Tuesday, November 25, 2014

#12 ~ Cherry Half Moons ~ Sweden (page 110)

I'm not quite sure what to say about these cookies except maybe two words. Oh. My. I've looked forward to making these since I first set out on this baking adventure of mine. The reason for that is because this recipe requires sour cherry preserves and we just happen to have an Evans Sour Cherry tree in our backyard which gives us a plentiful bounty of delicious cherries at the end of each summer. So these cookies actually had their start a couple of months ago when we spent some time picking the tree clean of fruit...

That's just a very small fraction of what the tree yielded and it took hours to remove all those pits. I learned from the internet that a paperclip bent into an "S" shape is a simple and effective way for removing cherry pits. It really does work. Once the pits were gone I turned some of those luscious cherries into several jars of jam. 

And I've been warning the jam-lovers in my house not to eat this last jar because I had other plans for it - Cherry Half Moons. I worried a bit about whether "preserves" and "jam" are actually the same thing since the recipe specifically calls for preserves and I was concerned about the jam possibly running out of the cookies in the heat of the oven. I threw caution to the wind and went ahead with my baking this afternoon and hoped for the best.

The recipe, although not difficult in any way, is quite time-consuming. Slivered almonds are chopped finely and toasted in the oven. A portion of these are mixed into the jam and the rest are saved to decorate the cookie tops. A simple dough is mixed but the secret to its delicate flakiness is that in addition to regular flour it contains a small amount of potato flour. It is lightly flavoured with almond extract and lemon zest.

The dough is rolled and refrigerated to firm it up and then scalloped circles are cut. Each circle is cut into two pieces, one slightly larger than the other. A small amount of the jam mixture is spread on the larger half and then the smaller half circle of dough is placed on top. The cookie tops are brushed with an egg wash and finally sprinkled with coarse sugar and toasted almonds. A simple enough process albeit labour-intensive but I could tell that these cookies had big potential for a great outcome.

As it turns out jam worked fine instead of preserves and held together well during baking. I cannot begin to describe the delicate, melt-in-your-mouth texture of these cookies.

Not only do they look beautiful but they taste delicious with the sweet but tart flavour of the jam coming through very nicely. Oh. My. This is definitely a recipe to make again for special occasions.

Next Up: Peanut Butter Kiss Cookies

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

# 11 ~ Almond Tea Cakes ~ Hungary (page 220)

Yesterday was cookie baking day for me. Almond Tea Cakes from Hungary - although once I'd read through the recipe it was obvious that the name is a bit of a misnomer since these are not in any way a cake and in every way a simple sugar cookie. Yes, a simple sugar cookie but who knew the trouble that lay in wait for me with that dough!

When a recipe states, "If the mixer motor labors, stir in the last of the dry ingredients using a large wooden spoon", you know you're probably in for a bit of work at the end, but I had faith that my KitchenAid stand mixer could handle the task. Not so. About three-quarters the way through mixing, this sturdy workhorse machine of mine was starting to shake way too much for my liking, and fearing that I'd damage it I decided it was time to finish the job by hand. Several minutes and one aching wrist later the dry ingredients were incorporated but that dough was dry and crumbling. Not a good sign when the next step says to refrigerate and you know that's going to make the dough even more crumbly once the butter hardens...and then you're supposed to roll it out and cut shapes with a cutter!

Why does this happen with recipes? I'm a rule follower. I followed all the rules of the recipe to the letter so why didn't I get better results? Should I have added an extra egg yolk to moisten things a bit. I just don't know. Anyway, being the rule follower that I am, I put that dough in the fridge for the required amount of time and hoped for the best. And when I started to roll it out I realized that this was going to be nothing but an exercise in frustration.

Cookie dough that does this is really not a good thing -

I was lucky to get a few shapes cut for each of my efforts at rolling a smooth sheet of dough.

And then I had to try to gather all those dry bits together again and attempt the whole rolling fiasco once more...and again...and again. Frustrating, I tell you. And just to add insult to injury, I was so engrossed and focused on my rolling and cutting that I forgot to set the timer at one point and ended up with a dozen cookies that looked like this. Again, not a good thing.

But I persevered and managed to get three dozen edible cookies out of that horrible mess of dry dough. Almond Tea Cakes - ground almonds and almond extract in the dough and chopped almonds as a topping - but surprisingly not overly almond-y. Light and crunchy and quite enjoyable with hot chocolate or tea.

Would I make these again? Never! Not unless my life depended on it or somebody offered me a whole lot of money! There was just too much of a frustration factor involved with these to make the end result worthwhile.

Next Up: Cherry Half Moons

Thursday, November 13, 2014

#10 ~ Honey Lebkuchen ~ Germany (page 150)

I love a ginger cookie so I knew I would like these - Honey Lebkuchen or "Honiglebkuchen" from Germany.  These are very reminiscent of another German cookie, Pfefferneuse, which I've made in the past but they have a harder, crunchier texture.

The sweet base of the dough is a mixture of butter, honey, sugar, egg and lemon rind. Added to this is flour which has been spiced with ginger, cinnamon, mace, cloves and cardamom. This was my first time using cardamom, which has an oddly sweet-smelling yet spicy fragrance.

Traditionally the cookies are cut out in heart shapes of varying sizes so I looked through my cutters to see what I had and managed to find hearts in five different sizes. I always think that I don't like rolling dough and cutting out shapes. It seems like a tedious task. But once I get going with it I actually do enjoy the process. There's something satisfying about cutting out such precisely shaped pieces of dough. 

Once baked the cookies are decorated with a thin icing made from icing sugar, lemon juice and a little bit of water. The finished product looks like this -

Lots of cookies to eat, share and even freeze for later!

Next Up: Almond Tea Cakes

Monday, November 3, 2014

#9 ~ Chocolate Spritz Cookies (Lekebergskakor) ~ Sweden & Denmark (page 125)

When the boys were little we had a family tradition of baking almond spritz cookies every Christmas. We'd divide the dough into thirds, leave part plain and tint the rest green and red. Then we'd use the cookie press and make a variety of colourful shapes - trees, hearts, flowers, etc. Sometimes we'd mix the dough and have multi-coloured cookies too. It was always fun and everybody enjoyed having these special cookies just once a year.

In preparation for this week's recipe, Chocolate Spritz cookies, I got out my old cookie press which hadn't seen the light of day for many years. The dough, chocolate with a hint of coffee, was quick to prepare with my stand mixer and then the cookie press went into action. I have to say that my cookie pressing skills have definitely declined. By the time I'd gotten the hang of it again and was pressing out consistently sized cookies the dough was gone.

There's not much to say about these cookies really. These are the best of the bunch, lightly dusted with icing sugar. In all honesty, these cookies didn't measure up to my standards for a really good cookie. They have a nice, buttery texture but they're rather bland. They just don't taste chocolate-y enough for a chocolate cookie. It seemed that something was missing and I probably wouldn't make them again, although nobody else here seemed to have any complaints.

Next Up: Honey Lebkuchen

PS to Jen: I've frozen a few for you to try next time we get together. :-)

Monday, October 20, 2014

#8 ~ Piglets (Cochinitos) ~ Mexico (page 78)

Oink! Oink! The Piglets have finally been baked and they are great! I had expected a spicier cookie based on the photo in the book where the cookies appear to be quite dark but if I'd initally read the recipe more carefully I would have noticed that this is not a spice cookie at all. However, these cookies did not disappoint. 

The first step was to prepare a syrup on the stovetop using brown sugar, orange zest, orange juice and cinnamon sticks. The smell of the syrup was heavenly - fragrant with orange and just a hint of cinnamon.

Next the syrup and some vanilla were beat together with shortening. Finally, a mixture of flour, baking powder and baking soda was gradually added to the mixture to form a dough. After refrigerating for an hour, the dough was rolled and the piglets were cut. When I first looked at this recipe I thought there was no way I'd ever find a pig-shaped cookie cutter and how disappointing would it be to make a cookie called "piglets" that weren't shaped like pigs? Much to my surprise I found one at the first place I looked, my local Bulk Barn store. 

The dough had a rather crumbly texture and was not the easiest to roll out. Several of my pigs ended up looking rather wrinkled! The final step before baking was to sprinkle the cookie shapes with a mixture of sugar and cinnamon to give them "a very realistic dusty appearance". 

Piglets! With a light orange-spice taste and great crunchiness. Who knew a pig could be so tasty?

Next Up: Chocolate Spritz Cookies

Monday, October 6, 2014

#7 ~ Melting Moments ~ Scotland and England (page 92)

After a short hiatus I am back in cookie mode again. I deviated slightly from the cookie which was planned next (Piglets from Mexico) when I realized that I didn't have the required orange juice on hand. No worries, I selected another recipe in its place and started baking.

There was nothing very complicated about making this cookie which is very reminiscent of shortbread. It called for mixing up a simple dough, rolling it into 1-inch balls, coating them in oatmeal (easier said than done because the oatmeal really didn't want to stick to the dough!), flattening with the palm of the hand and baking.

The resulting biscuits are light and crispy with a hint of almond flavour. The recipe book states, "Melting Moments are so named for their delightfully crisp-dry, melt-in-the-mouth texture. Whoever first devised this cookie must have created it specifically to go with tea." I would have to agree - paired with this cinnamon spice tea they were delicious!

Next Up: Piglets

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Something Different ~ Pat's Oatmeal Cookies

It's funny how things go sometimes. About a month ago I saw a picture of iced oatmeal cookies on my travels of the internet. I kept thinking about them, craving iced oatmeal cookies. A couple of weeks later one of the food blogs I follow posted a recipe for iced oatmeal cookies! I decided I must make them. Before I'd had a chance to do so I was going through some family "treasures" looking for Mom and Dad's wedding photo negatives and came across this recipe for "Pat's Oatmeal Cookies" and figured why not give it a try and put icing on these.

The question is whose recipe was this? This looks like Granny Taylor's handwriting so it seems she got the recipe from somebody and thought it was worth having. But who is Pat? Mom wasn't a baker at all so I wouldn't think it came from her. The paper it's written on is dated 1954, the year that Granny, Mom and Ann travelled to Ireland so possibly it was cousin Pat Barnes' recipe.  A bit of a mystery.

The directions are very vague so I mixed the ingredients in the order that seemed to make sense based on my own baking experience. Once mixed I didn't have a lot of faith in the dough. It was really sticky and not very cookie-like. And the directions say to bake for 15 to 20 minutes which seems much too long for a cookie. I baked them about 12 minutes and ended up with a very small batch of twenty-one basic, homey (or homely!) cookies which are not very sweet but are surprisingly light. I can see why Granny would have liked these with her tea. I wonder if she ever baked them herself and especially wonder why Mom saved the recipe for all those years because I'm pretty sure that she never made them.

I decided to skip icing these cookies. I don't think sweet icing would have gone well with this type of cookie at all. These are meant to be enjoyed as is with a good cup of tea. This was a bit of a departure from my usual cookie challenge but it was fun to try out this old recipe. Next time I'll be back to baking from the International Cookie Cookbook.

Next Up: Piglets

Monday, September 8, 2014

#6 ~ Chocolate-Orange Sandwich Wafers (Biscotti Milano) ~ Italy (page 209)

So, I'm in the middle of baking these delicious-sounding cookies as I type this. How can this not be a delicious cookie when you combine orange and chocolate together and throw in some lemon zest too? However, things are not going quite as smoothly as I'd imagined they would. This is one of the recipes for which there is a photograph provided which in some ways is a good thing because I know what I should be aiming for in my finished product, but in some ways is a really bad thing because my cookies are not looking anything like that photo so far!

These are supposed to be wafers, which to me means very thin crisp cookies. The recipe said the dough would spread quite a bit during baking. My dough is heavy and sticky and is definitely not spreading in the heat of the oven. Perhaps my butter wasn't soft enough to begin with? I let it sit out overnight as I usually do but, hey, it's September 8th in Edmonton, it's snowing and the house isn't exactly what you would call warm so maybe my dough was off to a bad start from the get-go. To make things worse I've also managed to overcook one of my batches. I won't say burned but definitely darker than they should be. This recipes calls for a 375 degree oven, a temperature that I'll admit frightens me slightly when it comes to baking. It's a good thing I've been baking these in very small batches, leaving plenty of room between the cookies for all that spreading that was supposed to occur, or I'd have way more burned really dark cookies than I'd be happy with.

I will say that even though their appearance is less than attractive (compared to the book photo) at this point in the process, these "wafers" do smell delicious. Right now I'm just hoping that the chocolate filling and chocolate glaze will be the saving grace of what is looking like a very sad lot of cookies.

In all their glory! This is NOT how they should look.

Things are definitely looking up now that chocolate's been brought into the equation. The cookies have been sandwiched together with a thick chocolate cream just begging to be bitten into. Okay, I confess I couldn't wait any longer and even though they hadn't received their final dip into the chocolate glaze I ate one. Delicious! The orange flavour really comes through and the cookies, although not being the thin wafers they were supposed to be, have a nice crunchy texture. 

I can only imagine how much better these are going to taste with both ends dipped in chocolate glaze!

Four things I learned while making this recipe:

#1: Having a proper high-quality zester makes zesting oranges and lemons fast and efficient and is totally fun to use. Thanks Rob and Jen! 

#2: The dough was definitely too firm (probably because of the cold-ish butter) when I first started piping out the cookies hence the lack of spreading. As I progressed through the batches and the dough warmed up the cookies did spread somewhat but still not nearly as much as shown in the recipe book.

#3: Dipping cookie ends into a glaze is a messy business and not as easy as it would seem to do it neatly. The dipping glaze should have been more liquid to allow more of it to drain off the ends.

#4: Chocolate absolutely does turn sorry-looking cookies into something wonderful!

Next Up: hmmm...something a little bit different but still a cookie

Monday, August 25, 2014

#5 ~ Peanut-Chocolate Cookies ~ New Zealand (page 247)

It seemed high time I baked some cookies with chocolate so I chose this recipe which in New Zealand is referred to as "brownies" because of the brown colour of the cookies, but obviously not a brownie as we know it here in North America.

This is a simple drop cookie - lots of chopped peanuts and semi-sweet chocolate chips mixed into a chocolate dough. The chocolate chips are optional but I'm glad I added them because I think the cookies would have been kind of bland otherwise.

It couldn't be easier and you end up with mounds of not-overly-sweet, delicious cookies like this -

You can't go wrong with chocolate and peanuts, that's for sure. The recipe yields about 30 cookies so I'm pretty sure that none of these will be going into the freezer!

Next Up: Chocolate-Orange Sandwich Wafers

Monday, August 18, 2014

#4 ~ Coconut Crunchies ~ England (page 99)

Well, the finished appearance of this week's cookie pales in comparison with last week's, that's for sure! There's nothing fancy about these at all. This is the recipe that I had pinned my hopes on being very similar to the cookie I tried at Fort Edmonton Park, but sadly I've been disappointed.

The ingredients of coconut and oatmeal seemed much like what I tasted there, but these cookies don't quite have the same buttery, melt-in-your-mouth texture that I was anticipating. Oh well, they are good just the same and I'm thinking that maybe if I had just squished the dough very thin on a cookie sheet and baked it until it was really golden brown then broken it into pieces once baked (instead of forming rounds) it might have come closer to what I was expecting. Maybe I'll try that someday.

Anyway, the recipe is really easy compared to the last two I've made so that was a nice break. Three simple steps to start off with - 1) combine dry ingredients, 2) process oatmeal and coconut in food processor and 3) cream butter and sugars together. Then simply mix the oatmeal mixture into the butter and follow by doing the same with the flour mixture. 

Form into balls, squish with your hand and bake.

Sweet, crunchy cookies with a definite coconut taste to them. The recipe book says, "A coconut tea biscuit prepared by a commercial bakery in Derbyshire, England inspired this recipe. These simple but delicious cookies have a crunchy-crisp texture, golden color, and a light yet satisfying coconut flavor." And that's exactly what they are.

 Next Up: Peanut-Chocolate Cookies

Monday, August 11, 2014

#3 ~ Brown Sugar-Peanut Bars ~ Columbia (page 72)

This week's recipe comes from Columbia. The original name is "Cucas", an old recipe which has been updated in this book to feature caramelized peanuts to bring out the peanutty flavour and give the cookies some extra crunch. There was nothing complicated in making these cookies but once again they were a bit time-consuming as there were several steps involved.

First a simple brown sugar dough is prepared, refrigerated and then cut into rectangles with a pastry cutter. The bake time is fairly short so it doesn't take long before the cookies are cooling on the rack.

Ready for the Oven

Next the chopped peanuts are caramelized. This was my first attempt at caramelizing something and I was so afraid to burn the sugar that I think I should have cooked the peanuts much longer than I did. They didn't end up having that nice caramel colour but they did turn out crunchy with a nice sweet flavour because of the sugar. While the peanuts are cooling, the brown sugar icing is mixed. I followed the recipe exactly and the icing was very dry so I added some extra butter. It was still hard to spread and I didn't have enough to ice all of the cookies. If I made these again I would probably add some water to soften it more.

And finally, the cookies are spread with icing and topped with peanuts.

Super-sweet Peanutty Goodness

These cookies are sweet! Good, but sweet, and since I'm not much of an icing lover, eating one made me feel like I was on sugar overload. I really enjoyed the texture and flavour of the cookie itself and think it would be great just on its own with a cup of tea.

Next Up: Coconut Crunchies

Monday, August 4, 2014

#2 ~ Orange-Date Pinwheels ~ United States (page 56)

Another recipe from the United States this week but I chose this one for the simple reason that I had some dates which needed to be used. This recipe is a bit time consuming with a dough and a filling that need to be prepared separately before rolling them up jelly roll style and then slicing for baking. There's also a lot of wait time since the dough needs to be refrigerated at various points during the process.

The dough was simple enough to make using my stand mixer and is nicely flavoured with orange zest and a touch of cinnamon. While it was chilling in the fridge I prepared the filling on the stovetop, cooking chopped dates with orange juice, orange zest, cinnamon and brown sugar. Once the mixture has softened, chopped walnuts are stirred in.

The chilled dough is rolled out, spread with the cooled filling and rolled up tightly like a jelly roll. I learned the hard way that I should have chopped the dates much smaller than I did in order to make it easier to spread the filling over the dough. Oh well, live and learn.

The dough log is gently stretched out to make it longer, cut in half, and then each of those logs is further stretched. You end up with two 14-inch logs which are then refrigerated for another 2 hours so they will be firm and easy to slice. Once the dough logs have firmed up enough they are cut into 1/4-inch slices and baked.

They don't really look much like pinwheels but I know they'll taste great just the same!

Once out of the oven I sampled a few cookies and they were quite nice. They're crispy as you bite into them but are softer in the center because of the dates. The flavour of the dates and orange really come through but the walnuts are very subtle. These would be perfect with a cup of Orange Blossom tea!

Making these cookies took up several chunks of my day but the recipe did yield a large batch of 73 cookies so there's plenty to enjoy now and lots to freeze for later. Definitely worth the time and effort.

Next Up: Brown Sugar Peanut Bars

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

#1 ~ Lemon Bars ~ United States (page 16)

Today was my first day of baking and not knowing which recipe to choose, I decided to make the very first one in the book. This happens to be Lemon Bars, which personally I wouldn't categorize as a cookie but the recipe looked very simple and I love anything lemon so I forged ahead.

The bar consists of a simple shortbread crust which is baked alone at first and then topped off with a zesty lemon filling and further baked until the filling is set in the center. Both the crust and the filling are very easy to prepare. The recipe calls for a 7.5 x 11.75-inch pan and the only one I have which is remotely close to these measurements is made from glass so I figured I would need to make some adjustments to my oven temperature. I reduced it to 325 degrees but at the end of the baking time the bars still seemed far from ready so I increased the temperature to 340 degrees and baked about 5 minutes longer.

Lemon Bars fresh out of the oven

Once the bars were completely cooled they were dusted with some icing sugar and cut into squares.


I couldn't resist and sampled one (or two!) pieces. The shortbread crust is buttery and delicate, the filling tart and lemony and the powdered sugar adds just the right amount of sweetness. In short, they are delicious - sort of like eating lemon meringue pie and they make a nice dessert on a summer day like today. This is definitely a recipe I will make again in the future. 

Next Up: Orange-Date Pinwheels

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Sweet Adventure Begins...

So here I am, months after abandoning my scrapbooking blog, starting yet another! Why? Cookies, that's why! When we visited Fort Edmonton Park recently we walked into the Ottewell Homestead where a fire was burning in the wood stove and a lovely gentleman offered us a cookie which had been baked right there. Baked as one flat sheet and then broken into smaller pieces, the cookies were light, crispy, "oaty" and had a slight coconut flavour. In one word - delicious. Unfortunately, I didn't think to ask what they were called but I kept thinking about how good they were and wondered if I could find a similar recipe. 

My best cookie cookbook is "The International Cookie Cookbook" written by Nancy Baggett and published in 1988. I figured if I could find the recipe anywhere it would be there. I've owned this book for a long time and have looked through it a lot, drooling over the photos of all those scrumptious looking cookies, but I know I've only tried a handful of the recipes. And as I was searching the pages, trying to find something that resembled those crispy cookies I'd sampled, I had an idea. Wouldn't it be fun to try baking every recipe in the book? Yes, it would. I love baking and I love eating cookies. And then I thought...why not document the whole thing on a blog? Why not.

The International Cookie Cookbook by Nancy Baggett

So I've made a bit of a plan. With just over 150 recipes, if I try a new one each week I'll bake my way through the entire book in just under three years. That seems doable. The book is divided into the various regions of the world (North America, Latin America, British Isles, Middle East, etc.) with recipes from various countries within. I haven't quite decided how I'll choose each recipe yet - probably just randomly because I think it would be boring to just go through all the recipes of one region before moving onto the next. I'm hoping I'll be able to find all of the ingredients I need, and some of the recipes do require special equipment such as molds, special pans and shaped cutters so I'm not sure yet what I'll do about that and may have to improvise a bit, but I will definitely give this challenge my best shot. 

Let the baking begin!