Post-Holiday Browns

We’re not blue after the holiday we’re brown. As in brown butter! That nutty, toasted aroma imparts a fabulous twist on the already classic shortbread.

Shortbread

I was a little hesitant to try this recipe from Smitten Kitchen but they just sounded so delicious. A lot of comments had been made about how the recipe (Brown Butter Shorties) wasn’t turning out as described and my neighbor, who is a great home chef, also had problems.

Fortunately for me, it all worked. I’m not a brown butter expert and I may have browned mine just a bit too long, but the flavor of the cookie is really rich – full of caramel overtones. And even better, it was quite easy. A slice and bake cookie. I only wished it had yielded more! My batch made a coveted twenty cookies! Definitely a recipe to keep and put into the cookie rotation! Enjoy!

BROWN BUTTER BROWN SUGAR SHORTIES from Smitten Kitchen
Adapted from Gourmet

Makes about 32 cookies

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1/2 cup packed brown sugar (preferably dark)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt (flaky salt would be great in these)
Demerara sugar (Sugar in the Raw) or sanding sugar for rolling (optional)

Cut butter into four or five pieces and cook butter in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently, until it has a nutty fragrance and flecks on bottom of pan turn a light brown, anywhere from 4 to 7 minutes. It helps to frequently scrape the solids off the bottom of the pan in the last couple minutes to ensure even browning. Transfer butter to a bowl and chill until just firm, about 1 hour.

Beat together butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Beat in vanilla, then mix in flour and salt at low speed until just combined. Transfer dough to a sheet of wax paper or parchment and form into a 12-inch log, 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Chill, wrapped in wax paper, until firm, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Unwrap dough and roll it in coarse sugar, if using, and press the granules in with the paper you’d be using to wrap it. Slice dough into 1/4-inch-thick rounds, arranging 1 1/2 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake until surface is dry and edges are slightly darker, 10 to 12 minutes. Let sit on sheet for a minute before transferring to a rack to cool. (Cookies will quite fragile at first, but will firm up as they cool.)

Dough keeps, chilled, up to 1 week, or in the freezer, up to one month. Cookies keep in an airtight container at room temperature 1 week.

NOTE: if you can, read the comments on the Smitten Kitchen blog on this cookie. There are a lot of helpful hints from other bakers.

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A Classic Cookie

Toll House

The chocolate chip cookie is a go-to classic. It’s quick. It’s easy. And it satisfies that sweet tooth like nothing else. Chocolate chip cookies are timeless. You can eat them any time, any day, any where, hot or cold. Chocolate chip cookies are accessible. You can always find some version of the cookie from high-end bakeries to your neighborhood deli. Chocolate chip cookies are valuable. You can trade them, barter with them, withhold them on the schoolyard and at home. Chocolate chip cookies are constant. They are as good then when you were a child making them yourself as they are now when you make them for your grandchildren.
Is it the sublime combination of warm buttery cookie with melting semi-sweet chocolate? Isn’t it alarming how quickly the cooling batch disappears from the rack? And why don’t they last more than a few days?

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Let Them Eat Cake!

There is some doubt that Marie Antoinette actually said these words but in this instance, we should all definitely eat cake. Especially if it’s this one.

cake 3 All Stacked Up and Ready!

cake 2It’s a Beauty!

cake 1

A Slice of Heaven!

And there is not a crumb left! This is one of the best cakes I’ve made. Not only is it beautiful to look at, it is incredibly tasty, and easy to make. It’s extremely light and not overly sweet. The recipe is straight from the Smitten Kitchen blog (http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2013/03/chocolate-hazelnut-macaroon-torte/) and it will be a go-to favorite.

It looks complicated but it’s really not. Our guests didn’t believe me but I assure you, it is easier and less work than a traditional layer cake. My husband, who isn’t a dessert person, really liked this one. And that says a lot! You ladies know what I’m talking about!

We were celebrating with my husband’s work colleagues as one of the team was taking a two-year sabbatical with her husband to Chile. Wouldn’t that be fabulous? We can dream. It was a lovely gathering with good company, lots of food and drink, and plenty of laughter.

Have a great week all!

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Shortbread’s in the air!

Nothing says spring to me quite like a good shortbread cookie. When I was little my grandfather used to bring over what we called “butter cookies” in the blue tin. All basically the same cookie but in different shapes. I loved them. But once I made them from scratch, the blue tin became a distant but lovely memory. I admit – shortbread is my favorite cookie. The crunchy sugar and buttery morsels just melt in your mouth. And who doesn’t love a cookie shaped like a bunny? Happy Spring!

easter

shortbread

Ingredients
3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature.
TIP-boil water in the microwave. Leave the butter in the microwave with the hot water. Butter will end up being very soft but not melted. I found this helps with the consistency of the dough.
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
Colored Sugar crystals for decoration. I’ve used just the plain ones but they don’t have the pop of color I like.

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, mix together the butter and 1 cup of sugar until they are just combined. Add the vanilla. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour and salt, then add them to the butter-and-sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Dump onto a surface dusted with flour and shape into two separate flat disks. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.
(I like to separate the dough and work in small batches because my pans are small and I can’t get on as many cookies as I’d like to. I also dump the dough on to plastic wrap and use the wrap to help form the dough into a ball.)

Roll the dough 1/2-inch thick and cut with a 3 by 1-inch finger-shaped cutter.
TIP: I use plastic wrap to roll out the dough with so that it doesn’t get my counters or my rolling pin all messy. Place the dough between two separate sheets of plastic wrap and roll out with the rolling pin on top of the plastic wrap.

Place the cookies on an ungreased baking sheet and sprinkle with sugar crystals. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until the edges begin to brown. Allow to cool to room temperature.
(I have an insanely small oven. Most recipes call for cookies to bake at least 20 minutes but in mine, 10 minutes will do the trick. Watch them the first time you bake them so you know how long is best. Personally I do like the brown ones too!)

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Chocolate Sables and Sylk

We need to entertain more. It’s so much fun to get together with friends and such a great excuse to dress up, cook, and share some of the great wine we’ve accumulated. Our dear friends Carl and Lynn have decided Not to produce their Fabulous red wine, Sylk, any longer and it was a sad day when we heard the news. It’s one of our very favorites and what better way to pay homage than to share it with friends. It really is a beautiful bottle. Try and get some while you still can: http://www.sylkcellars.com/.
I’ve become addicted to Smitten Kitchen! My sister gifted me a copy of the cookbook at Christmas and I had never heard of it. But now, I love her blog and look forward to it every week. It and Sylk were the inspirations for our dinner party last Saturday.
We started off with appetizers – beautiful and light gougere’s and asparagus wrapped in proscuitto. Then we sat down for our first course, roasted red and gold beets with goat cheese and basil. We followed with Lucca Ravioli, one of my favorite places to shop. Cheese Ravioli with pesto sauce and parmesan shavings. Main course was grilled lamb chops with Smitten’s cauliflower feta fritters. Another really fun and different side dish to our lamb chops. Top them with a yogurt sauce and pomegranate seeds. And they freeze and reheat beautifully! Another entertaining plus! Deb’s chocolate sables are also delicious and so easy to make! I served them with coffee ice cream and another great Almond Shortbread cookie for dessert. It was a lovely Saturday evening! If you’d like any of the recipes just let me know!

Sables

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Homage to Michael Chiarello

Needless to say, the meal was excellent and the restaurant just beautiful. They have some wonderful terrace lounge seating which would be a great way to spend an afternoon! By far our favorite dish was the Crispy Potato Gnocchi, English Pea & Tallegio Fonduta, Spring Vegetables, Prosciutto Crisp. We would have licked the plate clean if we weren’t in mixed company!

We were having friends over that next night and I was so inspired I went back up to Yountville and the Napa Style shop, purchased one of his cookbooks, and decided to make gnocci for the very first time. Interestingly enough, Michael’s Bottega cookbook does have a gnocci recipe but it requires you to make it 24 hours before you cook it and that wasn’t going to work! In his Tra Vigne cookbook there was a potato gnocci recipe, that sauteed the gnocci, which was how Bottega’s dish was prepared. This was the recipe for me! Although, in the book, they discuss a gnocci mold/maker that helps you shape the gnocci in the traditional shape. I didn’t know they had such a thing! But I may have to find one!

My gnocci with cherry tomatos, mushrooms and carrots was good but not in the same league as Bottega’s! Could be because it was my first time but the restaurant’s dish had many more complex elements. I did crisp up some proscuitto as well but the fonduta was missing. Practice makes perfect! Would love to get the restaurant’s recipe!

What I liked about my meal was that it was primarily vegetarian. The crispy proscuitto was laid out on top of the gnocci but not integral to the dish. As a side dish, I had zucchini spaghetti which was also ‘borrowed” from Bottega. Delicious!

I continue to eat primarily fruits and vegetables with a little dessert on the side (but not every day)! My new juicer is Fabulous. The green juices I’ve made have been truly yummy. I think about them all the time.

I think other people must think about food as much as I do. I plan out what I’m going to eat every day except weekends. Now that I’ve been eating fresher, I end up having to go to the market a few times a week. And let me say, Trader Joes is just one of the best things going. A six-oz package of blueberries is $2.99 and at Andronico’s a four-oz package is almost $7.00. When you consume as many blueberries as I’ve been, it’s a no brainer!

So in the spirit of firsts, I also made my first pie! I can’t believe I haven’t made one before but there’s always a first time.  Here it is. And it is delicious. And was so simple. Simple and classic. Isn’t that always the best?

Tomorrow night, Roasted Zucchini, Tomato and Mozzarella Torta. Yummy!