Sunday, September 27, 2009

Cream of Acorn-Squash Soup with Gruyere Biscuits . . .

It all starts innocently enough, with a dark, shiny acorn squash. It's there, on your kitchen counter. Mystified, you try to remember what you were considering making when you bought it. Well, no matter. You know what you're going to do with it now--soup. Cream soup, to be specific.

Last week, in my Monday cookery class, we prepared two nice soups, a creamy clam chowder and a beautiful Belgian chicken and vegetable number, along with one awe inspiring, and somewhat intimidating, crystal-clear beef consomme. The best tasting of the three in my opinion was the Boston clam chowder, which I'd never before made from scratch. It was heavenly good. We got to eat the soups for our lunch, at the end of our class. We get to do that each week, with whatever we've cooked, and it's great. Not great just because we're eager to sample what we've concocted, but also great because we're all somewhat exhausted, relieved that we've survived another day in cookery class, and we're simply all starving by that point in the day.

Anyway, the clam chowder was so good I couldn't resist making it at home a day or two later for our dinner, and again it was profoundly tasty. I followed, to the letter, the recipe we'd used at school and it didn't let me down. Now, I'm not traditionally much of a soup maker, but I think that's going to change (I suspect I feel the change happening already . . . maybe I'm actually morphing . . . ?).

You know, there's something about having a real chef--an expert, really-- right there close at hand as you cook a new dish for the first time. It's not like watching an expert on TV, it's really not. Can a TV chef actually grab your hand, and in doing so sternly direct the utensil you're holding as you strain the all-important consomme, while the whole class looks on in rapt attention? No. Can a TV chef detect just by the look on your face that you're wondering when the heck you're supposed to pour in that roux, or add the leeks into your mirepoix? I don't think so. Can a TV chef peer appraisingly into the pot holding your completed clam chowder, as he dips a tiny plastic spoon in to taste it, and then proclaims with gustatory satisfaction, "Ahh, it's a beautiful day" . . . can he?? No, he cannot.

There are practical advantages to having a cooking teacher, I can see it plainly. I am hopeful that this class will benefit me, not only as a culinary student, but also--and more immediately--as a home cook. I'd just like to have the know-how to make food for my family's dinners that's more flavorful, more various, and more adventurous than what I usually prepare (and I'm primarily referring here to foods other than baked goods . . . I'm pretty good at bombarding them with new baked goods . . . they're not the problem). I'm gonna try, anyway. I feel like I'm not a very good cook in general. Have I ever revealed that in this blog before? Probably not. But now that we're getting to know each other so well . . . I figure it's time I shared that sensitive info. (Can we still be friends?)

And so with that confession, we come to today's recipes. The acorn-squash soup's formula is adapted from one I saw on I changed a few aspects (I left out the wine--didn't have any to put in!--decreased the amount of lime juice, omitted the lime zest, used shallots instead of onion, used a little more cream, and used different spices) but I sort of kept the basic proportions of the key ingredients. Sort of. And, of course I rewrote the instructions.

The Gruyere biscuits are another Nick Malgieri recipe. I've talked about my appreciation for Nick Malgieri's cookbooks before, so I won't get carried away with flowery verbiage this time (uh, yeah . . . you're welcome). The recipe is listed in his latest book, The Modern Baker. It's a simple little biscuit recipe that's more tasty than the norm, but it doesn't push the comfort-zone envelope. Rest assured, your youngest kid's not gonna start crying at the dinner table when he/she bites into one of these.

Cream of Acorn-Squash Soup

(For a printable version of this recipe, and the biscuit recipe below, click here!)

Makes at least 1 quart.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

1 large Acorn squash, cut in half vertically, seeds removed
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. finely minced shallots
4 cups chicken broth
3/4 to 1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. lime juice
white pepper, to taste
freshly ground nutmeg, to taste
1 scant pinch of cinnamon, or to taste
pinch kosher salt, to taste

Place the two squash halves cut-side down in a glass baking dish. Fill it with about 1/2" of water. Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until the pulp is softened. Remove from the oven, drain the water, and set aside to cool slightly. Scoop out the pulp and mash or chop it. Discard the shells.

In a medium-large pot, heat the butter; add in the shallots and saute them until just softened. Add in the chicken broth and the mashed/chopped squash pulp. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until all visible lumps have disappeared and the mixture looks quite smooth. (Or use a regular upright blender, pureeing the soup in a couple of batches, then pour the pureed soup back in to the pot.)

Before adding in the cream, temper it with a little bit of the hot soup. The cream needs to be warmed before it can be added to the hot soup or it may curdle. Pour the tempered cream into the pot of soup and stir well to completely combine. Cook for a few minutes over low heat, being careful not to let the soup boil, until thoroughly heated through.

Add in the lime juice and the seasonings to suit your taste until the flavor is to your liking. Taste the soup after every little addition of seasoning. Remember, you can always add more in, but once it's in there, you can't take it out.

Serve the soup immediately. If it's not going to be served right away, let it cool in the pan and then refrigerate it promptly.

* * * * *
Gruyere Biscuits
This recipe makes at least 12 - 2" biscuits.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

2 and 3/4 cups All Purpose flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 and 1/3 cups grated Gruyere cheese
8 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into 12 chunks
3/4 to 1 cup milk or buttermilk

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and mix well. Set aside.

Combine the grated cheese and the butter in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse several times for just a few seconds to mix the butter and cheese together. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl once or twice and pulse again. Do this very quickly; you don't want the butter to get too soft or warm.

Add the flour mixture into the butter mixture and pulse 6 or 8 times to combine. Add in most, but not all, of the milk/buttermilk, just until the dough is thoroughly combined but does not form a ball.

Dump the dough out onto a floured surface. If there are dry spots in the dough, sprinkle them with drops of milk. Fold the dough over onto itself once or twice just to bring it together. Press the dough out into a rectangle or a circular shape until it's 1/2" thick all over. Use a round or square biscuit/cookie cutter to cut out the biscuits. Place the pieces an inch or 2 apart on your lined cookie sheet.

Bake the biscuits until they're well risen and golden, 15 to 20 minutes. Peek in at them early in case they're over-browning. They're best served warm, with or without butter, and please feel free to dip them in your soup! Extra biscuits can be frozen once they're cool.

Recipe full disclosure!
As noted above, the soup recipe came from one I found in They credit it to Southern Living Magazine. The biscuits are from Nick Malgieri's book, The Modern Baker, on page 51; they're listed as a variation of his Pecorino & Pepper Biscuits.

(If you'd like to comment on this post or read any existing comments, just click on the purple COMMENTS below!)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Hearty Apple-Oatmeal Scones . . . Thank you, Autumn!

Apples, apples, apples--yes, they're most decidedly still on my mind, and so we have today's scone recipe. This is a really good one, that I adapted, from Marion Cunningham's little gem, The Breakfast Book. She calls hers Oatmeal Raisin Scones.

I substantially altered the recipe in order to accommodate diced apple pieces and a handful of well-chopped pecans, and I removed the raisins altogether. I changed the amount of sugar (upping it just slightly), and instead of using buttermilk I used an equal-parts combo of milk and sour cream. Oh, and I also added in a bit of cinnamon. I rewrote the instructions almost completely and changed a few steps along the way.

These are delicious and truly hearty. They're not light and fluffy in the way that classic cream scones are--those are a somewhat different animal. These are a bit chewy (but not in a gum-chewy way) and pleasantly nutty from those pecans. They won't make you feel like you're eating a piece of gooey coffee cake, nor will they supply you with a sugar rush. You won't have to take your own blood pressure after you've eaten one. They're nicely toothsome, one might say (I love that old word . . . thus I am using it again . . . please forgive moi.)

Well, in the interest of time, I will restrain myself from blathering on further (yes, I am feeling alright, thanks for asking) and simply present you with the recipe. Oh, and there's no mixer needed for these (I love that about scones). Hope you like them!

Apple Oatmeal Scones

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

This generous recipe makes 16 good-sized scones (you can halve the recipe if you prefer, or make the whole batch and pop the extras in the freezer as soon as they're cool).

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.

4 cups All Purpose flour (I used bleached)
3 cups rolled oats (I used quick oats but I assume old-fashioned oats are fine, too.)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 and 3/4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 lb. (2 sticks/1 cup) unsalted butter, very cold and firm, cut into grape-sized chunks
1 cup milk (I used 2 percent--that's what I usually have on hand)
1 cup regular-fat sour cream
1 and 1/2 cups diced apple pieces (I used Honeycrisp apples--they're firm and sweet, and don't turn to mush in the oven; I only needed one extra-large apple to make 1 and 1/2 cups of pieces)
1/2 cup well-chopped pecans (if you prefer, leave them out; they really do enhance the overall flavor and texture, though)
2 or 3 Tbsp. of sanding sugar or granulated sugar

In a large (it must be large) mixing bowl, place the flour, oats, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir well to completely combine.

Toss in the butter chunks. Cut them in with a pastry blender or your hands (I used both!) until the mixture has a lot of coarse looking, good-sized crumbs.

Add in the apple pieces and stir to fully coat them.

In a medium bowl, stir together the milk and sour cream until you see most of the larger lumps disappear.

Make a well in the center of your dry ingredients and pour in the milk-sour cream mixture. Stir well to combine, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.

Add in the pecans, if you're using them. Stir just to combine.

Dump the dough out onto a well-floured surface. Flour your hands. There will be a lot of dough so you'll need to divide it in half. Put one half back in the bowl while you work with the other. Knead the dough on the floured surface about 3 times. Pat it out into a circle approximately 10" round and 1/2" thick.

Using a sharp pizza cutter or a very sharp knife. divide the circle into 8 equal sections, just like you'd cut a pizza. Using a rigid spatula, pick up each piece and put it on one of your lined cookie sheets. Place the scones at least 1" apart. Sprinkle sanding sugar (or granulated sugar) on the top of each one.

Prepare the second pan of scones for baking. You can bake two pans at the same time without fear of catastrophe.

Bake them until they're nicely golden, about 20 minutes or so. Check them earlier than that, though, to make sure they're not overbrowning too fast. Cover them lightly with foil if that seems to be happening.

Cool them on their pans for a few minutes, then either serve them warm or let them cool completely on racks. Yummy served warm with butter (of course!), but they really are completely tasty on their own.

(Say, would somebody out there please start the coffee? I just can't eat one of these without it.)

* * * *

Recipe full disclosure!: As I said above, I got the idea for this recipe from Marion Cunningham's The Breakfast Book, published by Knopf in 1987. All of the changes I made are all detailed within this post.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Retro Desserts, Part IV: Just Give the Man What He Wants -- Devil's Food Cake!

We celebrated my husband's birthday last weekend and, as you can plainly see, I made a very tall buttercream-frosted cake for the occasion. I wanted to make it just as he'd requested--a devil's food cake that would satisfy his childhood memories of what a birthday cake is supposed to be. Three layers high, with the classic, simple, American-style buttercream . . . rich, sweet, and completely chocolatey. No extraneous frills allowed. No foil-covered cake board or lacy doily. No fancy frosting decorations all over the place. Not even any lettering, and thus no "Happy Birthday Andy!!" written in icing on the top. I had to kind of twist his birthday-boy arm, in fact, for clearance to put even a few hastily piped dots around the messy bottom edge; they were legitimately needed to cover up the inevitable smudges.

Because of the clear requirement for a certain level of simplicity, I figured I should also forego the fussy niceties that frequently accompany the assembly of a layer cake like this. Niceties like what, you ask? Well, like piping on an icing "dam" around the outer edge of each layer before spreading the rest of the icing on each one; this is a very useful tactic, even if the whole cake is being frosted inside and out with a single type of icing, and I usually utilize it. But not for this cake, no sir. And, I opted out of the nicety of putting a "crumb coat" (a thin, initial icing layer intended primarily to seal in crumbs) on the cake before laying on the final icing layer. I never go without the crumb coat. Never. But this time I forced myself to just not do it.

"It's all one big frosting layer, baby, and you'd better like it!" That's what I was thinking as I plopped on glob after glob of buttercream icing, helter skelter, as if I had a plane to catch. My youngest son, Nathan, helped with the frosting too (perhaps he needed to catch the same plane?). Those are his hands in the photo below, holding that little offset spatula. (He's still a bit reticent at the prospect of appearing on camera. I guess his hands aren't shy, though, luckily.)

Once the cake was safely sealed within its hefty buttercream carapace, I rebelled just a smidgen by putting it on a cake pedestal with a ruffly edge. Looking at the cake from a few feet back, Nathan remarked that it resembled a bizarre top-hat of sorts. True, I responded, but a really good smelling top-hat.

As far as the recipe goes, I was pleased to finally have an opportunity to try out a book I've been reading lately called Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes, by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne. This is the first cookbook I've ever encountered that focuses exclusively on cakes that are three layers. On the surface it may seem like an overly specific concept for a cookbook, and it is unique in the vast field of baking books that I've encountered. But I must say it's convenient, if not downright comforting, to have the exact proportions for a cake of that size already figured out for you. And, it's nice to know that the cake you're constructing was designed from the get-go to be sturdy enough to hold up without problems. Afterall, the last person you want to have to call in the middle of a baking crisis is a structural engineer. (Sadly, unlike our dear friends the plumbers and furnace repair guys, they're not on call to the general public 24 hours a day.)

Because I'd never used this recipe before, I changed nothing at all in terms of the ingredients, nor did I mess with the process for putting it together. Yeah, I know, it's shocking. ( "How the heck did she restrain herself?" you may be wondering . . . "maybe she had to take a tranquilizer first . . . ?") But seriously folks, I'm glad I didn't fiddle with it, since the finished cake's texture and depth of flavor were all I could have hoped for and more. Truly an exceptional devil's food that's highly likely to end up on my permanent list of reliable favorites. And not only that, there must be at least a dozen more recipes in this book that I already know I'd like to try. They all sound so interesting and look so good--lots of luscious photos, too, to back up the author's claims. It's worth shelling out a few bucks for this book, bakers. (And you know I don't make a purchase recommendation lightly.)

The recipe for the chocolate buttercream is, as I noted earlier, very American and traditional. That said, it's not one that I'd describe as stupefyingly sweet and it has no trace of the grittiness that sometimes afflicts this type of frosting. It's a soft, deeply chocolatey, easily spreadable buttercream, and the recipe is rock-solid reliable. It's from an older book that I think I've mentioned before, quaintly titled The Magical Art of Cake Decorating. I've made this icing several times in the past, and never had the slightest problem with it.

Alrighty then . . . now that I've talked your ear off . . .

Devil's Food Cake
(from the book Sky High, by Alicia Huntsman & Peter Wynne; I've reworded the instructions only very slightly, with no significant changes from the original)

For a printable version of this recipe, click here!

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter the bottoms and sides of three 8"round cake pans. Line the bottoms of each pan with a parchment paper or wax paper circle, then butter the paper.

1 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder (Do not use Dutch processed cocoa. Apparently, it's the action of the regular cocoa powder with the baking soda that gives the cake its trademark reddish-brown tint!)
1 and 1/4 cups hot water
3 cups light brown sugar, packed
2 and 2/3 cups cake flour
1 and 1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 eggs (I used large)
1 and 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup cold water

Place the cocoa powder in a medium bowl. Pour in the hot water and whisk until smooth. Set aside to let the mixture cool to room temperature.

In the large bowl of your mixer, using the paddle attachment, combine the brown sugar, flour, baking soda, and salt on low speed. Add in the butter and the dissolved cocoa, beating briefly to blend. Raise speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, cold water, and vanilla until blended. Add this liquid to the batter in three additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl well and mixing only to incorporate between additions. Divide the batter equally among the three prepared cake pans.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Cool the cakes in their pans, on racks, for 15 minutes. Invert the cakes from the pans onto the racks, and carefully remove the paper circles. Let the cakes finish cooling completely before frosting or storing.

Classic Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

(from the book The Magical Art of Cake Decorating, by Carole Collier)

Readers, please note: You will probably want to double this recipe, in order to have enough to generously frost a three-layer cake. The proportions listed here, though, are adequate for a two-layer cake. And if you have extra leftover icing, you can always refrigerate or freeze it. It keeps very well in the freezer, for months, in my experience.

Prepare classic vanilla buttercream first, before adding in chocolate components, as follows:

3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup white vegetable shortening
1/2 cup milk (I used 2 percent)
1/4 tsp. salt
1 and 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 pounds confectioner's sugar, sifted (
If you use Domino brand "10x" and you don't plan to use the frosting in a piping bag, you can probably easily get away with no sifting! Yay! Seems like every baker I know hates sifting powdered sugar.)

Place the butter, shortening, milk, salt, and vanilla, along with one pound of the sugar, in a large mixer bowl. Beat at low speed until combined, then gradually add in the other pound of sugar. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Continue beating, now on high speed, for 8 to 10 minutes, until the frosting is very light and fluffy.

To make it into chocolate buttercream:

For each pound of confectioner's sugar you used in preparing the plain buttercream, allow 2/3 cup of sifted, unsweetened cocoa (I used a mixture of natural cocoa and Dutch process for depth of color and richness of flavor, but either works fine; be sure to sift whatever cocoa you use), 3 Tbsp. softened unsalted butter, and 1/8 tsp. salt. Add these ingredients right into the plain buttercream and beat until thoroughly distributed. To achieve the consistency you prefer, you can mix in milk, just one teaspoon at a time.

* * * * * *

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Dutch Apple Cake . . . History Will Remember This Cake!

Apples have been on my mind lately. More specifically, apples in cakes. And if we're narrowing it down even further, the famous apple cake they sell at IKEA (the gargantuan Swedish furniture and home-goods store), in their cafeteria, has been on my mind. I've tasted this cake maybe three times at most. If you've never tried it, and someday you have the opportunity to do so, you've got to have at least one big bite. It's fantastically good. Fantastically. I wouldn't lie to you about a subject this serious.

Now and then I'd hunted around on the internet trying to zero in on the recipe for that particular cake, but never with much luck. I'd seen a couple of recipes that more or less claimed to be "The IKEA Recipe," but they looked to me like fakers. So you can imagine my cautious glee when I found a promising recipe a few days ago for a Dutch apple cake in sort of a funky looking cookbook that had belonged to my mom. The book is called Heartland Baking from the Midwest's Best Cooks. The recipe had potential, to say the least, and I started laying plans to alter it to fit my purpose as precisely as possible.

Silently I schemed, "Let's see . . . nix all of the lemon zest . . . make the cake in a 10" springform pan instead of a 13" x 9" pan . . . have the crust go up the sides of the pan instead of just on the bottom . . . completely get rid of that topping made with cornflakes (of all things--cornflakes?), and replace it with a nice basic streusel. Decrease the amount of cinnamon in the apple mixture. Hmm . . . there, I think that might do it."

I made the cake today and it couldn't have turned out better. It's not too sweet. Not too dry and not too moist. It slices so cooperatively. If you wanted to, you could add a traditional Scandinavian vanilla sauce to dress it up, though it's perfectly good on its own. It's almost a misnomer to call it a cake . . . it's more accurately the marriage between an apple cake and an apple pie. Such a union would engender just this dessert--I'm sure of it!

So, now that I've effectively given this recipe the Jane's Sweets Seal of Extreme and Undying Approval, I really think you should gather up your baking supplies and go make one. Mmm hmm. Go ahead.

(Just in case you're interested, further details about the recipe's attribution can be found at the end of this post under "Recipe Full Disclosure!"')

Dutch Apple Cake

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

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 10" springform pan with baking spray, or butter the bottom and sides (I opted for the former, because I didn't want to take any chances, but I assume just buttering the pan would work fine too.)

For the crust:
2/3 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups All Purpose flour (I used unbleached, but I doubt it matters if you use bleached)

For the filling:
2 large eggs
1/4 cup granulated sugar
8 oz. sour cream
Approximately 5 and 1/2 cups sliced, peeled apples (I used a mixture of Honeycrisp, Paula Red, and Golden Delicious)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

For the streusel topping:
1 cup and 2 Tbsp. All Purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2/3 of a stick of unsalted butter, room temperature

To make the crust:
In a medium mixer bowl, using the paddle attachment, mix the butter until soft (about 30 seconds on a medium-high speed). Add the 1/2 cup sugar to the butter and beat until combined. Add all of the flour and beat until the mixture looks crumbly.

Pour the mixture into your prepared springform pan. Press the crumbs to cover the bottom of the pan, and halfway up the sides. Press firmly. (Try to get the thickness fairly even all over, but don't worry if it looks lumpy and rustic; it doesn't have to be as perfect looking as you'd probably want it to be for a cheesecake crust.)

Put the crust into the oven for about 18 minutes, until it becomes slightly golden around the top edge. Remove from the oven and set aside.

To prepare the filling:
In a medium mixing bowl, using the paddle attachment, beat the eggs until foamy. Add the 1/4 cup sugar. Beat for about 5 minutes, until the mixture looks thick and lemon colored. Gently fold in the sour cream.

In a large saucepan, combine the apples with a small amount of water (a cup or so). Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Simmer the apples, covered, for about 3 minutes just until they're tender. Drain them well and let them cool slightly.

Pour them back into a bowl, or back into the saucepan.

In a small bowl combine the 1/2 cup sugar and the cinnamon. Pour this over the apples and stir to coat.

Spread the coated apple slices evenly over the crust. Pour the sour cream mixture evenly over that and spread it with a spatula as needed.

To prepare the streusel topping:
Combine all the dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl; add in the butter with a pastry blender until you see some pea-sized clumps. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Sprinkle the streusel evenly over the top of the filling.

Bake the cake for about 35 minutes, until the top is quite golden. Let the cake cool completely, on a rack, before you attempt to remove the side of the springform pan. Delicious at room temperature or cold.

Recipe Full Disclosure! In the cookbook mentioned above, the original version of this apple cake recipe appears on page 29 and it's called Trudie's Dutch Apple Cake. It is credited to someone named Trudie Seybold, "owner of the Forest View Gardens restaurant in Cincinnati, Ohio." I found the sweetest article about the closing, in 2001, of this very lively German restaurant after over 60 years of operation. It must have been a wonderful place. (The article even has a photo of Trudie and her husband kissing!)

(If you'd like to comment on this post or read any existing comments, click on the purple COMMENTS below!)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Retro Desserts, Part III: Double-Stuffed with Nostalgia . . . Will the Real Faux-Oreo Please Stand Up?


I'll say it again, in case you missed it . . . "Oreos?"

Spoken as a question, that one little word murmured just about anywhere in the U.S. almost always engenders an immediate affirmative response. You don't have to elaborate. You'd probably never have to actually say, "Hi . . . um . . . would you like to have a Nabisco brand Oreo sandwich cookie? It's made with two crunchy chocolate wafers that are filled with sweet white stuff. It's really good." Such details are rarely, if ever, required. Most commonly, in response to the one-word offer, one hears something akin to, "Oh, are you kidding, I LOVE Oreos!"

And love them we do. The shy Oreo, petite though it is, carries on its tiny shoulders a heap-load of responsibility. Afterall, it is one of those distinctly American foods that tend to evoke our most idealized vision of America in the 20th Century, right up there with hot dogs and apple pie. The Oreo connotes brown-bag lunches packed lovingly by our moms, picnic baskets hauled to the beach, cookie jars, and the more positive aspects of a typical suburban childhood.

As an icon, I'd say it even tops the warm-hearted personage of Betty Crocker (sorry Betty). Though it's surely one of the shiniest and most lucrative golden eggs in Nabisco's mighty basket, we're not scared off by the specter of its parental corporate-giant. No, we don't care about that aspect in the least. Oreos have been a part of our culture for decades and, clearly, we'd be mighty upset if they went the way of the dinosaur. Lucky for us, that just ain't gonna happen.

As for today's recipe, it's my stab at a homemade version. I read through quite a number of faux-Oreo recipes before I settled on trying this one. It hails from a website called (for full recipe attribution info see the very bottom of this post under, "Recipe Full Disclosure!"). The cookies are yummy, though they will certainly never be confused with the original. That's okay, though. I had fun making them this afternoon, and I just had even more fun watching my younger son chow one of them down. I asked him if he thought they matched up to the real thing at all. He pondered the query thoughtfully for a moment and, mouth stuffed with cookie, remarked seriously, "Well . . . sort of. They're good anyway." And that's good enough for me.

Faux Oreos

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

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

For the chocolate wafers:

1 and 1/4 cups All Purpose flour (I used bleached)
1/2 cup Dutch process cocoa (I used Penzey's brand)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 and 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg

For the cream filling:

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
2 cups confectioners' sugar (I didn't bother to sift it, as the recipe indicated, but it was just fine; if you're going to be squirting the cream filling out of a piping bag--not something I did--you'd need to sift this sugar)
1 and 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract (the recipe called for 2 tsp. but I really think that'd be overkill)

In a medium-sized mixer bowl, with paddle attachment, mix the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and sugar on low speed to combine. Add in the butter on low speed, and then the egg. Mix until the dough comes together.

Scoop rounded teaspoonfuls of the dough onto parchment lined cookie sheets, spacing them about 2" apart. (I used a portion scoop that held slightly over one tsp. and it worked out fine. I tried chilling and then rolling out this dough, but it's really way too sticky for that. Scooping is the way to go.) Flatten the balls of dough with the dampened palm of your hand, or use something flat like a metal spatula that's been very lightly greased, or dusted with cocoa, or dampened with water to prevent the dough from sticking.

Bake the cookies about 7 minutes and then check on them, baking longer if it seems necessary. They shouldn't look wet or feel mushy. Try not to overbake them or they'll be not only pretty hard but also taste kind of burned. They're pretty thin, so they bake quickly. Keep an eye on them. Cool them on the cookie sheets until they can be moved without breaking.

To make the cream filling:

In a medium mixing bowl, with paddle attachment, at low speed, mix the butter and shortening until well combined. Gradually beat in the confectioners' sugar and the vanilla. Beat on high for a minute or so, until the filling looks fluffy.

To assemble the cookies:

When the cookies are completely cooled, use a small spoon or scoop to put about a teaspoon of cream filling onto the least attractive side of one wafer. Cover it with another wafer, exposing the nicest side up, and press down gently so the cream is pushed to the edges of the cookie.

And voila, you have faux oreos! Now get a cold glass of milk, or a cup of coffee, and treat yourself to one. Oh, and don't forget to mark your calendar for 2012, because little Mr. Oreo's gonna have one heck of a 100th birthday party!

Recipe full disclosure! Within the site Nosheteria. com, this recipe is credited to a cookbook called Retro Desserts by Wayne Harley Brachman. I changed the recipe very slightly, and rewrote the instructions my way!

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Toasted Coconut & White Chocolate Chip Cookies with Walnuts . . .

My husband, Andy, has a few friends over to play poker about once a month, and every September he organizes a small tournament that starts on a Saturday afternoon around 2:30 pm and can go into the wee hours of Sunday morning. It takes place in our garage and/or driveway, with his homemade poker tables set up in cozy proximity to each other.

Last year, I created a rather large, two-layer, chocolate-mousse filled, dark chocolate cake for the event. It was a delicious cake, if I do say so myself. It was decorated to look like that classic, nostalgic "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign . . . you know the one that I mean? It was an amusing cake, and the die-hard poker dudes apparently enjoyed and appreciated it.

Well, anyway, yesterday was this year's tournament. Though we'd contemplated doing another big cake for the occasion (Andy and I tossed around the idea of my making a cake that looked like a couple of overlapping playing cards, or a big round cake that looked like an enormous poker chip, etc.), ultimately we decided to just go with a bunch of macho cookies instead. Food is not a big focus of this event, so no one was gonna miss a fussy theme-cake. This time you might say we were going for the He-Man Cookie Platter concept, figuratively speaking. Nothing delicate or crumbly, no cut-out cuties, nothing with a fluffy icing, or a sticky candy-like topping. Nothing, in other words, that could negatively impact the sanctity of the poker tables, nor the steely-eyed concentration of the players. And, frankly girls, I was kind of glad about not having to make a cake, as I think I'm still recovering from my August cake decorating angst. Still feeling a little gun shy. Or maybe I should say pastry-bag shy.

And, it's fun having a mandate to produce a huge amount of cookies now and then, assuming you have the time and the inclination. I figure mass production helps keep you in good form and allows you to fine tune your technique through repetition. So, last week I spent several hours mixing up hefty batches of dough and baking sheet after sheet of man-cookies.

There were just three simple varieties that I mixed up for the tournament. Among them, my fail-safe chocolate chip cookies, along with my equally fail-safe oatmeal raisin cookies (both of which I've posted in the past), and to accompany those old standbys I made some toasted-coconut white-chocolate chip cookies with walnuts. The latter is the recipe I'd like to share today. It's really good, and just as reliable as the other two I mentioned. For all intents and purposes, it's a variation on the basic dough used for the chocolate chip recipe, but it's so yummy I think it can stand on its own. Thus, without further ado . . .

Toasted Coconut & White Chocolate Chip Cookies with Walnuts

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

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
2 Tbsp. solid vegetable shortening
1 and 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 and 1/4 cups light brown sugar, packed
1 and 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. coconut extract (most likely, it will be imitation coconut extract/flavor; that's okay, because that's about all that seems to be readily available in the U.S, as far as I can tell!)
2 eggs, large
4 and 1/2 cups All Purpose flour, unbleached
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 and 1/2 cups of coconut
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

Spread the coconut out evenly on a cookie sheet that has sides. Place it in a 350 degree oven for about ten minutes, checking it every couple of minutes, and giving it a stir, to ensure the coconut doesn't overbrown and burn. It should be nicely golden. Cool the toasted coconut on its cookie sheet and set aside.

Measure flour, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl; set aside.

In a large mixer bowl, with the paddle attachment, mix the butter, cream cheese, shortening, and sugars until fluffy and creamy. Add in the eggs and the two extracts; beat on medium speed until very well combined.

Mix in the flour mixture on the mixer's lowest speed.

Add in the coconut and mix until just blended, then white chocolate chips just until blended, and the nuts until blended. The dough will be pretty thick.

Chill the cookie dough for at least an hour. Might be a good idea to divide the dough into two or three portions and wrap them in Saran wrap before putting them in the fridge. When they're chilled, take out one package at a time when you're ready to put them on the cookie sheets. Also, I highly recommend you chill your cookie sheets before you portion the dough onto them by placing them in your freezer. These two things can work wonders to help cookies from overspreading when they bake.

I like to use a no. 24 cookie scoop (that's about 2 and 1/2 Tbsp. of dough) to make these into generous-sized cookies, but feel free to make them smaller if you like. Space the cookies 2" apart on your parchment lined sheets. Bake them until they're golden brown and not mushy in the middle. That could be anywhere between 8 and 13 minutes or so, depending upon the vagaries of your oven, and the size of your cookies. Check them frequently so they don't overbrown. Cover the cookies lightly with foil if they're browning too fast. Let them cool on their pans for about five minutes, then remove them to racks to finish cooling.

This recipe makes a lot of dough that will yield at least three dozen large cookies, and many more if you make them smaller.

Go ahead. Run 'em up the flagpole at your house . . . they're delish!

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