Very Cute Seals & Cookies

sealcookies

One time it took my dad 7 hours to drive from New Haven, CT to Philadelphia, PA. Was there traffic, you may wonder? No. How then could it have taken so long? Well, he arrived to Philadelphia proper in about 4 hours, but then spent the next three hours driving around the suburbs, an area he had visited several times, trying to “follow his nose” to his hotel. He was exasperated (who wouldn’t be?) to say the least, when he finally called me from his hotel room explaining what had happened. Our dinner reservation, planned for 3 hours earlier naturally, had long been cancelled, and we decided to meet for breakfast instead.

Yesterday, I felt a little bit like my dad. After spending an hour or so exploring downtown San Diego, I felt a little hungry. I called my friend — the same friend who swears it never rains in SD — who recommended a few lunch spots, one being the Living Room located in La Jolla. I had been to La Jolla once before, and so, like my dad, did not need directions. I headed back on I-5N, got off the exit for the La Jolla Parkway and headed west. The area looked familiar, but one wrong turn led me heading North, so far North I ended getting back on the 5 heading south, so far south I had to get off and turn around to head north. I wanted to scream. I contemplated pulling into the In-N-Out — a place I’m still dying to try — located right off the exit, but decided, like my dad, I could persevere for at least a few more hours.

Fortunately, before too long (well under three hours), I found myself sitting at one of the outside bistro tables at the Living Room, basking in the sun and sipping a very calming mocha, a drink highly recommended by my friend. My BLT arrived shortly after and I tucked in. Still flustered and famished from my journey up and down the 5, however, I forgot to photograph my delectable sandwich, and before I realized what was happening, I had devoured all but one bite of my potential blog entry. Alas!

After lunch, I took a quick stroll around Seal Beach, which I had seen once before but only at night. Seals are so cute! And very tired it seems. A few of them slithered (do seals slither? whatever they do, it looks exhausting) in and out of the water, but most of them lay motionless in the sand. Except for this guy pictured below. Every time the tide reached his underbelly, he arched his back, curling up his tail and head. I could have watched it all day.

In honor of my moment with the seals, I purchased a cookie, pictured above, from Girard Gourmet, another spot recommended by my friend. By this point, I had regained my composure and was able to snap a picture before tasting this yummy and very cute treat. Thanks Chu for a wonderful day in La Jolla!

World Peace Cookies

WPCookies

Before heading out on our eight-day road trip to San Diego, I thought I’d share a recipe I’ve made three times this past week, a Dorie Greenspan recipe for a cookie created by pastry chef Pierre Hermé. For the past year, a neighbor of mine has been on the quest for a good double-chocolate cookie recipe, and when I read the description for these “world peace” cookies on Smitten Kitchen, I had to try them myself.

And the first batch I made looked and tasted just as described: midnight-dark in color, buttery-rich in taste, sandy-textured, chocolaty, salty … delicious! When I made them a second and third time, however, the cookies came out completely differently — thin and crisp without that sandy, grown-up character of the first batch. Still delectable, just different. Very strange. I can’t explain the difference.

I have made some notes: For the first batch, I used a stand mixer; for the following two, I used a hand-held mixer. For the first batch I used parchment paper; for the following two I used a Silpat. For the first batch I used mini chocolate chips; for the second two, I used chopped bittersweet chocolate. Using Dutch process cocoa versus unsweetened cocoa powder doesn’t seem to make a difference — I used Dutch process for the second batch and unsweetened for the third, and the two cookies came out nearly identical. Having the oven temperature at 325ºF, as described, seems to be important: The third batch of cookies spread less than the second batch of cookies, which baked at a higher temperature.

So, I’m a little perplexed, but nonetheless believe the recipe to be a good one. Incidentally, in her book Baking From My Home To Yours (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006), Dorie Greenspan explains why she calls these chocolaty delights “world peace” cookies: A neighbor of hers, Richard Gold, believes a daily dose of these cookies is all that is needed to ensure planetary peace and happiness.

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s recipe for Korova Cookies
Also known as “World Peace” cookies
Yield = 18

1¼ C. all-purpose flour

1/3 C. unsweetened cocoa powder

½ tsp. baking soda

1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (11 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2/3 C. (packed) light brown sugar

¼ C. sugar

1 tsp. kosher salt or ½ tsp. fleur de sel or ¼ tsp. fine sea salt

1 tsp. vanilla extract

5 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips, or a generous ¾ C. store-bought mini chocolate chips

Whisk the flour, cocoa and baking soda together.

Working with a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more.

Turn off the mixer. Pour in the flour, and mix just until the flour disappears into the dough — for the best texture, work the dough as little as possible once the flour is added, and don’t be concerned if the dough looks a little crumbly. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are 1½ inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen in 1-ounce portions for up to 2 months. If you’ve frozen the dough, you needn’t defrost it before baking — just bake the cookies 1 minute longer.)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325º F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

Working with a sharp thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are ½-inch thick or that weigh exactly 1 ounce. (The rounds are likely to crack as you’re cutting them — don’t be concerned, just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.) Arrange six rounds on a baking sheets, leaving about one inch between each round.

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes — they won’t look done, nor will they be firm. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest until they are only just warm, at which point you can serve them or let them reach room temperature.

Serve with milk after dinner or with morning coffee.

Boozy Chocolate Truffles

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I am currently sitting on the floor of my barren living room, on a carpet strewn with random bobby pins, pen caps and Styrofoam packing peanuts. Though no furniture remains, I’m hanging out in this dust-bunny-filled corner, drawn by my Comcast modem, still connected despite all the chaos. The movers, who have been working nonstop since 8 this morning, have about an hour — or so I’m told — more of packing to complete. I still cannot believe the truck parked outside 754 S. 10th St. will be on its way to California by the end of the day.

Surprisingly, the day has gone smoothly. My sole concern now centers around the very large Tupperware sitting in my refrigerator filled to the brim with chocolate truffles. I went a little overboard this year, making over 300, in an effort to use up all the remaining chocolate in my refrigerator and pantry before the move. I emptied nearly every bottle of booze in my possession as well — Grand Marnier, Brandy, Marsala, even a splash of Sake. Sounds gross, I know, but a trustworthy friend enthusiastically described these as my “most impressive feat yet.” Now, I’m concerned because with nothing but a half-full jar of Sriracha, a few bottles of beer, and a tub of peanut butter remaining in my fridge, I could make a considerable dent in this chocolate stash tonight.

I have been experimenting with this Alton Brown recipe for almost a year now. These chocolaty confections have morphed from Derby Day Bourbon balls coated with chopped pecans and confectioners’ sugar to trendy dark chocolate truffles topped with gray salt and now back to their original incarnation, filled with booze, doused in cocoa.

Boozy Chocolate Truffles
Yield 35

10 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup Grand Marnier, Brandy, Port, Marsala, whatever (seriously)
12 oz candy-making chocolate disks (dark), Merckens brand works well or Nuts to You’s dark chocolate disks
½ cup Dutch process cocoa powder

Place the bittersweet chocolate and the butter in a microwave-safe bowl and heat for 30-60 seconds, stirring after the first 30 seconds. Alternatively, melt chocolate and butter together in a bowl set over (not touching) gently simmering water.

In a small sauté pan or saucepan, heat cream, corn syrup and salt until simmering. Pour over melted chocolate mixture and let stand 1-2 minutes. With a spatula gently stir mixture until evenly blended. Pour the alcohol into the chocolate mixture and stir. Pour mixture into an 8×8 inch baking dish, preferably glass or Pyrex. Let chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour or overnight.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Using a truffle scoop (also called a #100 scoop) or a melon baller, gently drag the balled end across the surface of the chocolate. Release the ball of chocolate onto the cookie sheet and repeat until all of the chocolate has been scooped. These balls should look slightly mishapen. Let chill in the refrigerator for at least another hour.

Place the coating chocolate in a large stainless-steel bowl. Fill a pot large enough to accomodate the bowl with a few inches of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a very gentle simmer and place the bowl with chocolate over the pot being sure that the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water. After a few minutes, stir the chocolate with a heat-proof spatula.

Place the cocoa powder in a shallow vessel—a large Tupperware works well. Have a clean Tupperware ready for the finished truffles.

When the chocolate is smooth and melted, remove the bowl from the heat. Remove the chocolate balls from the refrigerator. Place a large stainless-steel spoon in the bowl and using the spatula push chocolate into the spoon to fill. Working one at a time, place one ball into the chocolate-filled spoon. Quickly coat the ball using a small spoon or fork, then transfer to the cocoa powder. Repeat with five or six and let sit for a minute. Gently shake the vessel back and forth until the truffles are coated, then transfer to the clean vessel.

Note: Toward the end of this coating process, you may need to place the bowl back over the water to gently warm the chocolate again so it more easily coats the chocolates. Just follow the same procedure as above—the key is to melt the chocolate slowly and to keep moisture out of the inside of the bowl. Keep the un-dipped chocolates cool in the refrigerator while you reheat the chocolate.

Once all of the truffles are coated, store in the refrigerator until ready to serve. If you prefer to eat them at room temperature, remove them from the refrigerator one hour prior to serving.

Note: After the chocolates have chilled in the refrigerator for a few hours and are firm, taste one. If the cocoa-powder coating is too strong, try this: Place five or six in a strainer and shake until enough of the coating comes off.

Note: You may have left over cocoa powder and coating chocolate. You can store the remaining coating chocolate in the refrigerator and use for another project or use in a recipe for chocolate sauce or hot cocoa. The remaining cocoa powder can also be saved for hot cocoa.

Daley Toffee

toffee

Well, after spending hours in the test kitchen, sifting through recipes submitted for The Bulletin’s “Edible Gift Recipe Contest”, I found a winner — Daley Toffee, a family recipe submitted by Laura Daley of Mount Airy. Crunchy, sweet, chocolaty, nutty, buttery, this toffee is so yummy! And addictive. Almost immediately after breaking the toffee into shards and photographing it, I brought it into the office — mostly to get it out of my sight — where the staff polished it off … I received several e-mails that day describing the scene. I returned to work the next day to find the empty Tupperware sitting on my chair.

Before trying this recipe, I had never attempted making toffee, and now, I have no fears of candy making or of terms like “hard-ball” stage. Cooking the sugar and butter mixture until it reaches the hard-ball stage is the only tricky part of this recipe, but Laura’s instructions make the process painless. Instead of relying on a thermometer, which I find never to be accurately calibrated anyway, Laura’s method calls for testing the mixture by dropping a small spoonful of the mixture into a glass of cold water — it’s foolproof.

The toffee, as Laura notes in the recipe, makes a great gift for the holidays. Several years ago, I purchased a case of 100 brown stationary boxes from Usbox.com. Although this large case of boxes takes up nearly half our storage space in the basement, every holiday season I am so happy to have these clear-top boxes on hand. I have packaged biscotti and chocolate truffles in them for the past two years, and now I will pack Daley Toffee in them as well. For a nice presentation, use parchment paper as a base inside the box, wrap the box with a delicate ribbon, and tie on a simple tag describing the contents of the box. My favorite tags to use for gift giving are metal rim tags, which you can find at Staples or any office supply store. They sell packs of 50 for about $10.

Daley Toffee: A Family Recipe
Laura’s notes: This recipe makes a great holiday gift for those with a sweet tooth! It keeps up to 2 weeks if you put it in an airtight container.

1 C. salted butter 

1 C. sugar 

3 T. water (if tap, put through a Britta or use well or bottled) 

1 1/8 tsp. vanilla
2/3 C. ground pecans (or nut of your choice) 

4-6 oz. premium milk chococlate (bar form is easiest; can also do a dark chocolate but we think milk chocolate is best)

Directions:
1. Cook butter, sugar, water, and vanilla over medium heat stirring CONSTANTLY until golden brown — test for hard ball stage in cold water. It may smoke, but don’t worry.
2. Put half to 2/3 of the nuts in the bottom of a greased 9×9 inch pan. 

3. Pour the cooked butter/sugar mixture over the nuts. 

4. Wait a few minutes and put the chocolate on top — when chocolate softens, spread evenly and sprinkle remaining nuts on top.
5. When completely cool, break into pieces. Store in airtight container. 

NOTE: You can also use an 8×13 if you’d prefer a thinner version — in which case increase nuts to 1 C.

Green Tea Madeleines & Birchrun Hills Farm Blue

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I realized I forgot to report a few other details from my little gathering last weekend. On Sunday morning, my friends and I slowly recovered from the late-night festivities with the help of coffee for some, tea for others, and green tea madeleines for all. I had some leftover batter for these delicate treats from a batch I had made a few days ago, and baked them off while the coffee brewed — they take only ten minutes in the oven. The recipe had been adapted from a recipe I cut out of this past April’s Bon Appetit for madeleines from New York’s renown Payard Patisserie & Bistro. The recipe is excellent — very lemony — and a couple of teaspoons of matcha (green tea powder) add a nice, but very subtle touch. Truthfully, the green tea flavor is hardly detectable, so double the amount of matcha for a more pronounced flavor.

And while I mentioned that we stopped by the Birchrun Hills Farm stand at the Sunday Headhouse Farmers’ Market, I forgot to mention that we all enjoyed a wedge of Birchrun Blue with our hors d’ouevres the previous evening. Sue Miller makes this creamy blue cheese from raw milk drawn from the cows on her dairy farm in Chester Springs. I recently visited her beautiful farm, met many of her precious cows and learned about the intensive cheese-making process. I also learned that a snack Sue makes — melted Birchrun Blue over a toasted baguette drizzled with honey — has been named “Sweet Sue” by one of her neighbors.

Matcha Madeleines
Yield = 30

1¼ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
2 teaspoons matcha (green tea powder)*
1½ sticks (¾ cup) unsalted butter
2½ teaspoons honey
4 large eggs
¾ cup sugar
2½ tablespoons packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
Special equipment: madeleine pans (3-inch-long molds)

Whisk flour, baking powder, salt and matcha in a bowl. Place butter and honey in a microwave-proof dish and microwave for one minute. Stir, and microwave 30 seconds longer or until butter has melted.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk eggs, sugars and lemon peel until combined. On low speed, add half of the hot butter mixture and mix until blended. Add half of the flour mixture and mix again until blended. Repeat with remaining butter and flour mixture being careful to mix the batter just until the flour is incorporated. Let batter chill for one to three hours.

Preheat the oven to 450ºF. Butter and flour madeleine pan or pans. (Note: If you only have one pan, it is important to let each batch of madeleines cool completely in the pan. The pan should be washed, re-buttered and re-floured as well before using on a second and third batch.) Place heaping spoonfuls of the batter into the molds. Don’t worry about spreading the batter — it fills the molds and rises in the oven.

Bake five minutes. Reduce heat to 400ºF and bake five more minutes. Check madeleines: If they are golden brown around the edges and puffed in the center, remove from the oven. If necessary, continue baking. (They may take an additional five minutes.) Remove pan from the oven, and let madeleines cool completely in their molds before removing. Serve at room temperature with tea.

*Available at Asian markets. Also, the green tea taste of these madeleines is very subtle. For a stronger flavor, add an additional 1 to 2 teaspoons of matcha.

Black Prince Tomatoes & Chocolate Chip Cookies

best chocolate chip cookie

I never thought I would say that I have a favorite tomato, but as of this past Saturday I do. As I passed through Reading Terminal Market on my way to the Fair Food Farmstand, I stopped at the Livengood stand, struck by the array of tomatoes on their table. I asked one of the men to suggest a tomato for a simple salad and he handed me a Black Prince. I purchased a dozen, made my way to the Farmstand for grass-fed ground beef, then headed home.

After a slight detour that led me to purchase 10 tiki torches (the price was ridiculous, really), I found my way home and started preparing for a dinner with five friends: Bates and Will, recently married and about to move to Syria for a year; Steph and Mike, recently engaged and big fans of grass-fed beef and their new East Coast city; and our friend Jon, single and still recovering from his great Asian adventure. Oh and much to my surprise, when I greeted my friends at the door, Bug, Bates and Will’s dachshund, had decided to make the trip from New York City too! Read all about the life of Bug (and Bates and Will), the latest plans for Steph and Mike’s wedding in Cabo and Jon’s wild last day in Hanoi.

By the light of the torches and a few candles, the six of us wholly enjoyed homemade hummus and pita prepared by Steph, olives brought by the New York crew and hamburgers made with Dr. Angusburger beef. The tomatoes, however, were the highlight of the evening. With basil from the farmstand, Claudio’s fresh mozzarella, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a touch of salt, the tomatoes made a perfect salad.

Bates particularly appreciated how the tomatoes had been cut — in irregular chunks as opposed to slices — finding them easier to eat. For these shapes, I must give credit to the chef I worked under at Fork, Thien Ngo, who always plated food with a “chaos theory” in mind. He would “trash” restaurants whose food looked like “legos” on the plate. He preferred the very natural look, believing that the plating of food reflects how much the food has been handled.

Warm chocolate chip cookies and delectable green figs from the Farmstand finished the evening nicely. The simple dinner had been a success, as had the weekend as a whole: The following day, we walked to the Headhouse Farmers’ Market, where my friends all purchased cheese from Birchrun Hills Farm and met the wonderful Sue Miller. Then we walked to Reading Terminal and of course paid a visit to the Fair Food Farmstand where I showed my friends where I buy, among many groceries, grass-fed ground beef and raw milk, which we had all delighted in that morning for breakfast. And before sending them back on the Chinatown bus, we savored fresh rice noodles at Ding Ho — a perfect weekend indeed!

Soft and Chewy Chocolate-Chip Cookies
Yields about 35 1¾ oz cookies

10¾ oz unsalted butter (1 1/3 cups)
10¼ oz light brown sugar (1½ cups packed)
7¾ oz granulated sugar (1 cup)
2 large eggs
1 T. pure vanilla extract
17 oz unbleached all-purpose flour (3¾ cups)
1¼ tsp table salt
1 tsp. baking soda
12 oz semisweet chocolate chips

Cream butter and sugars together in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy. Scrape the bowl, beat again on high for one minute. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until well blended, about another minute on medium-high speed. Whisk flour, salt and baking soda together in separate bowl. Add to butter mixture and combine with a spatula or wooden spoon until just blended. Add the chocolate chips and stir till combined. The dough will be stiff.

Portion into 1¾ oz sized balls. This is a tedious task, but it makes for beautiful and uniform cookies that bake evenly. If you have a digital scale, this is an easy task; if you have no scale, use a small ice cream scoop or some other uniform measuring device. Chill the portioned balls for at least three hours, or freeze for months.

Preheat oven to 375°. Place portioned balls nicely spaced on an ungreased jelly roll pan. Flatten slightly with the back of a spoon. Bake 8-11 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through cooking. Keep a close watch. You want to remove the cookies from the oven when they still look slightly raw—you will think you are removing them too early. The cookies will continue cooking as they sit on the tray out of the oven. Let sit for 5 minutes on tray before removing to a cooling rack, and let cool completely before storing.

Bug, enjoying the wilderness in a Philadelphia backyard:

Baklava

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This past Friday night, after dinner at Buddakan with nine of my high school friends followed by an evening of dancing at Plough and the Stars, two of my friends and I found ourselves famished back in my apartment. Luckily, I found some trusty items in the pantry: popcorn, frozen pizza dough and a whole tray of baklava.

I set to work in the kitchen. I heated oil in a saucepan for the popcorn. I preheated the panini machine. I unwrapped the pizza dough and threw it in the microwave to defrost/rise instantly. (This wasn’t a frozen pizza, rather an unbaked ball of dough.) I had only completed a fraction of my prep work when my friends wandered into the kitchen to inspect — they were really hungry.

Both asked why I had placed a pot on the stove. After explaining the non microwave popcorn process, I handed them the tray of baklava and guided them back into the living room. Kristin happily tucked into the nutty, honey-laden dessert, but Liz, after just a few bites, demanded her homemade pizza! I worked furiously in the kitchen to bring them more food. I rushed them the bowl of popcorn, but neither was impressed: The ratio of unpopped to popped kernels was probably 2:1. They had a valid argument.

By this point I had rolled the thawed dough into a small disk and thrown it onto the panini machine. After a few minutes, I pulled it off and slathered it with fresh ricotta cheese and fig jam. As a finishing touch, I drizzled some truffle oil — Liz’s favorite ingredient — over the top. I brought the pizza into the living room, where I found Kristin on the couch settling into her food coma and Liz on the air mattress awaiting her meal.

We finished the pizza while recounting the evening, our stomachs aching from laughing, nearly crying, and very likely from eating. Kristin went to bed swearing off baklava forever, and while Liz made no mention of giving up her truffle oil, I think she identified with Kristin’s state.

Fortunately, much to my relief, this bold declaration only lasted so long. Around three o’clock the following afternoon, Kristin admitted she was ready to give what remained of the baklava another go.

Baklava

1 lb. fillo dough, thawed in the refrigerator overnight
1 lb. walnuts
½ C. sugar
1 T. cinnamon
1 tsp. cloves
1 lb. clarified butter
1 lb. honey (about 2 cups)

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Pulse walnuts in a food processor until chopped (not too finely). Remove from processor and place in a bowl with the sugar, cinnamon and cloves.

Grease a 10- by 15-inch pan with one tablespoon of the melted butter. Layer one sheet of fillo dough on top. Spoon one to two tablespoons over the dough — do not use a pastry brush. (It’s ok if much of the dough is left unbuttered.) Layer with another sheet of fillo. Spoon more butter over top aiming for areas of the dough untouched by butter in the previous layer. Repeat this layering process with half of the fillo, about 14 sheets depending on the box. Spread the nut filling evenly over the top of the fillo, then top the nuts with the remaining fillo, layering in the same manner as before.

Brush the top layer of fillo with butter. Using a sharp knife, score the baklava in a diamond pattern. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 30 to 45 minutes, or until golden. Remove from the oven and immediately pour the honey over top.

Cut and serve.

Memorial Day Ice Cream Cookie Sandwiches

icecreamsand2

During a recent visit to upstate Vermont, I enjoyed several Chester Bars with two of my little cousins. Chester Bars, a Vermont specialty, are ice cream cookie sandwiches, similar to Chipwiches, but so much better. This red, white and blue star-dipped version, while not quite the same as the original, makes a festive dessert for Memorial Day weekend. The cookies, delicious on their own, are soft and chewy and make a perfect base for a rich vanilla-bean ice cream filling.

Memorial Day Ice Cream Cookie Sandwiches
Yield = 17 sandwiches

10¾ oz unsalted butter (1 1/3 cups)
10¼ oz light brown sugar (1½ cups packed)
7¾ oz granulated sugar (1 cup)
2 large eggs
1 T. pure vanilla extract
17 oz unbleached all-purpose flour (3¾ cups)
1¼ tsp table salt
1 tsp. baking soda
12 oz semisweet chocolate chips

½ gallon vanilla ice cream
red, white and blue sprinkles

Preheat oven to 375°. Cream butter and sugars together in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy. Scrape the bowl, beat again on high for one minute. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until well blended, about another minute on medium-high speed. Whisk flour, salt and baking soda together in separate bowl. Add to butter mixture and combine with a spatula or wooden spoon until just blended. Add the chocolate chips and stir till combined. The dough will be stiff.

Place heaping tablespoons of the dough onto an ungreased jelly-roll pan. (If you have a digital scale, each ball should weigh 1¾ oz. If not, each ball should be approximately equal to two level tablespoons.) Bake only six cookies at a time.

Bake 10-11 minutes. Keep a close watch. The cookies will still look uncooked when you remove them from the oven. (You will think you are removing them too early, but the cookies will continue cooking as they sit on the tray out of the oven — this will guarantee a moist and chewy cookie.) Let sit for 10 minutes on tray before removing to a cooling rack. Let cool completely.

Line half of the cookies on a work surface face down. Scoop ice cream from tub and place on top of each cookie, about ¼ – ½ cup of ice cream. Top each with a cookie and gently press. Wrap each cookie in plastic wrap and place in the freezer. (If you have space for a cookie sheet in the freezer, line the sandwiches on a sheet pan, cover whole pan with plastic wrap and freeze until ready to serve.)
Place various sprinkles in separate bowls. Let kids, adults, guests dip their own sandwich in desired topping.

Biscotti And Homemade Chai

biscotti1

The base recipe for these vanilla-almond biscotti (pictured above) can be adapted to all tastes. If you’re still looking for something to give your mother, or somebody else’s, on Mother’s Day, try making these. The almonds, pistachios and craisins can be replaced with anthing from chocolate chips to macadamia nuts to shredded coconut. Lemon and orange zests add a nice touch as well.

Although a chocolate coating is unecessary, white chocolate pairs especially well with the cranberry-pistachio variety. Truly, however, the biscotti taste delectable without any additions.

And the dark chocolate, I think, pairs best with the vanilla-almond biscotti. I use the large white and dark chocolate disks from Nuts to You for the glazes — regular chips probably work fine, but the Nuts to You chips harden relatively quickly, making the finished biscotti easy to store. Fante’s sells a similar brand as well.

To really spoil a mother this Sunday, make her a fresh batch of chai tea. Chill the tea in an old fashioned milk carafe, and adorn it with a festive bow. This recipe yields 8 cups, equal to about 16 servings, enabling the recipient to enjoy chai tea for weeks after Mother’s Day. The chai can be served hot, with steamed milk, or cold, over ice. A relatively new appliance, the Nespresso Aeroccino — my new favorite gadget — has enabled me to create tasty chai tea lattes at home. While this tool froths milk nicely, however, it is not critical — the chai, when warmed or chilled with equal parts milk, tastes equally satisfying.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Vanilla-Almond and Pistachio-Cranberry Biscotti
(White and Chocolate Covered)
Yield = 30-35

Note: If you just wish to make almond biscotti, which are delicious, omit the pistachios and cherries.

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1½ cups sugar
¼ cup light brown sugar
2 eggs
1½ teaspoons vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup chopped pistachios
¼ cup dried cranberries or cherries
½ cup sliced almonds
1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon milk
turbinado sugar for sprinkling (optional)

6 oz. dark chocolate wafers (optional)
6 oz. white chocolate wafers (optional)

1. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with the sugars until well blended. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition. Add the vanilla and blend again.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the mixer and blend on low-speed until just combined.

3. Remove the dough from the mixer and divide into two equal portions. (Note: If you are just making almond biscotti, divide dough into 3 equal portions. Shape each portion into a log about 10-inches long. Wrap each log in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour — three hours to overnight is ideal. Then proceed to step 5.) Return one portion to the bowl and add the pistachios and dried cherries. Mix until just combined, then remove. Return remaining portion, add the almonds, mix until combined, then remove.

4. Divide each flavored dough ball into two equal portions. Shape each portion into a log about 10-inches long. Wrap each log in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour. Three hours to overnight is ideal.

5. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Place 2 (or 1 … 3 seems to be too many) logs on a parchment paper- or Silpat- lined baking sheet. Lightly brush each log with the egg wash and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.

6. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the logs are evenly golden brown. Remove from oven and place on cooling rack. Let cool for 15 minutes. Carefully transfer logs to a cutting board. Cut the log crosswise on a slight bias with a serrated knife or a bench scraper. Lay the cut slices on their sides on the baking sheet. Return pan to the oven for another 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the biscotti cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooking rack. Cool completely.

7. Meanwhile, place the dark chocolate and the white chocolate each in separate bowls over barely simmering water until melted. Dip cooled biscotti into desired chocolate and place on cooling rack with dipped half facing up.

Let harden before storing in airtight plastic containers.

Homemade Vanilla Chai
Yield = 8 cups = 16 servings

4 cups water
4 cups milk
8 cardamom pods
1 knob ginger 1½-inches long
½ vanilla bean
1 tablespoon aniseed or fennel seeds
10 whole allspice
1 whole nutmeg
½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick
12 cloves
¼ cup black tea leaves such as Ceylon or Assam
¼ – ½ cup honey

Place water and milk in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to lowest setting. (Mixture should not even be simmering.) Crush the cardamom pods to release the seeds and add both the pods and seeds to the pot. Peel ginger, slice thinly and add to pot. Split vanilla bean lengthwise. Using a paring knife, scrape seeds into pot, then add vanilla bean to pot as well. Add aniseed or fennel, allspice, nutmeg, peppercorns, cinnamon stick, cloves and tea. Let spices steep for 15 minutes. Add ¼ cup of the honey. Taste. Add more honey 1 tablespoon at a time until the mixture reaches desired sweetness. (Mixture can always be adjusted later with more milk or honey.) Place a fine-meshed strainer over a large bowl. Pour mixture through strainer, pressing spices against the mesh to release all of the liquid. Chill until ready to serve.

For hot chai tea, heat ½ cup chai with ½ cup milk in saucepan or microwave until simmering. For iced chai, pour ½ cup chai and ½ cup milk into ice-filled glass. Taste, and add more milk, chai or honey if necessary.

For a chai latte, place ½ cup milk in the carafe of a Nespresso Aeroccino and froth. Place ½ cup chai in mug (or pot) and heat in the microwave (or stovetop) until simmering. Spoon frothed milk onto hot chai and sprinkle with cinnamon if desired.

Two Kentucky Derby Day Desserts

Derbycake

A panel of four judges from Jefferson Medical College, led by my sister Lindsey, polished off this mint julep cake in one sitting. A bourbon-butter sauce moistens the vanilla-buttermilk cake when it first emerges from the oven; and a crème de menthe icing coats the exterior once cooled. The boozy and minty flavors make this cake a truly festive Derby Day dessert.

And these assorted bourbon-spiked truffles, particularly the pecan-coated variety, are always a treat. The base truffle recipe is excellent and can be adapted in a number of ways: any alcohol or liqueur, from Grand Marnier to Port to Baileys Irish Cream, can replace the bourbon; and any coating from white chocolate to pistachios to toasted coconut can replace the cocoa powder, confectioners’ sugar and pecans. Although the truffles do take more time to prepare than the cake, the elegant presentation when combined with fresh strawberries makes the work worthwhile, for any special event. Enjoy!

Mint Julep Cake
Yield = 12-18 servings

2 cups white sugar
1 cup butter, room temperature
3 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk

½ cup sugar
½ cup butter
¼ cup bourbon

1½ cups confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon white crème de menthe liqueur

Preheat oven to 325ºF. Coat a 10-inch Bundt pan with cooking spray.
Beat sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Meanwhile, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a large bowl.
Add eggs one at a time to butter mixture, mixing well after each addition. Add vanilla.
Sprinkle half the flour mixture into the butter mixture and stir until just combined. Add half the buttermilk, stir. Repeat with remaining flour and buttermilk. Pour into prepared pan and smooth evenly around center.

Bake for 50 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Place on cooling rack. Meanwhile combine the ½ cup sugar, butter and bourbon in a small saucepan and heat until butter is melted. Stir until smooth and remove from heat.

Using a skewer, poke holes into cake. Pour sauce evenly over the cake. Let cake cool to room temperature in the pan before removing.

Meanwhile whisk confectioners’ sugar, milk and crème de menthe until smooth. Add more milk or liqueur to reach desired consistency. Drizzle sauce over cooled cake. Garnish with fresh mint leaves.

Chocolate-Bourbon Balls
Yield = 35

10 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup bourbon
12 oz candy-making chocolate disks*
½ cup Dutch process cocoa powder
½ cup chopped pecans
½ cup confectioners’ sugar

Place the chocolate and the butter in a microwave-safe bowl and heat for 1 minute, stirring after the first 30 seconds.
In a small sauté pan heat cream, corn syrup and salt until simmering. Pour over melted chocolate mixture and let stand 2 minutes. With a spatula gently stir mixture until evenly blended. Pour the alcohol, about a tablespoon at a time, into the chocolate mixture, stirring well after each addition. Pour mixture into an 8×8 inch baking dish, preferably glass or Pyrex. Let chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour or overnight.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Using a #100 scoop or a melon baller, gently drag the balled end across the surface of the chocolate. Release the ball of chocolate onto the cookie sheet and repeat until all of the chocolate has been scooped. Let chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Place the coating chocolate in a large stainless-steel bowl. Fill a large wide-mouthed pot with one inch of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and place the bowl of chocolate over the pot — make sure that the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water. After a few minutes stir the chocolate with a spatula. Place the cocoa powder, pecans and confectioners’ sugar in shallow vessels, preferably with sides. Have a clean Tupperware ready for the finished truffles.
When the chocolate is smooth and melted, remove the bowl from the heat. Remove the chocolate balls from the refrigerator. Working one at a time, place one ball into the melted chocolate. Quickly coat the ball using a spatula or spoon, then transfer to desired coating vessel. Gently shake the vessel back and forth until the truffle is coated, and let sit while you move to the next one. Repeat with two more before removing the first finished truffle. After 3 or 4 of the truffles have been coated, remove the first completed truffle to the clean vessel.

Once all of the truffles are coated, store in the refrigerator until ready to serve. If you prefer to eat them at room temperature, remove them from the refrigerator one hour prior to serving.
*Merckens brand from Fante’s or the dark chocolate disks from Nuts to You work well.