Friday, November 16, 2007

45 Pounds of butter later...

Honestly, I was afraid it was going to be more than that, but even at 45 pounds, that's 180 sticks of butter - more than one stick per recipe! Here's a few more numbers to marvel at:
  • 210 eggs
  • 256 cups of flour (and that doesn't even include whole wheat, etc.)
  • 178 cups of sugar (including granulated, brown and powdered sugar)
  • over 24 pounds of nuts
  • almost a pint of vanilla extract
  • over a cup each of baking powder and baking soda
  • almost a cup of cinnamon
There were five of you who took a stab at guessing the totals for butter, eggs, flour and sugar. The way I calculated a score for each contender was to divide the difference between the guess and the actual number by the actual number and then sum those results for each of the four guesses. The lowest score wins. Here are the results:

Lisa guessed 37 lbs of butter, 150 eggs, 250 cups of flour, and 150 cups of sugar, giving her the best score of 0.644

Nupur guessed 35 lbs of butter, 150 eggs, 200 cups of flour, and 250 cups of sugar, giving her a score of 1.131

Claire guessed 75 lbs of butter, 200 eggs, 300 cups of flour, and 250 cups of sugar, giving her a score of 1.291

Mari guessed 20 lbs of butter, 130 eggs, 130 cups of flour, and 70 cups of sugar (what an optimist!), giving her a score of 2.035

Elijah guessed 50 lbs of butter, 120 eggs, 500 cups of flour, and 400 cups of sugar, giving him a score of 2.740

So Lisa wins it! Congratulations! Nupur and Clare are the runners up. Clare is the only one of the three that wanted a copy of the book, so she wins the copy of Maida Heatter's Book of Great Cookies. Since Lisa is had the best score, she can choose which of the other two prizes (the small appetizer tray or the pewter pushpins) she'd like and then the other prize goes to Nupur. Thanks to all the guessers! Winners - send me an email with your address and I'll send your prize on it's way!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Top Cookie

Nine of my personal top ten from Maida Heatter's Book of Great Cookies

Oh what a struggle! Limiting the list to ten was actually the easy part, ranking them was near impossible. I have a feeling if I did this again in a day or so, the order would be very different. The nine runners-up are pictured above and listed below. Top Cookie (which after all the angst was the one thing I was sure about) is pictured below. If there's one thing I've learned after making and serving all these cookies, it's that everyone has a different idea about what makes a good cookie. I doubt anyone else would choose the same cookies I did for their own personal top ten, but I'm certain any cookie lover will find at least one to love on this list...

10. Austrian Walnut Crescents

9. Plain Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies

8. Tijuana Fiesta Cookies

7. Chocolate Mint Sticks

6. Hamantaschen

5. Pumpkin Rocks

4. Viennese Chocolate Walnut Bars

3. Texas Cowboy Bars

2. Cobblestones

and drumroll please! Top Cookie is...........

1. Big Newtons!!!!!!!

By the way, I just discovered that Jessica's Biscuit redesigned their site and all the links in my past Mondays with Maida posts to the "old book" are now obsolete. They still carry the book though, and I've put the updated link at the top of this post. For under $13, it's a steal - I think I can say that with authority :)

Don't forget to post your guesses in the comments by Thursday night - see here and here for more details.

Finally, huge thanks to the members of the cookie panel past and present. They did what I couldn't - rate the cookies - and in the process made it fun for everyone. So, thank you Phil, Suzanne, Denny, Laura, Terri, Drucie and Herman - I honestly couldn't have done it without you!! (And don't forget about their Top Ten list, which is quite different from mine.)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

My Favorite "Et Cetera" Cookies

Tea and cookies
Love it when I miraculously capture a curly wisp of steam. Love these tea bags from Bob and Chuck too. The Almond Tartlets weren't bad either, but didn't quite make it to my list of favorites.

This is a chapter of cookies that didn't fit into any of the previous chapters, so it's sort of hard to characterize them as a group. There were several tartlets, several baked as loaves and then sliced, and a smattering of others. Many were beautiful to look at, but few achieved cookie greatness - or have I become jaded and hard-to-please when it comes to cookies? Others have suggested to me (and I think it is true) that the order that the cookies were presented to the cookie panel probably had some bearing on their scores. I'm sure the same is true for me - the first chapter was approached with great enthusiasm, this last with a sense of obligation.

This chapter was heavy on the almonds and I feel to a certain extent that the almonds let me down more than the recipes. In almost every case I'd be inclined to toast the almonds if I were to try the recipe again. This chapter also had some of the most challenging recipes - the tartlets aren't difficult, but they do take time - lots of it. And there must be a trick to those macaroons that has escaped me.

But in spite of my waning interest and technical difficulties, there were still a handful of recipes that I would make again in a heartbeat. So without further ado, here are my favorites...

Connecticut Date Slices
These moist and chewy, sweet and spicy Connecticut Date Slices are the pinnacle of cookie comfort!

Fudge Délices
This is one of those cookies that gave me some difficulty, but in spite of my troubles these Fudge Délices truly were delights!

Black-and-White Rusks
On the other hand, making these Black-and-White Rusks really was fun and the resulting orange and chocolate cookies? Heaven! In fact, they narrowly lost out to the next cookie as my very favorite...

Hazelnut Rusks
Hard on the teeth and not much to look at, but these simple Hazelnut Rusks let all those fragrant hazelnuts shine through. Eat them plain if you dare, or dunk them in your hot beverage of choice - either way, I think you'll love them as much as I did.

Almost done! All that's left is to name my own personal top ten from the book and reveal the winners of my little guessing game. There's still time to post your guesses about the total pounds of butter, number of eggs, cups of flour and cups of sugar (all kinds) required to make each recipe in the book once. I have one copy of the old book and a couple of other small prizes (a small maple appetizer tray from J.K. Adams in Vermont and a set of pewter pushpins with a culinary theme) to award to the closest guessers. All answers must be posted in the comments by midnight EST Thursday, November 15th.

If you just stumbled here from Google or elsewhere, we're talking about Maida Heatter 's wonderful book of cookies called 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, November 12, 2007

Mondays with Maida - Cheese Pennies

Page 269 in the old book / page 287 in the new book

This is it - the VERY LAST ONE!! But before the celebrating begins, I've got some business to attend to - these Cheese Pennies. I've seen recipes like this before and honestly wasn't all that excited about this one before I made it, but I wound up being nearly as enthusiastic as the cookie panel. First I like the size - despite the name, these are a generous 2+ inches across; second- the dough is easy to mix, shape and slice; and finally they taste great.

I used 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne (actually, red chilli powder from the Indian grocery which I think is the same) and to my taste you would want no less. They had a warmth and spicy bite to them, but not so much to make you run for a glass of water. With 8 ounces of cheese and 4 ounces of butter, these are very rich crackers. The hot pepper heightens the cheese flavor and cuts through that richness - sort of like very nippy Cheez-it crackers.

I think the instructions given for toasting sesame seeds are fairly standard, but I found the time and or the temperature were way too much. When you start smelling them you should watch them carefully. Instead of the recommended 15 or 20 minutes (at 350 F), I'd start checking after 6 or 7 minutes.

The dough can be kept in the refrigerator for several days, which makes this a great do-ahead recipe for a dinner or party. Slicing them is a breeze - the dough holds together really well and there is nothing in the dough (like nuts or seeds) to catch on the knife. Maida says not to put the dough in the freezer, but I think that is just because you don't want to slice it frozen. I'm guessing you could freeze it and then let it thaw in the refrigerator for a day or two if you wanted to mix the dough more than a few days ahead.

I thought for sure Denny would cut me a break and not dock points for no chocolate in a cheese cracker, but nooo... Here's the panel ...

Suzanne: "First of all I love anything with sesames and I also love cheese. So I was in seventh heaven with the crackers. Cathy used a sharp cheddar cheese with quite a zing to it. I needed a drink of water to cut the sharpness of the cheddar. I’d like to thank Cathy for making me famous by asking me to be a participant in her blog. I’m sure my prophetic words will go down in cookie history. Each week, the whole office lived in anticipation wondering what delicious cookie Cathy would bring in to entice our palettes. In sincerity, it has been a pleasure knowing Cathy and being part of the blog. I’ll be reading your blog from California. Rating - 5.0"

Denny: "The taste really surprised me because I didn't know what they were. These were excellent - light and tasty. 4.0 which is the highest you can get with the -1 no chocolate penalty. Rating - 4.0"

Laura: "Spicy and cheesy with a nutty crunchy sesame topping. Very yum! Rating - 4.5"

Terri: "These would make a delicious appetizer. Cheesy, spicy and not too filling. I would love to eat them with a glass of red wine! The sesame seeds on top add a nice texture. Rating - 5.0"

Overall rating by the panel - 4.6

And that is all she wrote! But it's not quite all I wrote... tomorrow I'll share my favorites from the chapter and then Wednesday I'll compile my own top 10 list from the book.

OK, Here comes the celebration part... just for fun, I'll tally up how much butter, nuts, flour, sugar, etc. I used during the course of this project. Anyone want to hazard a guess? Leave a comment with your best guesses to the answers to these questions: 1) How many pounds of butter? 2) How many eggs? 3) How many cups of flour? 4) How many cups of sugar (all kinds totaled together)? Also let me know if you have a copy of the book or not (or if you'd like one for someone else). I have one copy of the old book (a brand new copy) to give away and two other little prizes for the closest answers. You must post your answers by midnight EST this Thursday (11/15). I'll post the totals for these and a few more ingredients on Friday and announce the winners.

What's next? I'll tell you all about that next week!

Nutrition Facts

update: regarding my little celebratory guessing game - a question about what would be included in the totals was raised... the ingredients for each and every recipe in the book will be counted once. No matter if I've made the recipe one time or ten times. The other clarification I'll add is that I'm going to add egg yolks and egg whites together (10 yolks + 10 whites = 10 eggs) when coming up with a total for eggs, but if I have 10 extra egg whites, they'll count as 10 eggs.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Mondays with Maida - Marshmallows

Page 267 in the old book / page 293 in the new book

No more cookies, but Maida ends the book with a couple of lagniappes. First up - marshmallows. If you've never made marshmallows before, it's worth doing at least once. It's really not difficult, and the end result is very satisfying. Maida points out that few people know what marshmallows are made of, and my experience was similar. In fact, one person seemed to think I had made my marshmallows from... marshmallows!

Marshmallows are made from gelatin and a sugar syrup (actually a combination of sugar and corn syrup). The hot sugar syrup is beaten into the gelatin, forming a dense foam that sets as it cools. Maida's recipe uses only vanilla as the flavoring, but Jocelyn over at Brownie Points gives a recipe for strawberry marshmallows along with lots of flavor variations. When you figure in coatings, etc., the possibilities are truly limitless.

I have it on good authority that Maida Heatter's mixer of choice is an old Sunbeam, so I was a little concerned that the 15 minutes beating time would be too much with a Kitchenaid. I decided to use the paddle rather than the whip (the last time I made marshmallows the recipe called for a whip attachment and had a beating time of 5 to 7 minutes). Beware - there'll be hot syrup flying around at first, so I wouldn't crank it all the way up right away. I started at 6 and moved up to 8, then briefly to 10, but decided to keep it at 8. I didn't think about using the pouring shield until afterwards, but if you have one use it. I beat the mixture about 13 minutes and then started worrying about the mixer overheating and decided that was enough. In fact, it was probably too long - I had trouble spreading the mixture in the pan. Rather than using aluminum foil and shortening, I lined the pan with parchment and oiled the parchment lightly.

Here's the panel ...

Suzanne: "Yum! These were delicious. I could definitely have a few of these. The marshmallows had just the right amount of sweetness. I’d love them in hot chocolate or roasting them over a fire. Rating - 5.0"

Denny: "I'm not a marshmallow person, except for s'mores, but these were very good. 3.0 with -1 penalty. Rating - 3.0"

Laura: "Yummy and gooey... like a spoonful of fluff dipped in powder sugar. Rating - 4.5"

Terri: "These are much better than the store-bought-in-a-bag type marshmallow. The difference is they aren't as airy and they're softer. Absolutely delicious! Can't wait to try them on hot chocolate tonight. Rating - 5.0"

Overall rating by the panel - 4.4

Next week - Cheese Pennies

Nutrition Facts