Monday, December 29, 2008

lemon-cream sandwich cookies

lemon-cream sandwich cookies

Okay, I know the holidays are over and you are probably thinking about New Year’s resolutions and one of them, undoubtedly is to eat healthier, which probably means fewer sweets and cookies, and I’m so sorry for steering you in the wrong direction, but you have to understand (and pardon this horribly run-on sentence!) – these cookies are worth it! And just look at them – aren’t they aglow with a party spirit that would just be perfect for say, a New Year’s soiree?

zestmaking the paste
lemon juicepouring the sugar

I won’t lie to you – these took quite a bit of time, and quite a bit of cursing, and me vowing that no-way-no-how were these cookies ever worth the effort I was putting into them. What with having to tweak the recipe that suggested I use two (that’s 2!!!) cups of confectioner’s sugar for ½ cup of butter (can you say painfully sweet?) – I had to modify it, of course. And if you doubt one part of the recipe, you start questioning the rest of it. What if these cookies were inedible? Bland? What if the whole recipe is botched?

flattened, temperamental dough

And later, when the dough refused to cooperate, I started doubting the recipe even more. The dough was most temperamental – giving me a four degree window in which is was pliable and also hard enough for the cookie cut-outs to be transferred to the baking sheet without losing their shape.

And finally, the mere fact that I got not 24 cookies as the recipe suggests but 48 instead – made me wonder if any of this was worth the time I was putting into it – and I was too far along to abandon the project – which turned out to be lucky for me. Because it was worth the trouble.

holesnot quite perfect circles

Because, when I bit into my first cookie, my knees grew weak, my heart beat faster, and I had to take a deep breath. These might be my most favorite cookies ever. And yes, without a doubt, they were worth the effort and the time! A resounding yes across the board.

I brought them to work, where they were dubbed as “lemon crack” after which, they quickly vanished. And I had a little competition from Crumbs cupcakes which we had in the pantry today. My cookies – almost all gone (that with the office being practically empty) and Crumbs – all but two cupcakes remained when I left for the day.

lemon-cream sandwich cookies

The bottom line is this – if the picture above doesn’t entice you to make them, I don’t know what will. But I can tell you they are stunning, amazing, delicious and worth every minute of your time. And pretty too! Don’t they look festive and dressed up? Like they’re ready for a party? And wouldn’t a lemon-cream cookie be a perfect complement to your New Year’s champagne? And doesn’t anything lemon-flavored just kind of makes you want to smile and feel giddy? Because if it does, like it does for me, what better way to ring in a New Year than with a joyous grin on your face? It might just set the mood for a 2009 and we can certainly use a celebratory year, no?

lemon-cream sandwich cookies

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

chicken liver pâté

chicken liver pâté

All right, I’ll get quickly to the point here. If you are celebrating Christmas, you are probably either traveling to your celebration destination or cooking a meal and preparing for the festive holiday. This is for those of you in the kitchen who might be looking for a quick appetizer that makes you look like a three star French chef, while your guests ooh and aah, and you feign hard work and great kitchen skills – this is for you. You can thank me later, but first go and see for yourself how easy and awesome this is.

chicken livers

I will warn you now that this requires three (that’s 3!) sticks of butter which is probably why it tastes so amazing and luxurious. When I served this at book club, the ladies dove right in – a sign of great success. You can make this tonight and serve this during the cocktail hour tomorrow. When you pour the warm pâté into the dish where you will serve it, don’t worry that it might seem too liquid – it will set, I promise. If you are having a bunch of people over, it might work to chill the pâté in several small dishes that you can set around your apartment or house.

i know raw liver - EW!

Or, if you are running short on small gifts to hand out, these make perfect homemade gifts. Pour the pâté into a small jar, affix a double layer of wax paper with a piece of twine or ribbon and attach a gift tag. And in an instant you have a thoughtful and luxurious gift! An appetizer that doubles as a gift too? Now that’s holiday cooking worth spending a few minutes on!

Wishing everyone celebrating Christmas a wonderful and festive holiday!

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

fleur de sel caramels

Fleur de Sel Caramels

I’ve been trying to start this piece for you, not sure where to begin. I mean, I could have just apologized for throwing another sweet concoction your way, but I’m not going to do that. Because, why would I tell you I’m sorry about telling you that you must make these now, when you are just bound to thank me later. Consider this an early present to those of you whom I cannot reach and physically present with these caramels, but a few friends and all coworkers did get a chance to sample these and the overwhelming response has been, and this is all you’ve made for us? Isn’t there more??

mmm... butter....butter and cream... this is so not low fat - ha!

Perhaps I have struggled with writing this because I don’t know where to begin or how to end. These caramels are beyond decadent and when you taste them, it’s the tiny conflict on your tongue between the salty and the sweet that makes them so irresistible. To have just one and not reach for another is a near impossibility.

while dissolving the sugar, stirbubbling caramel - it is clear at first
getting to that golden colorafter adding the cream and melted butter, the caramel bubbles

I cannot tell you how amazing these are because they are beyond words. Something about salty caramels that transcends mere language. But luckily, where words have failed me, the pictures, hopefully rise to the occasion and tell you what I, frustratingly, cannot.

drip

As I have recently learned (the hard way), caramel should be made in a heavy gauge pot that is preferably not a non-stick. The lighter metal ones are perfect; just make sure your sides are tall enough for the caramel to bubble when you add butter and cream to it. You can also use your cocotte for it if you like, as it’s amazing at distributing heat. Be careful not to mix your caramel when you are cooking it, but gently swirl the mixture from one side to another from time to time. And watch and smell for that deep, deep amber color. You might also find that these seem a bit too soft at room temperature, which is fine as you can just keep them in the fridge, as I did. Not only does their consistency improve, but they have a longer life-span, not that you will have these hanging around much if you’re anything like me.

Fleur de Sel Caramels

In retrospect, looking at these pictures, I think I should have cooked the caramel even a hint longer, but it turned out fine enough for this time around. I am still learning how to get it just right, and since salted butter caramel is not a hard thing to enjoy, I think I can just go on making these indefinitely. I know of quite a few people who won’t have a problem with it. That is – if I choose to share.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

caramel-pecan bûche de noël

pecan bourbon buche de noel

For the last two weeks I have been playing Christmas music without a pause. I know that Hannukah is right around the corner, but it’s really Christmas that gets me all excited for winter. I think Jews and Christmas are destined to forever share their forbidden love. I, for one, have come clean about it. I’m no longer ashamed.

pecansuse good bourbon

And since I’ve committed to celebrating Christmas with food, what better way to do so than with a traditional Christmas cake – bûche de noël! I searched a variety of cook books for the recipe, and yet, no recipe was to be found. And surprisingly, the internet offered precious little in the ways of a good recipe. But I did find one that caught my eye – not only was it a a bûche de noël, but it was one that evoked flavors of the South – with pecans and bourbon. And how can I say no to bourbon?

whipping the yolks...whipping the whites
GENTLY fold everything togethercake batter evenly spread

Furthermore, the cake came with a bourbon-spiked caramel sauce and I was on a caramel making kick. And since I failed at my first caramel making exercise, I was determined not to let it bog me down. Seriously, how hard is it to boil sugar and water, watch it get to a deep amber color and then stir some cream and butter into it? I learned my lesson in that making caramel requires a pot without a non-stick coating, otherwise the proper caramelization doesn’t occur and you wind up creating thicker syrup that doesn’t much change in color. The result – a failed confection.

frosting/caramel sauce misecaramel working beautifully
butter in cream and sugar.... diet - what?stirring in the chocolate

Growing up, for many of our wintry family gatherings in Russia, my great-aunt, who was a cook and baker par-excellence, made this incredible rolled cake with butter cream, nuts and chocolate shavings. In retrospect, it was a bûche de noël, but somewhere along the line, my secularized family adopted this tradition as a festive holiday treat. The word for this in Russian is poleno, which literally translates as a “log”. Somehow, bûche de noel sounds sexier than log, don’t you think?

pecan bourbon buche de noel

I was really intimidated by this recipe – what with the rolling of the cake to make a log-shaped form. Please note that the cake in this recipe is not a genoise (what?) but a sponge cake with eggs and whites whipped separately and then folded togeter, not mixed (important note on that later) together. A genoise (as I have just learned, being new to cake baking myself) is a sponge cake that doesn’t use any of the leavening agents for the cake to rise, but rather the air bubbles created by whipping the whole eggs (and sometimes adding the extra yolks) together. Having completed this lengthy, though not terribly difficult exercise, I am now curious to experiment with different cake structures and icings.

spreading frostingthinly spread the frosting

A few notes:
1. This is not difficult, but it is very time consuming. Prepare to spend ½ day on this but you can do other stuff in between, but it does take time.

2. The directions tells you to keep the made cake at room temperature. I cannot tell you how much better it tastes cold and how much better it will keep and set.

3. Should you forget to do a step, don’t despair, try to think of a way around it. I failed to butter the parchment paper on which the cake was baking and was too lazy to remake the cake portion of it. I instead took a long frosting spatula and gently went around the edge-to-middle part of the cake, thus loosening it from the paper. And since you are covering that side with frosting all over, no-one will see the “ugly” side so to speak.

4. When you are rolling the cake, you will see the cake crack a little bit. Do not worry, it happened to me and I covered it with frosting just fine. Also, the ridges from the cracks make the cake look more log-like – which is kind of the effect you’re looking for.

5. Use good bourbon.

6. I ran out of pecans and subbed about 1/3 of the nuts with walnuts. The result – delicious. If you don’t have enough of a certain nut, just plug along a different nut – and you should be fine.

7. When you are folding your ingredients together (as the instructions below tell you), make your you fold and not mix. Use a rubber spatula and gently lifting the outer part of the batter, pull it into the center. If you are too aggressive and mix instead, you risk of collapsing your cake and not getting the right sponginess to it.

pecan bourbon buche de noel

If you’re looking for a delicious and stunning way to impress your guests, this is the way to go – it really isn’t difficult and even though it takes time, it is very much manageable and doable. It sure does look impressive. Your reward – sitting back and enjoying a slice of this divine, rich cake with a cup of coffee while your guests oooh and aaah and are generally impressed with your culinary prowess, which, of course, you have no doubt – just don’t tell them it wasn’t that hard. They won’t believe you anyway.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

chocolate hazelnut crinkle cookies

chocolate hazelnut crinkle cookies

I don’t know about you, but as disciplined and balanced an eater as I am, I can’t stay away from Nutella. It is my one weakness, my kryptonite. I could, in all honesty, much have a pretty awesome evening with a book, a jar of Nutella and a spoon. Forget bread, as it just gets in the way. And if you think I’m exaggerating for dramatic effect, here’s a small confession, I’ve been known to go through a complete jar of Nutella from start to finish in one sitting. Yes, I have that little will-power. Hazelnut chocolate – I just can’t quit you!

toasted hazelnuts

So you would think I’d be wise enough not to make chocolate hazelnut crinkle cookies; cookies that bring hazelnuts and chocolate together. You’d think I would have enough common sense to know early on this was a very bad idea indeed. You’d think I would see the impending doom coming. Instead, I ignored every scrap of common sense and made the cookies anyway.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

pepita brittle

pepita brittle

I have to get something off my chest and judge me if you will, but I can’t hide it much longer. As much as I like Hanukah and eating latkes and rugelach, I just love Christmas, even though my family doesn’t celebrate but I wish we did. I adore everything about it: the decorations, the music, the glittery window displays, the parties, the cookies and candy, the smell of the tree. I just might be the only one without Christmas fatigue, probably because I can’t fully enjoy it; I want it all the more. I’m convinced that I like eggnog more than Christmas revelers do because it’s like the forbidden fruit to me.

And despite the economy and the fact that this has been the single most challenging year of my life, I’ve completely embraced the holiday season and refuse to be sad or fretful or anxious. I’m letting myself soak in whatever the season brings; I’m going with the flow. And the flow hasn’t been at all that bad. I’m happy, I am in good health, I have lovely, caring friends and family. My tiny kitchen makes me deliriously happy and I look forward to weekend afternoons when I can leisurely cook there. I’ve sent out holiday cards and this year – they’re a doozy!

pepita brittle

And so in preparation for this month, I’ve dog-eared recipes, purchased extra baking ingredients and even ordered quality cookie baking sheets from Amazon. And then there’s the case of the brittle.

I’ve been dying to make this brittle since Deb made is last month and generously let me sample some of it. Unsurprisingly, Deb’s creation was amazing and I helped myself to quite a few pieces, vowing to make it soon. Soon, of course, in the Sassy Radish kitchen, could take up to a month, or a bit longer, depending on the circumstances, and I was waiting for the holiday season to start with my sugar overload.

pepita brittlepepita brittle
pepita brittlepepita brittle

Not having to use a candy thermometer here was a huge plus and I was excited to make something with pepitas, otherwise known as raw, hulled pumpkin seeds. Before I got any further, I’m going to tell you something important: if you make this, be sure not to use non-stick cookware as it fails in the caramelization portion of the brittle-making. I will be making this in my Staub next time around in order to recreate the recipe again (and without a doubt, I will) because my brittle did not caramelize properly and I was cooking it for a loooooong time. Regardless, it was still quite yummy, and my coworkers agreed as well, consuming all of the brittle in mere days.

pepita brittle

This year, when we are all watching our spending and trying to be frugal in this uncertain economy, the brittle could make for a fine handmade gift. And after a year like this one, everyone could you a little sweet in their life, don’t you think?

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