Sunday, 29 November 2009

Christmas Baking, Part 2

It hasn't been a very nice day out there today, most of the morning and early afternoon it has been wet and dark.

Just the right time of year to stay indoors and make the house warm and cosy by baking.

So here is a recipe for Cherry-Nut Cookies, another one of my Christmas baking favorites. These are lovely, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth cookies full of cherries, dates and pecans.

I copied the recipe out from a book I borrowed from the public library when I was a teenager (photocopiers in those days did not produce copies of the quality we expect today!) - Dolores Casella's A World of Baking. I first baked these about ten years ago and they became an immediate favorite. I have another recipe from A World of Baking for cookies called Hermits, which are very similar to these except that they are made with raisins, dates and walnuts. I tend to alternate the two in my Christmas baking, making Hermits one year, and Cherry-Nut Cookies the next.

Cherry-Nut Cookies
recipe from A World of Baking by Dolores Casella.

4 c. sifted plain flour
1 t. bicarbonate of soda
1/2 t. salt
300 grams softened butter
2 c. soft light brown sugar, packed
3 large eggs
1 t. vanilla extract
1 t. grated lemon zest
1 1/3 c. chopped pecans
1 1/3 c. quartered candied cherries (I prefer to use the ones with natural coloring)
1 1/3 c. chopped pitted dates

Preheat the oven to 375 F.
Sift the flour together with the baking soda and the salt.
Cream the butter with the brown sugar until light and fluffy.
Add the eggs to the butter mixture one at a time and beat in thoroughly.
Add the vanilla and lemon zest, then add the sifted dry ingredients.
Work in the chopped fruit and nuts.
Drop by teaspoonsful onto buttered baking sheets.
Bake at 375 F for 12 - 15 min until lightly browned and done.

Makes about 10 - 11 dozen cookies.
The dough will keep in the refrigerator for several days.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Christmas Baking

No chocolate today, but a recipe for Christmas cookies.

Some years ago, after a trip home when I had brought back with me a notebook of Christmas recipes that I had copied out by hand as a teenager, I started the tradition of giving home-baked Christmas cookies as gifts to my in-laws, friends and co-workers.

I tried this recipe for Zimtsterne for the first time last year. Zimtsterne means cinnamon stars, and these are supposed to be traditional Christmas cookies from Switzerland. As you will see in the photo, they didn't turn out quite as they were supposed to, but they were nevertheless delicious, and have been added to my repertoire of Christmas baking favourites. Enjoy.

recipe from Betty Crocker's Cooky Book, ca. 1970.

3 T. butter
1 1/2 c. caster sugar
2 large eggs
1 large egg, separated
1 t. lemon juice
2 1/3 c. plain flour
2 1/2 t. baking powder
1 1/4 t.cinnamon
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. nutmeg
1/2 c. walnuts, finely chopped

Pre-heat the oven to 375 F.

Mix the butter, sugar, 2 eggs, 1 egg yolk and the lemon juice and beat until fluffy.

Sift together the flour and the dry ingredients.

Blend the flour mixture into the sugar mixture. Stir in the walnuts.

Roll out one third of the dough at a time to a thickness of 1/16" on a lightly floured board. Cut out cookies with a star cutter.

Beat the remaining egg white until frothy. Brush the tops of the cookies with the beaten egg white.

Bake on well-greased baking sheets for about 8 minutes.

Makes about 6 dozen cookies.

I found that the dough was very sticky, even after being chilled in the refrigerator, and in any case I didn't have a star-shaped cookie cutter. So I decided to make them as drop cookies. I dropped small teaspoonsful of the dough onto the greased cookie sheets and omitted the egg-white glaze.

Be careful when removing the cookies from the baking sheets, they have a tendency to tear or stick to the baking trays on the bottom.

The result was a crisp cookie, essentially a walnut macaroon, with a subtle cinnamon flavor.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Chocolate and Cupcakes

Today a couple of links from the Olympic city of 2012 to the Olympic city of 1976 - Montreal.

There is a chocolate trade fair on in Montreal at the moment - Salon Passion Chocolat, at the Bonsecours Market in Old Montreal.

See the links here and here.

There is also a cupcake contest/charity fund-raising event on Sunday, Cupcake Camp Montreal. The chosen charity this year is Jeunesse J'ecoute/Kids Help Phone, a telephone helpline for children.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Mini Book Review - Adventures with Chocolate by Paul A. Young

The other day I came across chocolatier Paul A. Young's recent cookbook Adventures with Chocolate while browsing in Waterstone's. They had set up a table with a sign saying grEAT Britain, featuring a selection of British cookbooks.

This book is a must-have for any chocoholic's cookbook collection. As the cover says, the book contains 80 recipes. The book is divided into several sections, not based on courses or sweet versus savoury, but based on different ingredient/flavour combinations.

There is an introductory section on tempering chocolate, and a few savoury recipes like chocolate chili chicken. Not surprisingly, since it is a book on chocolate, the majority of recipes are for sweet dishes - puddings (i.e. desserts), chocolate ganache, and chocolate truffles. I think it would be an excellent book for anyone wanting to try making some chocolates at home, because there are many recipes for different flavors of ganache and truffles. One recipe that sticks in my mind because of the illustration is White chocolate truffles with wild strawberries and pink peppercorns. Another recipe I remember features the currently very trendy sea-salted caramel.

The list price for the book (hardcover) is £17.99. The book was printed and bound in China.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Vino Cotto

Our weekly grocery shopping this afternoon included a trip to one of London's Turkish food shops.

Fiordizucca recently posted a recipe for traditional Italian Christmas sweets from Apulia, calzoncelli dolci ai ceci, which uses vino cotto di fichi, vino cotto made not from grapes, but from figs.

I don't recall ever having come across vino cotto di fichi, but I have bought vino cotto (called pekmez) in Turkish food stores before, I used it to make some traditional Siciian Christmas cookies, so I thought it would be worth checking out, just in case.

No vino cotto di fichi, as it turned out, but they do sell a variety of molasses-like sweeteners. In addition to vino cotto from grapes, they sell date syrup, carob syrup, and mulberry 'molasses' (dut pekmez). I decided to buy a jar of mulberry molasses, probably in the vain hope that it might taste just a little like the mulberry jam that we used to buy from this shop, but which they no longer seem to sell. D, my other half, was of the opinion that it would just taste like molasses.

When we got home I decided that rather than putting the jar of mulberry molasses away in the pantry, to sit there for months or sometimes years before I get around to actually doing something with it, which I have a habit of doing, I would open it and taste it right away. This led to the idea of doing a 'molasses' tasting, since we currently had opened jars of Grandma's molasses (American) and Turkish vino cotto (pekmez) in the fridge.

D turned out to be right, the mulberry 'molasses' does taste like Grandma's molasses, and not at all like mulberry jam. For those of you who don't know what Grandma's molasses is like, it is dark brown in color, not black like treacle and blackstrap molasses, and not as strong-tasting or as bitter as treacle, but a lot darker than golden syrup.

The Grandma's (sugarcane) molasses was thicker and more sticky than the other two, and also the strongest tasting. Both the vino cotto and the mulberry 'molasses' were a bit runnier, and did not seem very sticky. The mulberry 'molasses' tasted remarkably similar to the Grandma's molasses, just not quite as strong, whereas the vino cotto had a rather milder taste.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Cocoa Butter

Yaaay! I think Christmas came early this year!

I was browsing in Planet Organic yesterday afternoon, and was about to decide that it was time to call it quits as I had seen most of the shop, and I should really be getting on my way home as I was rather tired, when what did I see on a shelf in front of me but several tubs of pure cocoa butter!!!

I have been searching for cocoa butter for years. I thought it would be fun to try experimenting with a small amount of it to make some lotions and potions - skin cream, face cream, that kind of stuff. But I had no idea where to find it. These days we have the internet, and a couple of years ago I saw 3kg tubs of Valrhona cocoa butter for sale on a UK-based website that sells chocolate to the general public, but a) I only wanted something like 100g of the stuff in the first instance, to see what it's like, and b) the cocoa butter was only for sale to the trade, so not being a chocolatier, I wouldn't have been able to buy it from them anyway. A few days ago, while reading about the Chocolate Week that I had just missed, I came across a website - Choc Chick - that sells chocolate making kits (in small quantities!). I had never heard of them before, but they seemed to sell small amounts of cocoa butter as well. This was an interesting development, and I duly bookmarked the webpage so that I could go back and have a better look at it later. But with the strikes the postal system is having at the moment, I wasn't about to order anything over the internet just at this time.

But all of a sudden, here were these tubs of cocoa butter unexpectedly in front of me. They only had them in one size, 500g, which was admittedly more than I really wanted for an initial trial. On top of that, this was not just any old cocoa butter, but organic, raw, cold-pressed cocoa butter, so it was also very, very expensive (£20). What to do. I could go home and think about it, perhaps compare the price with the cocoa butter for sale on the internet, and come back a few days or weeks later. But I decided to carpe diem. I decided I could justify the purchase if I called it an early Christmas present, so I am now the happy owner of 500g of cocoa butter.

Although my initial interest in cocoa butter was to try using it as a moisturiser/skin cream, since I have ended up with organic cold-pressed cocoa butter, and there is quite a lot of it, I think in order to do it justice (and justify the expense) I will have to try cooking with it or making some chocolates. It's a hard life!

Sunday, 1 November 2009


Now that it's November, it's not too soon to start thinking about Christmas and making a Christmas cake (fruit cake). It's been a few years since I baked one, so I would like to make one this year,but I'm having a hard time deciding whether to make a fruit cake, or a panettone, which I've never tried making before. I also keep meaning to try making a Gateau des Rois, and I've only made a Buche de Noel once, years ago when I lived at home. But I think the fruit cake will win this year.

Speaking of Christmas, a couple of weeks ago I managed to upload some photos of last year's Christmas baking to my Flickr account. The link is on the right hand column. If I have time I will upload some more photos of Christmas goodies from previous years.

Chocolate Week

Aargh! I've just discovered that I missed Chocolate Week. Apparently it was a couple of weeks ago, October 12 - 18, 2009. I'm not sure that I would actually have managed to attend any events, but now I'll have to wait until next October. Still, I suppose that it wasn't very well publicised if I could have been completely oblivious to the fact that it was on.