December 24, 2011

Lingonberry Caves and Icebox Rolls

Molasses Cookies and Lingonberry Caves

Just after graduating college, I spent a couple of years working two jobs - one in an entry-level engineering position that didn't quite make the rent, and the other as a part-time sales associate for Crate and Barrel.  It's hard to explain the culture of C&B unless you've work there, while while recognizing the melodrama in saying this, it totally changed my life.  And I'm not just talking about the total kitchenware overhaul I pulled off or the entrance of a KitchenAid Artisan mixer into my home or even the birch-bark moose that has become long-standing guest at Christmas.  It was just this super friendly, optimistic, happy, helpful atmosphere that I haven't seen replicated in other stores - let alone national chains.

C&B employees were not only were super cheerful with customers, but with each other.  Going to work was a fun, social experience and everyone believed in the products and was excited about the products.  You assisted customers not because you wanted to sell them something, but because you wanted to find that perfect item for them - even if it meant that item was at another store.  You'd bend over backwards to make sure they walked out with a smile or good feeling about their experience.  That's a serious feat to pull off when it comes to hiring the right people. Now given that I only worked at one particular store, I can't say that this attitude was the attitude across the board - but the C&B in Cambridge, MA was a fun experience all around as someone who worked there and as a customer.

Now what does this have to do with cooking?  Well, we would have storewide meetings from time to time that involved games, raffles, food and, of course, some serious motivational talks to get us psyched for the new season.  At one of these meetings we had a bake-off challenge:  Use one of the items in the "pantry" section of C&B to make something delicious.  Winners and participants would get prizes (and these were intense prizes - one time I got a blender, another a juicer).  Now it was stiff competition among C&B staff members - they hire people who are passionate about cooking, baking, home design, and everything domestic.  So when it came to baking, I frankly never even came close to winning.  But what I did get out of it was an introduction to lingonberry preserves.

Lingonberries seem to be most commonly associated with Sweden (and thus can be found at Ikea).  They are red, tart and similar to a cranberry or current, perhaps a bit more mild.  They're most commonly found in the form of jams and juices. Over the past few years lingonberry products have slowly moved into mainstream grocery stores as well, at least in New England, so they shouldn't be too difficult to get your hands on.

Lingonberry Preserves

So with some lingonberry preserves on hand, I decided it would be the perfect fruit to accent the many Christmas cookies I had to make (as a result of the truffle failure).  I did a quick sweep of the web to see what I could find that was a traditional or unique cookie using the lingonberry, but mainly came across a variety of shortbread or icebox varieties.  That was fine with me, I could handle a basic shortbread cookie.

First, I made Lingonberry Caves with Cinnamon.  I snagged/converted this recipe from blogger Dagmar on A Cat In The Kitchen.   Please check out her site, since she has many tasty ideas and really beautifully photographed portraits of her cats.

Lingonberry Caves
(makes approx. 24 cookies)
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
lingonberry jam (or substitute with your favourite one)
30 mini paper cups

1.  Preheat the oven to 375° F.
2.  Cream the butter, sugar and vanilla sugar.
3.  Add the flour, combined with baking soda and cinnamon. Roll dough into 24 balls, placing each into put in a medium sized paper cup.
4.  Using a finger, indent the dough balls with a thumbprint size holes and fill them with spoonfuls of jam.
5.  Bake for approximately 12 minutes.

Lingonberry Cave DoughLingonberry Caves ready to bake
Lingonberry Cave

Next I had a double batch of icebox cookie dough originally to be used for Chocolate Dipped Coconut Sticks (later recipe).  So I rolled out the additional half batch of dough, slathered on some lingonberry jam, rolled it back up and baked up some tasty berry swirls as an additional treat for the cookie box.  Bringing this all back to C&B, the basic icebox dough recipe was given to me by a C&B coworker, Jane, who made literally thousands of cookies every year to share with friends, family and, of course, coworkers.

Basic Icebox Cookie Recipe:

1 stick butter, softened to room temperature
1/3 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cup flour

1. Whisk butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy, preferably in an electric mixer.
2. Beat in egg yolk and vanilla.
3. Add flour until combined well.
4. Lastly fold in any additions to the dough at this time, whether nuts, chocolate chips, coconut, etc.
5. Roll out into a long rectangular block and fold up in plastic wrap to chill in the fridge before rolling, shaping and baking.
6. Let chill for at least 30 minutes, and preheat the over to 350F while doing so.
7. Depending on the size/thickness of the cookies, they should bake for approximately 12 minutes or until a light golden on the underside.  Don't over bake.

For Lingonberry Swirls:

Between Steps 4 and 5, roll out the dough until approximately 1/4" thick.  Using a spatula, spread a thin layer of jam across the surface of the dough.  Carefully roll the dough into a long cylinder, making sure to prevent any of the jam from pressing out the ends or side.  Wrap the resulting dough and jam roll in plastic and proceed to chill as instructed above.  Once chilled, slice cookies into 1/3" slices and place on parchment paper-lined baking tray.

Lingonberry Icebox Swirl Cookies Lingonberry Icebox Swirl Cookies Lingonberry Icebox Swirl CookiesLingonberry Icebox Swirl Cookies

December 20, 2011

Chocolate Truffles Gone Awry

I love to make Christmas cookies.  But it's exhausting.  So when I saw Gilt City deal on a truffle-making class, I thought "quick, impressive alternative!"  Not so much.  This week I'm reporting a big honking cooking failure.

Now everything with this class was great.  Fun, tasty, friendly folks.  It took place in the basement of Castle and Elephant by Taste of Chocolate, or Boston Chocolate School.  We were greeted with decadent hot chocolate and a history lesson, including a sample of cocoa butter and coca beans.

Hot chocolateCracked Cocoa BeanCocoa Butter

I had every intention of walking away from this class with some new skills.  Our chocolatier made it look so easy.  We were even give a recipe list to take home with several recipes for flavored ganaches and a detailed explanation on tempering chocolate.  Actually, the class itself really focused on the chocolate tempering - although we didn't try it ourselves.  She had these big machines that just constantly kept the chocolate at temperature.  My at-home problem wasn't tempering - technically, I never even made it that far.  We were also handed pre-made blocks of ganache in three different flavors.  Then we were sent on our way to shape, dip and decorate our truffles. It seemed so easy when an experienced set of chocolatiers had pre-made the ganache and tempered the chocolate!

UtensilsGanache BallsTempering chocolate

When I attempted to reproduce those delicious chocolates at home, my problem was the ganache.  Ganache was solidly breezed over.  No one mentioned to me the importance of temperature.  That I would need to heat the heavy cream to the same temperature of the chocolate.  That there was this risk of separation between the fat and the chocolate.  That it could turn into a crumbly, lumpy mess rather than the smooth "pudding-like" consistency that was described.   Nope.  I got to discover that on my own.

Chocolate + CaramelCrumbling ganacheUnfixable ganache

I scoured the internet to find some sort of "fix" for the crumbly, dry ganache.  I read about reheating half of it and then bringing down the temperature by mixing in the rest of the room temperature ganache.  This did not work.  It actually separated further until there were two distinct substances - little ponds of fat across a bumpy brown landscape.

I ended up tossing the lot and baked a bunch of cookies instead (I'll get everyone caught up on the cookies in the next post).  Below I am posting the original recipe for the chocolate caramel truffles that I attempted to make.  Perhaps someone else will have better luck.

Dark Chocolate

Chocolate Caramel Truffles
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
3/4 heavy cream
18 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 tbsp butter, soft

1. Place sugar and water in pot.
2. Let mixture cook until amber in color (using a candy thermometer this should be approximately 350F).
3. Remove from heat and whisk in heavy cream a little at a time. Mix in a slow stream to prevent from boiling over.

Boiling SugarAdding cream for caramelHomemade Caramel

4. Pour the hot caramel over the chopped chocolate.
5. Cover with foil and let sit for 5 minutes.
6. After 5 minutes, remove foil and whisk to blend.  Next, whisk in butter.
7. Refrigerate until solid enough to roll into truffles.

Pouring caramel into chocolate

December 19, 2011

The Most Magical Place on Earth

It's not where you think.  There are no life-sized cartoon mice or princesses with castles.  Nope.  It's in a truck with a secret password.

When I went to New York City this weekend, I had one mission in mind:  Find a Wafel and Dinge truck. I'd read about this food truck, saw endless odes to its amazingness on Yelp and in magazine articles, and I just knew that if there was anything I was going to get on a Chinatown bus and travel 4 hours for, it was going to be this truck.

So what about that secret password?  You go to their twitter feed for a daily ticket to a free dinge.  Sadly, Saturday's secret password was not so much a password as an exercise in torturing other customers. Opera is not our thing, even in the name of free dinges.  My friend and I decided we could handle forking over the extra $1 to double-dinge our order and not burst eardrums.


Now everything anyone has ever said about these wafels doesn't hold a candle to what your first bite is like.  There were fireworks exploding, which I couldn't see at first because I went temporarily blind in my ecstasy.  I'm pretty sure there was also a Baptist choir belting out hallelujah, several rainbows appeared simultaneously through the cloudy gloom, and there were puppies.  Really cute puppies.

At the Wafel & Dinge cart just off Central Park

Okay, maybe only that last part was true. About the puppies.  Beside us on the park bench a couple shared small bites of the wafel with their puffy-jacketed pug who spent the entire time perched upright against their knees with an intent stare fixed on the wafel.  I would act similarly if someone was withholding wafel from me.

I actually have no idea what amazing recipe these folks have to make the wafels so addictive, but they come out chewy and slightly caramelized on the corners.  And then the dinges, or the toppings, there are so many choices but the one you can't forego is the speculoos spread.  It's like peanut butter, but better. I know, I know.  What could be better than peanut butter?  Well, this is it.  It's made from ground up ginger cookies. It's like making gingerbread in smooth spreadable form.  And then (it can get better), if you drizzle warm Belgian fudge over the speculoos-laden caramelized wafel, it's like a superior nutella.  That's right, it got even better.

Wafel with speculoos and Belgian chocolate
I mean, I've been fantasizing about these wafels since before I even finished my last bite.  My friend and I, sitting in the bitter cold at the edge of Central Park, looked at each other shyly and from powdered sugar-dusted lips tentatively voices what was going through both our minds, "What if we went back for more wafel?"

"At this cart?  Maybe we should go find another truck."

"Oh, you're right. I suppose we can't go back for seconds here.  Do you think there's one parked in Soho?"

"Probably. What if we went to every truck?  And got a wafel at each one?"

"That is the best idea ever."

 P.S. There were nuts purchased also.

December 12, 2011

Homemade Cranberry Bliss Bars

Cranberry Bliss Bar
Homemade Cranberry Bliss Bar
I've had my mind set on replicating the Starbuck's Cranberry Bliss Bar from the first time I bit into one.  Years ago. You know the one.  The million calorie holiday treat that's here for a mere two month showing but causes you to gain 10 lbs?   Don't worry, this version is no healthier.

While I'd like to consider myself a baking genius who just digs into the encyclopedia of her mind to retrieve a base recipe for whatever strikes my fancy, I'm totally not.  I always google or crack open a cookbook.  So when I searched for "Starbucks Cranberry Bliss Bar recipe", much to my delight, hundreds of recipes showed up.  And frankly, they all pretty much looked alike.  So when I post the recipe that I used here, I'm not referencing any one source - it is a general mash-up of the same recipe circling every baking blog or site on the net.  You can do the google math.


2 stick unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
3 eggs
2 tablespoons crystallized ginger, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup dried cranberries, minced
4 oz white chocolate, coarsely chopped
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.  

  2. Whip together the softened butter and brown sugar in your electric mixer. Add in the eggs, minced ginger and vanilla extract, and continue to whip.  At this point, the consistency was a bit frothy (the eggs) and lumpy (the ginger).  

  3. Homemade Cranberry Bliss BarsHomemade Cranberry Bliss Bars Homemade Cranberry Bliss Bars

  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Slowly add the dry ingredient mixture to the wet mixture with electric mixer on a slow speed to prevent flour clouds.

  5. Lastly fold in the minced dried cranberries and white chocolate by hand, until evenly distributed.  
  6. Homemade Cranberry Bliss BarsHomemade Cranberry Bliss Bars Homemade Cranberry Bliss Bars

  7. Pour into a butter-greased 9" x 13" baking pan.  Bake for 30 mins or until golden on top, and the cake tester draws out clean.  Allow to cool in the baking pan.

  8. Homemade Cranberry Bliss Bars
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
4 oz light cream cheese, softened
Juice from 1/2 naval orange, squeezed
2 tablespoons grated orange rind
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup dried cranberries, coarsely chopped
  1. Using an electric mixer, whip the softened cream cheese, powdered sugar, juice, rind and vanilla together until fluffy. 
  2. Then fold in the chopped cranberries by hand until evenly distributed.
  3. Frost the top of the cooled cake base while still in its pan.  Allow several hours to set.
Homemade Cranberry Bliss BarsHomemade Cranberry Bliss Bars

2oz white chocolate, coarsely chopped
  1. Using a double boiler, melt the white chocolate.
  2. Drizzle over the top of the frosted cake.
Cranberry Bliss Bar
The final product, cut for serving.
Cranberry Bliss Bar Cranberry Bliss Bar Cranberry Bliss Bar

December 11, 2011

Weekly Tidbits: Apples and Cheddar

Apples and Cheddar
Sausage, sauteed apples, sharp cheddar and an egg over easy
I love to experiment in the kitchen when I get the chance and this past week was no exception.  My recipes aren't always post-worthy in their own right, but really just a smattering of ideas or old favorites.  Nothing ground breaking and well documented.  Or rather, I did photograph them, which is why you're going to get a sample.

One of my favorite flavor combos is apple pie and sharp cheddar cheese.  Nothing goes better with apple pie, not even vanilla bean ice cream, than a nice aged sharp white cheddar.  The salt perfectly offsets the sweet fruit. I've been having cravings since Thanksgiving.  So Sunday morning, I decided that I was going to tackle it.  I was going to have it for breakfast.  That's right.  Pretty ballsy.

But what else goes great with apple? Sausage. That must be why they have those apple-smoked sausages everywhere.  So here are the meal deets:

2 veggie sausage links
1 chopped apple, sauteed to soften and cook down (pan fried)
Cinnamon, nutmeg and a dash of salt to taste in the apple sauce
Sliced sharp cheddar
A fried or poached egg on the side

I used the Boca veggie sausage links.  I find that a lot of the vegetarian sausage substitute have almost a metallic flavor to them. It's weird.  I don't know if it's the spices or what, but I find that they really taste best when eaten with other flavors - maple syrup, egg yolk, apple sauce, etc.  On their own it's a bit iffy and I try not to think too hard about what's in them.  I suppose ignorance is bliss whether your sausage is made from soy or meat.

In any case, this is definitely going to be a go-to meal in the future.  If you want a bit of fiber or a more filling meal, I would lay your warm sauteed apples over a nicely softened bed of shredded wheat.  I was planning to do that, but realized that after months of neglecting the shredded wheat in my cabinet, that I'd finally tossed it out last week.  Oops.  So I added in an egg cooked over easy for a little more substance and protein.

I enjoyed this decadent breakfast with mug of coconut macaroon coffee mixed with eggnog.

Apples and CheddarApples and Cheddar
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