Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Baking, December 23, 2007

I put it off as long as I could...I don’t know why, but it took until school vacation started for me to actually get around to baking...So I’ve baked up a storm in the past 48 hours.

Over the years, I’ve tried to pair down the list. I used to make scads of cookies...and truffles...and what I really love is to have a baking weekend, where I invite friends over, we ALL bake our three or four faves and then we have a real assortment..It’s a bakers’ cookie exchange, I guess. But here in Florida, I don’t know enough people still, so this time it was just me--with the occasional pop-in from my son, Ian, or daughter, Bryn, both of whom levied their own taste tests.

At any rate, my must haves this year--well every year--were toffee, Martha Stewart’s chocolate espresso shortbread wafers, Chocolate cookies with sea salt and classic shortbread. The sea salt cookies were a kind of a repeat..I made some last year--and lost the recipe. So I found this one...It’s good. My son’s friends say it’s great, but ...well it will stay in the files, but I may look again (and btw, I substituted cocoa nibs for the walnuts, not being a really big fan of nuts in cookies).

The toffee I did twice. I never am satisfied with the texture. I followed a Martha recipe and cooked it to soft crack stage, just the way she said, but it’s too sticky for me. So I did a second batch, same exact ingredients from Martha, but cooked it to 300 degrees, hard crack. That’s the batch that is cooling in the photo, so I haven’t tested it yet...One year, I’ll only make one batch. (And I guess this is the entry that states definitively that I am a Martha fan. What can I say, but I admire her work and her recipes...)

The shortbread is the recipe I got from Marcie Barker, whom I worked for and with at Union Square Cafe in NYC...two decades ago (gulp). It is the simplest and the best recipe I have ever made. I decorated it with pearl sugar, because I’ve moved that box of pearl sugar from Louisville to Florida apartment number one to Florida apartment number two. Use it already.

The coffee espresso wafers are my favorite of the bunch. Such a grown up cookie. And for a long time, the kids didn’t like these, so there were always enough for me. You mix in the espresso ground coffee (the beans, not the liquid). Again, it’s about the texture: it just melts in your mouth, but has this deep, dark rich flavor.

The chocolate sea salt cookies satisfy my penchant for all things sweet/salty, which I know is not everyone’s cup of tea, but man, it sure is mine. Check out the recipe links, and here is Marcie Barker’s Shortbread:

1 pound butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups flour

Heat oven to 250 degrees. Mix the butter, sugar and vanilla together. Add salt and flour. Pat into one big layer on a cookie sheet, making it about 1/2-inch thick. (If you want to press sprinkles or pearl sugar into the shortbread, do it now.) Bake 60 to 75 minutes. Let cool slightly and cut into pieces.

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