Thursday, December 19, 2013

Homey Peanut Butter Cookies


In our family cookie package assortment, everyone who participated usually contributed something as well. These cookies are Randi’s usual contribution to the cookie packages. They are very classic and simple, but also very delicious and melting. Our family is really big on peanut butter recipes.

Homey Peanut Butter Cookies
(Makes about 4-1/2 dozen cookies)

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 12 Tbsp. (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 large or extra large eggs
  • 1 cup all-natural creamy peanut butter
  • 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Heat oven to 350°F. Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl; set aside.

Cream sugars and butter together with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.

Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition until dough is smooth.

Add peanut butter and vanilla and beat until smooth.

Add flour mixture and beat until well combined.

Using a small ice-cream scoop, portion out dough balls two inches apart on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.

Using a fork, press tines over each ball in a crosshatch pattern to flatten.

Bake in a convection oven for 8 to 10 minutes, or in a conventional oven for 10 to 12 minutes, until golden brown.

These freeze beautifully, layered between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Checkerboard Shortbread Cookies



These striking-looking, delicious, shortbread cookies were among the original assortment that went into our first packages for our favorite clients when my sister and I were still in the catering business. That means that they go back at least 30 years, possibly more. Adele and Larry used to work on them together as Larry, with his engineering background, was meticulous enough to see that the strips of dough used to assemble them were cut with great attention to detail to make sure they all fit together perfectly. In recent years, and I don’t remember how many, they have not been among our offerings as the assortment had so grown numerous with delectable additions that Adele and Larry decided to turn their attention to some of the newer, easier, ones and skip these because of their labor intensity. Our family cookie collection of recipes, I think, would not be complete unless we included these among them. The cookies themselves are very easy to make, but they require a certain amount of patience and attention to detail to look the way they should. I think they are well worth the effort, both for their unique appearance and for their melt-in-your-mouth, not-too-sweet butteriness.

Checkerboard Shortbread Cookies
(makes 4 to 5 dozen depending on how thick you slice the loaves)

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. pure lemon extract
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2-3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 3 Tbsp. Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1 large egg

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.

Add vanilla extract, lemon extract, and salt.

With mixer on low speed, gradually add the flour, scraping down the sides of the bowl two or three times.

Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface. It will be loose and crumbly. Knead the dough by pushing small amounts away from you with the heel of your hand for about two minutes. Divide the dough in half.

Sprinkle the cocoa powder over one of the halves. Knead  until the cocoa has been fully incorporated.

Enclose each half in a piece of plastic wrap and let them rest at room temperature for about half an hour.

Unwrap and pat each half into a rough, thick, squarish shape on the plastic wrap. Cover each with a second piece of plastic wrap and roll each half, between the two sheets of plastic wrap, into a roughly seven-by-seven-inch square. You can press stray pieces into place and work the dough with your hands until the desired shape and size is achieved. When finished, both halves should be as close as you can get them to the same size and shape. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Remove plastic wrap and using a long, sharp, thin knife and a ruler, slice each square into nine 3/4-inch-wide strips.

Whisk together the egg and 1 Tbsp. water.

Cover work surface with plastic wrap. Place three strips of dough on plastic, alternating white and chocolate strips. Brush tops and in between the strips with egg wash. Gently press strips together. Repeat forming second and third layers, alternating colors to create a checkerboard effect. Wrap assembled loaf in plastic and refrigerate. Repeat the process for the second log, reversing the color pattern so that, if the first layer of the first loaf had a chocolate strip in the center, the second loaf should have a plain strip in the center of the first layer. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate second loaf. Refrigerate both for at least 30 minutes, or freeze for 15 minutes.

Heat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat mat or parchment paper. Slice each log into 3/8 to 1/4-inch thick slices with a thin, sharp knife. Transfer carefully to baking sheet.

Bake until done, about 10 minutes in a convection oven, or 12 in a conventional oven. Cookies should look crisp and have just the slightest hint of a brown tinge at the edges.

Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for about two minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.

These cookies freeze beautifully layered between sheets of waxed paper or parchment in an airtight container.



Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Pumpkin Bread


Of all the breads we make for the holidays, for gift giving, and for the assortment of fruity breads that I make for starting off our Rosh Hashanah lunches with sweets and brandies, along with the traditional apples dipped in honey, this is my second favorite (after date bread). Everyone in our family just adores the flavor of pumpkin. It is one of the only foods on which we all agree. Adele and I used to cook down our Halloween pumpkins and freeze the pulp, but over the years, I have discovered that we are never able to get it as thick and concentrated in flavor as the canned varieties. My current favorite is the organic canned pumpkin from Trader Joe’s.

Pumpkin Bread
(makes two 9x5x3-inch loaves, or 4 mini loaves)

  • Non-stick cooking spray
  • 3 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. double-acting baking powder
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 8 Tbsp. unsalted butter or pareve margarine
  • 2-1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 large or extra-large eggs
  • 2 cups puréed pumpkin, freshly cooked or canned
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray pans generously with non-stick cooking spray.

Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves and salt. Sift them together into a bowl. Set aside.

Cream butter or margarine with sugar until light and fluffy.

Add eggs, one at a time.

Stir in pumpkin.

Add about 1 cup of the flour mixture, and, when it is completely incorporated, beat in 2 to 3 Tbsp. of water, beating well after each addition.

Stir in pecans and raisins.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pans, spreading evenly.

Bake in the middle of a conventional oven for 50 to 60 minutes for large loaves, and 25 to 35 minutes for small ones, until the loaves shrink away from the sides of the pans and a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean.

Cool for 10 minutes and then turn the loaves of pumpkin bread out on wire racks to cool to room temperature.

These freeze beautifully, tightly wrapped in aluminum foil inside freezer bags. Allow to defrost completely and come to room temperature before wrapping decoratively or serving.

These are especially good sliced thinly, with vanilla-scented whipped cream cheese sandwiched inside.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Stained-Glass Cheesecake Torte

 If you are reading this on Facebook, slideshows and videos are often attached. Click on this live link to my blog: http://www.marilyferecipes.blogspot.com/ if you would like to get the full experience.

I distinctly remember the first time my sister and I made this cake at least 30 years ago. We brought it to our mutual friend, Cookie’s, party so that we could get feedback as to whether or not to put it on our catering menu. My sister and I were amazed to discover that the cake received attention far beyond what we thought was appropriate for guests at a buffet dinner party. Although there were several desserts on the table, people just stood around staring at it, asking when it would be cut, and generally acting like it was the hypnotic center of their universe. It was weird!

So yes, it did go on our catering menu. It is very striking to look at. It is relatively small compared to some of the “three-pounds-of-cream-cheese” cheesecakes that were also on our menu, but that makes it great for a small dinner party or brunch. Creating a design on top to fill in, stained-glass style, is also very satisfying artistically. If  you feel challenged in that department, Wilton makes templates that press a design into the cake top, and you can just follow the lines with chocolate and fill in like you would a coloring book.

Stained-Glass Cheesecake Torte
Crust:
  • 2 cups gingersnap crumbs
  • 1/2 cup ground almonds or hazelnuts
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 6 Tbsp. melted unsalted butter

Filling:
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup light cream or half and half
  • 2 whole large eggs, plus 3 large egg yolks
  • 1-1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Chocolate for Borders:
  • 1-1/4 cups chocolate chips
  • 1  oz. (1 square) baking chocolate
  • 2 Tbsp. very soft unsalted butter
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • Soft jams or jellies in contrasting colors, at least two different ones

Crust:
Stir together gingersnap crumbs, almonds or hazelnuts, brown sugar and salt.

Add in melted butter and toss well with a fork. The mixture should hold together when squeezed, but barely.

Press into a 10-inch springform pan, building the edge up about 1-1/2 inches. (A rounded-bottom cup works well to press into place evenly.)

Bake in a preheated 350° F. oven for 8 minutes.

Filling:
Beat cream cheese until softened. Then beat in sugar.

Gradually add light cream or half and half, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary.

One at a time, add eggs and egg yolks, beating between each addition.

Mix in vanilla.

Pour  filling into hot crust. It will look scant and very liquid.

Return the tart to the 350° F. oven and at once lower the temperature to 325° F.

Bake the cheesecake for about 35 minutes, or until firm. Don’t let it dry out or it will crack, but you can fill cracks with the sour cream layer later. Cool on a rack.

When it is completely cool, ice it with a thin layer of plain sour cream (this works best with an offset spatula) and refrigerate, uncovered, to dry and set  the frosting.

Chocolate for Borders:
In a double boiler, or over very low heat, melt the chocolate chips and baking chocolate.

When chocolates have melted and combined, stir in the 2 Tbsp. very soft butter, and then 1 egg yolk.

When that is thoroughly incorporated and the mixture is hot, stir in sour cream. Let cool to room temperature.

Put in a piping bag fitted with a #5 plain tube.

Assembly:
Squeeze out chocolate lines to divide the top of the cheesecake into even squares or diamonds. Make a spider web or bull’s eye, or emulate Mondrian.

Make the chocolate dividers about 1/4-inch tall by tracing over twice, if necessary. Chill to firm the chocolate.

Fill in the spaces with soft jam by placing small dollops in the center and letting gravity do the rest, or put jam or jelly into a disposable piping bag and snip the very corner at a sharp angle to pipe the jam into place. Nudging with the point of the bag or a toothpick can help ease the jam into tight corners.

Chill until a couple of hours before ready to serve. Best if it comes to room temperature before serving. Serves 6 to 8.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Foulares for Purim

While I was preparing my book, Bubbie’s Kitchen, for teaching Ashkenazic Jewish cooking to groups of students, I was simultaneously preparing and testing recipes for four other curriculums, one of which was to be Jewish foods and traditions from around the world. In researching unusual traditions and recipes, I came across this one in a book entitled Sephardic Holiday Cooking by Gilda Angel. It is one of my favorite cookbooks. My classes loved making these and we used to cut them out from a cardboard template. A few years ago, Saul and I decided to order copper from a make-your-own cookie cutter company, Acorn Meadow Designs, so that we could make a townhouse cutter to match Ari’s house for his housewarming party. With the leftover copper, Saul made me a foot-shaped cutter based on the cardboard one. We also found a small plastic one that Jessica uses with her classes, standing the egg on edge to conserve space and making a shackle with the dough.

Gilda Angel explains that in Turkish and Greek Sephardic communities, these cheese pastries or crackers are made only once a year, just before the holiday of Purim. Each community has its own particular shape. In this particular version, the foot-shaped pastry with the secured egg represents Haman’s ankle being bound. Traditionally, these are eaten on the Sabbath just before Purim, Shabbat Zakhor. These special treats are usually accompanied by salads and coffee. They are also used for mishloah manot, the sending of gifts on Purim.  Two different blessings can be recited before eating them, mezonot for the pastry and shehekol for the egg.

Foulares
Turkish Hard-Cooked Eggs Wrapped with Cheese Pastry
(Makes approximately 16 pastries and additional crackers)
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 4-1/2 cup all-purpose flour, preferably unbleached
  • 1-1/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese (about 1/4 lb.)
  • 16 hard-cooked small eggs (leave shells on)
Preheat the oven to 400°F.

In large bowl, combine oil, water, salt, pepper, flour and cheese. (This can be done in an electric mixer bowl with dough hook attachment.)

Divide dough in half.

On lightly floured surface, roll dough to a thickness of 1/4 inch.

Cut foot-shaped pieces of dough measuring approximately 5-1/2 by 2-1/2 inches.

Transfer to an ungreased baking sheet.

Press an unpeeled egg into the eel end of the foot and secure with strips of dough.

Repeat with remaining dough and eggs.

Shape leftover dough into small crackers and put on a separate baking sheet.

Bake feet in preheated 400°F. oven for 15-20 minutes, or until dough is golden brown. Crackers will probably take less time depending on their size.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

We like to eat ours with Russian dressing or chipotle mayonnaise on the side.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Izzy’s 9th Birthday Sleepover Cake


All the recipes have already been posted here that I used to produce this cake and I will link them to this post. I had a very long, deep loaf pan in which I baked a sour cream pound cake (Izzy’s choice), and cut it into six slabs for the five girls that were sleeping over on Friday, February 1. About two weeks ago, Saul and I decided to go for a walk on Saturday night inside King of Prussia Mall, after dinner nearby. At Sur La Table, I purchased a Nordic Ware cake pop pan because it was one of the few unique pans that I do not already own. I thought it would be useful for making taste-size cakes, instead of great big ones that we can never (and probably shouldn’t) finish. It came in very handy for Izzy’s cake.

Jessica sent a link to a photo of one sleepover cake that they liked from Pinterest which involved individual cakes and I ran with that idea. Up until now, my favorite cake that I have ever produced in  30 years is the Cat in the Hat cake that I made for her 7th birthday. This one is now my favorite.

Standing in the Valentine’s Day candy aisle at the supermarket provided lots of inspiration. The headboards on the bed were made from double-heart-shaped Peeps, and the foot boards from Lindt Coconut White Chocolate bars. The photo slide show above shows the progression for assembling the cakes. The pattern on the fondant blankets was produced by pressing at intervals with a nutmeg grater. The blankets are blue because Izzy has always taken a blue “blanky” to bed with her.

When I was all finished with the six cakes, Jess pointed out that there was nothing for Sami or Yona, Izzy’s sisters, so I went back to the store for more candy, and baked a date bread in a regular loaf pan and split it into two slabs. I took a bit of batter off to bake some more cake pops. All the cakes were iced with a double batch of vanilla butter cream icing. One 12-oz. bucket of fondant produced everything necessary for the eight cakes. The features were drawn on fondant circles with food color markers. The names were written on extra Lindt chocolate squares with pink royal icing and glued with the icing to the foot boards. Leftover sugar decors from cookie decorating provided the patterns on the pajama arms.

At the party, each girl got her own doll and could not believe that virtually everything was edible. One saved hers to take home to show her brother and her mother asked if there was anything that could be sprayed on to preserve it, like on some gingerbread houses. I was flattered, but suggested that they take a photo and then eat it.

The girls dug into their cakes with great gusto after a Shabbat dinner of soup, Alex’s homemade pizza and salad.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Date Bread

 I spoke on the phone with my granddaughter, Sami, a few days ago and she asked me when we were going to make the cookie packages this year and if she could help. My heart is breaking because, as I feared last year, this long-standing family tradition that goes back over 30 years, has come to an end this year. My sister, Adele, arrived at her winter home at The Villages (an over 55 community) in Florida yesterday with her husband, Larry, and dogs, and will be gone for several months. In a few days, I will be flying, along with Saul, Ari, Brenna, Ken, Randi, and Beth to Orlando for a six-day vacation and celebration of both Adele and Larry’s November 70th birthdays on Thanksgiving, a holiday that Adele has prepared for our family ever since she was first married. When I explained to Sami why we would not be making all the cookies and getting together to package them, we began to discuss which ones we might be able to make together.

“Can we at least make the gingerbread teddy bears? I really love the black and white ones (chocolate ganache cupcakes)!”

“My personal favorites, and your mother’s, are the lime cornmeal cookies,” I told her.

“What about the ones with the pink sugar on top (mango teacakes)?”

So we ran down a list of our personal favorites while my eyes grew teary and I tried to figure out with her when we could manage to get together in the next month and have enough time to bake at least a few of them.

I realized that I haven’t finished putting up all the recipes as I had intended last year, so hopefully in sufficient time for other people to access them, I will try to finish up posting the remaining handful. For the complete list, access the post 30 Cookie Recipes and Other Gift Foods.

Date Bread
  • 3/4 cup raisins
  • 1 cup chopped pitted dates
  • 1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 3 Tbsp. margarine or butter
  • 3/4 cups boiling water
  • 2 large or extra-large eggs
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • non-stick cooking spray
With a fork, mix raisins, dates, baking soda and salt.

Add margarine or butter and water.

Let stand 20 minutes.

Heat oven to 350°F.

Spray a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan or three mini loaf pans with non-stick spray.

Beat eggs, and then beat in vanilla, sugar and flour.

Mix in date mixture until just blended thoroughly.

Turn into pan.

Bake 1 hour and 5 minutes for large loaf, or about 40-45 minutes for small loaves, or until done.

Cool in pan for 10 minutes and remove.

Date bread freezes extremely well. Wrap in foil when cool and place in a sealed plastic bag.

When we are having a dairy meal, our favorite way to “gild the lily” is to slice the bread thinly and sandwich lightly-sweetened, vanilla-accented whipped cream cheese between the slices.