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Entries in Cookies (165)

Monday
Dec222008

The True Meaning of Christmas (Cookies, That Is)

Christmas cookies
What is a Christmas cookie?

Is this a trick question? Perhaps.

Cookie ShotsChristmas Cookies
On the one hand, you may think that a Christmas cookie is one that you make (and eat) around Christmastime. But is that all there is to it? Because certainly Christmas cookies aren't just a result of everyday recipes dressed up with red and green sprinkles or dye, are they? It seems to us that certain cookies, while available at other times of year, proliferate around the holiday season--spritz cookies, gingerbread, cutout sugar cookies, for instance. In addition, how is it that nearly every family has a unique collection of cookies--ranging from bonbons to melt-in-your-mouth meringues to Rum balls--that only come out around the holidays?


Christmas cookies from our neighbors
To discover the true meaning of Christmas (cookies), we had to look back--way back--in time. Now, it's no secret that sweets have been part of holiday rituals since long before Christmas was a declared a holiday (which was in 1870, in case you were wondering). But according to Foodtimeline.org, it was a combination of Eastern spices and European flair that contributed to the cookie's success:
Gingerbread Men
Ancient cooks prepared sweet baked goods to mark significant occasions. Many of these recipes and ingredients (cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, almonds, dried fruits etc.) were introduced to Europe in the Middle Ages. They were highly prized and quickly incorporated into European baked goods. Christmas cookies, as we know them today, trace their roots to these Medieval European recipes. Dutch and German settlers introduced cookie cutters, decorative molds, and festive holiday decorations to America. German lebkuchen (gingerbread) was probably the first cake/cookie traditionally associated with Christmas.
Naturally, cookies lend themselves very nicely to cookie cutters, which we would surmise is one reason why they tended to stick around as a Christmas tradition--not to mention that they have a long shelf life, travel well, and are made in larger batches that imply bounty (that is to say, even though 24 cookies and one cake may have the same surface mass, the number of items can fool us into feeling as if there is more to share).
Of course, the article goes on to state that sugar cookie type recipes descended from English traditions; perhaps their trip over the Atlantic was the inspiration for Animal Crackers, which were originally designed as Christmas ornaments
The best sugar cookies...EVER
While the tradition of Christmas cookies may have its roots in Medieval Europe, and while we may associate some cookies with the holidays more than others, it's also true that Christmas cookie recipes today come from all over the world--it would not be unusual to see German Lebkuchen, Scottish Shortbread, Italian Pizzelles and all-American Cornflake wreaths sharing the same plate. Why so? Well, we surmise that it's an illustration of evolution--as people immigrated and adapted, naturally they would want to honor their culture's recipes with the Christmas cookie tradition. While this may blur the boundaries of what is a Christmas cookie and what is just a cookie, it certainly does make the variety and joy of discovery at holiday parties a whole lot more fun. 

Sugar SkatesChristmas cookies with matcha glaze by MPG
And of course, it makes us all better able to add a few more recipes to our arsenal--as well as experiment--each year, sometimes with delicious results

Bonbon Cookies in pink!
But what of the US tradition of leaving cookies for Santa, you may be asking? Well, to us, that one's easy--clearly, Santa (whoever he or she is) wants a midnight snack. Duh.


Want more?

  • For a by-country list of Christmas cookies, visit christmas-cookies.com (though we didn't recognize any of the US ones!)
  • For more information about Christmas cookies in history, visit The Food Timeline.

 

Friday
Dec052008

Hats Off: A Loving Look at Two Chapeau-Inspired Baked Goods

Napoleons Hat
It's a funny thing about hats. Some people can "do" hats--some most definitely cannot. The beret that looks jaunty and artistic on one may have a mushroom-head effect on another. The straw hat that looks so breezy on carefree on one person...well, you get the point. However, baked goods made to look like (or inspired by) hats seem to work a little bit more universally. Now, we could really go wild on this theme--from Pilgrims' Hats to Southern Belles to Nuns Habits, a lot of hat-pastry connections have been made over the years. But for now, let's just focus on two, with respective histories as rich as their sweet buttery cookie crusts:

Stop! Hamenstashen Time!
Hamentashen: These tricorner cookies are folded over on the top  so as to reveal just a small, alluring bit of the filling within, usually poppyseed, apricot or prune. Don't let those flavors put you off: really, they're very good, almost like a danish but with a cookie crust. As for the hat that inspired it all? According to Wikipedia, the name hamantash (המן־טאַש), is a reference to Haman, the villain of Purim, as described in the Book of Esther. Apparently, 

a likely source of the name is a corruption of the Yiddish word מאן־טאשן (montashn) or the German word mohntaschen, both meaning poppyseed-filled pouches; over time, this name was transformed to hamantashen, likely by association with Haman. In Israel, they are called אוזני המן (Oznei Haman), Hebrew for "Haman's ears" where children are taught these tasty pastries are the ears of Haman that fell off at his execution.
However, ears aren't necessarily the most appetizing cookie inspiration, which is probably why 
some Hebrew schools teach that Hamentashen are made in the shape of Haman's hat. There's even a song to go along with it (sung to the tune of "Carnival of Venice"):

My hat it has three corners.
Three corners has my hat.
And had it not three corners,
It wouldn't be my hat.

 

Napoleon Hat
Napoleonhattar (Napoleon's Hat): We first came across this cookie at local Swedish bakery Larsen's; while we can't say why the Swedes saw fit to name a cookie after the petite ruler's signature hat, we can guess that it dates back to their involvement in the Napoleonic Wars. More important than the roots though, is the joy that this cookie has brought to our lives. Larsen's version was fully covered on top, with an outer cookie crust and almond paste-innards that approached the chewy consistency that one might expect in the center of a coconut macaroon. As an added bonus, theirs was chocolate-dipped on the bottom for extra decadence. We located a recipe in the Sunset Magazine archives, but theirs more closely resembles Hamentashen (at least visually).

Recipe Links:
Hamentashen: You can find recipes at jewishappleseed.org or this one looks good too!


Napoleon's Hats: Does anyone have a good recipe for them? We could only find a few; you could try the one we found in Sunset Magazine, or you could try this one. We couldn't find a recipe for chocolate-dipped ones, but probably you could do it the same way you'd do chocolate-dipped coconut macaroons.

 

Monday
Nov172008

Peanutty Buddies: Chocolate Peanut Butter Shortbread Cookies from Peanut Butter and Co.

Chocolate peanut butter shortbread cookie stack
When Peanut Butter and Co., a cute little Greenwich Village cafe known for its incredible number of variations on the humble peanut butter sandwich, began distributing their peanut butters nationwide, we were thrilled. We love peanut butter. 


When it came to their book The Peanut Butter & Co. Cookbook: Recipes from the World's Nuttiest Sandwich Shop though, we were a bit skeptical. Honestly, why bother with a cookbook when their stuff tastes so good just eaten directly from the jar? Yes, it's true--we're not above eating a spoonful of "Mighty Maple" (delightfully crunchy) or White Chocolate Wonderful (kind of like a white-chocolate Reese's cup, only all smooth and silky) right from their respective peanut butter jars.

But somewhere between spoonfuls, a glorious thought occurred: What if it tasted even better baked into something? 

And so we consulted the book, and settled on something simple to start: the peanut butter shortbread. While theirs calls for regular peanut butter, we upped the ante by using their Dark Chocolate Dreams variety. These cookies bake for a long time, which allows ample time for the aroma of peanut butter, chocolate, and cookie to permeate the entire house. This is not a bad smell to have permeate your house, by the way. The taste seemed to have three defined layers: upon first bite, one encountered the sandy, slightly salted, buttery bite of the shortbread; then, a moment later, there was the peanut butter; chasing it very closely, a finish of rich, dark chocolatiness. Oh, were they delicious. Here's our adaptation of the recipe:

  • 2 cups flour 
  • 2/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter (We used their "Dark Chocolate dreams" variety)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Their recipe says it yields 12 wedges of shortbread, but we did a combination of thinly rolled cookies and simple, small round cookies and got more like 24.

  1. Prehead the oven to 275. Either grease a 9-inch cake pan (if you want wedges) or just grease a regular cookie pan if you're a rule-breaker, like us.
  2. In a large bowl, sift together the flour and salt and set aside.
  3. In a separate large bowl, use an electric mixer to combine the butter, peanut butter, sugar, and vanilla til fluffy. Continue mixing, adding the dry ingredients 1/2 cup at a time, until fully incorporated.
  4. (a.) If you want classic wedges, at this point press the dough into the prepared cake pan, using a knife to score the surface of the dough into 12 wedge-shaped pieces. Repeatedly press the tips of te tines of a fork around the outer edge of the shortbread, creating four concentric circles of dots. (b.) If you want to go your own way, roll them into little balls and then flatten them slightly (like at the top). We also rolled out a few and tried to use a cookie cutter, but the buttery nature of this dough didn't take to that so well. All the same, we did get a few cute Cuppie-cookies.
  5. Bake for 75 minutes (since we'd broken a rule, we checked it at 60 minutes and ultimately took them out at 65 minutes or so), or until shortbread is a pale golden color (since ours was brownish from the chocolate, we looked for a slight crispness around the edges). If in wedges, allow to cool for 1 hour before cutting. Store in airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
Cakespy Note: we should add that while the peanut butters are available online at ilovepeanutbutter.com, the shipping can get pricey; you might want to try your local supermarket. We found that they had them at our local gourmet supermarket in Seattle, so we can only assume they're around the rest of the US too!

Chocolate peanut butter Shortbread cookie

 

 

 

Friday
Nov072008

Cookies So Nice, They Baked Them Twice: Musings on Biscotti, Mandelbrot and More!

Chris made the cutest biscotti ever
(The mini biscotti pictured was made by ace Seattle Pastry Chef Chris Jarchow!)


What in the world is a twice-baked cookie?

 

To discover the real meaning of the twice-baked cookie, you've got to start with the biscuit. In terms of etymology, "biscuit" means "twice cooked"--and acording to John Ayto's book An A-Z of Food & Drink, "its name reflects the way in which it was once made. The originl biscuit was a small flat cake made of wheat flower, sugar, egg yolks, and perhaps a little yeast. It was intended for long keeping, so to dry it out it was returned to the oven for a while after the initial cooking process had finished". The signature hard texture and long shelf life has endeared the twice-baked cookie to seafaring voyagers, teething babies, and lends itself quite nicely to dunking in sweet wine.

In the United States, the term "biscuit" refers to something else these days, but the concept of a twice-baked cookie is still very much alive. To Americans, the most famous example is probably the Italian version, biscotti. It's arguable, but our theory for its preeminence is that it grew in popularity with the coffee-house revolution that hit the US in a big way, in which biscotti was a common food to be offered.

Interestingly enough however, many different cultures boast some variation on this biscuit--and so we've prepared a small primer on some of the twice-baked cookies out there for you. (Note: If you want to read more about it, check out this article too!).

 

Biscotti by the Italian Woman at the Table

Biscotti: While in Italy, biscotti is a kind of catch-all phrase for cookies, in North America, we think of it as a long, dry, hard twice-baked cookie with a curved top and flat bottom designed for dunking into wine or coffee. The name biscotti is derived from 'bis' meaning twice in Italian and 'cotto' meaning baked or cooked. Generally, what separates biscotti from other variations is that it frequently gets its fat solely from eggs and nuts--often it does not contain oil or butter. Of course, these days there are all sorts of variations, so this is not a hard-fast rule. Here's a link to a delicious recipe.

 

Beschuit met Muisjes
Beschuit met muisjes: In this Dutch version, which translates to "biscuits with little mice", a twice-baked bread not unlike the rusk (below) is characterized mostly by its garnish: according to Wikipedia,

They are spread with butter (or margarine) and the muisjes (lit. 'little mice') are sprinkled on top. These muisjes are sugared aniseed balls. They are sold in a mixture of two colours: White and pink. In 1990 a new mixture was introduced: white and blue, and it has become a custom, but not a universal one, that the latter (blue) are served when a boy is born, and the former (pink) for a girl. When a child is born in to the royal House of Orange, orange muisjes are sold.

 

 

Croquets de carcassonne (or biscotte): This is the french variation on biscotti; from what we could find, the major difference seems to be that biscotte contains butter (and plenty of it!). While we couldn't find the reasoning behind the name Croquets de carcassone, it did have a nice ring to it, so we included it! Here's a recipe.

 

Marla's Mandels
Mandelbrodt (also known as Mandelbread, Mondelbrodt, Mondel bread, and probably more that we've missed!): Never heard of it? No surprise. As our foodie crush Arthur Schwartz writes, "Isn't it ironic? It used to be that biscotti were explained as Italian mandelbread. These days, mandelbread is explained as Jewish biscotti." While mandelbrodt shares similarities to biscotti, it is not the same: unlike biscotti, which gets its fat primarily from eggs, mandelbrodt will generally contain oil as well. And while nuts are common in biscotti, they're a key ingredient in mandelbrodt, which literally translates to "almond bread". If you're curious, you can buy some via mail-order at marlasmandels.com (photo above); also, you can find a recipe here!

Lulu's Mondel Bread
Paxemadia (or biskota): In this Greek version, from what we can gather, the main variation here is with spices--one informative biscotti recipe posting suggests that you could make a biscotti recipe into the Greek variation by adding "a flavor mixture of 1/4 cup flour mixed into 1 tablespoon crushed coriander seed, 1 tablespoon crushed anise seeds, 2 tablespoons grated orange peel, 2 tablespoons grated lemon peel; and 1 1/2 cups chopped toasted walnuts."

Rusks: Like the term "biscuit", "rusk" seems to be more of a concept, with all sorts of different cultural variations, from long, slender versions to small rounds to toast-shaped versions. Like Mandelbrodt, the rusk differs from biscotti in that it will often contain an added fat--oil, or sometimes butter. One thing seems certain though: more than any other variation, the Rusk seems to be attached to seafaring culture--Swedish recipe books and John Ayto's book (referenced above) both refer to it as a cookie that accompanied naval officers and sailors on long voyages. Here's a recipe.

Sukhariki: The Russian term also seems to be a catch-all, referring to any type of crispy bread, from more crouton-esque variations to sweetened ones. Here's a hazelnut variation.
Zwieback
Zwieback: Per Wikipedia, the name comes from German zwei, meaning "two", and backen, meaning "to bake". This is the only variation in which we saw recipes that called for yeast, and indeed, this would be in keeping with it sometimes being referred to as "zwieback toast". Of course, this is not to be confused with Russian Mennonite Zwieback, which is more like a roll. More than any other variation, we associate this one as a baby's toothing snack. Most notably, however, we have to say, zwieback certainly takes the cake when it comes to cultural references. here are just a few:

  • In an episode of The Simpsons entitled "Homer the Smithers", the character Smithers remarks to his boss Mr. Burns, "...I've alphabetized your breakfast. You can start with the waffles, and work your way up to the zwieback."
  • In the 1991 classic film Doc Hollywood, when Ben Stone (Michael J. Fox) first arrives in Grady, nurse Packer tells him there is Zwieback and Vitamin C in the cabinet.
  • In "Dear Mildred", an episode of the TV series M*A*S*H, Radar O'Reilly compares his first days with Colonel Potter to visiting summers with his prim-and-proper aunt; "You can't dunk your zwieback in your Bosco."
  • In her song "Caving In", Kimya Dawson sings that she is "just a piece of zwieback toast getting soggy in a baby's aching mouth."

 

 

Wednesday
Oct292008

One Smart Cookie: Love at First Bite with Carol's Cookies

Carol's Cookies
Our love affair with Carol's Cookies began in an unlikely way.

It all began when the Starbucks (a local company, you may have heard of them) marketing people sent us a coupon to try out their new Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate. Not prone to turning away free stuff, we ventured over to the 'Bucks, where we sampled the goods. The hot chocolate has a nice flavor--with the slightest salty aftertaste to balance the sweetness--but it's rich as all get-out, and gave a delirious sugar-high after about 6 of the 12 ounces of a small--er, "Tall". Unable to sit still and draw cupcakes after that jolt, our spy ended up taking a long walk and idly looking at the Whole Foods bakery case: it was there that Cakespy encountered the $2.99, 8-ounce (yes, we weighed it) chocolate-walnut deliciousness made by Chicago-based Carol's Cookies. Clearly, it was time to prolong that sugar high.


Carol's Cookies
Our first thought was that these were similar to the large cookies made by Levain, but upon the first bite it was clear that the resemblance was only visual--their textures and flavors, while both delicious, were very different. Whereas Levain's cookies have a delicious crunchiness to the texture,  Carol's cookies are a dream to cookie-dough lovers: lightly crisped on the exterior, giving way to a so-good-it-tingles soft, gooey interior, with pockets of caramel-y brown sugar, studded--but not saturated--with chocolate chips and nuts. The rich flavor is chased by the slightest bit of nuttiness (perhaps due to their use of wheat flour?) and a baby-bit of saltiness. 
And if they hadn't already won us over with their flavor, the indulgent cookie enhancement ideas on the site sealed the deal--once we saw their suggestion for the Breakfast of Champions--"Break up an Oatmeal Raisin with Pecans Cookie and add your favorite milk for a great way to start your day"--we knew we'd discovered a kindred spirit. 
Intrigued? Carol's Cookies are available at Whole Foods locations all over the US.

 

 

Tuesday
Oct142008

Everybody Likes (Cookie) Sandwiches: Exploration of a Sweet Trend

Cookie Sandwich, Grandaisy
(Cakespy Note: the title is a shout-out to a favorite food site, Everybody Likes Sandwiches!)


On our recent trip to NYC, one bakery trend in particular stood out for us: the cookie sandwich is showing up in a big way in bakeries. Now, it's not as if this confection is new, or as if it has ever really been out of style (as proven by America's bestselling cookie for years, the Oreo). Certainly we've seen these cookies before; however, never with the proliferation that we witnessed on this visit. What makes this particular cookie sandwich of interest is that while it shares traits with alfajores, macarons, whoopie pies, and of course Oreo cookies, they are not quite the same as any of these cookies. What we saw was generally two generous rounds (3 inches or so across) of a fairly substantial nature, with a generous dollop of filling nestled between.
Here were some of the ones we came across:

Homemade Oreo from Bourbon Street, NYC
At Bourbon Street Southern Gourmet Pantry, for instance, they had the "homemade oreo"--a sandwich cookie made of chocolate wafers filled with a rich vanilla cream. It's a strange feeling to eat a freshly baked version of something that is normally store-bought; it's hard to say if it tastes better or worse--because once it has a title like that, you've got a taste association and expectation in mind. All that philosophizing aside though, we finished it and were smiling when it was gone, which may be the most telling review we can offer.

 

Grandaisy Bakery, 72nd St.Cookie Sandwich, Grandaisy

At Grandaisy Bakery, a few different varieties were available of what they called "panini dolce" (rough translation: sweetwich!)--Nutella, lemon ginger, and chocolate cream cheese. We chose the shortbread cookie sandwich filled with Nutella and dusted with powdered sugar. This cookie sandwich was simply superlative--the buttery cookies mixed with Nutella was such a gorgeous symphony of sweet, slightly salty and richly chocolatey that the only sad part about this cookie was the moment we realized there was none left.

At Magnolia Bakery, they make a "whoopie sandwich cookie" which, like its name implies, leans more toward the cookie end of the spectrum (as opposed to the more pillowy, cakey cookie bits usually used for whoopie pies). Theirs consists of two brown sugar cookies with a dollop of maple cream cheese icing in between. (Photo left courtesy NY Daily News).

 

At Baked, they boast a coffee and chocolate variety, as well as vanilla and chocolate varieties. (Cakespy note: Though it's different than the cookies we're talking about here, it's worth noting that they do also have award-winning pumpkin whoopie pies on offer as well!). The cookie sandwiches are also available at Royale in Manhattan, though some varieties did not warrant Serious Eats' seal of approval.

Treats Truck
And the Treats Truck of course boasts cookie sandwich varieties such as Caramel Creme, Peanut Butter, and Cinnamon. We didn't get to try these, but as a commenter said on Midtown Lunch, "The peanut butter cookie sandwich with peanut butter is quite possibly the greatest thing ever created. I suggest everyone buy anywhere from 1 to 39 of these cookies." Sounds like an ace review to us!

So what gives with the sandwich cookie? Was it a matter of one bakery's success inspiring others? Is it the result of a longing for nostalgic treats paired with a demand for better ingredients and quality?

While we can't answer these questions, we can quote Wayne Brachman from his book "American Desserts: The Best Sweets on Earth"--"sandwich cookies are a marvelous thing. Case in point: The Oreo chocolate sandwich is the most popular cookie in the world and has held that status for nearly a century". Wayne had it right from the start--if sandwich cookies want to make their presence known in bakeries far and wide, we say bring it on.

 

 

 

Thursday
Aug282008

Cake Poll: Oops, Make that a Cookie Poll!

Time for another poll!
It's that unique time of year that summer starts to fade into early fall; the skies are a piercing blue, days are getting shorter, and school's back in session. Even those who are long out of school are not impervious to the allure of this season, nostalgically recalling the excitement newness of a new school year, punctuated by freshly sharpened pencils and maybe a brand new trapper keeper. And what else goes better with back to school time than milk and cookies at the end of the day? 

And so, this month our Cake Poll is not about cake, but rather cookies--and the winner will get the framed original painting, featuring Cuppie and Robot making cookies, featured above! Responses may be entered in the comments section or emailed to jessieoleson@gmail.com.

 

 

  1. What is your favorite type of cookie?
  2. Oatmeal Cookies: With raisins, or chocolate chips?
  3. Dunking your cookies: Deliciousness, or a soggy mess?
  4. Slice n' bake cookies: Guilty pleasure, or never ever?
  5. Jumbo bakery cookies: too much, or just enough?
  6. Bar cookies: are they really cookies, or a different category entirely?
  7. Which is better: Slightly underbaked or slightly overbaked?
  8. Eating cookie dough: so wrong, or so right?

The fine print: The poll will be closed at 2 p.m PST on Thursday, September 4 (we're leaving it open for a week since we hope many of you are avoiding your computers over the holiday weekend!). As usual, the winner will be chosen at random. Entries from the US and beyond are welcome. Your info will never be shared and these questions are solely motivated by our nosy spy tendencies. Of course, if you don't win, you can always buy Cakespy artwork and gear at jessieoleson.etsy.com!


Time for a new poll--and a new prize!

 

 

 

Tuesday
Aug262008

C'est Bon: The Famous Bonbon Cookies of 1955-1960

Bonbon cookies
1955-1960 was certainly an eventful series of years. Sputnik I was launched; Alaska and Hawaii were proclaimed the 49th and 50th states; Truman Capote published the novella Breakfast at Tiffany's, which would later be made into a film by the same name.

And during these years, there was one cookie that spoke to the times more than any other: the Bonbon Cookie. At least that's what Betty Crocker says. And other than the fact that she's not actually...well, real, she's never led us astray. According to her Cooky Book (1963), the treats are described as being real trailblazers on the cookie frontier:


Bonbon Cookies from Betty Crocker

 

"candy-like cookies in vogue--women were fascinated by these beautiful and delicious cookies which were baked as cookies, served and eaten as candies. Excitement over Bonbons brought more candy-cookies, Toffee squares and Cream Filberts, for example"


And if that doesn't pique your interest, the photos in the book will (above)--in pastel tones worthy of Marie Antoinette's court, these are without a doubt cookies for ladies, a pinkies-out affair. We had to make them. Turns out, they're amazingly easy--and rather delicious.
 
Chocolate innardsBonbon Cookies being made
A few notes:
  • They are rather on the sweet side--so for those who like a less-sweet cookie, you might want to leave off the frosting, or opt for a more savory filling for the cookies, such as chopped nuts or unsweetened coconut; we used chocolate chips, but then again we're not scared of sweet cookies.
  • In keeping with the spirit of this dainty cookie and the era from which it harkens, we elected to make ours Tiffany Blue, garnishing them with white sugar pellets in white to offer the same color palette as that iconic box with its white bow. We found that adding a drop or so of green with two or three drops of blue food coloring reached the signature tone nicely.
  • To attain the desired round Bonbon shape, we used a small ice cream scoop to spoon out our dough; while in the scoop we inserted 2-3 chocolate chips, pressed them down, and then reformed the dough over it to secure the filling.
Here's the recipe:

Bonbon Cookies in Tiffany Blue
Bonbon Cookies
Created by Mrs. Joseph J. Wallace, Whitehall, Montana

For the Cookies:
  • 1/2 c. soft butter 
  • 3/4 c. sifted confectioners sugar 
  • 1 Tbsp. vanilla
  • food coloring if desired 
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour 
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
Possible fillings: chocolate chips, chopped nuts, coconut, cherries...choose your own adventure!
For the Icing:
  • Mix 1 cup sifted confectioners' sugar, 2 tbsp cream, 1 tsp vanilla, and food coloring (if desired).
Heat oven to 350. Mix butter, sugar, vanilla and food coloring (if using), thoroughly. Measure flour by dip-level-pour method or by sifting. Blend in flour and salt. If dough is dry, add 1 to 2 Tbsp. cream. Wrap a level Tablespoon of dough around filling.. Place 1" apart on un-greased cookie sheet. Bake 12 to 15 min. Cool; dip tops of cookies in frosting; decorate with another topping if desired. Makes 20-25 cookies.
Saturday
Aug162008

Not Joe Mamma's Cookies: Legend of the Joe Frogger

Joe Frogger
We love the Seattle Public Library. Not only is it a feat of architecture (designed by Rem Koolhaas) and a fantastic place for people-watching, but we find some of the best literary gems there (including arguably the best cookbook ever-- Cooking in WetLeather, a biker cookbook with the tag "Ride Safe, Eat Dangerously"--but we digress.)

Proper Joe FroggerLove Cookie
Our most recent discovery though was the first edition print of Betty Crocker's Cooky Book, which, packed as it is with recipes and little historical tidbits, led us to the legend of the Joe Frogger.



What is a Joe Frogger? According to Betty, they are "famous molasses cookies made long ago by old Uncle Joe of Marblehead, Mass. The cookies are as plump and dark as the little frogs that lived in the pond near Joe's cottage." Not too sweet, and with a crisp texture, they are a solid cookie indeed (picture of a "proper" Joe Frogger above left--we've taken liberties with the shapes of the others in this writeup).

But a little bit of further digging revealed a life as rich in history as the cookie is plentiful in molasses. Joe Brown, aka "Black Joe", was born in Massachusetts 1750 to a black mother and Native American father--a time when most wealthy Marblehead families still owned several slaves. Unfortunately, we weren't able to find much about his youth, but it is speculated that by the time he reached manhood he "must have been gainfully employed for his name does not appear as one of the black "drifters" forced out of Marblehead in 1788, when...Town Meeting ordered all former slaves to find work or leave". 
Joe clearly had it going on though--he married a woman 22 years his junior, Lucretia Brown, and he even bought property in the area, a house on Gingerbread Hill (!). It was a lengendary spot, converted to a rooming house which was one of the few places in town where whites and blacks mixed freely. And oh, did it have a colorful reputation (from Marblehead Magazine)--
according to Marblehead Historian Joseph Robinson, "a more uncouth assemblage of ruffians could not be found anywhere." It would not be surprising if the term "Down bucket!" originated here, that fearful Marblehead expression warning those below that the contents of the chamber pot where about to be flung out a bedroom window.
Just thinking about these antics makes us hungry--and that's where the famous molasses cookies come into the picture--they were the tavern's signature food item.
Joe Froggers
But the Joe Froggers themselves were only named after Black Joe--they were not actually his invention. The cookie was apparently dreamed up by his wife Lucretia (aka "Aunty Crese"). The cookies, which keep for long periods, were named for her husband and the amphibians who lived in the pond by the house; because they keep for a long time, the cookies were an ideal choice for travel and were frequently taken on fishing trips and even longer sea voyages. There was also a lesser-known variation, the "Sir Switchels" which were popular too, described as a "thirst-quenching blend of water and molasses, which a touch of vinegar to cut the sweetness."

Cuppie has identity crisisCuppie is a cookie?
Unfortunately it's better to be the one the cookie's named after rather than the namer--while Black Joe has an impressive gravestone and is a part of Marblehead lore, Lucretia's resting place is not known (though apparently she does get a mention in the novel The Hearth and Eagle by Anya Seton. )

 

 

But perhaps the Marblehead Magazine sums it up best: 

 

Still, as long as frogs continue to hatch in Marblehead ponds and the aroma of gingerbread fills Marblehead kitchens, the lives of Black Joe and Aunty 'Crese will be as sweetly remembered as the taste of their warm Joe Frogger.


We used Betty Crocker's version (which is vegan!); it can be found below, or in the Betty Crocker's Cooky Book. 

 

Joe Froggers


Ingredients:
  • 1/2 Cup Shortening
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup dark molasses
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 cups Gold Medal Flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ginger
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmet
  • 1/4 tsp. allspice

Directions: Mix well shortening and sugar. Stir in molasses and water. Measure flour by sifting. Stir dry ingredients together; blend into shortening mixture. Chill dough several hours or overnight.
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Roll dough 1/4 inch thick on floured board. Cut in 3-inch circles. Sprinkle with sugar. Place no a well-greased baking sheet. Bake 10 to 12 minutes. Leave on baking sheet a few minutes before removing to prevent breaking. Store in covered cookie jar. Makes 3 to 4 doz. cookies. Note: if you use self-rising flour, omit salt and soda.
Two additional notes: A few questions have come up as a result of this article. The first one is, are Joe Froggers delicious? Well. They're an old school cookie, very spicy and molasses-y, and not too sweet. We'll admit it openly though--we liked ours better with a dab of frosting on top.

The second question is "Why does Cuppie look so sad?". Well, you see, he's having a moment of identity crisis--"am I a cookie...or a cupcake?". It's a poignant moment indeed, speaking to all of those who have ever felt like the proverbial square peg.

 

 

 

Sunday
Aug102008

Tough Cookies: Not the NY Times Chocolate Chip Cookies

How Not to Make Chocolate Chip Cookies
There's been a lot of talk lately about the perfect chocolate chip cookie. Although ingredients and size are important, it seems that one vital step--the one that intrigues us most--in attaining cookie nirvana is letting the dough rest for 36 hours.

But imagine the dismay you'd feel, after those many hours, to see that your oven isn't working? This is what happened to Cake Gumshoe Phil recently--and he cleverly decided to try "baking" them in a frying pan. This got us thinking about the humble chocolate chip cookie. If the method written about in the New York Times is the absolute best one--then what is the worst? We set out with a log of dough to find out.
Here's what we did:
First, we made a batch of cookie dough (Toll House recipe!). After not letting it sit for 24, 36 or really any hours, we did the following:
1. We fried it
2. We toasted it
3. We microwaved it
4. We boiled it
* Cakespy Note: We would have grilled it too, but alas--we have no grill.
Here's how they came out:

Time to Fry some CookiesPan fried Cookies
Pan-fried cookies: As mentioned above, this idea came from Cake Gumshoe Phil. We heated up our frying pan to a medium temperature, and put a thin coating of vegetable oil in the pan to fry our cookies. We heated each side for about three minutes. Though slightly unweildy, they did remain solid enough to flip with a little finessing. Once cooled, these cookies were delicious in a guilty sort of way--slightly crispy on the outside, but soft and gooey on the inside. Some might say health risk; we say salmonellicious.

Toaster Oven CookiesToaster Oven Cookies
Toasted Cookies: We put a couple of cookies in our toaster oven. First we tried the convection setting, which pretty much made normal cookies. Boring! We reset to "toast" to see what would happen. The result was decent--crispy on the sides, soft but not underdone in the middle--but they burnt on the top--due to the proximity to the toasting mechanism. Not excellent, but they'd do in a pinch.

MicrowaveMicrowave Cookies
Microwave Cookies: We took this as a chance to also try out the pre-existing microwave settings on our oven. We chose the "potato" setting, which was perhaps a bad choice--it was a six minute cycle but after two minutes we began to hear a strange popping sound and stopped the microwave. The cookie dough had baked...sort of. It was crispy and pockmarked, and unfortunately had fused itself to the plate. We managed to cut off the top part of the cookie, which was crackery, crispy, and as Ralphie from the Simpsons might say "tastes like burning". Most definitely not delicious.

Making MischiefDumplings
Boiled Cookies: The secret to perfect bagels is boiling them before baking, so what about cookies? We tried two batches in our boiling part of the experiment. The first batch was just boiled--we dropped them in boiling water until they rose to the surface (which they did! It took about a minute), for a sort of chocolate chip cookie dumpling. Unfortunately, Mr. Cakespy declared that they tasted "like boogers"--as you can see his is not only a looker but quite the wordsmith.

Cookie BagelsCookie BagelsWeird CookiesCookies
For the second batch, we first boiled and then baked our cookie "dumplings". As a note, as an homage to the bagel-making method, we shaped them like little cookie bagels first, but the shape didn't hold--they just became little dumpling-y rounds again. But we powered through this pitfall and put them in the oven. Once baked, they no longer tasted of booger, but the chewy skin and soft inside which makes a bagel so wonderful did not equal chocolate chip cookie bliss. That having been said though, they weren't terrible--just not awesome.
As for our final thoughts? Well, we wouldn't say we offered any serious challenges to that now-famous NY Times recipe in the taste department. However, we do have a little trouble waiting 36 hours for our cookie dough to set once we've set our mind to baking them--aren't chocolate chip cookies all about fun, simplicity and fairly quick gratification? And so perhaps we didn't suffer a total loss--super delicious or not, we had a lot more fun messing up these cookies than waiting for the dough to set on a perfect batch.

 

 

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