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From the ruins

lavender lemon shortbread

Years and years ago, when I first moved back to London for graduate school, I was lucky enough to live in a furnished apartment. Or, almost. The one thing that was missing was a desk *, which seemed essential at the time, given that I was a student.

My roommate—who I had met through a mutual friend but not actually met in person—and her parents knew this and mere minutes after I arrived, whisked me off to Ikea. Or, it felt like that anyway.

I was still bleary eyed from the red eye transatlantic flight and the surreal experience of presenting the customs officer with a notarized acceptance letter and a bank check for thousands of GBP made out to University College London. And, I was in need of everything that didn’t fit within the confines of two suitcases. And, also, very, very tired.

By the time we got to the bays holding the desks, I was dead on my feet. But, it hardly mattered. I knew what a wanted—an understated blonde wood one that would blend in perfectly with the rest of the furniture in my bedroom. I pointed to it, my roommate’s father helped me get it down and then it sat in my flat for two days before I had the energy to open up the box and build it.

When I did, it was bright orange.

Stay with me here. There’s a point, and I’m getting to it.

I was alone in my flat and started to laugh aloud, like a crazy person. This wasn’t what I wanted at all. But, I had no access to a car, and no easy way of getting to Ikea to return the desk without one. I had no choice but to start building. The funny thing was that, as I did, I realized that aesthetically, the orange desk worked and, in fact, made my bedroom look far better than the beech wood version ever could.

The recipe below was meant to be something different.

I had visions of flaky buttery cookies sandwiched between tangy lemon curd. There would be just enough acid to counterbalance the richness and just enough heft to the cookie so that it would be easily stackable. They would be delicious.

And, then the cookies came out of the oven and they too flaky.

I tried to dollop some lemon curd between two and they fell apart. Once I got over the initial disappointment, I realized I was right about at least one thing—they were delicious and tender enough to almost melt away.

All of which is to say, from the ruins: shortbread.

Lavender Lemon Shortbread

1 cup butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 TBS lemon zest
1 tsp dried lavender
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup corn flour
1/4 cup cornmeal, plus more for dusting
3/4 tsp salt

Cream the butter and powdered sugar. Add in the vanilla, lemon zest, and lavender until it is well blended. Sift the flours and salt together, then add it into the creamed butter/sugar and thirds. The mixture will appear sandy at first. Beat util a soft dough forms, taking care not to over blend.

Roll into logs about 1″ in diameter, coating in cornmeal. Cover in wax paper and refrigerate at least one hour.

When you are ready to cook, heat your oven for 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Slice the shortbread into rounds 1/4″ wide. Place on a parchment lined baking tray and bake 12-14 minutes. The shortbread will be pale. Allow it to sit for at least 10 minutes on the baking tray to crisp.

Photos courtesy of Michael Landry

*Actually that’s not entirely true. For the first two months in the flat, we were also missing dining room table chairs. How we finally got them is another story.

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Any idiot*

Right now, the dishwasher needs emptying. My laundry—clean, at least—remains piled, waiting to be put away. There are bills, unpaid. All the quotidian things that fill up one’s day. And, yet, I can’t bring myself to tend to them. I feel like writing.

I’m going to say that again: I feel like writing.

It’s been a long time.

Too long.

What happened was this: first, I was busy just generally being busy. Somewhere along the line, I stopped cooking all that much. I stopped writing before then. After hours spent in front of a computer screen during the day, I couldn’t do it. Couldn’t do much of anything.

Or better stated, any idiot can face a crisis—it’s day to day living that wears you out.*

They say it takes 30 days to establish a habit and almost no time to break it. So, no sooner than a friend—an editor, no less—had complimented my writing, it all but stopped. We don’t talk about these things.

In the same way we don’t talk about how adding just a hint of cinnamon makes chocolate, making it taste like a truer version of itself. Coffee will do the same. If you bake enough, you just know.

So, what happened was this: walking through the Union Square Greenmarket a few weeks ago, the scent of the stone fruit was overwhelming. Luscious, fragrant, the very essence of summer. And, suddenly for the first time in more than a month, I felt like getting out the kitchen scale. A small thing, really. Sort of, anyway. And, as luck would have it, owing to the generosity of a friend who, having heard me talk about wanting to make lavender ice cream had sent me some of the flowers, a recipe was born.

Did you know that adding just a hit of lavender to stone fruit will make the fruit the best version of itself? Truer, more floral.

Well, now you do.

Stone Fruit and Lavender Crostada

For the Pastry:
1 cup flour
3 TBS sugar
1/4 tsp salt
8 TBS butter (1 stick)
Zest of 1 lemon
1/4 tsp lavender

For the Filling:
1.5 lbs peaches, plums, apricots
juice of 1 lemon
1 TBS sugar
1 TBS flour

For the pastry:
Sift the flour and salt in a large bowl, adding in the sugar, lavender and lemon zest, stirring to combine. Using a pastry cutter, cut in the butter and the water until the dough is pebbly. Then, turn the dough out onto a well floured surface, rolling it into a ball and flatten into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour. While the dough is chilling, make your filling and preheat your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

To assemble the filling:
Cut the peaches, apricots, and plums into wedges and place them in a bowl. Toss with the juice of a lemon, 1 TBS flour, and 1 TBS sugar. Set aside.

Assemble the crostada:
Roll the pastry out into a 10-11″ circle on a lightly floured surface, then transfer it onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Using a fork, piece the dough to allow air to escape. Place the fruit in the center of the dough, allowing for an inch border on all sides. Fold the border of the pastry over the fruit, pleating it to form an edge.

Bake 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 minutes. Cool to room temperature before serving.

*with thanks to Chekhov

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This is not a test.

Last week, when I celebrated my birthday, it began with a bang.

Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. More like, it began with the sound of rushing water.

Can you tell where I’m going with this? You’re in for a treat, I can assure. More than I can say for myself.

Cue to me stumbling out of bed at 5 am to investigate what sounded like a downpour of epic proportions only to realize that the sound was coming from inside the house. The bathroom, in fact, where I’m fairly certain that the lid of my toilet was perpendicular to the tank. I can’t be sure since, as it was 5 am, and I was half awake, I wasn’t wearing my glasses. Which didn’t stop my from attempting to Macguvyer the thing back into working order. Without turning off the water supply.

I’m often full of good ideas. Often, but not always. And, not at that moment.

If my life was a movie, the next shot would be an extreme close-up of me covered in—thankfully clean—toilet water. With some techno playing in the background, blocking out my swearing.

One thing was certain: I was going to be getting a toilet for my birthday.

A nice compliment to the vacuum that my parents had decided to get me to celebrate growing another year old, and to remind me that I was very much in my thirties. If sounds like I’m making this up. I assure you, I’m not.

Still, it’s hard not to be amused by the whole thing. My first thought after drying myself off and shutting of the water supply was this day can only get better followed quickly by one about how much mileage I could get out of telling the story. I’m eternally in search of the punchline. Sometimes it appears in the most unexpected of places.

And, so, after cleaning up the house, I started my day properly—with cookies and pie (I was born on Pi Day, after all)—because it was my birthday, and I could.

What follows is a recipe for my platonic ideal of a cookie. Do I sound pretentious? It’s been well established that I am.

Besides, I began my birthday covered in toilet water.

I’ve earned this. And, probably some more cookies, too.

Confetti Cookies
Recipe from Momofuku Milk Bar by way of SeriousEats.com

Ingredients:
For the Cookies:
16 tablespoons (225 grams, 2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups (300 grams) sugar
2 tablespoons (50 grams) glucose or 1 tablespoon (25 grams) corn syrup
2 eggs
2 teaspoons (8 grams) clear vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups (400 grams) flour
2/3 cup (50 grams) milk powder
2 teaspoons (9 grams) cream of tartar
1 teaspoon (6 grams) baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons (5 grams) kosher salt
1/4 cup (40 grams) rainbow sprinkles
1/2 recipe Birthday Cake Crumb (recipe follows)

For the Birthday Cake Crumb
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons (25 grams) light brown sugar, lightly packed
3/4 cup (90 grams) cake flour
1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) kosher salt
2 tablespoons (20 grams) rainbow sprinkles
1/4 cup (40 grams) grapeseed oil
1 tablespoon (12 grams) clear vanilla

To make the Birthday Cake Crumb:
Heat the oven to 300°F.
Combine the sugars, flour, baking powder, salt, and sprinkles in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed until well combined.
Add the oil and vanilla and paddle again to distribute. The wet ingredients will act as glue to help the dry ingredients form small clusters; continue paddling until that happens.
Spread the clusters on a parchment- or Silpat-lined sheet pan. Bake for 20 minutes, breaking them up occasionally. The crumbs should still be slightly moist to the touch; they will dry and harden as they cool.
Let the crumbs cool completely before using in a recipe or scarfing by the handful. Stored in an airtight container, the crumbs will keep fresh for 1 week at room temperature or 1 month in the fridge or freezer.

To make the Confetti Cookies:
Combine the butter, sugar, and glucose in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the eggs and vanilla, and beat for 7 to 8 minutes.
Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour, milk powder, cream of tartar, baking soda, salt, and rainbow sprinkles. Mix just until the dough comes together, no longer than 1 minute. (Do not walk away from the machine during this step, or you will risk overmixing the dough.) Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.
Still on low speed, add the birthday cake crumbs and mix in for 30 seconds?just until they are incorporated.
Using a 2 3/4-ounce ice cream scoop (or a 1/3-cup measure), portion out the dough onto a parchment-lined sheet pan. Pat the tops of the cookie dough domes flat. Wrap the sheet pan tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or up to 1 week. Do not bake your cookies from room temperature?they will not bake properly.
Heat the oven to 350°F.
Arrange the chilled dough a minimum of 4 inches apart on parchment- or Silpat-lined sheet pans. Bake for 18 minutes. The cookies will puff, crackle, and spread. After 18 minutes, they should be very lightly browned on the edges (golden brown on the bottom). The centers will show just the beginning signs of color. Leave the cookies in the oven for an additional minute or so if the colors don?t match and the cookies still seem pale and doughy on the surface.
Cool the cookies completely on the sheet pans before transferring to a plate or an airtight container for storage. At room temp, the cookies will keep fresh for 5 days; in the freezer, they will keep for 1 month.

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So we beat on, boats against the current

There’s new scaffolding up by the New York Life building. This time it’s far more imposing and permanent.  Walking home late the other night, I noticed it and that it half obstructs the old “Interboro Subway Line” sign. A relic of the past, certainly, but a personal anchor, nonetheless.

At the very least, I liked seeing it.

Thankfully the neon glasses on 27th street are still there, bright as ever, reminding me at of Dr.T. J. Eckleburg.

Even so, there’s no doubt about it—the neighborhood is changing, again. If you can even call it a neighborhood, which I don’t suppose you can, since it’s mostly hotels and office buildings, but it suits me. And, it’s home.

You can’t stop progress.

I’ve been meaning to tell you about this cake and the story behind it for more than a month now.

Time gets away from me.

And, so, to go back to December 2011—each year, I cook my mother an elaborate birthday dinner. I’ve talked about it here before. It’s an all day affair. Think: cosmopolitans with freshly squeezed key lime juice, risotto, any manner of dessert, well, you get the idea. This year, however, owing to a new job with a different vacation policy, I only had a few days off around the end of the year which, among other things, meant less time visiting my family and by extension, less time to cook.

I suppose, then, my mother can be forgiven for suggesting that I make her birthday cake from boxed mix. Yes, boxed mix. I was incredulous—definitely not a good way to start a birthday meal. I couldn’t help it, for a birthday it seemed to defeat the whole purpose.

For me, cooking, opening up my table, is an act of respect and affection. The whole point is taking the time out, of telling someone that they’re worth the extra time and steps it takes to make something from scratch. So, a boxed mix simply wouldn’t do. Not for the occasion and certainly for my mother. After all, she was the woman who taught that baking was a meditation of sorts. To this day, when things get stressful, she takes out her measuring cups.

It’s getting cold here and the work shows no signs of abating. I’ve taken to leaving my own measuring cups on the counter, rather than putting them away.

Make of that what you will.

Chocolate Fudge Cake
Adapted from here

For the Cake
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
3 cups sugar
3 eggs
3 tsp vanilla extract, divided
4 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted
3 cups flour
3 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 1/3 cup boiling water

For the ganache
18 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tbsp butter, cut up
1 tsp vanilla

To Make the Cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 2 (9-inch) round cake pans. Dust with flour, tap out excess.

In a large bowl, beat together 3/4 cup butter and sugar with electric mixer or medium speed until light and fluffy, 1-2 minutes. Add eggs and 2 teaspoons vanilla and beat until well blended. Add melted chocolate and beat 1-2 minutes; set aside.

Mix together flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to chocolate mixture in two additions alternately with buttermilk. Beat until well blended. With mixer on low speed, add boiling water and beat until smooth (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.

Bake 35-40 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in pans 10 minutes, then unmold onto racks and let cool completely.

To Make the Chocolate Ganache:
In a 2 quart glass measure, combine chocolate chips and heavy cream. Heat in a microwave oven on HIGH 3 minutes or until melted and smooth when stirred. Stir in 2 tablespoons butter and remaining 1 teaspoon vanilla. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour, or until ganache holds its shape and is thick enough to spread on cake.

To Assemble the Cake:
Cover a cake layer with a little more than 1/3 of chocolate ganache. Set second layer on top. Frost top and sides of cake with remaining ganache. Refrigerate cake 3-4 hours, or until ganache is firm, before serving.

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Repeat Offender

I know what you’re thinking, more cookies. Particularly now, when we’re all supposed to be concerned with eating healthy and losing weight? You could certainly be forgiven for having no patience with me.

Excerpt for this: these lime meltaway cookies are so good that I made them twice in a week.

The first time, for my mother’s birthday I served them alongside a rich chocolate cake (rest assured, I’ll get to that recipe, too). The cake was delicious, and yet, these cookies stole the show. The lime keeps them just shy of being decadent, preventing them from becoming too cloying. After all, there’s a fair amount of sugar in the recipe.

And the texture.

It goes without saying that cookies called “meltaways”, um, melt in your mouth. They’re shortbread’s sophisticated cousin, quite and unassuming with a taste that lingers at the end, just slightly. Although, if you want a more crunchy outer texture, you can finish them with sanding sugar, rather than confectioners’, as I did with part of round two.

Either way, these lime meltaways are the perfect cookie to have alongside your post dinner coffee, and they’d be equally at home in a holiday cookie box. In other words, file this recipe away for the 2012 holiday season. They’d be perfect, too, as they’re essentially ice box cookies. So, you can make them ahead and store them in your freezer as you’re prepping the rest of your cookies.

So, as per usual, I’m out of step. You can’t really be surprised, though, given that I cooked a Thanksgiving meal two weeks after the holiday and host a “Summer” picnic each October. And, maybe sending your friends and family boxes of cookies post holiday is just the thing they need to get through the winter doldrums.

Lime Meltaways
Recipe Courtesy of Martha Stewart’s Cookies

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup confectioners sugar, plus another 2/3 cup if you’re coating the cookies in confectioners’ sugar* (Otherwise, you’ll need 1/4 cup sanding sugar)
Zest of 2 limes, grated
2 TBS fresh lime juice
1 TBS vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 TBS cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt

Cream butter and 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar until it is pale and fluffy. Add the lime zest, lime juice and vanilla, and mix until fluffy.

Whisk together flour, cornstarch, and salt in a bowl. Add to butter mixture, and mix until just combined.

Divide dough in half. Place each half on an 8-by-12-inch sheet of parchment paper. If you’re using sanding sugar, roll the formed logs in the sugar to coat it at this point. Roll in parchment to form a log 1 1/4 inches in diameter. Refrigerate logs until cold and firm, at least 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove parchment from logs; cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Space rounds 1 inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake cookies until barely golden, about 13 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Allow the cookies to cool slightly, 8 to 10 minutes. If you are coating the finished cookies in confectioners’ sugar, while the cookies are still warm, toss cookies with remaining 2/3 cup sugar in a resealable plastic bag.

Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature up to 2 weeks.

Makes approximately 3 dozen cookies

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Wherein I get Carried Away. Again.

When it comes to making things that I could easily buy myself, I’m willing to concede that, just occasionally, I get just a little extreme in my cooking.

I think that I may have hit a low point this weekend when I went to Momofuku Milk Bar for the explicit purpose of getting corn powder so that I could then bake Momofuku corn cookies myself.

Yes, you read that right.

It was one of those cases of doing something for the sake of challenge alone. Or, more accurately, one of those cases of making things more complicated than necessary for the story.

If you’ve ever wondered what kind of idiot goes to a bakery just so she can attempt to recreate their recipes (probably at a higher cost point, no less)… Well, now you know.

Still, I can’t say I’m sorry.

After all, I made Momofuku Milk Bar corn cookies myself and they were good. Really, really good.

I realize that on paper, corn cookies aren’t an easy sell. They sound like the kind of food that’s created for the sole purpose of getting children to get their daily serving of vegetables. Disingenuous at best and disgusting at worst.

In practice, nothing could be further then the truth.

Think of them as an amplified version the starch—there’s something that happens when all of the different essences of corn combine. It’s sweetness intensified; what I’d imagine corn must be like fresh from the fields. Assuming, of course, that you happen to have a stick of butter and cup of sugar with you while you eat the kernels. You get the idea, anyway. Which is to say, these corn cookies are unexpectedly flavorful and more delicious that I can adequately describe. It’s well worth the effort to make these at home.

And, if you want to go all out—and why wouldn’t you, really?—I’d suggest pairing a cookie with cinnamon ice cream and dousing the whole thing in bourbon.

Trust me on this one.

Corn Cookies
Recipe courtesy of Momofuku Milk Bar

16 TBS Butter (2 sticks) at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 egg
1 1/3 cups flour
1/4 corn flour
2/3 freeze dried corn powder
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt

Cream the butter and sugar in a mixer with a paddle attachment on medium-high for 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add an egg and beat for 7-8 minutes on medium-high speed.

Reduce the mixer’s speed and add in the flour, corn flour, corn powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix everything for approximately 1 minute.

Using a 1/3 cup measure of 2 3/4 oz ice cream scoop, portion out the dough on a baking sheet lined in parchment paper. Pat the tops of the dough flat. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour (and as long as one week). Do not bake your cookies from room temperature—the cookies won’t bake properly.

When you are almost ready to bake, heat the over on 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Arrange the chilled cookie dough a minimum of 4 inches apart and bake for 15-18 minutes. The baked cookies should be bright yellow in the center, but browned on the edges. Allow the cookies to cool completely.

Room temperature cookies will last up to 5 days. They’ll last in the freezer for up to a month.

Men>Makes 13-15 cookies

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On Bulk Shopping

The thing about shopping at Costco is that it seems like a good idea at the time.

And then, suddenly, there are five pounds of lemon and only one of you.

If you peruse the archives, you’ll see that I often use lemons when I cook. Just not nearly as many as I thought.

In other words, if I didn’t want the five pounds of lemons I had just purchased to go to waste, I was going to have to get creative.

So, lemon bars.

What I like about these is that the lemon curd, with it’s tangy bite, cuts through the richness of the shortbread. I played around with the original recipe, adding vanilla and upping the sugar just slightly in the filling to create a more mellow flavor.

I’ll be making these again soon (3 pounds of lemons left to go!), along with lemon sorbet, lemonade, lemon-vinaigrette….

What I mean to say here is: if you have some suggestions to use up my lemons, post them in the comments.

Lemon Bars

Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who in turn, adapted it from Ina Garten

For the crust:
1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups flour
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tsp vanilla extract

For a the layer:
4 extra-large eggs at room temperature
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
2/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup flour

Powdered sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease a 9″x13″ baking dish.

For the crust: Using a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until it is light in texture. Add in the vanilla extract and combine. Add the flour and salt and turn the mixer onto its lowest setting. Mix until the dough is just combined. It should be shaggy.

Press the dough into your well greased baking dish, creating a half inch edge on all sides. Chill for at least 15 minutes.

Bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes, until very lightly browned. Let it cool and, in the meantime, prepare your lemon layer. Leave the oven on.

For the lemon layer: Using a whisk or mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, combine the eggs, sugar, vanilla, lemon zest, and lemon juice. When that is combined, add in the flour. Pour over the crust and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool to room temperature.

Cut into squares and dust with powdered sugar.

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