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8.26.2011

Deep breath... and go!

This is yet another entry that's been a long time coming.  At first I had a reasonable excuse: the USB interface for my digital camera stopped working, and my hipster MacBook doesn't have anything so mainstream as a built-in SD card reader.  Then I ordered (and eventually received) an SD-to-USB adapter, and my only excuse now has been a back-to-back alternation of overwhelming busyness and lazyness.

This afternoon I find myself in the midst of one of the last lazy spells I can get away with before the fall semester really takes off.  Yes, classes began last Monday.  However, the stars have aligned for me such that my advisor is out of town, I don't teach until next Monday, and Bible studies haven't started yet.  Oh, right, and since I'm such a dinosaur graduate student (introducing myself as a fourth year makes me feel really old), taking classes is a thing of the past.

With everything set up to explode next week, now is the time to get caught up here.  So without further ado, here are several cookies summarized:

158. Almond Horns
These cookies were something like an almond shortbread, complete with the required large amounts of butter and confectioners' sugar sweetening.  Since they contain both toasted almonds and almond extract, the almond flavor is clear and bright, and fits in nicely with the crisp and crumbly shortbread texture.  The hefty 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt in this recipe counters the sweetness nicely.

Overall, these cookies were terrifically easy to prepare and very quickly eaten by my friends.  I've finally cleaned up my sugar sifting technique, too: I don't own a proper sifter, so to make these look pretty I put confectioners' sugar in a fine-mesh strainer and shook it above the cookies.


159. Pecan Logs
Without really meaning to, I ended up in a multiple-week series of recipes involving ground-up nuts.  Thank goodness for my food processor, which saves me so much time!  In this second week of nutty cookies, I switched to pecans, and made almost the exact same recipe as the first week.  Actually, looking back and comparing the recipes, one of the few differences is that this recipe called for twice the nuts, except that half of them went on the outside, so really it is not much of a change.

These cookies were, like their almond counterparts, crisp and sweet, with a good balance of salt and nut flavors.  I prefer pecans to almonds, perhaps because pecans always make me think of maple syrup, so I enjoyed this recipe more than the previous one.


160. Wholemeal-Almond Biscuits
After two weeks of nutty shortbread, I moved on to something a little more hearty, and possibly even healthy.  These flat cookies are made with ground toasted almonds and a mix of whole wheat and all-purpose flours.  The dough for these cookies was put together much like a pie crust - meaning there was cold butter and a food processor involved - although the result was not anything quite so flaky, probably because the brown sugar added some extra moisture.

When I started working on this recipe, I was really afraid these cookies would be bland and, well, taste like health food.  Fortunately, the recipe also calls for just enough cinnamon to make the whole wheat taste good.  Yes, I confess that even as an adult I do not like the taste of whole wheat by itself.  But I didn't have to deal with that in these cookies.  That said, they are still a little boring to eat by themselves.

161. Cherry Tuiles
In general, I have been reluctant to make the cookies that sit in the first section of my cookbook.  This first section is where most of the fancy-pants stuff sits: this mostly consists of meringues and things that have to be rolled up while they're hot.  The recipes usually have inconvenient yields - sometimes one dozen (not enough) or six dozen (too much!) - and take a long time to make.  This recipe had the special difficulty of calling for dried cherries, which tend to be a little pricey.  This was a problem until one day when I wandered into Aldi and found a bag of dried cherries for a reasonable price.  Yay!

These cookies are a bit crazy.  They are made with lots of melted butter, brown sugar, and corn syrup, as well as a little bit of cake flour, which has no leavening agents in it.  This means that the dough really spread out when I baked it!  I measured single teaspoons onto the cookie sheet and ended up only being able to bake six cookies at a time (as a funny side note: in my first batch I tried to bake eight at once, they all melted together to form a super mega cookie that I rolled up and fed to my boyfriend).  When these cookies baked, all the sugar bubbled and boiled and became nice and caramelized, and I shaped them by rolling them around the handle of a whisk while they were still hot.

I really enjoyed the taste and texture of these cherry cookies.  For once I remembered to put them in an airtight container right away, so they remained perfectly crisp - it was like eating incredibly thin ribbon candy.  I may have underbaked some of the dough, which made it difficult to remove from the cookie sheets to shape, but most of the cookies turned out fine.  My only comment to anyone who want to try this themselves: don't be impatient about chopping the cherries.  If you make them too large (like I did), your cookies will have some weird lumps.


162. Spiced Almond Wafers
...And you thought I was done with nut cookies for now.

Actually, I feel like Almond Wafers is a bit of a misnomer.  The only almonds involved are the slices sprinkled on top of the cookies.  These are really another spice cookie, much like a combination of ginger snaps and molasses cookies.  Indeed, looking at the recipe, you'll see the typical combination of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and dark brown sugar, which is basically white sugar and molasses.  These cookies made with lots of butter, which makes them nice and crisp.

In order to make thin, uniform cookies, the recipe requires preparing the dough and pressing it into mini loaf pans.  The dough is then frozen and sliced as thinly as possible before being baked.  I liked this method, although my mini loaf pans weren't exactly rectangular, so I ended up with trapezoidal cookies instead.  Nevertheless, these were good, simple cookies, and I really liked how they stayed crunchy all week.


163. Umbrella Sugar Cookies
One of the complaints I have about this cookbook is that some of the recipes are too specialized.  The cookie-cutter recipes are especially so, with recipes calling specifically for umbrellas, or acorns, or shapes of card suits, or a Fleur-de-lis, and so on.  Since I don't own an umbrella cookie cutter (or any of those other ones), I use what I have, but I don't like when the name hinges on the shape.  So instead I present for you: Lemon Sugar Cookies!

These are a good basic cookie, quick to make and easy to make pretty.  I chose to make hearts (and some stars) because hearts are cute.  This recipe is pretty much a standard sugar cookie recipe with lemon zest added to give some extra flavor.  I really like the lemon flavor in these, it is a good summery taste.  The icing is a simple mix of confectioners' sugar, meringue powder, and water.  It dries really solidly and is easy to work with.  In fact, I spooned it into a sandwich bag and cut off the end to make the decorations.

Here's a couple quick notes on cookie cutters for anyone who is thinking about changing shapes:
  • It's a good idea to use something that is similar to the recommended size in a recipe.  If you don't have anything similar (or want to use something else), you'll need to reduce your baking time for smaller cookie cutters and increase your baking time for larger ones.
  • For best results, choose a cookie cutter design that doesn't involve small side details.  If you have any small pieces of dough sticking out of the side of a cookie, they are more likely to burn.  Once again, if your heart is set on one of these cookie cutters, you'll want to be careful about the time the cookies spend in the oven, or you may want to lower the temperature.
I had to watch the trunks and mouths pretty carefully so they didn't become crispy!
  • Finally (and this is something that holds for any cookie baking), keep a close eye on your first batch.  Recipes give a range of times to bake because every oven is different.  For example, my oven is small and always heats up too much on the bottom when I put a cookie sheet in it, and so I have to turn the temperature down by as much as 25˚F and often also end up shortening the baking time.  It may be that your oven does something else, so use your first batch of cookies to figure out the timing and any temperature adjustments, and after that you can just set a timer and go do something else until it dings.

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