Category Archives: cookies

The ‘We Knead to Bake Project’ 2013 – Torcettini di St. Vincent

I’ve always dreaded the third time I undertake any project, there usually seems to be a jinx associated after that.. 3 weeks of working out in the gym, or following a dietary regimen, three baking tasks etc. . the ‘We knead to bake project was no exception. Even as  I took it lightly that the 24th of the month was some ways of, BAM!.. it crept up before I knew it and I had no cookies to show for it. Of course there was no way I was going to let a bad case of the common cold let me miss this session, so better late than never, Here is the recipe that Aparna Balasubramanian picked out for April – Torcettini di St. Vincent.
So what is a Torcettini? Its believed that the cookie originated as a variation of the classic Italian breadstick, the Grissini. A baker in Valle d’Aosta had some leftover butter that he decided to incorporate into  his last batch of dough,shaped it into a twist, and rolled it in sugar to differentiate it from the regular bread sticks & voila, the torcettini was born. The cookies probably soared in popularity when Queen Margaret, the wife of King Umberto of Savoy, loved these so much that she directed her kitchen staff to always keep an abundant supply of the ingredients to make this whenever she wanted.

The cookies have a lovely crunchy exterior that gives way to a chewy center, reminiscent of pretzels except that they are sweet from the sugar crystals with just a touch of saltiness from the dough.


Torcettini di Saint Vincent:

(Adapted from ‘A Baker’s Tour’ by Nick Malgieri)

You need:

1/2 cup warm water, about 110F

1 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast (or 1 tsp instant yeast)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoon cocoa powder (if making chocolate torcettini)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lime/ lemon zest (replace with orange zest for the chocolate version)
40gm unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces
about 1/3 cup  Turbinado cane sugar for rolling the cookies

Method:


Dissolve the yeast in the warm water, in a small bowl and keep aside.

Put the flour and the salt in the food processor bowl (or a largish regular bowl if kneading by hand) and pulse a couple of times to mix. Add the butter pieces and pulse until the butter is well mixed and the flour-butter mixture looks powdery.

If making chocolate Torcettini, remove 2 tbsp all-purpose flour and add the 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder mentioned in the recipe. Don’t add the lemon zest/ anise. Use orange zest and maybe add 1/ 2 tsp instant coffee powder with the flour.
Add the yeast-water mixture and pulse till it all comes together as a ball. Do not over process or knead. Place the ball of dough in a oiled bowl, turning it so it is well coated with the oil. Cover the bowl, and let the dough rise quite a bit.
This dough does not really double in volume, but it should look “puffy” after about an hour or so. When you pinch off a bit from the top you can see the interior looking a bit like honeycomb. Press down the dough and deflate it, wrap it in plastic film and refrigerate it for at least an hour or up to 24 hours.

 

When ready to make the cookies, take the dough out and lightly roll it out into an approximately 6” square. If the dough feels sticky, scatter a little sugar on it. Using a pizza wheel cut the dough into four strips of equal width. Cut each strip into 6 equal pieces, by cutting across, making a total of 24 pieces. The measurements are not very critical in this part because this just makes it easier to have 24 equal sized bits of dough, as compared to pinching of bits of the dough.

Roll each piece into a pencil thick “rope” about 5” long. Sprinkle a little sugar on your work surface and roll the “rope” in it so the sugar crusts the dough uniformly. Form the “rope” into a loop crossing it over before the ends.

Place the Torcettini on parchment lined baking sheets, leaving 1 1/2″ between them. Leave them for about 20 minutes or so till they rise/ puff up slightly. Don’t worry, they will not “puff up” much.

Bake them at 160C (325F) for about 25 minutes till they’re a nice golden brown. Cool the cookies completely, on a rack. Store them in an air-tight container at room temperature.


  Serve as a tea time snack with a piping hot cup of Cafe au Lait or tea.

Bon Appetit!

Some tips to keep in mind:
Once your Torcettini have been shaped, don’t let them rise for longer than 20 minutes. If you do, your Torcettini will more bread-like on the inside due to the extra “rise”.
  To make sure the Torcettini dough does not rise for more than 20 minutes, it’s a good idea to work on shaping the 2ndbatch while the first batch is in the oven.

A Gorgeous set of Pewter measuring spoons I picked up at my neighborhood yard sale!

This recipe is being Yeastspotted.

Countdown Day 6, and Food52’s Secret Santa Swap!

When it comes to gifts under the tree, I think I morphed into a child as much as my kids, if not worse.. (I ‘m officially guilty of tearing open into my secret Santa Gift on Christmas Eve, rather than the next day morning). My gift was from my Secret Santa ‘gingerroot’ from Hawaii. She is a Food52 superstar, having contributed some timeless classic recipes to their two volume book.
For the past two years, ‘Enbe’ a graduate student from Tuscon has been instrumental in organizing a wonderful Secret Santa food swap amongst members of the Food52 community. She sends us each a name amongst those who’ve signed up and we have the privilege of sharing foods (mostly cookies and condiments) and little gifts with someone with whom we’ve forged a bond online through Amanda Hesser & Merrill Stubbs’ unique venture.

I loved each and every thing that gingerroot had so thoughtfully put together in my box.  A bag of the biggest & best Macadamia nuts, Native Hawaiian raw honey, chocolate a ginger citrus soap (which my 7 yr old laid claim to and immediately ran off to jump into the shower, just so that he could use it!) , home made cookies which my three yr old went for even before she opened her presents from Santa, and a bottle each  of Yellow tomato/pineapple & eggplant preserves. Thank you so much Jenny, for making this holiday season so special!

It was love at first taste with the pineapple preserve. So much so, my head cannot decide on how many things I should use it on . For starters, I made a batch of ‘easy peasy’ thumbprint shortbread cookies that really showcased this delectable jam. This is also my birthday recipe gift for my Aunt, Lakshmi Ramanathan (Chithi as I call her) who turns a young  60 today.

A shout out is also owed to Perfect purees of Napa Valley for their awesome Caramelized Pineapple concentrate . A tablespoon of this excellent ingredient in the shortbread dough, really highlights the preserves.

Thumbprint shortbread cookies with Yellow tomato & pineapple preserves (makes about 30)

You need:

1  cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 stick (8 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons Caramelized pineapple concentrate ( or 1 tablespoon of orange zest)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
 Your choice of  preserves

 Preheat oven to 300 F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Cut the butter into small pieces and add to the flour along with the concentrate/  zest. Using your finger tips, gently work the butter into the flour until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Bring the dough together into a ball. Using a cookie scoop divide the dough into little spheres of about 1 inch diameter. Place on the baking sheet 2 inches apart from each other,  gently press down with a 1/4 tsp measuring spoon to make a little well.

Bake in the oven for 10 minutes (at this time, the cookie would have risen, obliterating the well. remove and press down with the same spoon to make the indentation before turning the sheet around and placing back into the oven for another 10 minutes. Remove and cool for 5 minutes on the sheet before  spooning 1/4 teaspoon of the preserves into the wells. Allow to cool completely.

Here’s wishing you a fabulous 60th Birthday, Lakshmi Chithi!


Marmalade marathons..& a recipe for rustic thumbprint shortbread

 Produce wise, I have no complaints about the past 12 months. Seasonal local vegetables from Hillsborough farm throughout the summer and a wonderful time exploring citrus varieties after that. My  clear favorite was the Mayer lemon. I simply fell in love with its vivid color, fragrance and sweet/tart taste. The best priced ones were from Whole Foods, priced at a modest 3.49 /lb (about 6-7 lemons). Indulged in making ‘achar’, preserved lemon, Lemon rice, margaritas & a dozen bottles of marmalade! (this was in addition to a community pick testing for Food52 , a fragrant Five-citrus marmalade.

 

 Back to Meyer lemons.  What?: A hybrid citrus thought to be native to China, a cross between lemon & mandarin orange. The skin is smooth and thin with minimal white pith, while the juice is not quite as tart as a regular lemon and it has a faint trace of orange, no doubt from its mandarin genes.

 Making a marmalade, I learned, is not for the beginner cook. It requires a good hefty dose of old fashioned labor. Just slicing through  10 lemons takes time, a task which seemed trivial though after I had gone through chopping 2 pomelos (huge chinese grapefruit similar to pamplemousse better known as ‘pumplimaas’ in Tamil) and a generous assortment of other citrus. If dedicated cooking is your passion, then here is my recipe for a yummy Mayer lemon marmalade spiked with crystallized ginger and cardamom. The recipe is adapted from Epicurious.com and I believe the original recipe was featured in Gourmet magazine in Dec. 1999.

Mayer Lemon Marmalade with crystallized ginger and cardamom (makes 10 1/2 pint jars)

You need:

10 Mayer lemons (or 8 regular lemons)
6 cups water,
6 cups sugar
1.5 cups finely chopped crystallized  ginger
1 tablespoon powdered cardamom

10 sterilized 1/2 pint canning jars with sealing ring lids.

Cut the lemons into halves and remove and reserve the seeds/pips. Tie up the seeds in a cheesecloth/muslin cloth/bag. (If you’re South Indian or related to one, look for a clean ‘veshti’ or ‘angavastram’ to rip off a piece!)

Cut the lemons once again into quarters and slice thinly. Combine the lemon, water and the bag of lemon pips in a large non reactive pot. Cover and allow the mixture to rest at room temperature for a whole day. (yes, 24 hours).

Add the crystallized ginger pieces to the Lemons the next day and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and cook down the liquid until the quantity reduces to less than half the original volume (~ 1 hr).

Add the sugar and the cardamom powder and boil over medium heat, taking care to skim off any foam. Using a candy thermometer, monitor the temperature. (which is going to stay at 212 F for a LOOONG time ~ 1/2 hr).

Once all the residual water has evaporated, the temperature of the thick jammy mixture will quickly rise to 220 F. Immediately switch off the heat & remove the pot.

Ladle the marmalade into the sterilized jars leaving about 1/4 inch air gap at the top to allow for vacuum sealing. Wipe the rims thoroughly clean, screw on the lid & ring & tighten till the point of minimum resistance. Allow to cool slightly and then process in a vacuum bath canner. (I like to follow the timing prescribed from a post on Indian Food Rocks, viz, 10 minutes at sea level adding a minute for every additional 1000 ft above sea level, depending upon where you live).

Thumbprint shortbread cookies (with the marmalade that you just made!)

You need: (about 12-15 cookies)

1 cup All purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon Orange zest
1/4 cup of marmalade or any of your favorite store bought jam

Preheat oven to 325 F.
Sift the All purpose flour, sugar,salt and the baking powder together in a mixing bowl.

Add the butter and the orange zest (I used the frozen variety from Perfect Puree) to the flour blend. Using a silicone spatula, gently combine the ingredients together to form a dough.

Using a cookie scoop, measure out equal portions onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. (I personally like a rustic looking edge, but for a smoother circular shape, gently roll the dough into a sphere using your palms)
Gently press down to flatten. Using your thumb, make a well in the center of the dough.

 Fill the wells with 1/4 teaspoon of your favorite jam or marmalade.

 Bake at 325 F for 20 minutes, turnin the baking sheet around 180 degrees halfway through the baking process. until the base begins to turn a golden brown color

Cool the cookies on a cooling rack (they crisp up slightly upon cooling)  and serve these  rich buttery morsels with a hot cup of coffee or tea.

Bon Appetit!

Ancient Grains & Modern Gadgets, My first giveaway

 There comes a time in every bloggers blog life when they announce that first giveaway & this is my moment. I’d like to say a big Thank You to OXO tools for sponsoring the gift, a digital kitchen scale that is indispensable for baking  great cakes & cookies.
I’ve been an ardent fan of OXO products ever since my graduate school days. My dad bought me a set of kitchen knives & peeler  from Bloomingdales way back in 1996 when I first moved to New York City. 15 + years later, the peeler works as great as ever. In time I’ve gone on to collect a vast arsenal of OXO from strawberry hullers to spatulas and have never been disappointed with any of them.
Perhaps, one of the reasons I’ve stayed away from creating recipes that involve weighing out ingredients was because I never bothered to invest in a good scale.Using one simply elevates the culinary experience to a refined high. And keeps you wanting more of the same. I’ll definitely be posting more recipes that call for weighing ingredients, that’s for sure!

 A big Thank You is in order to Zester Daily and Maria Speck for a wonderful giveaway gift that I received in the mail a couple of days ago. A copy of Ms. Specks new book ‘Ancient Grains for Modern Meals’. I’m so in love with this book for all the wonderful information it contains and the awesome recipes. There will be a proper review of this book in the next couple of weeks, I promise. In the meantime, I’ve picked an amazing recipe to showcase from the book this week, a Greek Lenten cookie that was the highlight of my weekend baking.



Orange-Rosemary Cookies with Olive Oil
(Recipe Credit: Maria Speck, I’ve taken the liberty of writing the steps in my own words)

You need:
4 1/4 ounces white whole wheat flour (1 cup)
1 3/4 ounces Almond meal (1/2 cup, lightly packed
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 cup  packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh Rosemary
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla extract
2-3 tablespoons turbinado sugar for topping

Method:

Measure out the Flour and almond meal . Add to a large mixing bowl along with the baking powder and salt.

Whisk to combine evenly and break up any lumps of almond meal in the mixture. Make a ‘well’ in the center. to add the wet ingredients.

Grate the zest of an orange to obtain 1 teaspoon. Squeeze the orange to obtain 1/4 cup of juice. Mince the fresh Rosemary and set aside.

In a medium sized mixing bowl, combine the light brown sugar and olive oil and vigorously whisk for a minute till the sugar starts to dissolve and the color of the mixture lightens (about 1 minute of brisk arm cranking). Add the Orange juice, zest, rosemary & vanilla extract and whisk to combine.

Pour the oil/sugar mixture into the center of the flour mixture and combine with a wooden spoon until just mixed. DO not over mix, you do not want to activate the gluten in the wheat flour.

Place a sheet of parchment paper or plastic wrap in from f you on the work surface. Gently transfer the doughto the paper/wrap. Shape the dough into a log with your hands and roll the  paper/wrap around to completely wrap it. Twist the ends.

Place the log into the freezer for about 2 hours to chill & firm.  Preheat oven to 350 F. Place two oven racks in the lower and upper third of the oven. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Remove the ‘log’ from the freezer and cut it into thin slices less than 1/2 inch thick (this is tricky since the dough is still quite soft. I cut out thin portions of equal volume using a butter knife and basically flattened it on the baking sheets). Sprinkle liberally with the turbinado sugar.

 Bake both the sheets at the same time, one on the top rack, the other on the lower rack, swapping it half way through the baking, for about 16-18 minutes (8-9 minutes on each rack), until the edges & bottom of the cookies turn a golden brown. Transfer the cookies onto a wire rack to cool completely.  Store in an airtight container. The cookies tun crisp as they cool

Bon Appetit!

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Coming back to the Giveaway by OXO…

This giveaway is open only to residents of the United states (sorry, no overseas shipping possible).  just follow the instructions on the rafflecopter below.

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Walking the Turmeric Trail

‘The Turmeric Trail’ by Raghavan Iyer is one cook book I’d love to get my hands on. except, its no longer in print & the only available copies are sold online at black market rates, which I will not pay(its not the price, its the principle!). But the title endures, in another avatar, as the brand name for a set of spices launched last month.

Turmeric Trail is the brainchild of Chef Raghavan Iyer and focuses on 4 spices representing 4 distinct regions of India. Garam Masala, the predominant spice blend used in the Northern states,  Madras Masala, A heady mix of toasted split  dal & spices, thats a mainstay of the signature South Indian stew ‘Sambhar’, Mumbai Masala, a vibrant mix with dried coconut & sesame, and Chai Masala, a blend of 5 spices, with a potential to sizzle up 50 different dishes, from tea, to hot chocolate to cookies. They’re packaged beautifully in natural looking brown boxes tied  with raffia grass and it is quite understandable if you want to keep the USPS package carton, it smells divine even after you’ve removed the contents!

Image Credit: Tom Sweeney, Star Tribune

 I ordered the Mumbai masala & the Chai masala  since I make my own blend of Sambhar powder (I can almost imagine my late mother scolding me if I were to even contemplate using a commercial variety, This is one spice blend which I can’t ever imagine using anything else other than my mothers recipe, no offense meant! ). As for the Garam Masala, I’m still working my way through the William Sonoma jar that Monica Bhide had sent me as part of the prize package for winning  the spicy cocktail contest. I’m not for keeping large quantities of ground spices around, they tend to  have a finite half life.

Mumbai Masala

The Mumbai Masala, you simply HAVE to try this. In addition to adding it traditional curries & stews, it makes for a great marinade seasoning for roasted squash, which I combined with plain basmati rice for a flavorful one pot meal. The Chai Masala, (of course I would not be blogging about it if I just made myself a cuppa tea).. a teaspoon of this went into a spiced shortbread which pairs wonderfully with a warm mug of …Cafe au lait.

To order your set of spices, simply follow this link.

Delicata squash is a winter variety of squash, unique in the sense that it has  a thin & perfectly edible skin (in contrast to other squashes such as the butter nut which require the use use of a cleaver to peel them!). When roasted or baked, the flesh is very sweet, almost raisin ‘ish’. I believe it’s also known as ‘sweet potato’ squash for this reason.

‘Mumbai masala’ spiced Roasted Delicata Squash with Basmati Rice.

You need:

1 medium sized Delicata squash
1 large onion.
1/4 cup Olive oil or Canola oil
1 Tablespoon  Turmeric Trail’s Mumbai Masala
Salt to taste.
2 cups cooked Basmati rice
Juice of 1 lime
Chopped cilantro for garnishing (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 F.
Cut the squash, remove the inner webbing and the seeds. Cut into 1/4 inch thick rings & then cut each ring into quarters. Cut the onions to a similar size.

Combine the vegetables in a large mixing bowl, along with the oil, salt and the Mumbai masala. toss & allow to rest for about 15-20 minutes.

Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with Aluminum foil. Place into oven & allow to roast for about 25 – 30 minutes, or until the squash turns golden with tiny brown spots and yields completely when pierced with a knife. Remove from the oven & allow to cool.

Return to the mixing bowl along with the cooked Basmati rice and the lime juice. Fold the rice into the roasted vegetables, taking care not to break the grains of cooked rice. Serve with a side of Raita.

Chai Masala spiced Shortbread:

You need:

1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup fresh grated coconut
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
1 teaspoon Turmeric Trails Chai Masala

Preheat oven to 325 F. Line a  baking sheet with Parchment paper.
Toast the shredded coconut until it turns a light reddish brown color and starts emitting a ‘coconutty’ aroma.

Set aside to cool, and combine with the toasted sesame seeds. Add these to the flour and combine to disperse the sesame & coconut uniformly.
Cream the sugar & butter till light & fluffy, Add the Chai Masala and combine well.
Add the flour mixture to the creamed butter and work into a ball of dough, just until it all comes together. Wrap in a plastic wrap & refrigerate for ~ 1 hr
Remove the dough and roll it into a 1/4 in thick sheet.

That ancient rolling pin is probably over 80 yrs old!

Using either a pastry wheel or a cookie cutter, cut out shapes and place on the parchment paper lined baking sheets.

Bake for about 12-14 minutes till the edges begin to appear brown. Remove from the oven & allow to cool completely on a cooling rack. Store in an airtight container.

 Bon Appetit!

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