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Posts Tagged ‘sweets’

This past week, even though it’s still rather warm here in Southern California, I’ve definitely noticed the changes that mark the movement of Summer into Autumn.  They’re very subtle, and someone who hasn’t lived here for most of their lives wouldn’t necessarily notice–how the morning air is just a few degrees cooler, the afternoon light tilts just slightly casting a warm glow across the skies, even though it’s still 85 degrees outside.  With the seasonal nestiness kicking in, my thoughts have been moving to some of my favorite things to make–roasts, braises, and the like.  Tonight, I made some last minute plans to have friends over for dinner, so I wanted some uncomplicated dishes that I knew I could put together easily–a Roast Chicken with root vegetables cooked in the pan; a salad… but what about dessert?

Yes, even with living a primal lifestyle, dessert can and does come into the equation.  The occasional sweet thing is not verboten, and with a little tweak here and there, you can make something spectacular.  Here at El Rancho, I had a bag of pears sitting on my counter that needed some attention, and I KNEW what I had to make.

Taking the firmest of the pears, they got the peeling and coring of their lives.

A vanilla bean was split down the middle and scraped of its insides (wow, that sounds awfully violent, doesn’t it?) and blended with some melted butter and local Orange Blossom Honey.  After the pears took a little bath in this magical syrup, they were nestled in one of my favorite roasting dishes and put in the oven for an hour.

What came out:

And I’m not joking when I tell you these smelled amazing when they came out of the oven.  The pears with the honey, vanilla and a splash of lemon just works.   What’s fantastic is that the juices mix with the syrup and caramelize into this sauce you could pretty much wear as a perfume.  It’s so simple, but one of these guys with a spoonful of whipped crème fraiche and a handful of fresh raspberries… okay, words don’t do it justice.

I admit:  not the greatest picture.  Not gonna apologize for it, either–that pear was warm, the crème fraiche was melting, and I needed to PUT IT IN MY MOUTH.

Honey-Vanilla Roasted Pears

  • 4 firm pears, peeled, cut in half and cored
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup butter, plus extra for pan
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  1. Preheat oven to 375°.
  2. Butter roasting dish and arrange pears cut side up
  3. Split vanilla bean and scrape seeds.
  4. Add seeds to a small saucepan with the honey, butter, lemon juice and melt on low heat until butter has melted and created a syrup.
  5. Tuck the remaining vanilla bean with the pears, pour syrup over the pears, making sure some of the syrup is in the core of each pear.
  6. Roast for about 30 minutes, then turn over and roast another 20-30 minutes until the pears are fork-tender.
  7. Turn the pears cut side up again, and brush juices over the tops.
  8. If you’d like a little extra browning like I did, turn broiler on low and broil the tops for 3-5 minutes.
  9. Serve warm with whipped crème fraiche or if you’re feeling decadent, some great vanilla ice cream.

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Every year, my mom and I are on a mission to have me make tons of homemade jams and treats to give out for the holidays.  She’s the financial backer while I do all the hard labor in the kitchen–I don’t mind.

Really, I don’t.  Don’t look at me like that!

In the last conversation I had with her a few days ago, I told her I was switching gears from all the late summer fruits to autumn flavors such as Brandied Apple Butter.  She asked, why not make a cranberry relish? And wouldn’t you know, I thought that was brilliant.   I have a deep love of cranberries that goes all the way down to the shameful admission that I wouldn’t even turn down the canned jellied cranberry sauce.  However, it seems that here at El Rancho Destructo, I am the only one who feels this way, so I usually make my cranberry sauce the way I like it:   Jezebel Sauce (cranberries with horseradish and dijon stirred in).  I decided I should make a batch of something cranberry, so with a few bags in hand, I pulled out things that I knew would be delicious and came up with something that even Choo thinks it could turn him to the Dark Side of these tart little berries.  Granny Smith apples, oranges, red wine and dried cranberries knock this sauce out of the park–and I really think the dried cranberries are what make this special, by bringing up the intensity of the cranberry flavor with very little of the tartness associated with the fresh ones.

I can’t tell you how easy this one is, too–throw everything into the pot, simmer it for a while, and DONE.  How easy is that?

Cranberry & Apple Relish

  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1- 12 ounce bag fresh cranberries
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 teaspoon fresh orange zest, finely grated
  • 2 tart apples such as Granny Smith or Pippin, peeled, cored & chopped
  1. Add all ingredients into a large saucepan and on medium heat, bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally.
  2. Simmer until fresh cranberries have burst and apples are tender, but have not lost their shape.
  3. Pour into bowl, cover and chill.

*Note:  if canning this sauce, add 1 tablespoon lemon juice.

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Back in 1984, Ronald Reagan passed what may have been the most important piece of legislation during his term:  designating July as National Ice Cream Month, and that the third Sunday in July to be observed as National Ice Cream Day,  with ‘appropriate ceremonies and activities’ to celebrate these events.

Well.  If the POTUS of my high school days declared it, I believe it.  Let’s celebrate some ice cream!

When the weather started to heat up, it was time to pull out my ice cream maker, but alas, my trusty old Krups maker, after 8 years of noble service, had finally developed a crack in its casing.  It was time for a new ice cream maker, and found that Williams-Sonoma is having a sale on the Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker with the bonus of an extra freezer bowl, which only meant one thing:  getting to make double the amount of ice cream!  The maker arrived on Friday, and after giving the bowls a chance to freeze for 24 hours, I was ready to crank out some new flavors of ice cream.

Also, one important lesson learned today:  photographing ice cream before it gets all melty is quite the challenge, but a delicious (someone’s gotta eat it) one.

First up:  Raspberry Cheesecake Ice Cream

Loosely based off the Cheesecake Ice Cream recipe that came with the ice cream maker, I knew it needed some love in the guise of a raspberry swirl.   The cheesecake base is egg-free and no-cook, which makes this easy for anyone who is uncomfortable with the making of anglaises.  The combination of cream cheese, mascarpone, and sour cream add the richness; the raspberry swirl is easily made with frozen raspberries and a bit of Chambord to be added to the maker in the last few seconds of churning to create a ribbon of raspberry flavor buried in a creamy cheesecake ice cream.

Raspberry Cheesecake Ice Cream

  • 1 8-ounce block of cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 12-ounce bag frozen raspberries
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Chambord or any raspberry-flavored liqueur
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  1. In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat cream cheese, mascarpone, and sugar until smooth and creamy.
  2. Beat in half & half, vanilla and sour cream until combined and pour into a covered container.  Refrigerate until cold, about 1 hour.
  3. While the ice cream base chills, take 2 cups of frozen raspberries and add into a medium saucepan, reserving the remaining frozen raspberries (appx. 1/2 cup).
  4. Add sugar and Chambord to raspberries and on medium heat, bring to a full simmer.
  5. In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and cold water, then pour into raspberry sauce and stir until incorporated and sauce returns to a full simmer.
  6. Strain sauce through a fine mesh sieve to remove seeds.  Fold in remaining frozen raspberries.  Cover and refrigerate.
  7. When the ice cream base is cold, freeze as per ice cream maker’s instructions.
  8. Once the ice cream is ready to take out of the maker, pour in the raspberry sauce and churn just long enough to create a swirl through the ice cream.  Ice cream will be of a soft-serve consistency;  pack into lidded container and freeze for 2-4 hours until firm before serving.

Next up:  Mexican Chocolate Ice Cream

Man-oh-man, this just might be one of the best ice creams I’ve ever made.  It’s rich and deeply chocolate, not too sweet, with the hints of cinnamon, molasses from piloncillo sugar, and a touch of heat from cayenne pepper that makes it so uniquely Mexican chocolate.  This ice cream base gets its intense chocolate flavor from adding both cocoa powder and dark chocolate and the resulting base is more custard-like as opposed to a thinner anglaise.

A note about piloncillo sugar:  it’s a raw Mexican sugar, packed into cones;  you should be able to find it in the ethnic foods aisle of your market.  If you have difficulty in finding it, brown sugar is a perfectly acceptable substitute.

Mexican Chocolate Ice Cream

  • 3 cups half & half
  • 1 cone of piloncillo sugar (or 3/4 cup brown sugar)
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 ounces dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  1. In a saucepan, heat half & half, cinnamon sticks and piloncillo to a hard simmer, turning the heat off before the cream begins to boil.
  2. Turn off heat, and let steep for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar.
  3. Whisk cocoa powder into the cream and bring back to a simmer.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk egg yolks, then add about 1/2 cup of the hot cream to the yolks, and whisk until smooth.  Add another 1/2 cup of cream to the yolk mixture, whisk, then pour back into saucepan, and whisk until mixture returns to a simmer and thickens.  Remove from heat.
  5. Add in vanilla extract, chocolate, and cayenne pepper, and stir until chocolate has melted.
  6. Pour into lidded container and chill until cold, about 2 hours.
  7. Freeze as per ice cream maker’s instructions; pour into container and freeze until firm.

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The strawberries are out in full force at the farmer’s markets right now; the bounty coming in from Ventura and Oxnard brings that heady, sweet perfume of fresh berries that wanders along the stalls, enticing you to stop and get a sample of one of those juicy little sugarbombs.  I picked up a 3-pack of some gorgeous, small, deep-red berries that packed a real punch of flavor for their size.

Now, when I have plans for a strawberry dessert, I usually either go with a pie or strawberry shortcake, but I was ready for something new.  I remembered a cake I had made years ago, with layers of meringue, strawberries and whipped cream, and I knew that’s what I wanted to make.

A dacquoise is a type of cake made with layers of nut meringue;  often, it is filled with ganache, mousse, and/or buttercream–Marjolaine is the perfect example of a dacquoise.  I decided to go with a deconstructed version, using freshly made lemon curd as a bright and tart replacement for ganache, sliced strawberries, lightly sweetened whipped cream, and crunchy-chewy almond meringues.

After baking, let the meringue layers cool completely.   This is a dessert, once assembled, that should be served within an hour or two, as the meringue softens after being in contact with the fillings.  However, the meringues can be made the night before, and left to cool in the oven overnight.  The lemon curd can also be made well in advance and stored in an airtight container.

Sure, it’s a little messy, but for this dessert, the point of it is being simple and casual–capturing the essence of early summer, like strawberries in season at the market, sitting outside drinking lemonade, and having a fun dinner with friends out on the patio.

Strawberry & Lemon Dacquoise

Meringue Layers

  • 1 1/4 cups whole almonds
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 6 large egg whites
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 275°.  Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper.  Trace one 8″ diameter circle on to each sheet and turn paper over.
  2. Pulse almonds in food processor with cornstarch and 2 tablespoons sugar until finely ground.
  3. Beat egg whites at medium speed with an electric mixer until foamy, and add cream of tartar and a pinch of salt, then gradually beat in remaining sugar and vanilla.  Increase speed to high and beat until the egg whites are glossy and hold stiff peaks.
  4. Fold ground almonds gently into meringue.  Pipe or spread meringue evenly into the traced circles on parchment.
  5. Bake for approximately 1 hour until firm and golden.   Slide meringues onto a cooling rack while still on parchment.  When ready to assemble meringues, gently peel parchment off.

Lemon Curd (from marthastewart.com)

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest, plus 2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 8 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ pieces
  1. In a medium saucepan, whisk together sugar, zest and egg yolks then whisk in lemon juice and salt.
  2. Add butter and place pan over medium-high heat.  Cook, whisking constantly until butter has melted, mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, and small bubble form around the edge of the pan, about 5 minutes (do not boil).
  3. Remove pan from heat while continuing to whisk.  Pour curd while still hot through a fine mesh sieve into a glass bowl.  Press plastic wrap against the surface of curd and refrigerate until cool.

Note:  this recipe makes approximately 2 cups; I found this to be pretty generous for the recipe, and had about 1/2 cup leftover.  Then again, I really don’t see a problem with having some extra lemon curd hanging around the house.

Filling and Assembly

  • 4 cups sliced fresh strawberries, plus 10-12 whole strawberries for decoration
  • 2 cups cold whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  1. Whip cream with sugar and vanilla extract until it holds a soft peak.
  2. Place first meringue on a plate and spread about a 3/4 cup of lemon curd across the surface of meringue.
  3. Place half of the sliced strawberries on top of lemon curd.
  4. Spoon 1/3 of whipped cream on top of strawberries, and spread to cover.
  5. Place 2nd meringue layer atop whipped cream and repeat with lemon curd, berries, and 1/3 of the whipped cream.
  6. Top with final layer of meringue, spread remaining whipped cream on top, and decorate with whole berries.
  7. Best served within 2 hours of assembly.

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Sometimes, I wonder who on the Peach Board got the ear of the nation when it came to their fruit.  Let’s face it, Americans love peaches, and even the word peach is a part of our lexicon;  we’ll call someone a peach when we think they’re a nice, sweet person.  But… what about the other stone fruits?  Plums do get some recognition, but it seems like nectarines and apricots are a bit like the red-headed stepchildren of the stone fruit world.

The funny thing is, nectarines are essentially peaches, as they’re of the same species; they’re peaches that have a recessive gene that creates the nectarine’s smooth skin as opposed to the notable fuzzy skin of the peach.

You know what that means, right?  Anything you could make out of peaches can be made of nectarines.

Stone fruits are perfect for cobblers.  Juicy summer fruit topped with a buttermilk biscuit dough and baked?  Why, yes, please.  I love the addition of blueberries–they work so nicely with nectarines and peaches, and they’re so good for you.

Besides, it’s healthy because it’s fruit, right?  There’s something after a summer dinner of grilled meats that a bowlful of warm fruit, buttery biscuit and a ginormous scoop of ice cream that is just So. Right.

Nectarine Blueberry Cobbler

  • 5 cups fresh nectarines, sliced
  • 3 cups fresh blueberries (frozen can be used in a pinch, I promise, I won’t tell)
  • 3/4 to 1 cup sugar (check the sweetness of your fruit)
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 2 Tablespoons Tapioca*
  • 2 cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • appx. 3/4 cup buttermilk
  1. Preheat oven to 400°.
  2. In a large bowl, toss nectarines, blueberries, sugar, lemon juice and tapioca and set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt together.
  4. Add butter to dry mixture, and cut with a pastry blender (or pulse in a food processor) until butter pieces are about pea-sized or smaller.
  5. Pour in buttermilk and stir until liquid is absorbed–don’t overwork–dough should be lumpy and on the wet side, like a drop biscuit.
  6. Butter a 9 x 13 pan and add fruit; spoon biscuit dough on top of fruit, spreading slightly to even out.
  7. Bake for about 30 minutes–top should be well-browned and the fruit will be bubbling through the cracks in the topping.
  8. Let cool about 15 minutes before serving with ice cream or whipped cream.

*Dry tapioca can be found where you would find pudding mixes at your local market.

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This Saturday was The 1st 8th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational, and Choo and I came ready to eat, grill, and hopefully win.  The morning was my kind of morning, with a nice overcast sky that would help keep the day somewhat cool once the marine layer burned off. We arrived at 9 AM to sign up with the other competitors:

This year, there were categories for professionals and amateurs;  even though it’s been about six years since I’ve cooked professionally, I decided to play fair when the application asked if I had ever worked as a chef or cook.   This did, however, allow for more awards, so more people had chances to win, which I consider a good thing.  Then again, it did put me in the pool with The Big Boys, which meant I needed to bring my A-game.

Since we arrived well before the Invitational was open to the public, Choo and I took a little time to explore the site.

The competitor’s area, just before the storm:

Some of L.A.’s popular food trucks arrived to sell their versions of grilled cheese and other fabulous snacks:

Even though I didn’t get a picture of their truck, I hit the Sweets Truck to get a caffeine fix for the two of us, along with a Red Velvet and a Carrot Cake Whoopie Pie (I sampled both, and chose the Carrot Cake, which was fantastic)–perfect for a mid-morning sugar rush while we settled in to a nice spot under a tree.  We camped out until our heat rolled around at 2:55, getting a chance to hit all the free samples supplied by the fantastic people of Tillamook and meeting some of our fellow competitors.

 

Some of my friends remember my run-in with The Chicken.  He was back. 

And he brought a friend.

Oh, great.  A double batch of nightmares!

Finally, it was grilling time.

Setting up my station:

Now, let’s talk about my sandwich.  I called it Peary’s Got The Blues, and entered it into the Honey Pot (the dessert category).   The PGTB had a homemade Vanilla Pound Cake, Mascarpone & Cambozola cheeses, homemade Pear-Port Butter, homemade Dulce de Leche, and Toasted Hazelnuts.  It took some work to create the perfect sandwich–in theory, I knew all the flavors would make a perfect mesh, but my problem was when I grilled the sandwich, by the time it was browned, the cheeses broke and when I sliced it, everything would squish out into a puddle.  I finally came by a solution (which I’m not going to share, but it’s what I spent 2 years and $32K for culinary school for) and it worked.   I mean, how could pound cake fried in butter not be awesome?

No, we didn’t win, sadly.  I gave it my best shot, and we had a good time, which is really what it’s about, right? 

I do have one thing I really need to get off my chest, because the action of one person really burned my britches.  See,  there was a group of people from the general public who signed up to become judges; they were responsible for getting samples and checking off on the ballots they received.  Most everyone we encountered was polite and curious about our sandwich, and we received a great amount of positive feedback.  Unfortunately, there was one guy who collected samples, ate his share, then dumped his stack of plates with the ballots untouched at the corner of my station.  This was so wrong on so many levels, since, first of all, dumping a stack of used plates right next to where I’m preparing food is disgusting.  Then, for not just myself, but speaking for the other competitors who lost a ballot due to this jerk’s actions lost a vote, when we compete, we’re putting our time, our energy and our money into being a part of this competition.  To not vote for our entries is theft, plain and simple. 

So, Mr. “Judge,” you’ve won this very special award:

Go on, hang it on your wall.  You earned it. 

Other than that hiccup, it was a great day, and I was thrilled to see Jodie & Sparky, who we hung out with before the competition, win first prize in the Amateur Kama Sutra category (a mini-ciabatta stuffed with a bbq-ish chicken, bacon, and some lovely super-melty cheese that really deserved the win). 

Now it’s time for me to start plotting for next year’s event.  I’m already thinking the keyword there just might be pralines.

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So, let me tell you what’s happening on Saturday:  The 1st 8th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational will be going on near Downtown Los Angeles, and I’ll be competing.  I was there last year (in fact, here’s a picture of Choo while I was grilling my sandwiches), and this year, I’m back and In It To Win It.  Or, something like that–it’s more about the fun and the cheese, especially since the prizes pretty much amount to plastic trophies and bragging rights. 

Now, I’m not going to tell you what my entry is, but I will tell you that I’m competing in the Honey Pot (the dessert category), and I’m going to share what one of the components of my sandwich will be:  Dulce de Leche. 

Caramel?  With cheese?  Oh, trust me, it works, I promise.  I will reveal all, along with any interesting cheese stories, come next week. 

Anyway, back to the Dulce de Leche. 

I love this stuff.  LOVE.  And if you have milk, sugar, a vanilla bean, a little baking soda and above all, patience, you can have your own, too.  I used Alton Brown’s recipe, even though I made plenty of it during my Border Grill days–it’s essentially the same thing except Alton uses a vanilla bean. 

If anything, do it to make your house smell AWESOME.  No candle could compare to the lovely caramel scent that comes from this. 

Dulce de Leche

  • 1 quart whole milk
  • 12 ounces sugar, approximately 1 1/2 cups
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Directions

Combine the milk, sugar, vanilla bean and seeds in a large, 4-quart saucepan and place over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the baking soda and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to low and cook uncovered at a bare simmer. Stir occasionally, but do not re-incorporate the foam that appears on the top of the mixture. Continue to cook for 1 hour. Remove the vanilla bean after 1 hour and continue to cook until the mixture is a dark caramel color and has reduced to about 1 cup, approximately 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer. Store in the refrigerator in a sealed container for up to a month.

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Why, helloooo ladies.

Where are you going on this fine day?

OH.  I see.

I’ll be seeing you tomorrow with a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream. 

Fresh Strawberry Pie

Crust

  • 1 box Nilla Wafers
  • 1 stick melted butter
  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. In a food processor, pulse Nilla Wafers to a coarse crumb texture.
  3. Mix wafer crumbs with melted butter in a medium-sized bowl. 
  4. Press crumbs into a deep-dish 9″ pie dish.
  5. Bake for 8-10 minutes until set and toasty.  Cool completely before filling.

Glaze

  • 3 cups of fresh strawberry puree
  • 6 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  1. In a blender or food processor, blend pureed strawberries, cornstarch, lemon juice and sugar until sugar is dissolved.
  2. Pour puree into saucepan, and simmer on medium heat, stirring constantly.  Bring to a full simmer (it will bubble like lava), remembering to continue to stir.
  3. Once thickened, pour into a bowl and let cool to room temperature.

Filling and Assembly

  • 1 Nilla Wafer Crust
  • 1 batch Strawberry Glaze
  • 8 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and halved
  1. Add fresh strawberries to the cooked glaze and gently toss to coat completely.
  2. Fill pie crust with glazed strawberries.
  3. Refrigerate for a minimum of 6 hours.

(Yeah, this one was a quickie.  It’s a busy evening, but I just had to share!)

Edited to add:  after leaving it to set overnight, it didn’t set as well as I’d like.  I need to work on the glaze–I think reducing the puree by a 1/2 cup will do it.  I’ll be making it again for Easter, so I’ll report on my findings.

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I’ve got a drafty house with a high cathedral ceiling; when the nights are chilly, it sometimes takes more than just our little heater to get the living room to a livable temperature.  On evenings like that, one of which happened to be last night, I start thinking of a good reason to turn on the oven.  What better reason to whip up a batch of oatmeal cookies?  Not just any oatmeal cookies, but spicy, chewy, stuffed-full-of-fruit that I could pretend that would be a perfectly healthy breakfast kind of cookie (it’s got oatmeal!  And fruit!  Fruit is healthy, right?) I could chow down on with a big steaming cup of coffee the next morning. 

I hadn’t made oatmeal cookies in a long time, and I believe it was based on that the last time I made them, they were kind of uninteresting and bland.  I played around with a pretty standard recipe, adjusting the sugars to have more brown sugar, adding a blend of spices rather than just cinnamon, and adding two-and-a-half times the dried fruit than the original cookie recipe.   I also bumped up the salt–I’ve mentioned before my love of the sweet-and-salty combination, and I added more than some people would like.  With the increased brown sugar, it gives the cookie a flavor reminiscent of salted caramel, which I love, but I know is something of an acquired taste to others.  Of course, you don’t need to add the same amount of salt.

Over the years, I’ve learned some tricks to produce not only delicious, but attractive, bakery-style cookies made from drop cookie dough.  I’m feeling generous (and a little over-sugared), so I’ll share with you today: 

  • Everyone knows to let the butter get to room temperature, but also let the eggs come up to room temperature, too. 
  • When creaming the butter and sugars, beat them for a few minutes until light and fluffy.  This will help to beat in some air into the batter which will help the cookies rise.
  • Give it a rest!  The dough, that is–once all the ingredients are all incorporated, chill the dough for at least an hour.  This gives the flour a chance to absorb the moisture from the wet ingredients, and cold dough going into a hot oven will help create that ideal cookie texture–crunchy along the edges, chewy in the middle.
  • Invest in an ice cream scoop.  Scooping the dough into small balls will help create cookies of the same size and shape-it’s how bakeries are able to create their cookies looking so nice. 
  • In the vein of the last two tips, if all you want is just a few cookies out of a batch, drop cookie dough is easily frozen for future use.  On a sheet pan, line up scoops of dough and place the pan in the freezer until dough is solid–about 4 hours.  Fill up a Ziploc bag and stash those proto-cookies in the freezer.  Next time you have guests, all that needs to be done is preheat the oven and bake off just the amount needed.  Guests will think you’re the next Martha.  Or something like that. 

My precious stash of oatmeal cookie dough. 

Fruit-Loaded Oatmeal Cookies

1 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 1/2 cups brown sugar

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 heaping teaspoon coarse salt such as kosher salt (if you’re not into the extra salt, use a level teaspoon)

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cardamom

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1/4 teaspoon clove

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

2 1/2 cups dried fruit (what makes this cookie special is using a mixture of fruit–I used cranberries, raisins, apricots and figs–use what you like, but use at least 3 different fruits)

  1. In an electric mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugars together on medium speed until pale and fluffy.  Scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula.
  2. Add eggs and vanilla, beat until fully incorporated.
  3. Sift flour, baking soda, salt, and spices, and add to mixer; beat until incorporated.
  4. Slowly add oats and fruits and mix until just blended.
  5. Scoop dough onto parchment-lined sheet pans, leaving 2″ between cookies.  Cover loosely with plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  6. Preheat oven to 350° while dough chills.
  7. When dough is set, place pans into preheated oven and bake for 14-16 minutes. 
  8. Cookies are done when the bottoms are golden brown, but the centers will still be a little soft.  Cool on sheet pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool. 

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You know, I have a surfeit of bacon fat in my fridge–I keep it every time we make bacon for breakfast, and with the exception of using a spoonful now and again when I sauté vegetables, I don’t really use it.  I wanted an interesting way to get rid of it as Lent is on its way and since I’ll be going meatless for 40 days, it wouldn’t be a very good idea to have it hanging around until April. 

I don’t know exactly what led me to making shortbread, but I’m glad I did it.  My favorite recipe for shortbread happens to come from Nancy Silverton’s Pastries from the La Brea Bakery–I did a little tweak in that I replaced half of the butter with some of that bacon fat to add that smoky-savory flavoring to the cookies.  Bacon fat has a tendency to be softer than butter, so the dough was a bit soft to work with, but not so much that it wasn’t a real issue.  With a little glaze made of powdered sugar, maple syrup and a bit of milk, and a generous sprinkling of finely chopped candied bacon, I ended up with this:

I think the next time I do this cookie, I may add a bit of chopped cooked bacon to the dough and perhaps add a bit of maple extract to the glaze to punch up the maple flavor in the glaze–it’s just a thin bit of glaze so it’s really only a hint of maple here.   As for the candied bacon, I think I would bake them for another minute or two in the oven, as the bits are still a bit chewy, and I’d rather have the crunch–but they’re otherwise perfect taste-wise.  The texture is fantastic with the right amount of crumble like a good shortbread.  I used a 1″ round cutter for a wee little button of a cookie; the picture I had in my mind from the start was to have a little delicate bite-sized rounds, and I don’t think I could do them any other way.  But, I could see someone else going the thicker bar or wedge route–those, in my opinion, would definitely require the addition of chopped bacon in the dough. 

Bacon Maple Shortbread

Shortbread

1/2 cup cold bacon fat

1 stick cold butter, cut into cubes

1/4 cup powdered sugar

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

  1. With an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat bacon fat, butter, and sugars together on medium for 3-4 minutes, until pale and fluffy.
  2. Add the flour in three batches, blending on low until flour is just combined with each batch, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.
  3. Turn out dough onto floured surface, press into a disc and wrap with plastic.  Chill until firm, for at least 2 hours (overnight is fine).
  4. Preheat oven to 350°
  5. On a floured surface, roll dough to 1/4″ thick.  Cut rounds with 1″ cookie cutter and place on parchment-lined sheet pans.  Pierce cookies with a fork (twice, parallel to each other–gives it a “button” look).
  6. Place sheet pans into refrigerator for about 20 minutes until dough is cold and firm.
  7. Place sheet pans into oven and bake for about 15 minutes, until lightly golden. 
  8. Slide onto wire cooling rack and let cool completely before glazing.

Candied Bacon

6 slices bacon, cut into 1″ strips

1/4 cup brown sugar

  1. Preheat oven to 400° and line sheet pan with foil.
  2. Toss bacon pieces in brown sugar, coating both sides.  Place pieces on foil.
  3. Bake  12-15 minutes, turning over halfway through.
  4. When bacon is dark and glazed-looking, remove from sheet pan and drain on brown/butcher paper (it will stick to paper towels).
  5. When cool, chop finely and set aside. 

Maple Glaze

1 1/4 cups powdered sugar

2 tablespoons maple syrup

3 tablespoons whole milk

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together sugar, syrup, and milk until smooth.
  2. Pour, spoon, or brush glaze onto cookies.
  3. While glaze is still wet, sprinkle finely chopped candied bacon on top, and let glaze set. 

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