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