Cherry Trio

May 26th, 2006 · 7 Comments · Books, Cakes, Ice Cream, Recipes

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It’s the beginning of cherry season – when I went to the farmers’ market this week, there were boxes of the red and gold-colored fruits beckoning from the stalls.  The deep ruby Bing cherries were already sweet enough to eat out of hand, while the yellow ones were still a little on the tart side – but perfect for working into dessert.

I picked a trio of recipes from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course; what I like about her cookbook is that every recipe will suggest accompaniments to complement or contrast with the dish. It shows how easy it is to combine a variety of flavors and textures and make the jump from one dessert to a restaurant-worthy composition. Her suggestions are creative and inspired as well; I never would have thought of candied fennel as a partner to cherry cheesecake!

I used Fleming’s recipe for Cherry Cheesecake Tart with Red Wine Glaze but made it in individual portions so it wouldn’t overwhelm the other components of the dessert. The cheesecake, made with cream cheese and sour cream on a graham cracker crust, has a sweet creamy flavor and a wonderfully light, fluffy texture. It  makes a nice base for the cherries, which take on a rich, slightly spicy notes from the red wine and star anise glaze. Fleming’s suggestions for accompaniments are the cherry sorbet and candied fennel.

The second item is based off of her recipe for Cherry Napoleons with Almond Pastry Cream, but because I was so pleased with how my Apple Phyllo Napoleons turned out and I wanted to keep the dessert light, I substituted almond-scented whipped cream for the filling and sprinkled the tops of the phyllo napoleons with crushed almonds and sugar. This variation was just as delectable: the combination of cherries and almonds is perfect and I loved the contrast between the crispy napoleons, billowy cream, and sweet fruit. Fleming’s suggestions for this dish were candied almonds and an almond milk granité.

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The final part of the trio is a cool, sweet cherry sorbet.  It’s important to use red cherries for this (Fleming’s recipe actually specifies sour cherries, which are always scarlet), as otherwise you won’t get the appetizing bright red in the result. For this dish, Fleming suggested candied almonds, fresh cherries, and a chocolate biscotti with pistachio.  Even though I didn’t make all of these suggested dishes, it’s really fun to see just how many different ways you can combine dessert ideas and bring out different aspects of the dishes.

And there we are! Three cherry desserts, just in time for Memorial Day weekend and the unofficial start of summer!

Local:

Cherries – Hamada Farms, Kingsburg

Butter, cream – Clover Farms, Marin County

Sour cream – Cowgirl Creamery, Point Reyes

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Cookie Mania

April 4th, 2006 · 11 Comments · Books, Cookies, Recipes

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It’s been unexpectedly and tenaciously rainy in the Bay Area, enough that by last weekend everyone seemed to have a combined case of rainy-day blues and cabin fever.  Spring’s supposed to have started – yet all that shows up in the forecasts is more grey skies.

A day at home with the rain drizzling by outside in silvery sheets – there could be no better impetus for a serious session of baking.  I’d been sadly too busy to bake much lately, and I fairly itched to pull out the baking sheets and mixing bowls again.  I made a new batch of tart dough (as my stash was all used up) for the glimmerings of projects I had planned for this week, but I really wanted to bake something right now – something quick, uncomplicated, and satisfying.

What else but cookies, whipped up in the KitchenAid, ready in an hour, to be eaten, still warm and crumbly, with a glass of milk by the window?  How perfectly cozy and tucked-in to have the home redolent of spices and butter for the weary worker coming in from the damp, chilly outside?

Accordingly, I chose the homiest, most classic of cookies for a rainy-day baking session: Snickerdoodles, fluffy and buttery-sweet, scented with sugar and cinnamon; molasses spice cookies, chewy and gingery-spicy; and for pure decadence, chocolate-chocolate chip cookies.

All the recipes came from Great Cookies by Carole Walters, a wonderful compendium of cookie recipes from around the world.  Baking notes: while cookies may seem simple compared to the multi-part creations in pâtisseries and restaurants, maintaining the same care in preparing the recipe and knowing how you like your cookies will affect the results.  I like my cookies soft and chewy, with a crispy exterior – the epitome,of course, being right-out-of-the-oven-warm, the top crust crunching delicately beneath the bite,the interior still deliciously moist. I’ve learned that taking most cookies out of the oven while they still look underdone and letting them finish on the rack will help preserve this ideal condition as long as possible: even after they have cooled down they will retain their toothsome chewiness and become nicely soft in the microwave.  Cookies that come out of the oven already hard will, sadly, only become more rock-like.  One time I did succesfully soften a batch of chocolate chip cookies that came out inexplicably hard by putting them in a plastic bag with a slice of soft bread; the cookies will absorb the moisture from the bread and become softer.  This is a common household trick for softening up baked goods that are becoming hard and stale.  However, I found it easier just to keep a closer eye on the baking cookies and pull them out before they overbake.

I’ve made many versions of these cookies; all of the recipes below call for chilling the dough for at least an hour before forming and baking.  Since the recipes seem to produce fairly soft and liquidy batters, this is an essential step, and I find chilling the dough makes it easier to handle when forming the cookies, and helps keep them uniform in shape and size.  I usually use my own judgment when determining when to pull out the dough, not to mention how impatient I am for cookies! 

Also, in such a marathon baking spree (I think I ended up with about 120 cookies, or 10 sheets’ worth), you always end up bemoaning your lack of baking sheets, cooling racks, and counter space. I ended up using all six baking sheets in the house, but if you ever find yourself short a sheet and eyeing the just-pulled one from the oven, take the baked cookies off first and run the sheet under cold water to cool it down.  Otherwise the still-hot sheet will likely cook and melt the dough balls you put on and damage the results.

all recipes adapted from Great Cookies by Carole Walters

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Snickerdoodles

makes about 40 cookies

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup vegetable shortening

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Set aside.

Combine the butter and vegetable shortening in an electric mixer with the paddle attachment until combined and soft.  Add the sugar and mix for a couple more minutes.  Add the eggs one a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.  Add the vanilla.

Add the dry ingredients in two additions and mix on low just until combined. Scrape the dough into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for about an hour or until the dough is firm enough to shape.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line your cookie sheets with parchment paper. Fill a small bowl with combination of 1 1/4 cup sugar and 1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon.  Take the dough out of the refrigerator.  Using your hands, take a piece of dough and roll in your hands to form an approximately 1-inch ball.  Roll the ball in the cinnamon-sugar mixture until thoroughly coated and place on the baking sheet. Place the balls about 3 inches apart on the sheets. It is also a good idea to stagger the rows so the cookies have the most room to spread out.

Bake for about 10 minutes or until they have flattened out and browned slightly, and the tops have cracked. Rotate the sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through the baking.  Remove the cookies from the oven and place sheets on cooling racks for several minutes until they have firmed up, then transfer cookies directly to the racks to finish cooling.

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Molasses Spice Cookies

makes about 40 cookies

3/4 cup butter

2 cups all purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/4 cup dark molasses

1 large egg

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat; let cool. (The batter will be mixed in this saucepan).

Combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and cloves together in a bowl. Set aside.

Stir the sugar, molasses, and egg into the butter with a wooden spoon until well combined.  Add the dry ingredients in two additions and mix until combined. Cover the mixture with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about an hour or until dough is firm enough to shape.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Line your cookie sheets with parchment paper. Fill a small bowl with sugar for covering the dough balls.  Take the dough out of the refrigerator.  Using your hands, take a piece of dough and roll in your hands to form an approximately 1-inch ball.  Roll the ball in the sugar until thoroughly coated and place on the baking sheet. Place the balls about 3 inches apart on the sheets. It is also a good idea to stagger the rows so the cookies have the most room to spread out.

Bake for about 9 minutes or until they have flattened out and browned slightly, and the tops have cracked. Rotate the sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through the baking.  Remove the cookies from the oven and place sheets on cooling racks for several minutes until they have firmed up, then transfer cookies directly to the racks to finish cooling.

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Chocolate Chocolate-Chip Cookies

makes about 40 cookies

8 ounces of bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (I used Callebaut), chopped

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup butter, at room temperature

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup (about 4 oz) dark brown sugar

2 large eggs

2 tablespoons hot water

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

12 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, cut into chunks

Melt the 8 ounces of chocolate in a double boiler or in a bowl set over boiling water. Keep warm.

Combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Set aside.

Combine the butter in an electric mixer with the paddle attachment until creamy and soft.  Add the sugar, then the brown sugar, and mix for a couple more minutes.  Add the eggs one a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.  Add the melted chocolate, then the hot water, and then the vanilla.

Add the dry ingredients in two additions and mix on low just until combined. Fold in the chocolate chunks with a rubber spatula. Scrape the dough into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for about an hour or until the dough is firm enough to shape.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line your cookie sheets with parchment paper.  Take the dough out of the refrigerator.  Using your hands, take a piece of dough and roll in your hands to form an approximately 1-inch ball.  Place the balls on the baking sheet about 3 inches apart on the sheets. It is also a good idea to stagger the rows so the cookies have the most room to spread out.

Bake for about 10 minutes (they will look slightly underdone). Rotate the sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through the baking.  Remove the cookies from the oven and place sheets on cooling racks for several minutes until they have firmed up, then transfer cookies directly to the racks to finish cooling.

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