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. :-)