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baking

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It snowed two feet the other night, and I believe baking is pretty much mandatory on snow days.  So that’s why these cookies exist.  I’m a big fan of tahini in general, but I’d never put it in cookies before.  If you take a moment to imagine halvah, though, you’ll understand why it’s such a good idea.

Basically, if you like peanut butter cookies (and even if you don’t, probably), you’ll like these.  They have a really similar crumbly texture.  The tahini flavor is just strong enough, and they’re not too sweet.

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After making the original recipe, I tried a couple variations — first, simply coating the bottom of the cookies with chocolate, and then experimenting with substituting honey for the sugar.  Neither of these struck me as necessary or better than the original.  Maybe I’ll try those experiments again sometime, but for now — there’s no need!

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Tahini cookies (from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi)

Makes about 35 cookies

2/3 cup superfine sugar [I used granulated]

2/3 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup light tahini paste [I don’t think I used light; what we have seems more dark. But it doesn’t seem to matter too much!]

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

5 tsp heavy cream [I used half and half]

2 cups plus 1 1/2 tbsp all-purpose flour

1 tsp ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Place the sugar and butter in a stand mixer fitted with the beater attachment and beat on medium speed for 1 minute, until just combined but not aerated much.  With the machine running, add the tahini, vanilla, and cream, then add the flour and beat for about 1 minute, until the dough comes together. Transfer to a work surface and knead until smooth.

Pinch off 2/3 oz / 20g of the dough [a little less than walnut-sized] and roll into a ball between your palms.  Use the back of a fork to push down lightly on top of the ball so that it flattens just slightly and takes on the marks from the tines.  Place on a flattened baking sheet lined with parchment paper, spacing the cookies 1 1/4 inches apart.  Sprinkle a little cinnamon on each cookie and then bake for 15 to 17 minutes, until golden brown.

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Okay, so by “first snow” I mean “first real snow,” because we’ve had other, less “real” snowfalls earlier in the year.  But shredded coconut looks a little bit like snow, so this loaf (cake? bread? it’s kind of in between) was totally appropriate.

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I’ve been wanting to try using coconut oil for a while, and this recipe was a good opportunity.  It also calls for coconut milk and shredded coconut, but it somehow manages to have only a subtle coconut flavor, which is perfect.  It’s just coconutty enough (is that a word? who knows), without being too loud about it.

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I was intrigued by this recipe, but wasn’t really sure what to expect from it.  Turns out that it might be one of my new favorite loaves of the sort-of-cake, sort-of-bread variety.  It has a really nice crumb and good additional texture from the shredded coconut in the batter.  The glaze on top might seem unnecessary at first, but it does add a nice bit of sweetness and some moisture (although I didn’t use all of the glaze the recipe made).  It’s really quite an unassuming but sneakily delicious loaf.

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The recipe suggests serving slices toasted, with fresh blackberries alongside.  I can tell already that it will be great toasted, although I haven’t tried that yet.  In the absence of blackberries, I tried spreading some raspberry jam on top, which was nice, although a little overpowering in flavor at times.

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Coconut Loaf (from the Sprouted Kitchen Cookbook)

1/4 cup coconut oil, melted, plus more for the pan

2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut

3/4 cup turbinado sugar [I used granulated]

3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1 (13.5-ounce) can coconut milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 cup powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease an 8.5-inch loaf pan with a thin coat of coconut oil.

Spread the shredded coconut on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until golden brown, about 4 minutes.  Set aside 1/2 cup for topping the loaf.

In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups of the toasted coconut and the sugar.  Sift in the flours, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and stir to combine.  In another bowl, whisk the eggs together, then whisk in 1 cup of the coconut milk, the coconut oil, and the vanilla.  Gently stir the wet mixture into the dry ingredients until just combined.  Pour the mixture into the loaf pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature.

While the loaf is cooling, combine 1/4 cup of the remaining coconut milk and the powdered sugar [it helps to sift it] and mix until there are no lumps.  Add more sugar or coconut milk to taste, depending on the consistency you prefer.  Pour the glaze over the cooled cake and sprinkle the remaining toasted coconut on top.

Aside from hot apple cider and shuffling through dried leaves, I don’t think there are many things more autumn-y than pumpkin.  I’ve eaten pumpkin cookies before but never made them, so this was an adventure.  I was hoping that these cookies would be less cakey than most other pumpkin cookies I’d had.  They are a little bit cakey — which I think might be almost unavoidable with pumpkin — but not overwhelmingly so.  The cookie itself is surprisingly light in texture, which makes a good contrast with the oatmeal, nuts, and chocolate.

I couldn’t decide if I wanted pumpkin cookies or oatmeal cookies, so I made both.  Because I didn’t have enough rolled oats, I ended up using half oats and half five-grain hot cereal, which is a mixture of oats, rye, triticale, barley, and flax.  Some of those grains aren’t as soft as the oatmeal, so I wondered how they’d work in the cookies and if they’d be able to absorb enough moisture. But they did, and I actually really like having them there because they add a nice variety of texture. (And they also turn this cookie into even more of a “health food”…. it’s got a vegetable plus lots of grains!)

One more note — a lot of pumpkin cookies out there in the world are mound-shaped and slightly muffin-like. This is because they really don’t spread much in the oven. If you want mounded cookies, you can leave them that way, but I found that I prefer to flatten them before baking.  That makes them a little lighter and less cakey, and also crisper on the edges. Flattening the cookies is easiest to do with a fork, like you would a peanut butter cookie.

Pumpkin Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

(Adapted from Alice Medrich’s oatmeal cookie recipe in her book Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy, and guided/inspired by too many internet pumpkin cookie recipes to separate or name.) Makes about 40 cookies.

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp cloves

1 1/2 sticks butter

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 egg

1 cup pumpkin puree

1 1/2 cup rolled oats or five grain cereal (the kind that cooks in 5-6 minutes)

1 cup chocolate chips

1 cup chopped pecans

Combine the flour, baking soda, and spices in a bowl and mix together with a fork or whisk.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Remove from the heat and mix in the sugars, salt, and vanilla. Add the egg and stir briskly, then add the pumpkin and stir until it is thoroughly combined and as many of the lumps are gone as you can manage.  Next, add the flour mixture and mix just until it is moistened. Stir in the oats, chocolate chips, and nuts. Let the dough stand for 1 or 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use a tablespoon to drop the dough onto a baking sheet, and then press each mound of dough flat with a fork, as you would with peanut butter cookies. (Or leave them mounded if you prefer.) Bake for 12-15 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. Let cool on the pan for a couple minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.

There’s really only one thing to say about this challah: it’s delicious.  Apples and honey, the symbols of sweetness in the new year, in challah form…. you really can’t go wrong.  I decided last week that I’d make this for Rosh Hashana, and I’m glad I did.

The recipe, of course, is from Smitten Kitchen.  And contrary to what you might assume, it’s actually fairly easy to make.  Most of the time the dough is just rising, and really the most complex parts are folding in the apples and then braiding the dough into a round.  But even those steps are pretty simple, and very forgiving — if a piece of apple falls out of your dough, just poke it back in and you’re fine.

The dough stands up really well around the apples, and the honey flavor is slight, so the bread has good structure and isn’t too sweet (I left off the optional sprinkling of sugar on the top before baking). And I am so excited to make french toast with this tomorrow.

I’m not going to reproduce the recipe here — you can find it, along with some really helpful step-by step photographs of folding and braiding, over on Smitten Kitchen.

L’shana tova!

About a month ago, I made a peach pie.  It is of course long gone, but I still have a scar from a run-in with the hot oven, so I guess that day will live forever on my arm.  And on this blog.  I meant to write this post a little a lot earlier than this, but hey, better late than never, right?  And as summer comes to a close, maybe it’s time to make one more peach pie before apple season kicks into gear.

This is Rose Levy Beranbaum’s “Perfect Peach Pie” from The Pie And Pastry Bible, which, in our house, really does live up to its name.  (Rose’s Cake Bible is also our cake bible — most birthday celebrations in my family require her All Occasion Downy Yellow Butter Cake, although we can never remember if it’s “downy yellow” or “yellow downy.”)

We usually use her basic pie crust, but this time I decided to follow the suggestion in the peach pie recipe and make a cream cheese crust instead (Rose describes that crust as the “soul of the book”…how could I resist?).  The result was delicious — flaky crust, not-too-wet filling, just perfect peach flavor and not much else.

I’m not reproducing the recipe here, but if you don’t have the book, get it from the library!  You’ll be glad you did, I promise.

Dad’s birthday kind of got overshadowed this year.  It was the day after my graduation, and the day I moved back home.  I was a little (okay, a lot) more sad and mopey than it’s fair to be on anyone’s birthday.  Now that a little time has passed, a birthday pie was in order.

While it’s not quite full-on strawberry season here yet, we had lots of rhubarb in the garden that made its way into this pie.  Mom made crepes filled with asparagus from a farm down the road for dinner.  It’s definitely summer.

I used our usual pie crust, Rose Levy Beranbaum’s from The Pie and Pastry Bible, and a strawberry rhubarb filling recipe from Carole Walter’s Perfect Pies and Tarts.  Only after the pie came out of the oven did I remember that I’d used this filling recipe once before and it had turned out very wet and soupy.  It was the same way this time — basically half pie, half soup.  Not something I’ll do again.  On the bright side, though, we now have plenty of strawberry rhubarb sauce to put on the ice cream.

This ice cream is a new variation on a recipe I started adapting a few years ago from one of David Lebovitz’s vanilla ice cream recipes.  This time making it, I decreased the sugar and replaced some of it with maple syrup, and also cut back the vanilla.  It’s still primarily a vanilla ice cream, with a subtle maple flavor.

Maple Vanilla Ice Cream
2 cups heavy or whipping cream
1 cup half and half
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt
 
Combine the sugar and some of the cream in a bowl, and whisk briskly for a minute or so to make sure it’s thoroughly combined.  Add in the rest of the cream and the other ingredients, and whisk everything together.  Chill in the refrigerator and then freeze in an ice cream maker.

I was super determined to make these macaroons.

It’s Monday, my last semester of college is steadily winding down (only four more weeks of classes, which is absolutely insane), and I’ve been at home for a couple days on hanging-out-with-the-dog duty (the cat too, but she’s a bit more self-sufficient) — that’s what happens when you go to school close to home and have a college-visit-aged brother.  Just so happens that it’s Passover, and it’s nice to be at home, where there’s a refrigerator full of yogurt and matzoh ball soup, instead of combing the dining halls for Passover food at school.

I wanted to make these macaroons last night, but it was a bit of a last-minute plan and it was foiled by Easter.  I tried to pick up some coconut and raspberries at Stop and Shop on my way home from school yesterday evening, only to find the parking lot nearly empty and to watch another apparent non-Easter-celebrant try in vain to walk through the automatic doors.  I’d forgotten it was Easter, and that Easter meant closed supermarkets.  So the baking was postponed to today.

Even though staying at home makes it feel like a weekend (and I’ve therefore been unable to make myself do anything other than cook and watch Downton Abbey), I actually did have to go to school today.  After class this morning, I had to drive around for what felt like forever to gather ingredients, because neither Whole Foods nor Trader Joe’s, the most convenient stores on my route home, carry sweetened, flaked coconut.  After finally locating some at Stop and Shop (go figure), I returned home not sure whether I actually had time to make macaroons and eat lunch and walk the dog before I’d have to leave again and go to work…. but I made them anyways.

And I totally had enough time, which just goes to show you that this recipe is super easy to crank out.  Macaroons don’t require much.  I was excited about the raspberry/coconut combination, and it really is good.  It’s kind of like eating a jam-thumbrint cookie, except without the cookie… or the jam (but you get my point?).  Because all the ingredients are ground in a food processor, these macaroons are softer than my family’s standard chocolate recipe, for which the coconut is kept flaked.  These are much less chewy, and are closer in texture to those not-so-delicious storebought macaroons from a can.  Good for people like me who are sometimes a little chewing-inhibited.  (Although I do think my time crunch caused me to underbake them a little… but not so much that it was a problem.  The raspberries make them wetter as well.)

All in all, these macaroons were worth the extra craziness they added into my day (says Dad: “Best macaroons I’ve ever eaten”).  I’d recommend you make them, even if you don’t celebrate Passover and aren’t quite so limited in your cookie horizons.

You can find the recipe (along with food photography skills that I aspire to) over on Smitten Kitchen, where it was born.  We don’t have almond extract, so I substituted vanilla.