four days before christmas: mexican wedding cakes and more cookies

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(Left to right) Cherry Garcia and Ginger Cookies, Mexican Wedding Cakes

Because I didn’t have time to bake yesterday, I decided to experiment with refrigerating the cookies for 24 hours before baking. I don’t know if it helped, but I got very plump cookies from all of these recipes.

The first one, Cherry Garcia is named after the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. They are filled with cherries, chocolate white and dark, but no nuts. I left that out–just a preference. The second recipe, Ginger Cookies, I used fresh ginger because I had it on hand. I didn’t notice any difference in sweetness, but then I don’t like a very sweet cookie. The third recipe, Mexican Wedding Cakes, is variously called Snowballs or Russian Tea Cakes. I used almonds to make this batch but the original recipe from The Smitten Kitchen said to use pecans or hazelnuts.

Cherry Garcia Cookies
(From Marcy Goldman, Pastry Chef, Montreal, Canada, for About.com)

Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 10-14 minutes

Ingredients:
1 cup dried cherries
1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (113g) butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated white sugar [substitute superfine or caster sugar]
1/2 cup light brown sugar, (packed then sifted)
1 egg
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup coarsely-chopped unsalted macadamia nuts or almonds (optional)

Preparation:
1. Place dried cherries on a cutting board and coarsely chop. For a moister cookie, soak the cherries in hot water or cherry liqueur for a few minutes to plump them up. Drain well or squeeze out the liquid.
2. Sift together flour, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl. Set aside.
3. In a separate large bowl, cream together butter and the sugars on low speed. On low speed, beat in egg, vanilla, and almond extract. Add flour mixture to butter mixture half at a time and mix on low speed until combined. By hand, fold in drained cherries, white chocolate chips, semi-sweet chocolate chips, and nuts, if using.
4. Refrigerate cookie dough 30 to 45 minutes to firm up.
5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.
6. Using a cookie scoop, drop dough onto prepared baking sheets, placing cookies about 1-1/2 to 2 inches apart. Bake one batch at a time.

Baker’s Note: I roll each dough ball lightly in my hands to round the cookies evenly.

Bake each batch 12 to 14 minutes (10-12 minutes in a convection oven) until lightly browned around the edges. Cool 10 minutes on cookie sheets before removing to racks to cool completely. Store air tight in a covered container.

Ginger Cookies (adapted from: foodnetwork.com)

Ingredients
2 1/4 cups (281g) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
5 turns freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup (170g) unsalted butter or vegetable shortening, at room temperature
1/2 cup (112g) white granulated sugar (use 1/2 cup brown sugar if you’re using maple syrup)
1/4 cup (50g) dark brown sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsulphured molasses, honey, or maple syrup
2 tablespoons ginger preserves or grated fresh ginger
1/2 cup demerara sugar for rolling cookies

Preparation:
In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, ground ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, mustard, salt and black pepper together.

In a large bowl, beat the butter/shortening and the sugars with an electric mixer on medium-high until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and beat on medium speed until just incorporated, about 20 seconds. Add the molasses and ginger preserves and continue beating until the batter is an even light brown color, 30 seconds more.

Add the dry ingredients all at once, beating slowly to make a soft, smooth dough. Use a rubber spatula to make sure all ingredients are combined. Then beat again for 20 seconds. Cover the bowl with plastic and refrigerate the dough until firm, about 25 minutes.

Put about 1/2 cup demerara sugar in a small bowl. With a cookie scoop or a small ice cream scoop, portion the dough into a slightly heaping tablespoon for each cookie. Roll the dough, by hand, into balls. Roll the tops of the balls in the sugar, and space them 2 inches apart on a nonstick or lightly oiled cookie sheet. Alternatively, line the pan with parchment and do not grease. Refrigerate until firm, about 25 minutes. (The chilling is what gives this cookie a beautiful, crackly crunch on top, and a soft, chewy center.)

Preheat oven to 375˚F. (Preheat convection oven 180˚C). If using a pan with a dark non-stick finish, reduce heat to 350˚F.

Bake until the top is crackly, and the insides peeking through the cracks are dark and moist but not raw, about 15 to 20 minutes (10-15 minutes in convection oven). Cool the cookies 5 minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Serve or store in a tightly sealed container for up to 3 weeks.

Baker’s Note:
ϖ Ginger preserves give lots of flavor without the hard chunks of crystallized ginger. It is found in Asian grocery stores.
ϖ To substitute for preserved ginger, use grated fresh ginger. Add sugar to taste for every tablespoon of fresh grated ginger. I didn’t add any extra sugar and the taste was just fine!
ϖ Makes about 30 cookies using a 1 1/2 inch scoop.

Mexican Wedding Cakes (adapted from The Smitten Kitchen)

Ingredients:
1 cup (227g or 2 sticks) butter, room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar, divided
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup almonds, toasted and finely ground (it will be the texture of demerara sugar)

Preparation:
Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until light and fluffy. Add 1/2 cup powdered sugar and vanilla; beat until well blended. Beat in flour, then almonds. Divide dough in half; form each half into ball. Wrap separately in plastic; chill until cold, about 30 minutes.

Baker’s Note: If you refrigerate the cookie dough overnight, let it sit 5 minutes on the counter top before scooping them into balls. This will allow the butter to soften.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk remaining 1 1/2 cups powdered in pie dish. Set sugar aside.
Working with half of chilled dough, roll dough by 2 teaspoonfuls between palms into balls.

Arrange balls on heavy large baking sheet, spacing 1/2 inch apart. Bake cookies until golden brown on bottom and just pale golden on top, about 17-18 minutes. Cool cookies 5 minutes on baking sheet. Remove to wire rack to finish cooling. Gently toss cooled cookies in sugar to coat completely. Repeat procedure with remaining half of dough.

Baker’s Note: I used 1 1/2 inch scoop.

Sift remaining sugar over cookies and serve. Makes about 4 dozen. With scoop I got about 3 dozen cookies.

Cookies can be prepared 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature; reserve remaining sugar.

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low fat scallion-corn bread

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One of the frustrations of living in Bangkok is not being able to find ingredients for American cooking, or if you do, they are very expensive. Fortunately, that list is short and includes things like cornmeal, molasses, and corn syrup; things which I seldom use anyway. But this is  how you learn to improvise. I found almond meal at Tops which is not too bad at 69 baht for 500 grams; in texture it’s similar to cornmeal. To make it corn bread, I tossed in the corn kernels. And for color, the scallions.

Low Fat Scallion Corn Bread
Prep time: 20 minutes
Baking time: 25 minutes.

1 cup almond meal
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup tinned corn kernels, drained
1/2 cup scallions, chopped
1 egg lightly beaten
1 cup clabbered milk or sour milk
1/4 cup plain non-fat yogurt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Preheat oven 350˚F/175˚C. Grease an 8″ square baking pan. Set aside.

In a one cup measure, put 1 tablespoon white vinegar and top up to one cup mark with low fat milk. Set aside 5-10 minutes to curdle milk.

In a large bowl, put almond meal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, corn, and scallions. Stir to combine.

In a medium bowl, put the beaten egg, sour milk, yogurt, and oil. Mix well.

Pour egg mixture into the flour mixture and mix with a fork until just combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool a few minutes then serve warm.

almond cream with mandarin oranges

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This is one of the oldest recipes in my recipe collection. I bought Alison’s book when I was in graduate school, and I made this dessert for its cool refreshing quality after a spicy meal. This dessert and another one called Almond Lake, a rice pudding, were early favorites when company came over.

Almond Cream with Mandarin Oranges (Alison Burt)

Prep time: 20 minutes
Chill time: 2 1/2-3 1/2 hours

1 x 16 oz can mandarin oranges or chopped fresh fruit, such as kiwi, mango, dragon fruit, and tangerines, chilled
2 1/2 cups water
4 tablespoons gelatin powder (4 gelatin leaves = 1 tablespoon)
2 cups milk
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract

I made this with gelatin leaves. I put 16 leaves in a large bowl of cool water for 4 minutes or until softened.

In a medium sauce pan add the water, milk, and sugar, then heat over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Drain the gelatin and add drained gelatin to the milk mixture. Stir until the gelatin is dissolved. Remove the pot from the heat source. Add the almond extract and stir. Let the mixture cool to room temperature about 30 minutes.

Pour into an ungreased glass dish about 9 inches square. Chill until set about 2 hours. Cut into small squares and pour into a large bowl. Add the mandarin oranges, syrup and all. Chill and serve in individual bowls.

almond-brown sugar potica cake

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Pronounced paw-TEET-zha, this cake is light and moist with a crunchy brown-sugar-and-almond filling. I made this cake once before in New York so it’s only fitting that I try it again in Bangkok. I had a near disaster because my oven was too slow, so the center of the cake was still raw when I made a test slice. So I put it in the microwave for 4 1/2 minutes on high, and that finished the cooking.

Almond-Brown Sugar Potica Cake (adapted from Gourmet magazine)
Prep time: 20 minutes
Baking time: 35-40 minutes
Cooling time: 2 hours

Ingredients:
Cake
3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 cup (170g) unsalted butter plus more for greasing, room temperature
1 1/2 cups superfine sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 cups low fat yogurt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Filling
1 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 325˚F/165˚C. Grease a 10 inch tube cake pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Set aside. Mix together the yogurt and vanilla; set aside. Make the filling and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 3-6 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, mixing until just combined.

Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, beating until just combined. Add 1/2 of the yogurt mixture and combine. Add half the remaining flour and the remaining yogurt mixture, beating after each addition. Add the rest of the flour and beat until just combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Pour 1/3 of the batter into the prepare pan, spreading it out evenly. Sprinkle 1/3 of the filling on top. Drop spoonfuls of half the remaining batter on top of the filling. Sprinkle half of the remaining filling on top of the batter. Scrape the rest of the batter on top of the filling. Sprinkle the remainder of the filling on top of the batter. Bake 35-40 minutes or until a skewer inserted near the center of the cake comes out clean, with just a few crumbs attached. If the batter is still raw, continue baking in 5 minute increments.

Cool on a wire cooling rack placed over a baking tray. Cool 2 hours in the pan, then unmold. To remove the side, use a thin blade by placing the blade against the side of the pan and pressing it towards the center. Use your fingers to push up the centerpiece from the bottom, and separate it from the side. To release the centerpiece, Turn it upside down over the rack with the tray underneath. The tray will catch all the sugar and nuts that fall off the top of the cake. Re-invert the cake. Slice and serve.

 

 

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arborio rice pudding with rambutan and toasted almonds

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I had half a cup of arborio rice left over. Not enough to make a risotto but enough to make rice pudding. Arborio rice cooks up quickly and has a delicious al dente quality that makes this dish appealing.  I like to serve this with mandarin oranges but the season is passed, so I used tinned rambutan instead. This dessert is cool and lightly sweet, with a toasty crunchy slightly bitter flavor from the almonds, perfect for another hot summer night.

Arborio Rice Pudding (adapted from Food Network)
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 35 minutes
Cooling time: 10-20 minutes
Refrigerating time: about 1 hour to cool and set

Yield: 4-6 servings

1 cup water
1/2 tablespoon butter
pinch of salt
1/2 cup Arborio rice
2 cups whole milk
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
couple dashes of cinnamon for sprinkling

In a medium saucepan, heat water, butter and salt until it boils. Add the rice and bring it to a boil again. Reduce heat to the lowest setting. Shake the pan occasionally and cook until the water is absorbed, 10-15 minutes. The rice will be almost al dente.

In another saucepan, bring milk, sugar and vanilla to a boil. Add the cooked rice and simmer over medium-low heat until rice absorbs most of the milk. The mixture will start to look thick and silky, about 15-20 minutes.

Transfer pudding to individual serving dishes and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate until cold and set. Sprinkle a dash of cinnamon on top. Serve with cold fruit like rambutan or mandarin oranges. For convenience’s sake, I used tinned rambutan in syrup. Put a spoonful or two of the syrup on top of the rice and fruit. Sprinkle toasted sliced almonds overall.

candied almonds

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Actually, this works with your favorite nut–walnuts, pecans, macadamias, and almonds are highly recommended. They make a great garnish for ice cream or sweet grape salad. Or just to eat by the handful.

1 cup chopped almonds
4 teaspoons water
2 tablespoons brown sugar
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 400˚F/200˚C.

In a medium bowl, toss the almonds with water and brown sugar and a pinch of salt. Line a baking tray with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray. Spread the almond mixture in a thin layer on top. Bake 6-8 minutes or until the nuts just begin to brown. Remove from the oven and let cool 6-8 minutes in the tray to get crisp. Put up the nuts in an airtight container if not eating right away.