Monday, February 26, 2007

Mondays with Maida - Hamantaschen

Page 199 in the old book / page 224 in the new book

These Hamantaschen are traditional for Purim, but have a nontraditional prune, apricot and walnut filling. Before I tell you more, Suzanne kindly provided a little background that I'll share with you...

In case you want to put a little history in your blog, the cookie is shaped like a triangle because the bad man in the story (Haman) who wanted to kill the Jews in Persia (Iran today) wore a three cornered (triangular) hat. What the King (Ahasverus) and Haman didn’t know was that the King was married to a Jew, Esther. When Esther found out from her uncle Mordechai that Haman wanted to kill all the Jews, she went to the King and told him that she was Jewish. The King loved Esther and instead killed Haman. Each year the Jewish people celebrate Esther saving the Jews in Persia by reading the Megillah of Esther (the Book of Esther) and each time Haman’s name is mentioned everyone drowns out the sound of his name with noisemakers (graggers). The children and some adults dress up in costumes. When I was a child, we dressed up as Esther, the King, Mordechai, and even Haman, but today they dress up in any costume. The synagogues also have Purim carnivals for the kids. It’s a fun holiday.

Well, even though the cookies are modeled on the bad guy's hat, I'm completely enamoured with their shape. It's simple to do, holds lots of filling, and looks great too. You cut a circle, spoon some filling in the middle, and then lift up three sides and pinch the corners together - it's far simpler to do then it is to describe. Maida suggests you hold the cookie in the palm of one hand while doing this, but I found it easier to work with it on the cookie sheet since that left both hands free to shape the cookie.

The filling was delicious in spite of the fact that my apricots were like cardboard. I hadn't noticed that they were within a couple of days of their sell-by date when I bought them. I could see they were pretty ugly, but chalked that up to the fact that they were unsulphured. I got home, though, and found that they were completely dried out. I steamed them (I had to or I wouldn't have even been able to chop them!), but still had to add quite a bit of extra water to the filling as it cooked. But it all worked out - the filling was sweet, tart and flavorful.

Here's the panel ...

Suzanne: "When I made this cookie with my kids when they were little, the cookie was harder in texture. Cathy’s cookie was delicious but the dough is softer then the traditional cookie. The cookie traditionally either has apricot, prunes or poppy in the center, but I enjoyed the mixture of prunes and apricots in this cookie. It had a sweet but tart taste. Since my kids love chocolate (I wonder where they got that from?) I use to put chocolate chips in the center. Rating - 4.5"

Laura: "These are very tasty cookies. The filling was yummy and I loved the unique 'tricorn' shape of the cookie. Rating - 3.5"

Denny: "Excellent, loved the filling although I missed the walnuts. Minus one for no chocolate gives them a 4.0. Rating - 4.0"

Terri: "These cookies are a work of art and truly delicious! The combination of the prunes and apricots make them sweet enough and the walnuts and crust add the perfect crunch. And of course, they must be good for us with the prunes! Rating - 5.0"

Overall rating by the panel - 4.3

Next week - Rugelach

Nutrition Facts

Monday, February 19, 2007

Mondays with Maida - Prune Pillows

Page 196 in the old book / page 223 in the new book

While these cookies appealed to me from the get-go, I was afraid they might be a tough sell at work. A couple of the panelists weren't exactly eager to try them, but they got surprisingly high marks for a prune-filled cookie. The filling, which is tangy and sweet, is delicious. The cookie was slightly crisp initially, but softened with storage. It was good but plain - its purpose was clearly to contain the filling and not much else.

Given that there were a number of cautions in the recipe about keeping the pastry cloth, cutters, etc., well floured, I was surprised to find that this dough was relatively easy to handle. I had very little trouble with it sticking, even in the final stages of shaping the cookies, when it had been sitting around for a while.

For the filling, I stewed the prunes myself rather than buying canned prunes. I kept it simple and didn't add any flavoring. I soaked the prunes for about six hours and then simmered them in enough water to cover for about half an hour. When cooking the filling, I found I needed to add a little extra water a couple of times in order to continue cooking it for the specified time, but I was very happy with the end result. The filling was smooth, but still had a little texture.

If you're a fan of prunes, here's a cookie that makes them the star. I bet you'll love it!

Here's the panel ...

Suzanne: "I enjoyed the prune and nut filling in the pillow-shaped cookie, but if I had my druthers, I think a chocolate and nut filling would have tasted better. The cookie was soft and was covered with powered sugar. Rating - 3.5"

Laura: "The cookie portion of the cookie was very yummy. The pillow portion of the cookie was good too. The walnuts with the prunes made a good combination. However, since I don't really care for prunes, I have to score these lower than I would have... Rating - 2.5"

Denny: "The name was a definite turn off, but they were excellent. Sounded like some kind of senior center love toy. Great UFO look to them, quite a surprise after the name. Very tasty. Minus 1 for no chocolate gives them a 4.0. Rating - 4.0"

Terri: "These are delicious surprises - but you must like PRUNES! I really liked the filling with the walnuts added. These are not too sweet, but the crust and filling almost reminds me of mince-meat pie. Rating - 4.0"

Overall rating by the panel - 3.5

Next week - Hamantaschen

Nutrition Facts

Monday, February 12, 2007

Mondays with Maida - Chocolate-Chip Pillows

Page 194 in the old book / page 222 in the new book

Wouldn't you know... chocolate finally shows up again and Denny is away for the week on travel. It would be hard to imagine anyone not liking these little pie-shaped cookies filled with chocolate chips. They taste much like a Toll House cookie, with brown sugar and just the right amount of salt, but all the chocolate chips are buried in the middle.

These cookies take a little time to make, but really are not difficult. The dough is rolled before chilling between sheets of waxed paper, which makes for easy handling. Maida tells you exactly how many chocolate chips to use in each cookie (6), so the assembly is straight forward. The only trouble I had, if you can even call it that, is the fork tended to slice through the top piece of dough rather than sealing it to the bottom. Whether this was because the dough was still stiff from chilling or the shape of the fork tines, the cookies managed to stay together.

Here's the panel ...

Suzanne: "I can’t figure out how Cathy got the chocolate chips inside of the cookie without them melting. Anyway, the cookie was buttery, crunchy and I loved the chocolate chip surprise inside. Rating - 5.0"

Laura: "These are yummy crunchy cookies with a chocolate pillow surprise. The cookie tastes like chocolate chip cookie dough without the chocolate chips (in the dough). Inside the "pillow" are several gooey chocolate chips. Yum! Rating - 4.0"

Terri: "This is a delicious and fun cookie with the surprise of chocolate chips inside. It resembles a mini-pie from the outside with a shortbread type dough. The chocolate chips are piled in the middle and make this just the right combination of chocolate and cookie. Rating - 4.0"

Overall rating by the panel - 4.3

Next week - Prune Pillows

Nutrition Facts