Welcome! Follow my quest to test cookie recipes from The Gourmet Cookie Book, about one recipe per week throughout 2011, and as many as I get around to in 2012. Eventually, I'll choose my Top Ten. At the same time, I plan to drop 10 pounds and keep them off. I'll share what I learn about "moderation " in everything, about baking cookies, about my top ten favorites, and random kitchen thoughts.

And I invite you to drop cookies - and pounds - along with me.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Bourbon Balls, by request

On Sunday, my nephew asked me for my bourbon ball recipe. Not one from the Gourmet Cookie Book -- one of those recipes I haven't gotten around to -- but the one I make for Christmas brunch, and other cold-weather parties to get us all through the winter.

My recipe comes from a 1970's yellowed 3 X 5 card. Typed on an actual typewriter. My mom found the "Coconut Rum Balls" recipe somewhere, set me to typing the recipe for her card file, then set me to making them. I kept making them.

One year, we were out of rum and I'd tasted a friend's bourbon balls (in the '70's these things were everywhere), so I used bourbon and never looked back.

Bourbon Balls

2 cups finely crushed chocolate waters
1 cup sifted powdered sugar, more for rolling
1 cup finely chopped pecans
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup bourbon

Combine all ingredients. With hands -- and this is the fun part so no fair using a spoon -- mix until all ingredients are well combined. The mixture will be stiff and stick. Shape into 1-inch balls. Refrigerate, covered, overnight. Roll in powdered sugar before serving. Makes about 2 dozen.

Notes: I have plenty. Remember, I've been doing this for more than 30 years.

1) Famous Wafers come in a yellow box with black and red print. Most good grocery stores have them around the holidays, because they are the go-to cookies for crumbling into these balls. Just don't go to buy them the day before a holiday -- they will be gone and you will be sad.

2) It is a manufacturer's rule not to make products in the exact amount you need for a recipe. You can just about squeeze a batch of bourbon balls out of one box, but I always need a few extra wafers to make 2 cups. Besides, once you've "tasted" the cookies to see if they are worthy -- and you will not be able to stop at one -- you might as well get at least two boxes and make a 1 1/2 batch. Anyway, you are sure to eat any leftover cookies, maybe before the balls are rolled, 'cause they rock with dark chocolate flavor.

3) I crush the wafers in my hands as they go into the food processor, just to help out the poor machine. Why can't I find a new processor with the same guts and blades as my old Robot Coupe? The other option (besides a blender) is to put the cookies between two sheets of waxed paper and use a rolling pin. This way you also have a handy weapon to keep interlopers from your chocolate wafers.

4) Do sift the powdered sugar - that makes it blend easily. But all you really have to do is shake it through a 6-inch strainer. No real sifter needed. Added bonus: Discover the joy of creating a  mini-Mt. Everest in your bowl by sifting the sugar over your chocolate crumbs. Better than a snow globe (which BTW they don't let you take through the TSA line, so put it in your checked luggage, but I digress).

5) I always choose pecans, but any nuts will do in a pinch.

6) It might be tempting to add extra bourbon. Go easy on this, because you really do want these balls to hold together. Just pour over ice on the side.

7) You can roll the balls in flaked coconut, if you prefer. These look great on a plate, but not everyone likes coconut. Roll them in the coconut as you make the balls so that the coconut sticks to the balls. If you use powdered sugar, roll them just before serving. Otherwise, the moisture from the balls will turn the sugar to a gooey mush. Bet you can tell how I know this.

8) When you are done rolling, have a most wonderful time licking the "stiff and sticky" dough off your hands.

There you go, Jayred.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Life, Death and Cookies

One hundred years ago today, my mom was born in Oakland, California. I had hoped I'd be celebrating with her this weekend, but she didn't quite make it to her hundredth birthday. She died in April, and I poured myself into a research project ever since, giving me time with the familiar before turning to the business of grief.

I haven't completely ignored the grieving process. After a healing memorial gathering surrounded by friends and relatives, my family loaded a U-haul truck to bring home Mom's small but prized collection of antiques. I have found places in my home for Victorian cranberry glass, Dresden porcelain and marble-top tables, but boxes remain in my garage, filled with memories and emotions to work through.

I find the grieving process gave me enough energy to meet tight research deadlines, but not enough energy to do what gives me joy. Only when the research project was done have I returned to my mixing bowls and made my first batch of cookies for friends. Although relieved to again pop a tray into the oven, this wasn't a new recipe I tried. It was an earlier success.

I needed to make something safe, something comforting. Everything I do for me, for my family and friends now counts as helping me through the healing process.

I remember when my dad died, I reassessed where to put my time. I applied for fewer research projects, gardened more and helped at the kids' schools. And I simplified -- little things that made my life easier. I let my hair grow out, then found a hair stylist closer to my neighborhood. I did what I'd been meaning to do -- moved the family to a house with big trees and a deck.

These changes seemed so natural and also unexpected. The grieving process is unpredictable. It changes emotions and it changes the ways we approach and make decisions. So, what about cookie baking?

It is still fun to try new things, to explore new cookie recipes, to learn techniques and combine new flavors. One thing is different. My willingness to slog through the last fourth of the recipes in the book that has been my guide -- recipes I've been passing by for more than a year -- has waned. I am no longer willing to use good butter and flour, or my time, on a recipe that doesn't entice from the start. And miraculously, I trust I can tell when a recipe looks like too many steps for too little pay-off.

With only a few more cookies I really want to make and write about, I'll soon announce my favorites, and prepare to say goodbye to this blog. Life in perspective is the best gift of grief.

Friday, March 30, 2012

#48 Anise-Scented Fig and Date Swirls 1996

Swirls are more decorative than ingredients suggest.

These two-toned cookies dress up a plate more than their earthy ingredients have a right to do. The fig and date mixture spreads on a rectangle of dough and the whole mess gets tucked into a long roll and chilled. Cookies can be cut from the roll in batches, and the roll stores for up to a month.

I'm not sure the anise gives the fruit enough punch to distinguish these cookies from the flavor of your basic Fig Newtons. The dough needs more flavor, too, but rolls out easily, so forms a sturdy base. I'm thinking lemon zest could come to the dough's rescue.

The festive look of the swirls is worth a bit more experimentation with flavorings. I tried substituting brandy for the water in the fruit puree, but that turned out to be a waste of good brandy. The flavor did not come through. Have an idea for a filling flavoring?

The recipe is here and here.

Monday, February 27, 2012

#47 Basler Brunsli (Heart-Shaped Chocolate Almond Spice Cookies) 1994

Almonds are real work-horses in gluten-free baking. They are the basis for these rolled out cookies. You don't have to be on a gluten-free diet to like them. They are a stunning blend of the nuts, chocolate and spices (cinnamon and cloves). Bonus is that they roll out easily for cutting into shapes. I didn't find the dough sticky as the recipe suggests.

These roll out easily between sheets of wax paper.

They do want to sit for 3 hours before baking. They are meant to be crisp! These cookies, originally from Switzerland, have a firm consistency that holds up to handling.

Add to these features the subtle spices (cinnamon and cloves) that most people don't combine with chocolate, and these are winners. They remind me of Mexican chocolate used for hot cocoa.

The one drawback is that the sugar in these cookies gives a gritty consistency. I would try a superfine sugar next time.

Ingredients storage note: The dough gets mixed in a food processor, and because you start with whole almonds, it takes a while to whir them into a fine grind with the sugar. The recipe cautions not to overprocess because the nuts will get warm and melt the chocolate when added later. I found that if the almonds come from the freezer (where I store all my nuts, except of course for family members, who would find the freezer a bit chilly), they don't get all that warm while processed.

These will be a go-to gluten-free cookie for me, but also a dough I'll use when I want to use cookie cutters.

The recipe is here, and here is another version with the same ingredients.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Where's Waldo?

Remember these books? Waldo, the character in the red and white striped shirt and hat is hidden among dozens of busy characters on each page of these picture books, and you have to find Waldo. He is surrounded by a flurry of activity everywhere you look. The last two months, I've lived in Waldo's world.

Each trip to clean out my mom's home I was surrounded by a cast of characters and a list of errands. Even after I hired a property manager (a most empowering thing to do, if it is a good one, and I have a good one), I had decisions to make every time I turned around. On my last trip alone, I chose a new garage door, hired someone to conduct an estate sale, recycled medical equipment, exchanged emails with an electrician, posted furniture for sale online, met with a chimney sweep, and met with a color consultant about house paint, indoors and out. I forget what else.

The main work of sorting mom's stuff, of choosing which mementos to keep, which memories to treasure more than others, is done. These are hard choices--what to let go of. I probably kept too much. I know that each time I've returned home, I've cleaned out another cabinet, or plowed through another stack of papers, with the enthusiasm I usually save for digging into my spring garden.

I want to sort my own stuff, not leave it all to the kids. I want to decide what is most important, and let go of the rest.

Meanwhile, Mom has her own challenges in assisted living. Her dementia progresses, making it hard to understand her on the phone for a few days, then fog lifts and we have a good, coherent talk. I am thankful she has good care.

I am back after yet another trip, but this one to St. Paul to curl in a bonspiel (curling-speak for tournament). We won two games and lost two games, but for me the entire week was a much needed break.

Cookie posts to come.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Cookie Hive Reviews Part 3

This is the last and much delayed post in a series of articles about one fantastic afternoon of baking cookies with friends.

#43 Acorn Cookies (2000)

These take the prize for cutest cookie of the day. The dough pieces, formed into egg shapes drop onto the sheets and only get their acorn essence when the wide end of the cookies are dipped into chocolate, then nuts.

Dipped in pistachios, the acorn cookies on the left get
a festive holiday green tinge; those on the right are
dipped in pecans.
It took a while to figure out "the size of an acorn," which is about a teaspoon. Once we got our portions down to size, there were plenty to go around; the cookies filled three cookie sheets. The recipe calls for walnuts, inside and out. But you know my preference for pecans.

I thought this recipe would be very much like Mexican wedding cakes, but this recipe wants brown sugar, whereas the south of the border delicacies always want powdered sugar. I think the powdered sugar is responsible for a firmer consistency, and crunchier cookie. That powdered sugar can really pack down. The acorn cookies were still crunchy, but were lighter, less resistant to the teeth. Not quite al dente.

I made them again, but with almonds inside and pecans outside. Then, I made them again with pistachios outside, resulting in a lovely light green tinge. Each time, to rave reviews. All the flavor combinations work with this dough--ever so versatile!

The recipe is here and here.

#44 Mini Black and White Cookies (2005)

The black and white cookies are at two o'clock.
How can a small round confection be so controversial? These had their fans among those who prefer soft, delicate cookies. Others could not imagine putting so much work into such an unsubstantial cookie. Apparently, they are a favorite among those who first tasted them in New York. Maybe it's something in the water. I couldn't get excited about them.

The task of frosting these tidbits does seem daunting: Spread white frosting over one half the surface and dark frosting over the other half, without leaving a gray mooshy line down the middle. Not to worry. In fact, once you spread all the cookies with white frosting, they have set enough that the frosting sits obediently while the other half gets its contrasting color. If not, put them in a cool garage for a few minutes.

Just be prepared for a cookie that is more cake-like in texture.

The recipe is here and here.

#45 Scandinavian Rosettes (2002)

We saved our deep fried cookies for the end of the day, lest we smoke everyone out of the house or feel our pores clogging with oil and go running with terror from the house.

I did not grow up with deep frying. The closest I came to southern fried cooking was when I'd have an overnight at my friend's house down the street. Her family was from Arkansas. I loved her Mom's fried chicken, cooked up in a well-seasoned cast iron pan.

Eggs in the morning were broken into a half inch of melted Crisco in the same frying pan. Viola would splash the melted shortening over the top of the eggs with a metal spatula, scritch, scritch, over and over, to cook the tops without flipping the eggs. Never a runny white spot. They were perfect.

Stubborn, Bad Cookie wouldn't release from the rosette iron.
Our deep fried rosettes, though, began far from perfect. The first one clung insistently to the iron, resisting all attempts to free it. The next time we held the iron longer in the oil before dipping it into the batter. We must have achieved the right amount of seasoning and heat. Unlike its evil twin, this rosette fell easily off the iron onto the absorbent paper towels. Go figure.

These were light and crisp, but after only a few, we'd had enough.

You can't just store these for the next day, either. I found them too soggy after storage. Best to share with friends hot from the oil and dusted with powdered sugar.

The recipe is here, along with detailed directions about how to use the rosette maker.

#46 Galettes de Noel (Deep-Fried Wafers) (1969)

By the time we got to this recipe, we were all a bit punchy. We expected to drop our rolled out doughy disks into the hot oil and pluck them out round, flat and crispy. Instead, the wafers employed special synchronized swimming techniques and popped to the surface in all sorts of shapes.

They were not particularly crispy and the folded shapes gave us the bright idea that we could insert a filling and create popovers. We added nutella and almond butter to some, sealed the edges with water before deep-frying. Yum.

However, these creations of ours were not exactly photogenic. In fact, some of the "popovers" opened during deep-frying into semi-obscene Georgia O'Keefe-inspired floral shapes, with gooey centers. Need I say more?

If you are still inspired, the recipe is here.

More Photos

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy 2012 !

New Year's Greetings... to all who have spent a few minutes on the pages of my blog. A year ago I promised to bake a cookie per week and drop ten pounds. I was off to a great start when, as you might expect, life intervened. So, where am I now?

I have accomplished about three-fourths of my goals. And it's a three-fourths I can be proud of.

I have lost 7-8 pounds, depending on which day you ask me, and the cookie count is up to 46 baked, not all blogged. My 70 blog posts amounted to about one post per week, as planned. Just not every blog was about a cookie.

I'll admit at times the blog was a slog, and I've considered ditching the baking, the writing and my goals altogether in favor of some other very important task. Let's see. My garden needs weeding, the deck sweeping, several closets have been ignored for years. I'd really like to get on that quilt project I promised my daughter a while back. And my mom's house needs clearing out. All projects for the New Year.

But I have reaped great benefits from this cookie project. I've lost some weight, I've found recipes I'll make again, I've exercised my writer's brain (if only a little), and I've brought friends together around the kitchen counter for fabulous cookie camaraderie. 

Those other projects? I'll get to them. But I'll stick to this one until it's done.