Monday, December 22, 2008

Holiday Linzers: Too Pretty To Eat

Last Saturday morning, while warming up with a cup of coffee and some sweets in an adorable cafe in Boulder, my mother offered me her latest theory: "The prettier a cookie is," she said, setting down a handsome palmier, making no effort to hide her disgust, "the less edible it becomes." Though the palmier may have been an unlucky pick that morning, I think Liza might be on to something. 

I had been eyeing this Dorie Greenspan recipe for linzer cookies for weeks. And after reading last Wednesday's New York Times' article, "Butter Holds The Secret To Cookies That Sing," I felt primed for an all-star baking session in my all-but-neglected kitchen. I would follow the recipe to a T, and with my recently acquired butter knowledge, I would think science not just mechanics.

I would cream my 65-degree temperature butter — "cold to the touch but warm enough to spread" — for at least three minutes with the paddle attachment of my stand mixer set on medium speed — no higher, lest the butter's temperature rise to 68 degrees — until enough air bubbles formed to create the required texture and aeration to produce a cookie to rival all cookies. My adrenaline was pumping. It was game time. I laced my apron around my waist, pounded a quart of Gatorade and set to work, not veering ever so slightly from the recipe, fighting off laziness every step of the way. 

I whipped. I chilled. I rolled. I baked. I baked again. I dusted. I jammed. I sandwiched. I admired. 

Expectations were high. Perhaps too high. After assembling all of the linzers, I ate one. And then another. And then another. I kept tasting, hoping with each new bite, I would be overwhelmed with satisfaction and joy, which I could then take to my computer and report to all of you. But alas, it never came. 

I can't quite pinpoint my disappointment. These cookies are not too sweet, which I like, but I find them a bit too dry, which I don't. The final sandwich, I felt, needed more jam to combat the dryness, but the nature of the cookie only allows so much jam to exist between the two layers before a mess oozes out the sides. I offered one of my creations to a four-year-old boy who promptly spit it out. His six- and eight-year-old siblings ate theirs happily, with smiles even, but I think at that age, they've already learned tact. 

I can say with certainty these are the prettiest cookies ever to emerge from my kitchen. Truly. I only wish I could say they were the tastiest, too.

As the above tale reveals, I am not totally satisfied with this recipe. Several years ago I made a batch of linzer cookies for Valentine's Day, which I prefer to this recipe. It has a higher butter content, which I think adds to the flavor. The cookies are not as pretty, but if taste is what you are after, I think you might have better success with this recipe

Linzer Sablés
Adapted From Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home To Yours

1½ cups finely ground almonds, hazelnuts or walnuts
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
Scant ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
(optional — I did not use any cloves)

1 large egg
2 teaspoons water
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup sugar

½ cup raspberry jam (or any jam you like) plus 1 teaspoon of water (optional)
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

1. Whisk together the ground nuts, flour, cinnamon, cloves (if using) and salt. Using a fork, stir the egg and water together in a small bowl.

2. Working with a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together at medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes, scraping down the bowl as needed. Add the egg mixture and beat for 1 minute more.

3. Reduce the speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing only until incorporated. Don't overmix. If the dough comes together while some dry crumbs remain in the bottom of the bowl, stop the mixer and finish blending the ingredients with a rubber spatula or your hands.

4. Divide the dough in half. Working with one half at a time, put the dough between two large sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap.(*See note) Using your hands, flatten the dough into a disk, then grab a rolling pin and roll out the dough, turning it over frequently so that the paper doesn't cut into it, until it is about ¼-inch thick. Leave the dough in the paper and repeat with the second piece of dough. Transfer the wrapped dough to a baking sheet or cutting board (to keep it flat) and refrigerate or freeze it until it is very firm, about 2 hours in the refrigerator or about 45 minutes in the freezer.

Note: I divided the dough into two pieces, chilled it overnight, then rolled it out the next day. It was a little tricky rolling out the dough the next day because it was so cold, but I made it happen. I chilled the cut cookies on the pans for about 15 minutes before baking.

Note: The rolled-out dough can be wrapped airtight and stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 2 months. Just thaw the dough enough to cut out the cookies and go on from there.

When ready to bake: 

1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 ºF. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

2. Peel off the top sheet of wax paper from one piece of dough and, using a 2-inch round cookie cutter — a scalloped cutter is nice for these — cut out as many cookies as you can. If you want to have a peekaboo cutout, use a small fluted cutter or the end of a piping tip to cut out a circle (or heart or whatever shape you have) from the centers of half of the cookies. Transfer the rounds to the baking sheets, leaving a little space between the cookies. Set the scraps aside — you can combine them with the scraps from the second disk and roll and cut more cookies.

3. Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 11 to 13 minutes, or until the cookies are lightly golden, dry and just firm to the touch. Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool to room temperature. Repeat with the second disk of dough, making sure to cool the baking sheets between batches. Gather the scraps of dough together, press them into a disk, roll them between sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, then cut and bake.

Preparing the sandwich cookies: 

1. Place the jam in a small saucepan or in a microwaveable bowl and stir in the 1 teaspoon of water. Bring to a boil over low heat. When the jam is hot, pass it through a sieve to remove the seeds (optional), then let it cool slightly.

2. Place the cookies with the holes in them on a cookie sheet or cooling rack and dust with confectioner's sugar. Turn the remaining cookies flat side up and place about ½ teaspoon of the jam in the center of each cookie. Top with the confectioner's-sugar-dusted cookies.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Cinnamon-Raisin Bread

Is there anything better than homemade bread? I mean seriously. I've asked this question before. The answer is always no, there is nothing better than homemade bread. The smell and taste of this buttermilk, cinnamon-raisin bread has confirmed this assertion once again.

I mixed together this batch of dough before bed one night about five minutes after reading an email from a friend raving about the recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. The following morning I baked off two loaves of bread. One, I sliced and froze. The other, I sliced and ate and ate and ate and ate. And then I tucked the remaining heel in a ziplock back and stowed it in my cabinet. And then several hours later, I opened the cabinet and the bag and ate the heel for dinner. It was a quite a day.

Anyway, thank you, Darcy, for inspiring me to venture into the "enriched breads and pastries" chapter of Artisan Bread In Five. Readers, if you still haven't taken a stab at bread making, pick up this book. Bread making has never been so easy and fun. And while you're at it, order an 8-quart Cambro and lid (odd that the two aren't sold together) for easy mixing and storing. And, if you happen to be ordering flours and other baking staples for the upcoming holidays, order a bulk bag of yeast. I store mine in a cylindrical, plastic tupperware-type vessel in the fridge.

Also, I must confess, I didn't have raisins on hand when I set out to make this bread and so should have titled this post "Cinnamon Bread," but that just sounds wrong. All I'm saying is that with or without raisins, this recipe is a winner. 

Also, I am very excited to report that I won an autographed copy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day simply by leaving a comment on the blog Baking and Books. You, too, have a chance to win a cookbook every month. Stop by Baking and Books for more details.

Cinnamon-Raisin Buttermilk Bread
Yield = Three 1½-lb. loaves (these are smallish loaves) or Two loaves (which I prefer)

2 cups lukewarm water
1 cup buttermilk
1½ T. yeast
1½ T. kosher salt
1½ T. sugar
6½ cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
butter for greasing the pan
1½ tsp. ground cinnamon (I tripled the amount of cinnamon the second time around, so make your cinnamon-sugar mix according to taste.)
1/3 cup sugar
¾ cup raisins (if you are using them)
egg wash (I egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water)

1. Mixing and storing the dough: Mix the yeast, salt and sugar with the water and buttermilk in a 5-quart mixing bowl or a lidded (not airtight) food container.

2. Mix in the flour without kneading, using a spoon, a 14-cup capacity food processor (with dough attachment) or a heavy-duty stand mixer with dough hook. If you’re not using a machine, you may have to use wet hands to incorporate the last bit of flour.

3. Cover (not airtight) and allow to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses or flattens on top, approximately 2 hours.

4. The dough can be used immediately after the initial rise, though it is easier to handle when cold. Refrigerate in a lidded (not airtight) container and use over the next 7 days.

5. On baking day, lightly grease a 9x4x3-inch nonstick loaf pan. Set aside. Dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 1½-pound (cantaloupe-size) piece. (Note: the original recipe yields 3 loaves. I prefer dividing the total amount of dough in half and making two larger loaves as opposed to three smallish loaves.) Dust with more flour and quickly shape into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go.

6. With a rolling pin, roll out the dough to an 18x16-inch rectangle (or about an 11x18-inch rectangle — just wider than the loaf pan) about ¼-inch thick, dusting the board and rolling pin with flour as needed. You may need to use a metal dough scraper to loosen rolled dough from the board as you are working with it.

7. Using a pastry brush, cover the surface of the dough lightly with egg wash. Mix together the sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle the mixture evenly over the dough. Distribute the raisins, if using.

8. Starting from the short side, roll it up jelly-roll style. Pinch the edges and ends together, tucking the ends under. Place the loaf seam-side down in the prepared pan. Allow to rest 1 hour and 40 minutes (or just 40 minutes if you’re using fresh, unrefrigerated dough.)

9. Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 375ºF. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from pan and allow to cool before slicing.

Friday, December 5, 2008

101 Gift Ideas And Maybe Many More

Yikes! It's December 5th and I have yet to purchase A single Christmas gift. I seriously need to get cracking.

Fortunately I have a few ideas, which I've listed below. Readers, if you have anything to add to the list — a favorite food-related gift — please let me know and I will add it in the appropriate category. And fellow bloggers, if you have any go-to gift-giving recipes you have posted on your blogs, send me the link and I'll link back to you.

Happy Shopping!

The Gift of Chocolate

1. Box of chocolate truffles: My favorite chocolate truffles are Éclat's sea-salt topped, caramel-filled chocolate truffles. Éclat Chocolate:; Vosges Haut Chocolate:; Richart Chocolates: 2. Homemade chocolate truffles and a truffle scoop (#100 scoop), with a printed recipe enclosed. 3. Homemade fudge or chocolate sauce packaged in a festive box or jar. 4. Homemade chocolate-dipped peanut butter balls with recipe enclosed. (They taste like Reese’s peanut butter cups, but better.) 5. Homemade hot cocoa mix with instructions and homemade (or store-bought) marshmallows. Package mix in a jar wrapped with a festive bow; package marshmallows in a cellophane bag tied with a bow. 6. Fair Trade chocolate bars. My favorite brand is Chocolove. 7. Gift Certificates to places such as Ritz Carlton Dessert Buffet or Four Seasons Dessert Buffet. (In Philadelphia there is the Naked Chocolate Café ... I'm sure your town, wherever you are, has some place similar.)

The Gift of Cheese

8. Tub of quince membrillo with a wedge of Roncal, Manchego, Zamorano or Idiazabal. Contact your local cheesemonger or Whole Foods Market. 9. Artisan Spanish fig cake, made with dried fruit and nut and a wedge of Garroxta. 10. Jar of lavender honey (Williams Sonoma) with a wedge of blue cheese such as Bleu de Basques. 11. Aged balsamic vinegar (A particularly good brand is Villa Mondori sold at Williams Sonoma for $49.95) with a wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano. 12. Jar of truffled honey with a wedge of aged Manchego. 13. Slate, wooden or ceramic cheese platter with serving knives. (Any kitchen wares shop). 14. Small wedges of assorted cheeses chosen by country such as France (Brin D’Amour, L’Edel De Cleron, Abbaye de Belloc, Tomme de Savoie, Chaource, Bleu D’auvergne, Bleu des Causses) or America (Humbolt Fog, Birchrun Hills Farm Blue, Berkshire Blue, Grafton Classic Two-Year Cheddar, Jasper Hill Farm Constant Bliss, Jasper Hill Farm Winnemere) or Spain (Ibores, Queso de La Serena, Roncal, Monte Enebro, Cabrales) found at any cheese shop with several boxes of 34º Crackers — best crackers to serve with cheese. I am obsessed.15. Cheese books: Two informative, coffee-table-style books by Max McCalman and David Gibbons: Cheese: A Connoisseur’s Guide to the World’s Best and The Cheese Plate; and an excellent reference by Steven Jenkins: The Cheese Primer 16. Membership to a Cheese of the month club:;;; 17. A ball of local or imported Burrata, box of gray salt, and bottle of Temecula Olive Oil Company extra virgin olive oil.

The Gift of Fruit

18. Jar of homemade quince jam or apple sauce or a block of homemade quince membrillo. 19. Jar of apple butter, pumpkin butter or pear butter. Check a local farmers' market. 20. A tray of the juiciest, most delectable Florida grapefruits: Pell’s Citrus and Nursery. 21. Box of Royal Riviera pears from Harry and David with a wedge of Stilton.

The Gift of Cheer
(Note: Many of these ideas are Philly specific. I've included them on the list anyway hoping they might spark an idea.)

22. Three bottles of wine: One to open now; one to enjoy in five years; and one to savor in 10 years. Consult a local sommelier. 23. From Moore Brothers, (specific to Philly and NYC) the Bon Marche Collection (six whites, six reds $125); or the Courtier Collection (six whites, six reds $175); or the Moore Brothers Six Pack (three whites, three reds $75). Each collection comes with anecdotal and technical tasting notes on each of the wines. 24. Bottle of a special dessert wine such as Aged Port, Madeira, Ice Wine, Sauternes, Sherry 25. Bottle of Single Malt Scotch with a pair of scotch glasses. 26. DVDs: Bottle Shock (2008): Sideways (2004); Mondovino (2004) 27. American Vintage wine biscuits So yummy. 28. Gift certificate to a local wine or beer shop such as Moore Brothers or The Foodery (Philly). 29. Books: Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Jobinson; The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson; What to Drink with What You Eat by Andrew Dornenburg, Karen Page, and Michael Sofronski; Making Sense of Wine by Matt Kramer; The Brewmaster’s Table by Garrett Oliver 30. Local spirits or wine such as a bottle of Bluecoat Gin (Philly) or assortment of Chaddsford wines. You may have to do a little research to find a local wine or spirit maker but they exist everywhere. 31. From the Foodery (Philly), a mixed six-pack of festive winter brews or one of several gift sets such as the Hobgoblin gift set ($21.95), Historic Ales From Scotland ($12.95), Val Dieu Gift Set ($23.95), St. Bernardus ($17.95), Christmas in Belgium Gift Set ($29.95), or the Chimay Gift Set ($13.95). 32. From the Foodery or online, a bottle of Mad Elf Ale made by Tröegs ($65.95 for .8 gallons) or a bottle of Samichlaus Bier ($124.95 for 3L). 33. Homemade coasters or trivets made from corks. 34. Built N.Y. BYOB wine or beer tote or a white wine freezer sleeve. 35. Special equipment such as antique ice tongs, Riedel glasses (Target sells a line of reasonably priced Riedel glasses), ice bucket, engraved cocktail shaker. 36. Membership to a wine or beer-of-the-month club. I wish I could recommend one in particular, but alas I have no first-hand knowledge of one specifically.

The Gift of Breakfast Treats

37. Homemade granola. For a nice presentation, fill airtight canisters with the granola and wrap with a festive bow. 38. Tin of McCann’s steel cut oatmeal, a package of medjool dates, and a jar of cinnamon with a recipe attached. 39. Yogurt maker. (Salton yogurt maker on 40. Homemade muesli 41. An eight-inch nonstick pan (the perfect omelet pan), a heat-proof spatula and instructions for “how to make a fines herbes omelet” printed from

Stocking Stuffers

42. A wooden reamer. 43. Kuhn Rikon Peeler ($3.50 to $3.99 — Best peeler ever.) 44. Bench scraper (a great tool both for cleaning cutting boards and cutting dough — any kitchen wares shop) 45. Oxo measuring spoons and measuring cups. Note: The unconventional sizes (2/3, ¾, and 1½ cups) are a nice addition to any collection. 46. Bottle of truffle oil. 47. Homemade spiced nuts or candied pecans. 48. Assorted spices from Penzeys Spices such as Ceylon True Cinnamon; Aleppo Pepper; Szechuan Peppercorns or Punjabi Style Garam Masala. 49. Bottle of Madagascar vanilla and vanilla beans from Penzeys Spices. 50. Assorted hot sauces. (For dangerously hot hot sauces — only for extreme dare devils — contact the owner of Pica Peppers at

The Gift of Sweets

51. Tin of assorted homemade cookies, Bourbon balls, Maris' Biscotti etc. 52. Jars of the best candied pecans ever, sold at Fork:etc in Philadelphia. These pecans are made in small batches by the mother of Fork’s owner, Ellen Yin. Call before to see if they are still available: (215) 625-9425 / 53. One giant (large) homemade chocolate chip cookie, packaged in a cellophane bag and tied with a festive ribbon. 54. Espresso caramels. 55. Assorted homemade, white chocolate- and dark chocolate-dipped biscotti. 56. Tin of brownies and blondies. 57. Homemade peppermint patties. 58. A tin of Daley Family toffee.

The Gift of Baking

59. A Silpat, an essential tool for bakers. 60. Cookbooks such as Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois (an awesome book with simple bread-making recipes) or The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart (complex recipes, yet very informative) or Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan. 61. From the Baker’s Catalog, 16 oz. bag SAF yeast (to be stored indefinitely in the freezer), assorted flours, Salter digital scale. 62. A giant cupcake/muffin pan such as the “Texas muffin pan” from the Baker’s Catalog.

The Gift of Caffeine

63. Bags of whole bean or ground Fair Trade coffee. 64. Gift certificate to a local, independent coffee house such as Joe Coffee Bar (Philly) 65. French press coffee maker. 66. Nespresso Espresso Machine 67. Nespresso Aeroccino 68. No. 66 and 67 together. 69. Francis Francis Espresso Machine. (For someone you really really really love) 70. Fun espresso cups. 71. Green Tea whisk with box of matcha green tea powder 72. Fun teapot with a funky tea cozy. 73. Homemade chai tea, packaged in glass milk bottle with a recipe attached. 74. “French press” teapot such as the Bodum glass teapot.

For the Gourmand in General:

75. Anything sold at the Temecula Olive Oil Company from the incredibly delicious olive oils and vinegars to the biscotti to the olives and the list goes on. 76. If local to San Diego, homemade pasta or sauces from Delaney's Culinary Fresh. 77. Assortment of cured meats such as Capicola, Toscano Salami and Saucisson Sec. 78. Gift Certificates to favorite cookware or food shops (Philly: Fante’s, Foster’s, Kitchen Kapers, Williams Sonoma, Claudio’s, DiBruno Brothers, Talluto’s, Gourmet of Old City, Cookbook Stall in Reading Terminal Market) or favorite restaurants, etc. 79. Fun Aprons such as Now Design aprons or dishtowels or fancy French polishing rags. 80. Homemade muffin/cupcake/cake mixes. Simply mix the dry ingredients for a standard recipe, package it in a cellophane bag tied with a festive ribbon and supply a recipe. 81. Mini loaf of pumpkin bread baked in decorative paper loaf pans. 82. The most delicious rosemary shortbread packed in a stationary box with printed recipe attached. (Recipe to be supplied shortly). 83. Assortment of local honeys, maple syrups, and jams. 84. Pizza stone, pizza peel, bag of high-gluten flour. 85. Vintage food or wine calendar. 86. A large cutting board — an essential tool for every kitchen — such as the Boos Edge-Grain Maple Cutting Board, 24" x 18", $80.00. 87. Pasta maker, bag of “perfect pasta blend” flour from, and a recipe for homemade ravioli. 88. Invite someone to customize a 100-recipe hardcover cookbook with photos using TasteBook on 89. Recipe binder set from Russell and Hazel. 90. A fancy Williams Sonoma timer. 91. American Tuna — the best canned tuna. AT is the only tuna fishery in the world certified by the Marine Stewardship Council. 92. Basic/essential knife set from 1 classic chef’s knife (From Wüsthof classic series, 9” cook’s knife), large serrated (From Wüsthof classic series, 8” bread knife), paring knife (From Wüsthof classic series, 4” paring knife) 94. From Wüsthof classic series, the two-piece carving set (8” carving knife and 6” straight meat fork) 95. Lodge cast iron grill/griddle pan, spans two burners, reversible or a Staub "cocotte." 96. Set of plain or chocolate croissants from Williams-Sonoma. 97. Assortment of gourmet SALTs such as Maldon sea salt, Peruvian pink salt, gray salt and Fleur de Sel. ( 98. One-year subscription to a Cooking Magazine: Saveur, Fine Cooking, Cook’s, Gourmet, Bon Appetit, Food and Wine, Martha Stewart, Cooking Light, Edible Communities or Real Simple. 99. Food Movies: Mostly Martha, Ratatouille, Babette’s Feast, Like Water for Chocolate, Chocolat, Tortilla Soup, Eat Drink Man Woman, Big Night, Tampopo 100. Food Books: Heat, Bill Buford; My Life in France, Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme; The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan; Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver or cookbooks to a favorite restaurant such as Zuni Cafe, Tartine or Balthazar.

The Gift of Charity

101. Make a donation to a food-focused charity in someone else’ name: Coffee Kids (; Heifer International (800-422-0474 /; Farm Aid (800-327-6243 /; Share Our Strength (800-969-4767 /; BloggerAid and Philly based: Philabundance (215-339-0900  / and White Dog Community Enterprises (215-386-5211 / Or, host a Drop In And Decorate party and donate your creations to a local food pantry, emergency shelter, senior center, lunch program, or other community agency serving neighbors in need.