Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pepakakhr Cookies

My family has made these Scandinavian cookies for Christmas forever. They are quite an effort, but totally worth it. I like to make them in three stages - I mix the dough one day and then refrigerate it overnight, cut out and bake the cookies the next day, and then freeze them until I am ready to devote several hours to a decorating extravaganza.

2 sticks butter or margarine, softened to room temp.
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 TBSP molasses
1 egg
2 TBSP milk
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ginger
1 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp cardamom
3 cups flour


1. Cream together the butter and sugar in a large bowl. Stir in molasses, egg, and then milk.

2. Whisk together the baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and cardamom in a small bowl. Mix into the butter/sugar mixture.

3. Gradually stir in flour. It will take a while, and some energy! If you can't quite stir it all in, just save the rest to spread on the counter later when you are rolling out the cookies.

4. Chill dough in the refrigerator for at least two hours or overnight. If you chill it overnight, you may need to let it warm up just a little before rolling it out.


5. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line cookies sheets with parchment. Sprinkle counter and rolling pin with flour.

6. Roll out the dough and cut out cookies with cookie cutters. Use a spatula to transfer the cookies to the cookie sheets.

7. Bake medium sized/large cookies about 7 minutes or until firm. Very small cookies take more like 4-5 minutes. Rotate the sheets top to bottom and front to back mid-way through if you think of it.

8. Let cookies cool on the baking sheets for about a minute, then transfer to wire racks or newspaper to cool.

At this point, you can either freeze the cookies or decorate them once they are cool.

For decorating, I use a vanilla buttercream frosting like this one, usually reducing the butter down to about 1 TBSP because you don't really need so much for this. I also add a tiny bit of almond extract to taste - about 1/4 tsp, but it depends on whether you like almond.

Go to town with the frosting! You can do fancy white decorations with a pastry bag, or divide the frosting into small cups and add drops of food coloring. I happen to think pepakakhr taste great with red hots and raisins on the frosting, but I also use just about every other kind of sprinkles and nonpareils.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Coriander and Chocolate Chips

In Bulgaria I dreamed of tart pans. And electric mixers. Cream of Tartar. Maple extract. Meanwhile, I learned to cook. Sometimes I didn't know exactly what I was making, like when I mixed up those caramel rolls with a jar of clear sticky liquid that looked like corn syrup.

They turned out.

Who would have guessed that a place where I couldn't read the labels on most foods would turn out to be the perfect place to get comfortable in the kitchen? It still seems a bit miraculous that I sounded out the Cyrilic world "kor-ee-aahn-der" and realized coriander was the same as cilantro. A Bulgarian vocabulary sheet on spices, a google image of a cilantro leaf, and an online spice dictionary all helped me in my pursuit of making pico de gallo.

All of which is to say that lacking a tart pan didn't hold me back much. But it's fun having one. So far I've made one lemon tart and one chocolate-chip pecan tart (see below). Why so few? Well, it's not my only new kitchen toy. I've also been busy with my new angel food cake pan, cherry pitter, zester, rice cooker and blender.

Chocolate Chip Pecan Tart
Lightly adapted from Mom's Book of Baking

1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 TBSP unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat to 325 F.
2. Gently lay the rolled out dough into the tart pan. Press firmly into the corners so the dough doesn't stretch as it bakes. Run a rolling pin across the top of the pan to cut off the excess. Prick the bottom of the crust a few times with a fork. Place the tart pan in the freezer while you mix the filling. (Or don't if you don't have room in your freezer, like me!).
3. Combine the sugar and flour in a mixing bowl. Stir in the butter, eggs, and vanilla until smooth.
4. Stir in the pecans and chocolate chips.
5. Take the tart shell out of the freezer. Place it on a baking sheet and pour the filling into the crust.

Bake for 45-50 minutes until the filling is just set. Let cool completely on a wire rack before cutting and serving. Store at room temperature.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

S'Mores Brownies

So I was recently discussing the name "s'more" with one of my students. Why is it called a "s'more?" What do those letters have to do with chocolate melting over baked marshmallows and sandwiched between crumbling graham crusts?

"It's because you always want 's'more,'" said he.

"Well, maybe I might want 's'more' beef or 's'more' smoothie," I replied. "It should be called a 'ch-ma-gra' or something that actually relates to the ingredients."

He agreed. We came up with possible acronyms for a while, then moved on to the actual business of our class, which was to write travel pieces. Evoke sensory details. To make the reader feel as if she is in a place, having an experience she has never had.

For example...

"When I opened the squeaky broiler drawer, I saw a clean square of flames sitting in my brownie pan. As I had done with so many flaming s'more marshmallows before, I blew as hard as I could into the quickly charring marshmallows adorning my brownies. A few minutes layer, the trash can was a bit stickier and my second attempt at the broiled marshmallow layer was browning to perfection. This time I left it in for only 8 seconds. Soon a dorm full of boys demolished the s'mores brownies, never knowing of my pan-shaped fire. My first ever kitchen fire was over."

S'Mores Brownies
Adapted from Mom's Book of Cookies

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 cup plus 1 TBSP sugar
3 oz (3 squares) unsweetened chocolate
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups mini-marshmallows or large marshmallows cut into slices

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F / 176 C. Line an 8 X 8 inch pan with foil.
2. Melt 4 TBSP of the butter and stir into the graham crackers and 1 TBSP of sugar. Press the mixture evenly across the pan, packing it tightly with your fingertips. Bake for 6-8 minutes, or until fragrant and golden brown.
3. Put one inch of water in a saucepan and place a stainless steel bowl over the top, making sure the water doesn't touch the bowl if you can. Combine the rest of the butter and the chocolate in the bowl, whisking occasionally, until melted. Set aside to cool a little.
4. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small mixing bowl.
5. Whisk together the remaining sugar and eggs in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the chocolate/butter mix and the vanilla. Gently stir in the flour mix until just incorporated. Pour over the graham crust and bake until set in the center, 30-35 minutes.
6. Remove the pan from the oven and heat the broiler. Scatter the marshmallows over the top and broil, checking OFTEN until the marshmallows are brown. This could take 8 seconds (my oven) or 1-3 minutes (the oven of my cookbook's author).

Cool on a wire rack. Spray your knife with cooking spray before attempting to cut through the marshmallow layer when you cut your brownies into squares!

Yep, looks like my s'mores used to. Don't let this happen to you! But if it does, just peel off the top layer and try again, like me.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Basil Pesto

When I saw a giant bunch of basil at the farmer's market last weekend I knew it was time. I've been eying my food processor every since we got back from Bulgaria and I unpacked it from storage, but I hadn't used it yet. The time had come.

Basil Pesto (adapted from The Four Burners, who adapted it from Bon Apetit)
4 cups fresh basil leaves, washed
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 cup grated Romano
1 tsp ground sea salt

1. Combine basil, olive oil, garlic and pine nuts in your food processor. Process until smooth, stopping to scrape the edges with a knife three times.
2. Add cheeses and sea salt. Process again until smooth.

Combine with pasta and a few tablespoons of hot pasta water. OR freeze in an ice cube tray and then store in a plastic bag for later use, like I did!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

On Vacation: Poached Pear Chocolate Cake

You may have noticed posts have been pretty much nonexistent this summer. That's what moving from Bulgaria to California via New Jersey, New York, Ohio, North Carolina, and Minnesota will do to you. I'm having a great time but not doing much in the way of testing new recipes. However, just to tide you over until I start posting again later this month, check out an amazing Poached Pear Chocolate Cake recipe at Confessions of a Tart, which I just used to make a wedding cake for my brother and NEW sister-in-law! Yay!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Caramel Rolls

The cupboard is dwindling. But good things are still possible in the last week before we move. Good things like caramel rolls. My husband Brett claims these are one of the best things I've ever made, and I'm inclined to agree.

One of my favorite things about this recipe is that you can make it the day before a brunch and then let the rolls rise in the fridge overnight. Since I was just adding a salad and some eggs to round out the meal, I didn't have to worry about rushing around the kitchen in the morning. A lucky thing, since I had my last big training run for New York's Boilermaker 15 K in two weeks and it pretty much took all morning by the time I managed to roll out of bed.

Caramel Rolls
Barely Adapted from Simply Recipes

1/4 cup warm water
1 pkg yeast
1/3 cup + 1 tsp sugar
3/4 cup milk
4 TBSP butter, melted
3 large egg yolks
1 TBSP orange zest
1 1/4 tsp salt
4 + cups flour

1/2 cup white sugar
1 TBSP cinnamon
4 TBSP (or less) butter

3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
4 TBSP unsalted butter
3 TBSP honey
1 TBSP light corn syrup

1. First, make the dough. In a small bowl, sprinkle yeast over the warm water. Sprinkle on 1 tsp sugar. Stir. Cover and let sit for about five minutes, until foamy. Pour into a mixing bowl and add the sugar, butter, milk, eggs, salt, and 3/4 of the flour. Stir. Stir in remaining flour. Knead until smooth, adding more flour if the dough gets sticky. Lift the dough up and butter the bowl, spinning the dough once to coat. Let rise in a warm place for about an hour. I like to use the oven - turn the heat on for about 30 seconds and then turn it off, and you should have a secure warm environment.

2. After an hour, punch down the dough and turn out onto a floury counter. Let sit for 20 minutes. In the mean time, stir together the sugar and cinnamon for the filling and melt the filling butter (if you prefer, you can also just spread softened butter when the time comes). Combine the topping ingredients in a large saucepan and let sit on the stove, ready.

3. Roll the dough into a large rectangle, about 12 X 18 inches. Spread with butter. Sprinkle with cinnamon/sugar mixture. Roll up tightly into a long log. Pinch together at the ends and to create a seam across the middle, so the filling doesn't spill out. Cut into about 15 equal rolls of about 1 inch.

4. Melt the topping ingredients together over low heat until uniform. It should only take a couple of minutes. Grease a large pan (9 X 13 ideally) and pour the topping into the bottom. Place the rolls evenly in the pan, then cover the whole thing with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight (the rolls will spread and rise).

5. Take the rolls out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes before you want to bake them so they can return to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown on top, turning the pan halfway through for even baking.

6. When you take them out of the oven, immediately invert them onto a large tray or baking sheet, being careful not to spill any caramel on yourself. Don't wait on this step or they may be stuck to your pan for a long time!

Let cool for a little while and then SERVE WARM.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Last Minute Apple Crisp

When my friends were unexpectedly held up before a dinner party this week, I figured I would use my thirty minutes of waiting time to throw together a dessert. I didn't have much around, because we're moving next week. But with just a few ingredients and a few minutes, I made my friend Pat's amazing apple crisp. It was quick and easy, and, we all agreed later, delicious.

Apple Crisp (From Pat Miller)

4-6 large apples, peeled and sliced
1 tsp cinnamon
Lemon juice from 1/2 lemon (or a TBSP of water)
1/4 cup butter
3/8 cup brown sugar
1/8 cup white sugar
3/8 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter an 8 X 8 inch glass dish.
2. Scatter the apples into the pan. Sprinkle with lemon juice (or water) and cinnamon.
3. Cream together the butter and sugars. Then stir in flour and salt.
4. Sprinkle the topping over the apples.
5. Bake for 30 minutes or until the crisp begins to bubble.