Red Velvet Black & White Cookies

This has been a very birthday weekend. So birthday in fact, that I feel it necessary to use “birthday” as an adjective. I think it’ll catch on. I spent Saturday afternoon making two kinds of cookies for two different people. I’ll show you one today and another very soon. So here we go: Red Velvet Black & Whites.

To make a not-so-long story even shorter: My cousin’s bat mitzvah was this weekend in Atlanta and my cousin Amy (amongst many others) came in from Florida for the occasion. It came to my attention that a) Amy’s birthday was the following Monday (today) and b) Amy loves red velvet cake. She says it’s her absolute favorite and she’s a red velvet snob.

Well, I’m no fool. I’d be crazy to try to make a red velvet cake when I know Amy is very particular about it and I’ve never made one before. Plus, she was staying in a hotel. You can’t give a cake to someone on vacation. It’s just not right. What is right is to find a clever variation on red velvet that travels well. Enter the black and white cookie.

The recipe comes from Rachael Ray, and I’ve seen it made by many food bloggers. The cookies turned out amazingly. The icing was the real challenge though. The icing from the original recipe was a traditional black and white cookie icing made with water and powdered sugar. But come on! This is supposed to be red velvet! These cookies needed cream cheese. I took ideas from a few different places and came up with a sort of cream cheese glaze. Unfortunately, I lost track of measurements while I was adjusting to taste, but I’ll do my best to explain the method later.

Ultimately, these cookies turned out great. Plus, Amy loved them, and that’s what matters. The punch-line of “what’s black and white and red all over?” will never be the same…

Red Velvet Black & White Cookies
A full ¼ cup of batter makes for cookies as big as your face. If you want a cookie about 3-inches in diameter use 2-3 tablespoons of batter instead. Be aware that does batter does spread when it cooks, even if you spread it out on the cookie sheet, so be sure to scoop them out far enough apart. You can get 6-8 cookies on a standard baking sheet.

Ingredients

  • 1 ¼ cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon red food coloring
  • 1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • 6 ounces of cream cheese, at room temperature
  • Milk
  • Powdered sugar
  • Unsweetened cocoa

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt.

Using a mixer, beat 5 tablespoons butter with the granulated sugar until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the egg, food coloring and vanilla. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk until smooth.

Place 1/4-cup (or smaller) scoops of batter 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet; spread out. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry, 10-12 minutes. Let the cookies sit for 5 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool.

Once the cookies are completely cool, beat cream cheese, ¼ cup of powdered sugar and about 3 tablespoons of milk in a small bowl until smooth. Add more sugar until you reach the desired sweetness. You don’t want to icing to be too tangy. Add more milk until you reach a thin, but spreadable consistency. Flip the cookies over so that they are flat side up. Ice one half of the cookie with the white icing. Once all cookies are half-iced, add a few tablespoons of cocoa powder to the remaining icing. You want the icing to be a dark brown, so continue to add cocoa powder until you reach the desired color. Then add more powdered sugar and milk to again reach the desired sweetness and consistency. Ice the other half of each cookie. Refrigerate until set, or eat immediately!

Makes 8-10 very large cookies or about twice as many smaller ones


Blitz Torte with Strawberries

Twice a year my boyfriends’ parents come to visit for a long weekend. It’s become tradition that on Friday night they cook a huge Italian meal (complete with antipasto, bread and baked ziti) and I bring dessert. Well, I made the “mistake” of making this last year. It went over so well that I have not been able to top it. Cheesecake, chocolate peanut butter cake, cookies, lemon pie. Nothing has been as good.

Until now…nearly. I’ve learned that there are certain criteria that really push a dessert over the top for this crowd. Anything too heavy and rich doesn’t do it. Anything with fruit gets bonus points. Also, I like to challenge myself by coming up with something a little unusual and something different from what I’ve made before.

After MUCH searching, I found this. Blitz Torte. It means lightning cake in German. I have no idea how that’s relevant, but this cake was freaking good so who am I to question the name? I have never seen anything like this cake. Two thin layers of yellow cake topped with meringue and baked all at once then filled with cream and berries. You can use any berries that look good. Luckily we’re starting to get beautiful strawberries down here, so I took full advantage of that. It was a hit. A big hit. My only problem now is finding something that will top this.

Blitz Torte with Strawberries
Adapted from King Arthur Flour

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large egg yolks (save the whites for the topping)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup (4 1/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

For the meringue:

  • 4 large egg whites
  • 3/4 cup sugar

For topping:

  • 1 tablespoon sugar

For filling:

  • 1 small box of instant vanilla pudding
  • 1 ¾ cups of cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • About 1 ½ cups strawberries

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease two 8″ round or 9″ round cake pans.

For the cake: In a medium-sized mixing bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, salt, and egg yolks. Beat in the vanilla, milk, baking powder, and flour. Divide the mixture in the prepared pans and spread to the edges (the batter will barely cover the bottom of the pans; that’s ok).

Beat the egg whites till frothy. Gradually add the 3/4 cup sugar and continue to beat till the meringue is smooth, glossy and somewhat stiff (not quite to the peak stage, you want it to be sort of marshmallow cream consistency). Spread the meringue on the cake batter, not quite to the edges, and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake the cakes for 30 minutes, until lightly browned. (NOTE: do not put the cakes on the top rack. The meringue will rise a lot on the oven but settle as it cools.) While the cakes bake, chop up the strawberries and keep refrigerated until ready to use. Remove cakes from the oven, allow them to cool for 15 minutes, then loosen the edges and gently turn them out onto a rack to cool completely.

When cakes are cool, whisk the pudding mix with vanilla and cream for about 2 minutes then allow to set up for an additional 5 minutes. Whisk again to make sure the cream is smooth.

To assemble: Place one of the cake layers, meringue side up, on a serving plate. Spread with the pudding mixture then add the berries. Top with the second cake layer, meringue-side up. Devour.

Yields 8 to 10 servings

Blueberry Scones

I love Valentine’s Day. I know some people hate it because they think it’s a holiday invented to sell cards and candy. So what if it is! I like cards. I like candy. Why shouldn’t there be a day designated to giving and receiving them? I also love baking Valentine’s treat for friends, especially the the ones who are particularly grumpy and cynical.

I’m going to let you all in on a little secret: if you make something in the shape of a heart, it is automatically appropriate for Valentine’s Day. It doesn’t need to be red and pink (even if it does look more festive that way). It doesn’t need to be chocolate (although, who ever said “no” to chocolate). All you need is a heart-shaped cookie cutter or heart-shaped mold and you are good to go.

Blueberry Scones
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

I use frozen blueberries in these because they’re always available but if the berries are too big they may not work well if you cut the scones too small. The original recipe called for dried currants so I think dried blueberries could be a nice swap too.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups (10 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons chilled, unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
  • ½ cup fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 1 cup heavy cream

Directions

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 425°F.

Place flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in large bowl or work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade. Whisk together or pulse six times. (If making by hand, use two knives, a pastry blender or your fingertips and quickly cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal, with a few slightly larger butter lumps.)

If using food processor, remove cover and distribute butter evenly over dry ingredients. Cover and pulse 12 times, each pulse lasting 1 second. Transfer dough to large bowl.

Add berries then stir in heavy cream with a rubber spatula or fork until dough begins to form. Knead dough by hand just until it comes together into a rough, sticky ball, 5 to 10 seconds. Add a little extra cream if it is too dry. Transfer to a lightly floured work surface and pat the dough into a 3/4-inch thick circle. Cut pieces with a biscuit cutter, and then gather remaining scraps and continue cutting until dough has been used up. Brush the tops of the scones with additional cream and sprinkle with raw sugar. (You could also cut the disk into eight wedges. If you do this you can brush with cream and sprinkle with sugar before cutting which makes the process, and cookie sheet, a little cleaner).

Place rounds or wedges on parchment lined baking sheet and bake until scone tops are light brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on wire rack for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 8 wedges or as many shapes as you can cut out

Beef Tagine

Admittedly, this dish is not baked. I hope you won’t hold that against me. A tagine (or tajine) is a Moroccan stew-like dish and also the name of the pot it is traditionally cooked in. The good news is that you can also make this dish in a regular ol’ pot. I tweaked the original recipe a bit, mainly omitting ingredients I didn’t have or didn’t feel like using. Like any stew, this dish is totally flexible so feel free to adjust the spices and even try different vegetables. I think a swap of sweet potatoes for the squash would be delicious. I served the tagine over jasmine rice because I love jasmine rice, but you could serve it over your favorite rice or couscous or eat it all by itself.

Beef Tagine
Adapted from Jamie Oliver

Ingredients

  • 1.5 pounds stew beef
  • Olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, partially drained
  • 800 ml chicken stock (~3.5 cups)
  • 1 small squash ~ 1 pound (I used butternut), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1 handful of prunes, chopped

For the spice rub

  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 heaping tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 heaping tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 heaping tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1 heaping tablespoon sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground red pepper (cayenne)

Directions

Mix all the spice rub ingredients together in a small bowl. Put the beef into a large bowl, massage it with the spice rub, then cover with plastic wrap and put into the fridge for a couple of hours, overnight if possible.

When you’re ready to cook, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a medium pot and fry the meat (reserve any spices left in the bowl) over a medium heat for 5 minutes. Add your chopped onion cook for another 5 minutes. Add the chickpeas and tomatoes, then pour in 400ml of stock and stir. Add the remaining spices. Bring to the boil, cover, and reduce to a simmer for 1½ hours.

At this point add your squash, prunes and the rest of the stock. Give everything a stir, then cover again and continue cooking for another 1½ hours, stirring occasionally.

If it seems a bit too runny, simmer for 5 to 10 minutes more with the lid off. Adjust seasoning to taste.  Serve over couscous or rice.

Double Chocolate Cookies

Why do I keep making cookies? I have no idea. Probably because they’re easy. Easy to make. Easy to grab one every time you enter or exit your apartment. Errr…I’ve eaten a lot of cookies lately. I should probably be nice and give you some healthy options to help you take that holiday weight off, but that’s just not my style.

That’s not to say that I’m not trying to eat healthier or that I don’t want you to eat healthier. I just love baking unapologetically. That means butter, sugar and chocolate. If it makes you feel better you can partner a cookie or two with a salad. I call that dinner.

This recipe came from Ina Garten. The only changes I made were to replace the white chocolate chips with semisweet (I have made them with white chocolate though and I think I may prefer it, and that’s coming from someone who isn’t a huge lover of white chocolate), and to bake less than 15 minutes. I had mine in for about 12 and they were definitely on the more done side of where a cookie should be. Delicious nonetheless. I also halved the recipe because I did not need 40-48 cookies sitting in my kitchen taunting me.

Chewy Ginger Cookies

One perk of being Jewish is that it’s easier to get away with doing things that are typically associated with Christmas at times other than Christmas. Since I’m not supposed to be eating candy canes in the first place, who cares if I eat them after December 25th? I use this weak logic to justify making ginger cookies well into the new year. Isn’t life swell?

This recipe comes from my aunt’s friend Patty (heck, she’s my friend too). It’s the kind of recipe that makes you feel like it’s the holidays even if it’s, oh, the middle of January. If you think that’s it’s still reasonable for me to be making these cookies, talk to me in June when I’ll probably be whipping up another batch.

These cookies are so freaking good. I mean, I’m a friend to all cookies, but these are special. Patty even got a shout-out on NPR because they were so good. You’re not going to questions NPR, are you?

Chewy Ginger Cookies

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup shortening
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 2 ¼ cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger*
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • Raw or granulated sugar, for rolling

*You can also add crystallized ginger for a more intense ginger flavor.  I recommend processing about ¼ cup of crystallized ginger with the molasses into a paste in the food processor then adding it where you would normally add the molasses.

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 F. Cream shortening and sugars until fluffy. Add molasses (or ginger molasses paste) and egg. Sift together flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. Stir dry ingredients into molasses mixture. The dough will be slightly crumbly but should hold its shape, if it doesn’t, add a little more molasses as necessary. Scoop dough into balls (I use a 1½ tbsp scoop) and roll in bowl of sugar. Place on greased or parchment lined cookie sheet and flatten slightly. Bake for 7-8 minutes and remove cookies when they look slightly underdone.

Makes 2 dozen

Meyer Lemon Bars

I don’t really think of lemon desserts when I think of Wintertime, and I certainly didn’t have any plans to make any this winter. But when Meyer lemons show up in the grocery store at the end of December for the first time all year, you buy them and you make lemon bars. It’s the law.

I found a good looking recipe on Epicurious and, despite suggestions by some of the reviewers, I kept the proportions of crust and filling as written and was not disappointed. Also, although the bars looked thin in the pan they were actually a nice size once cut into 24 bars. I used Meyer lemons instead of regular lemons (duh) and they were delicious, but I’m sure the original version would be just as good.

Meyer Lemon Squares
Adapted from Epicurious

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups all purpose flour
  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • 3/4 cup (1 ½ sticks) butter, cut into pieces, room temperature
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • ½ cup fresh Meyer lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons grated Meyer lemon peel
  • Powdered sugar

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine 1 ½ cups flour and ½ cup powdered sugar in large bowl. Add butter and cut in until mixture resembles coarse meal. Press mixture into bottom of 9×13-inch baking dish. Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes.

Beat eggs, sugar, lemon juice, flour and lemon zest in medium bowl to blend. Pour into crust. Bake until mixture is set, about 20 minutes. Cool completely. Sift powdered sugar over the top then cut into 24 bars.

Makes 24 bars