in no particular order and I've saved my very favorite cookie for last...

My go-to sugar cookie recipe - Plain Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies - with a new look, but the same wonderful flavor thanks to plenty of real butter and vanilla.

Unbelievably light and tender, these Rum Raisin Shortbread cookies had a wonderful rum flavor that wasn't the least bit harsh.

I loved the flavor of these elegant Viennese Chocolate Cookies - chocolate and almond with a surprising hint of lemon.

Perfect for the holidays, for company, or any other special occasion, Ischler Cookies are bound to please just about everyone. Two almond cookies with a little apricot jam in the middle and a semisweet chocolate glaze on the outside sounds like a winning combination and it is!

What I like most about filled cookies is the filling and these Hamantaschen deliver a generous helping of a delicious prune and apricot filling. The delicate orange-scented pastry is pretty great too!

And surprise, surprise, the greatest of them all - BIG NEWTONS! (Ha! Take that Cookie Panel!) Really though, these are seriously good cookies. Each time I look at that picture, the memory of them is so strong, I can practically taste and smell them. They're really that good.

So now on to "Hand-Formed Cookies" - I've been looking forward to this one. I love rolling little balls of dough between my hands and welcome the break from the rolling pin! By the way, in case you're new here - all the cookies on this page are from Maida Heatter's Book of Great Cookies. The book is out of print but still available as a remainder, used, or in your library. All but one of the recipes were also reprinted in the newer Maida Heatter's Cookies which also includes cookie recipes from a couple of her other books. Read about my little project here and start here if you're interested in exploring my earlier posts.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Mondays with Maida - Big Newtons

Page 206 in the old book / page 228 in the new book

Oh how I love these cookies! I've been making them every Father's Day for some years now, since my Dad is a big fan of filled cookies. In my opinion, this is about as good as it gets... a buttery whole wheat crust, fragrant with honey, surrounds a thick fig filling with hints of orange and lemon. So often with a filled cookie the pastry is just a handle for the filling, but with Maida's Big Newtons, the pastry and filling are equally matched. I can't imagine one without the other.

These really aren't difficult to make, if you have something to grind the figs with. I've always used the grinder attachment to my Kitchenaid mixer, but Maida indicates that a food processor could also be used. I can't imagine finely chopping all those sticky figs with a knife. The dough tends to crack here and there as you roll it, but it's easy enough to push it back together or even patch it, if need be.

Cookie trivia: Ever wonder why Fig Newtons are called Newtons? The cookies were introduced by the Kennedy Biscuit Works in 1891. The company was based in Cambridgeport and named its products after nearby towns - so Fig Newtons were named for Newton, Massachusetts. Read more about it here and here. Today the Kennedy Biscuit Works bakery is known as Kennedy Biscuit Loft - yup, it's been converted to condos! One of the ovens is still on display in a common area.

Sadly, the cookie panel is lacking in fig lovers. They were not nearly as fond of these cookies as I am. I was tempted to take editorial license and "correct" their scores, but instead I'll give these cookies the kudos they deserve in tomorrow's post on my favorite rolled cookies. Here's the panel... take what they say with a grain of salt :)

Suzanne: "I guess I’m not a big fan of Fig Newton cookies. I don’t like biting down on seeds. I like the sweet taste of the fig, but not the seeds (the same with raspberries). The fig filling was an inch thick. I only hope that we are not going into a month of different types of fig cookies. Rating - 1.5"

Laura: "The cookie part was very tasty. However the fig filling was a little too sweet and too thick. Rating - 3.0"

Denny: "Aptly named. They taste like FN's but better - more figs. However, I've never been keen on FN's so with a minus 1 for no chocolate, I'd give them a 2.0. Better than FN's but about average for a cookie from a great baker. Rating - 2.0"

Drucie: "The cookie portion was delicious, but the filling was overwhelming. I love sweets, but this filling was so sweet that I couldn't finish it. This cookie would have been great with about 1/3 of the filling. Rating - 2.8"

Overall rating by the panel - 2.3

That's the last of the rolled cookies - come back tomorrow to find out which were my personal favorites.

Next week - Fudge Mallows

Nutrition Facts

Monday, March 12, 2007

Mondays with Maida - Danish Coffeehouse Slices

Page 204 in the old book / page 226 in the new book

I just had an "I could have had a V8!" moment - I uploaded the photo above and then noticed the name of these cookies again. I looked at the lovely Italian plate and back at the name of the cookies... and remembered the beautiful little Royal Copenhagen tray that Zarah brought me last year from Denmark. Big head slap. Hopefully I'll remember it when I make the Danish Butter Sandwiches in about two months!

These cookies bear some resemblance to both last week's cookie - Rugelach - and next week's Big Newtons. They're rolled with a filling of apricot jam, currants, and walnuts, much like rugelach, but the long rolls are not sliced until after they're baked - like fig newtons. The pastry is orange-flavored and the filling includes generous amounts of cinnamon and sugar. Denny complained that there was a little too much going on with these cookies, and he has a point. I think I would prefer the filling without the cinnamon and sugar. I think they mask the apricot jam's tartness and give the filling an almost grainy texture.

With Suzanne still out and both Terri and Herman having given up sweets for Lent, Drucie graciously agreed to fill in on the cookie panel...

Laura: "These are very moist and tasty. The filling (jam, nuts, currants) is incredibly yummy! Rating - 4.0"

Denny: "Very good. A little busy with the different flavors, but I guess I was expecting more nuts because it looks like a nut roll. Reminded me a little of a fig newton with the crust. Overall very nice once I got used to it. -1 for no chocolate. I'd give it a 3.8. Rating - 3.8"

Drucie: "Moist and chewy. I especially like the orange and cinnamon flavor with the currants. Too many nuts detract from the moistness of the cookie. Rating - 3.0"

Overall rating by the panel - 3.6

Next week - Big Newtons

Nutrition Facts

Monday, March 05, 2007

Mondays with Maida - Rugelach

Page 201 in the old book / page 188 in the new book

I used to include Rugelach (with apricot jam, currants and pecans) in my assortment of Christmas cookies quite regularly. I've gotten out of the habit recently, partly because I think of them as one of the more difficult cookies to make (by now you must know of my aversion to rolling cookie dough), and partly because I've also fallen out out of the habit of making apricot jam each year (one bad batch put a damper on that). Well now that I've tried Maida's recipe, I may have to put Rugelach back in the starting line-up at Christmas. They were much easier to make than my usual recipe, they don't require any apricot jam, and they were delicious!

The dough for Maida's version of Rugelach is rolled into 12-inch circles, brushed with melted butter, and sprinkled with walnuts, currants, cinnamon and sugar. You then cut each circle into wedges and roll each wedge from wide end to small. This method is quite forgiving of ragged/lopsided circles and uneven wedges - thank goodness! The other recipe I've used, from Rosie's Bakery Chocolate-Packed Jam-Filled, Butter-Rich, No-Holds-Barred Cookie Book is more exacting. The dough is rolled very thinly into large rectangles which are rolled and sliced - much more work. The other problem I always had with that recipe is that the middles always seemed undercooked - not so with Maida's recipe. They were wonderfully crunchy through and through.

These cookies went quickly and were obviously a hit. Even a coworker who only reluctantly eats nuts told me that they were the best nut cookie she'd ever had. She was quite enthusiastic, so this was clearly intended as a complement, though I guess you'd have to say it was a qualified complement. :)

Suzanne will be out for the next couple of weeks doting over her new granddaughter, Victoria. Congratulations Suzanne! Here's the panel ...

Laura: "Light, flaky and crunchy - very tasty! Rating - 4.5"

Denny: "Golden brown delights. Reminds me of my Mom's and Grandmom's holiday baking. And what's better than that?! Baked to perfection with just the right amount of crunch. Cookies like these make it a pleasure to be on your Cookie Committee. I wish they had a little chocolate so I could them a 5, but to be consistent I'd give them a 4.0 with the -1 no chocolate penalty. Rating - 4.0"

Terri: "These are a delicious treat! I love the buttery taste of the cookie and the amount of walnuts and currants is perfect. These would be great with vanilla ice cream. Rating - 5.0"

Overall rating by the panel - 4.5

Next week - Danish Coffeehouse Slices

Nutrition Facts