Posts Tagged ‘Holiday Recipes’

Bing gets me going

Gingerdoodles

Gingerdoodles

I was thinking the other day about folks who live down south. They are accustomed to a holiday season without snow. True, there have been plenty of holiday seasons up north where we had no snow, but we still had the fun of seeing our breath on a chilly winter morning, or hugging a friend just in from the cold and feeling their icy cheek against ours.

Sounds poetic, but deep down all I’m really thinking about is my personal comfort (natch!). I perspire when the temperature goes above fifty degrees; my Mother refers to me as a Polar Bear. Yes, I’m certainly as pale as a Polar Bear, and, yes, I’m the guy who opens his windows in the middle of winter—you simply have to here in New York because our apartments are all heated by steam heat. (Bob Fosse fans should now snap their fingers a couple times, and tilt their bowlers over their eyes.)

One year while “trapped” in hot, sunny Arizona, Irving Berlin coped with a palm tree encrusted holiday season by penning “White Christmas”—the best selling single of all time. While I don’t have orange and palm trees swaying outside my window (as Berlin mentions in the usually unsung verse to the song) it is sixty-five degrees as I write this, and I am willing myself to feel the holiday spirit. (The dozens of Cyber Monday offers in my Inbox don’t seem to be doing the trick.)

My sure fire remedy? Queue up Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” album, and start baking Christmas cookies. There now, that wasn’t so hard, was it? (I also placed a snowflake wallpaper on the screen of my phone. It helps.)

Anyway, allow me to introduce my first cookie of the season, the Gingerdoodle. As you can tell from the name, it is built on the chassis of the famous Snickerdoodle. Snickerdoodles are fine, but I always think they are Sugar Cookies with yearnings for greater things. With the Gingerdoodle, their ambitions have been fulfilled. (You think I’m crazy for ascribing ambition to a cookie?) All I have done is take a basic Snickerdoodle and add a bit of spice, heat, and texture. It is still a soft, somewhat cakey cookie, but, as Ina Garten would say, “…with the volume turned up.”

I’ve never understood the Christmas-time passion for sugar cookies or the big cheap tins of “Danish Butter Cookies” –many of which have never been within miles of Copenhagen. Even when decorated, sugar cookies tend to be a bit transparent in flavor, meaning you can roll them around on your tongue as much as you’d like but you’ll never taste anything more than flour, butter, and sugar. The “Danish” cookies usually hint at a bit of cardamom, which is not a bad idea, but it’s usually executed in a sleepy way.

I demand more, darn it. Give me complexity. Give me a bit of surprise. Make me want to come back for more. Throw in some chocolate if you can, and I’ll be abuzz with the holiday spirit. The Gingerdoodle is a chocolate-free zone so we’ll have to look elsewhere for our choco-fix. That’s what the holiday color foils on Hershey’s Kisses are for…this week.

The basic Snickerdoodle is only mildly spiced with a wisp of cinnamon. The overall effect is like cinnamon toast—this, of course, is not a bad thing at all. But here’s my question: this time of year, why do you bake cookies? Usually you give them to friends or coworkers, or share them in cookie swaps. Don’t you want yours to stand out a bit? Tut, tut, baking holiday cookies is not the time to follow the pack. So let’s bake a cookie that will stand above the crowd, shall we?

First let’s take a look at the spice in the Snickerdoodle. A mere two teaspoons of cinnamon is added to spice up a very large batch of cookie dough. It’s not even added to the dough, it is sprinkled on the outside before baking. I’ve added an additional two teaspoons to the dough, plus the heat of two teaspoons (or more if you like) of ground ginger, the fragrance of ground cloves, and the kick of a generous half cup of chopped crystallized ginger. The latter also adds little dots of sugary chew to the finished cookie.

As I mentioned, these are a soft, cakey cookie, but I like a little crunch, so the cookies are made with and sprinkled with demerara sugar, the large grain, honey-brown sugar. (Layers: it’s like a nice cashmere sweater over a really good white shirt.)

As they bake they will fill your home with spiced holiday scents that would turn a Williams-Sonoma holiday candle green with envy.

Luckily, green is a holiday color…

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Here’s the recipe for the Gingerdoodle.

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Here’s the link to the Butter Flour Eggs Holiday Cookie Baking Primer 101. It also includes a recipe for Chocolate Pepper Cookies and some technique and equipment suggestions. Don’t start your holiday baking without it!

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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 merry little Tweet

It’s nice to be the King…

Bowl & Spoon Gingerbread

Bowl & Spoon Gingerbread

I hear this all the time: “Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because it is not all about the gifts.”

I agree, except for the gift part. Wait! Don’t judge me. In the case of Thanksgiving, the meal is the gift we all give each other. If it is better to give than to receive, then on Thanksgiving we happily have both sides of that equation amply covered. If food is love, then the last Thursday in November finds us all swaddled in a pumkiny, sagey, sugary hug.

Still, the other side of the coin is that for the folks preparing and serving the meal the day can be an absolute test of endurance, skill, organization, and patience. For some of those folks the best thing about Thanksgiving is…the day after. “Fiddle-dee-dee.” (For the incredibly young, the latter is Scarlett O’Hara’s punctuation to the exhortation that tomorrow is another day. Google “Gone With The Wind.”)

My Thanksgiving is actually all about the Macy’s Parade. Even though I am a New Yorker and can easily walk just a few blocks to watch in person, I subscribe to a parade watching technique that I like to call “Warm/Hot”. Here’s how it works: I sit in my warm living room with a cup of hot coffee. There is also usually a restrained combination of toast/pancakes/waffles/eggs in the mix—diet be damned, but still not an oink-fest; there’s a big dinner coming up in just a few hours.

Thanksgiving must be pretty darned great for it to be my favorite holiday because it has one glaring omission: chocolate. Turkey is great and all, but I nominate chocolate as the national bird…uh, I mean, Thanksgiving meal. I look at it this way: your family sits down to a Turkey dinner and after every single American has finished the communal thought, “Mmmm. It’s good. For turkey…” the squabbling and bickering begins, the kids start running in circles, and your Dad falls asleep.

Now picture the same scene, except everyone is served a plate full of chocolate. Yes, the kids will be running in even faster circles, but after you’ve eaten a plate of chocolate, who cares? And the caffeine in the chocolate will keep your Dad awake. Squabbling? Bickering? After chocolate? No way. (And clean up would be a breeze.)

However, until I am King of the World and can unilaterally enact this change, I will respect the current traditions. But that doesn’t mean that I will have Thanksgiving sans chocolate. And because I am subversive I shall sneak it in.

Case in point: dessert. Yes, I realize that Milton Hershey did not arrive at Plymouth Rock before the Pilgrims, and therefore was not waiting to greet them with a bag of Hershey’s Kisses, and therefore Thanksgiving has forever been the provenance of pumpkins and cinnamon. All of this has been carried down through the years in the service of “seasonal flavors”. Is there a season when chocolate is inappropriate? Not when I am King of the World and living in the Cocoa Castle.

I’m not reinventing the wheel here. Folks have been peddling Chocolate Pecan Pie for eons. My recipe for Alfred Lunt’s Famous Pumpkin Pie has been heroically adding chocolate to Thanksgiving tables for hundreds of days. Why stop there? If I am to be King of the World I expect to have to earn the title through (easily attainable, moderately) good deeds. Let’s use a recent request for Gingerbread (the cake, not the cookie) as an example.

A friend asked if I would bake Gingerbread for her to take to her family’s Thanksgiving dinner. She explained that her Mother has a fondness for gingerbread, but because my friend lacked a full kitchen (ahhh, New York apartments…) she didn’t think this was attainable. Oh and one more itsy bitsy little thing; her Mother hates molasses. The latter makes no sense to me because molasses is intrinsic to Gingerbread. But my friend insisted that her Mother always made hers without the stuff.

That’s when everything fell into place for me. My friend has just a tiny kitchen. Her “stove” is a couple of burners and a countertop oven. But that countertop oven is really good. It’s a Breville convection oven and is probably better than the stove in my kitchen, just smaller. My friend has no excuses; she can bake the cake herself. She doesn’t have a Kitchen Aid mixer, so I’ll be giving her a Bowl & Spoon recipe. It’s quick, which makes it perfect for last minute holiday baking.

Gingerbread really is just a spice cake with molasses which adds the well-known darkness and smoke to the sugar. Without molasses you really just have spice cake, but let’s dispense with names for now, shall we?

Molasses is frustrating to me because you may use a tablespoon or two during the holiday baking season, and then you’re stuck with an almost-full bottle staring at you from its shelf for the rest of the year. If you ask me we’re well rid of it. The question is, what can we use to replace the robustness of its flavor? Chocolate. (You saw that coming.)

There are a couple of ways you can use the chocolate. The first is for a subtle addition of dark notes—a kinder, gentler molasses. The other way is to let the chocolate do what it does best: be chocolate. It really depends on your audience. Are they traditionalists? Or are they in line with me, the King of The World? (In line waiting for our chocolate, that is.)

If it’s subtlety you’re after, then grate a half cup of dark chocolate with a microplane and swirl this powdery black snow through the batter just before baking. It will disappear into the batter, leaving behind only the dark, “caramelly” flavor.

If you want your chocolate to scream its presence, then add a half cup of chocolate chips, and swirl them through the batter. You’ll get little pops of chocolate with each bite, and you’ll find the synergy between the ginger and the chocolate to be a happy surprise.

(Yes, I know the microplane is a piece of equipment someone with a limited kitchen may not have, but they are cheap and can be used for everything from chocolate to shaved ice. You’ll get more mileage from a microplane than from a bottle of molasses.)

You can see from the photo that I finished my cake with a bit of powdered sugar, and a few grains of autumn-colored sanding sugar. But plain ‘ole whipped cream will be a hit, especially if you used the chocolate chips. If you happen to use whipped cream from the can, just don’t tell me. And for heaven’s sake don’t start a whipped cream fight or tell anyone you got the idea to do so from me. Unless you bring a can for everyone.

Happy Thanksgiving. Eat well, and be thankful for your bounty.

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Here’s the recipe for Bowl & Spoon Gingerbread.

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Keep these other Thanksgiving recipes in mind:

Maple Walnut Sticky Buns

Cranberry Sauce

Parker House Rolls

Anadama Bread

Baked Indian Pudding

Alfred Lunt’s Famous Pumpkin Pie

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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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Thankful for your tweets too.

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…

Fall Back: Springy Ahead

Citrus Chiffon Cake

Citrus Chiffon Cake

The couple of weeks that follow Labor Day are like a limbo. It still feels like summer, but you can sense Fall running up behind you to tap you on the shoulder. If you’re like me you slow your walking down a bit so Fall can catch up. That also means the Jewish High Holidays will soon be tapping the other shoulder, and like High Tea, it’s really all about the food. (Pardon my sacrilege.)

No matter how devout you are, chances are that at some point during the season you’ll end up with someone placing a napkin containing either a slice of Honey Cake or Sponge Cake in your hand. Honey Cake evokes both the apples and honey tradition of welcoming a sweet new year, and the European Pain d’Epice influence earned from thousands of years of the Diaspora.

On the other hand, Sponge Cake is the Jewish Wonder bread.

Ah well, I come here not to bury Sponge Cake but to make peace with it, kind of like striking up a conversation about politics with a cranky old uncle. (Good luck.)

Perhaps I am painting with too broad a brush. Perhaps it is not Sponge Cake that is the enemy, but poorly made Sponge Cake, baked way too far in advance, and wrapped tightly in plastic. (Mmmm. Sounds yummy, right?)

The Sponge Cake to which I am referring, a staple of High Holiday supermarket fare, is actually Chiffon Cake. Chiffon Cake was created by an American named Henry Baker. (Baker! I love it when peoples’ names work out like that: Tommy Tune is a musical theater performer and director. We had a relative (by marriage) named Ike Oven who was also a baker. A friend swears he knows a Dr. Doctor. By those rules my last name should be Thinksheisawriter.)

Chiffon Cake differs from Angel Food Cake or Jelly Roll sponge (biscuit) because of the addition of oil. While the oil does provide moistness, it also makes for a damp cake, and lacks the rich flavor of butter—a potential pitfall in a cake that lacks other flavorful ingredients.

Don’t blame baker Henry Baker; he didn’t intend for Chiffon Cake to be served plain. He piled it with fruit, custard, whipped cream—anything to dress it up. His Chiffon Cake was the canvas, the other stuff was the paint.

So there you go: we’re serving the canvas. No criticism from me though, because I understand why: convenience. Chiffon Cake is a “little something” traditionally served after observing a long worship in temple when the blood sugar of millions of Jews has crashed lower than yesterday’s Dow. When I was a kid you got cake and grape juice. Chiffon Cake was cheap, easily obtained, and ready for a crowd with just a few swipes of a knife. Also, kids wouldn’t get it all over their clothes.

There used to be something so essentially Jewish about cake. The comedian Jackie Mason has made it the subject of a whole routine: “It is easy to tell the difference between Jews and Gentiles. After the show, all the gentiles are saying ‘Have a drink? Want a drink? Let’s have a drink!’ While all the Jews are saying ‘Have you eaten yet? Want a piece of cake? Let’s have some cake!'”

When the comedian Rosie O’Donnell was trying to thank Barbra Streisand for being on her show she brought her cake. (Streisand was an aficionado of the late, lamented Ebbinger’s bakery chain. O’Donnell had one of the Ebbinger’s recipes recreated for the occasion.)

Mason’s riff on cake always made me think of a Sour Cream Coffee Cake my mother used to make. Even now it brings to mind cinnamon, brown sugar, and walnuts. Chiffon Cake? No.

None of this solves the issue of bad Chiffon Cake, but I would do well to mind the old adage, “One man’s feast is another man’s famine.” Translation: just because I don’t like Chiffon Cake doesn’t mean the world shares my opinion.

As a test I decided to make my own Chiffon Cake therefore putting to rest the debate about whether or not fresh, homemade Chiffon Cake makes a difference. For this little contest I held myself to one rule: it had to be baked in a loaf pan to match the format of the supermarket brands.

The supermarket brands have an indeterminate sweet, cakey flavor. I thought it might make my cake more interesting if it made a specific choice, as if it could say, “Hello, I am a Citrus Chiffon Cake.” My old trick ingredient, frozen concentrated orange juice, was nominated, as was fresh lemon zest and juice, plus a bit more vanilla extract than usually called for. No need for subtlety here as the hefty amount of eggs in the recipe tends to blunt the sharp edges of any added flavors.

The result is springy in texture, bright in flavor, but still unquestionably the High Holiday Sponge Cake I’ve come to know and be bored by. Still better than the fossilized supermarket loaf, but screaming for some ice cream and strawberry sauce.

I don’t need a holiday for that.

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Click here for my Citrus Chiffon Loaf.

Also good for the High Holidays: Pumpkin Apple Praline Cake and Challah.

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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 tweet (complete)

If Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche Call It Breakfast Pizza

Breakfast Pizza

Breakfast Pizza. Ties are optional.

Thank goodness for modern technology: It has created a whole new gift category. Back in my Father’s time, dads got golf equipment, fishing tackle, cologne, and the dreaded new tie. My Mom used to try to buy my Pop sweaters, but I’m not sure any of them ended up escaping Filenes’ returns department.

Dads still want golf and fishing stuff, but they no longer have to worry about questionable sweater choices. Modern technology means you can give Dad a little electronic device that he can take to the beach and get caught up on his reading or even watch baseball. Try that with a sweater. Amazon now sells more e-books than paper and cardboard books. Every Tom, Dick, and Harriet on the subway is reading the latest best seller on a Kindle. Yeah, but what’s in their sweater drawer?

Father’s Day also doesn’t seem to have the same sense of ceremony as Mother’s Day. On Mother’s Day you slap an orchid on Mom’s shoulder and take her out for a frilly salad. Father’s Day honorees would rather go fishing—or like my brother, golfing—and come home to a nap and a good steak. I’m painting with a very broad brush, yes, but that’s okay. Let’s make dad a good breakfast and send him on his way to spend the day the way he wants.

Not that this means that Mom has to bear the burden of cooking a complicated breakfast. Quiche might be a good choice. Mom can make it the day before and then gently reheat it the next morning.

I can’t bake or eat Quiche without thinking of that ‘80’s spoof on masculinity, “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche.” I wonder what fifty million Frenchmen thought when that book was published? I am also a huge fan of Hitchcock movies, so any mention of Quiche also causes my mind to stray to the scene in “To Catch A Thief” (the most glamorous movie ever made) where Cary Grant’s character offers a guest Quiche Lorraine, and explains that while his housekeeper’s hands have an especially tender touch with pastry dough, she also used them to silently strangle a Nazi general when she was in La Résistance (this is, after all, Hitchcock.)

Alas, in 2011, I‘d be willing to bet that the only real men out there who would take exception to eating Quiche are members of the Lipitor club. Maybe we can find something in the cupboard that even the Lipitor club can enjoy. For Father’s Day, why not borrow the concept of quiche, and literally change course—as in, breakfast is served, Pops!

Granted Quiche has an aura of expertise and advanced skill, but peel away the aura and what have you got? Egg pie. C’mon: you can handle that! Even better: for my version, no special equipment is required; all you need is a big bowl, a fork, a couple of knives (dull is fine), and a couple of hands (yours or someone else’s). I am not talking about some “back-of-the-Bisquik-box-recipe-cheesy-egg-bake.” No sir. This is Breakfast Pizza. Dad will like this, and the good news is that the kids help make it.

Breakfast Biscuit sandwiches are big business nowadays—with good reason: people like them. Truth be told this version of breakfast pizza owes a great deal to the biscuit sandwich. While quiche has a delicate pâte brisée crust, and pizza uses yeast dough, Breakfast Pizza uses a simple baking powder biscuit dough. Instead of rolling and cutting the dough, after an easy hand mix, you dump it into the cooking vessel—a skillet—and press it into the bottom with your hands. Tricky folks can feel free to use the bottom of a measuring cup.

Toppings—besides the egg—are free choice. I stuck with items that are typically pizza in theme: peppers, tomatoes, cheese, and mushrooms. I even placed a few dabs of tomato sauce on top. Let what is fresh in your local market be your guide.

If Dad is a breakfast fiend, then make him happy by topping the pizza with some good organic turkey sausage, some diced potatoes, and mix a bit of thawed, frozen spinach in with the eggs (breakfast pizza is a great way of getting vegetables into the family tummy.)

The one I made in the photo above used four eggs—and serves four or five people. Even the most egg-shy folks can indulge. I made mine in a skillet, but that was only for looks. Feel free to use a pie plate, or any other pan you think will make an attractive presentation.

Happy Day, Dad!

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Click here for my recipe for “Breakfast Pizza

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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. You must…

Aluminum. Mine.

Passsover Honey Cake Slices

Passover Honey Cake

Growing up in a Jewish home I was always made acutely aware of how important good food was—is—at any occasion. Even the post-funeral gatherings we call “sitting shiva” are excuses to pull out the good napkins. That’s why I am always mystified by my people’s willingness to put up with bad food on Passover. The excuse is always that you cannot cook with “chametz”, the umbrella word describing ingredients that are not allowed on Passover. This usually refers to anything bread or flour related, and any kind of leavening, but the actual rule bans things made from wheat, barley, oats, rye, or spelt. The only wheat product allowed is matzo and what I lovingly refer to as its derivatives: matzo that has been ground, crumbled, or otherwise processed so that it can be used in other recipes.

There is such a thing as Passover Baking Soda, which confuses me because I thought the purpose of the Passover holiday was to commemorate bread not being allowed to rise. Passover Baking Soda’s loophole? No cornstarch.

From a baker’s point of view it’s kind of like being told that you must substitute breadcrumbs for flour.

Generations of commercial kosher bakers have been putting their kids through Harvard and Yale just by selling Passover desserts to even the most unobservant Jews (hello) who have always been willing to pay for Passover-compliant cakes and cookies. Here’s the problem: a lot of it just isn’t very good, especially the supermarket brands. A lot of it is also…shall we say, “premium-priced.”

Apologies to the folks who produce the supermarket Passover stuff (and to their well-educated progeny), but a cake that has been sitting in a box for an unknown amount of time has a few strikes against it.

Is it heresy for me to complain? All I want is a good piece of cake, for goodness sake.

Luckily, I’m handy in the kitchen and have figured out a few tricks that result in desserts that aren’t just good for Passover, they’re good anytime of the year. Last year I made a Northern Italian-style Torta di Mandorla per la Pasqua, a chocolate, almond, egg white torte. I actually served it before Passover to a group of non-Jewish friends who loved it, and remains one of my favorite recipes. (It is very light so perfect for summer.)

This year I decided to re-visit the Grandmother of all Jewish Holiday desserts: Honey Cake. When I was a kid with (I’m guessing) a much less discerning palate, my presence at any event could be secured with the promise of honey cake. The typical honey cake comes in a loaf, usually encased in (don’t get me started) a disposable aluminum pan. To my adult palette though, honey cake always tastes a bit syrupy, and manages to be both too dry and too sodden. Not sure how that’s possible.

Blame science. In baking, the type of flour, its grind, the kind of wheat used, and how the milled flour has been treated are some of the things that rule how a cake gelatinizes (mixes with liquid then bakes into a solid). Passover Cake meal is basically powdered Matzo and has its own rule book, but it is easy to predict that this ingredient will lend density to a cake. The usual trick has always been to lighten the cake meal in a way that imitates traditional cake flour. This is usually accomplished by adding potato starch. The results vary according to the other ingredients in the cake. In the case of honey you end up with a wet, damp cake because honey is hygroscopic: it actually pulls moisture in even when baked.

Okay, I promise: no more science. But the takeaway here is: use too much honey and you’ll have a damp, heavy cake. Too little, your cake is dry. Just the right amount and you’ll have a cake that works at staying fresh. The question is: what can you add that will give the cake a true “crumb”, texture that makes a cake feel like a cake when you take a bite?

For the answer you can thank the current popularity of macarons, the colorful French-style almond macaroons. I have been trying to learn to make them (they’re tricky) and have a bag of almond flour sitting in my refrigerator. Almond flour is just the man for the job: it will mix well with the Passover Cake Meal to make a nice crumb and is Passover-friendly on its own.

Using almond flour in cake is certainly nothing new. Europeans have been baking with it for generations. So taking a cue from a French Galette, the simple round torte, I called my Springform pan into service.

The beauty of my concept was that with the honey and almond flour I already had two very flavorful ingredients. A couple of more layers of flavor would be ideal, so I used a delicate sprinkle of orange zest, and a not so delicate dash of frozen concentrated orange juice whose character would slightly overlap the honey while adding a sunny note of its own. A little cocoa powder and vanilla extract would bring some perfumed but earthy notes to the cake.

The result has the slight chewy crumb of a galette and a delicate honeyed sweetness that some may find reminiscent of the desserts the Spanish Sephardic Jews favor.

No disposable aluminum loaf pans required…or allowed.

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Click here for the recipe for Passover Honey Cake.

Click here for the recipe for Torta di Mandorla per la Pasqua.

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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!

Old Lang’s Sign

Potato Pizzettas

Wash down with a bit of bubbly...

Living in a big city like New York is like an immersion course in eavesdropping. You can’t help it: step outside your apartment and you’re in a world of other people’s business. Elevators are the bull’s eye in this conversational target. The image of New Yorkers packed into an elevator staring silently at the changing floor numbers is only partly true; there are enough folks willing to air their dirty laundry in this venue to give reality TV a run for its money. (My brother used to “goose” the crowded elevator reality game by turning to his wife and scolding, “Put that gun away!”)

This was true even BCP (before cell phone); the spice that cell phones have added is that you often have to imagine half of the conversation. (I say “often” because there are enough folks who carry the weight of the whole conversation solo to more than compensate for the absence of person at the other end. Some time ago I was standing in the lobby of a theater during intermission and was treated to a gentleman’s loud and vivid description of his root canal earlier that day. I gave him a look that said, “Really?” so he turned away but kept up his loud play-by-play because, obviously, if he couldn’t see me then I couldn’t hear him. Cell phone logic?)

It should come as no surprise that the eavesdropped conversation of late centers on New Year’s Eve. Everyone is answering the musical question, “What are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” More often than not the answer is, “Staying home.” (Granted, the frequency of that specific answer rises in direct relation to the age of the respondent.)

No comments about my age, please; I am enthusiastically joining the hordes staying home this year. Friends can stop by if they like, and, not to worry, I can feed them. Staying home on New Year’s Eve means one thing to me: food. But be warned: on New Year’s Eve I feel no obligation to have an entrée and willingly make a meal out of appetizers. This year “Nibbles R Us.”

Naturally any New Year’s Eve nibble must be bubbly compatible. The bubbly of choice this year is Prosecco, the delicately sweet Italian sparkling wine, or Ginger Ale. (Being a lightweight, I’m good for one slug of Prosecco before changing to Ginger Ale. Friends who stop by during their night of revelry will finish the Prosecco for me.)

Making bubbly-compatible nibbles is easy: anything goes with Prosecco (and Ginger Ale.) Cheese and good crackers; Zabar’s Lobster Pâté on skinny toast points; Spiced Pecans are an easy treat: I lightly sauté pecans with a dot of butter, a touch of brown sugar, a little salt, and some crushed, fresh rosemary—not unlike the legendary bar pecans served at Manhattan’s Union Square Café (theirs includes cayenne pepper, good with Ginger Ale, not so great (my opinion) with Prosecco. So I leave it out.)

But I think the star of the show will be little Potato-Rosemary Pizzettas. Making these is as simple as making (or buying) pizza dough, rolling it into small pieces then topping each with a couple of very thinly sliced potato slices, rosemary, pine nuts, and sea salt before baking in a very hot oven. (The hot oven will roast the potato slices, so make sure the slices are thin.) A few of these will make a great dinner. (I like to use an assortment of different color potatoes, but feel free to use your favorite kind.)

These can be re-warmed easily throughout the evening, and I think they are great as is. However, I reserve the right to “gild the lily” at the last minute. If I do, then the slightest dab of crème fraiche and a grain or two (or three) of decent caviar will swaddle baby 2011 in a luxurious blanket.

Don’t think for a second that the whole nibble concept can’t be extended to include dessert. I’ll be making tiny chocolate chip cookies, (a surprisingly adept Prosecco partner), fresh raspberries (created by Mother Nature specifically to be dropped into sparkling wine), and shot glass-sized hot fudge sundaes. The latter will be doing double duty: dessert first, then something sweet to ring in the New Year (I have a superstition whereby the first thing I eat in the New Year should be sweet.) (My short cut for these short sweets? Buy a little good fudge and melt it over a double boiler. The sundaes may be small, but they should be deadly, yes?)

Here’s my New Year’s toast to you: Thank you for reading my blog. Thank you for your support. May the New Year find you happy, healthy, and well fed. For hints on the latter, visit here often. Don’t be a stranger.

Happy New Year!

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Click here for the recipe for my Pizza Dough recipe.(Makes approximately 64 Pizzettas.)

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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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White (Bread) Christmas

Pull Apart Bread

Pull Apart Bread: Christmas potluck chic

The little kid in me resents it when Christmas falls on a weekend. There’s no logic to my resentment, after all, like most folks I will take just as much time off as I would have if the holiday fell on a Wednesday.  Most of my big holiday obligations have already been met: the tree is up, my cards are in the mail, and the majority of my holiday party baking is done. That can only mean one thing: it’s Holiday Movie Time. Bing Crosby is rehearsing, Rosie Clooney is getting into her costume, and Jimmy Stewart is getting ready to lasso the moon.

The splashy grand finale of this year’s holiday party baking was a friend’s annual holiday party. I don’t want to say he’s been giving this party for a long time but I think the guests at his first holiday party arrived bearing frankincense and myrrh. (Rim shot, please.)

ANYWAY, the party has always served as a laboratory for me to try out the big show off-y baking that you can only get away with around the holidays.  Over the years there have been Yule logs, cookie Christmas trees, and cookie tributes.

Cookie tributes you ask? Not to worry: there were no cookies in the shape of Elvis. But a few years back all of my holiday cookies were citrus flavored in tribute to the big cartons of Florida citrus fruit we would find sitting on our snowy doorstep each Christmas courtesy of my dad’s best childhood buddy. (Frosted orange-spice cookies were my favorite that year.) Ah, restraint…

This year I somehow had it in my mind to celebrate a slightly more humble aesthetic. I didn’t have a specific game plan in mind when the season started, but following the path of holiday basics from salted caramel-dipped chocolate drop cookies to Snickerdoodles to chocolate gingerbread revealed my destination the same way as when you pick your way through the trees and suddenly find yourself on the beach.

Two things come to mind here: the first is my fear that I may have been turning my nose up at this humble aesthetic—indulging in the sort of food snobbery that I outwardly confess to abhor. The second is that while I consider my experiences cooking and eating to be as much about educating myself as they are about eating well, I sometimes need to be reminded that I can learn as much from a really great brownie as I can from a really great Éclair. It’s up to me to keep my eyes open, yes?

I wanted to bake something for the party that had a relaxed, family / sharing / party feeling; flipping through a few copies of Life Magazine from December 1960 helped me to focus on the kind of friendly, frilly, holiday food I thought would still work at Christmas Dinner fifty years hence: a sort of Potluck Chic.

Please don’t confuse this with the smirking wink at “White Trash” cooking that came and went a few years back. This isn’t Bologna Macaroni and Cheese; It is Nancy Reagan serving Monkey Bread at The White House.

With all that in mind I settled on a simple Cheddar Pull-Apart Bread that had intrigued me some time ago while flipping through a cheap cookbook. A more savory, perhaps more sober relative of Monkey Bread, it also owes some of its DNA to the flaky, buttery Parker House roll. And the way my mind works, when I bake bread I especially prize yeasty concoctions that are as good—or better—toasted the next morning. A slice of this bread with a fried egg on top is my holiday breakfast of choice this year. (Thankfully there are two holidays so I can still have my yummy Yeast Waffles.)

The concept is easy: divide unbaked bread dough into ten even pieces, spread with the savory filling of choice, stack the pieces, then squeeze into a loaf pan and bake. Served warm, friends and loved ones can then “pull apart” the loaf. The recipe attached is very basic, but I’m anxious to try it with Challah dough. Add a bit of cinnamon and sugar and you’ve got an enviable sweet breakfast loaf.

Folks who fear working with yeast dough should feel free to try this concept with store-bought pizza dough. It crusty chewiness will pair beautifully with olive oil and a bit of chopped garlic as the filling. I may have to bring this to a big “five fishes” Christmas Eve dinner.

Have a wonderful holiday—the best of the season to you. Don’t forget to leave some cookies for Santa, and carrots for the reindeer.

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Click here for the recipe for Cheddar Herb Pull Apart Bread.

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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Are you still trying to finish Santa’s List? Check out Laura Loving’s incredible, affordable range of holiday gifts. Each piece of art features her iconic designs and will be cherished for years to come.

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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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Merry Christmas, Margaret Mead.

Chocolate Gingerbread Cake (and friends)

Chocolate Gingerbread Cake (and friends)

I was sitting at a Christmas party the other day speaking to a chum. Just by coincidence we happened to be seated next to the desserts. Why not? I brought them. My chum –a magazine editor by trade – effects an effortless casual style. I may effect a casual style but it isn’t effortless. I always feel like I’m huffing and puffing to get there. Mr. Magazine Editor routinely flies around the world dressing celebrities for photos that will run in his magazine which is read by millions. I stand in my kitchen baking and cooking for photos that will run in my blog which is read by…you. He takes great satisfaction in the end result of his work. Me too. But…

I mention that we were seated next to the desserts not as an example of my gluttony (which was well under control— that night) but as an example of the fact that sometimes I need to hear strangers’ reactions to my work. I bake for my friends and family often enough, and their reactions are always positive. For some reason (curiosity? neediness?) I feel like I need to listen to strangers for another version of the truth.

Another friend, renowned artist Laura Loving, held her annual Holiday Open Studio this past weekend and asked me to help out with a few desserts. My position next to the dessert table was the closest I can get to one-way mirror / hidden camera-style market research. A behaviorist’s study, if you will, of homo-sapien activity at the holiday dessert table.

Here’s what I learned.

-Kids will try cake. If they like it, they will then quickly grab two or three additional slices.

-Adults will eat a whole cookie if they like it. But the adult cookie rhythm can be somewhat elusive as the time from study to grab can be lightening fast. From what I could see, it goes something like this.

Step One: Bite cookie.

Step Two: Whilst mulling the taste, study the cookie’s appearance at close range.

Step Three: If cookie passes muster, eat remainder of cookie and take another—“for a friend. “

-Frosted items like cake are similar, and the following behavior seems to apply to both the child and adult of the species:

Step One: Bite Frosting.

Step Two: Mull taste.

Step Three: If frosting passes muster finish eating slice. If not, deposit remainder onto serviette. Then deposit filled serviette on rear corner of dessert table. (Thus somewhat fulfilling the belief that the cake part of cupcakes is merely a vessel to carry the frosting.)

(Are you keeping up? Let me know if you need this put into a Visio Workflow illustration.)

Every once in a while I was treated to a bonus when people would approach the desserts in pairs. Usually one of the pair was the designated taster. The other would watch intently for visual cues as to whether the item in question was acceptable. If it was, then the item was either shared (women) or an additional piece was procured (men and married couples.) Verbal cues were few and far between in this sampling; only the occasional, “Well?” and nodding “Mmmm, okay…” could be sampled.

I was gratified by the overall positive response. Refreshingly, Mr. Magazine Editor broke the stereotype I’ve held of people in the fashion business by eating several Fleur de Sel Chocolate Caramel Cookies.

This holiday season I decided to bake along the path of least resistance – in other words, stick to small, easily baked items that pack intense flavors, so my game plan for Laura’s Holiday Open Studio was simple. You’ve seen the aforementioned Fleur de Sel Caramel cookies here before; this time they were the most labor-intense part of the program because I wanted to bring the rolled, cookie cutter sandwich version.

Alongside those was a cookie experiment. Last week’s blog featured the classic Snickerdoodle. I prefer a bit more kick at Christmas, so using the same recipe, I added a large amount of ground cinnamon and ginger, along with chopped, crystallized ginger, and a touch of red sanding sugar on the outside. The resulting cookie, newly dubbed the “Ginger Doodle” promises to become a holiday favorite.

But the third item was my favorite. All season long I have been reading recipes or watching TV cooks bake rather aggressively flavored Gingerbread Cake, no doubt trying to hew closer to Pain D’Epices – the classic French spiced Honey Cake. I wanted something a bit simpler and kid friendly. My version of gingerbread is pumped with chocolate and the most aggressive it gets is a touch of vanilla and a jolt of coffee which are there primarily to pump up the chocolate even more.

My puzzlement was that I wanted to serve something creamy (like whipped cream) on the gingerbread, but knew that the cake needed to sit out for a few hours, making whipped cream impractical. Before too long it would break down and become liquid, plus leaving whipped cream out in a warm room is risky business for people’s stomachs.

A spiced Italian Meringue got the job done, and because it is cooked and therefore stable, stood high and proud on top of each piece of cake for the entire party (or at least as long as the cake lasted.)

All this baking, all this chocolate and ginger and cinnamon and sugar: My house smells good!

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Click here for the recipe for Chocolate Gingerbread Cake.

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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Are you still trying to finish Santa’s List? Check out Laura Loving’s incredible, affordable range of holiday gifts. Each piece of art features her iconic designs and will be cherished for years to come.

••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

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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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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