Thai Peanut Sauce

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Being all cooped up at home, I start to get cravings for food I can’t have (i.e., going out to a restaurant). Yesterday, I looked around my kitchen, and decided to make something adventurous, since going out was not an option. I remembered making a yummy peanut sauce to serve over vegetables a gazillion years ago, remembered that it was easy to make, and also remembered that I lost the recipe. So online I went. I found three different recipes that were basically all the same, with a tad more or less of this or that.

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Now, part of the beauty of this sauce is that it is so quick to make. I put on some water to boil fo pasta, put some butter in a saute pan over medium heat for veggies, and then got to making the peanut sauce. I may have already mentioned that I am in love with my immersion blender. It came with a tall cylindrical measuring cup that I almost gave away, but then for some reason changed my mind. OH MY am I glad I changed my mind. It is fabulous. I just put all the ingredients in the measuring cup, and blend with the immersion blender. Clean up is a snap. Here is what I’m talking about.

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Okay, back to what I was doing. Water on to boil, butter melting in a saute pan… I made the peanut sauce in less time than it took to boil water, and even had time to chop broccoli, carrots, and cilantro. Boiled the pasta, sautéed the veggies, and put it all together in about a half hour total. So not only delicious and healthy, but fast too!

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Thai Peanut Sauce

(Adapted from Minimalist Baker)

  • 1/2 cup creamy salted peanut butter (the kind with just peanuts and salt)
  • 2 (or more) Tablespoons soy sauce (start with less and add to taste)
  • 2 (or more) Tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 Tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon crushed fresh ginger (optional – I use the frozen cubes from TJ’s)
  • Fresh cilantro and lime wedges for garnish
  • Chopped peanuts for garnish (optional)

In a blender or using an immersion blender, blend first six ingredients together, adjusting amounts to taste. Add water little by little until you get to the consistency you like. Use to drizzle over noodles and veggies or use as a dip. Don’t forget to garnish with fresh cilantro and lime wedges; they really make this sauce stand out!

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Posted in Busy-day meals, Fun in the kitchen! | Leave a comment

Apple Pie

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These are difficult days here in Seattle and all around the world, and in a time of uncertainty, a little comfort food might be just the thing. And I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say they don’t like apple pie.

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I have been practicing making apple pie for a while now. I say practicing because so many times it just doesn’t come out right. Maybe the crust is too tough. Maybe the crust isn’t baked enough. Maybe the pie is soupy. Maybe the apples are too mushy or not soft enough. Maybe the filling is too sweet. Or too cinnamon-y. All that being said, my family is always happy when I make pie.

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The Joy of Cooking is once again my go-to cookbook for this recipe. It is simple and easy. The apples are lightly spiced with cinnamon, sugar, lemon, and a pinch of salt. You really taste the apples, and not a lot of other stuff. I have experimented with other recipes, but this is the one I come back to.

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And I really think a homemade crust is in order. As my friend Dan says, “The crust is part of the show”. So if that stresses you out, just use a store bought crust. But you might want to try this crust, or this one by Kenji López-Alt, which is my latest favorite. His crust is, dare I say it, fool proof? Every time I’ve made it and followed every single direction, it has come out wonderfully. I know I must write about it soon. If you choose to make your own crust, I would recommend making the dough the day before and chilling it in your fridge overnight; otherwise, this pie is an all day affair. Plus, the dough rolls out much nicer if it has chilled overnight.

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But let’s talk about apple pie. There were a couple of things I wanted to fix about this apple pie: the sometimes soupy filling, and sometimes top crust not baked enough. A funny thing happened last week. I had started to make a pie, and I put it in the oven and then realized I had to work. SO, I made a list of instructions and gave it to my daughter Emilia. When the timer goes off, reduce temperature to 350° and put the pie crust shield on the pie. And don’t take the pie out of the oven too soon!

Well, when I arrived in the kitchen an hour later, the pie was still in the oven (good!), and the pie crust shield was in place (also good!). But the oven was still at 425°!!!! I pulled the pie out – it looked rather dark, not burned on the top, but it smelled burned. As I suspected, the bottom was a bit burned, which imparted a slightly bitter flavor to the pie. Oddly though, two days later, when we were eating the last of this burned pie, I found it to be delicious, and not soupy, and crust pretty darn near perfect (aside from the burned part). So I decided to make a few changes to see if I could reproduce this pie, without burning it. Here it is.

Apple Pie

(Adapted from the Joy of Cooking)

  • 1 recipe flaky pastry dough
  • 5 medium-large apples (I use galas, with maybe a granny smith or envy thrown in)
  • Scant 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Heaping 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Hearty 1/8 teaspoon sea salt (table salt is fine)
  • 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into teeny pieces (for topping the filling)
  • 2 teaspoons sugar (for sprinkling – I use organic cane sugar)
  1. Roll out half of your dough into a 13″ round, and fit it into a 9-inch pie pan, trimming the overhanging dough to 3/4″ all the way around. I like to use a metal pie pan for best browning. Place in refrigerator. Roll the other half of the dough into a 12″ round for the top crust. Place it on a cookie tray and put in refrigerator. And for goodness’ sake, press those dough scraps together and save for later use!!!
  2. Peel apples, then core, and slice 1/4″ thick. Combine sliced apples with lemon juice and sugar and let rest for about twenty minutes to soften the apples slightly and release some of the juices.
  3. (Optional!!!) Pour off and save most of the juice from the apples. Place in skillet and bring to a slow boil and reduce by half. Pour into a bowl to cool. It will be syrup-y. This step will ensure your pie is not soupy.
  4. Add the flour, cinnamon and salt to the apple slices and combine well.
  5. Place apples in bottom pie crust and level gently with the back of a wooden spoon.
  6. If you have poured off some of the juice and have made a syrup with it, drizzle it over the apples now. Make sure it isn’t hot! Room temp is fine.
  7. Dot the top of the apples with the teeny pieces of butter.
  8. Brush the overhanging edge of the bottom crust with cold water: I do this with my fingers so that I only use a very small amount of water.
  9. Cover with the top crust. Pinch the two crusts all the way around with your fingers. Trim with scissors so overhang is 3/4″. Fold it under so that the folded edge is flush with the pie pan. Crimp the edge with a fork all the way around. Or if you want to get fancy you can flute the edges. See how to do this here.
  10. With a sharp knife, make decorative cuts in the top pastry to allow steam to escape during baking. Make sure the cuts are not too close to each other, because the crust can pull apart and tear during baking.
  11. Put pie in refrigerator for twenty to thirty minutes to set the pastry. Your crust is less likely to slump this way, so don’t skip this step!
  12. While pie is resting in the refrigerator, place a cookie sheet on rack in lower third of your oven, and also make sure there is a rack in the middle. Preheat oven to 425°. It’s a good idea to let your oven preheat for a solid twenty to thirty minutes so the temperature is stable for baking.
  13. Remove pie from refrigerator, sprinkle top with 2 teaspoons sugar, and place on the preheated cookie sheet in the lower third of oven. Bake for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, place foil shield or pie crust shield around edge of pie (optional to prevent over browning of edges) and move pie on cookie sheet to center wrack of oven. Turn oven down to 375° and bake for another 30 minutes, or until top crust is a deep golden brown and thick juices are bubbling through the vents.
  14. Remove pie from oven and let cool on cooling rack for 3 to 4 hours (I’m sorry), or overnight. Everyone says that pie is best the day it is made, so maybe have this be a morning project so you can enjoy it in the evening. But seriously, don’t cut into your masterpiece too soon, or you will have a sloppy pie on your hands. If you wait until the next day, you can reheat the pie in a 350° oven for about 15 minutes. It is also wonderful at room temperature. Enjoy!
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Cut the bottom crust. I use a pizza cutter. Save those scraps!

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Press crust into bottom and sides of pan.

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Top crust.

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Thinly slice the apples, then mix with sugar and lemon juice.

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Strain the juices after 20 minutes or so.

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Cooking down the strained juices only takes a few minutes.

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Just sprinkle the flour, salt, and cinnamon on top and mix in.

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Looking good!

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Level apple slices and drizzle syrup over the top.

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Cut teeny pieces of unsalted butter.

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Place butter on top of apples and lightly wet edges of crust with water.

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Top crust goes on and seal crusts together using fingers to pinch.

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Trim edges so they are even.

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Roll edges under.

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Crimping with a fork makes a sweet design.

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Steam vents can be as decorative as you like! But not too close to each other.

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Sprinkle sugar over chilled pie.

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Out of the oven!

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You must let this pie cool for at least three hours.

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Look at this stand-up pie!

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And of course it is yummy with vanilla ice cream :).

 

 

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Key Lime Pie

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Spring is coming, so it’s time to make something that looks like an Easter egg, but better yet, that tastes SO good! Limey, creamy, tangy sweetness on a crispy graham cracker crust with a hint of cinnamon and little bursts of salt.

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A neighbor mentioned that she would travel far and wide to find the perfect Key Lime pie, and I do so love a challenge…. First stop was the Joy of Cooking. And then I read a LOT of cooking blogs. The first Key Lime pie I made was so good! I followed the Joy of Cooking recipe, with a few tweaks. My only complaint was that the crust was too thick; that was my fault, not the Joy of Cooking recipe. I really love crust, so I made more of it to be sure there was plenty. And there was plenty!

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Then, in my typical fashion, I had to look around more and decided to make a Key Lime pie using a different technique that is recommended by many. This included beating the egg yolks until they are thick and ribbon-y. Sounds good, right? After all, the Joy of Cooking just said to mix all the ingredients together. Too easy, right? So I tried with the whipping of the egg yolks, and I was NOT happy with the results. The filling ended up more like a mousse, and what I was going for was something dense and silky. Sometimes simpler is just better.

Key Lime Pie

(Adapted from the Joy of Cooking)

For the crust:

  • 13 full graham crackers, crushed to fine crumbs (I use my Vitamix blender) You end up with about 1 3/4 cups of fine crumbs.
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon (or a tad more) sea salt or kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 8 Tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted (for a more crispy crust, use a butter with a higher fat content, such as Kerrygold or Plugra)

For the filling:

  • One 14 oz can sweetened condensed whole milk
  • 4 large egg yolks (save the egg whites for macaroons!)
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice , strained (I actually use one lemon, then all the rest is lime juice. Use Key limes if you can find them.)
  • Freshly grated zest of one lime (Don’t skip this part!)

For topping:

  • 3/4 cup cold heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar

Alternate topping:

  • Toasted graham cracker crumb mixture
  1. Preheat oven to 350° and put rack in center of oven.
  2. Mix in a medium bowl the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, salt, and cinnamon.
  3. Add the melted butter to crumb mixture and stir until combined.
  4. Press graham cracker mixture along the side of a 9″ pie pan, going all the way around. That’s right. You do the side first. Then put enough of the mixture on the bottom to make a nice even crust, pressing all the way to the edge where the crust will combine with the side crust. Pressing with fingers is fine, or use the bottom of a measuring cup. If you have some extra of the crumb mixture, and you should, set aside for later.
  5. Bake crust on center rack in oven for 8 to 10 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool. Leave oven on.
  6. Over a medium bowl, grate lime zest (do this before cutting and juicing!).
  7. Add egg yolks to lime zest and whisk lightly.
  8. Add condensed sweetened milk and whisk to combine.
  9. Add lime/lemon juice and whisk just until all ingredients are well combined. Do NOT over mix. The mixture should start to thicken quite a bit.
  10. Pour mixture into warm (not hot) crust and bake on center rack of oven for about 15 minutes, until center looks set but is still a bit quivery, like gelatin, when the pan is nudged. Remove from oven and let cool completely on a cooling rack. Before turning oven off, place any remaining graham cracker crumb mixture, crumbled, on baking sheet and bake in oven for 6 minutes, or until the crumbs just start to brown. Set aside to cool, then store in an airtight jar.
  11. Once pie is cooled to room temperature, chill in refrigerator for at least two hours, or preferably overnight.
  12. Just before serving, whip the heavy cream together with the powdered sugar to top the pie, or top with the toasted crust crumbs, or both!

Very fine graham cracker crumbs.

Ready to go in the pan.

I love this trick! Sides first for a nice even crust.

Use your fingers to evenly spread the crumb mixture to the edge.

Flatten with a measuring cup if you like.

Zest adds the occasional chewy texture – divine.

Whisk until combined… don’t over do it!

Adding the sweetened condensed milk.

The addition of lemon mellows the lime juice a bit.

Strain out the pulp!

Ready to go in the oven.

Let it cool to room temp, then refrigerate.

Have fun decorating!

Add crunchy topping just before serving.

Note: I know the crunch topping is not as pretty as the whipped cream, but I promise that it really adds something special and unexpected to this pie. It’s worth the trouble!

 

 

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Sablés Bretons (French Butter Cookies)

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This cookie is light and flaky, dash-of-salty, buttery divine. It is a specialty of Brittany, in the northwest of France. As you might know by now, I have spent quite a bit of time in France, and Brittany was one of my favorite places to visit, with its rugged coastline, its charming chaumières, la faïencerie, les crêpes, le cidre, and of course, les sablés. You can find these cookies in every local bakery, and they also can be found at most tourist attractions in cute little tins depicting local scenery and artwork.

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I collect these.

Making these cookies kind of surprised me. I mean, I didn’t think I would be able to reproduce them, and I didn’t imagine that I would want to even attempt it. But after ending up with extra egg yolks from my macaroon extravaganza, I closed my eyes and tried to imagine all the recipes that would require extra egg yolks, and these popped into my mind. I had no idea how to make these cookies, but when I did a little research, I did discover that they required egg yolks in the cookie dough, as well as an egg yolk wash at the end. So I just had to follow my inspiration and go with it.

My Henriot Quimper plate is an example of faïencerie.

I pretty much found a perfect recipe right off the bat, that only required a few tweaks to make it extra perfect. Since this is a butter cookie, it really should be made with fantastic butter: cultured salted butter. And guess what? Trader Joe’s is now carrying cultured salted butter straight from Brittany!!

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Yay, Trader Joe’s!!!

Now, this butter takes these simple cookies over the top. But wait, there’s more. I wanted to give them that extra bit of something, and decided it needed to be more salt. Not just any salt, but Fleur de Sel sea salt. I figured I would splurge on this salt, that my kitchen should house this salt at least once in its lifetime. And I have no regrets.

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It’s so pretty!

Don’t worry. You can make these cookies with local salted butter and kosher salt, and you will have something delicious. But I just wanted so badly to get as close as I could to the real thing. C’est une manie.

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My apartment was above this adorable bakery.

Sablés Bretons

(Slightly adapted from Mon Petit Four)

  • 1/4 cup + 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup +  3 Tablespoons salted butter (cultured if you can find it)
  • 2 egg yolks (separated: 1 for the dough, 1 for the egg wash)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup + 1 Tablespoon all- purpose flour (4.7 ounces)
  • 1/4 teaspoon Fleur de Sel salt or kosher salt
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium sized bowl, beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed until light and fluffy – about 1 minute. I like to use my hand mixer for this, since it is such a small amount.
  3. Add 1 egg yolk and the vanilla extract, and mix on medium speed until they’re incorporated. Stop to scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula before resuming the mixing. Add the flour in and mix on low speed just until the dough starts to clump together. You should have lots of little clumps.
  4. Sprinkle the salt evenly over the clumps of dough and mix again just for a second or two. You want the salt to be evenly distributed, but not blended in.
  5. Lightly flour a pastry board or counter. Form the clumps of dough into a ball and place it on the floured work space. Then sprinkle some flour on top of the dough before using a rolling pin to roll the dough out. As soon as the dough starts sticking to your pin, sprinkle a pinch of flour on the dough, then resume rolling. Roll your dough out until it’s approximately 1/4″ thick. I like these cookies to have some heft to them, so you can even have it just a tad thicker than 1/4″, but NOT thinner than 1/4″.
  6. Use medium round cookie cutters (I use a biscuit cutter – 2 1/2″) to cut out round cookies from the dough. Use a sharp-edged spatula to transfer the cookie rounds onto the baking sheet. Re-roll scraps and cut out cookies (lightly re-flouring the work space) until you have used all the dough. If the dough gets too soft to work with, put it in your fridge for a few minutes before continuing. Place 16 cookies on parchment lined cookie sheet, spaced at least one inch apart from each other. Beat the remaining yolk in a small bowl with 1/8 teaspoon water. Brush the tops of the cookies with egg yolk wash. Use a fork to make a cross-hatch pattern on the cookies (drag the fork down vertically on the cookie, then drag the fork across horizontally, cleaning tips of fork tines between each cookie).
  7. Bake the cookies on center rack in oven for 12 to 15 minutes, until they’re a deep golden color. Transfer the cookies to a wire cooling rack to cool completely. Makes  approximately 16 cookies. Bon apétit!

Photos of the process:

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This is what the clumps look like before adding the salt.

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Getting ready to roll.

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Make sure the dough doesn’t stick to the rolling pin!

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Ready to go. This is probably a bit thicker than 1/4″.

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I love this cookie/biscuit cutter.

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Brushed with egg wash.

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Then the hash marks.

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Golden and Beautiful.

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This batch I did fewer hash marks. I like it both ways.

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They go nicely with vanilla ice cream!

 

 

 

 

Posted in Cookies, Fun in the kitchen! | Leave a comment

Mini Mince Pies

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I am not suggesting that you make mince pies for Valentine’s Day, because mincemeat is so controversial. People either love it or hate it. I’m one of those that loves it. I have such fond memories of mincemeat pies as a kid during the holidays. Mincemeat is just strange and unexpected. Dark-sweet-buttery-salty-earthy-ooey-gooey-old-world-deliciousness. You will either sigh with just the memory of it, or you will go running in the other direction.

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Yes, it looks like this in the beginning.

So I just needed to make mincemeat once and for all.

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Glorious.

I kept seeing fancy looking jars of it at the grocery store. Nope. I can make it.

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The final product.

I pulled out my trusty Joy of Cooking cookbook and got going. By the way, I chose to make mini pies, because mincemeat is very intense in flavor. So probably a teeny tiny tart is about right for most.

During the holidays I ended up with lots of scraps of pie crust dough, so I decided to roll it out and make little rounds using a 2″ cookie cutter.

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Then pop them into a mini muffin tin and freeze them. Once frozen, I pop them out of the tin and put them into a freezer bag in the freezer to use at a later time. It’s such a great way to use all those scraps.

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The Joy of Cooking recipe is pretty straightforward, and you will feel like you are living in a medieval village while you are making your mincemeat in your cast iron dutch oven, stirring with a wooden spoon.

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So cute!

I cut out teeny tiny hearts using teeny tiny cookie cutters (for Valentine’s Day, of course) with more pie dough scraps to make these extra festive and beautiful, and to keep the mince from drying out too much during the baking. Did I mention that probably nobody in my family will eat these? I plan on passing them out to friends tomorrow. I hope they still respect me afterwards.

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Will you be mine?

Mini Mince Pies

(Mincemeat recipe from The Joy of Cooking)

  • 1 recipe flaky pastry dough – try this one or this one.
  • 3 medium Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 3/4″ chunks
  • 1 1/2 cups dark raisins, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup walnuts, coursely chopped
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup apple cider
  • 1/4 cup brandy or apple cider
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Grated zest of 1/2 lemon (I used a bit more)
  • Strained juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  1. Starting with the apples, combine all ingredients in a heavy bottom pan or dutch oven and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until the bottom of the pot is almost dry and the fruits are glazed with a thick, molasses-like syrup, 20 to 30 minutes. Let cool to room temperature.
  2. While mince is cooling, roll out your pastry dough to no more than 1/8″ thick (a bit thinner is even better), and using a 2″ cookie cutter, cut twenty-four little rounds. Place them in a mini muffin tin (I made twenty four, and ended up with lots of extra mince, which keeps nicely in the fridge for a good week or two). Place the tin in the freezer. You can also cut out teeny tiny shapes using small cookie cutters (no more than 2 inches wide) with the dough scraps for topping the pies. Keep those cold in the fridge or freezer.
  3. To help cool down the mince, put it in a glass bowl and put the bowl in an ice bath. Stirring the mince helps with the cooling process. The mince needs to be at room temperature or cooler before continuing.
  4. When ready, preheat oven to 425° and place about 2 teaspoons worth (yes, I have a scoop that size) of mincemeat in each frozen tart shell. Gently flatten the filling with a spatula or wide knife. Place a cut-out topper on each pie. Place on middle rack in preheated oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the filling is bubbly and the crust is puffy and golden.
  5. Remove from oven and let pies cool for a few minutes. After about five minutes, gently remove pies from tin and let cool on a cooling rack.
  6. Enjoy at room temperature or chilled. I would not recommend biting into one of these while the center is still hot. Not that I ever did that. But it’s a bad idea.

Notes:

**If you want to make these at a later date, mince will store nicely in airtight jars in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks, and the teeny pie shells can be removed from the tin and stored in a freezer bag in the freezer for at least a month or two. When ready to prepare the pies, place the frozen pie shells back in the muffin tin for filling and baking.

**If you don’t want to bother cutting out pie crust toppers, you could try using a streusel topping instead.

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Curried Chicken Salad

A few days ago we ended up with some leftover rotisserie chicken after dinner, and that night I began to obsess over think about what I could make with it. Then the idea came to me: curried chicken salad. I love curried chicken salad. The first time I had it, I was a teenager, and I was with my friend Stephanie. We were in the Central West End: a very hip neighborhood in St. Louis. We were hanging out with Stephanie’s dad, who knew where all the cool places were. It may have been on this same occasion that he took us to a Rolls Royce dealership to look at fancy cars. Do you like my plaid pants?

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Notice our matching Jack Purcells. Jealous?

I remember that first bite of that curried chicken salad distinctly, because I wondered how something that was supposed to be a deli item for lunch could taste like a dessert. And I didn’t like things like chicken salad. And I didn’t like mayonnaise. But I did like this. Very much. And it was served on a croissant. Need I say more?

So here is how to make this salad at home. It is so easy. It’s a great way to use up leftover chicken. And it is so delicious that you might not want to share it with anyone at all. Hide it in the back of your fridge and nobody will know.

Curried Chicken Salad

  • 3 cups cooked chicken breast meat, torn into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup diced celery
  • 1/2 cup diced apple
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1/2 cup toasted walnuts (7 minutes in a 350° oven), coarsely chopped
  • 3/4 cup Greek-style yogurt
  • 1/4 cup good quality mayonnaise (Hellmann’s, for example)
  • 1 tablespoon mild curry powder (or more if you like)
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar or honey
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

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Combine the celery, apples, raisins, and toasted walnuts with the chicken.

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Mix the brown sugar and curry powder with the yogurt and mayonnaise (you can make this with just mayonnaise, or just plain yogurt… I like the mix) to make the dressing.

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Combine the dressing with the salad ingredients. Add salt and pepper to taste. The flavors in this salad meld and mellow after a day in the fridge, but you might just have to eat it right away. It’s that good.

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Serve on a bed of lettuce.

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Or of course, on a croissant.

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Posted in Comfort Food, Fun in the kitchen!, Gluten-Free | 8 Comments

Homemade Yogurt, Take Two!

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Alert: this requires an Instant Pot with the “yogurt” function. If you don’t have in Instant Pot, it is very easy to make yogurt without one using this method.

Recently I have experimented with different ways to make yogurt. I have been making yogurt for a while now, just using my dutch oven. This required that I “incubate” the yogurt in our oven overnight, with just the oven light turned on to keep the yogurt warm. I did feel a bit nervous about the possibility that the oven light bulb would burn out in the middle of the night, leaving me with a gallon of NOT YOGURT. Everyone keeps talking about how great it is to use their Instant Pot for yogurt, so I finally decided I would give it a go.

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I followed the directions for Instant Pot yogurt, and ended up with less than satisfactory results. A couple of things that I didn’t like about this method. First of all, the milk heats up too fast, so some of it scorches on the bottom of the pot. Secondly, when it reaches temperature, it doesn’t quite make it to 180°. I read up online about this, and it turns out that this is a common problem, and often you have to switch to the “saute” function to get the milk to 180°, and then you’ve really scorched the bottom. If you don’t get the milk all the way to 180°, then you have very soupy yogurt. When what you really want is yogurt that looks like this:

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So here is my solution. Do the first part on your stove top in a dutch oven, and then use the Instant Pot for the cool down and incubation period. I love this solution. I can make yogurt during the day and it doesn’t tie up my oven (I used to have to let it incubate overnight for this reason), and I don’t have to worry about the oven light burning out! Also, the Instant Pot keeps the yogurt just a few degrees warmer than my oven light does, which I like.

Homemade Yogurt

Things you will need (you can halve the recipe if you like):

  • 1 gallon whole milk
  • 1/2 cup plain greek-style, whole milk yogurt with live cultures to use as a starter
  • Candy thermometer or instant read thermometer
  • Large dutch oven or heavy-bottom pan
  • Instant Pot with yogurt function
  1. Take your starter yogurt (1/2 cup) and put it on the counter to come to room temperature.
  2. Take an ice cube and rub it on the bottom of your dutch oven for a minute. Toss the ice cube, and dump out the drops of water from your dutch oven. No need to dry it.
  3. Pour 1 gallon of whole milk into your dutch oven. Place your thermometer on the side of the pot. Turn the heat to medium. DO NOT COVER.
  4. Stir the milk every ten minutes (I set a timer) with a wooden spoon, but don’t let the spoon touch the bottom of the pot. You don’t want to scrape off any scorched bits that could add a strange texture to your yogurt.
  5. Your goal is to get the temperature to 180°. Once the temperature is at about 170°, start to stir constantly, and scoop out any skin that develops on top of the milk. A constant stirring at this point will discourage skin from developing.
  6. Prepare an ice bath in your kitchen sink, and have your Instant Pot insert at the ready.
  7. Once your milk has reached 180°, let it stay at this temperature for 5 to 10 minutes more. I believe that this improves flavor and adds to thickness.
  8. Ladle the hot milk into your Instant Pot insert (the inner metal pot), place the thermometer on the side of the insert, and place the insert into your ice bath. Stir the milk and watch it like a hawk. The milk needs to cool down to 115°.
  9. Once the milk is at 115°, immediately pull the insert out of the ice bath. Have your 1/2 cup starter yogurt in a larger glass. Ladle some of the 115° milk into the glass with yogurt and stir to combine. Now pour this into your warmed milk and stir gently to combine with your wooden spoon.
  10. Place the insert (that is full of the warm milk and yogurt starter) into your Instant Pot. Place the cover on and close. I actually use a glass lid, but either way works. Just make sure it is covered with a lid. Press the “Yogurt” button so that it is at “normal” for ten hours. And voilà. Go about your day. Ten hours later (or I like to stop it at eight hours) you have yogurt.
  11. If you want your yogurt to be thicker (I like it very thick), you can strain it by placing cheesecloth or a large piece of muslin into a large colander. I used to prefer cheesecloth, but now I prefer muslin. Place the colander in a large glass bowl. Ladle the yogurt into the lined colander and let strain anywhere from 4 to 8 hours. I usually let it strain on my counter for about a half hour, dumping out the golden liquid (whey) that accumulates in the glass bowl every ten minutes. After that I cover the yogurt and put it in the fridge for the rest of the straining time.
  12. After straining, put yogurt into a large glass bowl and whisk until smooth and glossy/creamy. If you have strained the yogurt, you will end up with about eight cups. If you didn’t strain, you’ll end up with a lot more.
  13. Store in glass jars in your fridge. Lasts seven to ten days. Don’t forget to save a half cup to use as your next starter.
  14. Have fun with all the different ways you will use your fabulous yogurt. You will never want to go back to store bought ever again!

I am including some pictures of the process below, as well as some ideas for how you might want to enjoy your fabulous yogurt.

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Heating up the milk.

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Ice bath in the Instant Pot insert.

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Incubating. I love the glass lid.

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After eight hours it looks ready.

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Straining.

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Whisking.

And now the fun begins.

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Homemade raspberry yogurt.

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Homemade blueberry yogurt.

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Serve unsweetened with granola and maple syrup.

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Use in place of sour cream (here with arepas).

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Serve with waffles.

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Have it on pancakes.

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Strain longer and make cheese!

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Posted in Fun in the kitchen! | 9 Comments

Classic Waffles

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Recently, I decided to make waffles for the girls, but I didn’t have time to get all yeasty about it, so I pulled Marion Cunningham’s “The Breakfast Book” off the shelf.

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I love Marion Cunningham.

I hadn’t looked at this cookbook in a while, like perhaps since last winter when I went on a huge waffle kick, making every kind of yeast dough waffle I could find. So I opened it up. I forgot (how could I forget?) about the inscription in this book. I ordered it last year from a used bookseller. When it arrived, I opened it up and saw the inscription. Oddly, no names were used, so this could have very well been written to me by my own mom. Except that my mom passed away just days after my 16th birthday.

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From her college days in St. Louis.

So when I read the inscription, I imagined that maybe my mom would have written something like that to me, if she had lived to see me married, and to know her grandchildren. And I cried. And I read it over and over and over again.

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This book has a forever home in my cookbook collection.

This time, when I opened up the book, it felt like a gift all over again. A sweet message somehow making it all the way to me from my mom. I gave the book a hug. And then went on with the business of finding a good waffle recipe.

Now, don’t be upset, but I made these waffles just as written, and they have half butter, and half shortening. I don’t really like shortening, but odd thing is that I had some in my cabinet from all the fussing around I did with pie crust experimenting. So I just went for it. And they just may have been the best waffles I have ever made.

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Perfect.

Crispy golden on the outside, and moist and cake-y fluffy on the inside. Nothing fancy, no extra frills. I don’t even think there is vanilla in this recipe. And there is hardly any sugar. But my, oh my. And still being me, I had to make them again a couple of times, reducing the amount of shortening and increasing the amount of butter. Nope. Not the same. I also made them and added a bunch of homey spices to the batter. Nope. I finally made them again this past weekend, and followed the recipe almost exactly as written. Perfection. So, if you are looking for a delicious, crispy waffle recipe that is so easy it’s a no-brainer, here you go:

Classic Waffles

(Adapted from Marion Cunningham’s Classic Waffles recipe)

  • 2 cups (9 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 Tablespoon sugar
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups milk, warmed slightly
  • 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 5 Tablespoons vegetable shortening, melted
  1. Put the flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar in a mixing bowl and whisk together until blended.
  2. In another bowl, beat the eggs well and stir in the milk. Combine with the flour mixture just until mixed. Add the melted butter and shortening and combine well. Do not over mix.
  3. Pour about 1/2 cup batter into a very hot waffle iron. Bake waffles until golden and crisp. (Bake until there is barely a wisp of steam coming out of the waffle iron.) Serve hot. Makes about ten 4″ x 4″ waffles.

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My favorite waffle iron… Cuisinart.

My favorite new kitchen gadget – dough whisk!

 

 

Posted in Comfort Food, Fun in the kitchen! | 2 Comments

Coconut Macaroons

No, these are not the French “macarons” that everyone is so nuts over. These are old fashioned coconut macaroons like I had when I was a kid. I remember the flavor and texture distinctly, which is why, when I went to a coffee shop with Millie, and we shared a “macaroon” that was drizzled with some lemony icing, and it had large gratings of coconut in it, and was all gooey and falling apart, I felt disappointed. Definitely not the macaroon of my childhood.

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Success!

So I had to get home and look at every recipe I could find. I made a couple of different recipes that seemed popular, but I should know by now, that if I get that strange feeling that something isn’t right with a recipe upon reading it, I need to pay attention to that feeling. The first recipe I made was American, and it was made with whipped egg whites, so the macaroons ended up being light and fluffy and airy; kind of like little poof balls of airy sweetness. Like a coconut meringue. And they had a bad color, kind of a tan beige blah. Not at all what I was looking for. And because I know you want to see a picture of this, here you go.

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No, no, NO!

I also made a French recipe (yes, it was in French!), that called for whole eggs. I wondered to myself how the egg yolk would behave, and found that the flavor was completely off. And they were a yellowish color that I did not like. The texture was better, but everything else was a big NO.

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Definitely not.

Finally, I somehow tripped over a recipe that was created by an American chef living in Paris… ahhhhh, what a dream. His name is David Lebovitz, and I am pretty excited that I found his macaroon recipe. It was thoroughly accidental, because before this whole macaroon obsession started, I made some mint straciatella ice cream, and used his recipe.

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Somewhere in the back of my mind, I remembered seeing on his ice cream page: recipes that use extra egg whites. And then I remembered that one of those recipes was for Coconut Chocolate Macaroons. I had completely ignored the recipe, because I imagined the macaroons being all chocolate-y, which was not was I was after, but when I looked again, it was macaroons that had been dipped in chocolate. And they were exactly what I was looking for! The outside a golden brown from caramelized sugar, with teeny tiny bits of shredded coconut poking out. Crispy chewy on the outside, and slightly gooey on the inside.

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This is it!

Coconut Macaroons

(Adapted from David Lebovitz’s Coconut Chocolate Macaroon Recipe)

  • 4 large egg whites (should measure 1/2 cup)
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 hearty Tablespoon honey
  • 2 1/2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut (see tips below)
  • 1/4 cup (1.1 ounces) flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (optional)
  1. In a 10 inch skillet, mix together the egg whites, sugar, salt, and honey.
  2. Over low heat on stovetop, stir the mixture until tepid, but not warm or hot. You just want to take the chill off.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix the coconut, flour, and drizzle the vanilla on top.
  4. Add the coconut/flour mixture to the egg white/sugar mixture, and stir together over medium heat for about 5 minutes. You want the mixture to thicken just bit. It will be like thick oatmeal.
  5. Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl and let cool to room temperature.
  6. When ready to bake, preheat your oven to 350°, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  7. Form dough into 1 1/2 Tablespoon rounds (I use a cookie scoop for this) and place on cookie sheet evenly spaced. Bake on center rack in oven until macaroons are a deep golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. Cool completely.
  8. To dip the macaroons in chocolate (optional), slowly melt the chocolate in a glass bowl in the microwave, or in a saucepan on your stovetop, and dip the bottom of each cookie into the melted chocolate. Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and refrigerate for 5 to 10 minutes, until the chocolate is set.

Pictures with tips:

You really want to use the right kind of coconut. Do NOT use flaked coconut. The flakes are too big and will ruin the consistency. I use Bob’s Red Mill Shredded Unsweetened Coconut, and the size and texture is perfect.

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And if you are unable to find Bob’s Red Mill brand, here is a picture of what the unsweetened shredded coconut looks like (on the left), compared to the flakes of sweetened on the right that we are all familiar with. Just in case you don’t believe me about there being a big difference. The shredded unsweetened is much smaller, and that is what you want.

The one on the left is what you want!

I think it is worth it to measure the egg whites. You should have a hearty 1/2 cup of egg whites, and 4 large egg whites should do it, but just to be sure…

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Using the right sized pan is essential. The first time I made these, I used a pan that was too large, and I dried out the egg mixture. This is a 10″ pan, which works well.

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This is the egg whites with the sugar, honey and salt.

Here is the thickened egg/sugar/coconut mixture. This is about right. Don’t dry it out! The mixture will firm up once it has cooled down to room temperature.

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If you let the dough cool to room temp, the cookies keep their shape better.

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I use a cookie scoop (1 1/2 Tablespoon size) to scoop these cookies. It works like a charm. In fact, it works like a charm for all cookies, so if you don’t have one yet, put it on your want list.

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Leave about two inches space between cookies. They spread a little, and they will bake more evenly with plenty of space. And only bake one cookie sheet at a time.

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You can even get fancy and drizzle melted chocolate on top of the macaroons, as well as dipping them.

With or without the chocolate, these macaroons are chewy, gooey, and just how I remembered them!

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Posted in Cookies, Fun in the kitchen! | 4 Comments

Almond-Anise Biscotti

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During the holidays, after a long shopping excursion, Millie and I stopped at our local crêperie/bakery/coffee shop, Cafe Javasti. I can’t remember what Millie got, but I remember exactly what I had: the best decaf cafe latte, and the best almond biscotti ever! Normally I would always choose some sort of flaky pastry or cinnamon-y coffee cake over a biscotti, but for some reason, this time I went for the hard Italian cookie. Wow. Was I surprised! It was so light and crispy, kind of melt-in-your-mouth, not tooth-breakingly hard, and paired with some of the best coffee around, I was in heaven! So of course when I got home, I immediately started looking at recipes.

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After a bit of searching, I found this recipe, Anise-Almond Biscotti, by Janet Mercuri. All the reviews were fantastic, so I gave it a try. I only barely tweaked a few things: like adding a tad more salt, and adding more ground anise seed, which I ground myself using my mortar and pestle. The fragrance that is released when doing this is intoxicating.

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I also found a great trick for how to make the dough easier to handle. Normally you have to form logs out of sticky soft dough, and then transfer it to the baking sheets, which can be difficult, even with floured hands.

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Barely got the second “log” on the cookie sheet without having it fall apart.

After reading more recipes (you have to read a lot of recipes to get everyone’s wonderful tips), I found a great method: scoop large spoonfuls of dough in a row onto the cookie sheet, and then form into logs with floured hands. This works perfectly.

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Before forming the logs.

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After forming the logs with floured hands.

One of the great things about these cookies is that they just keep getting better and better. In fact, when I first made them, I tried one shortly after they had cooled, and I was underwhelmed. I didn’t know that biscotti become more flavorful and delicious after a few days, and I didn’t know that they would still be wonderful after a month! Which is fantastic, because I made them just before Christmas, when we were all feeling completely sugared out, so they sat in jars on the kitchen counter being ignored for quite a while before I felt like trying one again. Even Matthew likes them, and he doesn’t like biscotti.

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Almond-Anise Biscotti

(Adapted, just barely, from Janet Mercuri’s recipe)

  • 3 1/4 cups (14.75 ounces) all purpose flour
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 10 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 3 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 Tablespoon anise seed, ground
  • 1 cup whole raw almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
  • 1 large egg white
  1. Preheat oven to 350°
  2. Place 1 cup of whole raw almonds on baking sheet and toast in preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes. Chop coarsely once cooled.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  4. In a large bowl, mix together the sugar, melted butter (lukewarm, not hot!), eggs, vanilla, and ground anise seed with a wooden spoon.
  5. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and stir with wooden spoon, just until the flour is incorporated. Do not over mix.
  6. Stir in the chopped almonds.
  7. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and with a large serving spoon, place dollops of dough in two rows on your baking sheet. There should be about 4 inches of space between the rows.
  8. With floured hands, form dough into logs about 2 1/2 inches wide and almost as long as the cookie sheet. The logs might be about 1 inch tall. (At this point, you can put the logs into the refrigerator to chill for a half hour – optional! – to firm up the dough. This means your dough will not spread as much when baking, making for shorter, wider biscotti. You decide.)
  9. Whisk the egg white until foamy, then brush the tops and sides of the dough with it.
  10. Bake on center rack of oven for 30 minutes.
  11. Place the baking sheet on a cooling rack, and allow the cookie logs to cool on the sheet for 25 minutes.
  12. Carefully place the cooled logs on a cutting board (discard parchment paper). Using a sharp serrated bread knife, slice on the diagonal into 1/2″ thick slices (mine are 5/8″) – use a sawing back and forth motion. Don’t fret if some of the biscotti crumble a bit.
  13. Place slices cut side down on the baking sheet and bake for about 12 minutes. Flip the biscotti and bake for another 8 minutes. If you prefer your biscotti less toasted, try 10 minutes on the first side, and 6 minutes on the second side.
  14. Remove from cookie sheet and let cool completely on cooling rack. Store in an airtight container at room temperature. Stored properly, these will stay fresh for a month. Makes about 36 biscotti.

Note: I wanted to mention why I might just be a little obsessed with these cookies, and why I have been making them for a month now, aside from the fact that I needed to find the perfect recipe… Having grown up in St. Louis, I have so many fond memories of “The Hill”, which is the Italian section of St. Louis: blocks and blocks of modest older brick homes, and at the center, the best Italian restaurants, grocery stores, bakeries and cafés you could ever wish to find. When I was a kid, my mom used to take us to Viviano & Sons grocery store on the Hill. As soon as you walked into the place, you were hit with the pungent aroma of olives, olive oil, strong cheese, freshly baked bread, and yes, anise seed. So I might just bliss out when I am making these cookies. I hope you will too.

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Posted in Comfort Food, Cookies, Fun in the kitchen! | 4 Comments