Posts tagged cookies
Tuesday, May 18, 2010

cinnamon toasts

cinnamon toasts

Lest you think of me as a cool and hip individual, I should probably set the record straight. For a certain length of time in my childhood, H. G. Wells’ novel “Time Machine” was my favorite book in the world. I was obsessed to the point of a tantrum, refusing to admit that time travel was a thing of the fantasy world. I wanted time travel to be real. But if you asked me why, I couldn’t really tell you. I wasn’t trying to change the past or alter the future. I was just fascinated with time travel. Now, of course, I’d be glad to have a time machine on hand, if only to go back in time and tell my fifth grade self that New Kids On the Block were totally going to make a comeback. It would have quieted my weary mind.

But, I am pretty sure, I’ve discovered a time portal and its name is cinnamon toast. Cinnamon toast (I swoon as I type these words) – is magical. Really. It’s as if I’ve come full circle with it. Back to my childhood years. And all it took was one bite.

mmm... butter..

I know that I’m losing all of you now that you’re going, what, cinnamon toast? You’re writing about cinnamon toast? But I beg of you to hold on a minute and let me explain. The inspiration, the time-travel, was possible because Molly wrote about the cinnamon toast her grandmother used to make and told her readers – this is not just some toast you put sugar and cinnamon on. This is a cookie. This is special. This – is not to be missed.

Molly also warned these would be heavenly, downright addictive. Jennie tweeted they are to be dubbed “cinnamon crack”. And I was intrigued. Anything that’s covered in cinnamon and sugar is a welcome addition to my life.

cinnamon toasts

It’s funny how you read about a recipe and are instantly ignited to run to your kitchen and make it. Except you never stock any white bread and it’s eleven o’clock at night and while you’ve been known to make goulash at one o’clock in the morning, you’re not exactly running to your nearest bodega at such late an hour on a school night. So you’re forced to wait and wonder if, indeed, these are as good as the claims are, meanwhile you are reading tweets about how these little guys should be renamed as “cinnamon crack”.

And so I finally went out and bought some white bread, cut them into diagonal quarters. Melted my butter and brushed it onto the bread and dipped each side in cinnamon sugar. Which, by the way, let me tell you – it takes a strong person not to lick his fingers in between the dipping. That cinnamon sugar scent – oh my! Strangely though, even as I was going through the motions, I didn’t make the connection that this kind of cinnamon toast was a favorite snack of mine when I was growing up in Russia.

cinnamon toasts

And yet, it was not until I bit into a cooled-off toast, with a cup of tea at my side, that these toasts, like tiny little time-machines, instantly transported me to the time when I was five and lived in snowy St. Petersburg, where my mother tried just about everything to get me to eat. A finicky eater, (who isn’t one at five years old?), few things excited me food-wise. But anything covered in cinnamon and sugar was definitely something I could get behind.

And so, my mother, in a stroke of brilliance or desperation, devised to make me these cinnamon toasts. White bread in Russia came as these big loaves that look very much like Italian bread here does. She cut the loaf thinly into slices and lightly dipped each of the pieces in milk on both sides, careful not to soak the bread, and then dredged the sides in cinnamon and sugar. She then baked these shimmering toasts until they were crispy and the house smelled like sweet cinnamon heaven. I could have licked the air, it was so good.

These were promised to me as dessert, provided, of course, that I ate my dinner. Which I did. In a heartbeat. And then, I was left to my own devices with a plateful of cinnamon toasts and cups of hot tea with milk. I think those were some of my happiest moment: alone in the kitchen with my cinnamon toast and tea. I can tell you that to this day I could be made infinitely happy by a cup of tea and a simple cookie. Such as this toast.

cinnamon toasts

Now, were you to ask me, which do I prefer, the cinnamon toast of my childhood and the brainchild of my mother, or Molly’s buttery and rich cinnamon toast, I’ll tell you honestly – Molly’s. And I know that my mother, reading this, would agree. Because anything tastes better when it’s dipped in butter. It’s just that simple. But my mother’s toasts are pretty darn good too, especially if butter is the sort of thing you’re supposed to stay away from. I’m keeping both recipes within my reach because they connect my present and my past, bringing me full circle.

I might not have a real time machine on hand, but I have have this cinnamon toast. And that’s way, way better.

Continue reading cinnamon toasts.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

honey graham crackers

seriously, aren't they cute?

When I was in sixth grade, I joined the Girl Scouts at the great urging of my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Sledge who, by the way, was a cool, cool lady. Apparently, it was the thing to do in our class, as all the girls joined and I succumbed to peer pressure. Mrs. Sledge happened to be our troop leader – she spent years in the Girl Scouts, ever since she had her daughters, who were now all grown up, married, and with kids of their own.

graham cracker mise

As a newly-minted Russian immigrant, trying to fit into a new school and make friends, I took her words as gospel and promptly joined, though the Scouts reminded me of the Young Pioneers Organization in the USSR. Since then, I was generally mistrustful of all groups where you had to pledge membership, and though I wanted to conform and be accepted, conformity, at its center, scared me. I tried to sell this idea to my even more skeptical father. Girls Scouts, I explained, were supposed to unite young women and boost confidence and morale. To which my father’s response was, as usual, “Read more books.” But while he wasn’t a buyer, he certainly didn’t stand in my way – he too wanted me to make friends.

shaping the doughshaping the dough - easier wrapped in plastic
shaping the dough - easier wrapped in plastica nice little rectangle

At first Girl Scouts seemed to me a musical version of home-ec classes. We did nothing more than gather in the music room and sing songs and learn how to sew on buttons. Well, the other girls had to learn how to sew on button. This kind of stuff is passed to you by your Russian grandmother at a very young age. I could sew on a button at four and around eight, I tried to knit a sweater. Anyway, songs and sewing got old really fast for me, but I liked the camaraderie and wanted to befriend as many girls as I could, so I stuck around. Attrition wasn’t going to be looked upon kindly. Middle school was a tough place for a new kid with an accent, odd clothes and an affinity for beets and cabbage.

rulers and pastry wheels

And just as I was getting really bored with the whole girl power get-togethers, we went on a camping trip. A real, sleep-in-the-tent-and-make-food-over-a-fire-camping-trip. We hiked, made gorp, slept in sleeping bags, and brushed out teeth with baking soda and water. And we made s’mores.

ready for baking

S’mores might not seem like anything special to you, dear readers, but that maybe it’s because you grew up with them. S’mores came to me at the age of twelve, like a bat mitzvah rite of passage, only instead of a anxiety-filled Torah portion, s’mores conjured up glee and delight [apologies to all who read their Torah portion with glee and delight.] Everything about a s’more was new to me: the marshmallow: burnt, and gooey; the chocolate: melted and oozy; and the graham cracker: crumbly and honey-sweet.

stacked, show-offs!

Graham crackers and I fell into an instant and torrid love affair. One bite sealed the deal. I couldn’t get enough. The slight kick of cinnamon, the hint of honey, the restrained sweetness – they all spoke to me. I made my parents buy a box with every grocery run. For years, graham crackers were my go-to snack.

honey graham crackers

It would seem natural that I would have tried to make them at home, but it had never occurred to me, until Karen DeMasco’s book made its way to me, that graham crackers could be made at home. Yes, hello world, meet the slowest learner in the history of learning. That’d be me. I could have googled it or something, but sometimes the most obvious things aren’t so obvious? Having made them now, I can tell you that I will never, ever buy a box of honey graham crackers again. It just doesn’t compare. At all. Out of a box, they’re fine, but made at home, they’re just about heavenly. The dough comes together in a pinch and after some chilling and meticulous cutting (I blame my grandmother for all my kitchen OCD tendencies) – you have the cutest, tastiest graham crackers you could imagine. Buttery, laced with honey and cinnamon, it’s a decadent cookie on its own. But paired with some dark chocolate (think Scharffenberger!) and some homemade marshmallows (easier that you think!), your homemade s’more will reach a new sophistication.

it was, after all, valentine's day

Now, all I need to do is plan a camping trip and bring these along. Maybe I wait a few weeks until it warms up?

Continue reading honey graham crackers.

Friday, February 19, 2010

ultimate chocolate chip cookies

ultimate chocolate chip cookies

Friends, I think I finally got it – I finally feel totally and wholly American, and it’s taken me twenty-one years (minus two weeks) of living in the U.S. to achieve that. The moment arrived over the Super Bowl. On this most American of weekends, I did the single most American culinary thing–I made these chocolate chip cookies. You would think that I’d have felt this way after getting naturalized at eighteen, but I didn’t. You see, a piece of paper is different than a rite of passage. And making these cookies has been a rite of passage spanning many many years.

Continue reading ultimate chocolate chip cookies.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

classic almond biscotti

classic "nonna's" biscotti

The trouble with homemade care packages you mail out – is that most homemade treats have a limited shelf-life. Cookies – three days or so, granola – loses its crispness if not refrigerated, cupcakes – can’t quite ship them without compromising their shape as the frosting gets in the way. I’ve always wondered what do people send as care packages, and do they send it overnight, or on ice? Needless to say, I’m not the most ingenious person out there, so if I’ve failed to think of obvious solutions, please leave a comment and let me know your suggestions.

before pulverizing mixing the batter
thick classic "nonna's" biscotti

And yet, there I was, trying to think of a treat for my friend, Katy (who designed Sassy Radish and made it so pretty!), who was working on her master’s thesis at RISD while battling an interminable nasty cold. Apparently, there was this cough she couldn’t shake, and congestion that was persistent and relentless. Poor Katy couldn’t even smell her morning coffee – and if there’s anyone other who lover her coffee, it’s Katy. I felt for her – I wanted to help somehow, but short of sending decongestants (which aren’t all that exciting – I mean, who looks forward to receiving decongestants in the mail?) I couldn’t think of much that might survive a few days of shipping.

classic "nonna's" biscotti

So after thinking about the short shelf life of perishable goods, I discovered what I call a “care-package loophole”, and that loophole is biscotti! Originally eaten by Roman legions – the word originates from the Latin word biscoctum, which means “twice baked”. They were twice baked, in fact, so that they could be easily stored for long periods of time, say for long journey and battles. You wonder where I dig up this wealth of useless knowledge – and I say to you proudly, middle school Latin class complete with a Latin Feast at the end of every year! And in case you’re wondering, cooking Roman food was by far my favorite part of the class curriculum. Today, biscotti are probably some of the most definitive Italian baked treats and are really easy to make. I liked this recipe because the author who contributed it for the January issue of Gourmet, got it from his Italian grandmother so this was the real deal.

classic "nonna's" biscotti

In fact, the recipe’s notes highlighted that these “biscuits” will get better the day after baking, so the flavors will only improve! A baked good that improves with age and goes perfectly with coffee – if this isn’t a perfect care-package material, I don’t know what is!

Continue reading classic almond biscotti.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

homemade oreos

homemade oreos

When we arrived to America, I was quick in growing to love American traditions and foods and general popular culture. I ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with great zeal and often dreamt (and still do) of pizza. Hamburgers and French fries, chicken nuggets and fish sticks, potato chips and chocolate chip cookies, sweet potato and broccoli, Fourth of July clambakes and Thanksgiving turkeys – I embraced it all as if it were the most natural thing in the world. I forced these unknown traditions on my parents, arguing with them, a bold and foolish teenager that I was, that these were the new ways of the world, and that we had to let go of our old world traditions because they were archaic that no one, besides my parents and their Russian friends, understood. I was eager to assimilate and become truly, completely, wholly American. If it was American – I loved it blindly and unequivocally.

Continue reading homemade oreos.

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

Continue reading lemon-cream sandwich cookies.