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Tuesdays With Dorie: Grandma’s All-Occasion Sugar Cookies

December 9, 2008

I have an oven again! My amazing father-in-law came to stay overnight (to attend #1 Son’s Civil Air Patrol promotion ceremony), and he fixed it right up for me.

This week’s TWD recipe was for sugar cookies, and I was up in the air about whether or not to make them. I like my cookies a bit more interesting than plain old sugar cookies, and I knew I wasn’t going to do the whole rolling-cutting-decorating thing. So I raised the issue with the family, and as usual, they were goofing around:

Me: They’re just plain sugar cookies. What could we have with them?
#2 Son: Ganache!
Husband: Vanilla ganache!
#2 Son: Coffee ganache!

(I won’t transcribe #1 Son’s contribution. Sufficeth to say, it was unappetizing.)

They were playing off each other, and nothing constructive ever gets done when they do that.

But I made the cookies. And I made the ganache.

The dough came together easily, like all of Dorie’s doughs so far. I doubled the recipe, because it’s always good to have some cookie dough in the freezer; I made two disks for rolling and two logs for slicing. No additions to the recipe, because I wasn’t sure what I’d be doing with the cookies themselves. (As it turns out, #2 Son and a friend are going to roll them out and decorate them, so I have to soften up those two logs and reshape them into disks!)

The dough rolled out easily. It cut easily. It baked in exactly the amount of time the recipe indicated. And the cookies were fine. They were sugar cookies.

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I guess my problem is that sugar cookies are ubiquitous. There’s nothing special about them; they’re just those cookies that are always around. These were good sugar cookies, certainly. And with some emendation — some chocolate or cinnamon or coconut (or a combo!) added to the dough, or something on top — I bet they’d have been really good. But alone, they were kind of plain. (Which is not their fault, certainly. It just muted my enjoyment.)

The family agreed, so I won’t bother quoting them all individually.

I made four kinds of ganache, in deference to the whims of my family and my indecisiveness: vanilla, coffee, chocolate, and mocha. For vanilla and coffee, I used Ghirardelli white chocolate chips and cream (with some vanilla paste and a shot of espresso in the appropriate bowls). For the chocolate, Ghirardelli bittersweet chips and cream. And for the mocha, Trader Joe’s Belgian milk chocolate (chopped but not terribly finely) and cream and espresso.

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Lessons learned:

  1. Chocolate chips, especially white chocolate chips, melt terribly.
  2. 2 ounces of chocolate to 1 ounce of cream is not enough to make a thick ganache; there will be spoons involved.
  3. I really need a light box.

The ganache was yummy, if runny, and it worked well with the cookies. (The mocha was the best.)

All in all, it was a nice dessert. Just nothing to write home about.

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I know there will be some amazing variations among the other TWD bakers; check them out. And if you want the recipe, head on over to Küchenlatein, where Ulrike (who chose these for us this week) will lay it out for you. (And you can practice your German! We’re so multilingual lately!)

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Tuesdays With Dorie: No Linzer Sablés for Me

December 2, 2008

Still no oven, and so no baking. But these cookies look delicious (especially the chocolate variation!), so please go check out everyone else’s!

Tuesdays With Dorie: Thanksgiving Twofer Pie, for Real This Time

November 29, 2008

I make pies every year for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Always the Chocolate Silk Pie from The Mystic Seaport Cookbook, by Lillian Langseth-Christensen, which is stunningly good. (See recipe at the bottom of this post). And always a pecan pie. I’ve tried various recipes over the years, including chocolate versions. Most have been good, but not sublime.

This week’s Tuesdays With Dorie recipe is a combination of pumpkin and pecan pies, with a layer of pumpkin topped by a layer of pecan.

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I made my own crust. I swear I did. It came together beautifully in the food processor and rolled out like a dream. (And I really hate rolling out dough.) My latest crisis is that my oven died. (Well, to be technically correct, the bulb in the oven light cracked, and when we attempted to remove it, it shattered. So we can’t get the base out, and we decided the safest thing was just to unplug the damn thing. So now I have to light the burners with a match, and the oven is verboten.

So I made this beautiful crust, and then I put it in this little counter-top convection oven I got through Freecycle. I tested the oven first, making mini-versions of Dorie’s Favorite Pecan Pie (best pie on the planet, and my new go-to pecan pie recipe) and a test version of the rolls I was going to bake for Thanksgiving. Both worked fine. But the full-size pie crust — complete with aluminum foil and pie weights — was a complete disaster. It melted and shrank down in the plate, and I had to toss the whole thing.

So this beautiful Thanksgiving Twofer Pie is nestled snugly in a store-bought frozen crust. Mea culpa.

So while Husband went to the store for the crust, I mixed the pumpkin half and the pecan half. Easy as pie, as they say. Then we carted everything next door to my very obliging neighbor’s house, where I assembled the pie and stuck it in her oven. I gave it 10 minutes at 450 (although I have no idea whether the oven was even close to accurate; it’s in a rental apartment and doesn’t get much use) and then 45 at 350. The knife came out clean, but I was dubious: I can never tell when pies are done; it’s the bane of my holiday baking life.

Looked pretty, though.

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This pie was not a hit with us on Thanksgiving. No one had more than a bite or two. To be fair, none of us particularly likes pumpkin pie, either, and we all love pecan. Herewith, the verdicts:

Husband: I actually prefer it to straight pumpkin pie, because I think the pecans add a nice meaty kind of flavor, but it’s not great overall.

#1 Son: I did not like it. The pecans were sort of a nonentity; there was a certain sweetness to them in the pie, but they didn’t really add anything. It felt very typical. For me, not a win. Additionally, it kind of looked like baby food in a pie crust, kind of brown and globby. It’s really unappealing.

#2 Son: This is the first pie that you made that I really didn’t like. I couldn’t taste the pecans at all, and the pumpkin was kind of weird tasting.

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There was, needless to say, quite a bit left over, and we brought it home with us from the in-laws’. We arrived home around 5 on Friday evening, and pie was on the dinner menu. It proved more popular this time around:

Husband, second day: I still didn’t like it.

#1 Son: When I tried it again later, it was actually very tasty. The pecan removed the elements of pumpkin pie I didn’t like. The presentation was still awful.

#2 Son: Chilled, it tastes a lot better. It could be because I haven’t eaten anything else before it. The cold pecans are really good with the cold pumpkin.

Check out how the hundreds of other TWD bakers fared with the Thanksgiving Twofer at Tuesdays With Dorie, and if you want to try it yourself, Vibi over at La Casserole Carrée has the recipe (and a chance to practice your French, if you’d like, although it’s not necessary!). Happy Thanksgiving!

And if you want to try the chocolate pie I made (which is completely gone, as always!), here it is:

Chocolate Silk Pie (from The Mystic Seaport Cookbook, by Lillian Langseth-Christensen)

1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
1 baked pie shell (I use a Keebler graham crust; shhh — don’t tell anyone)
1 cup heavy cream, whipped
1/2 cup shaved chocolate curls (you can use a carrot peeler)

Cream butter and sugar. Add chocolate and vanilla and mix well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating on high for 5 minutes after each. Spoon into crust and level. Chill until set. When set, top with whipped cream and shaved chocolate, making it look as pretty as you’d like.

It’s chocolate heaven.

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And as a bonus, here’s my dog, Brava, who is loving my father-in-law’s acre of grass:

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Tuesdays With Dorie: Thanksgiving Twofer Pie

November 25, 2008

We got special dispensation to post late this week, and I’m taking full advantage of it. I’m going to make this amazing-sounding pie for Thanksgiving. Come back Saturday to see how it went!

Tuesdays With Dorie: Arborio Rice Pudding, White, Black (or Both)

November 18, 2008

This week’s Tuesdays With Dorie recipe was rice pudding, which I’ve never liked. I’m not sure why, but rice pudding and bread pudding have just never been on my top-500 list, even though regular pudding (especially chocolate, and now, especially Dorie’s) is way up in the top five. But I’m a faithful TWDer (TWDite? TWDian?), and so I made rice pudding.

The recipe gives options for vanilla and chocolate rice pudding, so of course, I made both. The cooking was easy, although it did take about 45 minutes, rather than the 30 the recipe called for. And then I decided to get fancy.

If you’ve read much of this blog, you know that presentation is not my forte. I read other TWD blogs, and those people make things look so pretty. Not me. But this time I was inspired — I guess the chocolate-vanilla combo was just too obvious to miss, even for me.

I was really proud of the way it came out, almost exactly the way I imagined it:

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(#2 Son gets the credit for remembering the colored spots.)

Eating it, though, was less fun.

I still don’t like rice pudding. I dislike these versions less than the goopy stuff I’ve had before; the flavor was very good in both. But there were all those little lumps of rice in there; what’s the point of that?

The family partially concurred:

Husband: It was a shame we had to ruin perfectly good chocolate pudding.

#1 Son: Chocolate tasted good, but the texture was odd. Why stick rice in a perfectly good chocolate pudding? But the vanilla was much more like traditional rice pudding, and I adored it. The flavor was really deep, and the texture worked better. I’m not sure why.

#2 Son: I liked the chocolate better than the vanilla. The chocolate had a very nice, almost ice creamy texture. The vanilla was pretty good, but if you make it again I’d prefer chocolate.

#2 Son is out of luck. I can’t see making this again, not when there’s a perfectly marvelous chocolate pudding in the very same chapter.

If you want to check out the hundreds of other TWD bloggers’ versions, here’s the blogroll. And if you want to try the recipe yourself (even after my write-up!), Isabelle of Les gourmandises d’Isa will have the recipe. Enjoy!

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Tuesdays With Dorie: Kugelhopf

November 11, 2008

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This week’s TWD recipe was an unusual one: kugelhopf. Sounds German, but it’s not (at least, not technically). Dorie tells us it comes from Alsace, in eastern France (but on the German border!).

We were going to a party on Election Night, and I was supposed to take food that represented the home cities/states of the candidates. Chicago was easy: Peter Reinhart’s deep-dish pizza. But Delaware proved tougher. And then I worked it out: The du Pont family was a huge influence in the development of Delaware, and where were they from? Bien sur!

So I made it for the party — we didn’t need all that quickly staling bread around here just for us.

It was pretty easy to make, but it did rise slowly. At one point I was worried it wouldn’t come out of the oven in time, but all was well. I loved the finishing touches: brushing the loaf with lots of butter, then sprinkling it with sugar. The sugar melted to form a lovely, very thin crust.

Right before I served it, a couple of hours later, I sprinkled it with confectioner’s sugar.

I had one bite of Husband’s piece, after I photographed it. When I came back into the kitchen 10 minutes later, the whole loaf was gone.

Guess people liked it.

I don’t really have much of an opinion, considering that I had just one bite. So I polled the family, all of whom scored slices of their own:

Husband: It was a good sweet bread. Not that memorable.

#1 Son: I was expecting something with more flavor. I was expecting something more cakey, and because of that, my impression was negative, but as bread, it was good.

#2 Son: I didn’t think it would be like cake, so I loved it. I liked the raisins.

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It was basically a sweet challah, but not sweet enough for me. I like my bread to be bread and my cake to be cake, and this was really a cross between the two.

If you want to see what the other TWD bakers did with it, check out the blogroll. And if you want the recipe for yourself, buy Dorie’s book or check out The All-Purpose Girl.

Tuesdays With Dorie: Rugelach

November 4, 2008

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I was really looking forward to this week’s recipe. Over the years I’ve had my share of bakery-made (or, horrors, store-bought) rugelach, and I was looking forward to seeing what they taste like fresh from the oven.

Dorie recommends raspberry or apricot preserves; I doubled the batch to have enough for a potluck lunch on Sunday, and I planned to make half apple and half raspberry. As it turned out, the apple jelly I liquefied for the first half was enough for both, so they’re all apple. But while I was melting the jelly, it hit me: cherry. That was the way to go. Cherry jelly would have been insanely good.

Anyway, apple it was. Needless to say, I left out the currants.

The dough was easy to make and easy to work with. I hate rolling out dough almost as much as I hate fruit in my desserts, so I was worried about that part. But I used the plastic wrap the dough was refrigerated in as a shield between the rolling pin and the dough, and everything worked perfectly. I couldn’t get the dough into a perfect circle, of course, because I never can, but because the circle wound up being cut into 16 wedges, it didn’t matter.

Assembly was easy. Cutting was easy. Rolling up the cute little rugelach (rugelachen?) was easy. Even knowing when they were done was easy; I often have trouble with that part.

Really, the worst part of the whole endeavor was the waiting time; the dough has to be refrigerated for at least two hours before it’s rolled out, and the cookies have to be refrigerated for at least 30 minutes before you bake them. But even that wouldn’t matter if I’d spread the process out over a few days, as Dorie says works just fine.

And so?

Amazing.

The pastry was light and crackly, probably among the best two or three pastries I’ve ever made (or had!). The filling — apple jelly, cinnamon-sugar, and mini chocolate chips — was warm and absolutely delicious. (Oh, but if it had been cherry …)

Sadly, I made them on Friday night, intending them as our dessert. But Friday was also Halloween, and everyone had eaten so much candy by dinnertime that no one wanted dessert. (Well, #2 Son would have happily had some, but he was in another town trick-or-treating with a friend.)

I took them to a potluck Sunday afternoon, and they went like hotcakes, as they say. Everyone raved about them, and they still were light-years better than the bakery ones — extremely moist and flavorful. But they’d lost that lovely crackliness, which was my favorite thing about them.

If you want to try them yourself, head on over to Piggy’s Cooking Journal, where the recipe will be posted (and where you can check out her amazing food photographs). And if you want to see what the other TWD bloggers did with the recipe (and I’m sure there will be some great variations), work your way through the recently expanded blogroll at Tuesdays With Dorie.

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