Dessert

Desserts are the best meal of the day. If your mom isn’t looking, you can eat dessert for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If she catches you, tell her it’s for her.

Turning Scandinavian

LeanneWe Americans come from all over the world and while I’ve always known that my ancestry is largely from Britain and Ireland, I feel that I’m now becoming slightly Scandinavian. To wit, my husband is of Norwegian and Swedish descent and hence, my children as well, and after searching through genealogy sites I find that I am distantly related to King Haakon that once ruled Norway and Sweden. I take that last qualification with a grain of salt, by the way! Additionally, after a recent visit to Stockholm, I found that sparkling city to be so charming that I feel I could happily live there.  To top it off, if I’m making lefse this Christmas season, doesn’t that make me slightly Scandinavian?

As Scottish and Irish as my mom was, every Christmas she would make King Haakon (yes, that King Hakkon) cookies, which are essentially biscotti. They can be flavored with cardamom, almonds or anise seed, although my mom always chose the latter. To celebrate my newfound heritage, I’m making these tasty treats this holiday season. To remind me of Stockholm, I’m dipping my cookies in white chocolate and tiny white sprinkles, as I imagine the city to be covered in lovely snow by now. Of course, as I bake I’ll also be reminded of my mom who has been gone a year now. She always loved this time of year.

 

King Haakon Cookies

½ cup melted butter
2 eggs
¾ cup sugar
2 cups flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cardamom *

In a large bowl combine butter, eggs, sugar, flour baking powder, salt and flavoring. Form dough into 3 long rolls on a greased cookie sheet and flatten slightly. Sprinkle with colored sprinkles or cinnamon sugar.

Bake at 325°F for 30 to 40 minutes. Cool slightly and slice diagonally ½-inch thick. Place on the cookie sheet and toast in oven for 1 hour at 200°F or until lightly browned. Makes 3 dozen

* or substitute 1½ teaspoons anise seed or 2 teaspoons almond extract (if using almond extract: ¼ cup chopped almonds, toasted in microwave for 3 minutes or until browned)

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Chocolate for My Mom

Leanne

There’s been a lot written about chocolate. George Orwell, Ogden Nash, Katharine Hepburn, J.K. Rowling, Charles M. Schulz, Dave Barry and countless others have had their say about the subject. I love chocolate, but not as much as my mom loved chocolate.

Growing up during the Depression gave her a great regard for it as only great scarcity can do. It was always a given that she would want chocolate for her birthday cake. Beautiful chocolate truffles were always a go to whenever I couldn’t think of anything else to get her for a gift. Even during her last days, when nothing else sounded appetizing to her, she still wanted a cup of hot cocoa or a bite of Almond Roca. She also kept describing a delicious little cake that had been served during a tea party at her care facility. It was chocolate, covered in chocolate ganache, with a fruit filling inside. It brought to mind a Sacher Torte that I used to make quite a bit that my mom thought was very good. I made it again recently and it is good! I acquired this recipe more than 30 years ago, so I don’t remember where it originally came from, but here it is for you. My mom would highly approve.

Viennese Sacher Torte

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup hot strong coffee (instant espresso powder works well)
1 cup sugar
1 egg
¼ cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
½ cup apricot preserves
2 tablespoons brandy
Chocolate Glaze (see recipe below)

In the top of a double boiler (or in the microwave), stir chocolate, oil, salt, and coffee over barely simmering water until blended.  Pour mixture into large bowl of an electric mixer and add sugar, egg, buttermilk, soda and vanilla; beat on medium speed until well blended.

Add flour and continue beating for 5 minutes, occasionally scraping sides down with a rubber spatula.  Pour into a greased and floured 8-inch cake pan.

Bake in a 350°F oven just until cake begins to pull from the sides of pan, about 30 minutes.  Set on a rack to cool, then remove from pan.

Cut cake in half horizontally to make 2 layers.  Combine apricot preserves and brandy; spread evenly over the bottom layer of cake. Set top layer in place and put cake on a rack.

Slowly pour Chocolate Glaze (see recipe below) onto the center of cake so it flows over the entire surface.  With a spatula, guide glaze down over the sides of the cake to coat smoothly.  Chill until the glaze is set, at least 30 minutes.

Using a wide spatula, loosen cake from rack and gently slide onto a serving plate. If cake is made ahead, cover without touching and chill up to 6 hours; return to room temperature to serve.  Serve with whipped cream if desired. Makes about 10 servings

 

Chocolate Glaze
In the top of a double boiler (or in microwave), over barely simmering water, melt 5 ounces semi-sweet chocolate and 3 tablespoons shortening until melted.

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The Logic of Snickerdoodles

LeanneLast night, my son Jack was using such aggressively persuasive “logic” to get his older sister, Caroline, to make cookies for him that she said she felt she was being forced to bake at gunpoint! Well, yes, she did end up baking cookies, and not surprisingly, she made Snickerdoodles. When you haven’t planned to make cookies and you end up making them anyway, the Snickerdoodle is handily created from basic pantry staples. Nobody is really sure where the name “Snickerdoodle” came from. The Joy of Cooking claims that it’s German in origin, and that the name is a corruption of the German word Schneckennudel (“snail noodles”), a kind of cinnamon roll. However, upon further investigation, it’s also possible that it’s simply a nonsense name made up by New Englanders who were fond of naming their cookies with, well, silly names. The thing that distinguishes Snickerdoodles from a traditional sugar cookie rolled in cinnamon sugar is the cream of tartar, which lends that characteristic tang. It’s also responsible for the chewiness, because of the way it reacts with the sugar while baking. Here’s our favorite family recipe for Snickerdoodles. Why not bake some up right now?

Snickerdoodles

1 cup butter, softened
1½ cups, plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2¾ cups unbleached flour
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon

In a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer, beat butter, 1½ cups sugar, eggs and vanilla until well mixed. In another bowl, whisk together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt.

Shape dough by rounded teaspoonfuls into balls. Combine cinnamon and remaining sugar. Roll balls in cinnamon-sugar mixture and place them 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.

Bake in a preheated 400°F oven 8 to 10 minutes, or until very slightly golden and set. Remove from baking sheets and let cool on wire racks. Makes about 5 dozen cookies

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Biscotti by Another Name

LeanneAbout 20 years ago, I received my highly anticipated December edition of Food and Wine magazine, looked through it and decided to make these cookies, although I had no idea what “cantuccini” was. It turns out that they are basically biscotti, but what a colorful and perfectly scrumptious biscotti they are! Back then, I had a difficult time locating raw pistachios, even in Seattle where I lived at the time. These nuts are essential in creating the vivid red and green that makes the cookies so incredibly beautiful. Luckily, I can now find them at Bayview and Ralph’s Thriftway in the bulk department, here in Olympia. A warning however–shelled pistachios are quite expensive. I’ll venture to say though, that these treats are worth every penny. They are also very simple to make if you have a food processor and make great gifts packaged up in a cellophane bag. Have yourself a merry Christmas and happy baking!

Cranberry-Pistachio Christmas Cantuccini

1¾ cup unbleached flour
1 cup + 1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup dried cranberries
4 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ cups shelled, unroasted pistachios
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter a large heavy baking sheet.

In food processor, combine the flour with 1 cup of the sugar, the baking powder and salt. Process for a few seconds to blend. Add the dried cranberries and process until coarsely chopped. Add the butter and vanilla. Pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

Add the pistachios and eggs and pulse 10 times to blend. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and pulse
5 times, just until the dough is evenly moistened.

On lightly floured work surface, divided the dough into 4 equal pieces. Roll each piece into an 8-inch log. Transfer the logs to the prepared baking sheet, leaving 2 inches between each. With your hands, flatten the logs to a width of 2-inches and sprinkle with the remaining 1 teaspoon of sugar. Bake for 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Using a large metal spatula, transfer the logs to a rack to firm up slightly, 15 to 20 minutes.

Transfer the logs to a work surface. Using a sharp knife and a quick single motion, slice each log on the diagonal into ½ inch slices. Return the biscotti to the baking sheet, cut sides down, and bake just until the first hint of golden brown appears, about 7 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let cool completely.
Makes about 4 dozen

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She’s Leaving Home…

LeanneLast Sunday we took our daughter Catherine up to Western Washington University in Bellingham and left her there. Always a little force of nature, I am already missing her commanding presence in our home. Much to my oldest daughter’s disdain (she lived at home while she attended Evergreen), I’ve already sent my middle child a care package, because I’ve always wanted to do that. In that package I included some homemade peanut butter cookies because she’s always been fond of peanut butter. The recipe I’ve been using for years is from the Food Writer’s Favorite Cookies book and it was sent in by Doris Reynolds, food columnist for the Naples Daily News in Florida back in 1990. The unassuming collection has at least 3 of my favorite cookie recipes ever and it’s been well used. This flavorful cookie is special because it has more peanut butter in it compared to many I’ve seen. Catherine should receive her care package today and so I thought it fitting to share this treat with you. She’s left home, but certainly never my heart!

Peanut Butter Cookies

½ cup butter
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup chunky peanut butter
¾ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs, 1 tablespoon milk
1 cup flour
¼ teaspoon baking soda

In a large bowl with an electric mixer (or a standing mixer), beat butter, salt and peanut butter until well blended. Add sugars, eggs and milk and mix well.

Whisk flour and baking soda in a separate bowl. Gradually stir in flour mixture into peanut butter mixture. Refrigerate dough for one half hour. With your hands, roll the dough into small balls. Place balls on ungreased baking sheets. Flatten balls with the tines of a fork, making a criss-cross pattern.

Bake in a preheated 325°F oven for 15 minutes or until done. Transfer to wire racks to cool. Makes about 4 dozen

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A Lovely Treat

LeanneI took my first-ever trip to England, Scotland and Ireland (actually my first-ever trip off this continent!) this past April and I was very pleased with everything about the trip, including the food.  Gone are the days when people felt compelled to make fun of British Isles cuisine.  In London, our first stop, we had a wonderful breakfast at Bill’s.  Bill was a green grocer on High Street until a flood forced him to start over with a café in 2001. It was homey, seasonal sort of place that ended up being far more successful than anyone anticipated so he opened up several more cafes. From where we sat in the café eating our delicious English breakfasts, I glanced around at the shelves of all the “Bill’s” products available and while my husband paid the bill, I had to peruse the Bill’s Cookbook, “Cook, Eat, Smile.”  Sure enough, thoroughly charmed, I purchased it and it has become part of my collection. I recently made Bill’s Blondies (twice) and want to share them with you here, all converted to measurements we Americans understand. Some of the amounts may have gotten mixed up in the translation but I can attest to the fact that they still turned out great!  Beware–they are very rich and should be cut into small squares and don’t expect them to last long.

 

Bill’s Blondies

1 cup salted butter
2 cups good quality white chocolate,* chopped in small pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla
Zest of one lemon
2 large eggs, beaten
1 cup sugar
1¼ cup unbleached flour
1 cup dried sour cherries
½ cup chopped dried apricots
6 ginger biscuits,** broken into small pieces

Preheat the oven to 340°F.  Line a 9×13-inch baking pan with parchment paper.

Melt the butter in a pan over low heat or in the microwave, then add white chocolate to heat gently, stirring occasionally, until melted together. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract and lemon zest and leave to cool slightly.

Put the eggs and sugar in a large bowl and whisk until light colored.  Gently fold in flour and when that is nicely mixed in, fold in cherries, apricots and ginger snaps.  Finally, slowly add the chocolate mixture and combine everything well.

Pour into line dish and bake for 40 minutes or until firm and pale on top.  Cut into squares while still warm, but leave in pan until completely cool before removing.

 

*  I use Callebaut, available at Bayview and Ralph’s
** I use Nabisco Ginger Snaps

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Say “Cheescake!”

LeanneI’ve always thought that cheesecake was a pretty handy dessert. You can make it a few days in advance (in fact, it’s better that way!), it usually serves a lot of people and almost everyone loves it. Except me. Cheesecake usually just doesn’t do it for me. It’s not like I hate it—it’s just not a favorite. Except this recipe. I taught a cheese class years ago and this lovely dessert was one of my recipes. It called for Stilton, which I thought was rather daring, and I used one of the amazing fruit and Stilton cheeses that are out there. The result was stunning. Don’t be afraid of the Stilton, because it simply adds complexity, not weirdness to the finished product. The rhubarb compote makes it seasonal and is absolutely delicious!

Stilton Cheesecake with Rhubarb Compote

Shortbread Crust
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and softened

Filling
½ pound (1 cup) fruit Stilton, rind discarded and cheese crumbled
Three 8 ounce packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
⅓ cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
One 8 ounce container sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla

Rhubarb Compote
½ cup Port
½ cup sugar
24 pink peppercorns, coarsely crushed (optional)
2 pounds (about 6 cups) rhubarb, trimmed and cut into ½-inch pieces

Make Shortbread Crust: Preheat oven to 350°F.

Blend together flour and sugar with an electric mixer. Add butter and blend until mixture resembles coarse meal (it will not form a dough). Transfer to a buttered springform pan and press evenly onto bottom. Bake in middle of oven until pale golden, about 30 minutes, then cool in pan on a rack.

Reduce temperature to 300°F.

Make Filling: Beat together crumbled Stilton, cream cheese and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer on low speed. Beat in flour and add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in sour cream and vanilla, then pour filling over cooled crust in pan.

Bake cheesecake in middle of oven until puffed and pale golden around edge, about 70 minutes. Transfer cake in pan to rack and run a knife around edge of pan to loosen. Cool completely, about 2 hours. Chill, covered, until cold, at least 4 hours. Remove side of pan and transfer cake to a plate.

Make Rhubarb Compote while cake in cooling: Boil Port, ½ cup sugar and peppercorns (if using) in a 12-inch nonstick skillet, stirring until sugar is dissolved, until reduced to about ½ cup, 2 to 3 minutes. Add rhubarb and gently stir to coat. Simmer rhubarb, stirring gently once after 5 minutes, until just tender but not falling apart, about 10 minutes, and transfer to a bowl. Chill compote, covered, until cold, at least 4 hours. Can be made up to 2 days before serving. Makes 16 servings

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Hot Cocoa and Marshmallows

LeanneI’ve been giving away a homemade peppermint cocoa mix to my older nieces and nephews for years and I change it up every time, searching for the perfect combination.  I have finally found it this year and I’m sharing it with you because I know you might need a last minute gift idea. I attach a tag or label to let people know how to use it and I’ve included those simple directions.  If you’re not giving it away as gifts, keep it for yourself!  I’ve also included my homemade marshmallow recipe, which is dead simple if you have a standing mixer and a candy thermometer—I promise.  And, people are VERY impressed when you give homemade marshmallows, almost as if you were a rocket scientist.  Have a very merry Christmas and continue to have fun cooking!

Leanne’s Peppermint Cocoa Mix

7 cups Nestle chocolate milk mix
2 ½ cups peppermint-flavored (seasonal) dry creamer
3 cups dry milk
½ teaspoon cinnamon
⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup crushed peppermint candy

Combine all ingredients in a very big bowl and use whisk to combine.  Use ½ cup measuring scoop to pour into cellophane bags.  Directions for cocoa: “Spoon 3 tablespoons into 8 ounces steaming water and stir. Enjoy!”

Homemade Marshmallows

2½ tablespoons unflavored gelatin
1½ cups granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting

Combine gelatin and ½ cup cold water in an electric mixer with whisk attachment. Let stand 30 minutes.
Combine granulated sugar, corn syrup, salt and ½ cup water in a small heavy saucepan. Place over low heat and stir until sugar has dissolved. Wash down sides of pan with a wet pastry brush to dissolve sugar crystals.

Clip on a candy thermometer, raise heat to high. Cook syrup without stirring until it reaches the firm-ball stage (244 degrees). Immediately remove pan from heat.

cocoaWith mixer on low speed, slowly and carefully pour syrup into the softened gelatin. Increase speed to high, beat until mixture is very thick and white and has almost tripled in volume, about 10 minutes. Add vanilla; beat to incorporate.

Generously dust and 8×12-inch glass baking pan with confectioner’s sugar. Pour marshmallow mixture into pan. Dust top with confectioner’s sugar. Let stand overnight, uncovered to dry out. Turn out onto a board and cut marshmallows with a dry, clean knife into 1½ –inch squares and dust with more sugar so they don’t stick together.

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Scarborough Fair Shortbread

LeanneNow that it’s officially Christmas time, visions of cookies and candy are dancing in my head. I have my standards that I make every Christmas such as Cranberry-Pistachio Biscotti, Rocky Road Fudge with Homemade Marshmallows, and Caramels, but I also like to add in several cookies just for fun. My mother-in-law is crazy about shortbread so I am always on the look-out for good recipes. I adapted a reliable standard recipe to incorporate parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme (yes, after the famous song) and the result is an irresistibly sweet-savory cookie. If you know a shortbread lover, it makes a fine gift.

1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup plus ½ tablespoon superfine granulated sugar
⅛ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons  fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
½ teaspoon fresh sage, finely chopped
½ teaspoon rosemary, finely chopped
½ teaspoon thyme, finely chopped
1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, softened

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 375°F.

Stir together flours, ¼ cup sugar, salt, and chopped herbs in a bowl, then add butter and stir with a fork until mixture forms a dough. Divide dough in half and pat each half into a 6-inch round on an ungreased baking sheet. Crimp edges of rounds and cut each into 8 wedges with a sharp knife. Sprinkle with remaining ½ tablespoon sugar.

Bake until golden, about 15 minutes. Re-cut wedges while shortbread is hot, then cool completely on sheet on a rack. Makes 16 cookies

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Fall Cravings

LeanneRhubarb has a reputation for being a spring vegetable but anyone who has a rhubarb plant in their garden will attest to the fact that big plants just keep giving throughout fall.  I’m still on the subject of fall desserts and crisps are far easier to make than pie.  I had a craving for a crisp and this wonderful little recipe can be made in the spring with strawberries or the fall with sweet apples.  The recipe is originally off the Quaker Oats box and it is truly a classic, with a topping that stands up to the fruit and doesn’t get soggy.  You could serve this with whipped cream but I prefer it with a really good ice cream like Tillamook Old Fashioned Vanilla or Haagen Dazs Vanilla.  And, while it may be delicious with strawberries, I always include crisps as part of the fall dessert repertoire, so I’m enjoying it now!

 

Rhubarb Crisp

¾ cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 cups sliced fresh rhubarb or frozen rhubarb, thawed
2 cups sliced peeled Gala apples or sliced strawberries
1 cup old-fashioned oats
½ cup packed brown sugar
½ cup butter, melted
⅓ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Vanilla ice cream, optional

In a large bowl, combine sugar and cornstarch. Add rhubarb and apples or strawberries; toss to coat. Spoon into an 8-in. square baking dish.

In a small bowl, combine the oats, brown sugar, butter, flour and cinnamon until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle over fruit. Bake at 350°F for 45 minutes or until bubbly and fruit is tender. Serve warm with ice cream if desired. Yield: 8 servings

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