Cookie Confab turned Cookie Bust!

This year – our plans did not gel. Not sure why -with this thing or that we just could never get the time together to bake. Debbie did stop over for a little while and dropped off some spritz cookies and have a little tipple.

Rose and Debbie knocking one back.
So Debbie's  sister can tell - Debbie is the one on the right.

Debbie helped me decorate these.. after the knocking back.
Not that I was going to let a lack of teamwork get me down! I had cookies to make dammit! I have people counting on me for their holiday excess!! I made Tony step up to be my kitchen bitch – roll this, wash that, where the hell do you think you're going – get me that flour out of the pantry. He cried like a little girl “But its 1 am!” Breakin' weak - marathon cookie baking is not for timid.

Here he is making the stroopwaffles... I cropped the picture so you can't see the shackles.
This is a new recipe from A Baker's Odyssey.
The are called Nuspatchen (or something like that).
They are a hazelnut and cinnamon topping on a spice cookie.
Next year...the bottom will be chocolate for that Nutella-like flavor combo!!

Every year I make a new cookie – I have to. If I made the same damn thing over and over where is the challenge in that? Lord knows that I am a glutton for punishment.

My first thought was to try a recipe I found in the LA Times. They took recipe submissions and I was intrigued by the recipe for Nana tea cakes. It seemed simple – the dough had three ingredients and the filling could be varied to give different flavors. However, the write up as provided in the original posting seemed a little too basic. Trust me – if there is one thing I learned, Nana never measures anything and she usually never describes the nuances of the prep work.

I make up a batch of the dough and let it chill up over night. I roll it out, cut and fill it, set to oven to 350 as instructed and tossed in the first sheet. Ten minutes later, I pull the cookies out and they are still raw. Where is the flaky goodness? I put them back in for five more minutes – still no love. I pull these out and toss them.

I pump up the oven temp 25 degrees and bake four cookies. 20 minutes later, too brown on the bottom, raw on the inside. Into the trash with those as well.

What the hell Nana? This is not working out at all...

I pump up the oven 50 degrees – take that cookies!!! Oooooo puffy action! They are rising!! They are bursting open!!!! Shit. Four more cookies not right- this time they are edible and we scarfed them up.

Last four cookies – what to do? It is a steam issue. Hmmmm...I'll try docking the jam pocket to let out the steam, bake at 425 and get them just the tiniest bit brown. Bingo!!

A couple hours of work for four good cookies. We ate them before I thought of getting a picture. Shit again.

The funny thing, this recipe made the final 10 best recipes and the LA Times test kitchen published the recipe with the same time and temperatures as the original submission. What the hell, LA Times? Are you sure you really test these? Tony says “LA Times is a lyin' bitch!”

I ended up not using that recipe.

Instead I pulled out an old mini fruitcake recipe. Oh before you start your bad jokes and bellyaching, this is one of the best fruit and nut filled, booze infused treats ever created. Tony, who hates fruitcake, begs for these. Of course, he also begs for oxygen when he can't remember the safe word.

This recipe comes from the Cookie Lover's Cookie Book by Richard Sax. I love this little book. It has been out of print for years and it's hard to find. It is worth the effort though – this recipe is a gem.

And no - there are no pictures of these. 1) they look lumpy and ugly but taste great 2) they are all gone!!!

You'll need miniature muffin tins for these guys, though a regular-size muffin pan can also be used. Paper muffin liners make this recipe easier to remove from the pan and store, but you can use non-stick pans if you have them.

The original recipe called for the neon colored cherries you usually find in fruit cakes. I substituted in dried cherries, but they do not look as festive. If you think they need a little color, you can add a glace cherry half to the top when you glaze.

Makes 2 dozen 1 1/2-inch miniature cupcakes, or 1 dozen muffin-size

2 cup of mixed fruit (mix and match from the following): raisins, golden raisins, dried currants, dried cranberries and chopped dates
1/3 cup chopped dried pineapple
1/3 cup chopped dried cherries
3 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger
3 tablespoons bourbon or brandy (or apple cider)
¼ cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1 egg
½ cup flour
¾ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon fresh-grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup each coarsely chopped walnuts, pecans, and almonds

2 tablespoons light corn syrup
2 teaspoons bourbon or brandy (or apple cider)

1.  Place the mixed fruit, pineapple, cherries, and crystallized ginger in a bowl. Toss with the bourbon and set aside to soak at least 30 minutes. It is best to not to let it set overnight.
2. Preheat the oven to 300°F., with racks in the center and bottom of the oven. Place a pan of hot wa­ter on the lower rack.  Line miniature or regular-size muffin tins with paper muffin liners. If you don't have paper liners, butter the pan(s) generously.
3.  Cream the butter and brown sugar in an electric mixer until light; then add the egg, mixing until smooth. Meanwhile, sift together the flour, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, salt, baking powder, and baking soda onto a sheet of wax paper.  Using a spatula, stir in the flour mixture to the creamed mix­ture, mixing just until blended, no longer. Stir in the fruit mixture with its soaking liquid, along with the walnuts, pecans, and almonds, mixing just until incorporated.
4.  Bake the fruitcakes until lightly golden and a toothpick inserted in the center emerges clean, about 30 minutes (or 35 for regular-size muffin tins). Cool in the pan(s) for about 5 minutes and remove from the pan(s) (leave the paper liners on). If they seem to be sticking, then run the tip of a knife blade around the cakes.  Placing them on a wire rack over a sheet of wax or parchment paper.

Bourbon Glaze: Place the corn syrup in a small pan and heat gently, just to thin it. Remove from heat, stir in the bourbon, and brush the tops of the fruitcakes with the glaze. Let stand until set; then store airtight.

These keep well for at least a week, and can be mailed.  I have also frozen them with great success. Just thaw at room temperature in their packaging. To brighten them up before serving, reglaze so the tops are shiny.

Adapted from the Cookie Lover’s Cookie Book by Richard Sax


The Anti-Food Porn Rant

We love looking. We can't help it. That smokin' hot construction worker, that sexy black dress in the shop window, those rows and rows of flaky, creamy pastries – we look and we salivate. We desire. And if we have the cash, it becomes ours. (Well, maybe not the construction worker, but we can dream, can't we?)

But how many times have we been mis-lead? How many time have you bought that luscious perfectly iced slice of chocolate cake only to find it is dry and flavorless? And that little black dress – you try it on only to find that it wasn't really all that sexy when lovingly draped over that pooch left by one too many pieces of mediocre chocolate cake?

And how many times have you been walking through the book store, pick up a beautiful cookbook full of stylish photos and recipes featuring trendy ingredients only to take it home and find out you were snookered? Taken in by a pretty face only to be left with a pot full of barely edible – and sometimes extravagantly expensive –  dog kibble? Or that the amount of work necessary to achieve the pictured item has left you drained and impotent for the rest of the evening? And that construction worker, even if you could afford him, would have been a another wasted purchase as you retire to the boudoir with a migraine.

Like the strategically placed silicon in an adult movie,  food porn is there to enhance your enjoyment of   your most recently purchased fantasy book. And like elective plastic surgery, food styling is an artificial enhancement. Few real women (most of us included) look like that busty sexpot in Pizza Slut 3, and most of the food you make at home will ever look like the pictures in the books.

Books, magazines and TV shows – there is a lot of lying going. True, lying can be a good thing. Some lies are necessary – From your hubby: “No your ass doesn't look big in those jeans.” To your hubby: “Honey, I don't miss those golden curls I used to run my fingers through.” To the kids: “Don't worry Heather, you'll grow out of it. It's just baby fat.” 

But we all realize deep down that lies are social lubricants. Like the Quarker State in your engine, it keeps everything moving along smoothly and prevents the unsightly build up of corpses along the highways.

In the modern media, food styling keeps the food industry looking fresh and sexy – its a necessary set of lies to keep Martha, Sandra Lee and Rachel on the cutting edge of  the current market. Without the pretty pictures, would anyone buy their products to see if there was any substance?

It also puts lipstick on that pig – a little light on content? Then slap some pretty pictures in there, send it off to China for some sexy full color printing and get it out in time for the holiday gift giving season. Grandma loves the pretty pictures...and the political prisoners in China need the work.

It's not to say that sexy food photography is a bad thing. Good photos will give you an idea of how brown the edges of your cookies should be, how thick you should roll the dough, but you have to remember that they are the stuff that dreams are made of. Your mileage may vary. Things in the mirror may be larger than they appear (and that includes your rump in that little black dress!)

So remember, there are some worthwhile cookbooks that don't have 8 x 10 color glossys. Pick up the old school Joy of Cooking, The Fanny Farmer Cookbook or if you want some fantastic cookie recipes, get yourself a copy of The Cookie Lover's Cookie Book by Richard Sax. No food porn in any them, but lots of solid recipes.

And for Pete's sake – stop staring at the construction workers while sitting at the light. You are holdin' up the rest of us.