Saturday, December 25, 2010
The Cookie Factory: Christmas Baking 2010
One thing I was determined to do this year was bake Christmas cookies, since the past few years I've been really lagging in that department. I think I maybe did one or two batches last year, and don't recall doing any the year before. This year I made up for it with five different kinds of cookies and bars, all of which turned out quite well!
I started with Alice Medrich's Ginger Cookies, from Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cookies (one of my favourite cookbooks of 2010). These cookies are phenomenal, especially if you love ginger -- they contain the powdered variety as well as candied and fresh. It makes for a crisp-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside spice cookie, with a nice sharp bite at the end (courtesy the fresh ginger). Alice includes a tamer version in the book but I really recommend trying the original recipe first.
Second, I made Magic Cookie Bars (which I learned are also called Hello Dollys). I'd been meaning to include a batch of these in my Christmas baking for a few years now, as my mom made these when my sister and I were kids and I was feeling a bit nostalgic about them. Also, I bought one in New York at Magnolia Bakery and while it was delicious, I preferred my mom's version which went lighter on coconut and heavier on chocolate. For those who don't know the recipe, it's simple (find it here) -- it's basically a graham crust, topped with equal parts chocolate chips, walnuts or pecans, and coconut, doused with sweetened condensed milk, and baked until golden brown. It's chewy in some spots, crisp in others, a little bit salty, a lot of sweet, and with hits of chocolate throughout. In short, it's heaven.
Thirdly, Kahlua Truffle Triangles from Fine Cooking magazine, introduced to me by a friend from work (and fellow baker). She had printed off the recipe and told me that I MUST try them because they are ridiculously good. She was right. Everyone who tasted these -- family and friends alike -- raved about them. They're so easy, and so delicious, that they're going on my must-make list for future Christmases. (See recipe below.)
My last two batches of cookies were Chocolate Mint Bars and Shortbread. The Chocolate Mint Bars represent another childhood favourite, and the women in my family (my grandma, mom, and sister) all recognized them immediately -- the pale green hue of the top layer is hard to miss. They're not far off from a mint-flavoured Nanaimo Bar, I imagine, with a chocolate-graham-walnut base, a creamy icing-ish layer spread over that, and drizzled mint chocolate on the top. The base is also mint-flavoured. Because these are so sweet I cut them into rather small squares. I used my mom's recipe but you can find a similar one here.
As for the shortbread, this is a recipe a friend gave me, and it produces the most delicate and delicious shortbread I've ever tasted. While I don't want to give away her secrets here, the thing I found most interesting about the recipe was that it called for cake flour rather than all-purpose flour. Once baked, my biggest challenge was cutting decent-sized bars that didn't crumble on me (that's how delicate they were). I'm saving this recipe for next year, as a truly melt-in-your-mouth shortbread is a rare and wonderful thing.
And with that, the cookie factory is closed for another year! Merry Christmas, all!!
Kahlúa Truffle Triangles
by Abigail Johnson Dodge
Yields about 6 dozen 1-1/2- to 2-inch triangles.
For the crust:
6-3/4 oz. (1-1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
3 oz. (3/4 cup) confectioners’ sugar
1/4 tsp. table salt
6 oz. (12 Tbs.) cold, unsalted butter,cut into 10 pieces, more for the pan
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
For the filling:
1 lb. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, broken into squares or very coarsely chopped
3/4 cup whole or 2% milk
4 oz. (8 Tbs.) unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
4 large eggs
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbs. Kahlúa
Make the crust:
Position an oven rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Line the bottom and sides of a 9x13-inch baking pan with foil, allowing foil to overhang the long sides of the pan to act as handles for removing the cookie later. Lightly butter the foil.
In a food processor, combine the flour, confectioners’ sugar, and salt. Process the ingredients briefly to combine, about 15 seconds. Scatter the cold butter pieces and the vanilla over the flour mixture and process, using short pulses, until the dough begins to form small clumps, 1 to 1-1/2 minutes. Turn the dough into the prepared pan. Using lightly floured fingertips, press the dough into the pan in a smooth, even layer. Bake until pale golden, especially around the edges, 22 to 25 minutes. Do not overbake or the crust will be hard and crispy. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and lower the oven temperature to 325°F.
Make the filling:
In a medium bowl, melt the chocolate, milk, and butter together over a pot of barely simmering water or in the microwave. Whisk until smooth and set aside to cool slightly.
In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or in a large mixing bowl, using a hand-held electric mixer, beat the eggs, sugar, and Kahlúa on medium-high speed until foamy and lighter in color, 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the chocolate mixture. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl and beater. Beat on medium speed until well blended, about 30 seconds.
Pour the chocolate batter over the baked crust and spread evenly. Bake until the sides are slightly puffed and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out wet and gooey but not liquid, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer the pan to a rack. As it cools, the center may sink a bit, leaving the edges slightly (about 1/2 inch) elevated. While the filling is still warm, use your fingertips to gently press the edges down to the level of the center, if necessary.
When completely cool, cover with plastic and refrigerate until very cold, at least 12 hours or up to 2 days. To serve, using the foil as handles, lift the rectangle from the pan and set it on a cutting board. Tipping the rectangle, carefully peel away the foil. Using a hot knife, cut the rectangle lengthwise into 1-1/2-inch strips, wiping the blade clean before each cut. Cut each strip on alternating diagonals to make small triangles. Let sit at room temperature for about 5 minutes before serving.
Source: Fine Cooking 82, pp. 66
December 1, 2006