Monday, December 27, 2010

Chocolate Truffle Cookies

I was browsing my favorite food blogs recently when I came across this on Baking Bites. I knew immediately this was my kind of cookie. Chocolate, with more chocolate and then even more chocolate. Mmmmm. I made up a batch on Christmas Eve to take to my aunt's house along with the other cookies that I normally bring. I'm so glad I did.

If you are a chocolate person, these cookies are for you! A rich flavor and fudgy truffle like texture. It's like brownie, meets cookie, meets truffle. Good stuff!

The dough gets rolled out in 1 inch balls and then coated in unsweetened cocoa powder.

Then bake for 10-11 minutes (the recipe calls for 10 but 11 worked for me). They will look just barely set when you take them out.

Once cooled they get a dip in powdered sugar. I also added a sprinkle of cocoa powder to distinguish them from the pecan short breads (mexican wedding cookies) that were also on my cookie tray. But I would leave off the cocoa powder next time. I like the clean look of the powdered sugar.

They were a hit with the family and will be moving into the annual Christmas cookie rotation. To get the recipe check out Baking Bites.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


The holidays are a time to indulge in those special decadent dishes that your waistline can't afford during your everyday life. One of our favorites is homemade Potato Latkes to celebrate Hanukkah. Unfortunately we were a little late celebrating this year and didn't have our latkes until the eve of Christmas Eve (Hanukkah ended on 12/8). But better late then never. They were delicious.

Latkes are potato pancakes fried in oil and are a Hanukkah tradition. Frying the pancakes in oil is symbolic of the miracle of lights. The short story is in 165 B.C. when Jewish soliders returned triuphant after battle to their holy temple in Jerusalmen that had been occupied by Syrian-Greeks, they proceeded to purify the temple through the ritual of lighting the Temple's menorah for 8 days. They only had enough oil for one day, but lit the menorah anyway. The miracle was that one day's worth of oil lasted for the full 8 days. For more details, click here.

I'm not Jewish, but my hubby is and I am happy to celebrate this thousands of years old tradition because I get to eat delicious fried potato pancakes. I found this recipe in the Gelson's Super Market newsletter the first year I started dating my hubby back in the late 90's. This recipe is fantastic and I think, hands down, is the best latke recipe I've had.

There are a few handy tips I'd like to highlight. Be sure to get as much liquid out of the potato mixture as possible. I put my potatoes and onion mixture in a clean thin kitchen towel and wring it out. You'll be amazed how much liquid comes out. Once the mixture is it back in your bowl and add in the remaining ingredients. I like my latkes small, thin and cripsy and golden brown. I take a large pinch of the mixture and squeeze out any excess liquid. Then I sort of flatten it out with my hand and place it in the hot oil.

I like to serve the latkes with a sour cream topping, though applesauce is traditional as well. In the early years I would make a whole Hanukkah meal, brisket, kugel and green beans to serve with our latkes. Now, we just have latkes for the meal. Who needs that other stuff?

Potato Latkes
Adapted from the Gelson's Super Market Newsletter

1 large onion peeled and grated
1 lb yukon gold potatoes peeled and grated
1 egg beaten
2 Tablespoons matzo meal (I add 1-2 additional depending on how wet the potato mixture is)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup (scant) lemon juice
Vegetable oil for frying

Combine grated potatoes and onions together. Place mixture in 2 batches in a thin, clean kitchen towel and wring out all the liquid. Do this a few times because there's a lot of liquid! Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Heat oil on medium high and drop about two tablepoons of mixture per latke in the oil. Press down with back of a spatula to flatten out. Fry about 3 minutes per side until golden brown and crispy. Place finished latkes on a wire rack placed over a paper towel lined baking sheet in a 200 degree to keep warm. Serve with Sour Cream Topping (see recipe below) or applesauce.

Sour cream topping:
Combine 1/2 cup of sour cream with 1/2 teaspoon of Lawry's seasoning salt and 2 Tablespoons of finely chopped chives or green onions.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Chocolate Chip Candy Cane Cookies

I love peppermint bark (who doesn't?). I love chocolate chip cookies (again, who doesn't?). Therefore, it's a given that I would also love chocolate chip candy cane cookies. I admit, I didn't think up this divine creation on my own. In one of my first real jobs after college, a co-worker brought these in for the holidays. After one bite I deemed her a cookie genius! She caved and easily turned over the very complicated recipe...

Wait for it.

Nestle Tollhouse Cookies with crushed candy canes stirred in.

Simple and brilliant. How did I not think of these before?

These are delicious, and I am certain Santa would like to have two or three of these with a nice glass of milk when he visits your house this Christmas.

Chocolate Chip Candy Cane Cookies
Adapted from Nestle Tollhouse Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 cups chocolate chips
3/4 cup crushed candy canes (about 12 full size candy canes)

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl and set aside. Cream butter, sugars and vanilla. Add in eggs 1 at a time. Gradually add in dry ingredients until combined. Stir in chocolate chips and crushed candy canes. Drop rounded tablespoons of dough onto a baking sheet (lined with parchment paper). Bake at 375 degrees for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Ginger Snaps

Is Christmas really 5 days away? How did that happen?

Christmas can't go by without baking homemade ginger snap cookies. That would be criminal. The warm spices of ginger and cinnamon in a chewy molasses cookie sing Christmastime to me. Gingersnaps are a staple in my annual holiday baking tradition. Oh, and they are delicious.

The ingredients are simple. The dough is easy to make. And these cookies are WAY too easy to eat. You really can't eat just one. They have a chewy middle and an ever so slight crispness on the outer edge. Just how I like my cookies.

The dough needs to be covered and refrigerated for at least an hour up to overnight.

I like to use my trusty number 60 cookie scoop.

This recipe yields about 75 3 inch cookies.

These delicious spice filled treats make a perfect addition to a holiday cookie tray.

Go on. Go make them. You can thank me later.

Happy baking!

Ginger Snap Recipe
Recipe comes from a family friend and the original source is unknown

1 1/2 cups butter softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs slightly beaten
1/2 cup molasses
2 tsp baking soda dissolved in 1 T of boiling water
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
4 cups flour

Mix butter and sugar until creamy. Add eggs, molasses and baking soda/water mixture. In a separate bowl whisk together the dry ingredients and slowly combine with the wet mixture. Chill for at least an hour (up to overnight). Roll into 3/4 inch to 1 inch balls and roll generously in granulated sugar. Bake at 350 for 10 to 12 minutes.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Raspberry and Lemon Linzers

Sometimes I like to pretend that I don't have a job (Amy you should ignore this statement). That all I have to worry about is what new thing I will bake or cook. And this blog is my creative outlet to document my adventures and misadventures in the kitchen. It's true, this blog is my creative outlet. But I do indeed have a job (though I don't mention it much here in this forum). I spent much of this past week traveling for work and putting out fires as this month is our absolute busiest time of year. I am almost a week behind in posting here so you'll see a few posts go up one after another as I want to share these in time for the holidays.

The linzer. It's my favorite holiday cookie to eat. I can't say it's my favorite to make. There are quite a few steps involved...but the effort is worth the end result. After all...these really only make an appearance in my kitchen once a year. Plus I was able to incorporate a few new tips this year to make things just a tiny bit easier.

Making the dough is really simple. It has just a few ingredients and comes together quickly in a stand mixer. I dump out the dough onto plastic wrap and form it in a large square about 2 inches thick. I then cut it into quarters and form each section into a 6-7 inch circle that is about 3/4 inch thick. Wrap each disc in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 45 minutes to an hour.

The next step is rolling the dough out to cut with a cookie cutter. The dough should be firm but still have a little bit of give when you press into it. Meaning it shouldn't be so firm that it can't be rolled out without cracking around the edges. You may need to let it sit out for 10-15 minutes before it's ready. Only take out 1-2 discs at a time.

Get out the flour and 2 large pieces of parchment paper about 12 x 18 inches.

Unwrap the first disc and place it on a lightly floured piece of parchment. Generously flour each side of the disc. Place the second piece of parchment on top of the dough. Begin rolling the dough out from the center with your rolling pin until it's 1/8 inch thick. Place the rolled out dough (parchment and all) on a baking sheet and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes (the longer is ok want it to get nice and firm). This method makes the cookies easy to cut and peel back from the parchment to place on a prepared baking sheet.

The parchment dough rolling method is new to me this year and has really taken a great deal of frustration out of the process. Dough can be difficult to work with. In past years I rolled out the dough on my counter top and it often resulted in me not being able to pull up the cookie once it was cut. Parchment is a genius kitchen accessory! In fact I buy pre-cut sheets in bulk from a local restaurant supply store that is open to the public (a great resource to check out in your local area).

Remove the top piece of parchment and begin cutting out your cookies. I made bite sized linzers and used a 1 1/4 inch scalloped cookie cutter. Place the cut cookies on a parchment lined baking sheet. Once all your cookies are cut out, gather the dough scraps together and form them into a ball and set aside to combine with the scraps from the next disk of dough.

Now the cookies are ready for an egg wash and almond sugar topping. The egg whites should be whisked until they are frothy.

The almonds are finely ground in food processor (I like to use my Mini Prep) with granulated sugar.

Brush each cookie with egg wash.

And sprinkle the almond sugar topping on each cookie.

Half the cookies need a little window cut out of the top to showcase the filling. I use a micro diamond shaped cutter for these.

This is the second tip that I just figured out this year. That's not actually true. Let's step back to last year. My sister was staying with us and helping me bake. I cut the windows out and then did the egg wash and topping step. This makes for cut outs that are jagged and sometimes grow together to fill in the space when the cookies bake. After they cooled, I would spend time hollowing them out with a toothpick. It was a not so fun step in the process and often resulted in broken cookies (and I had been doing it this way for a few years). My sister casually said why don't you put the topping on the cookie and THEN cut out the window? I stared back at her a bit dumbfounded. I had no answer. So guess how I do it now? Thanks Katie!

Bake for 8-10 minutes. Once cooled group the cookies together on the baking sheet and generously dust with powdered sugar.

Now the fun part! Filling. I use seedless raspberry preserves and lemon curd (both from Dickinson's). Place several heaping spoonfuls of filling in a ziploc bag and squish around a bit to get the juices flowing. Snip off a small corner to and pipe a generous portion onto the bottom cookie.

Top with a window cookie and then eat one immediately so you can taste the fruits of your labor.

These keep well for at least 3 days at room temperature in a sealed container. In fact, I think these cookies get even better after 1 or 2 days. They almost melt in your mouth.

Raspberry or Lemon Sandwich Cookies (also known as Linzers)
Adapted from Jay Crowley's recipe published in the Chicago Tribune around 2002

2 sticks (1 cup) butter
2/3 cup of sugar plus 1/2 cup of sugar
2 eggs, separated
2 1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup ground blanched almonds (I just grind the almonds in my mini food processor)
Powdered sugar

Raspberry Preserves
Lemon Curd
(I like the Dickinson's brand for both)

1. Beat butter in bowl of electric mixer on medium until fluffy. Add in 2/3 cup of sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks one at a time. Combine flour and salt in a small bowl and then add to butter mixture. Beat just until dough comes together. Divide dough into 4 sections and pat into a circle about 1 inch thick. Cover each section in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours. Meanwhile, combine the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar with the almonds and set aside.

2. Heat oven to 375. Remove 1 section of dough and roll out dough to 1/8 inch thickness between two large pieces of floured parchment paper. Place the dough back on a cookie sheet and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes (if not longer). Remove top piece of parchment and cut into rounds with a 1-2 inch cookie cutter (you can use any size or shape) and place on a parchment lined baking sheet 1/4 inch apart (cookies don't really increase in size much so they can be placed close together). Repeat with remaining sections of dough.

3. Beat egg whites in a small bowl until frothy. Brush all the cookies with the egg whites and sprinkle almond/sugar mixture on top of each cookie. If you want to cut a decorative hole out of the tops of each cookie (so the jam can be seen) do it after you top the cookies with the almond sugar mixture. Remember to save whole rounds for the bottoms. Bake until very lightly browned, about 8-10 min. Cool on a wire rack.

4. Dust cookies with powdered sugar. Spread raspberry preserves or lemon curd on the bottom cookies and top with decorative cookie tops. Sometimes I make these without the decorative holes in the top to save time and an extra step.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas Cake Truffles - Step by Step

Have you had a cake truffle before? Yes? No? No???? Oh my God! You have to make these now just so you can have one. Or 10. Well maybe not 10 at once. My friend did a rough calculation and estimates these little babies to be at least 100 calories each. I haven't checked her math, but WOW! And yes, they are that good. But if you eat 10 you might go into sugar shock. So just eat 1 or 2. Then give the rest away to your friends and family and they will express their undying love to you forever and ever.

They are easy to make and I will take you on my step by step journey of making Christmas themed cake truffles last weekend. Even though there are quite a few pictures (ok, 21 to be exact)...I still wish I had snapped a few more throughout the process. But you will get the gist. I made red velvet and devil's food cake truffles, but you can make any flavor cake you like. Start with your favorite box of cake mix. Yes, I said box. If you are feeling really ambitious you can make your cake from scratch. But I used a box...

of red velvet cake mix and baked according to the instructions.

Let the cake cool completely.

Finely crumble cake with your hands.

Or for a much much faster approach, use a food processor. (I didn't take as many photos of the red velvet process so now we're switching over to chocolate.) Just place hunks of the baked and cooled cake into the food processor in batches.

Once the first batch is crumbled, dump it into a big bowl and then repeat until your whole cake is finely crumbled.

Oooooohhhh, crumbly!

Then grab your canister of store bought frosting, such as cream cheese....yes, store bought. Or you can make your own. Anyway, spoon about 2/3 of the container of frosting into your big bowl of cake crumble.

And work it into the cake. I like to use a rubber spatula.

Until it all disappears and you have a fudgy dough like consistency.

Get out your medium sized cookie scoop (I use a number 60--the number can be seen on the swipy thingy that ejects the dough from the scoop) and scoop away.

Place your cake balls onto a tin foil or parchment lined cookie sheet.

Make sure to use a cookie sheet that will fit into your freezer (I use a jelly roll sized sheet and it's a perfect fit for my side by side fridge/freezer).

Once all your balls are scooped out, place a ball in your impeccably clean hand.

And roll it around between both hands until it forms a solid smooth ball like this one.

Place the balls back on your cookie sheet and freeze for 1 hour. The freezing helps the balls to hold better shape when you dip them in the chocolate. By the way, one box of cake mix makes about 60 truffles.

Here's where I skipped a few photos. Now it's time to melt the chocolate. Place about a half inch to inch of water in a small to medium sauce pan. Meanwhile, place the melting candies (dark cocoa is my preference) in a medium to large deep bowl. 1 and 1/2 bags of candy is usually enough to coat 1 batch of cake balls. Once the water is simmering, turn heat to low and place the bowl on top of the pot of simmering water. Stir occasionally until the candies melt into a smooth, silky, consistency. Don't let too much steam build up on the outside of your bowl. If this happens turn your water down (or use a deeper bowl). Water and melted chocolate don't mix well and any extra moisture can cause your chocolate to seize. Note that if you use white or other colored melting candies, they do not melt as nicely or have the silky dippable consistency of dark chocolate. But I have heard adding a bit of shortening helps thin it out, but I haven't tried it myself.

Once the chocolate is melted I like to remove my pot and bowl from the stove and let the chocolate cool down for about 5 minutes. But leave the bowl on top of the can place the pot on a potholder. This keeps the chocolate warm. During this 5 minutes you can prepare another cookie sheet (I like to use the half sheet pan size) by lining it with parchment paper. You can also assemble all your decorative toppings. I pour small amounts in little bowls so that not too much goes to waste.

The next step is dipping and decorating. You need think about this BEFORE you start dipping your balls. If you want little sprinkles or jimmies you need to sprinkle them on just after the ball is dipped. If you want to use a colored melting candy to pipe on decorative designs then you would wait until the dipped balls are set up or dried. I did a little of both.

Now to the dipping. Have a standard dinner fork ready and drop your cake ball into the melted chocolate. Gently toss the ball around in the chocolate with the fork until it is well coated. Then scoop up the chocolate covered ball with the fork and lightly tap, tap, tap it on the side of your bowl allowing some of the excess chocolate to drip off back into the bowl.

When you are ready, hold the fork at a 45 degree angle pointing downward and carefully dump or roll the ball off your fork onto the parchment lined cookie sheet you prepared earlier. Do this slowly and be patient. You can coax the chocolate dipped ball off the fork by tapping it a little on the cookie sheet until it rolls off. If your dough is too soft you may see "fork marks" in your cake truffle...don't worry! Keep a small rubber spatula nearby to smooth over any holes. Your want your cake to be completely coated. Another trick I learned is to keep the sheet of balls in the freezer and just pull out about 6 at a time.

If you are using sprinkles you have to decorate each ball as it is placed on your cookie sheet. These babies dry incredibly fast so don't dilly dally! You can also decorate by piping on other colored candy melts or frosting. This type of decoration can and should be done after your chocolate dipped balls have dried.

The decorating possibilities are endless! If you can, seek out a local cake decorating store. They will likely have a much greater selection of decorating goodies then a craft super store like Michaels. They carry things like pretty sanding sugars, lustre dust and sprinkles of all shapes, colors and sizes...super fun stuff!!!

Next place your beautiful cake truffle creations in little candy cups and package them up. These cool boxes are made by Wilton and can be found at Michael's. They hold 9 cake truffles perfectly and make for a nice presentation with the preview window. You want to show off all your hard work! Tie with a decorative ribbon and even put on a label and you have a wonderful homemade treat to share.

Happy cake truffle making!