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Entries in Cookies (165)

Sunday
Aug232009

This Little Piggy: The Miss Piggy Bacon and Chocolate Chip Cookie, Volunteer Park Cafe, Seattle

"Miss Piggy" Cookie, Volunteer Park Cafe
Bacon in baked goods. It's hardly a new culinary trick, but it has enjoyed a bit of a vogue in recent years, showing up in everything from chocolates to brownies to cupcakes...and now, chocolate chip cookies.

When I visited Volunteer Park Cafe for the first time the other day with my buddies Neil and Judy, we tried out their "Miss Piggy" cookie--a generously sized chocolate chip cookie studded with bacon bits.

In general, I don't seek out bacon in baked goods, feeling like it's more often a shock-value addition than something intended to really bring out the flavors--but in this case, I did feel as if it actually worked. The bacon was used sparingly, so the taste was more of a whisper than a shout. While our consensus was that perhaps the bacon could have been slightly more crisp to add a texture contrast to the chewy cookie, it was overall a pretty successful use of sweet and savory. And for vegeterians, I'm pretty confident that the same would hold true if the cookie had been made with Morningstar's soy-based bacon.

What do you think about bacon in baked goods? Is it simply a shock-value addition, or are there delicious merits?

The Miss Piggy Cookie, Volunteer Park Cafe (call for availability), 1501 17th Avenue East, Seattle; online at alwaysfreshgoodness.com.

Thursday
Aug202009

Sea Biscuit: The Hermit Cookie of 1880-90

Delicious Sandwich Cookie
The late 1800s were a pretty eventful time in the USA: in New York, the Brooklyn Bridge was opened and Lady Liberty was installed; in the West, Billy the Kid and Jesse James bit the dust; the nation also grew, officially adding Washington, Montana and the Dakotas to the Union. And according to Betty Crocker's Cooky Book, the cookie of the decade was the Hermit:

One of our earliest favorites--rich with spices from the Indies, plump with fruits and nuts, Hermits originated in Cape Cod in Clipper Ship days. They went to sea on many a voyage, packed in canisters and tucked in sea chests.


Now, you may be wondering where this morsel got its funny name. There are a few theories uncovered on historycook.com:

 

Some say that the cookies were named because they look like a hermit's brown sack-cloth robe, but the earliest recipes are for white and round cookies. One possible lead is that the Moravians, an ethno-religious group well-known for thin spice cookies in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, were sometimes called "herrnhutter" in German or Dutch, and that might have sounded like "hermits" to an English-speaking cook.


Funny name and hazy origins aside, there's definitely another reason why hermits have lingered in our cookie jars: they're rich, cakey, moist, and satisfying. Adding raisins makes them taste vaguely virtuous, if you're into that--I'm not, so I substituted chocolate chips, and it worked out quite deliciously. They got even better when I sandwiched a slab of cheesecake filling between two of them (I think frosting would also work fantastically).
Hermits
Hermits


- makes about 3 dozen small cookies or 24 large cookies; if you're interested in the cheesecake filling shown in the top photo, you can find the recipe here -
 
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cups brown sugar, packed
  • 1 eggs
  • 1/4 cup cold coffee
  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup chocolate (or white chocolate) chips
  • 3/4 cup coarsely chopped nuts (I used walnuts)
  1. Mix butter, sugar and egg thoroughly. Stir in coffee.
  2. Sift dry ingredients together; mix bit by bit into the butter/egg mixture.
  3. Once incorporated, add the chocolate chips and nuts and stir only until incorporated.
  4. Chill dough for at least 1 hour.
  5. Heat oven to 400 F. 
  6. If you want small cookies, drop rounded teaspoonfuls of dough onto your cookie sheet; if you're not scared of a big cookie, do as I did and use an ice cream scoop. 
  7. Bake 8-10 minutes for small cookies, 12 or so minutes for larger ones, or until there is the slightest crispiness on the bottom (as they have a light brown hue from the coffee, you've got to be careful about this!).

 

Wednesday
Jul222009

Cookies by Tea: Delicious Little Picnic-Friendly Morsels

Cookies by Tea
My friend Tea says she's not a baker, but as you can see by these cookies, she's a liar.

She served these little morsels at a recent picnic we had (along with buddies Megan, Scott and Mr. CakeSpy), and they were definitely the star of the show. Though unassuming in size (while the close-up shot may fool you, they are actually about the same size as a jumbo marshmallow), they pack in a lot of flavor: they're chock full of white and milk chocolate chips, nuts and apricots, and very, very buttery. The apricot works especially beautifully, adding a wonderful moisture to the texture as well as a nice flavor complement to the sweet chocolate chips. Honestly, I can't imagine a more perfect picnic cookie. They're compulsively eatable and extremely addictive: just watch out, because it's easy to lose track of how many you've eaten!

Now, I haven't made the cookies myself (yet), but Tea based her recipe on this one, but with minor changes.

Tea's Cookies
  • 1 2/3 cups regular flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup melted butter
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 2/3 cup white chocolate chips
  • 2/3 cup milk chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup chopped almonds
  • 3/4 cup dried apricots, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

 

2. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, and salt. In a large bowl, stir in the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Stir in the dry ingredients until well blended, then add the chips, almonds, and apricots.

3. Drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls onto an unprepared cookie sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in the preheated oven. Cookies should be golden brown. Remove from the baking sheet to cool on wire racks.

4. Enjoy, preferably at a picnic.

 

If you've never visited the Tea & Cookies site, then boy, are you in for a treat: click here! If you have visited before, why not visit again...now?

Wednesday
Jul152009

Look To The Cookie: A Chocolate Chip Cookie Timeline

Chocolate Chip Cookie Timeline
Oh, Chocolate Chip Cookie. Ever since you were discovered by accident by Ruth Wakefield in the 1930's, you've taken the nation by storm, claiming our affections and our appetites. But while much has been made of your discovery, pinpointing your progress from regional specialty to worldwide superstar is a little bit harder. And so, dear cookie, in an effort to get to know you better, I've created a timeline in an effort to see where you've been and where you're going. In short, Chocolate Chip Cookie, this is your life:

1930: Ruth Wakefield moves into the Toll House, which was originally constructed in 1709 as a haven for road-weary travelers, where passengers. Here, passengers paid toll, changed horses and ate much-welcomed home-cooked meals”. The 1930s incarnation (sans toll) was quite similar. (Source: verybestbaking.com)

1934: Could this be a wrinkle in the story of the cookie's invention? According to foodtimeline.org, the Hershey's 1934 Cookbook contains a recipe for "Chocolatetown chip cookies" (p. 75) that includes a 12 ounce package of Hershey's Baking Chips. Here's a link to the book.
Cookie Flower
1937: According to verybestbaking.com, this is the year Ruth made the One day, while preparing a batch of Butter Drop Do cookies, a favorite recipe dating back to Colonial days, Ruth cut a bar of our NESTLÉ Semi-Sweet Chocolate into tiny bits and added them to her dough, expecting them to melt.
Instead, the chocolate held its shape and softened to a delicately creamy texture. The resulting creation became very popular at the Inn. Soon, Ruth's recipe was published in a Boston newspaper, as well as other papers in the New England area. Regional sales of the NESTLÉ Semi-Sweet Chocolate Bar skyrocketed.

1937-39: Somewhere in this period, Ruth approaches Nestle and they reach an agreement wherein she receives free chocolate or life, and they get to print her recipe on the back of their semi-sweet chocolate bar (at the time, scored chocolate bars were used for the chips in the cookies).

King Cookie
1939: The chocolate chip cookie is featured on the Betty Crocker radio program “Famous Foods from Famous Places”. This propels the cookie from regional treat to national phenomenon. (Source: Betty Crocker's Cooky Book)

Chocolate Chips
It is also this year that in an effort to make the cookies easier to bake, Nestle debuts their Semi-sweet chocolate morsels.

1940’s: The cookie’s popularity is cemented as it is commonly sent in care packages to soldiers during the war years: an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette notes that “when the boys in service are asked about the kind of cookie they’d like to get from home, this kind still rates high…it is not just designed for packing and boxes and shipping; it will be just as welcome to the home folks who frequent your table…and by those who like to find something in that cookie jar when they lift its lid”.

Smart Cookie
1948: According to etymonline.com, the phrase "Smart Cookie" is first documented this year.

1955: General Mills files the first known patent for dry cookie mix.

1957: According to etymonline.com, the phrase "that's how the cookie crumbles" is first documented this year.

1959: Lemon chips (lemon-flavored morsels in the style of chocolate chips) are introduced, and all of a sudden hybrids of chocolate chip cookies involving flavored morsels begin to abound; peanut butter, white chocolate, toffee and more follow. All of a sudden, the chocolate chip cookie's family expands.
Yummy cookies
1963: Chips Ahoy! Makes their supermarket debut.

1966: The original Toll House is sold to a family who tries to turn it into a nightclub; a bakery down the block continues baking the cookies based on the original recipe.

1969: The Cookie Monster (at this point unnamed) makes his debut on the first episode of Sesame Street.

Also this year, Hershey’s introduces their own morsels, the “Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips”
Sweet love
1971: The first Starbucks opens. I don't know about you, but I tend to believe that their bakery offerings were the inspiration for a lot of coffee shop bakery cases, so this would ultimately impact the chocolate chip cookie!

Cookie Shop
1975: Per Wikipedia, a failed agent decides to open what is believed to be the first chocolate chip cookie-specific store: Famous Amos. Today, there is a sign commemorating the first Famous Amos store in Los Angeles, located at West Sunset Boulevard and North Formosa Avenue in Hollywood.

Cookie Crisp
1977: Ralston debuts Cookie Crisp Cereal.

Also this year, the first Mrs. Fields store opens in California and is said to have debuted the first cookie cake.

Also this year, Great American Cookies opens in Atlanta, GA.

Also this year (what an eventful year for cookies!) there is a lawsuit involving chocolate chip cookies which gets settled in NYC.

1979: A large amount of chocolate chip cookie-specific shops start opening in NYC.

Chipwich!
1980: Per Wikipedia, the Chipwich, an ice cream sandwich made with chocolate chip cookies and extra chips rolled on the sides, is invented by Richard LaMotta, a former CBS-TV video engineer.

Tube Cookies?
Also this year, 1980: Procter and Gamble registers the first US patent for shelf-stable cookie dough.

Also this year, Maida Heatter's recipe for the “Big Sur” chocolate chip cookie (Heatter says "These California cookies are 6 inches in diameter --they are the largest homemade chocolate chip cookie I know") hits the mainstream this year and becomes a popular product in bakeries.

Big Sur Cookies
  • 1 1/2 Cups sifted AP Flour
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 1 tsp Baking Soda
  • 1/2 tsp Cinnamon
  • 6 oz (1 1/2 sticks) Unsalted Butter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Vanilla Extract
  • 1 tsp Lemon Juice
  • 2/3 Cup Light Brown Sugar, firmly packed
  • 1/3 Cup granulated Sugar
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1/4 Cup quick cooking (not instant) Rolled Oats
  • 6 oz. (1 1/2 cups) Walnuts, cut or broken into medium sized pieces
  • 6 oz. (1 Cup) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels

1. Preheat oven to 350. Cut aluminum foil to fit cookie sheets.

 

2. Sift together the flour, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon, - set aside.

3. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter. Add the vanilla and lemon juice and then both of the sugars and beat to mix. Beat in the eggs one at a time. On low spedd, add the sifted dry ingredients and then the rolled oats, scraping the bowl as nessary with a rubber spatula and beating only until mixed.

4. Remove from the mixer and stir in the nuts and morsels.

5. Now work next to the sink or have a large bowl of water handy so you can wet your hands while shaping the cookies, Spread out a piece of wax paper or foil. Use a 1/4 cup measuring cup to measure the amount of dough for each cookie. form 12 - 15 mounds of the dough , and place them any which way on the foil or wax paper. Wet your hands with cold water, shake off the water but don't dry your hands , pick up a mound of dough, roll it into a ball, flatten it to about 1/2 inch thickness, and place it on the foil. Do not place more than 4 cookies on a 12 x 15 1/2 inch piece of foil or cookie sheet. These spread to gigantic proportions.

6. Bake two sheets at a time for 16 to 18 minutes, reversing the sheets top to bottom and front to back as necessary to ensure even browning. Bake unitl the cookies are well colored; they must not be too pale. Watch these carefully; they might become too dark before you know it.

1983: Though the company started in 1977, this is an important year because Otis Spunkmeyer revamps their previous retail business model and creates a business model wherein they created a fresh-baked cookie program for other foodservice operators. The program included pre-portioned frozen cookie dough, a pre-set convection oven and marketing materials. This innovative program, allowed both big and small food service operators to sell fresh baked cookies (within 18 minutes) in their facilities. Today, Otis Spunkmeyer ready-to-bake cookie dough is the #1 brand in the foodservice industry. (Source: Wikipedia)

Also this year, Blue Chip Cookies is established, and it claims to be the first business to sell the white chocolate chip macadamia cookie.

Cookie Trials and tribulations
1984: The Toll House burns down, under the photograph printed by the New York Times (January 2, 1985 I 12:5) describing the fire that destroyed Ruth Wakefield's kitchen the reads "Wreckage of Toll House Restaurant in Whitman, Mass. It was where the chocolate chip cookie was invented."

Chocolate Chip Coconut Pecan Cookies
1987: Cookie wars break out between David’s cookies and Pillsbury over whose ready-to-bake cookie dough products will take center stage in grocery stores.

Cookies Love Milk
1990: City Bakery opens in NYC and grabs the attention of chocolate chip cookie enthusiasts all over.
Cookie Dough Ice Cream
1991: Ben and Jerry’s is credited with bringing chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream to the world in a big way this year. It wasn’t too surprising considering the runaway success of cookies n cream, debuted in 1983, though.

1992: Hilary Clinton gets in trouble for saying she’s not one who wants to “stay home and bake cookies”. In an effort to make nice later, she shares her favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe with Family circle magazine.

1995: Doubletree Hotels begin giving out cookies at check-in. This becomes a popular service for several boutique hotels.

Cookie from Levain
Levain Bakery opens in New York City and brings their mountainous cookies to the masses.

1996: Not sure if they were the ones who invented it, but this is the year that Dunkin Donuts debuted the chocolate chip bagel. This was a beautiful, beautiful combination of carbohydrates and chocolate chips and at least deserves a shout-out.

Chocolate chip cookie dough is a big part of this winning recipe from the Pillsbury Bake-Off (picture from Pillsbury.com):

 

  • 1 roll (16.5 oz) Pillsbury® refrigerated chocolate chip cookies
  • 1 cup quick-cooking oats
  • Dash salt, if desired
  • 2/3 cup SMUCKER'S® Caramel Ice Cream Topping
  • 5 tablespoons Pillsbury BEST® all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3/4 cup Fisher® Chef's Naturals® Chopped Walnuts
  • 1 cup Hershey's® semi-sweet baking chips (6 oz)
Heat oven to 350°F. In large bowl, break up cookie dough. Stir or knead in oats and salt. Reserve 1/2 cup dough for topping. In ungreased 9-inch square pan, press remaining dough mixture evenly in bottom to form crust.
Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until dough puffs and appears dry.
In small bowl, mix caramel topping, flour and vanilla until well blended. Sprinkle walnuts and baking chips evenly over crust. Drizzle evenly with caramel mixture. Crumble reserved 1/2 cup dough mixture over caramel.
Bake 20 to 25 minutes longer or until golden brown. Cool 10 minutes. Run knife around sides of pan to loosen bars. Cool completely, about 1 hour, 30 minutes. For bars, cut into 4 rows by 4 rows. Store tightly covered.

 

1997: The chocolate chip cookie is declared the official state cookie of Massachussetts.

Also this year, according to the New York Times, Neiman Marcus puts and end to an urban myth about their shop charging a customer $250 for their chocolate chip cookie. Turns out, they never even sold chocolate chip cookies—but they started to after the myth made the rounds. And they sold well.

Mom's super secret chocolate chip cookies
Also this year, this documentation was made of the baking and eating of the world’s largest chocolate chip cookie at the time (maybe still?).

Also this year, an application filed to patent the chocolate chip cookie pie. I still like the cookie cake pie better.

2008: David Leite’s fascinating New York Times article about seeking perfection in the classic cookie renews interest in the cookie around the world and introduces the idea of letting the dough rest to the masses, as well as the idea of using discs rather than chocolate morsels.

Those Famous Chocolate Chip Cookies from the New York Times

Time: 45 minutes (for 1 6-cookie batch), plus at least 24 hours’ chilling
  • 2 cups minus 2 tablespoons
  • (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
  • 1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content (see note)
  • Sea salt.
1. Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.

 

2. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.

4. Scoop 6 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Eat warm, with a big napkin.

Yield: 1 1/2 dozen 5-inch cookies.

Note: Disks are sold at Jacques Torres Chocolate; Valrhona fèves, oval-shaped chocolate pieces, are at Whole Foods.

Also this year, CakeSpy teaches you how not to make a chocolate chip cookie.

Is there a sweet moment from the Chocolate Chip Cookie's history that has been missed? Leave a comment and it will be added!

 

Need a Mother's Day gift idea? Send Mom a personalized cookie gift basket with Clever Cookie, where gifts are good enough to eat.

Monday
Jul062009

Under My Thumb: A Loving Look at the Vegan Thumbprint Cookie

Vegan Apricot Thumbprint from Zoka
Can we talk about vegan thumbprint cookies for a moment?

These nubbly little jam-filled treats are a very popular vegan choice in Seattle (possibly beyond?). They've been available at Flying Apron (and since they wholesale, also at coffee shops and grocery stores which carry their pastries too) for years, but now there are several other shops and bakeries which also carry variations on this vegan cookie. What accounts for this cookie's popularity in vegan form, though?

Well, for one thing, they're an easy cookie to veganize without sacrificing any flavor. Though many classic recipes for thumbprint cookies include butter, many also use oil; so really, in some cases these cookies are inherently vegan. And to speak specifically to their popularity in the Northwest, they're a dense, oaty cookie, and Seattleites do tend to love those vaguely healthy tasting, granola-y treats.

For me, these cookies have been sort of a gateway drug into the world of vegan confectionery: they're dense and chewy and oaty; sweet but not cloying--the perfect type of cookie to eat for breakfast. Here is just a sampling of some that I've known and loved around town: 


Vegan Apricot Thumbprint from Zoka
The vegan thumbprints at Zoka Coffee are generously sized, generously dolloped with jam (apricot and I believe raspberry), and are wonderfully nutty.
The thumbprints at Flying Apron bakery (not pictured) are not only vegan but gluten-free too; they are made with a mixture of rice and garbanzo flour which gives them a nice flavor complexity; they're finished with a sweet apricot jam.

Vegan Thumbprint cookies
The vegan thumbprint cookies at Whole Foods in Seattle are wonderfully spiced and have a nice, slightly crunchy oaty texture. 

 

Vegan Thumbprint Cookie

The vegan thumbprints at PCC in Seattle are the chewiest of the lot, but plenty dense and flavorful--I especially love these ones for breakfast.


Want to make your own vegan thumbprint cookies? Here are just a few good-looking recipes online:

Do you have a great recipe to share or know of a good spot for vegan thumbprints not mentioned here? Leave a comment!

 

Monday
Mar092009

Sugar Crash: An Unusual Introduction to the Cowboy Cookie

Cookie Sandwich
Sometimes a new baked good just comes crashing into your life--full throttle, no apologies, no turning back.

The Cowboy Cookie was such a treat for us--literally.

You see, not so long ago, a car crashed into the house neighboring the CakeSpy Headquarters. No, really. See?
Car Crash!
It crashed right into the kitchen, where said neighbor happened to be at the time of the crash--in the middle of mixing up some cookie batter.
Dough ballsDough
Well, needless to say their oven was not OK, so we found ourselves in the unique position of having inherited a batch of cookie dough, all ready to bake. And so preheat the oven we did, and about half an hour later, we had a fresh batch of cookies. What resulted was a mysterious, yet delicious, cookie. They had oats, but couldn't quite be called an oatmeal cookie; they had chocolate chips, and yet we wouldn't quite call them a chocolate chip cookie. And did we detect a pecan or two?
Cookies
Turns out, they're called Cowboy Cookies--and with their dramatic entrance, they've certainly lassoed our hearts--and with an extra dab of chocolate frosting in between, they're bound to corral the affections of just about any cookie lover.

Stack of cookies
There are a number of varieties of the Cowboy Cookie to be found online, and they're certainly an easy one to personalize to taste; but in case you're curious, this recipe that we found on Martha Stewart seemed very close to the ones that we had:

Cowboy Cookies

  • Vegetable oil cooking spray
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup light-brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 6 ounces semisweet chocolate, cut into 1/4-inch chunks (1 cup)
  • 3 ounces (3/4 cup) pecan halves
  • 1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
Directions

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat baking sheets with cooking spray, line with parchment, and spray parchment. Sift flour, baking soda, salt, and baking powder into a medium bowl.
Beat butter and sugars with a mixer on medium-high until pale and creamy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla.
Reduce speed to low, and slowly add flour mixture, beating until just incorporated. Beat in oats, chocolate, pecans, and coconut until combined. (Dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.)
Using a 1 1/2-inch ice cream scoop or a small spoon, drop dough onto baking sheets, spacing 3 inches apart.
Bake until edges of cookies begin to brown, 11 to 13 minutes. Transfer baking sheets to wire rack, and let cool for 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to racks. Let cool. (Cookies can be stored up to 3 days.)

 

Thursday
Feb262009

Short But Sweet: A Salute to Shortbread

SHORTBREAD!
Shortbread is certainly one of life's small pleasures: crispy, tantalizingly buttery, and when done right, the perfect combination of sweet and slightly salty.

With only three main ingredients (flour, sugar and butter--with a dash of salt for good measure)--traditional shortbread isn't a complex thing, but we would be hard-pressed to call it simple food. Because certainly there is an art to mixing those ingredients, to yielding the elusively perfect, buttery crumb.
But what else lies beneath this humble cookie? We took some time to think about various aspects of the cookie--here's what we discovered.
First off, where does the cookie come from?

As Historic-UK.com informs us, the story of shortbread begins with the medieval biscuit ("twice-baked"), wherein leftover bread dough was baked a second time to form a type of rusk--this is to say, if you picture a family tree of cookies, this would mean that shortbread, rusks and biscotti all share some relatives.
While by some accounts they existed as far back as the 12th century in Britain, it seems to us that it is truly Scotland where shortbread as we know it was developed: it is here that gradually the yeast began to be replaced with butter, and oat flour, which were some of their agricultural staples. These "short" bread cookies were a fancy dessert, reserved for the wealthy and for special occasions. And certainly their popularity was bolstered by the fact that in the 16th Century, they are said to have been a favorite of Mary, Queen of Scots (she liked a variation which included caraway seeds, in case you were interested).

Dipped Shortbread at Au Bon Pain, Penn Station
Why are they called "short"?
It's all about the butter, baby! According to Everything You Pretend to Know about Food and Are Afraid Someone Will Ask, which is like, our favorite book ever,
short pastry is a nonyeast pastry that has a high ratio of butter to flour. Short pastries bake up crumbly rather than chewy and tend to keep well, owing to their high fat content.
What is the proper shape for a traditional shortbread cookie?
We've seen them round, rectangular, diamond-shaped, and cut into wedges from a larger round--so what gives? Is there a proper shape for a traditional shortbread cookie? Once again according to Historic-UK.com,
Shortbread is traditionally formed into one of three shapes: one large circle divided into segments ("Petticoat Tails"); individual round biscuits ("Shortbread Rounds"); or a thick rectangular slab cut into "fingers."

Of course, having taste-tested each of these traditional variations, we can report that while they may differ in look, each shape is delicious.
Dog Portrait Cookies
What is the best shortbread cookie recipe?
These days, shortbread recipes are available in a dizzying array of flavors and variations: and from chocolate peanut butter to gorgeously decorated chocolate shortbread (above, photo c/o Whipped Bakeshop) to Earl Grey to cherry almond to even lavender vegan variations, we have enjoyed many of them. But moreover, we love this simple, classic recipe, which is a wonderful springboard for variations (note: though it can be made into round cookies rather than a big round, it is a fragile dough so may be harder to handle in that way).


Scottish shortbread in a pie tinShortbread
Classic Shortbread
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

Preheat oven to 300°F. Lightly butter 9-inch-diameter springform pan (we couldn't find ours so used a pie plate--it worked just fine!). Whisk flour, sugar, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Add 1/2 cup butter and rub in with fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Gather dough together and form into ball; flatten into disk. Roll out dough on lightly floured surface to 1/2-inch-thick round. Transfer round to prepared pan. Using fingers, press dough evenly over bottom to edges of pan. Using tip of small sharp knife, score dough into 8 equal triangles, then pierce all over with fork. Bake until shortbread is cooked through and pale golden, about 45 minutes.

 

Using tip of sharp knife, cut warm shortbread into triangles along scored lines. Run knife around shortbread to loosen. Cool in pan at least 30 minutes. Using spatula, carefully remove shortbread from pan.

Can be made 1 day ahead. Store shortbread airtight in single layer at room temperature.

 

Monday
Feb232009

Cakespy Undercover: Macaron Fever at Honoré in Seattle

Macarons from Honore, photo c/o Kim
Seeking Parisian-style macarons in Seattle? We'd been hearing some great things about Honoré in Ballard, so recently our Cake Gumshoe Kim went to see for herself. Here are her thoughts:

I wanted some macaroons--so I went to Honoré and bought 5! I've now tested all the flavors I got. Granted, these are the first macaroons I've ever had so I don't have much to compare them to, but I have to say they were amazing! They were everything I hoped they would be.
Macarons from Honore, photo c/o KimMacarons from Honore, photo c/o Kim
I chose lavender, coffee, pistachio and another one which I think was chocolate/coconut/salted caramel. They had about 10 flavors in all and i wished I could have got one of each, but unfortunately I was on a budget! I'm a sucker for all things lavender flavored - I had a feeling those would be my favorite so I bought two. I was right! The lavender flavor was just right, they were topped with little flowers, and had a delicious creamy chocolate filling which I didn't expect. The coffee one had a rich coffee flavor which was very satisfying. The pistachio flavor was very nutty and tasted just like pistachios... except sweet! Lastly, I finished off the mysterious chocolate/coconut/salted caramel this morning. It was so good! I could definitely taste the salted caramel, and there were little bits of coconut inside the cookie.

So to sum it up - they were all good, and all different. I want to go back and try more flavors!

On another note about Honoré's general awesomeness - the girl working the counter was so nice. She listed off all 10 or so macaroon flavors to me, sweetly, without an eye roll in sight! We also got a croissant which was very good, and they had a bunch of other pastries that looked really yummy.

Honoré is open Wed.–Sun.; 1413 NW 70th St.; 206.706.4035.

 

Honoré Artisan Bakery on Urbanspoon

 

Wednesday
Jan072009

Going Dutch: Say Hallo to the Jan Hagel

Jan Hagel cookies
What can we say about our love affair with Jan Hagel? It just sort of...happened. OK, truth be told, we'd just poured 2 cups of flour into a bowl to make banana bread and realized we had no bananas. After scouring our recipe books for another recipe that might start out with the same amount of flour, we decided to try the Jan Hagel from our beloved Betty Crocker's Cooky Book.

As Betty informs us, the Jan Hagel is a cooky of Dutch origin; as the internet informs us, they are also sometimes known as Hollanders, Janhagels, Dutch Almond Cookies, Dutch Hail or Sugar Hail Cookies.
But what may have started out as a fluke has blossomed into an obsession: these cookies, which are thin, crunchy, and very buttery, are also really, really good. But what gives with the name?
As we found out through one site, A Cookie for Every Country, Jan Hagel (yan HAH-ghle) "is Dutch for ‘an unruly mob’ or ‘rabble,’ with hagel in the sense of ‘multitude’ or ‘swarm.’ In the cookie, the rock sugar resembles hail." Another site backs up the hail theory, citing that Jan Hagel is merely translated "John Hail". The recipe we used didn't call for rock sugar, but maybe those little bits of nut could stand in for the "hail"? Also, though we can't find a reason behind it, there is another legend which was interesting, which is that "Jan Hagels are fed to homesick little children in heaven upon their arrival at St. Peter's Gate".
Who could blame the little lost souls--we wouldn't want to leave these cookies behind, either.

Jan Hagel Cookies
Here's the recipe:
  • 1 cup butter or margarine
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg, separated
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 1/2 cup very finely chopped walnuts (we used a mix of walnuts, almonds and cashews--it was delicious)
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a jelly roll pan, 15 x 10 x 1 or so. Mix butter, sugar and egg yolk. Measure flour by dipping method or by sifting. Blend flour and cinnamon; stir into butter mixture. Pat into pan. Beat water and egg white until frothy; brush over dough; sprinkle with nuts. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, or until very lightly browned. Cut immediately into finger-like strips. Makes 50 3 x 1 inch strips.

 

Friday
Dec262008

Bananarama: Chocolate Frosted Banana Shortbread Cookies

Chocolate topped banana shortbread
'Twas the day after Christmas, 

And when we did rise,
Inside the kitchen
Was an awful surprise:
Not a cookie remained; 
The plates were all bare
So we pushed up our sleeves
And made cookies to share.
It's true; when we woke up this morning, we had the horrific realization that all of our Christmas cookies had been eaten. No, seriously. and the only sources of sweetness in the house were an overripe banana and some leftover chocolate frosting. Getting a bit crafty, we altered a classic old fashioned sugar cookie recipe by upping the butter and adding aforementioned banana to the batter; once out of the oven, we topped the cookies with a dollop of chocolate frosting for a delectable bit of added richness. The finished product was a moist, cakey, shortbready cookie which tasted even better as they cooled and the banana flavor developed. We decorated a couple like anthropomorphic Hostess cupcakes, for no particular reason, but aren't they kinda cute? What a sweet and unexpected post-Christmas miracle.

Chocolate-topped Banana shortbread cookiesChocolate-topped Banana shortbread cookies
Here's how to make 'em:
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature and cut into chunks
  • 1 super-ripe banana (same ripeness you'd use for banana bread), cut into chunks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt

In a large bowl stir together the butter, 1 cup of the sugar, the egg, banana and the vanilla. Into the bowl sift together the flour, the baking soda, and the salt and stir the mixture until it forms a dough. Chill the dough, covered, for at least 2 hours or overnight (Note: we only let ours cool for about 30 minutes; your finished cookies would probably be smoother and better-looking if you allowed the dough to cool longer, but try telling that to the cookie-hungry masses.)

 

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Roll rounded tablespoons of the dough into balls, and arrange them 3 inches apart on lightly greased baking sheets. Either leave as balls for fat cookies, or use cookie cutters or flatten slightly for cookies with a more uniform thickness. Bake the cookies in batches in the middle of the oven for 8 to 12 minutes, or until they are pale golden. Transfer the cookies to racks and let them cool. The cookies keep in an airtight container for 1 week.

 

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