Posts Tagged ‘Cookies’

Absolutely, positively

I Heart Christmas cookies

Nothing says loving…

I am pleased to announce that I just returned from the Post Office. Remember the Post Office?

I marvel at the Post Office. Now I know where my Windows 95 computer went to die. Hey, stuff still gets from point A to point B. How? I don’t know. A visit to a New York City Post Office is to reaffirm one’s belief in Santa Claus and his elves.

My snarky humor is in no way meant to besmirch the work being done by the thousands of Postal Workers around the country who really do get the job done.

I just hate waiting in line.

Lest you think I am a holiday luddite, rest assured that the majority of my shopping is done via the internet. Occasionally this translates into higher shipping costs, yet this is more than compensated for by the reduced schlepping costs. However, every now and then, for intimates I hold in high regard, I like to send a little something homemade from my humble kitchen. A modest effort that folks always seem to appreciate. But, cookies don’t mail themselves.

All has not been well in my kitchen; my stove has decided that it is time to retire and begrudgingly bakes at one temperature—when it lights at all. (New stove on the way…) All of this adds up to, as they say on Wall Street, a challenging season.

But serenity is mine. I have a few survival tips that get me through seasons like this.

1.) Pay a visit to the Island of Reduced Expectations. This is a lovely place where the weather is always temperate and pie crust is always perfect—even if you don’t follow Martha Stewart’s recipe. This year’s visit meant making peace with the aforementioned oven and baking by smell and color rather than using a timer. Besides, my Mom likes things cooked “well done.” Translated into the real world this means that I made three kinds of cookies instead of the six whose recipes had caught my eye. And burned a few.

2.) How big is your kitchen? If it is like mine the answer is, “Too small.” (Ditto the refrigerator.) This means I need to plan where I can place racks of cookies as they cool. My living room has often been enlisted, even though this means it smells like cookies for days after. (Could be worse. That’s why I never cook salmon at home. Even good smells get into the upholstery. I have a feeling that someday when I buy a new sofa and place the current one on the street for pick up, folks will think a bakery opened on the block.) I have a constant rhythm going of dough going in the oven, just out of the oven cookies moving to the cooling rack, cooled cookies moving to storage containers. Lather, rinse, repeat.

3.) Special treatment cookies? Don’t do it all in one day or you will end up in the psych ward with my family. I spread preparations for the beautiful I Heart Christmas cookies shown above over three days. Day one I made the dough, then wrapped it and stuck it in the fridge. Day two I rolled and cut the dough, sprinkled it with vanilla sugar and baked the hearts. Day three I dipped them in chocolate, sprinkled them with crushed candy canes, and refrigerated them to set the chocolate. It was still a challenge, but worth it, and much easier because each step was begun with a clean kitchen. (Full disclosure: I did have one accident and lost about ten completed cookies when a cooling rack slipped out of the fridge because I opened the door with too much gusto. I’d like to blame the kitchen or the fridge, but I’ll be adult and blame my noisy neighbors.)

4.) The internet is your friend and you don’t even have to bake it cookies or buy it drinks. Did you know that with a little bit of planning you can use the post office and never be scowled at by an employee or wait in line? Avail yourself—when possible—of Priority Mail flat rate shipping boxes. I goofed this year, hence my wait in line. I shipped some cookies to family and friends in gift boxes I had purchased at the baking supply store. They didn’t fit in the flat rate boxes. If they had, I could have paid for and printed the postage at home, packed the box, and then waved to the folks standing in line as I dropped my package in the chute. The interesting irony is that metal cookie tins would have weighed more, but they would have fit in the flat rate boxes and therefore cost less to ship and saved me time. Ah well, next time. (But the cookies looked nice in those boxes…)

5.) If you live in or near New York City, visit “the tree” at Rockefeller Center.

You can’t help but smile.

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The “I Heart Christmas” cookies pictured above are a variation on my “I Heart Shortbread” recipe. They are decorated with Candy Canes that were pulverized in a food processor.

Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

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Donate to the American Red Cross to support Hurricane Sandy relief. Please.

Ol’ Faithful

Maple Walnut Bars

Utility player...with walnuts

I’m a New Yorker. I grew up in the Boston area. My name is Michael. Funny, I could be describing the current Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, or myself. We have all those things in common, so let’s also play a little game I like to call “Let’s Compare Bank Accounts”. Michael Bloomberg is a billionaire. I’m…hey, did you watch the World Series?

Albert Pujols. Albert Pujols. Albert Pujols. What: did the guy invent baseball? Do I have a chip on my shoulder? A couple. Yup, enough for a cookie.

I have always had bad eyesight. I remember being taken to the movies as a kid and thinking, “Jeez, what a crummy theater. This movie is totally out of focus!”

Of course, bad eyesight translates into being picked last for team sports. (That’s a real pat on the back.) I’ve never figured out why they thought this was a good idea, but they always stuck me in the outfield. A nearsighted kid with no depth perception. In the outfield. The ball would “hang” in the sky then suddenly be on the ground behind me and my gloved, outstretched hand.

(This inevitably reminds me of the joke about the bad actor: the director keeps telling him to move up stage. “Farther up, please…no, even farther please…” to which the bad actor objects, “But, if I move any farther up I’ll be off the stage.” To which the director replies, “Yes! Just a few more steps please!”)

Oh, well. I couldn’t catch a baseball. I can bake. Can Albert Pujols? (Don’t answer that. I saw him on Paula Deen’s show. )

That’s life. There’s always a “star.” Everyone else? The trusted “utility players,” those stalwart, dependable folks who really form the underpinnings of any organization, whether it be sports or show biz or the hard-scrabble world of department store perfume spritizing, are always appreciated yet ignored. Love ya baby, now, hit the showers.

What always amuses me is when the “stars” don’t quite live up to expectations. (I don’t want to mention any names because Alex Rodriguez reads this blog. Madonna turned him on to it, now he’s got Cameron Diaz reading it. I understand she makes my Fleur de Sel Chocolate Caramel Cookies with canned Dulce de Leche. Not cool, Cammie.)

When a star ballplayer isn’t reaching their potential, the fans can be vehement in their dismissal. C’mon folks, be nice. Just because an underperforming player still gets to take home all of his multi-million dollar salary doesn’t make him bad people. It just means he’s like the rest of us but wildly overpaid. Wait. I think I lost the thread of my logic.

The thing is, sometimes you don’t want a star; sometimes you want that solid utility player who you know can get the job done every time. Nothing fancy, maybe not a whole lot of style, but also less worrisome for you. The Maple Walnut bars in the picture above are like that. If you’re having a couple of chums in for coffee, dessert after a movie, or a card game, you aren’t going to serve Profiteroles. But this bar cookie is simple to make and plain in a welcoming, reassuring way.

(Listen, go ahead and serve Profiteroles. Just be sure to invite me.)

During the fall I am sucker for anything flavored with maple. These bars also have a touch of warmth from some added cinnamon, and the rich crunch of whole walnuts. As an option I have added a generous sprinkling of demerara sugar on top, which adds a pleasing but subdued crackle to each bite.

The recipe is written for a stand mixer, but is just as easily made using a large bowl and spoon. Just make sure to soften the butter to room temperature or you won’t be able to cream the butter and sugar together.

The bars are not sticky-sweet, so feel free to serve these early in the day—no need to wait for dessert. I used Extra Dark Amber Maple Syrup which is best for cooking. I found it at Whole Foods, but if you can’t find syrup that dark, just read the labels and chose the darkest amber syrup you can find. (Don’t use fake syrup. Mrs. Butterworth is not welcome at this party.)

Did I mention how they smell while they are baking? These are another one of those items that I will mimic when the big rollout of the Butter Flour Eggs scented candle collection happens.

The other candle is Shrimp Cocktail. Go ahead and laugh, but wait until you light that one. Your house will never be the same.

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Click here for the recipe for Maple Walnut Bars.

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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It’s fall: have the tweets started changing color yet?

My Stuff

Crunchy Peanut Butter Cookies

Crunchy Peanut Butter Cookies

I am not an appliance junkie. That does not mean that I am immune to the charms of the shiny, beautifully lit toys in the Williams-Sonoma catalogue. I find them endlessly fascinating, especially the coffee makers. But that is purely window shopping on my part. I’m strictly an analog, boil-water / pour-into-Melitta kind of guy.

This reminds me of the “My Stuff” section of the magazine “Vanity Fair” where they question successful creative types about the brands of clothes and household items they use, including underwear, toothpaste, and coffee makers. I always imagine the Luddite thud that would reverberate off the page if the “Vanity Fair” editors ever asked little ol’ me for my preferences. “Ah, Melitta. How unstylishly retro…,” they’d smirk in caffeinated superiority. “Crest? Sounds so rugged…”

If I ever start depending on an eleven-hundred dollar coffee maker for my daily brew, there had better be an exponential increase in the square footage of my bank account.  No sir, for now, I get suckered in a much lower rent district. If it’s under ten dollars I’m in. I look at it this way: if I were to buy a niche appliance for several hundred dollars, I may use it once or twice then pack it back in its box until the next time I need it. Under ten bucks? I’m less likely to feel guilty about tossing a failed experiment to save space. Don’t misunderstand: I’m not appliance averse. I just prefer workhorses like my Kitchen Aid stand mixer. Yeah, I have a waffle iron, and I do use it. Once a year.

Certain smaller specialty food markets are ideal for shoppers like me because they tend to carry items rife for discovery. I’ve actually made some great discoveries this way, including Ines Rosales tortas, and Damak chocolate. This past summer I fell under the spell of Bindi Coffee Gelato. Bindi is not a new name in the freezer case, but I’d never seen their gelato in a market here in New York before. I kept telling myself that it was lower in fat than regular ice cream. So is crack. They have a lot in common.

During one of my trips in search of some Bindi crack gelato, I happened to pass the display of various brands of peanut butter.

PB2 Peanut Butter Powder

PB2 Peanut Butter Powder

I’m not sure how things catch my eye. I have a friend whose career is centered on the art and science of brand recognition. I have my own scientific approach: I have the supermarket memorized. Shopping for me is a gigantic game of “one of these things is not like the other.” In other words, the new stuff sticks out. On the trip in question it was powdered Peanut Butter that stuck out. Far from being a skeptic, my first instinct was to assume that there was some important use for this product about which I knew nothing. Therefore I simply had to buy it.

As it turns out, I am not the only one playing the “one of these things is not like the other” game. The cashier was right there with me. She gave the jar a close examination, gazed up at me and asked, “What do you do with it?” I told her I’d have to get back to her on that one.

Bringing home an item like this is not unlike adopting a new puppy from the pound. (A very quiet puppy.) You sit and stare at it for a few minutes, and wonder, “Okay, what do I do with you now?” Indeed this period of wonder extended to several months as the powder sat on my kitchen shelf until I could think of a use for it.

This is not to say that the product has no reason for being. It is perfect for folks who are on a low-fat diet but still want the flavor and protein of peanut butter. Finally, it occurred to me that the easiest way to get inspired would be to just open the bottle and taste a little bit of the powder. Good news: It tastes like peanuts. (Duh.)

But this got me thinking about it not as a peanut butter substitute but as a flavor source. When you add peanut butter to a recipe you get the moisture of the fat in the bargain. The downfall with that is that whatever you are making can end up too “loose.” Peanut butter powder has the potential of providing the opposite service: all the flavor, plus it can act as a thickener—or at least not loosen things up. Hmmm. Peanut butter frosting? Satay sauce? All good uses for this stuff.

With Halloween coming up I am test driving a few things that I will be bringing to a friend’s party. Peanut Butter Cookies seemed like a perfect old fashioned treat that kids and adults would enjoy. They can be tricky though, because sometimes they simply lack peanut flavor. So, I added a generous two tablespoons of the powder to my recipe.

The result is a bit crunchier than the usual peanut butter cookie, but that’s all for the better. The peanut butter flavor is pronounced, making these cookies as addictive (to me) as a jar of peanut butter. In fact, that’s how the cookies taste: like a sweetened, crunchy slab of peanut butter.

The basic recipe is great even without the peanut butter powder, but with it the flavor can stand up to a few chocolate chips thrown into the cookie dough.

Hey, Vanity Fair editors! How about a new section called, “My Cookies”?

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Click here for the recipe for Peanut Butter Cookies.

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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Mmmm: Crunchy tweeter butter…

Gold Star

Mocha Lady Fingers

a treat for breakfast or later...

There used to be a TV commercial for Stella d’Oro cookies that was based on an ages-old Borscht Belt sketch.

(And, it goes a little something…like this:)

(The scene: a typical upper middle class suburban home. The husband enters.)

Husband:  Darling! I’m home! Where are you?

Unseen Wife:  (a slightly muffled off stage voice) I’m hiding!

Husband:  (Looking around, trying to guess her hiding place) Darling I’m home! I brought you flowers! Where are you?

Unseen Wife:  (still a slightly muffled off stage voice) I’m hiding!

Husband:  Darling I’m home! I brought you flowers!  And Stella d’Oro cookies! Where are you?

Unseen Wife:  (opens the door slightly) I’m hiding! In the front closet!

(In the original sketch the husband was bringing the Mrs. a diamond bracelet. That would open a few closet doors in my neighborhood.)

How many times have you walked by the Stella d’Oro display at the supermarket? Funny the stuff you take for granted. I haven’t been to the East End of Boston for many years (Go Eastie!) but many years ago I somehow found myself standing in a bakery in that part of town. (Me? In a bakery?)

This was one of those places where you walk in and think, “Ah, this is the real deal.” They could have used it as a location for “The Godfather.” I remember buying a few slices of Anisette Toast and thinking (brainiac that I am) “Ohhh, like Stella d’Oro.” Time has not diminished my gratitude to whatever god of silence prevented me from saying that out loud.

Stella d’Oro was actually a local New York City brand. What may have started as a little taste of Arthur Avenue and baked just a few miles up the road from me in the Bronx is now baked in North Carolina.

(Out of towners are now thinking, “Ohhhhh, that’s what the Bronx was for.”)

I am someone who is a sucker for a wrapper with a few foreign words. But during all those oblivious trips past the Stella d’Oro display it has never occurred to yours truly that I was usually ignoring a product whose pedigree was also “the real deal.” In the same way that the formerly ethnic bagel became mainstream, Stella d’Oro’s goodies lost their Bronx-Italian identity and became just another cookie (or bread stick.) You can take the cookie out of the Bronx; can you take the Bronx out of the cookie? I don’t have an answer.

For, as much as I’d like to rip the crinkly cello off a package of Breakfast Treats and pretend that I am eating something baked by my (very imaginary) Italian grandmother, what I really must do is appreciate the cookie itself, the baker’s art that went into it, rather than some romanticized ethnicity that I painted on it for my amusement.

The humble Breakfast Treat is really nothing more than a generously-sized, lightly Anise-scented lady finger. Lady fingers belong to a group of items baked from the recipe commonly referred to as “biscuit” (pronounced, biskwee). Things like jelly roll and sponge are cut from that same cloth. How this differs from other cakes and cookies is that the air beaten into the egg whites is the only leavener used. The only fat is usually whatever is in the egg yolks. While perhaps not as tender as chemically-leavened cakes, biscuit is another “real deal.” It requires a little technique—although with a stand mixer the only real technique may be knowing when to turn the mixer off. More importantly, it calls back to a time before chemical leaveners like baking powder which have only been in widespread use since the early 1800s.

I love baking this kind of stuff. It really asks that you pay attention to what you’re doing. There are a few steps, and a couple of bowls—and one bowl is used, washed, dried, and re-used. But I still think it is easier than pie crust.

To celebrate the humble Breakfast Treat / Lady Finger / biscuit, I decided to make my own. Should I channel my (very much imaginary) Italian Grandmother or add my own little style? What the heck: Granny had her shot, and she “did good.” I’m gonna do my own thing. Out with the anise, in with the coffee and cocoa. Hey why not? They’re breakfast treats, and that’s when I drink coffee. And I’ll put chocolate on just about anything.

Be warned: Lady Fingers are usually piped through a pastry bag. Don’t worry about it. As you can see from the picture above, you can just as easily make little round cookies by dropping a bit of dough from a teaspoon. Here are a couple of easy hints: whip the egg yolks until thick, pale, and creamy. Err on the side of over beating them. The egg whites are a different story. Whip just until they hold a peak when you pull the beater out of the bowl. Err on the side of slightly under beating. Over beaten egg whites will “curdle” and dry out.

Granted these aren’t a “rock your world” cookie. They’re mildly sweet which is what makes them breakfast friendly, but you can easily dress them for dinner by drizzling melted chocolate on top or just dipping them halfway. I’m even going to experiment on the next batch by sprinkling a touch of almond praline powder on top before they bake to give them just the kiss of a sweet, crunchy glaze.

Do you think they’d approve in “Eastie”?

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Click here for the recipe for Mocha Lady Fingers.

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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If it’s sweets you must send Tweets…

The Chill Diaries

Peach Crisp Ice Cream Sandwiches

Peach Crisp Ice Cream Sandwiches

You’ve probably seen this in old movies: someone climbs a ladder to a high shelf in a library. Pulling a book from the shelf, they blow off the dust, creating a cloud that momentarily obscures the screen.

I thought of that image the other day when I pulled the bowl of my ice cream maker from the back of my freezer. It has been there, untouched, ignored, since last summer. Instead of blowing dust off, I had to knock chunks of frost and ice off. All that was missing was some long lost ancient hiker embalmed in the ice after taking a wrong turn at Shangri-La.

Why has my ice cream maker sat untouched since last summer? Is there some kind of law against making ice cream during the fall and winter? Only in my head, and it is somehow related to the reason I watch Jimmy Cagney in “Yankee Doodle Dandy” only on the Fourth of July: because that’s when you are supposed to watch it.

I ought to know better. Boston (my home town) has always been a die-hard ice cream town. The season or the weather means nothing to Boston’s ice cream appetite. Beantown is an inaccurate nickname; it should be Icecreamtown.

In last week’s blog I mentioned—merely in passing—ice cream sandwiches. Unfortunately the idea stuck in my head and could not be dislodged. Some early season peaches at the market also helped motivate me a bit. They were not quite ripe. In fact, they were as hard as an MLB-regulation baseball. Still, the romance of Fresh Peach Ice Cream for Memorial Day beckoned.

Here’s the plain truth: I think ice cream is much harder to make than anyone will admit. When I was a kid and someone would pull out one of the old hand-cranked ice cream makers, we were so grateful to have a tiny dish of vanilla ice cream placed in our hands still sore from cranking that we barely gave the consistency or flavor a second thought. Vanilla? Wheee!

How many kids over the years have been duped into that cruel manual labor by the promise of a dish of ice cream? Add more ice! Add more salt! Keep cranking! It was right up there with raking leaves.

The modern “freezer-bowl” ice cream makers are easier on the arm, that’s for sure. But be warned: while the spotlight may be off manual labor, it is burning brightly on ingredients, flavors, and technique. I have a bit to learn. Good ice cream doesn’t happen overnight. Wait a minute. Yes it does. That’s one of the things I learned.

The ice cream I was always served from the hand crank freezer was very basic: milk, cream and sugar: basically frozen whipped cream. Not a bad thing, but really good ice cream is made from cooked custard. Hot custard placed in an ice cream freezer becomes…cool custard, but not ice cream. This I learned the hard way.

I found a recipe in my beloved old copy of The New York Times Cookbook (circa 1961) for Fresh Peach Ice Cream. “Perfect!” I thought and got to work. The recipe gives instructions for cooking custard, followed by the one word instruction: “Cool.” After doing a bit of homework (and making ice cream that never froze) I discovered that the instruction should have read, “Chill.” Even better: “Chill for four hours.”

Ice cream experts can correct me if I am wrong, but this is because of the way ice cream freezes: gently, and with constant movement that prevents ice crystals from forming. If the mixture starts off too warm, the ice cream freezer can’t do its work. So I will now and forever think, “Chill” when making ice cream. As the peaches were slightly less than ripe I diced them, as opposed to crushing them as directed in the recipe.

Usually, the cookie portion of ice cream sandwiches is a basic chocolate wafer. But my mind kept drifting to Peach Crisp, hot from the oven, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. What was called for here was a cookie that would bring the sugary crunch of the crisp to the party. This is where I got a little inventive.

As a base I used an old oatmeal cookie recipe I made up a few years ago. My Mom reminded me that ginger and peaches go well together, so I added a bit of chopped crystallized ginger. The big adjustment I made here was to freeze the dough in the shape of a brick, and then slice and bake the dough in rectangles. A generous sprinkle of demerara sugar just before baking added crunch and sparkle.

Following this concept, I also froze the ice cream in a brick. That way I could cut it into pieces that fit the cookies. No scoops here, as assembling was as simple as, um, making a sandwich.These ice cream sandwiches are a bit rich, but what a luxurious and sweet way to celebrate summer. And I just need to remember to “Chill.”

Good advice for making ice cream, and surviving a hot summer.

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Click here for my recipe for “Peach Crisp Ice Cream Sandwiches

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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Go ahead: tweet this posting. And thanks for twitteries…

Makes a good brooch too…

Flower Cookie Centerpiece

Flower Cookie Centerpiece

Mr. Maple Tree, a certain gentleman who resides outside of my living room window, has finally started to sprout leaves. I noticed this development about a week ago when one tiny little green bud appeared at the end of a branch. This week he is displaying what looks like green pom-poms. Soon those will grow into full-fledged clusters of green leaves. Tree hugger? Me?

I love winter, but will happily admit that this year’s snow fest was a bit of overkill on the part of Mother Nature. My winter boots asked for disaster pay. (Rim shot, please.)

Bottom line: finally, spring is here.

In the Big Apple this is school vacation week. I live near a middle school that normally clangs with the screeches of hundreds of teens. But the quiet this morning reminded me of a western town in a John Wayne movie just before the Dalton gang arrives. The only thing missing was the tumbleweeds.

I am an unapologetic Peeps addict, so I tend to think of Easter as Christmas with marshmallow. Oh, and instead of poinsettias, tulips and daffodils are on display. While I’d love to have a garden—and a gardener to maintain it—alas, it seems as a dweller of the big city the only crop I seem to be able to grow with any abundance is dust. (There’s a joke there, somewhere. Something about dust bunnies and Easter bunnies, but I haven’t quite figured it out yet.)

I enjoy watching Ina Garten, TV’s Barefoot Contessa walk outside her kitchen door to snip something from her garden and arrange it simply in a water glass and use it as a centerpiece. I could try the same thing, but there’s no rosemary growing in the hallway. (My landlord would frown on that.)

You do what you can with what you’ve got. I can’t grow flowers but I can bake them. So try this on for size: a little Martha Stewart-style crafts project I call the Butter Flour Eggs Cookie Centerpiece.  I started using cookies as cake decoration a while ago, so it is not a stretch for me to try to find other venues in which to display their beauty. (My first thought was to use them as Christmas tree decoration. But living in a New York apartment, there are a few disincentives to leaving food sitting around.)

At heart the cookies are made from basic shortbread dough—my same easy to roll recipe that I used on Valentine’s Day. To my eye these sugary flowers always look like they were drawn with a sparkly crayon, which makes them perfect for occasions where children will be among the celebrants. Using a bit of royal icing (a/k/a edible Elmer’s Glue) I attached a bamboo skewer to each one and grounded that firmly in a cupcake. Two or three plates of those down the center of a long table will be my centerpiece at Easter dinner.

The color palette is your choice; you can see I gravitated towards groovy ‘60’s yellow and pink. I won’t be insulted if you find my choice a bit loud and decide to go with something a bit more subtle (zzzzzzz). Your choices are as wide as the colors of sanding sugar you can find. For these cookies I recommend rolling the dough to a hefty ¼” thick. Paint a bit of egg wash on the unbaked cookies and sprinkle with the sanding sugar before baking. Cool thoroughly before gluing the skewers with Royal icing and allow a few hours for the Royal icing to harden and dry.

Don’t feel confined by a vanilla cookie or the flower cookie cutter. A couple of Christmases ago I made little chocolate wreaths with Royal icing that looked like brown Wedgewood.

If your kids are home from school this week, the cookie centerpiece is a great project for you to supervise. And if you’re not feeling ambitious don’t worry about the royal icing and skewers: just stick the cookie right into the frosting.

This reminds me of a friend who used to have a country house. No slouch in the kitchen, if you visited him during the winter chances are you would be served a steaming plate of Cincinnati Chili. During warmer months the chili was retired but you could look forward to hand churned ice cream or “Dirt Cake” which was (I think) chocolate pudding and cake served in a real (sterilized)clay pot, topped with chocolate cookie crumbs (the dirt) and a real flower. It was pretty convincing until he started spooning it onto plates.

You can do the same thing with the cookie centerpiece, although for my money the cartoon-y quality of the cookies matches cupcakes better. Don’t go crazy with the cupcakes here—you can even use store bought. I made very simple white cupcakes and placed everything on simple white plates.

No surprise here: as usual for me the cookies are the star of the show.

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Use this recipe for the cookie dough: I Heart Shortbread Cookies.

And it’s not too late to bake for Good Friday or Easter. Click here for my recipe for Hot Cross Buns.

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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Fontainebleau Fantasy

Miami Mandel Bread

"From the sun and sand capital of the world..."

Where do the poinsettias go after the holidays are over? During the holidays they seem to decorate every surface that hasn’t otherwise been claimed by things green, red or ersatz-snowy. Here in New York, discarded Christmas trees are still lining the streets—the delay in the mulching trucks collecting them is due to the abundance of real snow this year. All over the world, Christmas lights have long ago been wrapped on a spool and stored way in the back on the top shelf of the closet until next year. Tree ornaments have been safely tucked away in their boxes.

But the poinsettias just mysteriously disappear…hmmm.

Another holiday item has been hanging around my kitchen and until a few days ago it seemed it had no intention of leaving. I’m referring to a little crate of clementines that Santa (or one of his elves) left for me. They’re delicious but for a while there I had the spooky feeling they were magically replacing themselves as I ate them: the crate just never seemed to get empty.

Well, now I can finally see the wood slats on the bottom of the crate, and it feels like a race: can I finish the clementines before they go bad? Should I be suspicious that they don’t seem to have aged a bit? Perhaps there’s a portrait of them in an attic somewhere in which they have become dried and wrinkled?

I have no answers to these questions, merely recognition that clementines are not merely a holiday treat, they are actually in season all winter, the bounty of millions of Spanish citrus trees. I was staring at them the other day and asked them (politely), “Is there anything I can do with you other than peel and eat?”

This conversation dovetailed nicely with the fact that January (a/k/a “The Monday Morning of The Year”) is drawing to a close. I’ve been a good boy and now I deserve a cookie. (By “good” I mean I ate well in an effort to reform bad habits collected during the holidays.) (By “cookie” I mean…cookie.)

Mind you, I’m not looking to dive back into the gluttony pool; I just need a little something sweet (but not too), and crunchy (very). If I can perhaps fulfill this requirement without straying too far from my current healthy habits, well, yahoo.

My first thoughts went to Angel Food Cake. While it has no fat, in this case it also has one great downfall: it’s not crunchy. Good material, wrong fit. But while my mind was on Angel Food Cake I remembered the old advice about day-old Angel Food Cake: slices of it are great toasted.

It should come as no surprise that I am a fan of the biscotti – one even serves above as the button for the Butter Flour Eggs subscription form. Biscotti also go by the name Mandel Bread, especially when referring to the almond (mandel) variety. Biscotti or mandel bread usually refers to an eggy, slightly rich batter baked in a loaf, then sliced and toasted. Some folks refer to this as a twice-baked cookie.

I’m sure you’re way ahead of me here. Why not toast skinny slices of Angel Food Cake into skinny blonde biscotti? Nifty idea, thanks!

So here’s what I did: I made a small recipe of Angel Food Cake batter and mixed in some toasted, sliced almonds. As I was about to pour the batter into a loaf pan I spied the clementines waiting patiently on my kitchen counter. In a (relatively) thrilling flash of inspiration (okay, you had to be there) I applied the working side of my microplane to three of the ever-youthful clementines. Folding the batter carefully (so as to not leave a crease) I distributed the rind evenly.

After cooling the loaf thoroughly I sliced it into slices less than ¼” thick and toasted them on a rack in a 300 degree oven.

I won’t lie to you here: I’m not a paragon of self-control.  So I’ll admit that there weren’t a lot of these left to share with friends, family, or co-workers because I inhaled them. They are like Clementine-scented, almond-studded crack. But I’ve given them the unlikely-but-eminently-more-evocative name of “Miami Mandel Bread.”

I think it has something to do with the fact that in my imagination I can see a frilly-capped, apron-ed waitress throwing these on the table with the coffee at the Fontainebleau Hotel back in 1965—when the place was hot, but long, long before it was cool (not that I’d remember.) My big, blonde, and quite imaginary Aunt Sylvia would’ve passed me one and explained, “They’re good…and dietetic too!”

They’re skinny, the Clementine rind make little “pops” of citrus in your mouth as you chew, and they remind me of losing weight so you can go to Miami and lie in the sun. And the writer in me likes the alliteration of Miami and Mandel. Yes, the almonds add back some of the fat that the lack of egg yolk and butter deducted. But it is healthy fat along with a fistful of minerals that you know you need. Gracious, these are practically health food. (Yeah, yeah, I know…)

What can I tell you? This has been a really cold winter. Can you blame me for having Miami Beach on my mind?

C’mon down!

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Click here for the recipe for Miami Mandel Bread.

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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Sweet Charity

Snickerdoodle

Sweet Charity

Many years ago my parents took me to see a play during the holiday season. This sticks in my mind because I remember that at the end of the play the actors stepped forward and asked for donations to the Actor’s Fund—the same way they do now for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. As the actors were speaking, several people in the audience stood up to leave, one of them grumbling to no one in particular, “Someone always has their hand out!”

(Obviously a certain grumbling someone must have gotten some bad egg nog that day.)

Now, I apologize, but whenever I think about this I chuckle because, 1.) in some absurd way it strikes me as funny, and because 2.) I can always think of better endings to the story. Perhaps he was visited by three ghosts that night, one for Christmas past, one for…oh, sorry, I think that’s been done.

No matter, for the “takeaway” (as they like to say in corporate America) was obviously not gleaned by little me from the stage that night. I don’t have any recollection of what play we were seeing, but the memory of Ebenezer Scrooge, live and in concert has never left me.

Thankfully the reality is that most folks are not like that, although at times we may need just a little reminder to be charitable. Charitable giving seems to get a bit more attention during the holiday season. While much of the attention gets focused on money, there are also the gifts of time and expertise.

A colleague recently drafted me to help with a holiday event she is coordinating on behalf of a children’s hospital that is headquartered at New York Presbyterian Hospital. She is getting a group of Wall Street-types together to sit down and make holiday cards for the kids. She is familiar with my cookie proclivities therefore volunteered my services to feed the volunteers. (I’m not sure if the hospital wants cookies for the kids. I’ll have to find out, but I suspect they are careful about the source of the food they feed the kids.)

The assignment was very specific: “I volunteered you to bake cookies for the people who will be making the cards. I told them you’d make Snickerdoodles. I love those, don’t you?”

Uh-oh. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I can only remember having a Snickerdoodle once in my life and being severely underwhelmed. They were just a touch too, um, “white bread” for my taste. Or are Snickerdoodles like liver: if you haven’t had it properly prepared you shouldn’t judge? (Yes, I just compared a cookie to liver. I like liver. Sorry.)

It gets worse. I can’t step out of the shadow of feeling that the name, “Snickerdoodle” is a touch too precious. The cookie I remember was almost catatonic in its softness, and undistinguished in flavor; a mushy sugar cookie. Who knows, maybe it came from a mix? (Can you imagine?)

I may be stuck with the name, but a dull cookie? From me? Never! How could I “goose” things a bit and make this cookie a bit more interesting? Mind you, I feel a responsibility to not stray too far from the Snickerdoodle’s known identity, but want to make the “best in class.”

Here’s the goal: this cookie is supposed to be a bit crispy on the outside, but a little soft on the inside (a chemical reaction that results from the unusual use of cream of tartar as the leavener). In addition, there should be an even coating of cinnamon and sugar. What is obviously in play here is the amount of cinnamon, and what kind of sugar to use.

Let’s start with the sugar. The basic recipe calls for plain white granulated sugar inside and out. Why not introduce a gentle note of crunch by using a large crystal sugar inside and out? Demerara sugar will give a slightly honey-ed note to the mild-mannered Snickerdoodle, and its large crystals will crackle with each bite. In addition, substituting it for some of the sugar in the batter with keep the cookie’s soft middle from being too mushy.

The cinnamon – sugar coating took a little work to get exactly the balance I wanted, but gave me yet another opportunity to add a little more personality. I started with just the demerara sugar and cinnamon, but the cinnamon took over. I found the right balance with half vanilla sugar, half demerara sugar, and the cinnamon. The result had a touch of cinnamon doughnut—a nice surprise.

Size matters here. I weighed half ounce portions of dough which baked into a cookie slightly larger than two inches in diameter. Any larger and I fear that the cookies may have had the dreaded mushy middles. Instead they have a springy, cakey quality—another happy “doughnutty” note.

A nice, gentle cookie, but the “doughnutty” notes jogged my memory. It is Hanukkah, and last year I was yearning for some kind of baked-not-fried Sufganyot, the little jelly doughnuts that have become such a popular festival of lights treat. A little jelly between two Snickerdoodles and I held in my hand, (ring the bell, please) a Sufganyot cookie. It was like a gift from above.

I mentioned briefly above that I weighed the portions of the dough. It is not a prerequisite. You can accomplish the same thing using a tablespoon, but a good digital scale can be a real time saver for folks who bake a lot. Convert recipes you use a lot to ounces instead of cups. Then you can pour ingredients right from the package into a bowl set on the scale. You’ll save time and get more consistent results. Digital scales make a great holiday gift for bakers too.

(Hint, hint.)

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Click here for the recipe for Snickerdoodles.

If you’re feeling ambitious but need a bit of cookie baking technique and guidance, read the Butter Flour Eggs Cookie Primer 101 for some basic cookie-baking tips.

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The Ronald McDonald House of New York is an amazing facility which provides a temporary “home-away-from-home” for pediatric cancer patients and their families. The Ronald McDonald House is supported entirely by private donations. Please read about this amazing place, and keep them in mind when considering your year-end charity donation.

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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Have Yourself A Salty Little Christmas (cookie)

Sea Salt Caramel

Salty and sweet...

I love the holiday season, so it is ironic that the soundtrack of the days just following Thanksgiving sounds more to me like the “bang!” of a track and field starter’s pistol than the festive sound of jingling bells we all expect. Maybe it is the endless reminders about “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday”—ominous sounding labels for times when we are supposed to be acting as Santa’s helpers. 

Yours truly and other like-minded folk take great pleasure in providing sweet treats for friends and co-workers at this time of year. This year I am determined that the cookies should be as much fun to make as they are to eat. (Apologies to the old M&Ms commercial.) 

Jingle bells or starter’s pistol? It doesn’t matter: I’m in the mood to make cookies. Here’s a short background as to how I chose my first holiday cookie of the year. 

I often grimace at food fashion. Somehow food seems to “hit” the same way clothes do. How many versions of braised short ribs or roasted Branzino do I need to see “celebrity” chefs demonstrate on TV? I love short ribs and Branzino, but throw in something else now and then, please. (This reminds me of a Bugs Bunny cartoon that always makes me laugh: Yosemite Sam is the chef for a Charles Laughton-esque king who signals his disapproval of each meal by bellowing, “Every day the same thing: Variety!”) 

Cupcakes have been the objects of desire for quite a while now, to the point that they are even being served at weddings in place of the big multi-tiered cake. Yet, the New York Times featured an article a couple of weeks ago titled, “Pie to Cupcake: Time’s Up”. Could this mean that before too long folks will be waiting half an hour in line for a piece of pie? A la mode? (If so, my shirts should quake in terror.) 

Grimace or not, there’s one bit of food fashion that I don’t mind: the combination of salt and chocolate or caramel. I’m starting off my holiday baking with something that harkens back to my childhood while also winking broadly at current food fashion. 

In not-so-long-ago Massachusetts my Mom used to sneak us off to the dearly departed Bailey’s, the last of the old-time, marble-lined ice cream and candy parlors. There, at a cool marble table, in an even cooler metal dish, was served a hot fudge sundae – topped with both marshmallow and whipped cream, please –finished off with chopped salted walnuts. Those very salty, very crunchy walnuts transformed what was really just a bunch of wet sugar into what we in the twenty-first century would call an “artisanal dessert.” I know this sounds like I am over estimating my memory of a dish of ice cream. I am not. Sometimes food really does become special when you consider the sum of the parts instead of just the parts themselves. 

The salty / sweet combination is certainly nothing new: salted caramel is old news to French candy makers. For Americans though, fleur de sel caramel and chocolate (fleur-de-sel refers to the type of sea salt used) has, in the past decade, gone from being a curiosity to almost mainstream. Now you can even buy sea-salted chocolate in the drug store. Granted, the product has gone mainstream, but I’m not sure that the taste has. Many folks are still put off by the thought of salt combined with caramel or chocolate. 

In the spirit of the season, I’d like to do my bit to correct this. 

The great thing about cookies is that they are so adaptable. Most cookies are based on the same basic recipe and technique: cream sugar and butter together, add eggs and liquid flavorings, then add flour, leavener, and dry flavorings. Scoop, or roll and cut portions of dough. Bake, and good night. 

Easy, yes? So why do folks often seem to fall back on the same rather tired recipes during the holidays: sugar cookies or gingerbread cookies? I thought it would be fun to create a cookie dough that could be adapted to suit multiple flavors, and could be scooped, or easily rolled and cut. The emphasis on the latter is easily rolled and cut — or as easily as possible. 

I think I have accomplished my goal. In addition, if you use a butter substitute, the basic cookie (not counting anything you add on top) is suitable for vegans. How am I doing so far? 

Obviously this week’s recipe for Fleur de Sel Chocolate Caramel cookies is based on the above specs. The twist is that there’s an easy version, but advanced folks can easily spiff up the cookies if they desire. 

The easy way, the basic recipe, is to scoop small balls of dough (approximately a half ounce or 1” each) bake them, dip them in the caramel, then sprinkle a few flakes of sea salt on the caramel. The cookie will remain slightly soft and chewy. 

More ambitious folks can roll the dough to approximately ¼” thick, cut with a cookie cutter, bake, then dip—or even better—sandwich the caramel. The top cookie of the sandwich should be cut with a “window” in the middle to show off the caramel, and to allow access for the sea salt. Thin, rolled / cut cookies will have a happy crunch. 

If you’re feeling ambitious but need a bit of cookie baking technique and guidance, consult the Butter Flour Eggs Cookie Primer 101 for some basic cookie-baking tips. 

In the meantime, ladies and gentlemen, start your ovens! 

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Click here for the recipe for Fleur de Sel Chocolate Caramel Cookies. 

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks! 

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com 

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Angel

Coconut Oatmeal Nutella Cookies

Coconut Oatmeal Nutella Cookies

As this is a blog devoted to that magic mixture of eating/baking/cooking/eating I wouldn’t blame you for seeing the title of this story and assuming that it is about Angel Food Cake. Apologies: there’s none of that spongy, pure-as-the-driven-snow cake this week, although there is an egg-less cookie. But more about that in just a moment.

I don’t think of myself as angelic; does anyone? But I have a friend who just made it easy for me to be an angel – and I’m still very much alive (last time I checked, anyway.) My friend Brian Hampton is a playwright of some note. He has written two plays which have been successfully produced all around the country. His first, a play named “Checking In” is about a small group of high school friends who reunite for a weekend in Atlantic City ten years or so after graduation.

This play is kind of like his first born child, so he feels a great deal of attachment to it. That’s why he wants to adapt it for the screen and produce it as an independent film. I told him years ago to sell it to Lifetime Movies for TV, but I think he just doesn’t have the stomach to sign away control of his baby and watch Valerie Bertinelli play a 28 year old.

(Who am I to judge? If they made a Butter Flour Eggs movie they’d try to cast Richard Deacon as me – if he weren’t, shall we say, otherwise engaged. But I think if the script is good enough, perhaps Matt Damon would be available? Why are you laughing?)

ANYWAY, I am now an angel, but in the old show biz meaning of the word: a backer, a patron of the arts, a philanthropist. Stereotypically these folks were old ladies who thought of themselves as artistically astute, but as with so many other things, the internet has not only flattened the playing field, it has built a whole new stadium. I am speaking of Kickstarter.

Kickstarter is a new venue for artists and entrepreneurs to put their ideas in front of the public and get them the funding they need to turn their ideas into reality. This is the link to Brian’s Kickstarter profile if you’re interested, but I also recommend the site as a good read.

His other fundraising idea – and the reason we’re here today – is that he is throwing a Prom. Yes, a prom as in: rented tuxedos and sneakers. Like any good benefit there is a raffle planned, and that’s where I (and the cookies) come in. I’ve been asked to prepare a Butter Flour Eggs sweets basket that will go to the highest bidder. Cookies for sale! Going, going, gone…

Keeping with the prom / high school theme my mind went to school lunch – my high school held its proms in the cafeteria, decorated for the night with a special theme. (I think the theme my year was Venice, as I have a foggy memory of one of my less graceful classmates puncturing the cellophane “water” that filled the canals with her stiletto heel. Doh!)

My usual brown bag lunch was some kind of sandwich, so I’m rolling out the sandwich cookies for the prom. Among the planned choices I’m making are PB&J’s, a simple square shortbread cookie filled with the obvious. Kitschy, yes?

The other cookie idea is inspired by a recent walk around midtown Manhattan when I happened on the Street Sweets truck , one of the great trucks roaming New York with upscale sweets that, during my walk, I couldn’t resist. One “Macarella” later I was hooked. Yes, the “Macarella” sounds like a late nineties line dance, but actually it’s a cookie. Two crunchy, pancake-flat coconut macaroons with a layer of Nutella in the middle. That is my inspiration for the second sandwich cookie.

Copycat? Not quite. I wanted a softer cookie to go with the oozing smoosh of Nutella. The big, crunchy macaroons made the Nutella leak all over my hands. A softer cookie will keep the Nutella off the raffle winner’s fancy Prom clothes. The actual cookie recipe – as previously mentioned made without eggs – is an old World War One recipe called ANZAC Biscuits (ANZAC stands for Australia New Zealand Army Corps.) The lack of eggs helped the cookies stay fresh longer.

No, smart aleck, I wasn’t around then, I found the recipe in a cookbook. My contributions? Baking a slightly smaller cookie to use as a sandwich, and substituting sweetened coconut for the original recipe’s dried coconut to make the cookies soft and chewy.

Nutella is very cool again, and yes, it’s good stuff, but I just saw a TV commercial for it that claimed it can be part of a healthy breakfast. Listen, it’s yummy, but let’s be honest: nutritionally it’s not much better than frosting in a can. Don’t give it to your kids for breakfast.

Save it to stuff my cookies.

By the way, I do have a groovy After Prom Party planned. It goes something like this: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

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Click here for the recipe for Coconut Oatmeal Nutella Sandwiches.

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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