Tuesday, December 14, 2010

'Tis the season for cookies!

My life revolves around cookies this time of year.

I love to impress my friends with chewy cookies that are soft like marshmallows when they bite into them, but packed with deep rich flavor. Melting dark chocolate, adding instant espresso powder or grating fresh ginger are some of the secrets.

My cookie baking ritual started a few years ago when I used to have off the last week of the year. I was single and needed something to fill my time to keep me out of trouble – which meant obsessing over ex-boyfriends or shopping holiday sales with money I didn’t have.

I came across a Martha Stewart holiday cookie magazine, bought a couple of air bake cookie sheets, and an oven thermometer. I read up on the difference between Dutch processed and regular cocoa (Dutch processed has been treated with an alkali to neutralize its natural acidity so it doesn’t react with baking soda. As a result one can’t be substituted for the other).

I learned how to carefully spoon flour into measuring cups, the importance of leveling everything with a knife, and how to melt chocolate in a double boiler (I break up the chocolate in a metal mixing bowl and place it over a pan filled with ¼ inch of boiling water). 

Before I start baking I build in an extra hour to bring the butter and eggs at room temperature. Some of the batters also require chilling time in the fridge or freezer. That is what gives them that impressive chewy goodness.

The other trick is making cookies that are simple but look impressive like the Martha Stewart Espresso Snowcaps.

The batter is left in the freezer for 45 minutes so it can be rolled into balls that are coated twice with powered sugar. When the bake they cracked giving it the appearance of snow caps on chocolate – in other words winter heaven. My chocolate chip cookies have chips and chunks in the batter which is chilled for about an hour. Peanut butter surprise cookies have both peanut butter in the batter and a mini peanut butter cup that gets pressed into the cookie halfway through baking.

Photo from Martha Stewart
So Happy Holidays everyone!!! My your next year be as rich as the deepest dark chocolate and as wonderful as a warm gingerbread cookie loaded with cloves that make your tongue tingle.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Happy Hanukkah!

The latkes served at our house growing up came from a mix and tasted more like cardboard and paper than potatoes and onion. 

Now that I am in charge of making Hanukkah dinner, I'm kinda militant about hand grating the potatoes and onions instead of using a food processor because it makes for a crunchier consistency. 

Even though I really like the traditional fried potato pancake with sour cream and applesauce, the food that everyone raves about at our Hanukkah dinners are the much less labor intensive ricotta cheese latkes. They taste a little more like dessert than dinner, but I usually serve them along side traditional latkes with some applesauce or blueberry jam. 

Eating cheese for Hanukkah is some ancient tradition that pays tribute to the heroine Judith. Legend has it she fed wine and cheese to a Syrian general until he passed out. From what I understand his fate wasn't very pleasant after that.

No matter what the reason, these latkes are my favorite and will definitely be on the dinner table when I have family over this weekend.

Ricotta Latkes

Adapted from The New Jewish Holiday Cookbook by Gloria Kaufer Greene

1 15 oz container part skim ricotta cheese
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup all purpose flour

In a food processor fitted with a steel blade put the ricotta cheese, eggs, sugar and vanilla. Process until combined. Add the melted butter an process briefly. Add the flour and process until very smooth, like a thick cream. Scrape down the sides of the container a few times during processing. The batter will be thinner than most pancake batters.

Pre-heat a griddle or shallow skillet over medium heat. Lightly grease with butter. For each latke spoon 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons batter onto the griddle for a 3'' diameter pancake. Keep latkes about 1/2 inch apart from each other.

Cook for about 3 minutes or until a few bubbles have risen to the surface and the tops are beginning to look dry. The latkes will not rise at all. Turn latkes once and cook briefly until golden brown. Grease the griddle between batches.

Serve with jam, applesauce, plain or vanilla yogurt or chopped fresh fruit.

Makes about 30 pancakes.