Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Dark Chocolate Cherry Biscotti . . .

After the spicy, nutty, creamy, buttery, pumpkin-laden extravaganza that comprises the universe of Thanksgiving Day desserts I now find that I'm in the mood for something distinctly crunchy, slightly bittersweet, entirely absent of butter, and far from gooey.

These dark-chocolate cherry biscotti evoke all the best attributes of chocolate-covered cherries, absent the rich fat and cloying sweetness of that iconic candy. They're supremely dunkable if you're a coffee drinker, and they don't mind taking a dip in a glass of milk if you're not.

Surely I don't have to tell you that I briefly considered drizzling the biscotti with melted chocolate, (you know me) but the sense of restraint that invades a baker's psyche the week following Thanksgiving held sway. And it's a good thing it did. I figure, when you take the plunge and coat your biscotti with chocolate, you're committing to the creation of an altogether more indulgent cookie.

Today's treat provides a nice contrast to the extreme richness of last week's feast. Thanksgiving comes but once a year, and we all love it, but once is enough. Thank heaven for that.

About this recipe . . . 

Adapted from pastry chef David Lebovitz's beautiful book, Ready for Dessert, I made a few minor adjustments to his biscotti formula.

I omitted the black pepper (yes, pepper), reduced the amount of solid chocolate by about half, omitted almond extract in favor of vanilla, and soaked my dried cherries in the lusciousness of Chambord, a yummy berry liqueur, versus his suggestion of kirsch/grappa/rum.

Really good biscotti, fellow bakers. I baked the pieces long enough so they'd be very hard and crunchy. Expect lots and lots of lovely little crumbs. And don't forget to dunk.

Dark Chocolate Cherry Biscotti

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Yield: Two loaves of biscotti, each loaf sliced into about 14 half-inch thick pieces

Spread parchment over two regular size baking sheets, or over one large sheet.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
(No electric mixer needed for this recipe.)

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder (You don't have to use Dutch, but I think it's the best for something like this; I used Penzeys brand.)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon (I used fine sea salt.)
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup dark chocolate, chopped small (I used Guittard disks, 60+ percent cacao.) 
3/4 cup dried cherries, cut in half if they're large
2 tablespoons Chambord (or any similar fruity liqueur that you really like)

To brush/sprinkle on the dough before baking:
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons sanding/coarse white sugar, or turbinado or Demarara sugar

In a small bowl, drizzle the Chambord over the cherries and let them sit for at least 30 minutes or so at room temperature.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a large bowl, completely whisk together the three large eggs, the granulated sugar, and the vanilla extract.

Into that, gradually add the sifted ingredients. The dough will be very dry and thick. Dump the dried cherries, with all of their liquid, into the bowl. Stir that in. Add in the chocolate pieces and stir to combine as best you can. The dough will be extremely thick and pretty sticky.

Plop all of the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and divide it in half. Lightly flour your hands.

Roll each dough-half into a long log, a few inches shorter than the length of your baking sheet(s);  the dough spreads out quite a bit in all directions when baking. Place each log onto a parchment-covered baking sheet. Dampen your palms with cold water and pat the top of the loaves, gently pressing down so each log is slightly flattened.

Using a pastry brush, liberally coat each loaf with beaten egg; do this twice to each log. Sprinkle sanding/coarse sugar (or whatever kind you've chosen to use) atop the length of each loaf.

Bake the loaves for 25 minutes in a 350 degree oven, reversing the pan(s) in the oven halfway through the baking time. Remove them from the oven; lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees. Leaving the loaves on the baking sheets, let them cool for up to 15 minutes.

Move the loaves, still on their parchment, to a cutting surface. Using a serrated knife (ideally, a very sharp bread knife), cut each loaf on the diagonal into slices that are about 1/2" thick (I think mine were actually a little thicker than that).

Lay all of the biscotti pieces, cut sides down, back onto parchment-covered baking sheets.

Continue to bake for 20 to 30 minutes, flipping the pieces over halfway through, and reversing the direction of the baking sheet(s) in the oven. If you want the cookies to be really hard and crunchy, bake them for the maximum amount of time, and check to see that they're pretty firm before you take them out of the oven.

When they're done, let them cool completely on the baking sheets. Store them well covered. They'll be good for about a week. (And, of course, if you're dying to dip them in melted chocolate, well, follow your dream!)

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Friday, November 9, 2012

Parmesan-Cheddar Crackers with Poppy Seeds . . . You Can't Eat Just One!

There are two very big silver-maple trees in our backyard, one of which always holds onto its leaves for dear life, as if to let them go might be painful.

But the wind that swooshed in last week, compliments of Sandy, stripped most of them off within a day or two. The yard is now cushioned like a feather bed with its leaves. You can hardly spot a patch of grass anywhere.

I know winter is on its way when that stubborn tree is almost bare. The leaves on the ground are so dried out, and so thickly layered, they positively crunch underfoot. It's like walking on a field of  saltines, or maybe thousands of Wheat Thins.

Hey . . . did someone just mention crackers?

About this recipe . . .

Adapted from Gourmet, these babies are addictive. Once your cracker-loving friends and family get samples, they'll keep coming back for more, so anticipate the demand. Make a lot.

What aspects of the recipe did I change? The original formula called for 3 parts white flour and 1 part cornmeal, but I decided to use a combo of mostly white flour, a little rye flour for added flavor, and just a wee smidgen of cornmeal so that mealy aspect would be limited. I also used Parmigiano Reggiano cheese along with some sharp cheddar, instead of using all cheddar, and I added in a couple pinches of dried thyme, well crushed, as well as a dab of garlic powder. And, I upped the baking powder slightly because, gosh, the spirit moved me.

I decided, just for the heck of it, to cut mine out with a scalloped-edge cookie cutter, but feel free to simply cut your rolled-out dough with a pastry wheel if you like, leaving far fewer dough scraps. That would also allow you to avoid transferring your unbaked crackers to another surface, one by one, as I had to do. Bake them long enough, and they'll be quite crispy and dark golden brown around the edges, which is what you want if you're going for maximum crunch.

These crackers smell ferociously good when they're baking, just so you know. (Forewarned is forearmed, theoretically at least.)

Parmesan-Cheddar Crackers with Poppy Seeds

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Yield: Makes approximately 6 dozen crackers


3/4 cup and 1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons rye flour
1 tablespoon well-ground yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoon poppy seeds (I used Holland Blue poppy seeds from Penzey's.)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup (half of one stick) unsalted butter, cold and cut into very small chunks
1/2 cup well grated parmesan cheese (I used Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.)
1/2 cup well grated sharp or extra-sharp yellow cheddar cheese
4 to 5 tablespoons very cold water

1 egg, large
1 tablespoon water
fine sea salt

In a big bowl, whisk together the white flour, rye flour, cornmeal, poppy seeds, and baking powder.  Cut in the butter with a pastry blender, or use your fingertips, until the mixture has lots of small coarse lumps. Add in all of the grated cheese, and mix with a fork. Sprinkle 4 tablespoons of the cold water evenly over the dry ingredients, and stir with the fork until well distributed. Add in the final tablespoon of water if it still seems really dry.

Dump your dough out onto a clean work surface, and smear the dough away from you a few times to distribute the fat. Now, use a scraper to gather all the dough together again and shape it into a ball. Cut the ball in half. Press each half into a disk about 1" thick, and wrap the halves in plastic wrap. Let them rest in the fridge for an hour or so.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. (Or roll your dough directly onto the paper or onto mats, if you're not using a cookie cutter. See "Or, alternately," in the instructions below).

On a floured piece of parchment or a rolling mat or a pastry cloth, roll out one of your dough disks using a floured rolling pin (leaving the other disk refrigerated while you work with the first disk). Try to roll the dough evenly, so it's no more than 1/8th of an inch thick all over. Cut the dough with small, simply-shaped, cookie cutters of your choice and place the pieces on your prepared baking surface, lifting them with a thin offset spatula. (Or, alternately, roll your dough disk out directly onto the parchment sheet or silicone sheet upon which it will bake, and use a pastry wheel or sharp knife to slice the crackers into rows in both directions.)

Pierce each unbaked cracker with the tines of a fork; this will help the crackers lay flat and keep their shape as they bake.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and the 1 tablespoon of water. Use a pastry brush, or even your index finger, to lightly coat each cracker. This egg wash will make the cracker tops nicely shiny and help them to brown. 

Take a pinch of fine sea salt and sprinkle a tiny bit on each cracker (remember, the cheese in the crackers is pretty salty too, so you don't need much added salt). 

Bake the crackers until they're deeply golden on the bottom and on the edges. This might take  12 to 15 minutes or more. If you want to help ensure crispness, turn the oven off when they're done and let the crackers sit in there for another minute or two. Let the crackers cool on the baking sheets, or if the crackers are on parchment, slide that off onto a cooling rack. Keep the cooled crackers in an airtight container.

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