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