A taste of summer

Yesterday was the Vernal Equinox, which means that winter is finally over!  It is now spring, at least on paper, and we know what spring in the Midwest means, right?  Magic 8-ball forecasting.  The next several weeks will be a roller coaster of temperatures and humidity, mixed with some rain and maybe even a decent thunderstorm.

Spring is a bit of a tease.  On the first couple warm days, like today, it is so tempting to pack away all my sweaters, get my bike out for the season, and go buy ice cream.  Of course, I'll need those sweaters this weekend, but for now I revel in the promise of beautiful weather that sticks around.

In this spirit, I chose to make something light and lemony for my weekend cookies:

These cookies have been looming on the baking horizon for a while.  I put them off because I wasn't sure where to go to purchase the appropriate pan, but after shopping around a little I realized I was going to end up spending $15 anyway, so I bit the bullet and bought one last Saturday.  Madeleine pans are basically molds: they're flat except for the shaped indentations where you pour the batter.  With such a pan, it turns out to be trivially easy to make very pretty and classy-looking cookies!

These specific cookies are made with lots and lots of lemon - both freshly squeezed juice and zest - which creates a wonderfully bright taste.  Otherwise, these have the normal set of ingredients, with the exception of cake flour, which is more fine than all-purpose and doesn't have a leavening agent, and lots of eggs.  Between the flour and the abundance of eggs, the final product of this recipe was very much like a cake - moist and a little spongy.  Although they don't actually need improvement, I suspect these might be pretty good with a lemon glaze on top.

As far as fancy cookies go, I think these look really good for minimal effort.  Even when I turned them out of the mold (shown in the picture above) the visual effect was impressive.  I plan on experimenting more with this pan, especially considering the fact that madeleines from a bakery (or from Starbuck's) are way more expensive than they need to be.


Pre-St. Patty's Update

I was going to wait to talk about these, but oh my goodness these are the most amazing cupcakes I've ever had!  AND they are vegan.

Let me start from the beginning.

Being mostly (well, probably summing up to half) Irish, I approach St. Patrick's day with a strange hodgepodge of food traditions gathered from both sides of my family.  It's funny to realize that my cooking has been largely influenced by my mostly German grandmothers, but some of my family's traditions come from Americanized cuisine, and some are the result of catering one of my grandfathers, who is mostly Irish.

It's perhaps silly for me to talk about family members being "mostly this" and "mostly that," but this is how we identify ourselves.  Yes, from the outside we're American.  From the inside, well, let me put it this way: As far as I know, my entire lineage can be traced to people who immigrated to the United States from - you got it - mostly Ireland and Germany in the mid to late 19th century.  The most recent immigrant in my family is one of my great-grandfathers, who came to America from Germany as a little boy.  What ethnic traditions that have trickled down through the generations are miscellaneous and diluted, but still a part of how I identify myself as a member of my family.

All that said, I like to cook something Irish when St. Patrick's day rolls around.  In the past, this has meant corned beef and cabbage, and maybe some Guinness with dinner.  This year, since I'm eating mostly vegan (yes, the 'mostly' qualifier is ubiquitous today), I've had to be more creative with my food choices.  Also, this year, since I'm busy and Thursday is not a day to cook for 3 hours, I've been doing a lot of prep work this week.

Tonight, I decided to go ahead and prepare a vegan Chocolate Stout cupcake recipe I found last weekend.  The recipe doesn't require any unusual vegan ingredients, but it does call for about half a bottle of chocolate stout.  That's right, there's beer in these cupcakes.  And oh, are they delicious.  I tasted one while it was still warm, and ended up eating two.

As of when they were still a little warm, these are fluffy, moist cupcakes, with a rich chocolate flavor.  That flavor is due, of course, to a hefty helping of unsweetened cocoa powder both in the cupcakes and in the crumbs topping them.  The bitterness of the stout really enhances the chocolate, adding a depth of flavor I never would have expected.

I am posting this now so that if you want to make some of these for Thursday, you can have a little bit of time to go ahead and try them.  Seriously, you will not regret it.  Unless you end up eating them all, and then you might.


Aw, nuts!

I don't really have too much to say as an introduction or a life update today, except to say that it's Lent now, and in the spirit of following the Liturgical calendar, I've decided to quit watching TV as a means of filling quiet and/or bored times.  I'm hoping to cultivate a better appreciation of quiet and solitude, as well as to spend more time reading, journaling, praying, and so on.

This also means that whatever bad movie is being shown on TBS is not distracting me from taking care of the things at hand, including cookie posts!  The title of this post pretty much gives you the theme of these cookies, but I'm sure you didn't need me to tell you that to figure it out.

140. Hazelnut Jam Thumbprints
I'm sure by now I sound pretty lazy, but there are some Saturdays when I just don't want to spend 5 hours in the kitchen, and I guess that's fair considering the hundreds of hours I've already put into this project.  I try to alternate between simple and complicated recipes, and for some reason I imagined that this one would be kind of labor-intensive.

Well, I was wrong.  These cookies were fantastically simple to make.  The dough consists of very typical ingredients: egg, flour, sugar, etc, which were mixed together, chilled, and then separated into balls which were rolled in toasted hazelnuts.  After putting thumb-sized holes in these balls they were baked and filled with apricot jam.  Tada!  A cute and colorful cookie!  The hazelnuts really make the flavor here since, well, there's not much else to do that job.  I chose apricot jam because that's what I had open, but I think it was a good decision as it wasn't overly sweet.

Now, I know I've talked about hazelnuts before, since I bought them chopped from Meijer and the skins on them ended up making that recipe kind of bitter tasting.  This time, I went to Strawberry Fields and bought whole hazelnuts (minus the shells), which worked so much better.  After toasting the nuts, I steamed them in a towel for five minutes and the skins came right off.

141. Pine Nut Cookies
Warning: Do not make these cookies unless you are willing to spend $20 or more on ingredients.
Oh my goodness, pine nuts are so expensive.  This recipe calls for 2C of them - about half are ground up in the dough and the rest end up on the outside, and so following this recipe cost me probably $18 in pine nuts alone.

Aside from the pine nuts, these cookies are much like almond macaroons, with typical ingredients, including almond paste, which is another (slightly less) expensive ingredient.  Fortunately, I had half a can left over from a previous recipe, so that was one thing I didn't have to buy.  Because of the recipe's simplicity, everything came together quickly, and I was able to bake them over the span of about an hour on Saturday morning and share them with a few friends last night as we gathered to watch Beverly Hills Cop and drink home brewed beer.

These were actually really good cookies.  They're not very sweet, and the flavors are subtle - I mean, of course the pine nuts are dominant, but the almond paste adds an unexpected but pleasant twist.  If it weren't for the expense, I would definitely make these again for some kind of summer party thing, as pine nuts seem like a warm weather food.


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