Category Archives: Cookies

Cookie Island

Hello, it’s me…..the slacker who used to contribute regularly to this blog.  I know, it’s been about a year since I’ve written any recipes.  What can I say?

sunset

ocean

people

waterfall

sunsetting

So yeah, Caribbean life is really good, and sometimes I feel like we landed in paradise.  Sure, traffic tends to be crazy, work can get hectic, and there are lots of things yet to be done around the house.  But I do like my new island home, especially the kitchen. It’s smaller than our last one, but after almost eleven years in Germany, I enjoy having a full-size refrigerator and oven again.  One reason I’m so happy with the kitchen is the way some of our furniture found its way in here and works really well.  For example, check out how my cookbooks and Polish and Italian pottery fit into these two stacked Ikea shelving units.

shelf

Even better, what about this island Jerry made out of another shelving unit and the oak butcher block that used to serve as an office work table when it topped a couple of small filing cabinets in our old house?

kitchen island

cookies on island

Yes, indeed, the kitchen island is perfect for cookie production, and I have a perfect island-inspired cookie recipe to share.  I first made these cookies last spring as an experiment when I wanted to take a treat to work.  They’re really a basic oatmeal cookie, but instead of the typical cinnamon and raisins, I stirred in cubed guava paste, a sure bet to appeal to Puerto Rican tastes, and sure enough, the cookies prompted several requests for the recipe.  I’ve actually developed sort of a reputation among my colleagues as a baker, and it all started with these cookies.

Oatmeal and Guava Cookies   

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (quick-cooking oats will work, but I like old-fashioned better)
  • About 7 ounces guava paste, cut into small cubes (I used a third of a 21-ounce container of Goya guava paste, available from Amazon if it is not in your local store)

Cream together the butter and sugars, then mix in the egg and vanilla.  Stir the flour, baking soda, and salt together, then blend this mixture into the creamed mixture.  Mix in the rolled oats and gently fold in the guava cubes.  Refrigerate the dough for an hour or more (I’ve left the dough in the fridge for close to a week and it was fine).

sliced guava

guava cookie dough

When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 F.  Drop the dough by tablespoonsful onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and flatten slightly with the back of the spoon.  Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the cookies are just starting to brown around the edges.  Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for a couple of minutes, then slide the parchment onto a rack to cool completely.  Store in an airtight container for two or three days, or freeze for longer storage.

Yield: about 4 dozen cookies

me on beach

Tami

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Polvorones By Any Other Name….Are Still Delicious!

This basic cookie is known by many different names, including butterballs, sand tarts, almond crescents, and Russian tea cakes.  According to an online food history timeline, during the 1950s the recipe started to appear in American cookbooks as Mexican Wedding Cakes, and there is some speculation that the new name was a response to Cold War fears of anything connected with Soviet Russia.  I’ve been to quite a few Mexican weddings and eaten more than one cookie at the festivities, but instead of polvorones they were usually anise-flavored bizcochos (good if you like anise, but it’s not my favorite).  My hunch is that some cookbook writer knew of bizcochos as a traditional wedding cookie and thought polvorones were the same thing, and that’s how polvorones came to be known as Mexican Wedding Cakes.

Whatever you call them, polvorones are amazingly good.  The recipe is a simple ratio I learned from a woman named Gracie that I worked with a number of years ago, with a couple of additional tricks I’ve picked up over the years.  The first secret is to lightly toast the flour ahead of time (in the oven) – I got that one from my dad, who learned it from one of his neighbors – it imparts a nice “golden” flavor clear into the center of the cookies without having to bake them so long that they become hard.

The other secret will be no surprise to Janessa and Kara, because they know how much their dad loves buttered popcorn, and he has a flavor trick of his own that he came up with way before all the cool cooks started using it: browned butter.  Somehow Jerry seems to have a knack for making popcorn right when I’m about to start cooking something (funny, he says it’s the other way around).  There is usually some butter left when the popcorn is perfectly buttered, and once I had the idea of mixing the still-liquid browned butter with the sugar as I was making cookies.  The result was delicious, and now I almost always brown the butter for any kind of cookie, letting the sugar and browned-butter mixture solidify before creaming it like normal.

Gracie, the source of the original recipe, insisted on butter and told me to stay away from shortening or lard, which was what her mother-in-law used.  Last summer when we were back home, I bought some polvorones from a Mexican bakery that were made with lard.  Those cookies had a great texture and were actually more traditional (they tasted exactly like the ones I’ve had in Mexico), but Gracie is right, the butter version is much better.

Traditionally the dough for polvorones is rolled thick (½ inch) and cut into hearts, circles, or diamonds, but I like to keep it simple so I form the dough into a 2-inch log, wrap it in plastic and chill it.  Then it’s a simple and non-messy slice-and-bake operation that makes the finished cookies perfectly tender since the dough isn’t absorbing extra flour during rolling.

By the way, polvo means dust or powder in Spanish, so the name refers to the delicate crumbly texture and the dusting of sugar on the cookies.

  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup almond meal
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Powdered sugar to dust over the top (or granulated sugar mixed with cinnamon)

To brown the butter, melt it in a medium saucepan and stir frequently until it is bubbling steadily.  Continue cooking and stirring until the milk solids in the butter start to turn brown.  There is a very fine line between perfectly browned and burned, so watch it closely and take it off the burner as soon as it looks and smells brown.  Blend in the sugar and chill until the mixture until it is somewhat solid (half hour or so, or you can let it sit at room temperature for several hours).

To toast the flour, spread it evenly on a rimmed baking sheet and place in the oven (325 F.) for about 25 minutes, pulling it out to stir it up and re-level every five minutes.  Sometimes it takes a little less time, depending on the humidity level of the flour – the flour won’t actually turn brown, but it will have a golden-brown smell and might be a little bit darker (more so if you are using unbleached flour).  Let the flour cool while the butter-sugar mixture is solidifying.

When the butter mixture is solid, transfer it to a mixing bowl and cream with an electric mixer until it is light-colored and fluffy.  Add the vanilla, then mix in the toasted flour and the almond meal.  If you are using unsalted butter you can also add a pinch of salt, but if you have salted butter you probably won’t need more salt.

Shape the dough into several logs about 2 ½ inches thick.  Wrap in plastic and chill for an hour or more (the dough will keep in the refrigerator for a week since it contains no eggs, and it can be frozen for months).  When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 F.  Slice the dough ½ inch thick and place one inch apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Bake until light golden, about 10 minutes.

The cookies are very delicate, and it is helpful to carefully slide the cookies, baker’s parchment and all, off the baking sheet to cool.  Sprinkle lightly with powdered sugar and let the cookies cool for an hour or more before you move them to a serving plate (of course, you can always eat them straight off the paper).  As I mentioned, the dough freezes well.  I’m an experimenter when it comes to desserts, and as we all know, you win some and you lose some.  This cookie dough is a nice last-minute addition to have on hand any time of year in case another dessert doesn’t turn out – polvorones are the perfect accompaniment to fresh berries or a dish of sherbet in summer, and they are also a very good addition to a Christmas cookie tray.

Tami

Please, sir, I want some more [apples]

This is going to be another post about apples, but since Mom gave you Pan de Muertos and a unique yogurt syrup recipe and Janessa gave you shredded pork chili and an Irish coffee recipe, I hope you won’t mind.

By the way, this is what happens when your boyfriend finds a spider in the bottom of a shopping bag, and then proceeds to kill said spider with apples. I couldn't make this up if I tried.

I sometimes have this little problem: I will be sleeping soundly, when all of a sudden my stomach wakes me up and demands that it be fed. Once when I was about eight, I had long gone to bed when my dad decided to make some popcorn at 11 at night. Bad idea, Dad. The smell wafted down the hall into my room, waking me up and causing my cloudy-from-sleep brain to think the clock said 11 in the morning.  I leapt from the bed and ran down the hall, freaking out at my parents for letting me sleep in and miss school. (No matter that if it were actually 11 in the morning, my parents would be at work and would not be making popcorn. And it wouldn’t be pitch dark outside. …I also have this weird zombie/sleepy haze thing going on sometimes.) On the bright side, I was able to munch on some popcorn and then return to sleep, happy and content that I would not be missing school.  (I also had this nerdy thing going on. Yes, had.)

Now that I’m all grown up (ish), the problem has worsened. Sometimes I wake up at 4 or 5 in the morning, inexplicably starving, and then for the life of me can’t fall back asleep. You see, once I realize I’m hungry, I start thinking of what I have in the kitchen to eat. This reminds me that we still have a lot of food in the freezer and pantry that needs to be consumed, somehow!, before we move to Washington, D.C. And then that gets me all nervous about my job and internship search, thinking of all the things I can do and all the things I know and all that education I have and how, thus far, I got nothin’. All of this makes me wonder if I should add a post script in my cover letters, stating something like “By the way, I make delicious baked goods and will bring them in to the office at least once a week. Hire me. Please.” In sum, if you give this mouse a cookie, she’ll go insane.

Until now. I no longer have to zombie downstairs with droopy sleep-eyes and rummage through the fridge mumbling “Just a biiite.” I found this recipe a while back for Apple and Oat Drops, and knew they would be just the little bite I would need to satiate my tummy, for at least a few hours. They have that great flavor of baked oatmeal but in a little, incredibly moist morsel. And, with no added sugar and just a tablespoon of oil, they’re actually good for you. They’re also vegan; if you’d like to make them gluten free, I think just making sure your oats are gluten free, substituting the wheat flour for almond flour, and not using the wheat bran would do the trick.

Apple and oat bites, adapted from this

  • 1 1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 tablespoon whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup wheat bran (optional – I really just added it because it was taking up pantry space)
  • 2 large apples (I used Granny Smith), coarsely grated
  • 1 tablespoon mildly flavored (aka not Olive) oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • a pinch of salt
  • 5 tablespoons hot water
  • 1/2 cup dried fruit (I used a mixture of chopped dates and dried cranberries)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped nuts, such as walnuts, pecans, or almonds

Preheat oven to 350 F. In a medium sized bowl, mix together everything but the dried fruit and nuts. Mix in the fruit and nuts (it’s easiest if you use your hands). Let mixture sit for 15 minutes.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Drop the batter onto the sheet in big tablespoon-sized plops. You can place them close together, just not touching, as they won’t spread during baking.
Bake in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes, until light golden brown.
Let the bites cool on the pan – they are fairly delicate, so let them sit on the pan or they might fall apart. Store in an airtight container for, um, a week or so.

This recipe only used two apples and I still have a lot to go through, so I decided to also make a small batch of applesauce – the sweet kind this time. After looking through a few applesauce recipes I decided I knew what I was doing and started peeling and chopping away. A few recipes I found snuck some ginger into the sauce, and since I have half a knob of ginger just chillin’ in my freezer, I threw some of that in too. Instead of using water as a cooking liquid, I used fresh apple cider. Just to continue with the experimenting, I also dashed a little cayenne in – just enough to make you think. Going back to the traditional, I threw in some cinnamon, cloves, and a little raw cane sugar for good measure.

Oh it is good.

Gingered applesauce

  • 5 medium apples – I used 4 Granny Smith and then 2 small mystery apples
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons finely minced (or grated) ginger
  • 1 cinnamon stick, snapped in half (more if you want more cinnamon flavor)
  • 4 or 5 whole cloves, bundled in cheesecloth or a coffee filter
  • a few dashes of cayenne (optional)
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons raw cane sugar, or to taste
  • dash of salt
  • 1/2 to 1 cup fresh apple cider, or water

If you are the proud owner of a food mill or this, you don’t need to peel or core the apples; just roughly chopped will do. If you would like a food mill for Christmas but it’s still October, peel and core the apples, then roughly chop.

Place everything except the cloves bundle into a large pot or sauce pan and stir to mix. Put the clove bundle in, and be careful not to let the cloves fall out (or, tie the bundle with some kitchen string and be carefree). Cook over medium heat, stirring fairly often, until the apple are quite soft and falling apart, about 20 – 30 minutes. If all the liquid evaporates or things start to stick, add more cider or water. Take out the cinnamon sticks and clove bundle. Depending on your desired consistency, either mash everything with a potato masher, or blend with an immersion blender or other blender. Taste and add more sugar or spices to your liking. Let cool and place in an airtight container. Keeps for a week, or probably longer.

Kara

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