points for trying

vegan gluten-free "cookies."

vegan gluten-free “cookies.”

True friendship can be defined as attempting to make vegan cookies for someone observing Greek Orthodox Lent (no meat, no dairy, no eggs, no oil)… and by said friend eating said cookies despite them having only a vague resemblance to dessert.

Adapted from here, although I swapped out the banana for some of the Five Spice Cranberry-Strawberry compote/jam I made last week:

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I found the recipe unfortunately vague with respect to actual quantities (dates: packed or loose? Weight would have helped) and final desired consistency and ended up winging it a fair bit, which is perhaps why they ended up with a macaroon-type texture and far less than the couple-dozen cookies suggested as the yield.

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In the end, they are probably a great mid-morning snack: protein, fiber, healthy sugars. But as an actual dessert… not quite what anyone might have in mind.

cinnamon snaps & benne wafers

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Purim was the other weekend, which means I spent a few evenings making hamantaschen in between my enthusiastic efforts to cough up a lung. A few days later, I was informed that the dinner I thought was scheduled for next weekend was in fact the day after tomorrow. More cookies were clearly required.

(But first I had to buy a $2 pineapple.)

I’ve made both of these before and they came out a little differently each time for reasons I can understand and learn from.

 

For the cinnamon snaps, the one thing I must most strongly exhort: use good cinnamon – or at least use fresh cinnamon. Don’t use the stuff that’s been sitting around since the Clinton administration. If it smells only faintly of spice, like an old scratch-and-sniff sticker, treat yourself to some fresh cinnamon and hold this recipe until then or else you risk your other spices overwhelming the tired cinnamon. You want something that’s got a little zip.

I got the recipe from here and didn’t change it appreciably, so I will just point you to the original.

They are icebox cookies, more or less, and while they are not complicated to make or require much in the way of hands-on time, they do take time overall, so not a great choice for a last-minute cookie-baking itch. On the other hand, they freeze fabulously and require next to no defrosting time, so they are a great choice for keeping in the freezer for last-minute cookie-eating itches.

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I still haven’t quite figured out how to make them round. Actually, no, I have – wait until they firm up a little and then roll them until the logs are cylindrical – but that would require remembering to do so.

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On the other hand, these have character.

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Benne Wafers are sesame cookies from the Carolinas. They, too, freeze fabulously – and taste pretty darned good straight out of the freezer, too. They’re pretty quick to make and require no resting, so they have that in their favor, too.

 

Benne Wafers
(adapted from the King Arthur Cookie Companion)

1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 oz) unsalted butter [you can use as little as 2 oz]
3/4 cup (6 oz) brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 cup (4.25 oz) all-purpose flour
1 cup (4.5 oz) toasted sesame seeds

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Cream together first five ingredients. Add flour and mix until well combined. Add sesame seeds and mix until well incorporated.

Drop the dough by the teaspoonful onto greased/papered/silpatted sheets, leaving a lot of space in between — at least two inches. These spread. A lot.

Bake 13-15 minutes, until deep golden brown. Start checking around 11 minutes for the first batch because they go from ‘pleasantly golden’ to ‘char’ pretty quickly when they’re that thin.

Let them sit for a moment on the sheet, then transfer to a rack to cool.

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Now here is where I have to confess that my pictures don’t quite reflect the recipe that is printed above. And it wasn’t until I typed out the recipe that I realized why.

The first time I made these (sadly undocumented by pictures), they came out flat like florentines. This time, as you will see, they are fully 3-D, although they were still tasty and perfect in every way.

The difference? I accidentally halved the butter. I read ‘4 tablespoons’ instead of ‘4 ounces’ and used only half a stick of butter instead of the full stick. So I accidentally made a light version of these cookies. But since they did come out so well with half of the butter, I might consider doing it on a regular basis.

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Even with half of the butter, they still spread:

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cakes of woe: a tragedy

After posting about a cake that divides easily and tastes fabulous, it’s time to delve into a cake recipe that… did not turn out quite as planned. Abject failure would be closer to the truth.

The local library had a copy of Small Batch Baking, which features cakes, pies, and cookies reduced down to one- to two-person portions. I wasn’t so interested in the cookies – if you’re going to turn the oven on for two cookies, might as well make the whole batch and freeze the rest. But for cakes and pies, things that are both not meant to last as single or double-consumption items (or are dangerous when left lying about as temptation), it’s a pretty nifty idea. Even my half-sized blueberry cake gets a little soggy by the end when there’s only me to eat it.

The clever factor of the little cakes is supposed to extend to the preparation. Some of it does seem quite clever – using an individual loaf pan as a mock jelly roll pan for a roulade, using giant muffin tins as small cake pans, etc. And some of the individual cakes are made in cans. Regular small-sized (15 oz) cans, each of which gets through two or three turns before being replaced, which is simple and easy, since everyone uses cans… except I don’t really. I use canned tomatoes and, when I lack foresight, canned chick peas. But other than that, there are no cans in my repertoire. Which means I had to wait a bit before being able to make one of these recipes; fortunately, I remembered not to recycle the chick pea cans after a spur-of-the-moment curry.

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The test cake was a white chocolate cake; you can see the white chocolate (actual white chocolate, not white “chocolate” – never cook with the fake stuff). The experiment came out to an auspicious beginning in that the batter came together easily and looked and tasted perfectly normal.

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Even if it didn’t come out to much.

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Around here is where I started wondering if I was going to have trouble getting the finished cakes out because of the lip on the cans. The BFF has a can opener that takes the entire top off so that there’s no lip, but the cake was getting frosted, so anything imperfections would have been covered up.

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… and now you see why I put the picture at the bottom instead of at the top.

Getting them out wasn’t too much trouble – it was sort of like getting tennis balls out of the old-style cans – but that turned out to be the least of the problems.

These little darlings, which despite appearances were fully cooked, were inedible. “Leaden” is probably the best adjective. I ended up throwing them away with extreme prejudice, lamenting even the small amount of ingredients wasted. I’d toyed with the idea of picking up 2” cake pans if these had looked like cakes I’d want to make regularly, since the pans are cheap enough and I’d never use that many cans, but that turned out to be a moot point.

I ended up returning the book to the library without either buying cake pans or, for that matter, buying the book (which I could have gotten for $3 on Amazon). I don’t want to make two cookies at a time and, well, after some less than successful cake attempts, I’m back to learning how to make do with 6” pans and the wonderful world of freezing what you can’t eat.

blueberry buckle

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One of my weaknesses in the summer is to empty my wallet on berries. The two places by work where I buy my fresh produce often have good sales on berries – 3-for-$5, the odd 4-for $5 for blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries depending on the season. It’s not unusual for me to splurge twice in one week, not when berries go so well with the morning cereal or on yogurt or on salads or… Let’s just say I eat a lot of berries in the warm-weather months.

Oddly enough, though, I never really get around to cooking with them. I have never made a blueberry or blackberry pie, have never made a raspberry torte, have never made jam or preserves out of berries or even a simple fruit sauce or coulis. They don’t last that long. I think the sum total of my fruit desserts can be a failed cake and a couple of clafoutis, all made in the dead of winter with berries I’d frozen.

This summer, however, I finally got around to cooking fruit I’d just bought. It was by accident, more or less, because I was flipping through my little cake book and stumbled upon a recipe that appealed. And so I grudgingly spared some of my fresh bounty from being inhaled au naturel and tried it out.

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I’ve made this cake three – four? – times already. I’d say it was a keeper except it would be a bad pun considering the recipe comes from Cake Keeper Cakes, which I purchased back when I’d bought myself the cake stand.

As for the book itself, it’s been hit and miss; I’ve made three cakes from the book, all chocolate-related, and haven’t been amazed by any of them. This one, however, is certainly in the ‘hit’ column.

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The cake has a couple of things going as far as I’m concerned, above and beyond fruit, which always improves a cake.

First, it divides well. I can split the recipe in half, making one six-inch cake instead of one nine-inch cake, without any ill effects and it comes out splendidly.

A bonus, since not everyone is a lapsed mathematician like I am, is that there are no strange measurements involving complicated fractional division not covered by your average kitchen measuring cups. The hardest division is turning 3/4 cup into 3/8th cup and you can do that by eyeballing with your 1/2-cup measure the way you would with your cup measure.

Ingredient-wise, the only complication is to halve the one egg, which is a non-problem for me because I keep egg substitute in the fridge and just measure out one ounce for half an egg.

Secondly, and non-trivially, the recipe’s not butter-heavy. Anything with a streusel on top is going to be adding a ton of butter and sugar, but this is actually pretty mild. The ‘full’ recipe only requires a stick of butter total for both cake and streusel, so half a recipe is just half a stick of butter, which is pretty fair.

Thirdly, it’s flexible. I don’t own a six-inch springform (although I’m considering it), but I can get away without one with some deft maneuvering. A springform pan definitely would help here, but it’s not like it’s a cheesecake or something else that just won’t work out in a standard one-piece pan.

Fourth, hey, it’s really good and it’s really simple and it has fruit and that’s pretty much what’s important.

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Blueberry Buckle
(adapted from Cake Keeper Cakes)

makes 1 9-inch cake (halve for 1 6-inch cake)

Preheat the oven to 375F.

for the streusel

1/3 cup flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tb (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix, either in a mixer or with a fork or fingers, until the consistency is of wet sand and the flour is absorbed. A few lumps are great, just make sure none of them are solid brown sugar.

Cover and refrigerate until needed.

for the cake

4tb (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 egg [1 oz egg substitute for half a recipe]
1 tspn vanilla

2 cups flour, divided
2 tspn baking powder
1/2 tspn salt
 
1/2 cup milk

3-4 cups blueberries, rinsed and dried carefully.

 

Put the blueberries in a bowl or large container with a lid and add 2 tb of the flour or enough to thoroughly coat the berries. This is to keep them from all sinking to the bottom when the cake bakes, so be thorough. Shake gently (if using a covered container) or fold gently if using a bowl, then set aside. Give it a shuckle or two while assembling the batter.

Combine the rest of the flour with the baking powder and salt and set aside.

In the mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Add the egg and vanilla and continue to beat until the batter is lemon-colored and smooth.

Starting with the dry ingredients, alternately add the flour mixture and the milk in segments: dry-milk-dry-milk-dry, letting each component thoroughly incorporate before adding the next.

Fold the blueberries (including any remaining flour) into the batter gently with a spatula. Try not to mash too many of the berries in the process.

Grease a 9-inch springform pan and dump the batter in gently.

Deposit the streusel on top, making sure that it’s relatively even and no streusel mountains exist.

Bake for 55-60 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. You may need to poke more than once not to hit a blueberry.

When it’s done, leave the cake to cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes on a baking rack, then remove from the pan and let cool on the rack directly.

Serves 8-10.

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too darned hot

blueberry smoothie

Heat waves in NYC are generally a few days long, once in a while stretching to maybe almost a week before there’s a thunderstorm and we’re back down to the muggy 80s instead of the sultry 90s.

banana smoothieAnd so the plan was to wait until the heat broke before updating the blog because the computer is in the hottest part of the house and sitting there editing the pictures and then writing up a blog post required turning on an air conditioner when it would have otherwise been postponable. In short, it would have been intolerable and ConEd would have loved me even more than it already does. Better to wait for the heat to break.

mint chip ice cream 

It’s now August and I’m still waiting for the heat to break. We’ve had maybe a week total of days below 90F, several days of it being over 100F, and we shall not speak again of the electric bill.

maple walnut ice cream

So clearly it’s time to buck up and be willing to sweat a little for the blog.

mexican hot chocolate snickerdoodles

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… or, cookies I’m not allowed to bring over to the BFF’s home without an alternate choice of dessert for her husband.

(The story: I brought chocolate-chai snickerdoodles to the BFF when I visited her in the hospital after she delivered her son. I don’t think she actually got to eat any, but her husband certainly did. And complained that I’d messed up perfectly good chocolate cookies with ‘weird ingredients.’ And so every times since then – that beautiful baby is three-and-change now – that I have brought chocolate anything over, I am asked by him if there is anything weird about it. Needless to say, I have never adulterated any chocolate baked good intended for their home since.)

 

These seemed like a nifty idea – chocolate, cinnamon, cayenne. It’s a fun combination that I’ve had before in other mediums and enjoyed. In execution they were… good. Very good. But they were not to-die-for awesome and I will confess that I let the last half-dozen or so get stale from lack of interest. (Not to fear; they made an excellent base for my chocolate pudding.)

Joe is right when he warns that you will feel the heat in the back of your throat rather than as a burn on the tongue. I think I would have preferred it on the tongue because, frankly, these gave me a bit of a sore throat, although I was also battling allergies at the time.

I will admit that I deviated from the recipe as written. First and foremost, the recipe is vegan and I just didn’t feel the need to bother with that, so I swapped out the oil for butter because everything tastes better with butter. I melted the butter to make sure I had equal volume, but next time, I think creaming butter that’s been merely softened will be fine and perhaps even preferable. Also, I’d consider knocking it back a few tablespoons, since I found the dough a little greasy. Not unworkably so and the final product had an excellent texture. But I don’t think it would hurt.

I also added chocolate extract and a pinch of espresso powder, since they are both excellent in bringing out the chocolate flavor in anything.

 

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The dry ingredients, The cocoa powder looks disproportionately much.

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The dough’s shiny and was greasy to the touch, but it came out fine. *shrugs*

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The key to rolling cookies in sugar is simple: use a plastic baggie. You can do several at once without making a mess or fouling another bowl. You just load them up, close up the bag, shake, and you’re done.

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Comme ca.

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Flattening the balls gets you the cracks for pretty cookies.

As an aside, I have no idea why the sugar keeps looking like cornmeal in all of these photos.

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Done. Don’t let my lack of hosannas be a turn-off. These were really good. And maybe as-written they would be super-awesome. But they were a fun change of pace, even if I can’t bring them as a house gift to the BFF.

Passover 2010, better late than never

After another unintentional vacation… Passover. Before it’s Shavuos.

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Everyone has horror stories of Passover desserts. The from-mix honey cakes that defy the laws of physics with their denseness, the macaroons that are really just glued-together super-sweet plastic shavings, the mandelbrot that’s left over scrap from the lumber yard. It’s a good thing everyone’s too full from the seder dinner to want a big dessert, especially as it’s too early in the year for much of a fruit selection.

The restrictions are something out of a food show challenge – no flour, no yeast, nothing with corn syrup or fermented grains… now make something tasty.

The best answer to that, near as I can figure, is to find recipes that just happen to be pesadik – flourless chocolate cakes and cookies, anything with a lot of nuts – and go from there. Bonus points for anything that doesn’t require the careful application of matzo meal, since no matter how well you disguise it, it’s still matzo meal. With the new fetish for gluten-free and other allergen-free recipes, it gets easier every year. (Also, there is an ever-increasing range of pesadik products that mimic what is temporarily verboten, but that’s sort of cheating.)

This year, I went for a chocolate something, a nut something, and a fruit something. All three came off well, I thought, with room for improvement if I choose to make them next year.

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I actually had two competing recipes for flourless chocolate brownies and I ended up going with the one with no matzo in it. This came one from Nigella through an intermediary, who suggests that these be kept in the fridge and served cold. It’s a recommendation I wholeheartedly endorse, in part because it keeps them firm and fudge-like; if I wanted to make a “squidgybellied” dessert, I’d just make my Turkish chocolate pudding.

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As you can see, there is really no bad here.

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Like regular brownies, it’s a one-pot affair, except that you also need something to grind the almonds if you don’t buy them already processed.

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These were… sinfully good. Basically, fudge with a kind of sandy element (in a good way) and a crust. Cut them very, very small because a little goes a long way. And keep them in the fridge, well-wrapped.

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My usual ‘nut thing’ is to make almendrados, which are spiffy, easy, tasty, and fast. But my cousin doesn’t like cookies rolled in sugar, so I went in a slightly different direction this year – hazelnut thumbprint cookies.  These do have matzo meal in them, but it’s really very well hidden.

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When Deb made these, she used chocolate discs and, if/when I make these again, I shall endeavor to try that or something else to up the chocolate ratio just a tad, since I thought it was a little off with just three chips per cookies. I was tempted to half-dip these in chocolate to correct that, but I came home from work the day of the first seder to find my father with his hand literally in the cookie jar and, well, he obviously thought they were fine. And I also had a fruit cobbler to start, so these were not dipped. But next time, a little more chocolate. Because then they really will be a tiny bite of solid nutella.

 

The third thing I made was the aforementioned cobbler – properly, an apple-and-sour-cherry kuchen from A Treasure of Jewish Holiday Baking – but I took no pictures because it was a mere couple of hours before the seder when I started peeling apples.

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Okay, I lied, I took one picture, then I realized that I was terribly short of time. There are no pictures of the final product because it was still too hot to touch the pan when I had to wrap it in dishtowels and put cardboard underneath to carry it to the car to go to the seder. Also, it was not pretty.

I’d delayed because it was a fruit-heavy dish and I didn’t want it to get soggy waiting around overnight, which was probably the right move… if I hadn’t had to go to work that day and could have started it a few hours earlier. As it was, I was running around a bit and doubting the recipe and instructions – five large apples, is she sure? Did it say large? It did? And she wants it in what sized pan? Why does it need a springform if it’s not getting unmolded? The springform leaks if you don’t hold it right! Wait, why does she say smooth paste and I’ve got potting clay? – and had no time to think through any changes I might have wanted to try. Or sufficiently re-calculate the cooking time for the pan size difference.

All that said, I think it came out pretty well. I liked what I got even if it wasn’t what I was supposed to get. (Maybe it was; there were no pictures in the book for it.) I’ve never actually made an apple pie, so this was a bit of a novel experience. I sliced the apples too thick, for one. Also, finding a can of sour cherries was harder than expected; I found a can hidden in the Passover section of the supermarket – apparently only observant Jews eat them.

 

Also, since I make it every year and seem to make more of it every year: charoses.

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Or, how this…

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… becomes this.

 

… and from here on out, hopefully a return to regularly scheduled service.