Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Russian Tea Cakes (Recipe Included)

I recently made a batch of these tasty little cookies. I have not made them since my last job as a pastry chef, and that was before I had kids, so almost 4 years ago.

I like to change things up when I make cookies. I often tweak things according to my own likes and dislikes. This is a great recipe to switch up. The recipe calls for chopped nuts, but I substituted toasted coconut this time. You can choose any nuts that you like. They are super delicious when made with macadamia nuts! A lot of people also put chopped maraschino cherries in their Russian Tea Cakes. These cookies pair very well with coffee or tea. So, if you want a tasty little cookie for the holidays or to go with coffee when your friend is visiting, these cookies are a great one for you to try.

Russian Tea Cakes appeared in Russia in the 18th century. They were used as a confection in tea-sharing ceremonies. They became quite popular in the US during the 20th century, appearing at weddings and included in Christmas cookie trays. They later became known as "Mexican Wedding Cookies" possibly due to the strained relations with the Soviet Union.

Russian Tea Cakes
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup finely chopped nuts
powdered sugar

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Beat the butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla. Add flour and salt. Stir in nuts. Shape dough into 1 inch balls. Place about 2 inches apart on ungreased sheet. Bake 8-9 minutes or until set. Do not let them get brown. Immediately roll in powdered sugar. Cool completely. Roll in powdered sugar again when cool.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

I love muffins. If you are a loyal reader of my blog, you probably realize by now that I love most baked goods. Muffins are tasty, and I don't feel too guilty when I eat them.

I like to buy the bags of bananas filled with unwanted bananas at the grocery store that are super cheap. It is a bag of at least 3 pounds of bananas for .99. You cannot beat that! They often have a little bruising or are a single banana that no one is going to buy. This is the perfect time to make banana bread or muffins. Also, you can peel and freeze them. Then you have bananas to use for baking any time you need them. I always make some mini muffins and some regular size muffins. Mini muffins are the perfect size snack for my older daughter. I make half with chocolate chips, Ghirardelli bittersweet chips of course ;) And I also make some with chocolate chips and walnuts. As I have mentioned in the past, quick bread recipes are super easy to tweak to your liking. You could put peanut butter chips in instead of chocolate chips. Just tailor the recipe to your liking!

Cavendish is the variety of banana that is most common as an export. That is the variety that we get in our grocery stores. This cultivar gained popularity in the 1950s after the previous mass-produced cultivar, Gros Michel, became commercially inviable due to a fungus that attacks the roots of the banana plant called Panama Disease. Ease of transport and shelf life rather than superior taste make the Cavendish the main export banana.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Shortbread Logs

I made a few new kinds of cookies recently. I am always trying to find new favorite recipes. I especially like finding new cookie recipes that I can add to my list of Christmas cookies!!! I liked this recipe especially because of it's versatility.

Shortbread cookies are an easy cookie that you can do lots of fun things with. I rolled my dough into logs, but you could roll them into any shape that you like. You could roll them into a wreath shape and decorate them for Christmas. You could shape them into a pretzel. Any shape that you could think of, you can do with shortbread dough. I dipped some into melted semi-sweet chocolate. And I also drizzled chocolate over some of them. You could sprinkle ground nuts or sprinkles on the chocolate before it dries. You could use white chocolate and sprinkle them with crushed peppermint candies. Because shortbread cookies are so mild in flavor, you can really do whatever you want with them. They are definitely a fun cookie to experiment with.

Ever wonder why shortening is called shortening or why shortbread is called shortbread? The term short in baking refers to a crumbly texture achieved by a high fat content. I have mentioned in the past that when you mix doughs with flour in them, the gluten develops and lengthens. A high fat content prevents the formation of long protein (gluten) strands, therefore creating a crumbly or "short" texture.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

No-Roll Coconut Sugar Cookies (Recipe Included)

I have been making cookies for an order for a friend. She is working on an awesome project called Evenings in Quarantine: The Zombie Opera. Check it out here.

I tried this new recipe for a yummy no-roll sugar cookies. I made them a few nights ago. I used the regular size cookie scooper that I usually use. Unfortunately, the cookies were much too large and all ran together on the cookie sheet. The ladies in my playgroup got to enjoy these tasty, but not too attractive cookies yesterday morning at playgroup. I made them with a smaller size scoop last night, and they were just right. I am not a huge fan of the sugar cookies that you roll out and cut out with cookie cutters. I just think they are kinda boring. I thought these sounded interesting because they had coconut in them which adds a nice texture. You can't really taste the coconut, but you can definitely tell that there is coconut in them from the texture. I loved them, and it seems as though everyone who has had one has loved them too. I scooped them with a cookie scoop, then rolled them into a nice, smooth ball. After that, I dipped a glass in sugar and pressed the cookie flat. You could use colored sugar for the holidays if you like. You could use coarse sugar for added texture. You can easily tint your own sugar whatever color you like as well. Just pour some sugar into a bowl. I prefer to do this with coarse sugar. Add as much gel food coloring as you like in whatever color that you like. Just rub the sugar and gel coloring together between your palms. I always use food safe gloves to do this.

The word cookie comes from the Dutch word koekje or (informal) koekie which means little cake. Cookies seem to have been around for as long as baking has been documented. This is most likely due to the fact that they travel very well. However, they were usually not sweet enough to be considered cookies by today's standards. Cookies appear to have originated in Persia in the 7th Century AD. This was shortly after the use of sugar became common in the region. They spread to Europe through the Muslim conquest of Spain. By the 14th century, they were common in all levels of society in Europe. You could find them as part of royal cuisine and being sold by street vendors.

No-Roll Coconut Sugar Cookies
1 cups sugar
1 cups butter, softened
1/2 cup flaked coconut
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Beat sugar, butter, coconut, and vanilla until well combined. Add flour, soda, and salt. Stir together. Scoop with cookie scoop, then roll into even ball. Place 3 inches apart on ungreased sheet. Use a measuring cup or the bottom of a glass to flatten each cookie. I press the bottom of the glass into the dough first to make it sticky, then dip it in sugar before flattening each cookie slightly. Bake for about 8-10 minutes or until edges are golden. Let them cool slightly on pan, then remove to wire rack.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Thumbprint Cookies

As I had mentioned in an earlier post, I have been making cookies for a friend's wedding. Her favorite cookies are thumbprints. I made a total of 32 dozen cookies. 27 dozen of them were thumbprints.

Thumbprint cookies are one of my favorite cookies because of their versatility. You just have to find a recipe for the actual cookie that you like. I often find great recipes here. I always roll mine in walnuts, but you could really roll them in anything. My nephew is allergic to nuts, so my sister uses coconut. You could use sesame seeds or sprinkles or nothing at all. Also, you can use any kind of filling that you like. I used black raspberry jam, sweet white icing, and chocolate. Just use your imagination. If you love turtles, roll them in pecans. Then fill them with caramel and top that with chocolate icing. Just think of a combination that you like and try it. Also, if you are using jam, you should put it in while the cookies are warm. Otherwise, let the cookies cool first. (Note: You can wait to fill them with jam too if you are not serving them within a day or two. Jam will soften them over time, so if you are making the cookies ahead of time, fill them closer to serving.)

Thumbprint cookies's origins are not quite clear. Some people say they have Eastern European Jewish roots. Others claim they originated in Poland. In older cookbooks, they were called Thimble Cookies because a thimble was used to make the indentation in the cookie. They still may be called many different names including Butterballs and Polish Tea Cakes.