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...