Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Bark for Becky

Today's blog doesn't focus on a cookie - more on a holiday confection. The person who loves this is quite a confection herself. This would be my niece Becky Ford. Becky Ford is a teacher for special needs children who recently received a promotion in the Denver Public School system to a manager of special needs teacher. This promotion is well deserved for someone who loves to teach and loves her students. In this job she'll have the ability to bring a better learning environment to many students and teachers and she is just the person who can make it happen. Becky is passionate about people and children. She cares deeply about the quality of their lives and that they have an opportunity to live to their potential. When she first started teaching she saw the hard lives her students had. They came to school hungry and tired and not ready to learn. Becky worked to make things better for them so they could learn. I believe she worked hard to make innovations so school was a more supportive environment for the students as people and that school could be a home away from home for them.

Becky loves her family and for her brother's wedding made a collection of family recipes from members of the family combined with candid pictures of family and our times together. What a great gift. It was meaningful to everyone in the family and very exciting. For Christmas, Becky changed some of the pictures and had copies printed for those who hadn't received the earlier version. I was one of the proud recipients of that gift and it is something I will always treasure. I will cherish it especially as it really demonstrates the true nature of Becky as well and the thoughts of her are as dear as the collection of recipes and pictures itself.

Becky is one of the three March girls in our family who share many traits and being the babies of each of their families. All are passionate, loving people with wicked senses of humor and devotion to those they love. Like all the members of our family their have personality traits that render them vulnerable to teasing. She is incredibly fun but her passion for life makes her a little less vulnerable. She is lovely in so many ways in person and personality both. Becky Ford our family is blessed to have you.

Becky's choice is Peppermint Bark made with white chocolate. It's a casual fun food with many variations. You can use any kind of chocolate for the base. You can multiple layers of chocolate as the base and while peppermint means that you top it with peppermint you can also use almonds or other toppings.

Peppermint Bark

When I make peppermint bark I have about two pounds of chocolate. I line two half sheet pans with parchment. I melt the chocolate slowly over simmering water. I stir it to help it melt and become smooth and creamy. When it's reached this state I add a half teaspoon of peppermint extract. I then divide the melted chocolate between the two pans. Spreading it out to the edges yet maintaining about 1/3 to a 1/2 inch of thickness of the chocolate.

I crush 3 C of candy canes or peppermint candies and strew half over the top of each pan. Press the candies lightly so they will adhere to the chocolate. Allow the chocolate to cool and set until firm. Break the bark into irregular pieces and store in a tin between pieces of waxed paper. It's a true winter treat.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Thoughts of cookies and Cardamom Butter Squares

Today, I am not blogging about one person's favorite cookie. I decided to give family hearts a break and just blog about a cookie I happen to like. My cookie favorite would be a molasses or gingery type cookie or a cookie that's based in butter with frosting. Nothing fancy or sophisticated there. Just full of taste and texture. But first I have to write a little about this season of cookie baking and what it means to me.

When I started baking cookies for family I developed a process that brings me immense pleasure. I make a list of all desirable cookies. This is a large and cumbersome list and would scare the faint of heart. I won't bake each cookie but I am developing a list to assure the best will be included. I include family favorites as the base then cull my cookie recipes for additions. I have 5 cookbooks exclusively for cookies, 6 cookie magazine collections and then a stack of cookie recipes that I collect throughout the year. So part of the pleasure and process is reading and eliminating, noting some as maybes, others as musts and compiling the initial list. Then I code the cookie list as to type of cookie - bar, rolled, drop, sliced, etc. The second coding is for chocolate, nut, frosted, fruit, butter, citrus, fruit, spice or some other standout ingredient. The final step is to cull the list to develop a list of cookies that are balanced by type and ingredient. I try to make sure that there is a balance of flavors and textures so we don't have an over abundance of any one type or kind of cookie. While some may see this whole process as pretty picky or even anal or perhaps compulsive it is a critical time for me.

The process is so much more than making a list. It gives me a sense of what the platter will look like and the variety of tastes. But mostly it starts the anticipation and excitement of the reality of cookies and baking and smiles. As I've written before, I have thought about each person and their cookie and them. I think about my memories of them through the years and the more recent past memories. I have hopes and dreams and gratitude for the presence of each person in my life. I think about the history of the cookies in my list. There are always some made from a recipe from someone who has passed on. Making those cookies allows me an opportunity to connect with all of them and bring so many happy memories back to the present. This is a most spiritual experience for me and without meaning to offend I see this process and baking and sending and enjoying cookies when they reach their destination to be a unique form of communion among the generations and the ones loved so well. Communion in shared meals is one of my beloved rituals of life and when family and dear ones are so far apart it brings everyone a shared experience to mark the time until we can unite at our summer vacation.

Today's cookie is a cardamom butter square. The recipe was developed by the McCormick Spice Company. Cardamom is an exotic spice and in my mind underused in cooking. This cookies combines several favorite flavors - spice, butter, espresso and bittersweet chocolate. They are rolled into a log and chilled. When ready to bake they are sliced and baked then decorated with drizzles of bittersweet and espresso frosting. They are very contemporary looking and just delicious.

Cardamom Butter Squares

3 C flour
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp gr. cardamom
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. allspice
1 C softened butter
1 1/4 C granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla

Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and spices in a bowl.

Beat together sugar and butter in the bowl of an electric mixture for two minutes until pale and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Reduce speed to low and beat in flour mixture until just combined.

Form dough into two 12 inch logs wrap each in plastic wrap. Use your hands to roll, press and square the sides of each log. Chill logs on a baking sheet until slightly firm, about 1 hour then smooth logs with plastic wrap and flat side of ruler to achieve straight sides. Chill until firm, 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut scant 1/4 inch slices from a log to fill two ungreased baking sheets. arranging slices about 1 inch apart. (Chill remaining dough in plastic wrap.)

Bake cookies switching positions of the sheets midway during baking, until edges are golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on sheets 3 minutes then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Repeat process with remaining dough.


1 tsp instant espresso powder
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 - 2 T milk
1 C confectioner's sugar

Mix the above together to make a thick but pourable frosting. Spoon into a sealable bag and snip 1/8 inch from corner. Use the bag to drizzle thin strips of espresso icing on the cookies.

3 oz melted bittersweet chocolate

Put 3 ounces of melted bittersweet chocolate into another sealable bag, snip 1/8 inch from the corner and drizzle over the cookies. You have a two layer drizzle on each cookie. Let cookies stand on the racks until the icing is set about 2 hours.

This makes 6 dozen cookies.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Matt Ford's Cookie

After a chat with his mom Sue, I learned that her son Matt Ford is a chocolate chip kind of guy. Matt is a graphic artist and very talented musician who migrated to California with his new wife Halle years ago. Matt and Halle were married in October at a beach side wedding with immediate family only. The pictures are beautiful and really convey the special day as a sublime experience. Matt is a very funny guy. He is so intense about his passions and he lives life large. He loves to experience his life fully and jumps in to life with all of his being. Matt is a redhead and has that sparky personality to match. As a little guy, Matt took up fishing and at one point managed to cast himself off the dock in his enthusiasm. He also tormented his younger sister by putting his thumb through the bottom of a shoebox and putting ketchup on it and displaying it much to Becky's horror.

Several years ago he had the opportunity to take a trip with some colleagues near Baja to run cars in the desert over several days. Matt brought many pictures and regaled the family for over an hour with stories from the trip. He summoned the excitement he felt during the trip and we all could feel his excitement. Matt is exuberance and passion personified. He is a party in a person.

Matt's cookie according to his Mom would be a chocolate chip cookie. That notion of a cookie for him didn't sit well with me until I remembered an article in the NYT about chocolate chip cookies. Apparently someone whipped up a very fine batch of chocolate cookie dough and allowed it to sit in the fridge for several days before baking. The notion was that holding the dough in this way allows the texture and the taste of the cookie to be transformed into something even more rich and delicious. I can't imagine making Matt sit for three days to bring his passion to a higher level but I can see Matt experiencing this cookie in a new and different way that really ramps it up for him to a higher level of pleasure and excitement.

This is a recipe for the cookie adapted from the baker and chocolatier Jacques Torres

Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 C minus 2 T cake flour
1 2/3 C bread flour
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. coarse salt
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
\1 1/4 C light brown sugar
1 C plus 2 T. granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp. natural vanilla extract
1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks (chips) at least 60 percent cacao
sea salt

Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl and set aside.
Using a mixer fixed with a 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, 5-10 seconds.
Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them.
Press plastic wrap against the dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

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

Scoop 6 3 1/2 ounce mounds of dough onto the cookie sheet making sure any chocolate pieces that pop up are horizontal. (makes a more attractive cookie) Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies to another wire rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches.

Makes 1 1/2 dozen 5 inch cookies.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Tom Ford Kind of Cookie

Tom Ford is the husband of my sister Sue and Dad of Matt and Becky. He is a graduate of Purdue with an advanced degree in engineering. Tom is laid back and can be quiet but he is an keen observer and will contribute a dry remark based on his observations that will surely make you laugh. He also laughs and has a fine sense of humor which has served him well being the last man standing as one of the husbands of three siblings. He has more than paid his dues through the years and knows the Henry's backwards and forwards. It would be fun to be a little mouse and hear some Henry stories as he would relate them from his perspective.

We have some great Tom stories that we have laughed about that brought us to tears of laughter. Tom is a devoted fisher and golfer. On one fishing adventure he returned home with a hook attached to the back of his head. He apparently landed his biggest catch ever - himself! He clipped the line and went to the ER where they helped him release his catch to fish again. He approached this whole experience with a look of chagrin and quiet fortitude and perhaps a small degree of disgust that he had to share this situation with many different people. He didn't grin but he really bore it. Tom is quite handsome and in my mind reminds me of Howie Long. Tom can't see it because there is a height and size difference but it is apparent to me. Last summer he appeared at vacation with very short hair and suffered a lot of teasing about his "do" from Aunt Buck and generation 3. It had a very military style to it and someone ended being called Sarge but it may not have been Tom.

One of my favorite pictures of Tom is him bending over on one side of a glass door to make a smile at Jon my son when he was such a little guy. It is a sweet picture and so much captures Tom's kindness and affection for family. Tom is a person who is warm and kind and a person of quiet strength. He'll stand with you through thick and thin but can help you see your strength and the humor of a situation. He has character and purpose that anyone would want to have and a better partner for my sister could not be found. I am proud to have Tom as a member of my family and each of us are better for having him there. He is just a great guy and such a treasure. I couldn't ask for a better brother or brother - in law.

When I asked Tom about his favorite cookie he described a cookie Mimi made that was crisp on the outside and soft on the inside and of course chocolate. He further stated that if I didn't know what he was talking about I could just post a chocolate cookie recipe and that would be heaven. Well, surprise Uncle Tom. Your favorite cookie is known as the Really Good Christmas Cookie. The cookie came to us by way of our back fence neighbor Helen Johnston. Helen and her husband Doc were characters of the first order and great people to have as neighbors. Mimi baked these cookies just for Tom year after year.

Really Good Christmas Cookie

2 pkgs Bakers German Sweet Chocolate
1 T. butter
2 eggs
3/4 C. sugar
1/4 C. flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/8tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla
3/4 C. chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt chocolate and butter over hot water. Stir and cool.

Beat eggs until foamy add sugar 2 T. at a time. Beat 5 minutes. (Don't cut this corner!)

Blend in chocolate mixture.

Add dry ingredients. Blend

Stir in vanilla and nuts.

Drop by teaspoonfuls on a greased cookie sheet.

Bake for 6-8 minutes and cool.

A Cookie for Cammy

Cammy is my niece, daughter of Buck and the tail end of generation three. She is actually the bridge between generation 3 and 4. To the very young members of generation 4 Cammy is Miss good time. She will play with the boys endlessly, entertaining them with games and activities and just having a lap to sit in and cuddle. For Miriam she is a connection to be a member of the Henry girls - an awesome cadre of women with personalities that are pretty big and wide. Don't feel bad Henry guys. You are each unique and special and have big personalities but as Bobo can tell you there is some disparity with the women that tends to give things a unique tilt. It all works doesn't it. When Cammy was a toddler she hokey-pokeyed endlessly with the family and played and watched the laughter and craziness of her family. One night as her Mom was tucking her into bed she asked, "Who are those crazy people?" Her Mom steadily replied "Cammy that's your family." I think it was a lot to sleep on but she has grown into her role. When we celebrated Cammy's birthday Sue created a quiz based on Cammy's social life. The best question dealt with the number of text messages and Cammy had over 5000 text messages per month. Take a deep breath. So when I wanted to learn to text I consulted Cammy who taught me patiently and I text her from time to time along with my other texting buddies. Jon my son was texting me and when we got together he shared a very telling observation when he told me I texted like a 13 year old. The mark of Cammy.

Because Cammy was the tail end her two aunts had great experience and raising children before their baby sister got her chance. However Rebecca was very helpful to her older sisters and had great advice from her experience as a psychologist to offer her sisters. Cammy was is a special and unique person in her own right but definitely shares many Henry girl and guy traits. She is fun loving and athletic and all about an adventure. She is a senior in high school and her Facebook lists her friends as well over 500 nearest and dearest people in her life. Cammy is an accomplished ice skater and skates competitively and teaches ice skating at the rink where she skates and holds down a part-time job. Her academic career is going well and we expect great things for her future from what we know about her as a person. It's been fun for Sue and me to watch Becky and Cammy's relationship over the years. Beck 's done a great job with Cammy working to give her daughter freedom and the opportunity to make her own choices yet protect her from the challenges people Cammy's age experience. They survived the challenging time and continue to travel forward.

Cammy's cookie choice is Peanut Butter Blossoms. The cookie with as Beck describes as peanut butter with a blob of chocolate in the middle.

Peanut Butter Blossoms
48 Hershey's Kisses Brand Milk Chocolate unwrapped
1/2 C shortening
3/4 C creamy peanut butter
1/3 C granulated sugar
1/3 C brown sugar packed
1 egg
2 T milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 C flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
granulated sugar

Heat oven to 375 degrees
Beat shortening and peanut butter together in large bowl until blended. Add granulated and brown sugar; beat until fluffy. Add egg, milk and vanilla, beat well. Stir together flour, baking soda and salt and beat into peanut butter mixture.
Shape dough into 1 inch balls. Roll in granulated sugar; place on ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned. Immediately press a kiss into the center of each cookie. The cookie will crack around the edges. Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely. About 48 cookies.

Love you Sk8rgrl!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Rebecca's Bar

"We live by the mantra: We never met an Annie cookie we didn't love!" That was the response I received when I emailed my sister Rebecca and her daughter Cammy and asked what might be their favorite cookie each. Great answer. That's the kind of answer that inspires a baker and helps us break out of the baking box. And I must share that Rebecca or Buck as she is known can be very inspirational when it comes to fun and living life to the fullest with great care and love for her family and others. I would tell you she is thoughtful and you would say oh she thinks of others. That certainly is true but she is thoughtful meaning turning on her thinking processes to bring out her best when we talk about the things and people that mean the most to us. Like the rest of my family she is caring and has a huge heart for others. Rebecca wears her heart on her sleeve for others and is filled with compassion. She is a softy with a very strong and keen intellect.

She sounds like Mother Teresa doesn't she but good as she is she is not quite there. Buck balances her kindness with her keen sense of fun. It's a family trait I tell you! Rebecca is the person who is always up for a game or a good time. She will tease and mock during the nightly slip a$$ game on vacation to throw her opponent and secure a win. She nicknamed Elijah E-Z-E and recognized his rockin' nature as a little guy. She proclaimed her star role as the funniest kid in class when confronted by a dad who thought she might do better academically in grade school but she also won the annual MUGS award from that same school. Quite an honor. She has no patience with long processes and has been known to announce as we drove on the first leg of a family vacation "If I knew it would take this long I would have stayed with Grandma Henry!". She didn't appreciate the cooking process and met the right guy (Thank you David). She confronted me about a recipe I shared that had more than 4 ingredients and took about 6 hours to produce. David would say I was the beneficiary of a Buckburst. So at risk of the more atomic Buckruption I will cease to share more sister stories of this beloved sister. Just know that I love her with all of my heart and it is my good fortune to have her as a sister!

So Rebecca's favorite cookie would be a lemon bar. Like Rebecca tart but sweet, crisp yet creamy , multi-layered and an all around great choice to balance other flavors on the Christmas cookie platter.

Luscious Lemon Bars

2 C. flour
1/2 C confectioner's sugar
1 C. butter or vegetable shortening

4 large eggs
2 C granulated sugar
1/3 C fresh lemon juice
1/4 C flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
zest of a lemon - I use this for extra kick but it is optional

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Lightly grease a 9 x 13 pan
To make the crust, combine the flour and sugar in a bowl. Cut in the butter or shortening until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Press the mixture evenly into the prepared pan.
Bake 20 minutes

While the crust bakes make the topping.
Ina large bowl beat the eggs until thick, and light-colored. Beat in the sugar. Beat in the lemon juice. Beat in the flour and baking powder.
Pour the topping over the baked crust.
Bake for 20-25 minutes longer until light colored and firm to the touch.
Cool in the pan on a wire rack before cutting into squares.
You can substitute lime juice and make lime bars as well.

Adapted from 1001 Cookie Recipes.

Mimi's Cookie

My mom AKA Mimi is the person who enabled me in the kitchen. She pretty much gave me free reign and let me experiment and bake to my heart's content. She was gracious through my culinary highs and lows. Mimi refers to herself as a plain cook and not gourmet but she definitely makes great food and wonderful meals. She also has some dishes that people just love and ask her to make. Mimi's applesauce is a family legend. Her cottage potatoes and potato salad are wonderful. Growing up, her fried chicken with white gravy was a birthday treat. Every Christmas Mimi made a braided tea ring from the Betty Crocker cookbook. It was a beautiful yeasted ring with filling and decorated with frosting almonds and candied cherries. When I started baking Christmas cookies Mimi quickly asked me if I was making gumdrop bars. Mimi's cookie is a brown sugar based cookie filled with chopped gumdrops. It's a very sweet cookie but it is called a Jewelled Cookie because of the pieces of gumdrops in the cookie. They are glazed with a thin lemon frosting.

There is another member of the family that appreciates gumdrop bars. My dog Jack the beagle in his younger days was quite a devil. One year I baked the bars, cut and frosted them and put them on foil on the counter. Jack was able to stand on his hind legs and tease the foil to the edge of the counter where he ate half a recipe of gumdrop bars! That's 2 C. of gumdrops and a C. of sugar and butter people and the results were lovely. I will not describe anything beyond that. I will never forget making gumdrop bars without thinking of my Mom and of course Jack.

Gum Drop Bars

Mix together thoroughly:
1/2 C shortening
1/2 C. unsalted butter
2 C. packed brown sugar
2 eggs

Stir in:
1/2 C sour milk or buttermilk

Sift together and stir in:
3 1/2 C flour
1 tsp. soda
1 tsp. salt

Mix in 4 C. chopped gumdrops

Place in a greased 9 x 13 pan and bake in a preheated oven at 400 degrees until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool and frost with a lemon glaze

Lemon Glaze

2 C confectioners sugar
3 T lemon juice
1 T. melted butter
zest of a lemon

This is a great cookie. Thanks Mimi and Betty Crocker

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Back to the Bars

Well not literally the drinking establishments but bar cookies. As one of the basic types of cookies bars are fundamental. They lend themselves perfectly to layering and a resulting composite of tastes. Infinite combinations of favorite flavors can produce hundreds of different cookies. Mathematic in scale it would take an engineer to assess the number and layered shapes.

One of my favorite engineers is a software engineer my son in law Josh. Josh is another cookie lover. Josh is a master of fun and fantasy for his little crew of kids. He is expanding his woodworking skills and makes wooden toys and projects for the children's school. He takes time to listen to the children intently and converse with them. He is working on creating his home through cooking, canning, barbecuing and home projects. He and Jen are great partners in creating their home and family and he is a blessing in our family.

Josh happens to like peanut butter in cookies. I discovered this during one of my recent visits to Seattle. So of course I made a batch of peanut butter cookies for him. He liked them and they were a hit with his two young sons as well. Jen was telling me she was planning to make some cookies during my baking hiatus. Jen asked for some recipes and discussed cookie options. One of the options was a cookie for Josh based on peanut butter. I searched through the cookie files and found one for chocolate peanut butter layer brownies. They have a peanut butter base with a chocolate brownie top. Given Josh's love of fun and dry humor about all things of life these should tickle his palate and evoke some happy times with his family.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Layer Brownies

2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 stick softened unsalted butter
1 1/4 C sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2/3 C all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 C chunky peanut butter
3 oz. fine quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter and flour a 9 in square baking pan. Knock out the excess flour.
In a double boiler or metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water melt chocolate stirring , until smooth and remove the top of the double boiler or bowl from heat. Cool chocolate to room temperature.
In a large bowl of an electric mixer beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy and beat in eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, and vanilla.
Into a small bowl sift together flour, baking powder, and salt and beat into the butter mixture just until well blended.
Divide the batter between two bowls. Whisk peanut butter into batter in 1 bowl. Whisk the melted chocolate into other bowl and add the chopped chocolate and stir to combine.
Spread peanut butter evenly into the pan. Drop chocolate batter by large spoonfuls onto the peanut butter base and spread carefully to form an even layer.

Bale brownies for 35 to 40 minutes in the middle of the oven. Cool brownies completely in the pan before cutting into 16 squares.

Hey Josh, enjoy with my love to you.

A Chocolate Blog

Like most of America and the world, I live amidst a family of chocolate mavens. One particular maven is my sister Sue. Sue is my middle sister and the organizer of the family. She is affectionately called Miss Mom by the family and my parents conjecture that she has Grandma Henry's drive to run the family and rule the world. She is intense and perhaps not to that degree of ruling the world but she has definite ideas about how things need to be. Are you seeing a continuing theme in the Henry family?

She is amazingly fun and a laugh a minute. She staged a picture to look like she fell down the dunes and was clawing her way to the top of the hill. In another picture she plastered her nose with chocolate cake batter and staged a shot of her lunging for the bowl of cake batter I held. There are more stories but the stories could fill a book. She is one of two very special sisters I have and I love them both to distraction. Sue as a chocolate maven had a challenge with my Mom over Sue's desire for a chocolate wedding cake. Mom believed at that time it just wasn't done. A great aunt told Mom that the Groom's cake could be chocolate so the wedding cake was half chocolate and half white. Knowing her love of chocolate and my love for her I am dedicating this special recipe to her. This is a triple chocolate espresso cookie that will sate the chocolate desire of any chocolate maniac. So Miss Mom here is your cookie. Love you!

Triple Chocolate Espresso Cookies

1 3/4 C flour
3 T. cocoa powder
2 1/2 tsp. instant espresso powder
1 3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
12 oz semisweet chocolate
1/2 C softened unsalted butter
1 C dark brown sugar
1/2 C sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 C (6 oz.) chocolate chips

Sift flour, cocoa, espresso, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and set aside.
Melt chocolate in a metal bowl set over a pot of simmering water, stirring occasionally so it melts evenly; remove from heat when smooth.
In a stand mixer, cream butter and sugars on medium speed for several minutes until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla and mix until combined.
Pour in melted chocolate and beat until combined.
Add flour mixture and chips and mix on low until just incorporated.
Cover dough and refrigerate 15-20 minutes until firm enough to scoop.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line several cookie sheets with parchment or silicone baking mats.
Roll dough into 1 1/2 " balls and place on sheets 2 inches apart.
Bake 8-10 minutes - cookies will appear soft but will firm up on cooling. Cool cookie sheets on wire racks before moving with a metal spatula.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cookie Blogs III

Today I had a wonderful experience. One of my dear friends emailed me and asked me to visit. She thought I might be missing Christmas cookies and baking because of my knee. She and her daughter baked and she wanted to share some with me. She dropped off a beautiful platter of eight different assorted cookie varieties. How nice. I never receive Christmas cookies. It was such a treat to look at the variety and sample a cookie. They are delicious. I said to Nancy the giver , "You have rugelach." "Oh you mean sour cream roll ups?", she asked. Isn't it funny that so often the things we see as the same are different or vice versa. But the enjoyment of tradition and flavors though different can evoke fond memories of tastes, smells and experience.

Today I offer another bar cookies. In the process of making over 1000 cookies you learn some efficiencies. Lots of bars, lots of slices created from rolls of refrigerated dough and drops. Spritz are individually shaped but by a cookie press which makes a pretty fast process. Little time for rolled cookies - plus they may be too fragile to travel.So yet again a bar cookie. I'll go a bit further and tell you it's a sleeper cookie. Sleeper because it looks pretty average. Crumbs adorn the top but it is a pretty plain undecorated cookies. Your eye wouldn't be drawn to it as you might an iced cut-out or a frosted drop or swirled marbleized cookies with sprinkles. But it is a mouthful of caramel and crumbs. It's an easy cookie because it's based is refrigerated cookie dough. I know that's kind of a trick from a cook who likes to make things from scratch but it is a delicious cookie none the less. The cookie is one of Miss Jen's favorite. She is a cookie lover and I thinks she loves the exotic name with the very simple caramel note of the cookie.

Dulce de Leche Bars

2 rolls refrigerator sugar cookie dough (18 oz each)
1 3/4 C. rolled oats
2/3 C firmly packed brown sugar
2 Tsp. vanilla
1 bag of caramels (14-15 oz.)
1/2 C. butter
1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 oz.)
3 T. caramel topping

Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Break up 1 cookie roll into a large bowl. Add 3/4/C of the oats, 1/3 C brown sugar and 1 tsp. of the vanilla; mix well. With floured fingers press the dough mixture evenly into the bottom of ungreased 15x10x1 inch baking pan to form the crust.
Bake 13 to 18 minutes or until light golden brown.
Meanwhile in the same bowl break up the second cookie dough roll. Add the remaining oats, 1/3 C brown sugar and 1 tsp. vanilla; mix well.
In a large heavy saucepan heat caramels, butter and condensed milk over medium low heat, stirring frequently until caramels are melted and the mixture is smooth.
Remove partially baked pan of cookies from the oven. Spread caramel mixture evenly over the crust. Crumble remaining cookie mixture evenly over the top of the caramel.
Return to oven. Bake 18-22 minutes longer or until light golden brown. Cool 15 minutes. Run knife around the edge of the pan to loosen. Cool completely - 2 hours. Using a small spoon drizzle the caramel topping over the top of the cookies. Cut into bars.

Here's to you Miss Jen. Enjoy the cookies.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Cookie Blog

Jon came over yesterday to spend some time and he said he read the Grasshopper Squares blog. He asked when would I blog about his favorites - Golf Balls. I had to tell my sweet son that I had already posted about his favorite cookie at the end of last year. You can search under golf balls or Christmas cookie to go to that particular blog. Jon is really craving golf balls and it was almost as if by blogging they would become reality. Oh the wishes of the young. I would so make him golf balls if I could.

His wishing reminds me of one of the most important steps of any activity I do when I'mmaking something for someone else. Whether quilting or cooking or any other activity when I am making something for someone or someones special. I spend time thinking about the person. I remember happy times together, the little quirks and eccentricities of the person. I imagine the look on their face when they see or taste the outcome. In so many ways to me it is a communion of spirit that transcends mere baking and sewing and brings something unique to the experience of making the cookie or the quilt or whatever. The process can become almost meditative particularly when the process is another step in a long tradition.

I love making golf balls for several reasons. They are a cookie beloved by my family in general. They are especially loved by my Dad and my son - two very important men in my life. My mom and I made this cookie together so many times and I have wonderful memories of cooking with her that I will treasure forever. Finally the taste of the cookie itself is nutty, buttery and slightly sweet and the cookies just melt in your mouth. Go find that recipe! They are alternatively known as Mexican wedding cakes or Russian tea cakes.

So for today's cookie I have a very fun cookie beloved by my children and friends. It's a year round cookie good anytime but its incredible chocolatey, caramelly sweetness can bring you to your knees. So it's a great cookie on a cookie platter at Christmas. The cookie is also special because the recipe was found in a cookbook given to me by my children when they were quite young. It is one of the first cookbooks in my collection and it still stands proudly on the shelf. My dear friend Khristopher loves the cookie. Khristopher is a friend of long standing who is a mortician/drag queen. He lives in LA and is now a mortician to the stars. Khristopher asked for the recipe for a bake off at the funeral home in Columbus where he worked. Let it proudly be known that this cookie won first prize at the Schoedinger Funeral Home staff picnic. I hope you'll enjoy this cookie.

Turtle Bars

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Grease a 9 x 13 baking pan

1 package German Sweet Chocolate cake mix
1 small can evaporated milk
1 12 oz package of chopped pecans
3/4 C. softened butter
1 15 oz package of caramels

In a bowl combine cake mix, 1/3 C evaporated milk, and butter. After spraying your hands with cooking spray press 1/2 of the cake mixture into the bottom of the pan spreading evenly. Bake in the oven for 8 minutes.

Melt the caramels with 1/3 C. evaporated milk in the microwave stirring frequently until smooth and creamy.

Sprinkle the chopped nuts over the partially baked cookie base. Drizzle the caramel mixture over the nuts and cookies using it all. Then crumble the rest of the cake mixture evenly over the top of the cookies base. It doesn't need to cover perfectly. The crumbles will melt and nuts and caramel will peek through after baking.

Bake the cookies for 15 - 20 minutes and allow to cool. For best results I bake the cookies the day before serving so the caramel can solidify and make cutting in squares easier. This is a great cookie and wonderful as part of a holiday selection.

The next cookie is a favorite of Miss Jen's Dulce de Leche bars!! Stay tuned.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Christmas Cookie Blogs

Due to recovery from knee surgery - how many times will I have to say this? -I cannot follow my usual holiday tradition of cookie baking for my family and Lee's. In past years we baked 12-15 different kinds choosing family traditions and mixing with new and exotic cookies. They would be sorted and boxed according to families and numbers of people and sent across the United States. All told more than 1000 cookies were baked and sent. It is fun and a time filled with spirits of Christmas past, the joy of Christmas present and hope for Christmas futures.

Because I cannot bake I've decided to do a series of posts of Christmas cookies that I have baked for loved ones. There will be a little story with each recipe that talks about the cookie, its tradition or the people that love the cookie.

I am starting off with the youngest generation of folk. Eli and Gabe ages 7 and soon to be 4 live in Seattle. They are great Christmas aficionados and love tradition. Their favorite cookie happens to be grasshopper squares. Grasshopper squares are a lovely combination of chocolate and mint. The boys love this flavor combination and the creamy, minty frosting. The recipe description says, "These cookies fairly explode in the mouth with silky, fudgy chocolate and cool mint ganache. " Yowser! Jen asked for the recipe as she will bake some cookies for the season as her momma couldn't come through. The boys will help her bake and as it is with most child bakers we have to wonder how much will end up on faces and hands and how much cookie will be left. I'll be waiting for pics of baking on their web site in the Picasa gallery.

Please oh please if you choose to bake any of the cookies use high quality ingredients. Follow quantities and directions explicitly. You'll have the best results. I promise.

Okay so I won't keep you waiting a minute more.

Grasshopper Squares adapted from Gourmet

Brownie Layer

1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter
10 1/2 oz fine quality bittersweet chocolate finely chopped (no more than 60% cacao)
1 1/2 C packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/4 tsp. vanilla
3/4 C all purpose flour
1/4 C plus 2 T. unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa
3/4 tsp. salt

For Mint Ganache
1/2 C heavy cream
10 0z. fine quality white chocolate chopped
2 T. creme de menthe
1 tsp. peppermint extract

For Chocolate Ganache

1 C heavy cream
10 oz. fine quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened) finely chopped

Brownie Layer
Put rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 375. Lightly butter a 13 x 9 baking pan and line with two criss-crossed sheets of foil, leaving a 2 inch overhang on the sides. Butter foil.

Melt butter and chocolate with brown sugar in a 3 qt. heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove from heat. Whisk in eggs and vanilla until combined. Whisk in flour, cocoa, and salt until just combined.
Spread batter evenly in baking pan and bake until set and a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs adhering, about 20 minutes.
Cool completely in a pan on a rack 90 minutes.

Mint Ganache
Bring cream to a simmer in a 2-3 qt. saucepan and remove from heat. Pour over white chocolate in a bowl. Let stand 1 minute, then whisk until smooth. Stir in creme de menthe and extract and chill, stirring occasionally until thick, 1 hour.

Chocolate Ganache
Bring cream to a simmer in a 2-3 qt. saucepan and remove from heat. Pour over bittersweet chocolate. Let stand 1 minute, then whisk until smooth. Chill, stirring occasionally, until thick, about 30 minutes.

Assemble layers

Spread mint ganache over brownie layer in a thin even layer using an offset spatula, then chill until firm but still slightly sticky, about 30 minutes.
Spread chocolate ganache over mint and chill until firm, about 2 hours.
Lift dessert out of pan using foil overhang. Run a heavy knife under hot water and wipe dry, then trim 1/4 ' edge off each side of dessert. Cut dessert into small squares and peel foil.

This makes 6 dozen cookies.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


Holidays are days of traditions laid end to end to bring family and loved ones together in joy, peace and connection to the past, present and future. People at the festivities change or may be absent for a time or two but the traditions celebrated near or far unite loved ones. Like many families my family has rich traditions that have been continued and celebrated through the years and passed on to future generations to keep and tend and even modify a bit as new traditions are forged out of old. My grandparents were great at keeping traditions and welcoming family. Special foods of course, but Santa's visit on Christmas Eve at the farm, a meal crowded with cousins around a huge dining room table, a special gift chosen with great care for each child, great aunts and uncles sharing a meal on a cold evening and tales of parents as young ones over the years. Participating in traditions always evokes stories of events past and memories dying to be shared.

In my immediate family, traditions have been passed down and been created to weave the familiar personalities and fun with foods and activities. On Christmas Eve a tradition was built to serve charcuterie which is a divine mixture of cured meats, cheeses and pickles as a first course with breads and crackers and condiments. The second course is James Beard turkey in lettuce leaves - a recipe already on this blog. Finally Christmas cookies are served. In years past I am the cookie monster er master. Each year I bake about 13 - 15 kinds of cookies to share with my family scattered throughout the states. Cookies are a mix of bars and drops, shaped, molded and flavors. There are some cookies that are always there - golf balls, turtle bars, chocolate mint brownies and much, much, more. This year the Christmas cookies are giving way to knee replacement. There is no way to make cookies to send 10 different ways with this knee. My family assures me it will make the cookies taste better next year.

I have been watching the younger generations as they build their families to see what traditions they keep and what they add for them. Facebook has shared some clues as to what is ahead for the family. Last night Jen and Josh and the kids put up their tree. They had a family expedition to select a live tree and brought it home to put it up. Gabe has been asking for the tree daily so finally he is getting his wish. According to Jen Eli has matured and you can tell as he places his ornaments in a variety of sites on the tree. Gabe follows early Eli and tends to decorate one spot on the tree. Miriam gazes up from her spot on the floor and parents try to plan for safety for some low hanging ornaments.

Jen loves tradition and has been trying to find the holiday time that is right for them to add charcuterie. Well tree decorating night seems to be the perfect time. Jen and Josh prepared a plate of charcuterie and like any good tradition added several new options. She added shrimp cocktail and mini-pizzas. Of course with two boys of such different personalities there must be not one but two kinds of pizza. Eli likes the silver dollar sized pizzas and Gabe likes medium mini pizzas. Jen and Josh have really added to the wonder of tree transformation by combining a tradition from another holiday time. The time is a festive family party of rediscovering ornaments and adding new ones to the tree remembering occasions and why we have which ornament and how it came to the family.

With our family separated by states it is a joy to see what they are doing to celebrate occasions and create traditions of their own as well as keeping family traditions. I hope each of you celebrates your own family traditions in the way you love and cherish this holiday season.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Support and Revelations

Since my knee replacement and the long recovery I have been the beneficiary of gifts that are the best not as material objects but the gifts of revelation. I had underestimated the challenging nature of this surgery and throught I would be back to normal within a few short weeks. LAUGH NOW ALL OF YOU I WAS REALLY CRAZY WASN'T I. I now awaken every day waiting to see how the day goes as a barometer of progress in the road to recovery. I evaluate the pain, number of pills needed yesterday versus today and the stiffness of the knee and its perceived mobility. I do the exercises and try to gauge my progress in degrees and ability to tolerate knee positions. It is exhausting. While I have been recovering my family and friends have come forward to support me at a level which I never expected. I have received gifts of food, meals and I do mean complete meals with extras for the freezer, magazines, fruit arrangements, cookies, restaurant lunches and each comes with a visit which is very nice. These friends have been such a revelation of kindness. I had no idea that we would be the recipients of such generosity. Amazing and wonderful. I feel like Sally Field - You like me! It is the best feeling in the world and I will never underestimate the meaning of support and showing up for the people in your life.

Lee is also the beneficiary of this kindness and she too marvels at people's kindness and generosity. Lee has been saved many nights of cooking thanks to this kindness and generosity and for that we are both grateful. Last night Lee made pasta and salad which was lovely. It was the first meal she actually cooked. So this is Lee. "Anne when I cook the pasta does it go in the pan with the cold water or do I do something else?" Sigh. The pasta was lovely but slightly undrained. I asked about this and she told me she drained the pasta by spoonfuls. Such commitment. By the way I froze meals before surgery so we had marinara sauce for the pasta. Lee makes an excellent salad. Last night's was romaine, carrots, kalamata olives, pignoli and freshly grated parmesan with purchased dressing. After three weeks of TLC from Lee I would tell you she is the second revelation. She is eager to offer assistance whenever needed and for anything. She is patient and kind and almost never says no - she refused to make turkey tetrazinni and we had one more Thanksgiving meal in a row. When I am frustrated and down she is upbeat and encouraging. She makes me laugh and she has really stepped up to a huge plate. We have three dogs and feeding the dogs and me can be an ordeal. Jack the elderly beagle has warm broth and rice mixed with medicine and he eats that first. When he finishes that he gets his kibble mixed in. Dude and Doris are not so picky but require the kibble and broth mix with meds for Doris. Then she gets to feed me. Our only debacle has been oatmeal. I love old fashioned oast undercooked, sprinked with brown sugar and granola and sliced bananas with milk on the side. The first time she prepared oatmeal she boiled it and it was overcooked and gloppily inedible. The second time she tried the micowave and it wasn't as overdone but could have cooked less. She then mixed it all together - yech! So now no oatmeal ever again. I guess I can live without oatmeal until I can do it myself. Lee has been my second revelation in patience and kindness. Thank you Lee, you are the best!

The third revelation is much more mundane and in keeping with my usual focus on food. The other day I expressed an urge for a cupcake and Lee said "I will get you a cupcake". This involved a trip to the Ele' Cake Company and a beautiful white cupcake with pink frosting. This cupcake looked so traditional yet the cake was a specialty cake of raspberry cake cloaked in white cake topped with raspberry frosting. OMG. I could only eat half at a time it was so very rich and the tastes so true to fresh raspberry. I have been watching Cake Boss with Lee and we marvel at the specialty cakes produced. I wonder how would they taste? Well if they are anything like my cupcake they are unbelievable as a dessert and as well as a design. Now I am on a quest to understand cakes and will be returning to Rose Levy Berenabum's Cake Bible. Rose took cake baking to a science and spent years studying baking science to produce luscious and beautiful cakes. One of the things I most love about her cookbook are the sections that she terms "understanding" that convey information about baking that really changes the concept of baking. Studying Rose gain should help me take another step up in my baking ability. The other part of this revelation in taste that is so exciting is that one of the owners of the Ele' Cake Company is the cousin of Mr. MW. Mr. and Mrs MW are celebrating their 25th anniversary and will be serving three cakes from Ele'. However the best news is that the owner may be attending the party. I so hope to meet her and drag her into a corner to talk about baking and her business - cake business that is.

The recipe below is the cake I made for Mr. MW's birthday. It is not an Ele' cake but it is a cake from a recipe by Dorie Greenspan of baking and Julia Child fame. Mr. MW's favorite cake is a carrot cake and this is Big Bill's Carrot Cake. The only problem with the cake is that there was no pineapple and in my mind one must have pineapple in a carrot cake. So I decided to make a filling of rum and pineapple to put between the layers and on top with cream cheese frosting on the sides. I added dark rum to the cream cheese frosting to hit the ball home so to speak!

Mr MW's Carrot Cake adapted from Dorie Greenspan

2 C all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder.
2 tsp. gr. cinnamon
3/4 tsp. salt
3 C grated carrots
1 C coarsely chopped pecans
1/2 C moist plump raisins
2 C sugar
1 C canola or safflower oil
4 large eggs

28 oz can crushed pineapple drained
2 -3 T. dark rum
3 T. cornstarch
1/2 C brown sugar

8 oz. cream cheese at room temperature
1 stick unsalted butter
1 lb. confectioner's sugar (3 3/4 C)
1 T dark rum
1/2 C shredded coconut

325 degree oven butter and flour 3 9 " cake pans. For the cake: Whisk together the dry ingredients for the cake. In another bowl combine, carrots, coconut, nuts and raisins. In a mixer beat the oil and sugar togetheron medium speed until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until smoother. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture mixing until the dry ingredients disappear. Gently mix in the fruit and nut mixture and divide the batter between the three pans. Bake 40 - 50 minutes rotating the pans in the oven so they bake evenly.. When done a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean and the cake begins to come away from the sides of the pan. Let cool 5 minutes then invert the cakes, unmold them and allow the cakes to cool to room temperature.

While the cake is baking combine the filling ingredients and cook over medium heat until thickened. Cool.

In the stand mixer beat the cream cheese and butter until smooth and creamy. Gradually add the sugar and beat until smooth. Add the rum and coconut and beat to smooth.

To assemble the cake put one layer on a plate or stand and frost the top with one-third of the fiulling. Repeat for the next layer. Top with the third layer. Using the frosting frost the sides of the cake. Finally using the last of the filling dress the top of the cake.

This is a wonderful cake.