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Gingerbread (Novel Food #6)

Posted by bakinghistory on December 20, 2008

gingerbread-1

Mildly spiced gingerbread cookies

ROUNDUP part 1 Roundup part 2

novel-foodSimona of Briciole and Lisa of Champaign Taste are hosting a new edition of their wonderful seasonal blog event, Novel Food. It is one of my absolute favorites since it pairs literature and food. This time, it was really difficult to choose which literary work to feature between two that I particularly like.

Since this is the winter edition, I finally opted for a short story by O. Henry, one of my absolute favorite American writers.  The short story is “The Gift of the Magi” and illustrates the theme of gift-giving: at the end, the author shows what is, in his view, the wisest gift to give, independently of what money can—and cannot—buy.

I won’t reveal anything else, since the story is short and well worth reading.  I read it for the first time when I was nine years old, and its implications deeply struck me then—now, almost three decades later, I am still moved by it, even if in somewhat different ways.

The characters of the story are a young married couple, Della and James Dillingham Young, and you can see them portrayed above in gingerbread dough and white icing.

The time  is around Christmas, the setting a big American city, but the theme transcends any specific time and place and is ultimately about the essence of human love.

here is a short excerpt:

Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a grey cat walking a grey fence in a grey backyard. To-morrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn’t go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling — something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honour of being owned by Jim.

Even if there is one specific food mentioned in the story, chops, I took the liberty of choosing gingerbread instead. The following recipe produces a wonderful dough, very easy to work with, mildly spiced and sweet.

From the original recipe by Hannah Widdifield

In: Widdifield’s New Cook Book: Practical Receipts for the Housewife”, 1856—USA

Ingredients:

1-1/4 lbs AP flour

1/2  lb. dark brown sugar

1/4  lb butter

1/2 tbsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1 yolk

1/2 cup milk

1/2 tbsp baking soda

Icing:

1/2 lb confectioner’s sugar

lemon juice as needed

1 egg white as needed

Sift flour, spices, and sugar. In a mixer, on low speed, mix butter with flour mixture until it resembles wet sand. Add yolk and mix briefly. Dissolve baking soda in milk and add to mixer bowl. Switch to the dough hook and knead the mixture on low speed for 5-7 minutes, until the dough forms and is smooth and supple. Let the dough rest, covered, for at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 300F.  Take about 1/4 of the dough and knead it briefly by hand, then roll it rather thin and cut the cookies. Place the cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet (preferably insulated) and bake for about 15-18 minutes. Let the cookies cool on a rack—they will be soft and crumbly while hot but will turn crunchy as soon as the cool.

Make the icing by mixing powdered sugar with a few drops of lemon juice and a bit of egg white, just enough to have a stiff paste that can be piped, and decorate the cookies.


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Posted in American Cooking, Blog Events, Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti, Holidays, Spices | Tagged: , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Anise Biscotti (Pan d’Anice) Think Spice… Think Anise

Posted by bakinghistory on November 26, 2008

anise-biscotti-2Delicious and crunchy anise biscotti

anise5logo3As the host of Think Spice… –a monthly event founded by Sunita–for the month of November I chose Anise, and this was the best opportunity to finally feature these wonderful biscotti. Once toasted they turn incredibly crunchy and light, with an intense flavor of anise provided by both anise extract and aniseed. They are also very thin and great to have with tea.The recipe comes from an old Italian professional pastry making manual; it is very simple, without baking powder or any type of fats, just eggs, flour, sugar and anise. I scaled down the original formula which called for over 3 lbs. flour so that it could be easily baked in a home oven—however they are so good it is a pity not to be able to make the full amount.

From the original recipe by Giuseppe Ciocca
In: “Il Pasticcere e Confettiere Moderno”, 1907—Italy
Ingredients
1-1/4 cup, scant, (150 g) AP flour, unbleached
3/4 cup (150 g) granulated sugar
5.30 oz (150 g)  eggs weighed without the shell (about large eggs)
1 large yolk
1 tsp pure anise extract
1 tbsp aniseed
Preheat oven to 325F (170C), line a rectangular 6×10-inch baking pan  (or one of equivalent volume) with aluminum foil and slightly grease bottom and sides.
Place some hot water in a bowl and in it put another small bowl containing the eggs (keep the yolk aside for now). Start beating the eggs at high speed and add the sugar little by little. Beat at high speed until all the sugar has been incorporated and the mixture is very light and lukewarm to the touch. Keep beating until the mixture cools and then add the yolk, and finally the anise extract.
Finally add the flour little by little letting it fall into the egg mixture through a strainer. Once all the flour has been incorporated with a spatula mix in the aniseed.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes until golden and springing back when pressed with a fingertip.
Let the cake cool 5 minutes in the pan, and meanwhile lower the oven temperature to 200F. Slice the cake starting at one of the narrow ends, use a good serrated knife to make thin slices (scant 1/4-inch, 0.5 cm), place them on a cookie sheet and let them dry in the oven until crunchy. Make sure the oven temperature is not above 200F, or the cookies will burn at the edges before they are dried through. Let cool on a rack and store airtight.
P.S. The Roundup of this event will be posted soon

Posted in Blog Events, Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti, Italian Cuisine, Italy, Spices | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

Miss Diether’s Chocolate Brownies

Posted by bakinghistory on November 9, 2008

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Chewy brownie drops made with barley flour, spiced with cinnamon, and full of crunchy toasted almond bits

A very interesting version of brownies, shaped like drop cookies, and flavored with cinnamon, vanilla and a touch of almond extract. They also contain 50% of barley flour, which contributes great flavor and a velvety texture. Toasted almonds provide a wonderful crunch and are very well paired with chocolate. All in all, a variation on classic brownies really worth trying.

From the original recipe by Miss Diether (Boston Cooking School)

In: “American Cookery”, 1917—USA

Ingredients:

1/2 cup (113 g) butter

1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar

2 squares (56 g) unsweetened baking chocolate

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 cup (65 g) AP flour

1/2 cup (75 g)  whole-grain barley flour (stone-ground)

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1/4 tsp pure almond extract

1 cup (145 g) blanched almonds

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C), place the almonds on a cookie sheet and toast them until they are a reddish-brown color. Set aside to cool, then coarsely chop.

Melt the chocolate and set aside.

In a large bowl cream the butter and add the sugar little by little—the mixture does not need to be fluffy. Add the eggs and the melted chocolate, mixing well. Finally mix in the almond and vanilla extract.

Sift together the two flours and the ground cinnamon, then add to the chocolate mixture, stirring gently just until incorporated. Finally stir in the chopped almonds.

Place the mixture for 15 minutes to chill in the refrigerator, and meanwhile lightly grease 2 cookie sheets (preferably insulated).

Shape the brownie drops by rounded teaspoons and bake in a preheated oven (325°F—160°C)  for about 10 minutes.

Let the brownies cool on the baking sheet—they are too fragile to remove while warm.

P.S. I have recreated the original recipe as it was written, so I made the brownies as drop cookies. However, they can be baked in an 8×8-inch square pan (better lined with aluminum foil and then lightly greased) and then cut into bars.

Posted in American Cooking, Chocolate, Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti, Spices, Treenuts, whole grains | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Jumbles (Think Spice…Think Nutmeg)

Posted by bakinghistory on July 25, 2008

Ring-shaped cookies nicely spiced with nutmeg

Aparna from My Diverse Kitchen is the host of  Think Spice… , a monthly blog event initiated by Sunita of Sunita’s World. This time the theme is Nutmeg—a spice that brings a wonderful, warm aroma to savory and sweet dishes alike.

ROUNDUP IS HERE

Jumbles—also spelled Jumbals—are ring-shaped cookies that date back to Colonial times and were  much more popular in the 1800s than they are today.

These cookies were usually flavored with lemon zest and rose water, and often included coconut and/or treenuts. Virtually any early American cookbook contains several recipes for Jumbles, and often call for sour cream  among the ingredients, as in the case of the recipe featured here. This produces a wonderful texture, dry and crunchy and yet very very light. The pleasant aroma of nutmeg truly shines through thanks to the low amount of sugar and butter which would otherwise overpower it. They are nice with tea or a glass of milk.

The shape of these cookies evolved in time: the earliest versions were shaped by rolling small quantities of dough between the palms of hands and forming small rings—this is the method I used here. Later the dough was rolled and cut with a donut cutter, which quickly provided  ring-shaped cookies of a uniform size and thickness. The most recent versions were simply shaped as drop cookies.

My personal preference is for the earliest method for shaping the cookies. The final result are cookies that look plain and homey, and with slight imperfections and differences in size. I like the fact that one can tell they were hand-shaped.

The dough produced by this recipe is soft and smooth, and extremely easy to work with. The baked cookies have a wonderful texture and are great for dunking.

The original instructions called for “enough flour” to form the cookies. My rule-of-thumb—and preference—is to use an amount of flour that is equal to twice as much the amount of sugar. In this case almost 2 lbs of unbleached, all purpose flour.

The brand of flour I use is King Arthur, which is a little higher in protein than other all purpose brands. If you use another brand you might need a little more flour, but don’t be tempted to use too much, or the cookies will turn out heavy and hard like rocks.

Using a proportion of 1:2 for sugar and flour produces cookies that are crunchy, keep their shape and are not too sweet. If you prefer you can add a little more sugar, keeping in mind that it makes the shape less neat and the cookies brown faster.

From the original recipe by Mrs. M.D. Carrington  (a lady of Toledo)

In:“The Home Cook Book: Tried and True Recipes” , 1876—USA

Ingredients

2 cups sugar

1 cup butter, slightly softened

1 cup (all natural) sour cream (240 g)

3 eggs (medium)

1-1/2 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated (or less, to taste, but not more than 1-1/2 tsp)

1 tsp baking soda

2 lbs AP flour (King Arthur)

Preheat the oven to 325F.

Cream the butter at medium speed, gradually add the sugar and mix well. Add the sour cream and then the eggs, one at a time. Mix in the baking soda.

Sift the flour with the grated nutmeg, and add to the egg mixture, mixing at the lowest speed just until a soft dough forms. Gather the dough in wax paper and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

Break off small pieces of dough and roll them between the palms of your hands to form little ropes about the thickness of a pencil. Shape rings, more or less large in diameter and bake for 12-15 minutes until dry and crunchy.

It is important not to underbake these cookies—they have to be crunchy and dry, which is why a longer baking time at a lower temperature is necessary.  Insulated cookie baking sheets are ideal.

It is not necessary to grease the baking sheets, and once ready the cookies don’t stick and are extremely easy to transfer to cooling racks. Keep in air-tight containers once completely cold.

Posted in American Cooking, Blog Events, Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti, Regional American Food, Spices | Tagged: , , , , | 7 Comments »

Madeleines

Posted by bakinghistory on June 30, 2008

Traditional French teacakes baked in shell-shaped moulds

Madeleines are delicate teacakes with a velvety texture and an unmistakable shape. They originate from the town of Commercy, France, and they have been immortalized in Proust‘s “Remembrance of Things Past”.

Later versions call for baking powder in the ingredients, while the old recipe I used here does not, relying only on the air incorporated in the batter and a high baking temperature to ensure the characteristic hump on the cakes top—true sign of a well-made madeleine.

They are traditionally flavored with lemon zest and vanilla which pair well with the buttery texture, but almond extract is another well suited flavoring—and my personal favorite.

From the original recipe by Sara Van Buren Brugière

In: “Good-living. A Practical Cookery-Book for Town and Country”, 1890—USA

Ingredients

1/2 lb (scant 2 cups—227 g) powdered sugar

grated rind of 1 (organic) lemon

1/2 lb (2 sticks—227 g) slightly softened + extra to grease the pans

1/2 lb (2 scant cups—227 g) AP flour

4 eggs

1-1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Generously grease the Madeleine pans with melted butter and set aside. Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C).

Cream the butter and add gradually the sugar through a strainer, still beating at high speed and taking care to scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula once in awhile.

Add the eggs but keep 1 egg white aside. Beat at high speed until the mixture is light and frothy, adding the zest and vanilla as well. Add the flour through a strainer and mix it in by hand with a wooden spoon just until incorporated.

Beat the remaining egg white until stiff peaks form, then add it delicately to the flour batter, folding it in and making sure not to deflate it.

Fill the moulds 1/2 full with the batter and bake for 10 minutes. Do not open the oven before 10 minutes are past, to check if the cakes are done a tooth pick should come out clean and dry.

They can be kept in an airtight container but they are best eaten fresh. The recipe can be halved.


Posted in Cakes, Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti, French cuisine, Tea | Tagged: , , , | 7 Comments »

Yellow Cornflour Cakes (LiveSTRONG with a Taste of Yellow 2008)

Posted by bakinghistory on March 6, 2008

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Buttery tea cakes with a sunny yellow color and a sandy texture
yellow_logo_3.jpg This is my entry for the blog event A Taste of Yellow supporting LiveSTRONG Day and hosted by Winosandfooodies.
The Lance Armstrong Foundation works to promote awareness and provide support to cancer patients fighting against this illness. This year LiveSTRONG Day is scheduled for May 13.
From the original recipe by Giuseppe Ciocca
In: “Il Pasticcere e Confettiere Moderno”, 1907—Italy
Ingredients
2-3/4 cups (325 g) whole-grain yellow cornflour (cornmeal is too gritty)
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp (75 g) sugar
2 sticks (225 g) butter, room temperature
3 hard-boiled yolks
grated zest of 1 (organic) lemon
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C)
Cream the butter at high speed until fluffy, then add the sugar 1 tbsp at a time beating well after each addition. Add the grated zest and the crumbled hard-boiled eggs and beat until well incorporated and creamy.
Mix in the flour to make a very soft dough. Form the cookies on a cookie sheet using a pastry bag fitted with a large star-shaped tip.
Place the cookie sheet with the formed cookies in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes to chill them so that they retain their shape better during baking.
Bake for about 10 minutes.
Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet, they are extremely fragile while hot and they will crumble if removed from the pans while warm. Once the cookies are completely cool, remove then gently with a thin spatula and store them in an airtight container.

Posted in Blog Events, Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti, Flourless Cakes, Gluten-free, Grains, Italian Cuisine, Italy, Sweetmeats, Tea, whole grains | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

Ovis Mollis

Posted by bakinghistory on February 28, 2008

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A classic vanilla flavored Italian cookie with a meltingly soft texture
These plain vanilla cookies are truly an example of the best among Italian pastries. Their wonderfully tender texture is achieved by using hard-boiled yolks in the dough as well as some potato or corn starch. They are not too sweet, even with the confectioners’ sugar topping. Ideal to have with tea, they can also be paired with a jam filling.
From the original recipe by Giuseppe Ciocca
In: “Il Pasticcere e Confettiere Moderno”, 1907—Italy
Ingredients
14 tbsp (200 g) unsalted butter
1-1/2 cups (200 g) AP flour, unbleached + extra to roll the dough
1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
3/4 cup (100 g) potato starch or cornstarch
5 hard-boiled yolks
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
confectioners’ sugar
Preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C)
Place the flour and starch in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until well mixed. Add the butter, diced, and pulse until the mixtture looks like wet sand. Add the sugar and pulse until well incorporated. Add the yolks, and pulse until they are crumbled. Add the vanilla extract, and pulse until the dough forms (it might take a few seconds, and it might look like the mixture is too dry, but if the machine keeps working the dough will eventually form. Gather the dough in a piece of wax paper and leave to rest in a cool place (not the refrigerator).
Sprinkle a little flour on the work surface and roll the dough to a scant 1/4-inch (5 mm) thickness. With a cookie cutter cut the cookies (the traditional shape is a ring, which can be made with a donut cutter). Place the cookies on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil (greasing is not really necessary, especially if you use insulated baking sheets).
Bake for about 10 minutes, taking care that the cookies do not darken.
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Let the cookies cool on the baking pans. They are extremely fragile while hot, and they will literally disintegrate if removed from the pans while hot.
Once the cookies are cool sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar and store in airtight containers.
Note: to hard-boil the yolks saving the egg whites for other dishes, place a pan filled with about 2 inches of water on high heat. As soon as the water starts simmering, break each egg, separating yolks and whites. Place each yolk on a spoon and lower it ever so gently in the barely simmering water. Repeat with the remaining eggs. Let the yolks cook for about 2-3 minutes, scoop them out of the water with a skimmer and drain on paper towels.


 

Posted in Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti, Italian Cuisine, Italy | 7 Comments »

Mrs. Sulzbacher’s Chocolate Hearts

Posted by bakinghistory on February 15, 2008

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Airy and light, these chocolate meringue cookies are nothing less than excellent.
— 
— 

A heart for your Valentine This is my entry for Zorra’s A heart for your Valentine blog event. These wonderful meringue cookies are featherlight and chocolatey and incredibly good. Really wonderful!

The recipe is rather simple but it is important to follow the instructions to the letter or results can go quickly from heavenly to disastrous.

From the original recipe by Amelia Sulzbacher

In: The Good Housekeeping Woman’s Home Cook Book”, c1909—USA

Ingredients

3 oz. (3 squares, 85 g) unsweetened chocolate

1 lb. (454 g) sifted confectioners’ sugar

1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla extract

3 egg whites (or as needed), slightly beaten

granulated sugar as needed

The egg whites must NOT be added all at once, but little by little or the dough will be too soft and the recipe will fail.

Melt the chocolate over hot water then add it to the confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer.Using the flat beater attachment mix briefly on the lowest speed, adding the vanilla. The mixture will be lumpy and most of the sugar will not be incorporated. Add the egg white 1 tbsp at a time, mixing on the lowest speed. You won’t probably need all of the amount indicated. The dough is ready when it is stiff and holds together when you work it by hand. The final consistency should be like play-dough.

choclate-hearts-dough.jpg (click on the thumbnail to enlarge)

Keep the dough in a bowl covered with a plate–plastic wrap does not work well—the dough tends to dry if left exposed to the air even for a few minutes.

Preheat the oven to 300°F (150°C). If the temperature is higher, the cookies will puff up too fast and loose their shape.

Sprinkle a very generous layer of granulated sugar on a board and take an orange-size piece of dough, leaving the rest covered. Work the portion of dough briefly between the palms of your hands, then place it onto the sugar covered surface and roll it 1/8-inch (3 mm) thick (not thicker). Flip the flattened dough a couple of times while rolling it so that both sides are well covered with sugar.chocolate-hearts-rolled.jpg (click on the thumbnail to enlarge)

Form the cookies with heart shaped cookie-cutters and place the cookies on a very lightly greased baking sheet. The dough scraps cannot be kneaded again because of the granulated sugar, so try to minimize the spaces between cookies while you shape them. The scraps can be baked as well and will make cookies as delicious as the rest, albeit of less perfect shapes.

Bake the cookies for about 10-12 minutes, they will puff up a little and dry like meringues. When they are ready switch off the oven leave them in the oven for a few more minutes to ensure they are really dry.

Cool the cookies on racks and store in airtight containers.

Note: these quantities will yield approximately 4 baking sheets of cookies. You can halve the recipe, but they are so good it would be a pity to bake a smaller quantity.

Posted in American Cooking, Chocolate, Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti, Flourless Cakes, Gluten-free | Tagged: , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Chinese Almond Cakes

Posted by bakinghistory on February 5, 2008

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Traditional Chinese almond cakes

here is the ROUNDUP

This is my entry for the Chinese New Year blog event hosted by FoodFreak.

From the original recipe by Sara Bosse and Onoto Watanna [pseud.]

In: “Chinese-Japanese Cook Book”, c1914—USA

Ingredients

2 cups (320 g) rice flour + a little extra to form the cookies

1/4 cup (50 g) almond oil

1/2 cup (50 g) almonds, blanched

1-1/2 cups (180 g) confectioners’ sugar

2 eggs

To decorate: 10-12 almonds, blanched and split in half + 1 yolk mixed with 1/2 tbsp water

Preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C)

Place the almonds, rice flour, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor and process until the almonds are chopped very fine. Add the almond oil and pulse until the mixture resembles wet sand. Add the eggs and process briefly, until a soft dough forms.

Sprinkle some rice flour on a wooden board and roll small amounts of dough into balls about the size of a small walnut.

Press the balls with the bottom of a glass (floured), then brush with egg wash and place a split almond in the center.

Alternatively, you can roll the dough 1/4-inch (0.6 cm) thick, then cut the cookies with a round cookie-cutter.
Bake the cakes on baking sheets for 1 hour, making sure the oven temperature is not higher than 325°F (160°C)

Let the cakes cool on racks and store in an airtight container

Posted in American Cooking, Blog Events, Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti, Dairy-Free, Flourless Cakes, Gluten-free, Pareve, Rice, Treenuts | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Cinnamon Wafers

Posted by bakinghistory on December 14, 2007

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Thin, delicate, crunchy wafers flavored by a good touch of cinnamon–excellent to have with coffee or hot chocolate


This is my entry for the “Think Spice…” monthly blog event hosted by Sunita. This month theme is Cinnamon cinnamonlogo1.png

Cinnamon is one of my favorites among spices, for its warm and comforting aroma. In fact, in early Italian herbals it is said that cinnamon was, among other things, good to make one’s heart strong and happy.

From the original recipe by Oscar Tschirky

in “The Cook Book by “Oscar” of the Waldorf”, 1896–USA

Ingredients

6 oz (3/4 cup–170 g) finely powdered sugar (granulated sugar powdered in a coffee grinder)

8 oz (2 cups–230 g) AP flour

1/2 oz (2 heaping tbsp–15 g) ground cinnamon

6 oz (12 tbsp–170 g) butter, melted and cooled

1 egg

10 tbsp–150 ml whole milk (or as needed)

butter for the iron

To make these wafers you need a pizzelle or wafer iron, either electric or stovetop (I used a stovetop pizzelle iron) and 2-3 racks on which to place the cookies to cool.

Sift together the powdered sugar, cinnamon and flour. Add the melted butter and the well beaten egg. Mix well and add the milk, one tbsp at a time. The dough is ready when it has the consistency of drop cookies dough–it has to be scooped by the tablespoon on the hot pizzelle iron. Butter the hot iron plates at first, but then the amount of butter in the dough will make it unnecessary to continue to do so, the wafers come off the iron plates very easily. Each side takes no more than 30 seconds to cook. Place each wafer on a rack (they will harden and crisp while they cool). As soon as they cool place them in an airtight container.

Posted in Blog Events, Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti, Spices | 6 Comments »