Friday, December 29, 2006

You must read this...

Dallas Food has a fascinating and unbelievably thorough report that answers the question, What's Noka Worth? Noka, if you like me are not in the know when it comes to chocolates that are in the $309 to $2080 per pound range, is the Plano, Texas manufacturer of some very expensive molded chocolates and truffles. Not surprisingly, the answer is "quite a bit less than the asking price", but getting to the answer is a fantastic journey. That guy knows his chocolate.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Mondays with Maida - Arrowroot Wafers from Bermuda

Page 184 in the old book / page 215 in the new book

Today we have a very special Tuesday edition of Mondays with Maida... well, very special only in that it is Tuesday. The cookies... not so much. In fact, I'd planned to slip in a late evening post yesterday when no one was looking, but collapsed on the couch instead.

These cookies are made with both arrowroot and regular wheat flour, so though arrowroot can serve as a flour substitute for those that are gluten intolerant, these cookies are not gluten-free. But if you are unable to eat these cookies, you're not missing a thing. These cracker-like wafers are barely sweet and so dry they made me cough. What little flavor they have really isn't bad, but there are many more interesting cookies to be made and I see no reason to make these again.

Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "This didn’t taste like the name brand Arrowroot cookies that I gave to my children way back when. The cookie was very plain, wafer thin and the taste was in between a cracker and cookie. The cookie tasted like it had very little ingredients in it except the flour. There was a slight taste of sugar and almost no taste of butter. Rating - 1.0"

Laura: "These were very crisp cookies. They had a nice enough flavor, but were pretty boring. Rating - 3.0"

Terri: "Not to be ungrateful for Cathy's efforts, but these are the least favorite of all the cookies I have tasted. I've tasted the store-bought arrowroot cookies, but this recipe seems dryer then those. Sorry Cathy, just being honest. These don't hold a candle to the Christmas cookies you brought to the office last week. Rating - 0.5"

Overall rating by the panel - 1.5

Next Week - Uppakra Cookies

Nutrition Facts

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Knitting and Felting - A Christmas Bunny for Cassidy

Every few Christmases there's one gift that I get totally psyched about and can't wait to give. This year this is the one.

I had my doubts about this little guy as I was knitting him. At one point there were at least ten stitch holders hanging off his body and innumerable loose ends. The knitting, which involves increasing, decreasing and picking up stitches, was actually not that difficult and for the most part went quickly. Where I got bogged down were the places where I had to graft stitches (I'm still not sure I do that right), sewing the ears (I FINALLY figured out how to do an invisible vertical seam - yay!), and weaving in those dozens of ends. When I was done with the knitting and sewing he was looking kind of sad...

and kind of big...

But a wash cycle later he emerged completely transformed. I didn't take a photo at this stage, but all the little bumps and holes disappeared, he was a cute bunny size, and best of all he had perfect curves everywhere. It took a couple days for him to dry out, then I added the eyes and nose, stuffed him, sewed up the remaining opening, and tied on a bow.

And in a few days I'll be introducing him to my dear niece Cassidy...

I should add that the pattern is by Mary Martin and is available on her site or Patternworks.

Monday, December 18, 2006

My Christmas Cookies - 2006

This year's Christmas cookies are all out of the house now, but here's my little round-up of what I made and what I thought of them. Usually there are three or more cookies that I repeat from year to year, but this year I decided to try all new recipes.

Maamoul from the Food Network - these were very good, but didn't quite live up to my expectations. The recipe includes three different fillings. I made both the date-orange filling and the apricot-golden raisin-nut filling. My complaint with both is that they needed to be a little tarter - perhaps more orange in the first and a little lemon in the second would have helped. Also, both called for a pinch of salt, and I think I'd eliminate that another time. I remembered having seen a recipe for maamoul on a food blog, but didn't remember which one. Now I do - it was Indira's. Next time, I think I'll try her recipe. I'll have to find one of those gorgeous molds first though!

Spice Balls from Sara Moulton - I thought these were great, but maybe not the sort of thing I'd normally make for Christmas. They're chewy and taste of molasses and spices - delicious! They start as a ball rolled in sugar (hence the name), but they spread in cooking and flatten once removed from the oven. They're very easy and very good.

Chocolate-Filled Stars from Nick Malgieri's Cookies Unlimited - I always have trouble piping cookies, whether I use a bag and tip or a cookie press. Half the time it seems like the dough just doesn't want to "let go". Even so, I love making spritz cookies. This particular cookie is a brown sugar cookie and is topped with a dollop of chocolate filling, which makes it even more appealing. They were very good, but hard rather than tender and sandy as you might normally expect a spritz cookie to be. My only gripe with the recipe is that the filling (you're given the option of using either a sugar-based chocolate glaze, which I used, or ganache) makes a far more than you need for these cookies. If I'd planned better, I could have made the ganache and used it for both these cookies and the turtles (see below).

Pistachio and Cherry Mexican Wedding Cakes from the December, 2006 issue of Bon Appetit - my absolute favorite this year. These are delicious - so buttery and sweet and the addition of dried cherries and pistachios to this classic is just perfect. They're also easy to make and the recipe makes a big batch. I will definitely make these again - hopefully I can hold out until next Christmas!

Caramel Turtle Bars from the December, 2006 issue of Fine Cooking - this would probably be my first runner-up to the Mexican Wedding Cakes above. These cookies have a brown sugar shortbread base and are topped with caramel, pecans and chocolate ganache. I should have waited for the ganache to cool a little more so that I could drizzle it in a pretty pattern as shown in the magazine. Instead, mine ran into a nearly solid layer, but that's OK - they still look pretty and no one ever complains that there's too much chocolate! These are a little bit of work, but well worth it. A couple comments on the recipe - it took much longer than the 6 minutes stated for the caramel mixture to reach 240 F, but it finally did. Also, the ganache took longer to set than indicated in the recipe.

Swedish Christmas Cookies from the Food Network - these were probably the least interesting of the bunch, but still quite good. They're buttery icebox cookies that are flavored with cardamom and rolled in either colored sugar or chopped pecans.

That's all. Did you notice what's missing? I took a week off from rolled cookies!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Mondays with Maida - Caraway Hardtack

Page 182 in the old book / page 214 in the new book

These cookies are very similar to last week's Hot Butter Wafers, the only differences being that they have considerably more sugar and are sprinkled with caraway seeds. They are sweet, hard and crunchy and are pleasantly perfumed with caraway. I liked them, but wasn't surprised to find that most of my coworkers were less enthused than I.

This dough was not as tough as the dough for the Hot Butter Wafers, so I didn't have trouble rerolling the scraps. The dough is simple to mix and is only chilled slightly before rolling. I enjoyed these, but I doubt I'd make them again. If I were in the mood for a caraway-flavored cookie, I think I'd choose to make Swedish Rye Wafers, with their delicate texture, interesting flavor, and charming shape.

These cookies had at least one fan, though. A guy that works in another office stopped by the following day to tell me how much he liked the cookies. Normally all the cookies are consumed the day I put them out, but this week there were ten or so leftover cookies which I had put in a plastic bag and tucked away in my desk drawer. I pulled them out and offered them to him - made his day and mine!

Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "This was definitely a dunking cookie. It needed to be dunked in hot coffee or tea to soften it up. The cookie was so hard that I had a hard time biting into it. Matter of fact, I had to break the cookie with my hands into smaller pieces before I could take a bit of the cookie. If you are getting older, like me and have soft teeth, forget this cookie. There wasn’t much of a taste except it was very sweet and had a few caraway seeds on the top. This one definitely wasn’t worth the calories. Rating - 1.0"

Denny: "Well, I'd give them a 4 minus 2 on general principle, then a minus 1 for no chocolate. These are the first ones even a good baker and caraway seeds couldn't save. Rating - 1.0"

Laura: "These were very hard cookies (hence the name). They smelled wonderful and tasted nice (once I scraped off the caraway seeds), but they were too hard for my liking. Rating - 3.0"

Terri: "I would like these better without the caraway seeds. The basic cookie is delicious with a buttery flavor. Also, I prefer a chewy chookie and this one is definitely harder and crunchier. Not one of my favorites, but I'm not a great fan of caraway seeds. Rating - 2.0"

Overall rating by the panel - 1.75

Next Week - Mondays with Maida will take a short break, but there'll still be lots of cookies - stop by and see this year's Christmas cookies!
In Two Weeks - Mondays with Maida will be back with Arrowroot Wafers from Bermuda

Nutrition Facts

Monday, December 04, 2006

Mondays with Maida - Hot Butter Wafers

Page 181 in the old book / page 213 in the new book

According to Maida, the recipe for these cookies is an early colonial recipe that was used by Dolley Madison and served at the White House. They are the plainest of cookies with only flour, butter, sugar, and eggs. They are thin, firm and crisp and only slightly sweet.

The dough is rolled after being chilled only briefly, so they weren't too difficult to roll. Well, let me qualify that: they're not too difficult to roll the first time. The problem is the dough is quite tough (the cut cookies shrink before your eyes), so rerolling the scraps was near impossible. I gave up after a half-hearted attempt since I was pretty sure these cookies were going to be a tough sell anyway.

Thinking that the cookies might be a little like pastry, I thawed out some cherries from my stash and made sort of a stove-top cherry pie filling. I cooked a little butter and flour together for a minute or two and then gradually added the juice from the thawed cherries, then added the cherries and some sugar and cooked it for another couple of minutes. Then I topped some of the cherry mixture with a "pie crust" - one of the cookies. It was delicious, but the cookie was difficult to break up with a spoon, so it's not something I'd do again. (But I am so making that stove-top cherry pie filling again!)

I brought strawberry jam in to the office in the hopes that it would make the cookies more appealing. As it turns out, nearly all the cookies were eaten and most apparently without strawberry jam. Here's the panel...

Suzanne: Suzanne was still out of the office but will be back next week.

Denny: "Very plain but my expectations were low so I'd give them a 2 (minus 1 for no chocolate). Maybe the plainness explains why there were so many great men then per capita as compared to so few today. Rating - 2.0"

Laura: "I first tried one plain and then tried one with the strawberry jam. The jam helped, but not that much. The cookies themselves were okay, though somewhat boring. They are lovely with tea, however. Rating - 2.5"

Terri: "These are very tasty but are almost like a flat "vanilla wafer". I thought it would be a good basic cookie recipe for holiday cookies, but standing alone with no decorations, makes it sort of boring. If there's such a thing as a "boring" cookie! Rating - 2.5"

Overall rating by the panel - 2.3

Next Week - Caraway Hardtack

Nutrition Facts

Monday, November 27, 2006

Mondays with Maida - Rum-Raisin Shortbread

Page 179 in the old book / page 212 in the new book

It almost took me by surprise, but I was really anxious to try these cookies once they were out of the oven. I think partly it was because I was having trouble imagining how they might taste and partly it was because they looked so darn good. The recipe makes a small batch (15 or 16) of large and very rich cookies (over 200 calories and 12 grams of fat... each!), so I forced myself to wait until they cooled before trying one. I knew I was only getting one chance.

They did not disappoint. They had a lovely sandy texture - light and fragile. They tasted of rum, but it was not harsh or unpleasant in any way. And of course, they were loaded with raisins. Oh how I wanted another!

The recipe is very simple and since the dough is rolled quite thick, even rolling and cutting the cookies isn't a problem. I was tempted to make some smaller cookies, but worried that they might not turn out as intended, so chose not to. In spite of the richness of the dough, these are very easy to eat. I know at least two of the panelists went back for a second.

Here's the panel...

Suzanne: Suzanne was out this week, but I know she was really sorry she missed a chance to try these raisin-filled cookies! :)

Denny: "Very good. Rum was not overpowering as in most rum cookies. Minus 1 - no chocolate. Rating - 3.0"

Laura: "Light, buttery and flakey - just the way shortbread should be. Delicious! The only thing that would have made them even better, in my opinion, would have been to use golden raisins. Rating - 4.0"

Terri: "These are rich and delicious! The rum flavor is obvious from the first bite. The shortbread flavor is wonderful too. This was absolutely one of my top ten favorites. Rating - 5.0"

Overall rating by the panel - 4.0

Next Week - Hot Butter Wafers

Nutrition Facts

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving!

In my family it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without pie. Pumpkin pie and mincemeat pie, to be specific. This year we're going out to dinner and then everyone is coming over to my house afterwards for dessert and a little puzzle-making. That's just my speed... leave the turkey worries to someone else and just bake!

Here's my Mom's recipe for pumpkin pie, which in my opinion is the best pumpkin pie. It's much more custard-like than any other pumpkin pie I've had, probably because it has more milk and eggs. This makes for a lighter texture that I especially like. I also like all the spices in it. I use both skim milk and fat free evaporated milk. I've also baked it in a casserole without a crust and even that stripped down version is pretty great - perfect for post-Thanksgiving personal indulgence.

Pumpkin Pie

1 1/2 cups cooked pumpkin
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves
3 slightly-beaten eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
2/3 cup evaporated milk

Mix everything together and pour into an unbaked pie crust (you'll need a deep 10-inch pie plate). Bake at 400 F for 50 minutes or until a sharp knife comes out clean.

Now if you're wondering about the mincemeat pie, it's hardly a recipe, but it is also very, very good. Mix a large jar of mincemeat with a large can of crushed pineapple (I drained it slightly) and about half a cup of chopped walnuts. Line a deep 10-inch pie plate with pastry, pour in filling, and top with pastry. Crimp the edge, poke a few holes in the top crust, and bake at 425 F for 30 minutes.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Mondays with Maida - Caraway Sour-Cream Cookies

Page 178 in the old book / page 210 in the new book

The recipe for these cookies is very similar to the Tropical Sour-Cream Cookies from last week, the differences being in the flavoring (caraway vs. lemon and orange), the sugar (white vs. brown), and the rolling (1/8-inch vs. 1/4-inch). The result is a cookie that is quite different in texture (crunchy vs. cakey) and mildly flavored with caraway seeds.

Well, perhaps mine were more mildly flavored than Maida intended. While the recipe only calls for 1/2 teaspoon of caraway seeds, I was not even able to scrape up that small quantity with what remained in my spice jar. It was Sunday night and too late to run out for more. Besides, I rationalized, nobody in my office seems to appreciate seeds anyway.

After my difficulties rolling the Tropical Sour-Cream Cookies, I was prepared for the worst with these cookies. But whether it was a few more hours in the freezer or the slight differences in the recipe, I somehow managed to roll out these cookies without much trouble. You do have to work quickly though - there's not much time between when the dough softens up enough to roll and when it becomes hopelessly soft and sticky.

These were pleasantly sweet, faintly perfumed with caraway, and lightly crunchy. Overall, they were good, but not especially memorable.

Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "This was just a round, plain looking, and good tasting cookie. I enjoyed the sour cream, caraway taste probably because there were very few caraway seeds in the cookie. Somehow the flavor of the caraway seeds were more pronounced then the seeds themselves. Rating - 3.5"

Denny: "Non-descript, tasted like a not-so-sweet sugar cookie. Not enough caraway or sour cream. Minus 1 for no chocolate gives them a 2.0. Not complaining, just being hones. Rating - 2.0"

Laura: "These are okay - would've been much better without the caraway. Rating - 2.5"

Terri: "These cookies were not as tasty as the similar cookie from last week, Tropical Sour-Cream Cookies. I'm not a fan of caraway seeds (they get stuck in my teeth), so this would not be one of my favorites. But I enjoyed one with my coffee this morning. Rating - 2.5"

Overall rating by the panel - 2.6

Next Week - Rum-Raisin Shortbread

Nutrition Facts

Monday, November 13, 2006

Mondays with Maida - Tropical Sour-Cream Cookies

Page 176 in the old book / page 209 in the new book

Lemon juice and the grated rind of both lemon and orange give these soft cookies a very nice citrus flavor, but they have an unfortunately bland appearance. They need something to pretty them up - perhaps some of that decorating sugar with the larger crystals with a touch of orange and yellow sugar thrown in (I prefer to mix a little colored sugar into a larger amount of white sugar so you get lots of sparkle and crunchiness, but just a bit of color).

I'm convinced that inside this rolled cookie there's a drop cookie crying to get out. I tried rolling the dough on a floured pastry cloth, but despite eight hours in the freezer it was still soft and sticky, so I decided to roll it between sheets of wax paper. The problem then was removing the waxed paper. I persevered and managed reasonably well, but I knew there was no way I was going to be able to roll out the scraps (oh, and that large chunk that was hopelessly stuck to the waxed paper). So I scraped the remaining dough into a little heap and then used a couple of spoons to scoop and push it onto the parchment. In the photo above, the rolled cookies are in the foreground and the dropped cookies are behind them. They are more similar in size then they appear in the photo.

I told most the panel that I had made both dropped and rolled cookies. Suzanne and Terri each had a dropped cookie. Denny and Laura had one of each. Laura knew she had one of each, but Denny did not. I think the consensus was that the dropped cookies were just a little better - they were a little thicker. The recipe calls for the cookies to be sprinkled with a bit of granulated sugar, but I forgot to do so with the rolled cookies.

Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "I enjoyed the orange taste to this cookie and it probably would have tasted great with vanilla ice cream. I prefer a crunchy cookie and this cookie was soft. There was nothing about the round cookie that was appealing to the eye. It was rather non-descript other then it had a pleasant fresh orange taste. Rating: 3.0"

Denny: "OK, couldn't taste the tang of sour cream, but caught the hint of citrus. 3.0 minus 1.0 (no chocolate deduction) = 2.0, but they weren't terrible. I may have to rethink the no chocolate deduction. Rating - 2.0"

Laura: "Cathy rolled some and dropped some. I tried the rolled cookie first. It was chewy on the inside and crispy-ish on the outside. The dropped cookie was moist and fluffy on the inside - almost cake-like. Both have a lovely lemony flavor (I prefer the dropped version). Rating - 3.5"

Terri: "These have a very fresh taste with the orange flavor. I liked the texture and thickness. The sugary topping was good but not necessary. Rating - 3.5"

Overall rating by the panel - 3.0

Next Week - Tropical Sour-Cream Cookies

Nutrition Facts

Monday, November 06, 2006

Mondays with Maida - Viennese Chocolate Cookies

Page 174 in the old book / page 208 in the new book

These are very rich chocolate almond cookies that taste surprisingly light. I thought they were wonderful, but most of the cookie panel was less enthused than I. What I found most interesting and pleasing in these cookies was probably the very thing that spoiled them for those who thought the cookies came up short.

Among the expected ingredients (chocolate, almonds, butter, etc.), were the less expected (cinnamon and cloves), and the totally unexpected (grated lemon rind). I don't think the lemon was recognizable unless you knew it was there, but it brightened the flavor of the cookies. Others (Suzanne and Denny) felt the cookies weren't as chocolatey as they'd expected or hoped. This wasn't for a lack of chocolate in the cookies, so my guess is that the lemon, which I enjoyed, was perceived by Suzanne and Denny as diminishing the chocolate flavor. Oh well. As Tim Gunn would say, chacun à son goût!

The technique for making these is a little different - no mixer is used and the chocolate is added in the form of ground chocolate. You pull the crumbly dough together into a ball and then "break" it by smearing a little at a time on your work surface with the heel of your hand. Messy, but somehow satisfying. The resulting dough is very easy to handle and was a pleasure to work with. Once again, I decided to make some small cookies as well as some in the recommended size. I topped the smaller ones with a slice of blanched almond. The larger ones were topped as instructed in the recipe with half of a blanched almond that was toasted. I found the process of splitting the almonds tedious and a little difficult - next time I would just use slices.

Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "I love chocolate and nuts, but somehow these were not my favorite cookie. How could that be? I could definitely taste the lemon in the cookie and I think the lemon cut down the sweetness of the cookie. They looked and smelled like a chocolate cookie, but with each bite that deep chocolate taste was missing. I don’t think I’ve ever given a chocolate cookie a rating less then a 5 (maybe a 4), but my rating for this cookie is 3. Rating: 3.0"

Denny: "Good but I was disappointed by my high expectations. Chocolate and almonds are quite a combo, but this cookie took a bit from their normal synergy. A 3.0, with 2.5 being average. Rating - 3.0"

Laura: "Delicious combination of chocolate and almonds - two of my favorites. Rating - 3.5"

Terri: "Outstanding! I could eat the entire batch. These have a light chocolate flavor - not too rich and the almonds add lots of flavor too. My 20 year old son thought they were great too! Rating - 5.0"

Overall rating by the panel - 3.6

Next Week - Tropical Sour-Cream Cookies

Nutrition Facts

Monday, October 30, 2006

Mondays with Maida - Ischler Cookies

Page 171 in the old book / page 206 in the new book

I knew these were going to be a hit - how could they not? Two cookies, rich with butter and ground almonds, are sandwiched together with some sweet and tart apricot jam and then given a crowd-pleasing final touch - a generous coat of semisweet chocolate on one end. They were outstanding.

I followed the recipe just about to the letter and found both the dough and the cookies were easy to handle. I had no difficulty rolling the dough or dipping the cookies. I cut most of the cookies the recommended size (2 1/2 inches), but also made a few small cookies (1 1/2 inches). Next time I think I'd go with the smaller size. The cookies spread a little and by the time you sandwich two together, fill and dip them, the little ones are just right. (Note: the larger ones are pictured above.)

Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "Yum! Two cookies in one! This was a double treat since there are two thick cookies placed together with an apricot jam filling in the middle. The cookie had an almond taste, but the almonds must have been finely chopped, because there were no noticeable pieces of almond in the cookie. The cookie was dipped in chocolate and had a thick layer of rich dark chocolate on both sides of the cookie. Rating: 5.0"

Denny: "Exellent but a tad messy. The cookie's terrific with a hint of apricot and a taste of almonds. Liked the way a half-dip of chocolate gives you a handle for not getting chocolate on you. Minus .1 for the mess and minus .1 for not covering more of cookie with chocolate, like 2/3 or 3/4 or 7/8 rather than 1/2. Terrific. Rating - 4.8"

Laura: "A very tasty cookie! A nice pairing of a simple almond cookie with the apricot jam... with the added delight of CHOCOLATE! Rating - 4.0"

Terri: "These cookies are my favorite so far. The combination of almonds, apricot filling and the chocolate dip make this the perfect cookie in my eyes and my taste buds! The shortbread texture of the cookie gives it a crunchy feel, and the apricot sandwiched between the layers was delicious. Rating - 5.0"

Overall rating by the panel - 4.7

Next Week - Viennese Chocolate Cookies

Nutrition Facts

Monday, October 23, 2006

Mondays with Maida - Viennese Almond Wafers

Page 170 in the old book / page 205 in the new book

It was probably when I saw those little beads of butter sweat on the parchment that I first had the sinking feeling these cookies were going to be a flop in the office. Cookies oozing butter don't especially appeal to me. I wasn't won over when I tasted one either - very buttery, thin, crispy, toasty almonds on top, but not much else flavorwise. It appears, however, that I misjudged both the cookies and the cookie panel.

I rolled the dough between sheets of wax paper, chilled it and then turned it out onto a floured pastry cloth. The dough is rolled into a 9-inch square and then cut into 24 small oblongs. I was a little sloppy when it came to cutting the rolled dough. I eyeballed it and cut freehand with a pizza cutter, but another time I think I would use a ruler as a guide. The other thing I would do differently the next time is separate the cut oblongs slightly after cutting and before brushing them with the egg white. I didn't separate them until after the egg white and almonds were put on top and found that the cuts were near impossible to find.

So as I hinted above, these cookies were a huge hit. I may have to make them again just to try and figure out why!

Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "The paper thin wafer cookies were in an oval shape and were great! The sweet butter taste along with the shaved toasted almond topping was a delicious combination. The only problem is that you definitely have to have more then one (or a lot as I did). Rating: 5.0"

Denny: "Extra excellent. Light and tasty and loved the nuts on top. Minus one for no chocolate still gives it a 4.0. Rating - 4.0"

Laura: "Delicious and crunchy with a lovely flavor... A few too many chopped nuts on top, but still great. Rating - 3.5"

Terri: "These delicate cookies are delicious. I particularly like almond flavor and these were very flavorful and crunchy. The almond slices on top of this thin layer makes this a work of art! Rating - 5.0"

Overall rating by the panel - 4.4

Next Week - Ischler Cookies

Nutrition Facts

Saturday, October 21, 2006

According to my calculations...

I was shopping for dishwashing liquid the last week and they didn't have the size and type I wanted, so my eye wandered over to some other brands. I noticed one that claimed to be environment-friendly, so I picked it up and took a look at it's back label. I was immediately sucked in... "blah blah, blah-blah-blah! Blah blah... we could save 81,000 barrels of oil... blah blah - blah..." As you may surmise, my critical thinking skills were on sabbatical at that moment. My interpretation of the claim was that by using this vegetable based detergent I would save the world a significant amount of oil. I plopped a bottle in my basket and didn't think to examine their claims more carefully until just last night.

What the label actually says is: "If every household in the U.S. replaced just one bottle of 25 oz. petroleum based dishwashing liquid with our 25 oz. vegetable based product, we could save 81,000 barrels of oil, enough to heat and cool 4,600 U.S. homes for a year!" Hmmm... so how many households are there? And what will my purchase of one bottle do?

The U.S. Census estimated that there would be approximately 110,000,000 households in the U.S. in 2006. So the bottle I bought (taking their claim at face value for the moment) will save .000736 of a barrel of oil.

But how big is a barrel of oil and how does that equate to something I can understand - like gasoline? A barrel of oil has 42 gallons of crude oil which translates to 19.5 gallons of gasoline. So the claim would be that by using this bottle of dishwashing liquid instead of a petroleum based product, I could save .0144 of a gallon of gasoline. I think my car averages about 20 miles per gallon, so using one bottle of this product is about the same as not driving .287 of a mile, or about 505 yards (five football fields). Not quite as impressive, huh?

The thing is, this product is more watery than the product I usually use. I doubt one bottle of this vegetable based detergent will last as long as my regular brand, which ultimately means more packaging. Plastic packing. Petroleum based - right? In all fairness, the packaging for the vegetable based product "contains a min. 25% post-consumer plastic", but still... I'm switching back.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Mondays with Maida - Swedish Ginger Cookies

Page 166 in the old book / page 202 in the new book

The dough for these cookies handles like a dream. It is rolled at room temperature and is not at all sticky. It is a beautiful ebony color and smooth as silk when rolled. Rolling these cookies was almost like play. If only all rolled doughs were like this!

This recipe would be perfect to use with kids. It is what I would call "gingerbread", so it is perfect for decorating with raisins and candies, or with icing (Maida provides a royal icing recipe). And not only is the dough easy to roll, mixing it provides an entertaining chemistry lesson. Baking soda is added to a heated mixture of molasses and sugar. The alkaline baking soda reacts dramatically with the acidic mixture resulting in a thick caramel-colored foam that rises to the top of the pan.

I rolled the cookies a little under a quarter of an inch thick and got about 70 cookies (I think they were about 2 1/2 inches across). These can be rolled just about any thickness you'd like. They have equal amounts cinnamon and ginger and have a warm, spicy flavor. I liked them very much - though I'm certain I was biased by the fun I had making them!

Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "If you are a fan of gingerbread cookies, then you will like this cookie. The heart shape was adorable, but very plain looking. I thought the cookie could use a powdered sugar glaze icing not only for taste, but to dress it up. Rating - 3.0"

Denny: "OK - don't like ginger too much. Minus 1 for no chocolate. Rating - 2.0"

Laura: "In a word: delicious! Lovely golden spice color. Light, crunchy texture. Fabulous "Ginger Cookie" flavor. Rating - 5.0"

Terri: "These ginger cookies taste as good as they look. The heart shape is very festive and the taste resembles a delicious ginger snap. I think these would be good alongside of a lemon bar. Very tasty. Rating - 3.5"

Overall rating by the panel - 3.4

Next Week - Viennese Almond Wafers

Nutrition Facts

Monday, October 09, 2006

Mondays with Maida - Swedish Honey Cookies

Page 164 in the old book / page 201 in the new book

Another in our series of plain brown cookies. These were very crisp and had an interesting combination of spices - cinnamon and coriander. The aroma coming from the oven as they baked was amazing, but I was initially underwhelmed by their flavor. By the next day however, either they or I had mellowed and I enjoyed them much more.

Once again, my laziness moved me to deviate from Maida's instructions for rolling the dough and I have to say, it worked quite well. I have some of that extra-wide plastic wrap, so I rolled the unchilled dough between sheets of it and then chilled it before cutting. The dough softens up quickly and is very sticky, so I peeled off the top layer of plastic wrap, flipped it over onto a floured pastry cloth, and then peeled off the other layer. Most importantly, I had to work quickly. I found cutting the rerolled scraps was a little trickier since I didn't allow them much time to chill.

Maida says that these cookies are traditionally scalloped and the drawing that accompanies the recipe shows a very pretty, almost flower-like, scalloped shape with six deep scallops. I didn't have a cutter like that, but was still happy with how they turned out. Amazing how a little ruffled edge can had some interest to those plain brown cookies. ;)

Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "Delicious! I love the sweet, crunchiness of this cookie. I guess those Swedes know exactly the right spices to put in their cookies because this one melted in my mouth. Rating - 5.0"

Denny: "Very nice. Not too much spice that you couldn't taste the honey. Minus 1 for no chocolate. Rating - 3.0"

Laura: "Yummy cookie! Light and delightful honey spice flavor. Rating - 4.0"

Terri: "I prefer 'chewy' cookies, but these rank high on my list of 'keepers'. The honey flavor comes through as well as the slight spicy taste. These would be perfect with strawberries and whipped cream! Rating - 3.5"

Overall rating by the panel - 3.9

Next Week - Swedish Ginger Cookies

Nutrition Facts

Monday, October 02, 2006

Mondays with Maida - Honey Graham Crackers

Page 162 in the old book / page 200 in the new book

My not-yet-perfected rolling technique resulted in graham crackers that were more like cartoon graham crackers than "real" graham crackers. Because they were thicker in the middle, each had a bulging waistline. Not so straight rows of fork-pricks contributed to their almost comical appearance. Well... comical to me anyway. No one else seemed to notice.

They did notice that these graham crackers weren't much like store-bought. The biggest difference was textural - the crackers were fairly thick and therefore not very crunchy. They also softened up over the course of the day, since the box they were in was left uncovered most of the time.

Rather than chilling the dough and then rolling it out on a floured pastry cloth as instructed in the recipe, I was feeling lazy and decided to try rolling the dough between sheets of wax paper before chilling. I marked out the 15 by 5 inch oblong on my counter with freezer tape rolled each portion of the dough and then placed it and the wax paper on a cookie sheet in the refrigerator. It worked very well and was much easier than pounding away on chilled dough. The wax paper peeled away from the dough quite easily. Only one problem... which I'm just now realizing. I'm pretty sure I divided the dough into thirds rather than fourths. Which explains why the crackers were too thick.

Between the error I made rolling out the dough and the fact that I had to substitute light for dark brown sugar, I'm thinking these graham crackers perhaps deserve a second chance. They had a bit of cinnamon in them which gave them an interesting flavor, but lacked the crunchiness you expect in a graham cracker. Apparently, that was my fault rather than the recipe's.

Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "The Graham Cracker wasn’t as sweet as the store bought crackers. It was also thicker and therefore not quite as crunchy. I hate to say it, but I think I Iike the store bought grahams better then this recipe. Somehow it was missing that honey taste. Rating - 2.0"

Denny: "Just a 2. Little softer than store-bought. I'm not sure if that's better or not. They were OK. Rating - 2.0"

Laura: "Thicker and 'chewier' than store-bought, but still tasty! Rating - 3.5"

Terri: "I have a true love of graham crackers since my kindergarten snack (50 years ago) was graham crackers with homemade butter! Yum! These honey graham crackers today were delicious, but slightly on the dry side. I had mine with coffee so they seemed a bit moister. Rating - 3.0"

Overall rating by the panel - 2.6

Next Week - Swedish Honey Cookies

Nutrition Facts

Monday, September 25, 2006

Mondays with Maida - Wild-Honey and Ginger Cookies

Page 161 in the old book / page 199 in the new book

These may look much like last week's cookies, but they're quite different in both taste and texture. They have a full cup of honey in them which probably accounts for the almost orange color. I think it also accounts for their texture, which is crisp, but more of a dull crisp rather than a crunchy crisp.

The dough goes together very easily, but is different from most cookie doughs in that the butter is melted with the honey rather than creamed. The hot butter and honey mixture is then mixed into the dry ingredients. Maida recommends wrapping the dough in oiled foil, which I did. I had a little problem with the edge of the foil getting embedded in the dough and bits tearing off. Perhaps parchment would work better.

The ratings for these Wild-Honey and Ginger Cookies were all over the map. There were those who really liked them, but I wasn't crazy about them. Much as I like honey, I just didn't enjoy the flavor of these cookies. I think part of it is that the only spice in them is ginger. Last week's Whole-Wheat Honey Wafers had both ginger and cinnamon, and had a warmer, rounder taste.

Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "The cookie was crunchy, but tasted like there was absolutely no sugar in the ingredients. The only flavor I could taste was the ginger and I’m not a big ginger fan. Rating - 1.0"

Herman: "These are GREAT … 5/5 for me because I love honey and ginger!! Rating - 5.0"

Laura: "Crunchy cookie with a delicate touch of ginger. Yummy! Rating - 4.0"

Terri: "The 'honey' flavor is stronger than the 'ginger' spice flavor - but this is an interesting combination. Reminds me of a flat vanilla wafer. Very tasty with tea! Rating - 3.0"

Overall rating by the panel - 3.3

Next Week - Honey Graham Crackers

Nutrition Facts

Monday, September 18, 2006

Mondays with Maida - Whole-Wheat Honey Wafers

Page 160 in the old book / page 198 in the new book

Last week was the first of a string of plain brown cookies that will be featured here over the coming weeks. This doesn't make for very interesting photos - hence the bow tie on these fellas. Though these cookies come in a plain brown wrapper, they are not at all plain. With honey, brown sugar, coffee, spices, and plenty of butter, you might not even realize that these crispy cookies are also whole wheat. In fact, I know at least one of the cookie panelists didn't.

Maida cautions that you not underbake these since they should be crisp. I'll second that - I didn't underbake any, but I tried one while still warm, before it had become crisp. It was not nearly as good as the fully cooled cookie. The texture of the warm cookie was dry, mealy, and verging on unpleasant. So, make sure you bake these long enough, resist temptation and allow them to fully cool, and then enjoy them!

Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "The taste of the cookie reminded me of a gingerbread cookie. The cookie’s shape was round, crunchy and melted in your mouth. I enjoyed the cookie and gave it a 4. Rating - 4.0"

Denny: "Little too crunchy but I liked them a lot. How can you not like something with that name? Rating - 3.0"

Laura: "A yummy mild spice cookie - crunchy with a nice texture. Rating - 3.5"

Terri: "Light and slightly spicey! These are delicious with a buttery flavor. Very similar to last week's 'Whole Wheat Sqaures' but a crunchier and spicer flavor. Rating - 3.5"

Overall rating by the panel - 3.5

Next Week - Wild-Honey and Ginger Cookies

Nutrition Facts

Monday, September 11, 2006

Mondays with Maida - Whole-Wheat Squares

Page 158 in the old book / page 196 in the new book

These squares are similar to wheatmeal biscuits. They are hard, dry, and very plain... which may not sound like much of a recommendation, but they are actually quite good. They are very buttery, not so sweet, and have no salt. I thought they were wonderful with a little jam, so I brought a jar into the office along with the cookies (fig for me, strawberry for the office).

These are mixed without a mixer - the butter is cut into the dry ingredients (which for the quantities of flour and butter involved, requires a little muscle) and then you "break" the dough by smearing pieces of it with the heel of your hand across your work surface. Once again I had some trouble with the dough sticking when I rolled it out. I used the pastry cloth as recommended, but I'd be tempted to try rolling the dough between sheets of wax paper (using my tape trick) since the dough must be rolled into a rectangle.

Even though I enjoyed these cookies, I don't know that I'd choose to make them again. They're a bit of a bother to make and given a choice between these and Carr's Wheatmeal Biscuits, I'd probably pick the latter. Perhaps with a pinch of salt and maybe a touch more sugar, I'd be completely sold on these Whole-Wheat Squares. I'm sure that if they were just a little less trouble to make I would be.

Denny: "Nice little cookie with strawberry jam, not spectacular, just nice. Rating - 3.0"

Laura: "This cookie is less moist but still yummy! (Time to grab another cookie and a cuppa!) Rating - 4.0"

Terri: "This cookie is a cross between a graham cracker and a shortbread cookie! A bit on the dry side, but Cathy had a jar of jam if we preferred to add this for sweetness. These would be great with tea and jam. Rating - 3.0"

Overall rating by the panel - 3.3

Next Week - Whole-Wheat Honey Wafers

Nutrition Facts

Monday, September 04, 2006

Mondays with Maida - Swedish Rye Wafers

Page 157 in the old book / page 195 in the new book

I had a hunch these wouldn't be a hit, but I liked them. They are so buttery, that they are more like pastry then a cookie. They are rather plain, very crumbly and slightly sweet. I had hoped that everyone would be so charmed by the shape of the cookies, that they wouldn't notice or mind the seeds. Though they did remark on the shape, the seeds were still an issue for some.

I used a pastry cloth for the first time and I think it helped, but it wasn't completely trouble-free. When you use a pastry cloth, you must prepare it by rubbing flour into it. The idea is that the flour will prevent the fat from getting into the cloth and will prevent the dough from sticking. In theory, you should use less flour than you would have to use to prevent the dough from sticking to some other surface (such as your counter), which is better for your dough. The instructions that came with my pastry cloth suggested tucking the edges under a large board, which is what I did.

After a few strokes of the rolling pin I was completely sold - I could tell by how easily the dough was spreading that it wasn't sticking at all. Unfortunately, a few strokes later, it was obvious that the dough had started to stick. I don't know if the problem was with my preparation of the cloth or with the dough (which was very buttery). I managed, and I suspect I was better off with the cloth than without, but rolling cookie dough remains a bit of a chore in my view.

Suzanne asked me what the hole was for, but all I could tell her was that according to Maida it was traditional. She did a little sleuthing on the internet and found that these cookies are served at Christmas and the holes are to allow you to hang them on the tree.

Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "I loved the off-centered small hole in the cookie. I wasn’t too sure of the caraway seeds on top since I didn’t care for the last cookie with caraway seeds (even though I like caraway seeds in bread). To say the least, the cookie made with rye flour had an interesting taste, but I could tell right away that not much sugar was added to the cookie. I felt the cookie could have used more sugar and after a few bites, the caraway seeds sticking in my teeth started to bother me. Rating: 3.0"

Denny: "Kind of bland except for caraway seeds. Rating - 3.0"

Laura: "Delicate texture, unique shape cutout. Don't care for the seeds. Rating - 2.0"

Terri: "I've never had rye in a cookie, but it's a very interesting flavor. This seems almost like a cracker, but with more butter. I really like rye bread and this flavor remind me of that. Different, but delicious! Rating - 3.0"

Overall rating by the panel - 2.8

Next Week - Whole-Wheat Squares

Nutrition Facts

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

My Favorite Icebox Cookies

This is where I usually put the photo of a cookie that didn't make it onto my short list, but the more I thought about these simple-yet-beautiful, go-with-anything Sesame Fingers, the more I realized that they deserved a place on my list of favorites. So there you go - they made it!

I can't believe it - three chapters down, two to go! For those of us (including me) who have always equated icebox cookies with "slice 'n bake" cookies, this chapter was a revelation in more ways than one. First with the shaping - icebox cookies need not be round and in fact the square, oblong and finger shapes were always well-received. Secondly, two doughs can be arranged in a variety of ways to great effect: you can wrap one around the other, you can layer them, or you can roll them together into a pinwheel. Finally, you can shape the dough in a pan (flat or loaf) or you can even put two slices together with some filling in between.

Icebox cookies take a little more time to make because of the chilling time between mixing and baking, but you can usually mix and shape the dough a day or more ahead. It's awful nice to have those cookies in the freezer just waiting to be baked!

There were no dogs this time around. The lowest scoring cookie was actually one of my favorites - the Sesame Fingers you see pictured above. These and the other cookies with seeds were not preferred by the cookie panel, but I enjoyed them all.

So now without further ado, here are my personal favorites. The first few are in no particular order. I'll save my very favorite cookie for last...

Coconut and almond filling surrounded by a chocolate cookie. These Black and White Coconut Slices are reminiscent of an Almond Joy bar and just as sweet as they look.

These Fruitcake Icebox Cookies are beautiful and tasty. The candied cherries and pineapple are key, so use the best you can find.

One of these Peanut Butter Pillows would make an impressive and substantial dessert. Each is like a little pie - two big peanut butter cookies with a dollop of peanut butter sandwiched within.

I'm a sucker for cinnamon, so it's no surprise that I fell for these Almond Spicebox Cookies. With a super-sized helping of cinnamon, these cookies are delightfully crunchy and spicy.

And the winner by a mile (the others never stood a chance) - my very favorite Cobblestones. Crunchy and chewy, loaded with nuts and raisins, this is my idea of the perfect cookie.

Next up - rolled cookies. I have to admit, I've never really enjoyed rolling out cookie dough. I have trouble getting it rolled evenly, and depending on the dough, I've had trouble with crumbling or sticking. I just sprang for a new pastry cloth and a "sock" for my rolling pin, so we'll see if they help. With any luck, rolling cookie dough will be old hat by the time I finish the chapter!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Mondays with Maida - Pinwheels

Page 152 in the old book / page 184 in the new book

These are the classic pinwheel cookie where layers of chocolate and vanilla dough are rolled together so that each cookie has an attractive spiral of chocolate. This particular version has the added element of pecans, which is a welcome addition in terms of flavor and texture, but which makes the making just a little trickier.

In regards to those pecans, let's just say that when Maida tells you to use "finely" chopped pecans, take heed. I cut each pecan half into about eight pieces, but that was too big. I failed to consider that in a rolled dough, the size of the nuts in the dough will dictate how thinly you will be able to roll it. As it turns out, mine were just slightly too big. Fortunately, I had rolled out the vanilla dough first, so it was not a problem to adjust the size of the chocolate dough. I lost about an inch in the length, so the change in thickness was minimal.

Maida advises you to roll the dough between sheets of wax paper. Here's my tip for getting the dough rolled to the correct size and shape most easily: use masking or freezer tape to mark a rectangle of the proper dimensions on your counter. It is much easier to check your progress against this template than to pull out a ruler time and again. You can see the tape through the wax paper and can trim it as necessary to achieve a perfect rectangle.

Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "I love pinwheel cookies. They are so attractive and appealing. They also had all the ingredients I like. How could you miss with chocolate, pecans, and lots of butter? The size was smaller then I expected, so I guess I’ll have to take another cookie. Rating: 5.0"

Denny: "Kind of lackluster. Only a 3, even with +1 for chocolate. Rating - 3.0"

Herman: "These are excellent and tickle my taste-buds … 5 out of 5! Rating - 5.0"

Overall rating by the panel - 4.3

This is the last of the icebox cookies. Stop back by tomorrow to find out which were my personal favorites. Next week we start the chapter on rolled cookies with Swedish Rye Wafers (and more caraway seeds!)

Nutrition Facts

Sunday, August 27, 2006

A Sad Day

I had a hint this was coming two weeks ago when I overheard one vendor telling another about some incident involving a dog and saying that dogs were to be banned from the market. I had assumed at the time that they were discussing a market other than Dupont Circle. Wishful thinking.

Last week the signs went up. There were a couple of dogs still to be seen here and there - whether it was in protest or blissful ignorance, I don't know. There was also some evidence of displeasure with the new dictum - the "No" had been smudged out on the blackboards.

This week everyone seemed to have capitulated. The signs were undisturbed and there was nary a dog in the market. I've never considered myself to be a "dog person", but I've always enjoyed seeing the variety of dogs on parade at the market and observing their interactions with people and other dogs. It just won't be the same without them.

(On a happier note, the Elephant Heart Plums are here!)

Monday, August 21, 2006

Mondays with Maida - Cardamom Cookies from Copenhagen

Page 151 in the old book / page 183 in the new book

These were good but on the plain side. I had considered cracking open some green cardamom pods so I could get some freshly ground cardamom - but I found the amount called for (1 1/2 teaspoons of ground cardamom) a little intimidating. I figured sorting out a sufficient quantity of seeds from the pods would take quite some time, so instead I used the ground cardamom I had on hand. Judging by the labeling, it's been around for a good long while. The familiar floral taste of cardamom was there... but just barely.

Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "Dull! No Pizzazz! After tasting the cookie, I actually I asked Cathy if the cookie was dietetic. There was very little taste to this cookie and if anything, it tasted like cement. Even the color was a very pale vanilla. I hate giving the cookies a bad rating since Cathy works so hard each week to try to please us. But… Rating: 1.0"

Herman: "These cookies are good and rich tasting … my rating is 3 out of 5 only because of taste preference. As usual … Great job!. Rating - 3.0"

Laura: "Delicate, delightfully light flavor. Very tasty. Rating - 4.0"

Terri: "Since I've never tasted the spice 'cardamom', I'm not sure what it tastes like! These were more of a pecan/butter cookie. Kind of a shortbread flavor... Very crunchy too. Rating - 3.0"

Overall rating by the panel - 2.8

Next week - Pinwheels

Nutrition Facts

Monday, August 14, 2006

Mondays with Maida - Anise Icebox Cookies

Page 150 in the old book / page 182 in the new book

Perhaps it was an omen. These cookies nearly burnt the house down. OK, OK - it wasn't the cookies it was me. I'm the one that forgot to empty the oven before turning it on to preheat and then got distracted with something upstairs. But I still think it was an omen. People don't like anise and people don't like anise cookies.

I love biscotti flavored with fennel, so I fully expected to enjoy these cookies with the very similar flavor of anise and bright taste of lemon. But I admit that I wasn't too surprised to find that most others in my office didn't share my fondness for them - seeds in cookies haven't been terribly popular with this bunch. Near the end of the day I noticed that there were still quite a few cookies left and rather than trying to cajole someone to take them home, I decided I'd cover the box before leaving and just put the rest out again the next day. A few minutes later they were all gone. Turns out these cookies did have one fan in the office - someone who generally stays away from sweets. I'm not sure what made him taste the first one, but after that it was all over. They reminded him of some cookies his mom and sister used to make and he literally stuffed his pockets with the remaining cookies.

Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "I can’t decide ??? I like black licorice, but I’m not a fan of anise. I loved 'Good and Plenty’s'as a kid (boy, I haven’t had any of those in years). There is definitely a strong licorice after taste that makes me want to eat something else to get the taste out of my mouth. I like the lemony taste and crunchy texture of the cookie. I even like the oblong shape. No, I don’t think I care for this cookie. Rating: 2.0"

Denny: "OK, don't like taste of anise, but lemon covered up most of it. Rating - 2.0"

Laura: "Nice light crunchy cookie - delightful flavor, anise seeds... not so much. Rating - 3.0"

Terri: "A delicious combination of lemon and licorice flavors make this an interesting taste. I mostly taste the lemon flavoring. Since I like licorice, this slight flavor comes through also. A crunchy, thin wafer-like cookie, would be great in combination with chocolate. Rating - 3.5"

Overall rating by the panel - 2.6

Next week - Cardamom Cookies from Copenhagen

Nutrition Facts

Monday, August 07, 2006

Mondays with Maida - Almond Spicebox Cookies

Page 148 in the old book / page 181 in the new book

OK, first off I must call your attention to the name of these cookies. I didn't get it until long after the cookies were out of the oven. Do you see it? They have almond and spice and they're icebox cookies, so.... Almond Spicebox Cookies. I like that.

Anyway, these cookies were crunchy and loaded with almonds, cinnamon and brown sugar - they reminded me of Jan Hagels, except that the almonds were on the inside. They were definitely crowd pleasers - who doesn't like cinnamon? The recipe made a huge batch, so there were plenty for the office to enjoy over two days and some for people to take home as well.

There was nothing unusual in the making of them. The only (slight) difficulty was in shaping the dough. The dough is soft and sticky, so it is spooned onto the wax paper, the paper is folded over it, and then you press the dough into shape (rather than shaping with your hands and then wrapping it). Others of the icebox cookies have been shaped in this way, but this dough was softer than most and I had a little trouble with it. Once frozen, slicing was no problem.

Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "Delicious! I actually ate two cookies. I usually limit myself to one. Trying to keep my girlish figure. The cookie tastes like a thin ginger bread cookie with thinly sliced almonds. The shape was long like a lady finger and the cookie had a crunch to it, but the cookie melted in your mouth. I loved this cookie. Cathy has broadened my horizons. In the past I would have only rated a cookie with chocolate in it as a 5, but I will give this cookie a 5. Rating- 5.0"

Denny: "Very good. Crunchy and not too much spice. -1 for no chocolate. Rating - 3.8"

Laura: "A wonderful blend of cinnamon and other spices, brown sugar and almonds. Delicious! Rating - 4.0"

Herman: "This week’s cookies were/are DELICIOUS … I rate them 5 out of 5 as they obviously delighted my palette! Rating - 5.0"

Overall rating by the panel - 4.5

Next week - Anise Icebox Cookies

Nutrition Facts

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Ginger Peach Cake

As much as I anticipate blueberry season each summer, there is actually something I look forward to even more - the brief time when I have both blueberries from my backyard and early local peaches. And when the birds have gotten the better of my blueberry bush, I have a long season of sweet peaches to console me.

I love peaches, but I seldom bake with them since my favorite way to eat them is out of hand. On those rare occasions when I find myself in possession of more peaches than I can eat, I've been known to make a peach pie or Maida Heatter's Blueberry and Peach Buckle (awesome!). But last summer after having sampled a bit of ginger peach poundcake in the grocery store, I was taken with this flavor pairing and moved to concoct something of my own.

My first concept was doomed to failure - it was sort of a peach pie filling with a gingery cake on top. The cake melted into the filling, creating an incredibly delicious, but impossibly ugly dessert. In my next attempt, I decided to bake the cake alone, but somehow managed to leave out the sugar - there was no way to salvage that one. Though I was eager to give it one more try, the peach season ended before I had a chance.

Last weekend I bought a 4-quart basket of peaches (the best I've had so far this season) which provided plenty of peaches to top my cereal with, snack on, and finally make this cake with. I'm very happy with how the cake turned out - it's spicy, moist, sweet, and very good. If you've got a couple of peaches that are less than perfect or are beyond ripe, this would be a good way to use them. If you're not in the mood to bake, you can puree the peaches and freeze them until you are.

Please don't be tempted to leave out the candied ginger - in addition to adding wonderful flavor, texturally, the little bits of ginger are almost nut-like after baking.

I turned to my trusted Wooden Spoon Dessert Book by Marilyn Moore for a cake recipe to use as a starting point. Her Mystery Cake, which calls for tomato soup, seemed just the thing.

Ginger Peach Cake

1 cup flour
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
3/4 cup peach puree (1 to 2 peaches, depending on size)
2 tablespoons finely diced candied ginger

For topping: more peaches, sugar and lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter an 8-inch round cake pan. Cut a parchment circle to fit and put in bottom of pan. Dust sides of pan with flour (if you don't have parchment, dust the bottom and sides with flour).

Whisk the flour and next five ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside. Cream the butter and lemon zest, then add the sugar and beat well. Add the egg and then the egg yolk, beating well after each addition. On low speed, add about half a cup of the flour mixture, then the peach puree, and then the rest of the flour mixture. Use a spatula to scrape the beaters and sides of the bowl and mix just until well combined. Add the candied ginger then turn into the prepared pan and bake for about 35 minutes.

While the cake is baking, cut up some peaches and stir in a squirt of lemon juice and a little sugar. When the cake is done let it cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then turn it out onto a rack to finish cooling. When cool or just barely warm, cut into wedges and serve topped with the macerated peaches. Serves 5.

I like this little snack cake just as it is - it's a good size for me and the flavor is wonderful - but I was thinking it might be nice as a layer cake. Double the recipe, top with sweetened whipped cream and peaches, mmm...

Monday, July 31, 2006

Mondays with Maida - Caraway Crisps

Page 147 in the old book / page 180 in the new book

I have to admit, I had my doubts about these cookies going in. I had never used caraway in cookies before and don't generally associate caraway with sweets. I envisioned a repeat of the poppy seed fiasco. But come to think of it, caraway seeds are really wonderful in Irish Soda Bread, and that's a little sweet, right? More importantly, these cookies have just two teaspoons of caraway seeds while those poppy seed cookies had one whole cup of seeds.

As it turns out, the caraway provides a lovely accent to the crisp lemon cookies. It isn't at all overpowering and is really only noticeable when you bite into a seed. I never would have thought to put lemon and caraway together, but it works very well.

One note about making these cookies: they're very easy to make, but don't be alarmed when after mixing all the ingredients together you have a bowlful of crumbly cookie dough! The dough comes together quickly when you squeeze it and knead it with your hands for just a minute or two. Even better, it is quite easy handle and shape into a roll.

Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "I liked that the cookie was thin and crunchy with a lemony flavor. I even liked the taste of the caraway with the lemon. I actually liked the cookie until the last bite when a whole caraway seed caught in my back molar. All I could think of was that you can’t eat this cookie when you are with a group of people unless you don’t mind picking your teeth in front of everyone. Rating- 3.0"

Denny: "If I wasn't a Polack, I probably wouldn't have tried them. Caraway in a cookie! What!! Actually, the caraway blended well with the tartness of the lemon. Kinda smoothed it out. Very good, with only my normal 1 point deduction for not being chocolate. 4.0. Now, Chocolate Caraway Crisps might be a 5.0. Rating - 4.0"

Laura: "Yummy cookie, although I don't care for the flavor of the caraway seeds in the cookies. Rating - 3.0"

Terri: "These wafer-thin cookies have a delicious combination of lemony flavor and caraway. I'm not a big fan of caraway seeds (since they get caught in my teeth!), but these cookies had just the right amount of seeds. They're more on the crunchy side then chewy. Delicious! Rating - 3.5"

Overall rating by the panel - 3.4

Next week - Almond Spicebox Cookies

Nutrition Facts

Monday, July 24, 2006

Mondays with Maida - Sesame Fingers

Page 146 in the old book / page 179 in the new book

I FOUND A MISTAKE IN THE BOOK! I am certain that this is an editing error, but I was still surprised to find it. What is even more surprising is that it appears in both the old and new books. I reviewed the recipe before I began and was amused to find the following instructions for shaping the dough before chilling, "With your hands press against the paper to mold the dough into an oblong 12 inches long, 3/4 inch wide, and 1 inch thick." Hmmm... if sliced 1/4 of an inch thick, that would make each cookie about the size of a piece of Bazooka bubble gum, wouldn't it? I think the desired dimensions are actually 12 inches long, 3 to 4 inches wide, and 1 inch thick.

I liked these cookies very much - they're attractive, they're sweet and crunchy, and they have an interesting texture because of the abundant sesame seeds within (3/4 cup). As some of the cookie panelists comment below, they are rather plain, but I don't think that's always a bad thing. In fact, I got into a bit of a debate with Denny on that very topic. (I promise I was not trying to sway his vote!) I guess it's to be expected that when you ask people to assign numerical ratings to cookies week after week, they will naturally compare one week's cookie to past offerings. The thing is, I think that these plainer cookies can be pretty great in their own right. Simplicity can be a virtue, but I think in this setting it's not usually seen that way. OK, I'll get off my soapbox now... all I'm saying is, you really ought to give these cookies a chance.

Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "I love sesames in everything, so I knew I would like this cookie. The butter, sesames, and vanilla almost gave the cookie a slight lemony taste. Also, the cookie's shape was attractive and reminded me of lady finger cookies. I also liked the crunchiness of the cookie with the sesames. Rating- 4.0"

Denny: "Bland and not much going for it. Wasn't bad, just not too good. Rating - 2.0"

Laura: "Very hard to rate objectively, since I do not care for sesame seeds. Rating - 1.0"

Terri: "These cookies are somewhat like a shortbread with sesame seeds. I really like the shortbread flavor, but they may be bland if served alone. These would be great along with a chocolate cookie or chocolate dessert. Also would be great with fruit. Rating - 3.0"

Overall rating by the panel - 2.5

Next week - Caraway Crisps

Nutrition Facts

Monday, July 17, 2006

Mondays with Maida - Icebox Nut Cookies

Page 144 in the old book / page 178 in the new book

I thought these were very good. They are lemony, very crunchy, and loaded with nuts. I used pecans, but walnuts could also be used.

The recipe gave several options for shaping the dough for slicing. I chose to make a single log, but there weren't any instructions about how long or big around the log should be. Based on the thickness and number of cookies the recipe was supposed to make, I guessed that the log should be about 12 inches long, which made for a very fat log. The cookies were large, but not overly so. The real problem was that because of the size of the log, I had trouble slicing them evenly. If I were to make these again, I would make the log a little smaller around.

I also had some trouble with the cookies running together when baked. The recipe indicated that they should be placed "1/2 to 1 inch apart", but I found that half an inch was too close.

Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "The cookie was actually too crunchy and too lemony. The cookie did not soften as you ate it. I did enjoy the pecans. Rating- 3.0"

Denny: "Very good. Couldn't taste the lemon, but lots of pecans. 4.0, maybe higher. Rating - 4.0"

Laura: "A crisp, crunchy cookie with the perfect amount of nuts and just a hint of lemon. Yummy! Rating - 3.0"

Terri: "These shortbread type cookies are delicious! The slight lemon flavor adds a mild lemony taste. Very crunchy with the pecans too. These would be great with a sorbet or sherbet. Rating - 4.0"

Overall rating by the panel - 3.5

Next week - Sesame Fingers

Nutrition Facts