Archive for December, 2010


Wow- am I late this month with my posting for The Bakers Challenge! While I had it baked a few days before Christmas I am always typing it up at the last-minute (why can I never plan ahead??) With Christmas just 2 days before the posting date I knew I wouldn’t even begin to write until the 26th. It all seemed so good in theory… until Christmas Eve when I was at  my friend Scott’s annual holiday party in NYC when who should walk through the door, but my husband! He surprised us and flew from Calgary for the weekend. I might have even worked around that except for the BLIZZARD that we got hit with on the 26th!!! Twenty-one inches of snow in the front yard. No trains or buses of any kind. It really brought everything to a halt. Two days later and things are still not back to normal. Ahhh, nothing like a good nor’easter at the holidays.

This months Bakers Challenge was brought to you by Penny from Sweet Sadie’s Baking . I made stollen for the first time last year and was eager to try it again. My nana was German and we ALWAYS had stollen in the house at the time of year- we still do. Instead of making myself crazy trying to run around and buy Christmas presents for everyone I like to make and give out something special and stollen is perfect for this. I find I enjoy the season to the fullest now and am just so thankful that I can be here in NY with my family that Christmas shopping seems silly (except for the 4 yr old, but that is so easy). Baking comes from the heart and takes more time and effort (enjoyable time and effort!) that just picking up a trinket for the sake of it. That being said, please bake something for the people you love and let them know how much they mean to you… Happy Holidays everyone!

I decided to go all out with this challenge and followed the recipe outlined in Peter Reinhart’s book Artisan Breads Every Day.
It required making a seed starter and a mother starter over the course of 9 days, stirring it 2-3 times a day and feeding it every 48 hours. This is to give the bread a depth of flavor that you just can’t achieve by making the entire recipe in one day. There was a lot of love going into this one! I just loved how this came out and really believe all the work was so worth it. It was so tasty and moist- wow!

Peter uses a pannettone dough recipe for his stollen with the huge difference being that there is NO rising time and it is put in a cold oven for baking. Since I was making the dough anyway, I also made 9 loaves of panettone (which require 12 hours of rising). I am giving instructions using a standing mixer. While you could make this by hand, I personally do not have the strength to mix anything by hand, especially bread dough, for 30 minutes.


Sourdough Starter

3 Tablespoons (1.5 oz/42.5 g) mother starter, cold or at room temp.
1 1/3 C (6oz/170g) unbleached bread flour
1/4 C plus 2 Tablespoons (3 oz/85g) water, at room temp.


All of the sourdough starter
1 Tablespoon (o.75 oz/21g) honey
1/4 C (2oz/56.5g) lukewarm water
1 tsp (0.11oz/3 g) instant yeast
1 egg, at room temp
3 egg yolks, at room temp
1 tablespoon (0.5 oz/14g) pure vanilla extract
1 2/3 C (7.5 oz/213 g) unbleached bread flour
3/4 tsp (0.21 oz/4g)  kosher salt
3 Tablespoons (1.5 oz/43g) sugar
3/4 C (6 oz/170 g) unsalted butter, at room temp.
2 C (12 oz/340 g) dried or candied fruit (I used dried cherries,cranberries,crimson raisins and candied orange peel)
8 oz (227g) almond paste or marzipan (I used almond paste) or 2 C sliced almonds, lightly toasted
melted butter and confectioners sugar, for topping

Make The Starter:

Combine all of the starter ingredients in a bowl. Stir (or use the paddle attachment on your mixer) for 2 minutes until well blended. It should feel doughlike and tacky. Transfer the starter to a lightly floured surface and knead for about 30 seconds. Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover loosely. Leave it at room temperature for 6 to 8 hours, until it doubles in sizes or swells considerably. You can now use it immediately or put it in the fridge for up to 4 days.

Make the Dough:

Cut the starter into 10-12 small pieces and place in your mixing bowl. In a separate small bowl, stir the honey into the warm water until dissolved and then add the yeast until dissolved. Let it sit for a minute or two then pour over the starter and stir to soften the starter.

Separately, whisk the egg,yolks, and vanilla together. Add to the starter mixture  and mix on low until well blended.

Add the flour and salt. Use the paddle attachment for this. Mix on low-speed for 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl. Put the mixer back on low and add the sugar, 1/2 tablespoon at a time, making sure each addition had been thoroughly incorporated before adding any more. The dough will now be smoother, though still sticky. Increase the speed to medium-low and mix for 5 minutes to develop the gluten, stopping once or twice to scrape down the bowl and paddle.

Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium-low, adding the butter 1 tablespoon at a time. Again, make sure each piece is fully incorporated until adding the next piece. It should take about 5 minutes to add all of the butter. Scrape down the bowl again and then mix on medium speed for 5 minutes more. This will fully develop the gluten. The dough will be taffylike and gorgeous.

Add the dried fruit and mix on low for 2 minutes.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and dust the top of the dough with flour. Firm up the dough and form it into a smooth ball by stretching and folding  it once.

To make 2 smaller loaves, cut the dough in half. You could make one large loaf, but it will be large, so I would recommend making 2 smaller ones, but as usual, it is always up to you, the baker. Roll the dough out into a rectangle,approximately 9 x 6 inches. Roll out a thin tube-shaped piece of almond paste the length of your dough and place it on the end of the dough closest to you, then roll up the dough, pinching the seams shut and shape into a wreath of loaf. If you are using almond slices instead of paste just sprinkle the toasted almonds over the dough before rolling it up and shaping. I wrapped my wreath around a glass to help hold it’s shape during baking.

Place the stollen on a parchment lined sheet pan and put the pan into a cold oven. Turn on the oven to 350 F.

Bake for 25 minutes (as the oven comes up to full heat) then rotate your pan and bake for another 25-35 minutes. this all on your loaf size. It will be done when it is a golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped. If you have a thermometer it should read 185F but don’t worry if you don’t. As soon as you take it out of the oven, brush it with melted butter (I added some rum to my butter) and sprinkle heavily with confectioners sugar.

Cool thoroughly before serving.

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Christmas Trees, Anyone?

Whew… so I have made 22 different kinds of cookies this year…. I think I’m done. It will probably take me over a month to post them all but I will try! I made these last night and I think they are so darn cute that I could just eat them up. Oh, wait, that’s what you are supposed to do… I’m off to share these with one of my oldest friends at a Christmas Eve party that he and his wife throw every year for a night of good food, good company and good cheer.


Makes approx 32 cookies

1/2 C shelled pistachios, chopped
1/4 C dried cranberries, chopped
1 Tablespoon confectioners sugar
3 large egg whites
1/2 C granulated sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 325 F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Mix the pistachios, cranberries and confectioners sugar together in a small bowl and set aside
Place the egg whites, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl. Set over a pot of simmering water and whisk until the sugar dissolves and it is warm to the touch, no more than 2 minutes. Take it off of the heat and using your mixer, whisk at medium speed until foamy. Add the cream of tartar (it helps stabilize the egg whites) and whisk at high speed until stiff, shiny peaks form. This takes about 5 minutes.
Fold in the pistachio mixture.
Spoon it into a pastry bag fitted with a plain 1/2 inch tip (or a Ziploc bag with the corner tip cut off) and pipe onto the prepared sheets. You want them bigger and wider at the bottom and release the pressure as you come up to form little trees.
Sprinkle with colored sugar.
Reduce the oven temperature to 200.
Place the cookies onto the oven and bake for about 1 hour and 15-20 minutes or until the meringues can be lifted off the paper. These will last about 3 days.

Recipe adapted from: Martha Stewart

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Lemon Almond Biscotti

Since I am still baking like a mad woman days before Christmas, I must make this short. If you could describe biscotti as “light and refreshing”, these would be it. They are simple yet delicious. We made these over the weekend while out at the Hamptons with my dear friend John. So, these are for Mrs. OFlaherty.  Happy Holidays…

1 1/2 C sliced almonds, toasted
2 C sifted unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 C granulated sugar
2 large eggs
Grated zest of 1 large lemon (or 2 small)
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 tsp pure almond extract

Please make sure to toast your almonds in a 350 F oven for about 8-10 minutes, shaking the pan a few times, until the almonds are a lightly colored and smell like almonds. Set aside to cool.

Preheat your oven to 375 F. Line one large cookie sheet or 2 smaller sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Stir in the sugar and toasted almonds.
In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, zest, lemon juice and almond extract; add to the dry mix. Stir (and stir and stir) with a large wooden spoon or spatula, until the dry ingredients are completely mixed with the wet ingredients.
Turn the dough out onto a clean counter and cut into 3 equal pieces (or 2 for larger biscotti). With wet hands (or floured- not both) shape the pieces into long narrow sausages, about 10 inches long.
Bake the loaves for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven.
Reduce the oven temperature to 250 F
Slide the hot loaves onto a cutting board and holding one end with a pot holder or folded towel, carefully cut thin slices with a serrated knife at an angle to about 1/2 inch wide.
Place the slices, cut side down, back on the cookie sheets. If you only used one sheet before you will now need two or re-bake them in batches.
Bake them for 35-40 minutes, turning the slices upside down and reversing the sheets top to bottom and front to back once during baking. Do not underbake.
Store in an airtight container.

Recipe Source: Brand New  Book Of Great Cookies

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Creole Pecan Praline Bars

I make this recipe every year and it is always a hit. They look so pretty with all of the pecans lined up in a row and the sweet buttery taste is really divine. It has a shortbread base, covered with pecans and a praline like topping. Yum….This comes from one of my favorite cookie books, Maida Heatter’s Brand New Book Of Great Cookies, and I will try to post up as many recipes as I can this season. I have already made a handful of them already, I just find it so hard to find the time to sit down at the computer and type them out. ‘Tis the season you know (you know, where there never seems to be enough time). So let the baking begin my friends….

First off, prepare a 9 x 13 by 2 inch baking pan. Maida uses this method for almost all of her bar cookie recipes and I use it for all of mine, especially brownies. It makes getting the finished cookies out of  the pan super easy and there is virtually no clean-up afterwards. Take your pan and flip it upside down. Cut a piece of tin foil large enough to cover the bottom and sides of the pan. Center the foil (shiny side down) over the upside down pan and press it down on the sides and corners to shape the foil to fit in the pan. Remove the foil and set aside. Put some water into the pan to wet the bottom; pour out the excess. Then place the foil (shiny side up) into the pan and press in into the bottom and sides.


1/2 C (4 oz) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 tsp salt
1 C packed light brown sugar
2 C sifted all-purpose flour
9 ounces (2 1/2 C) large pecan halves

3/4 C (6 oz) unsalted butter
1/3 C packed light brown sugar

Preheat your oven to 350 F.
Make the Base:
Beat together the butter, salt and sugar together for 2 minutes. Add the flour and beat for 2 more minutes, until the ingredients form tiny crumbs that will hold together when you press them between your fingers. Turn it out into your prepared pan (see above). Spread the mixture into an even layer, using your fingers/hands to press down on the mixture to form a compact layer.
Place the pecan halves on top with each one touching each other- flat sides down- all in the same direction so it looks all nice and pretty. Set this aside while you make the topping.
Make the topping:
In a medium saucepan, place the butter and sugar. Stir over high heat until it comes to a boil. Keep stirring at a boil for 30 more seconds. Remove the pan from the heat and immediately pour the hot mixture over the pecan base, trying to coat the entire surface.
Bake for 22 minutes.
Remove from the oven and let cool completely. refrigerate for at least one hour. Cover with a larger cookie sheet, flip over to release, peel off the foil then flip it back over onto a cutting board.
Using a large, sharp knife, cut the cake into quarters. Then cut each piece in half, then cut each piece into 4 strips- or into tinier pieces if you wish.
Keep in an airtight container for up to 5 days.These keep very well in the freezer but must come back to room temperature before serving.

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Caramel Cashew Thumbprints


Today’s recipe is for a beautiful thumbprint cookie. I normally do not care for thumbprint  type of cookies, I don’t really know why, but I really wanted to try these when I saw this is the Cuisine Holiday Baking Guide. I mean, they have cashews and caramel in them – how could they not taste good? This is another dough that has to chill in the fridge before shaping and baking (I have 2 other kind of cookie dough  in the fridge now) which make them perfect to make around your schedule. The dough is quite soft, even after chilling. They take a bit of work to put together but still very easy make and the end result is quite lovely to look at. A really nice holiday cookie to make and to eat. Bake away…


1/2 C unsalted butter, softened
2/3 C light brown sugar, packed
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/3 C all-purpose flour
1 egg white
1 tsp water
1 1/2 C finely chopped, salted, roasted cashews

16 individually wrapped caramels (Kraft)
3 Tablespoons heavy cream
note: I didn’t have individually wrapped caramels, only a bag of mini caramel bits. I used 1/3 cup and it worked out fine)

3 oz white chocolate
1 teaspoon shortening

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the egg, vanilla, and salt and beat until well combined. Add the flour and beat on low-speed until everything is combined. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour or more.
Preheat the oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (a baker’s best friend)
Heat the caramels with the cream over low heat and stir until melted and creamy. Remove from the heat.
In a small bowl whisk the egg white and 1 tsp water together with a fork. Place the cashew bits in a separate bowl.
Break off walnut size bits of dough and roll into 1 inch balls. Dip each one in the egg whites and them roll them in the cashew nuts to coat them all over.
Place them on the baking sheet about 2 inches apart from each other. Using the back of your 1 tsp measuring spoon, make an indentation into the middle of each cookie.
Bake for about 11-13 minutes or until set.
Take them out of the oven and immediately go over the indentation again with the back of your spoon. Using a small spoon, carefully the warm caramel into the indentations (about 1/2 tsp worth). Transfer to a rack to cool completely.
Heat the chocolate and shortening together and mix well. Drizzle the chocolate onto to cookies using a fork or a whisk. Place them in the fridge for a few minutes to set the chocolate.

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Navettes Sucrees (Sugar Shuttles)

Okay, well this cookie is now going in my favorite recipe category. Last month I picked up the new Gourmet Cookie Book at the library and thought that so many recipes looked great that I would try to tackle at least 20 recipes by Christmas. That being said, I am very behind….

The concept of the book is that they list every “cookie of the year”  from the magazine from 1940 on.  Not every cookie looks enticing to me but I do have a large number that I want to try. I did bake the cinnamon crisps last week, which I did not post, since I am not crazy about them, but I think that is my problem since I am not a big fan of crisp cookies. I like my cookies soft and chewy, and those were definitely not. I still might post the recipe for someone else to try but we will see how time goes.

Anyway, this recipe is divine!!!!  It is a smallish bullet shaped cookie that is dipped in egg white and rolled in sugar before baking which produces the loveliest crackly coating on it. The inside in a tender, dreamy cookie. The best part of this recipe? It was SO easy!!! The dough is just a few ingredients kneaded together. When I first saw the recipe and read that you knead the cookie dough I automatically  threw everything in my kitchenaid mixer thinking with the thought that they didn’t even have standing mixers back then, but… I found out that it actually didn’t come together using my mixer. It seemed so dry I was tempted to add a bit of water. I am so glad that I decided to dump it out and knead it. Not even a minute later and it was a beautiful dough. You do need to refrigerate the dough before baking – perfect time to run to the stores for a little Christmas shopping or run some errands! The only change that I made was to add a vanilla bean to the dough and I rolled the cookies in vanilla sugar, just to give them a nice extra vanilla flavor. I bought a large amount of beans a few months ago (about 85) and I love using them in everything, though a drop of almond or anise extract would be terrific as well.

These are so interesting to look at and have a fantastic mouth feel. They are sure to be a big hit. Don’t wait, bake some today!


1 C sifted all-purpose flour
1/4 C granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 C unsalted butter, softened
2 egg yolks (reserve 1 white for later in the recipe, save the other for another use)
1 tsp vanilla
1 vanilla bean (optional)

Vanilla sugar for rolling the cookies in

Sift the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl. Add the soft butter, egg yolks, vanilla seeds and extract; knead until the dough is comes together and is well blended. Wrap in wax paper or plastic wrap and put in the fridge for 2 or more hours.

Divide the dough into small portions (I made 23 cookies with my batch) and roll each piece into a smallish bullet shape- or a small sewing machine shuttle (hence the name). Dip each cookie into the reserved egg white and then roll it in the vanilla sugar. Bake on a parchment lined cookie sheet for 8 minutes or until lightly browned.

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Dobos Torte

Does this really look like a drum? Maybe I’m looking at the wrong drums…Dobos, which means “drum” or “like a drum”  in Hungarian  is just a coincidence (I think)  since the  cake is an Austrain creation developed by chef  Josef Dobos.  It consists of multiple thin layers of genoise cake that are layered with a chocolate buttercream and a hard caramel topping. While it is time-consuming , it is actually pretty simple to put  together. Just make sure to read through the recipe before starting and to have everything ready (mise en place) to go before you start to make the cake. If a recipe relied on the use of a standing mixer this one would be it. You can certainly use a hand-held mixer, but you will be standing there a long time mixing.

This recipe uses chocolate ganache between the layers instead of buttercream .The flavor of the cake is quite plain so I added a touch of orange to it. I bet this would also be great with a touch of amaretto or frangelico added to the batter, or how about some espresso in the ganache?  Anyway, this is a great holiday cake with real visual appeal. Since I am in New York for the month I get to bake lots of treats for my mom’s various holiday gatherings and I thought this would be perfect to try. It is my first one and I am really pleased at how easily it all came together. This is adapted from an old Good Housekeeping recipe. It makes 16 slices.

There are 3 steps to making this cake, besides the assembly:

1. Bake the cake layers

2. Prepare the ganache

3. Make the caramel


12 large eggs, separated
1 C granulated sugar
1 Vanilla bean, seeds scraped into the egg yolks (optional) .Reserve the pod for another use (add it to your sugar bowl,to your bottle of vanilla extract, to a bottle of vodka or rum…..)
1 tsp each of Fiore di silia  and vanilla extract OR 2 tsp vanilla extract and the zest of an orange
1 1/3 C cake flour, sifted (do not use self rising flour)
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Preheat your oven to 400 F. Grease the bottom of two 9 inch pans. Cut out 8 parchment paper circles (unless you have silpat cake liners, which you can just wipe off and reuse). Line each pan with a parchment circle. Set the other 6 aside

In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks with 1/2 cup of sugar and the vanilla bean seeds (if using) on high, until thick and light lemon colored. This will take about 10 minutes. Beat in the extracts, set aside.

In a large, very clean bowl, whisk the egg whites on high until soft peaks form. Slowly add the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and whisk until the stand at stiff peaks.

transfer the egg yolk mixture to a very large bowl and sift the flour over it. Fold the flour into the egg yolk mixture, then fold in the melted butter. (I use my whisk attachment to do this)

With a rubber spatula, fold the egg whites in the yolks, 1/3 at a time, just until blended.

Spoon 1 cup batter into each of the prepared pans. Use a small offset spatula to gently spread the batter evenly in the pan. Bake the layers for 9 minutes, until lightly golden brown and springy to the touch. Wait about 1 minute then invert them onto a wire rack. Peel and discard the parchment and flip them back over to cool completely.

When the pans are cool (it will only take a few minutes, wipe them out and line each with a new piece of parchment. Repeat with the remaining batter to make 8 layers in total. Stack the cooled cake layers between layers of wax paper.

you should always try to use the best quality chocolate that you can afford
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2 ounces milk chocolate
2 ounces white chocolate
1 C heavy cream
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Finely chop the chocolates and place in a bowl.  Heat the cream over medium high heat until just about to boil. Pour over the chocolates and let it sit for about 3 minutes. With a whisk or rubber spatula, stir the mixture together until it is smooth and creamy. Whisk in the butter and continue stirring until everything is beautiful and shiny.

At this point, you can let the mixture stand at room temp for a few hours to set up or you can put the bowl over an ice bath to speed up the process. All that you do is take you bowl and place it in a larger bowl that has a few inches of cold water and some ice cubes in it. Stir the mixture every few minutes for about 20 minutes and it will be ready. I recommend the latter since it is faster.


1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon butter
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
2 Tbl water
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, melted

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, butter, lemon juice and water over high heat and bring to a boil over high heat , swirling the pan once or twice. Continue cooking, without stirring, about 3-4 minutes, until the caramel is golden color (I like my caramel on the darker side to offset the sweetness of the chocolate).

Carefully pour the hot caramel over the top of one layer of cake and quickly spread it evenly over the top with a small offset spatula. Let it cool for about 1-2 minutes to slightly set and then quickly,with a greased chef’s knife, cut the cake layer into 16 wedges.

Dip the rounded side of the wedges in the melted chocolate and set aside until the final assembly.

Final assembly:

Spread about 1/4 cup of the ganache on 1 layer of cake. Top with a second layer and cover with another 1/4 cup of the ganache. Keep repeating until all the layers are done. Pipe or spoon the remaining ganache into 16 little dollops evenly spaced around the edge of the top layer. If serving within 2 hours, place 1 caramel wedge, set at an angle, on top of each ganache dollop.

If not serving right away, refrigerate the cake, but not the top caramel layer- it will get soggy in the fridge.  To serve, take the cake out of the fridge at least 1 hour before serving and top with the caramel wedges.

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