Saturday, December 29, 2007
It's very late in the day, or in the year, to talk about holiday baking, but since Jim has been dutifully taking pictures, I might as well write something about them before the next holiday comes around.
My first baking foray was the annual Cookie Baking Day, in which two friends and I use obscene amounts of butter to turn out ridiculous amounts of cookies. Jim is the official taster, an honor which he is able to keep because he gets a very thoughtful expression on his face while he's eating each cookie, then says he needs to check another one to make sure of his judgment, and always pronounces each cookie to be good.
We used to each make three different kinds of cookies, which resulted in too many even to give away, and by New Year's Day, we ended up tossing them out for the squirrels. All the neighborhood squirrels congregated in our yard on New Year's morning, waiting for the feast. This year we each baked two different kinds, and there aren't many left. I'm hoping that the squirrels won't stage a rebellion.
I made Trios, a variation on the classic thumbprint cookie.
This recipe is from December's Gourmet Magazine, and you can find it at epicurious.com. I doubled the recipe and made the dough the night before. In the morning, I took the dough out of the refrigerator and weighed it, then divided the weight by however many cookies it was supposed to make (72, I think). I learned through this clever mathematical trick that each cookie should be made with 18 grams of dough, and each 18-gram piece is divided into three balls which are then flattened slightly and put on the baking sheet touching in the middle, so they'll come together when they bake.
Some of my cookies were not turning out even, though, so I decided to weigh out 6-gram units, so that all the balls would be uniform. This is the kind of thing you don't do when you have little kids running around the house, but now I have no one but Jim, and he doesn't care if I spend my mornings weighing out cookie balls. After the three balls are placed on the cookie sheet, you take the end of a wooden spoon, dip it in flour, in make a hole in each little-bitty dough ball. Then you fill one little hole with raspberry jam, one with strawberry, and one with apricot. If you don't like to do things like this, you would run out of the house screaming by this point. If you do, you'd find it quite satisfying.
Cathy made some lime-coconut meringues.
This is the first time any of us have ever attempted meringues, which turned out to be not that difficult, at least for Cathy, but she has a knack for cookies. Since Jim doesn't like coconut, we told him that he didn't have to taste these, but he gamely ate one, then two, and declared that he liked them despite the coconut. In fact, he claimed that perhaps he was starting to like coconut, just because of these cookies. This made Cathy very happy. So happy that she started rolling out hundreds of very thin shortbread circles and stars, to make raspberry shortbread sandwich cookies. She used her homemade raspberry jam, which is better than anything you can buy in a store.
JoAnne, the third cookie baker, made some pretty and zingy lemon cornmeal stars and some rich, delicious walnut bars. Here they are on a plate, along with Cathy's finished raspberry shortbread sandwich cookies:
My second cookie was the World Peace cookie.
This cookie has been quite a hit on the blogosphere this year. I got the recipe from Lynn Rossetto Kaspar's Splendid Table website, but it's originally from one of Dorie Greenspan's books, and she got it from Pierre Herme, a French baker. The idea is that these cookies are so good that if everybody ate them every day, we would have world peace. It's a charming notion, although with recent events in Pakistan, it appears that something more than even a very good cookie would be required for peace to occur. The cookies are intensely chocolatey, with both cocoa and bits of dark chocolate. The chocolate flavor is complemented with fleur de sel, and a bite with the flavor combination of chocolate and salt is, oddly, quite fantastic.
We also made chocolate cupcakes for Christmas. I found a recipe for dark chocolate cupcakes made with sour cream, which is a Cook's Illustrated version, via a Seattle blog. I also made a vanilla bean cheesecake with cranberry jewel topping, but the cupcakes turned out cuter.
We used Martha Stewart's recipe for vanilla meringue buttercream icing, which was very light and fluffy, but a little too sweet, and my vanilla bean cheesecake turned out to have a massive crack in the center.
Once the crack was covered with the shiny cranberry glaze, it was not noticeable, but Jim didn't take any pictures of that. The cheesecake was pretty good, but the cupcakes seemed more popular.
My other cooking assignment was to bring rolls. I made Peter Reinhart's plain white rolls, which turned out fine, and are very pretty, but are not quite as tender and flavorful as Rose's version. I just shaped them into individual round rolls--they would make adorable hamburger buns for the miniature hamburgers that are so popular as appetizers. I bought a quart of buttermilk, intending to make the buttermilk version, but I forgot that that was my plan until after I'd already added the dried milk.
Thus endeth the Christmas baking. But not the baking. Last night my brother Bruce, his wife, Julie, their kids, Doug and Marina, and Doug's wife Ellie came for dinner. Sarah and her boyfriend James were also here, and Elizabeth. We baked cupcakes again for dessert. This time, they had buttermilk in them because I had a quart of buttermilk to use up. We had regular-size and super-size.
I got The Cake Bible for Christmas, and we frosted these with Rose's Neo-classic Mocha Buttercream. The frosting was amazing! Except for whipped cream, I don't particularly like frosting. I usually scrape off as much as I reasonably can. But this frosting was heavenly. As God is my witness, I will never mix powdered sugar and butter again!
Finally, one more loaf of bread--the Almost No-Knead whole wheat bread, made just like the almost no-knead basic loaf, but with one cup of whole wheat flour substituted for one cup of white flour and 2 tablespoons of honey added. Again, this revised no-knead version turned out beautifully, with virtually no work involved.