Monday, August 23, 2010

Where the Wild Shoes Are: With Nutella Meringue Drops

51SS1E3XKTLAfter walking to every patisserie that sold French macarons during my first month in Paris, my once sensible walking shoes began to seriously malfunction.  Fashionable in California but not exactly stylish in Paris, they were losing the battle with cobblestone streets and city walking.  With one sole flapping in the breeze, they were clearly gasping their last breath.  And given the awkwardness of encountering giggling little children and elderly women pointing at them, it was time to spring for something a little more, well, Parisian.  And black.

I memorized how to say my shoe size in French and put the prettiest pink collars on the adorable, but fake Bouledogues Français, Lulu and Phoebe (they're really Boston Terriers but no one in Paris understood the translation).  I’d already learned that dogs were always welcome everywhere in Paris and warmed up even the most sullen storekeeper.  I was not beneath using them to get what I wanted.

Sure enough, la vendeuse des chaussures, and in fact everyone in the shoe salon greeted the dogs warmly in rapid fire French.  But when I asked to see shoes in my size, the very proper elderly French saleswoman looked at me, looked down at my feet, frowned, pointed (again) and yelled out: MON DIEU!  QUARANTE TRIOS!

The small shoe salon got awfully silent as every eyeball moved to my feet, which were sadly, still clad in the ugly American shoe now being licked by one bored dog.  Satisfied that everyone knew the great dilemma the sales woman faced in helping the American with huge feet, she sighed loudly, and we moved up to the second floor where they apparently kept the clown-sized footwear. 

She brought out an array of the ugliest shoes that not even a catalog of podiatry shoes from 1943 would have advertised.   I politely rejected them all.  After tossing her hands in the air, doing that rapid fire French again, which I understood far more than I wanted  (big ox feet, ugly shoes will be only yours should you ever find anyone willing to sell you anything you American giant).  And that was the kind part.  I think she also asked Lulu and Phoebe to smell my feet, or to sell my feet.  Clearly, that was lost in translation.

Finally, the shoes she began to bring out were from the downstairs public display; translation, pretty shoes.  Perhaps the hideous selection was a test to see if I had a scintilla of good fashion sense which would not have been obvious given my current footwear.

Exactly 15 minutes after noon, the saleswoman started packing up the shoes and told me to pick something because she was leaving for her déjeuner.  Lunch break, it seems, happens whether you have a customer or not.  Though I wasn’t quite finished, to promote goodwill between the France and America, I purchased a pair of shoes.  Good thing I noticed they had two more locations in Paris where I could be humiliated all over again in a new setting because I certainly wasn't going back to that store ever again.

And continuing on my quest for French macarons, we detoured on the way back to the apartment by way of  La Printemps Department Store to visit Maison du Chocolat.  They had just gotten in the most delicate and delicious French macaroons I’d tasted yet. 

I tried to recreate the macarons when I was home in California months later.  After several macaron wrecks (getting them out of the oven without any cracks on top is tricky) I came upon a different solution; meringues with filling. 

These meringues are easy, inexpensive and dazzling.  Each time I make these I am reminded not only of that shoe shopping day, but of both France's persistent use of Nutella on everything, and of course, Maison du Chocolat and those amazing macaroons.

The meringues are gluten free and elegant enough to serve at a party or to give as a gift; if there are any left, that is.
Nutella Meringue Drops
  • 4 large or extra large egg whites
  • 2/3  cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • pinch of salt
  • ¼   teaspoon vanilla
  • ¼  teaspoon almond extract
  • ½ cup Nutella, or melted bittersweet chocolate
Preheat oven to 225.   Line two baking sheets with parchment or silpats.

Crack the eggs carefully and separate the yolks from the whites.  Store the yolks for another use. Pop the whites into a stand mixer or in a very large bowl and add the vanilla and almond and the salt.  Whisk away on high until frothy but no peaks are formed.

Whisk the sugar with the cornstarch and with the mixer on medium speed; pour the sugar mixture in a steady stream at the edge of the bowl until it is incorporated.  Scrape the bowl once with a spatula to make sure all the sugar is incorporated.  Now whisk on highest speed until stiff peaks form and mixture looks glossy.  

Use a pastry bag or very large Ziploc bag with a 1/2 inch tip to pipe the Meringues onto both cookie sheets, filling them – they can be placed very close together.   Or use a spoon to place some on the cookie sheet and use a twist of the spoon to shape them.   They should be between 1.5 and 2 inches in diameter.  Either way, the recipes yields dozens.

Bake 30 minutes and rotate the baking sheets.  Add about another 35 minutes to the cooking time and then turn off the oven and don't open the door!  Leave them in the oven 60 minutes more.  

Remove and let them cool completely before handling.

While they cool, gently melt the chocolate (in a water bath or the microwave) or Nutella until spreadable.   Let the mixture cool somewhat.  Take two Meringues and spread a bit of Nutella or chocolate on the bottom of one cookie.  Attach the other cookie.  Cool the cookies completely before serving – if you can wait.  Très bon!

Notes:  Don't try to make them on a day when your house might be humid - they won't dry.   Keep an eye on them in the oven because while they will still taste great if they brown, they won't look as pretty.  Don't be tempted to open the oven door - and if you err on the side of too much time, not a problem.  They might get soggy stored in plastic wrap.  A tin is best. 

Friday, August 20, 2010

Fromage Blanc with Framboises, In Your Kitchen

yummy french berries and fromage blanc

Some of the food we ate while we lived in France  are just memories, but some of it we have painstakingly recreated back home.

Fromage Blanc is one of those, and also one of our favorite foods.   It is delightfully easy to make and even more fun to eat. 
It is something that might be related to our cottage cheese (if it was smooth), or yogurt, or a very loose cream cheese.  Depends on who you ask.  All I know is that once we discovered it, we ate it everyday, often with berries that were sublime.

Fromage Blanc is easy to make but expensive to buy here in the U.S.  Vermont Butter and Cheese has one as does Cypress Grove Cheese in California.  Neither taste like French Fromage Blanc though.  

To make it, order the Fromage Blanc starter from New England Cheese Making Company along with the cheesecloth to drain the stuff.  
Get a gallon of whole milk from the store.  Heat it up in a large pot to about 78-80 degrees.  Mix in the starter until dissolved (about 2 minutes), cover and let sit for about 14 hours on the stove top or counter.  

Using a cheesecloth lined colander with a pot or large bowl under it, spoon the mixture into the colander and cover.  Refrigerate and let it drain for about 4 hours, but no more than 6.  

Pour or dump into a large bowl and whisk it until it is smooth, free from lumps.  Use some of the liquid (whey) if it seems to dry to you.  It should resemble the consistency of Greek Yogurt or sour cream. 

If it looks like cream cheese you left it too long and you will want to stir some of the whey back in to the mixture.  Store in a covered container in the refrigerator.  It makes about a quart plus and it lasts about 2 weeks in the refrigerator.  It only gets more ripe, and that is not a bad thing.   

Serve with berries or other fruit.  I like it with bananas or honey.  People in France serve it often for dessert with fruit or a honey topping.

Bon Appetite!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Short Cake Road Trip: Gluten Free Strawberry Shortcake

Ohio? Didn't we lose my brother in Colorado?
Half a century ago my family made a cross country sojourn in the old Ford.  Six people were packed into a non air-conditioned car for thousands of miles in the middle of summer; three of them stinky teenage boys plus one chatty little four-year-old girl. This is the very stuff that makes warm family memories. Too bad I can’t remember any except the fuzzy-gray traumatic one where we lose my older brother somewhere on a mountain in Colorado.  Fortunately there is proof we found him again, evidenced by his Bar Mitzvah photo the next fall. 
Determined to subvert that history, thirty years later we piled our own two pre-teen girls into the tiny backseat of an air conditioned Subaru station wagon and took off west.  It marked the beginning of the big move to California from Vermont, leaving behind very cold winters to happily bask in the fog and sunshine that would San Francisco Bay.
Road food would rule.  Motels with pools were the late afternoon destination.  Think Route 66, but not nearly as awesome.  Also not awesome were the two sullen pre-teenagers and their battery eating Walkmans which killed the glamour of the road trip more quickly than running out of Dunkin Donuts.  We called them the Misses Bickersons not 50 miles into the trip because they argued constantly.  The oldest had just declared herself a vegetarian.  The youngest had yet to realize that food came in more than the Gulp versions and that 7-11 was not owned by the government nor located at every intersection no matter how many times she asked.
Miss vegetarian Bickerson was getting cranky trying to find something beyond macaroni and cheese or salad to eat.  Sadly, even her veggie western omelet (in Denver) was almost sent back because it had touched ham.  It probably is fodder for therapy at some point, but we made her eat it anyway.  Not one of us could stand her crankiness in the confines of the car for one more day.  The girl needed some protein.
In an old keepsake box is the evidence; rules ratified and signed in the very first miles of the trip between the two warring Bickersons.  The list is preserved for posterity or the national archives, whichever asks first.  On it are classics – no spitting, burping or other gross bodily functions.  No flapping lips unless it is your designated talking minute.  No touching the other’s side of the (compact) back seat.  No slurping drinks (my rule) and no singing aloud with the Walkman.  The best rule?  No talking until 7AM.  Let’s just say that one child was quite cheerfully chatty from the moment her eyes opened, no matter how early.  The rest of us needed shots of high-test coffee.
Starting out before dawn to beat the late afternoon triple digit heat, we’d begin driving at 5AM and stop at 3PM to seek the coolness of the pool and some early dessert.  Aside from the gallons of really bad coffee we guzzled, almost 786 versions of tired American pie dotted the road food landscape.  Thankfully, there was an alternative. Since it was late June there was also strawberry shortcake.  Lots of it.
Sometimes the shortcake was a biscuit – other times it was pound cake gone awry.  And once in a while it was a cross between a scone and a biscuit.  The scones won our hearts.  Not a summer goes by since then, that as soon as the berries show up at our Farmer’s Markets; we are making shortcakes until the supply is gone. 
We’ve been thinking about a road trip again and it is almost strawberry season everywhere.  This trip, the backseat will be filled by tiny Lulu and Phoebe who sleep when the car is moving. They will gladly eat meat and everything else offered, including strawberries. 
The Walkman is long gone, replaced by the iPod – which magically plugs into the car.  Sometimes change is a good thing, just as long as no one messes with strawberry shortcake.

Road Trip Strawberry Shortcake
  • 2 cups flour (for gluten free flour – plus 1 tspn. xanthan gum)
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • Pinch Salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter very cold, cut into small pieces
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon lemon or orange zest
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • ½ cup currants, dried cranberries, fresh blueberries, (optional)
Strawberry Filling
  • 2 pints (or more) fresh strawberries cut into quarters
  • 2 tablespoons sugar (1 per pint)
  • 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
Whipped Cream Topping
  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • Splash of vanilla

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with a silpat or parchment
In a food processor, pulse together flour, baking powder, sugar and pinch of salt (and xanthan gum if using gf flour).  Drop in the cold butter pieces and pulse until it looks like coarse cornmeal.  Remove to a large bowl.
 Pour one cup of cream into a small bowl.  Add the egg and mix well.  Add the zest and stir.  Pour into the dry mix and using a fork mix just until incorporated.  Add the optional dried fruit and mix.   Dough will be very sticky.  Using floured hands, knead the dough a few turns until it is smooth.  Cut in half.  Roll each half into a ball and place on floured board. 
Flatten slightly and cut into four pieces.  Place on silpat lined baking sheet.  Bake about 18 minutes until lightly brown.  Cool.
Wash, dry and quarter berries.  Mix in sugar and liquor.  Cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight.  Bring to room temperature before serving.
Whipped Cream
Whip the heavy cream with a mixer or by hand after adding sugar and vanilla.  Keep cold.
Using serrated knife – cut the scones in half.  Spoon a generous serving of berries and juices onto bottom half of scone.  Top with whipped cream and place other half of scone, offset on top.
Bon appétit and happy trails.

Once Upon a Home Ec Cake Wreck: Marble Cake Gluten Free

  clearly I should have been paying attention....

Home Economics was a mandatory (girl) course in 7th grade and every single project seemed to require a mother. Unfortunately I was fresh out of mothers for most of that year.  
First up in the Home Ec curriculum was the "sew a dress with mom" project.  My fondest wish tended more toward meeting the Beatles or marrying Illya Kuryakin, not learning to sew.  My father enlisted a neighborhood mom to help and she thought girls only came in one size; small and dainty.  Over 5’9” with feet past a size 10, I was nothing close to small.  I did get credit for completing the dress and lucky for me the teacher never noticed the masking taped seams hem, or that it was a thousand sizes too small.
The next project, "baking with mom" lamentably meant one thing.  Cake. The Home Ec teacher had great affection for all things cake, evidenced by the unending stash of Little Debbie treats in her desk drawer.  I pleaded my case using the poor-sad-orphan-card to get a reprieve, but the teacher knew that I had one breathing parent left, which meant I was only one-half orphan.  I was toast. 
We had to bake the thing from scratch which involved purchasing ingredients that were not labeled Jiffy Cake Mix.  I didn’t have a lot of cash, so I brilliantly figured I’d buy only the important sounding ingredients for my chocolate cake.  
Nesquik seemed more versatile than Hershey's cocoa. Margarine was cheaper than butter and sort of looked the same.  I'd use water instead of milk; who would know?  Powdered sugar for frosting seemed extraneous since I had to buy the regular kind anyway.  Why not use the same stuff for both?  Why buy vanilla flavoring if the cake was going to be chocolate?
Baking at 350?  I preferred even numbers, like 400 which sounded as though it would bake the cake faster.  It did.  Well-done to burned cake transpired in a matter of minutes.  But hey, it was already chocolate; the dark part was well hidden and it still smelled mostly like cake.  
The granulated sugar frosting was, well, lacking.  When I found some sliced almonds in the pantry to pat strategically into the grainy frosting, I was feeling quite smart.  It looked rather elegant if you squinted, which I hoped my home economics teacher would be doing when I brought it to school the next day. 
I needn’t have worried about carrying it – the thing was heavy as a brick and just as petrified.  I dramatically carried the cake like it was fragile; leaving everyone to imagine that it was delicate.  There were so many cakes that I easily shoved mine behind the surplus.  Other girls were clamoring for the teacher to taste their creations.  Something about the law of averages saved me; there were only so many bites of sweetness a person can eat before they surrender.  Mine was left alone.  But because it looked like cake I got credit.  Even motherless, I managed the façade of cake and passed home economics. Barely.
These days I never forget to use vanilla even when I make a chocolate confection.  The one lesson I learned from making that 7th grade cake wreck was that any cake can be made to look presentable, but not all presentable cakes taste good.  Given a choice, I opt for both, but taste wins every time.  This chocolate and yellow cake is a favorite, and one day I will actually learn the art of marbling.
(Gluten Free) Marble Layer Cake
  • 2 ¼ cups cake flour or featherlight gluten free flour sifted
  • 1 teaspoon xanthan gum (if using gluten free flour)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 cup almond flour sifted
  • Pinch salt
  • 2/3 cup cream
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla flavoring
  • 1 teaspoon almond flavoring
  • ½ teaspoon fiori di sicilia
  • ¾ cup boiling water
  • 2/3 cup valrhona unsweetened cocoa sifted
  • 2 scant cups white sugar (superfine works well)
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter softened
Preheat oven to 350.  Butter bottom and sides of two 8x3 or 9x2 inch round cake pans. Line with parchment and  butter.  Coat with flour. Tap out excess. 
In a bowl, whisk together sifted flours, xanthan gum, baking powder, and salt.  In a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time.  Add flavorings.  Add flour and milk/cream mixture alternately until incorporated.  Don’t over mix. 
In a bowl, mix sifted cocoa with boiling water until it is sludge.  Scoop about 3 cups of the batter into the chocolate mix. Whisk until incorporated.
Alternate scoops of chocolate and vanilla batter in baking pan until both pans are filled evenly.  Using a butter knife, gently draw a figure eight to marble the batter.   

Tap pans on counter to settle the contents and remove air bubbles.  Give pan a quick shake and place in oven.  Bake about 35 minutes until lightly brown or toothpick comes out clean.
Cool five minutes and turn out on a rack.  Cool completely.
Cut each layer in half.
Brush with simple syrup, if desired, and frost with your favorite: Ganache, butter cream, dark chocolate glaze or combination.
Notes: To marble correctly, don’t mush the knife through like I did when you make that figure eight.  It comes out without the distinct markings.  Less is more.  Really.  I used both ganache and butter cream just because I wasn’t sure which I wanted.  Next time I would use a thinner layer of ganache between the layers and pour a glaze over the top and sides.  Still, there is no such thing as too much chocolate.
Bon appétit and let us eat cake.

Chocolate Bread Pudding: From Ivy's Kitchen, Very Small

Stashed in the back of our stuffed chocolate cupboard is a well loved box overflowing with hand written recipes, food notes and wrinkled wine labels.  It's a repository of our life in food - a truer picture of our history than any ancestral chart.
Dearest to me are the hand written recipes from our adopted grandmother, 80-year-old Ivy; shared with us when we were teenage newlyweds living in our very first apartment far from our families.  It was a simpler time when all we needed was a home cooked meal to make the world right again.  I can even smell that first meal Ivy made for us, although at the time we weren’t quite sure what to call it.
Entering the dingy apartment house foyer on that gray, bone chilling, rainy New England autumn evening, the usual smell, old cat hair and l’eau de musty old building was replaced by the wafting and mouth watering aroma of warm-from-the-oven meat loaf and mashed potatoes.  In the dark foyer we almost tripped over the foil wrapped gift by our front door.  It was the very first care-package dinner from our neighbor, Ivy.  That meatloaf was love in a 5x8 loaf pan.
That same evening, we returned the dishes and shared the first of many cups of tea with Ivy.  In contrast to our modest junk-furnished flat, her apartment was a cozy chintz filled slice of her previous life in England.  Though she had been in the United States for decades by then, she still was a very proper English marm in diction, grammar, manners and food making.  That probably explained why her meatloaf was a cross between an American Good Housekeeping recipe and Shepherd’s Pie.  It was topped with some of the mashers, almost like Ivy couldn’t help herself – along with the inclusion of very squishy peas scattered throughout the meatloaf.  Nonetheless, it was comfort food to a couple of kids who relied on dry cereal and boxed macaroni and cheese to survive thus far.
Once she caught on that we were not fit to feed ourselves, Ivy left her version of a balanced meal on our doorstep many evenings.  We thought she possessed some crazy crystal ball because the food was always piping hot, but we soon realized that from her living room window, she could see us getting off the bus a block away.  That gave her just the right amount of time to spirit the dish to our door and disappear like a magic food-elf.  She had three or four dishes that were rotated and every single one included squished peas and potatoes.  The only one we could not eat, but never told her, was the thing that included canned salmon.  Even potatoes couldn’t make that dish edible. 
Ivy also introduced us to her favorite post dinner delight, English bread and butter pudding.  We ate so many variations of bread pudding, we lost count.  Our favorite was toll house chocolate chip, again Ivy's way of being half American, half British.  The chocolate was warm, gooey and a perfect accent to the bland pudding.
Many chilly winter evenings over bread pudding and tea, I would snuggle in one of the handmade afghans she was continually crocheting.  The blankets were stored in a cedar chest that looked like an antique you’d find at auction deep in the New England countryside, but it had been in her family for generations.
On that late spring day when we said good bye because we were moving back to our hometown, we also told Ivy that we were expecting our first baby.  Over one last shared pudding, we promised to come back with the baby to visit that next summer.  Before leaving, Ivy gave us not only the handwritten recipes, but another gift that we still cherish; the afghan and a bow-covered cedar chest.  Thirty six years later the cedar chest stores not only the beautiful afghan but a tiny crocheted blanket that Ivy made for our first baby.  Sadly, that next winter, before we could bring the baby to meet her, Ivy died quite suddenly. 
Each one of her hand written recipe cards begins: From Ivy’s Kitchen - Very Small.   Her cozy apartment kitchen may have been tiny, but her heart was huge and generous.  I’ve a long way to go before I turn 80, but I hope I can be someone’s Ivy one day. Bread pudding is very forgiving and easy to prepare.  Intended to use up old stale bread with a few eggs and milk, the recipe deserves a little update.  Use some brioche or challah (egg bread) for a richer flavor and instead of toll house chips, chop some bittersweet chocolate.  I’m pretty sure Ivy would approve and be thrilled that I finally figured out the purpose of a kitchen.

Ivy’s Kitchen, Very Small - Chocolate Bread Pudding
  • 2 cups of day old challah, brioche or pound cake, cubed (or gluten free pound cake or bread)
  • 3 cups of (whole) milk, scalded
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 eggs slightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Pinch of nutmeg and cinnamon
  • ½ cup of chopped bittersweet chocolate
Preheat oven to 325.  Butter an 8x8 baking pan.  Scald milk, add butter and let stand about 15 minutes.  Add the other ingredients (except bread & chocolate) to milk mixture and whisk to incorporate.  Drop cubed bread and chopped chocolate into the prepared casserole dish and gently pour tepid liquid over it.  Cover with foil and place in hot water bath in the preheated oven.  Keep covered for at least 30 minutes and bake for a total of one hour or until just a tiny bit wiggly in the center.  Serve slightly warm with whipped cream on a puddle of dolce de leche.
Notes: Cube the bread the day before and let it sit uncovered overnight.  It needs to be slightly stale and dried.  A serrated knife will chop the chocolate easily.  
Bon appétit.

Uncle Milt's Half Moon Cookies (gluten free)

Uncle Milt's Half Moon Cookie, Kitchen Version
When life gets challenging, I retreat to the kitchen and bake.   I've been baking a mountain of confections and feeding our neighborhood since we found ourselves in the growing land of the suddenly unemployed two weeks ago.  And whenever I listen to the news and hear some talking-head cheerfully report that the economy is improving, it merely means another baking flurry is about to commence. 
Yesterday I decided to bake with purpose.  This time, I'm tackling everyone’s favorite, the holy grail of childhood memories; Snowflake Bakery's Half Moon cookie, the kitchen version. 
Converting Baking Hero, Milt Ziegler's commercial ingredient list for the Half Moon mix to a kitchen recipe takes a certain amount of good faith and apparently a very competent geek who happens to have some spare time these days.  Converting 15 pounds of cake flour to a manageable quantity that would fit in my Kitchen-Aid mixer, along with the balance of other ingredients is similar to one of those pesky math word problems.  There I was, biting my lip, double checking my math with a calculator, hoping I was not making a mistake.  Math word problems give me hives and a headache.
From over my shoulder there was suddenly the sound of Pink Floyd's Money in the form of a tiny hum coming from the Geek.  I paused, pencil in the air, waiting.  With a small, but audible “ah ha” mixed into the middle of  the song I heard footsteps receding to the kitchen. I followed.
Reading glasses perched carefully on his nose, he squinted and leaned in to watch the numbers shifting in a beaker filled with water; he was dropping in whole eggs, one at a time.  Rising up from that stooped over, back-aching bend, he grinned and said “two large eggs and a half cup of milk”.
I looked at my paper and did some fast calculations and sure enough – two eggs and 4 ounces of milk.  He'd gotten there faster, of course, and more accurately, like the good squint scientist that he is (hello: Bones). One fancy spreadsheet later I had my recipe. 
I’ve auditioned many black & white cookie recipes through the years trying to duplicate the Snowflake Half Moon Cookie memory from my childhood.  Alas, not a single one came close.  Until now.  Uncle Milt’s Half Moon kitchen recipe is quite probably the best version I’ve ever made. 
There isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t pass a bakery in my neighborhood and wish it were Snowflake.   After the Snowflake article appeared in Salon’s Food page, a Facebook group, Snowflake Bakery Memories, was created by Milt’s son, Jeff.  After just a couple of weeks almost 250 people have joined the group.   Almost everyone whistfully remembers the fabulous Half Moon cookies (black & whites).  
The Facebook page is the closest we will get to Snowflake Bakery these days, but with Milt’s generosity, now we can have  a kitchen version of  the popular Half Moon cookie.  Go ahead.  Close your eyes when you take that first bite.  It will take you all the way back to those wonderful Snowflake days.
And every time you make Uncle Milt’s Half Moon cookies, be sure to send some love to the guy who made it all possible. 
Uncle Milt's Half Moon Cookies
Ingredients - Cookies
  • 2 oz. unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 oz. Crisco shortening
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs (mixed well)
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla
  • 1/8 teaspoon pure lemon flavoring
  • Splash of fiori di sicilia (optional but seriously worth it)
  • 2 ½ cups cake flour ( gluten free flour, add ½ tspn xanthan gum)
  • 1 scant tablespoon baking powder
  • Pinch salt
  • ½ cup whole milk (plus a tablespoon if needed)
Ingredients - Glaze
  • 2 cups sifted confectioner sugar (King Arthur has no additives)
  • 2 tablespoons valrhona or other quality unsweetened cocoa powder (sifted)
  • 1 teaspoon light corn syrup
  • Splash of vanilla and fiori di sicilia

Directions for Cookies
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment or silpats.  Makes half a dozen, 5 inch Half Moon cookies. 
Mix together flour, baking powder, salt (xanthan gum) and set aside.  In stand mixer, cream butter, shortening and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add mixed eggs and incorporate well.  Add flavorings.  Alternately mix in flour mixture and milk.  Beat on high just until incorporated and fluffy.  Add a tiny bit more milk if the batter seems too stiff.  You want the batter to be sturdier than cupcake batter, but not like cookie dough.
Scoop by half cups, five mounds to a baking sheet, well spaced.  Using a small offset spatula or the back of a spoon, flatten the mound into a 4.5’ to 5” circle until it actually looks like a Half Moon/Black & White cookie.  They will spread slightly, but not much.
Bake about 8 minutes and rotate pans.  Bake about 10 minutes more until lightly golden.  Cool completely.
Directions for Glaze
Sift the sugar into a bowl.  Add 2 tablespoons of hot water and stir until the mixture is a spreadable glaze.  Add the flavorings and let set for about 30 seconds.  Spoon onto one half of the flat side of the cookie.  Using a small offset spatula or the back of a spoon, spread the glaze thinly to the edges.  Let set while finishing up the others.
Add the sifted cocoa to the remaining glaze and more water if necessary.  Using the same method finish the glaze on the other half of the cookie. 
Let set about an hour until hard.  
Notes:  Once scooped, you have to spread the batter to the diameter just under what you want for the cookie size.   Don’t worry about it being too thin.  They rise.  Don’t over bake because they will get crispy.  Half Moons should be soft.
The glaze can get runny if you add even a tiny bit too much liquid.  To remedy that, add more sugar.  You want it thin, but not liquidy.  It is easier to do the white glaze first and then the chocolate.  Just be cautious to not hold the cookie over the others while spreading the chocolate glaze or you might spill it onto the other white glazed halves.

I cannot emphasize enough the addition of  fiori di sicilia flavoring from King Arthur.  A tiny bit goes a long way and makes your pastry smell and taste like it came from the pastry shop, or in this case, from Snowflake Bakery.  It is an enhancement that will make you swoon.  I promise.


Bon appétit and thank you to celebrity baking hero, Uncle Milt!

Enterprising Dogs and Ginger Banana Cookies

Lulu and Phoebe signature cookies:  Mine and Mine
My answer to our unexpected and ridiculously long stretch of unemployment has been to spend hours in the kitchen using baking therapy to work out those frustrations.  I’ve baked all our old favorites at least twice, pounded dough, chopped until the cutting board looks like a sacrificial lamb, and started working on new recipes.  My constant kitchen companions, Lulu and Phoebe have been quietly standing by just in case I need help sweeping up stuff from the floor, taste testing or waiting to bark in case Timmy falls in the well. 
And, until recently, I hadn’t realized that they were actually waiting for me to get around to baking for them.  You’d think after all this time they’d send a memo, a text or at least posted to Facebook.
I’d just finished baking some really fine triple ginger (gluten free) cookies for humans, when I looked up and noticed that both dogs were blowing bubbles; some serious drooling was going on. 
Ginger-three-ways was apparently the holy grail of the doggy palate.  I’ve seen them get enormously excited when I dropped things on the floor, but they had not yet been soaked with drool in advance of things dropping.  Who knew that it would be all about ginger?
Perhaps I was on to something here.  I got busy thinking up a good recipe using ginger that would be just perfect for these guys.  Sometimes, the unexpected turns into an opportunity.
If the photos are any indication, they approve. 

Lulu and Phoebe’s Ginger Banana Cookies
  • 11 oz. (2 cups) mix of rice, sorghum and coconut flours
  • ½ teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 1 heaping tablespoon ginger root powder
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3 oz (weight) or 1/4 cup organic molasses
  • 3 oz (weight) or 1/4 cup organic honey
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup peanut or olive oil
  • ½ banana
  • ¼ cup Greek yogurt
Preheat oven to 350.  Line three baking sheets with parchment or silpats.   In a large bowl, combine flours, xanthan gum, ginger, and cinnamon.  In a small food processor or blender, combine molasses, oil, egg, honey, banana and yogurt and pulse until liquefied.  Add to dry mixture and combine until well incorporated.  The dough should be stiff.
Take one silpat and place it on the counter.  Take ½ the dough and pat into rectangle on the silpat.  Cover with plastic wrap or parchment paper.  Roll very thin all the way to edges if possible.  Using your favorite cookie cutter, cut into shapes and using an offset spatula, place on another silpat lined baking sheet.  Or, using a butter knife, cut the rolled rectangle of dough into even sized pieces (think graham crackers) by cutting in half and then half again, repeat.  Using the tines of a fork, poke each cracker a couple of times (again, think graham crackers).  Slide onto baking tray without moving the dough.
Turn oven to 325.  Bake 6 minutes and rotate.  Bake another 4-5 minutes and remove from oven.  When all the baking sheets are finished, combine the cookies onto two sheets.  Turn oven off and place cookies in the oven and dry for 30 minutes more (remember to turn the oven off!) to crisp.
Cool completely. 
Notes:  Using a digital scale for baking will give you more accurate results in general.  The combo flours give the cookie a more multi-dimensional flavor, but feel free to use plain rice flour.  The dogs won't care.  Try to not to use wheat flour- most dogs can't tolerate it.  
Bon appétit happy dogs!
vulcan salute - prelude to cookies and cookies