Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Week 8: Austrian Shortbread--My First Failure

See that? This is what I like to call My First Failure in my year long project of cookies. Did it bake? Yes. Did it taste okay? Yes. Did it turn out as I wanted it to? Absolutely not.

To preface, I should mention that I have made this cookie before. It was requested by certain family members that I make this cookie, so I caved. Truth be told, I hate making this cookie; it's just so difficult. And I know where I went wrong: the jam.

The idea behind this recipe is a layered bar; from top to bottom is shortbread, jam, shortbread. The recipe originally calls for seedless raspberry jam, which is wonderful and delicious and all sorts of good things that I cannot truly describe. It's light, fluffy, and flavorful. There is truly nothing like it. But I digress.

So the important thing is the jam. I had quite a bit of homemade pomegranate jam from my Pomegranate Pillow cookies, so I decided to use that instead of raspberry jam. I could tell right from the start that there was an issue, though; the jam almost immediately began to seep through the bottom layer of shortbread. I figured it would be okay, though. There was no way I was giving up before I bake it.

The recipe calls for the bars to bake for 30-40 minutes. After an hour, the bars were just about done. Once pulled out, the center caved in, the sides were discolored, and it did not look good at all. So I threw some powdered sugar on top and decided that it would be a "treat" for us; there was no way that I was going to take this embarrassment to work.

So how did it taste? Pretty good, actually. That doesn't make up for the fact that I messed it up, though. Perhaps for a frame of reference I should include a picture of the shortbread bars done correctly:

Yea, slightly more attractive. And the layers are distinguishable. Beautiful.

So, there is nothing wrong with the recipe itself. Just make sure you use the right jam.

You really should try this recipe. If you want a workout for your upper arms, that is. You heard (read?) me correctly. The trick to this shortbread (besides using the right jam) is grating the frozen dough into the pan. AND you can't compress the gratings. And there's a lot of dough. Once the dough is mixed, it is separated into two equal pieces, wrapped in plastic, and frozen for a bit. When you're ready to prepare the bars, you take one half out of the freezer, grate it into the pan, and spread it evenly without pressing down. I have yet to prepare this recipe in a pan under 40 minutes. Can you see now why I was so pissed off that this one was a botched batch? Yea....

Anyway, the recipe is great, and definitely worth a try at least once. So of course I will share it with you! I found this recipe online, and I love the end result so much. Seriously, try it some time.

Lydia's Austrian Raspberry Shortbread
makes 12 to 16 large bars

1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, lightly softened
4 egg yolks
2 cups granulated sugar
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup seedless raspberry jam, at room temperature
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar

1. Cream the butter in a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or with a hand mixer) until soft and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and mix well.

2. Mix the granulated sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt together. Add to the butter and egg yolk mixture and mix until just incorporated and the dough starts to come together. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and form into two balls. Wrap each ball with plastic wrap and freeze at least 2 hours or overnight (can be frozen up to one month).

3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

4. Remove one ball of dough from the freezer and coarsely grate it by hand or with the grating disk of a food processor into a 9x13 inch baking pan or a 10 inch tart pan with removable bottom. Make sure the surface is covered evenly with shreds of dough.

5. With the back of a spoon or a flexible spatula, spread the jam over the surface, to within 1/2 inch of the edge all the way around. Remove the remaining dough from the freezer and coarsely grate it over the entire surface.

6. Bake until lightly golden brown, about 30-40 minutes. As soon as the shortbread comes out of the oven, dust with confectioners sugar. Cool on a wire rack, then cut in the pan with a serrated knife.

Some alterations I made:
- I use a piping bag to cover the shortbread with jam. It seems to work better for me.
- If you can, use a baker's bench knife to cut your bars. It makes a cleaner cut, gets all the way to the edges cleanly, and doesn't scratch your pan. Such a great buy for all your baking needs.
- If you're a chocolate junkie like me, adding miniature chocolate chips on top of the jam before you grate the rest of the dough makes for a heavenly result. Again, definitely worth a try.
- I know that the recipe calls for raspberry jam, but feel free to substitute any flavor you like...as long as it's jam! :-D

So the failure? I've decided it's not so bad. No one is perfect, right? Of course right!

And for those who have been following it, I have not updated my Tastebook for some time; I hope to catch up on that soon.

Stay tuned for next week's exciting cookie! And yes, I do know what it will be. ;-) And, as always, happy baking!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Week 7: White Chocolate-Chip and Craisin Cookies

I'm back. It's been a long week, and I finally baked my cookies, and now I'm sharing them with you!

How this cookie came to be is a bit of an interesting story actually. I decided to make Love Letter Cookies for Valentine's Day, and I asked my dad to get me candied cherries for them while he was out on Sunday. What I received instead were cherry-flavored craisins (cranberry-raisins). No big deal, especially since I forgot to let the butter defrost (oops). So, at that point, I decided that I was going to make my Austrian Shortbread bars using the pomegranate jam (sans seeds and raisins) that I made for my pomegranate pillows a few weeks ago. I decided to make the dough Sunday night, let it freeze throughout Monday, and bake on Tuesday. Instead, I fell asleep. Things were out for Monday, as I was out late with Spanish lessons and Choral Rehearsal (side note: right after I typed the word "choral" at 6:48 PM, I realized that I had choir rehearsal for another choir tonight...at 6:30 PM. Oops!), and thus was not able to bake. So I decided on Tuesday that I was going to do something with the craisins that my dad got. After searching for a bit in my books and on the internet, I cam up with this idea. Apparently it turned out splendidly; I don't really have enough left to take in to work tomorrow, but I did promise some to 2 people...so they will get it.

This cookie was really basic, and exactly what I needed during the middle of a stressful week. It's rather interesting how my week became so stressful; I think it all started with the fact that I didn't have my cookies done. After that, my week has just gone downhill. At least tomorrow is Friday, and I have a long weekend to recuperate. Anyway...the cookie. It's my basic chocolate chip cookie recipe (aka, Nestle Toll House) with white chips substituted for the semisweet, and a cup of craisins added. I'm sure you could use any sort of dried fruit bits in this, but the cherry-flavored craisins are what I had to work with. I really think raspberry-flavored craisins would be wonderful...almost like a raspberry cheesecake cookie! At first I wasn't so sure that I liked them, but they turned out great in the end.

It's getting late now, though, so let me just get on to the recipe...enjoy!

White Chocolate-Chip and Craisin Cookies
makes about 5 dozen cookies

2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar (I find that light brown sugar is best)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups white chocolate chips
1 cup craisins (cranberry raisins)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

2. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in small bowl. Set aside. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla extract in a large bowl until creamy. Add eggs one at a time. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in white chocolate chips and craisins.

3. Drop dough by rounded tablespoons on ungreased cookie sheets (As usual, I use my silpat mats). Bake 7-9 minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer cookies to wire rack to cool completely.

As I said...pretty simple. And they're enjoyable. So, go on! What are you waiting for? Get thee to a kitchen!!! And, as always...happy baking!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

With Sincere Apologies

Well, it's Tuesday morning, and not only have I not posted, but I have not made this week's cookie. I will have one done and posted by the end of the week; I've just been terribly busy. I'm beginning to think that this project might be a bit too challenging...but I refuse to give up just yet.

I just wanted to keep everyone in the know about this; I will be back soon to post, but not yet.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Week 6: Cinnamon Spirals

The general regime that I've created for myself is bake cookies on Sunday, post on blog on Monday, and add to Tastebook on Tuesday. In working out my projection for the rest of the year, I've come to realize that keeping this regime is good as a guide, but life will get in the way from time to time. For instance, the beginning of this week has been very busy. I had my first rehearsal with The Philadelphia Singers on Monday, and I didn't get in until almost 10 PM. If you know me, then you know that this is very late for me; usually I'm in bed by 9 or so. So Monday was a bust. Yesterday was Tuesday, and I was out much later than I expected at my fancy-schmancy dinner at Le Bec-Fin, the premiere restaurant in Philadelphia. It was well worth it, the complimentary cookies inspired me for new projects this year, and I decided to forgo another night of blogging. So here I am, Wednesday night. Never fear, readers! I have not forgotten about you.

This week was a fun cookie, and turned out...interestingly. I actually started the cookie on Saturday due to a busy weekend and the fact that the dough had to chill for some time. There's no sugar or leavening part in the dough itself, and thus the cookie is only slightly sweet. The idea is pretty basic: make dough, roll out dough, sprinkle cinnamon-sugar mixture, roll up dough, freeze, cut in slices, bake. So, I guess that's the short story of it.

These were pretty fun in the end. I think the best part of making my cookies are involving the "testers"--primarily my sister and my mom. While I was cutting the dough, my sister came in and asked if she could try a raw cookie. (Before you get grossed out, you have to realize that we are big in my family on cookie dough. And kudos to this one because there are no eggs in the dough, thus no raw eggs, thus no risk of food-borne illnesses. Score!) She enjoyed them so much that I had to give them a try...and I do have to say that they were rather tasty. So much so that I ended up not baking the last quarter of the last log so that I could reserve it for frozen snacking. They were just as good as the baked cookie in the end.

The other interesting thing about these cookies was that the centers would peak in the spirals; my sister and I decided that they looked like something that came out of a Dr. Seuss book. She told me that I should make more in July for our trip to Massachusetts (I have a wedding to attend, but we're making a stop on the way up to visit the Dr. Seuss Park in Springfield).

A few notes regarding technical alterations:
The recipe instructs the baker to cut the slices of spirals with a serrated knife. I tried this at first, but had a bit of difficulty; I ended up using a scraper blade that I use to smooth frosting on my cakes. Ours had an edge that looked like it could cut into something like frozen dough. This worked extremely well, and I would suggest this above all else.
As always, I never use ungreased cookie sheets anymore: I always use my silpats or parchment paper, depending on the cookie, even if it calls for ungreased cookie sheets. I find that there's less clean-up and more clean-cut (cookies, that is).
I find it best to freeze the cookie dough logs in icebox cookie form in order to slice it best. I did leave mine in the freezer for quite some time, so I would suggest to let it sit out for a few minutes (no longer) before slicing if you have left the logs in the freezer for a few hours.

These were pretty good. Not my favorite, but they were fun to make. I also find myself cursing at roll-out dough less and less nowadays. I feel like I'm accomplishing things little by little.

And now, the moment you've all waited for: Cinnamon Spirals from Good Housekeeping's "The Great Christmas Cookie Swap Book".

Cinnamon Spirals
Makes about 120 cookies

1 cup butter or margarine (2 sticks), softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1. In large bowl, with mixer at medium speed, beat butter and cream cheese until creamy, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low; gradually beat in flour and salt until well mixed, occasionally scraping bowl with rubber spatula.

2. Divide dough in half. On sheet of plastic wrap, pat 1 piece of dough into small rectangle; wrap tightly and refrigerate 1 hour or until dough is firm enough to roll. (Or freeze dough for 30 minutes.) Repeat with remaining dough.

3. Meanwhile, in small bowl, stir sugar and cinnamon until blended.

4. On lightly floured surface, with floured rolling pin, roll 1 piece of dough into 15" by 12" rectangle. Sprinkle half of cinnamon-sugar mixture evenly over dough. Starting from a long side, tightly roll rectangle jelly-roll fashion. Brush last 1/2 inch of dough with water to seal edge. Cut log crosswise in half. Slide logs onto ungreased cookie sheet; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 2 hours or until dough is firm enough to slice. (Or freeze dough for 45 minutes.) Repeat with remaining dough and cinnamon-sugar mixture.

5. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Remove 2 logs from freezer; with serrated knife, cut each log crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Place cookies 1/2 inch apart, on two ungreased large cookie sheets.

6. Bake cookies until lightly browned, 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire rack to cool. Repeat with remaining 2 logs.

Oh, and the cool part about this recipe? There's Nutrition information!

Each cookie: 45 calories, 1 gr protein, 4 g carbohydrates, 3 g total fat (2 g saturated), 8 mg cholesterol, 40 mg sodium

Not so bad, especially if you use reduced fat or fat-free cream cheese.

Alright folks...that's all from me for now. Stay tuned for next week's super awesome Valentine's Day cookie...once I decide what I'm doing! :-)

And, as always, happy baking!