Christmas Cookie #2 – Cranberry-Pistachio Biscotti (Or Hey You, Give Me Something To Dip Into My Coffee)

This is a batch of biscotti, which is technically not a cookie at all, but rather a biscuit.  However, it has always been part of my Christmas cookie baking timeline whenever the mood hits me to bake Christmas cookies.  Did you know that biscotti is the plural form of biscotto?   The word biscotto originates from the medieval Latin word biscoctus, meaning twice-cooked/baked.  So there you have the secret of making a batch of biscotti.  You make two long loaves of dough, bake them, let them cool a little and then slice them and bake them again.  The second bake actually hardens them up a little so that they last a little while longer than a normal cookie does.  Their hardness also makes it a favorite for dipping into coffee or tea.

That’s another reason I make them.  The holidays at our house see a lot of coffee that is drank on a daily basis.  I find it amazing that the people who are older and have the weaker kidneys are usually the ones that ask for the most coffee to drink and a little something to nibble on while drinking.  I have not done a scientific test on this factoid as of yet, but I know it would fall out as a solid statement if I did.  For each cup poured, many times there is the question “What do you have to dip into this coffee?”   Many times they ask this by calling my name and, more than a few times, my name is forgotten and a simple “Hey you!” starts out the request.

The biscotti recipe I always make is filled with cranberries and pistachios.  When you look down at the sides of the biscotti, there are little flecks of red (the cranberries) and green (the pistachio nuts).  What screams holiday more than bursts of red and green?  Here’s how we make the biscotti in our house:

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 3 large eggs, plus 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.  Place cranberries in a small bowl; add boiling water.  Let stand until plump, about 15 minutes.  Drain, and set aside.  Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add 3 eggs, one at a time, beating to incorporate after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl as needed.  Beat in vanilla.  Add flour mixture, and mix on low-speed until combined.  Mix in cranberries and pistachios.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface; divide in half.  Shape each piece into a 16-by-2-inch log, and transfer to prepared baking sheet, about 3 inches apart.  With the palm of your hand, flatten logs slightly.  Brush beaten egg over surface of the dough logs, and sprinkle generously with sugar.

Bake, rotating sheet halfway through, until logs are slightly firm to touch, about 25 minutes.  Transfer logs on parchment paper to a wire rack to cool slightly, about 20 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees.

Place logs on a cutting board.  Using a serrated knife, cut logs crosswise on the diagonal into 1/2-inch-thick slices.  Place a wire rack on a large rimmed baking sheet.  Arrange slices, cut sides down, on rack.  Bake until firm to touch, about 30 minutes.  Remove pan from oven; let biscotti cool completely on rack.  Biscotti should be kept in an airtight container.

You know you have turned out a great batch when all you hear during “coffee breaks” is the crunch, crunch, crunch of a group of folks gnawing on your cranberry-pistachio biscotti.  Thanks for reading about our second cookie made for the season.  There will be other posts about our Christmas baking through the big day on December 25.  We hope you will come back and “bake” with us.  We like the company!!  What is your favorite kind of Christmas cookie?

Christmas Cookie #1 – Coconut Pyramids (No Trip To Egypt Needed)

This is always the first cookie I make if and when I get into the Christmas cookie baking mode.  Coconut pyramids start the season off right.  Front up, I will tell you, it’s not every season I get into the mood to make Christmas cookies.  When I do, these coconut pyramid macaroons are first up at bat.  Why coconut macaroons you may be asking versus something more traditional for the holidays?  I’m not sure I know that answer other than to say they are quick to make and bake.  It’s probably a mental thing…you start off with something easy that always turns out right and then you get into a state where you start taking more challenges with more complicated recipes.  Know that the hardest part of this recipe is finding unsweetened coconut.  The only place I have found it is at my local health food store.  I’ve used the sweetened kind of coconut from the supermarket, but it just does not work.

I first baked these macaroons in 2001 when I ran across the recipe in a cookbook I had purchased.  I remember thinking that they would look like little snow drifts among the other cookies that I had baked that year.  Since everyone I gave cookies to that year was really in the mood for coconut (I guess), these pyramids received a lot of compliments and I’ve been making them ever since.  Coconut macaroons are light and chewy.  The little tip of chocolate at the end of the cookie is a nice little touch as well.  It’s the pyramid shape that I find the best part of the cookie.  It looks like it takes a long time to shape them, but it is pretty quick and painless.  You don’t have to make them your first Christmas cookie of the season, but do give them a shot this year.  It’s always nice to start a new tradition.  Why not do it with a coconut pyramid?

Ingredients:

  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 5 1/4 cups unsweetened shredded coconut (I find mine at a local health food store)
  • 7 large egg whites
  • 1 pinch salt
  •  2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 4 ounces semisweet chocolate
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vegetable shortening

Directions:

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment.  In a large bowl, mix together sugar, coconut, egg whites and salt.  Add butter and extracts and combine well.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Moisten palms of hands with cold water.  Roll 1 tablespoon of the coconut mixture in palms, squeezing tightly together 2 or 3 times to form a compact ball.  Place ball on a clean surface and, using a spatula, flatten one side at a time to form a pyramid shape.

Place pyramids on the prepared baking sheet about 1 inch apart and bake until edges are golden brown, about 15 minutes.  Leave on baking sheet on a wire rack to cool completely.

Place chocolate and shortening in a small heat-proof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water; stir occasionally until melted.  Dip top 1/2 inch of each pyramid in the melted chocolate.  Set each dipped macaroon on cooled baking sheet to allow chocolate to harden.

For some reason, my friends, family and I find it hard to eat just one of these cookies at any given sitting.  They go pretty fast, so be prepared.  I’ll be posting a few more Christmas cookie favorites over the next couple of weeks.  I’m in the mood to bake them this year, so why not share the recipes with the masses.  Enjoy!!  What is your favorite cookie that you make for the holidays?

Gobbling Up Our Turkey Shaped Cornbread

This is what happens when Martha Stewart inspires you way too much.  I try not to watch her show much anymore because I am the type of person that sees her do something and then I become obsessed with the idea and have to try it.  The problem is that I only complete about 50% of the things that I see her do.  Sure, I made this Thanksgiving cornbread in the special turkey pan she used, but still lingering are projects that I haven’t done, like making wax initials with a letterpress, wax sticks and a glue gun, glittering some pine cones for a crystal bowl I have on my dining room table and embossing my velvet Christmas stockings with a faux bois finish.  I’m serious, I actually have everything you need to do these projects.  They are in my hall closet.  However, the only thing I don’t have is time.  Oddly enough, when I do have the time, I just don’t have the energy.  I see Martha wincing now.

I turned on Martha’s show only once leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday.  It was the show where she made these cornbread turkeys.  I was obsessed and knew that it was happening again….the urge to make something beautiful that she made.  I ran to my computer and frantically searched for the right turkey mold pan.  I found it on Amazon.com.  I had it sent via overnight FedEx, which cost me about as much as the pan.  I received the pan late Wednesday evening and knew that it was perfect for the recipe to be made on Thanksgiving morning.  I was right on schedule.

The cornbread recipe to fill the mold was very simple to make.  The cornbread is actually a little more dense than the cornbread recipe I usually make, but still very delicious.  The addition of the jalapeno peppers and the cheddar cheese was a nice addition to the cornbread recipe.  They both gave the bread a little punch.  Here’s how I did it:

Ingredients:

  • Vegetable oil cooking spray
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups fresh (from about 3 ears) or thawed frozen corn kernels
  • 3 jalapeno chiles, minced (ribs and seeds removed for less heat, if desired)
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/4 cups yellow cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 1/4 cups buttermilk, well shaken
  • 1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat two 5-cup turkey-shaped pans with cooking spray.  Melt 1/2 cup butter and let cool.

Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium-high.  Cook corn, jalapeno, and shallots, stirring occasionally, until soft, 4 to 6 minutes.

Whisk together flour, cornmeal, salt, pepper, sugar, baking powder and baking soda in a large bowl.  Make a well in the center of the mixture and add eggs; whisk eggs into flour mixture.

Whisk together melted butter and buttermilk; stir into flour mixture, along with corn mixture and cheddar.  Mix until well combined.

Divide the batter evenly between prepared pans; smooth tops.  Transfer to oven and bake, rotating pans halfway through, until a cake tester inserted into the centers comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes.  Let cool slightly before inverting onto a wire rack.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Christmas is right around the corner.  I know Martha will do something that I will see or hear about and the free-for-all will begin all over again.  What will it be?  Hand felted Santa suits, carve your own reindeer antlers, a simple dinner for 100?  If you find out, please don’t let me know.  Well, maybe just a hint is fine.  Do you stalk have a favorite famous personality that you like and follow?

Using Booze To Make Holidays Even Brighter

This little drink can really make roasting chestnuts on an open fire or going over the river and through the woods a lot less painful.  It is a juice and vodka drink that we call a Pomatini.  It is made with fresh squeezed pomegranate, grapefruit and lime juices.  We made the drink on Thanksgiving morning and actually sat our Pomatini filled decorative pitchers outside so that the drink could cool down before serving.  During our appetizers before the big Thanksgiving meal, we poured, shaked and drank Pomatinis.  Wow, it sure worked to make good food taste even better.  We decided to make these drinks because pomegranates seemed so Thanksgiving-like.  If you think of it, you could really justify this drink for any holiday or occasion–the reddish color fits in well with Christmas festivities or the juice make-up is perfect for a July 4th party.  So the next time you have a get together, consider the Pomatini!

Ingredients for the Pomatini (fills half of a large decorative pitcher):

  • 1 cup freshly squeezed pomegranate juice
  • 1 1/2 cups vodka
  • 1 1/2 cups freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/2 cup simple syrup

Directions:

Combine pomegranate juice, vodka, grapefruit juice, lime juice and simple syrup and then pour into decorative pitchers.  Continue recipe, making it in the proportions provided, until all of your pitchers are filled.

Add ice to chill into the pitcher or pour drink into a shaker filled with ice.  Strain drink into a chilled martini glass.

Ingredients for Simple Syrup:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water

Directions:

Bring sugar and water to a boil in a small saucepan over high heat.  Cook, stirring, until sugar dissolves.  Let cool.

So why not use our Pomatini to help reduce your stress level during your next holiday get together or party?  Be warned, if you drink more than a couple of these Pomatinis make sure you use a designated driver when you go outside to drive your sleigh around.  What great cocktail recipes do you make during the holidays?  

First Pie Of Fall – Making A Concord Grape Pie

This is a slice of our first homemade pie of Fall, a Concord grape pie.  Like many people, hearing about a grape pie is a new thing.  An oddity in the homemade pie world.  I mean, how many times have you ever seen a grape pie in your life?  I have never seen one for sale at the supermarket or at a bakery.  However, when I was a young child growing up in Iowa, my grandmother made grape pies all the time when grapes were in season.  So when I saw this recipe, I knew I had to give it a try.  Remembering the taste of her grape pie made me want to make this.  Although not a common pie, grape filling is a really good way to fill a pie crust.  I do have to disclose that my grandma’s grape pie was different from my grape pie in one major respect.  Hers always had a lot of seeds in the filling.  I remember eating her grape pie and chewing on a seed and whining, “Grandma, there is a seed in the pie.”  She would reply, “Just shut up and eat it.  Do you think I have all day to sit and seed grapes?”  It is true that the grapes you use for this recipe, Concord grapes, contain a lot of flavor and a lot of seeds.  You can spend a lot of time scraping the seeds out of the pulp with a knife, but I have discovered a way to do it in a much faster manner.  I boil the pulp for less than 10 minutes and then strain the seeds out through a sieve.  To start this recipe, you need to find some Concord grapes.

Concord grapes are large, sweet grapes that appear dark purple (almost black) in color.  They have thick skins and are in season in my neck of the woods for a very short amount of time.  Most of the time, you see them in Connecticut at the beginning of October through the middle of November.  Originating in the 1840s near, not surprising, Concord, Massachusetts, the most familiar American grape is the Concord grape.  Winter hardy, the vigorous plants can produce up to twenty pounds or more of the fruit per vine per year.  Well-established grapevines can produce quality fruit for more than forty years.  The Concord grape is responsible for making the famous and popular Concord grape jelly that we all know and loved as kids (and probably as grown ups too).  Here’s how we made our first pie of the Fall…our Concord grape pie.

Ingredients:

Directions:

On a lightly floured work surface, roll 1 piece of pie crust dough into a 13-inch round.  With a dry pastry brush, sweep off the excess flour.  Fit dough into a 9-inch pie plate, pressing it into the edges.  Trim to a 1-inch overhang all around.  Crimp edge as desired.  Chill pie shell until firm, for at least 1 hour.  Repeat process for rolling out dough.  Using a 4-inch grape leaf cookie cutter, cut out 4 leaves from dough. Transfer to a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

So now here’s the trick for removing the seeds from the grapes in a pretty quick manner.  Remove the skins from the grape pulp by pinching the ends of each grape, reserving both the pulp and skins separately.  Discard any accumulated liquid (you don’t want your pie to be too juicy).  Literally, just pop the pulp right out of the skins with a squeeze of your fingers.  Here’s the skins:

Now, here’s the pulp:

Place pulp in a saucepan and bring to a boil.

Cook until the seeds separate from the pulp and the pulp breaks down, less than 10 minutes.

Strain the mixture through a sieve into the bowl with the reserved skins.

Here are the seeds left over after your straining is complete.  Discard them.

Let cool to room temperature before placing in the refrigerator for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Remove grape mixture from refrigerator.  Stir in sugar and cornstarch.  Pour into the prepared pie shell.  Beat egg with 1 tablespoon water.  Brush edge of pie shell with egg mixture, reserving any remaining egg mixture.  Transfer pie to oven; bake 10 minutes.  Reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue baking until filling jiggles when shaken, about 30 minutes.  Transfer pie to a wire cooling rack; let cool overnight.  Two things to remember on this step:

  • Do not overfill your pie crust with the grape filling.  It does expand and you don’t want it to overflow.
  • When you give your pie a little shake and see the filling jiggle, your first instinct is to think your pie is not cooked enough.  It is.  Remember all the cornstarch you put into the filling?  As the pie cools, the cornstarch thickens the juice and sets it firm.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Remove reserved grape leaves from refrigerator and brush with remaining egg and water mixture.  Bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes.  Transfer to a wire cooling rack; let cool.  Before serving, place grape leaves on top of filling.

This pie has a great flavor.  Great flavor that also surprises the folks that you serve it to.  Maybe your friends have had a grape pie?  My friends seem to be shocked that I used Concord grapes to make a pie.  After one taste, they all want the recipe.  Since time is running out on Concord grape season, get to your supermarket and pick up some Concord grapes and make this tasty and different dessert.  You’ll be glad that you did.  Have you ever eaten a grape pie before?

The Sure Sign Of Fall – Making Pie Crust Dough

This is a the first pie crust of the season here on Glen Road.  Even though pies can be made any time of year, it seems we prefer pie more in the Fall and Winter seasons.  Our first pie is always made around Halloween and this year is no exception.  Making pie crust dough always brings about a little bit of anxiety for me.  No matter how many times I’ve made a crust, I am always nervous about the part of picking up the rolled dough and placing it in the pie plate without tearing or ripping the dough.  Even though I’ve made lots and lots of pies, I can’t ever seem to shake my crust anxiety.  That’s why it is important to find a crust recipe out there that works for you.  There are many….ones that use butter versus vegetable shortening, ones that use sugar versus salt, ones that use a pastry blender and ones that don’t.  Experiment with the many recipes out there until you find one that works for you.  Once you determine the right one, stick to it.  The more you use it, the easier it will be to make a crust that is flaky and golden.  Like they say, practice makes perfect.

My favorite recipe mixes everything up in the food processor.  It’s pretty quick and pain-free.  The crust always turns out flaky and browns very easy in the oven to golden without burning.  I make sure everything is cold when I add it to the flour, sugar and salt.  The butter is cut into cubes and then I place it back in the refrigerator to cool down again.  The water I add to the mixture is ice-cold.  After I form my crust into the pan, I place it back in the refrigerator for at least an hour.  Popping a super cold crust into a super hot oven produces a flaky pie crust that does not pull away from the sides of the pan.  Cold, cold, cold!!  So here’s how I have been making pie crust dough for at least the last ten years:

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 8 ounces (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

Directions:

Pulse flour, salt and sugar in a food processor until combined.  Add butter and process until mixture resembles coarse meal, about three pulses of the food processor (remember, your butter is already in small pieces so you don’t want to chop it up much more).  With the machine running, add water in a slow, steady stream until mixture just begins to hold together.

Shape dough into 2 disks. Wrap each in plastic, and refrigerate at least 1 hour to 2 days (or freeze for up to 1 month; thaw in refrigerator before using).

Like I said earlier, everyone you know has a different technique for making pie crust dough.  I like the easy technique the food processor provides.  My friends over at Rufus’ Food and Spirits Guide make their pie crust dough with a pastry blender.  The choice is yours.  At the end of the day, you want a recipe that provides delicious, flaky and golden brown crust that you enjoy eating.

Also experiment with the edges of your pie crust.  There is nothing more beautiful than a pie with a gorgeous finish on the edge of the crust…whether its a simple fluted edge or one decorated with cut-out dough shapes into forms like leaves, hearts or flowers, that attention to detail makes a good pie a great one.  Have fun making your crust and don’t get nervous…like me.  How do you make your pie crust dough?

A Sweet Little Drink From The Devil Sisters

This is a sweet little drink we enjoyed this weekend at a party in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.  From the three open bottles of champagne, you can tell that it was pretty popular.  It is a drink that is on the sweet side.  What could be better….a sweet drink to enjoy on a sweet day.  My two friends that grew up in Iowa with me (they are sisters) from Peonies From Heaven had this drink and then made it at the party.  I don’t recall hearing the name of the drink.  I’m sure they didn’t invent it (although I’m sure they would claim that they did if you asked them), but I’ll go ahead and name it in their honor.  Because they have a wild streak and take every opportunity to harass me (I don’t deserve it) along with it being close to Halloween, I’ll name it ‘The Devil Sisters’ Champagne Brew’.  All kidding aside, this champagne brew is delicious.  Make sure to have the following ingredients on hand:

  • Champagne of your choice
  • A bottle of St. Germain elderflower liqueur
  • A bottle of orange bitters
  • Sugar cubes
  • Fresh oranges

The Devil Sister’s Champagne Brew:

Take a champagne flute and fill it about 3/4 full with your favorite chilled champagne.  Then add about half of a shot of the elderflower liqueur into the flute.  Next, drop in one sugar cube that is generously soaked in the orange bitters.  Garnish by dropping in a slice of fresh orange peel.  Enjoy!!

I’ve seen more and more drinks that are being made these days with the elderflower liqueur.  I’ve read that it is an artisanal French liqueur made from hand-picked elderflower blossoms.  The starry white flowers are gathered by 40-50 folks pedaling the Alpen French countryside picking the flowers that is then distilled into this liqueur.  It is blended with a small amount of citrus and natural cane sugar to accentuate the subtle flavor of the elderflowers.  The resulting liqueur is delicate and balanced with fresh floral aromas and flavors and hints of pear, apricot and grapefruit zest.  So if you are looking for a sweet little brew, go ahead and give this one a try….and let me know what this is called if you know its name.  Have you ever used elderflower liqueur in any of your drink specialties?