Sunday, January 3, 2010

err on the side of chocolate

(This post has nothing to do with vegetables. I'm getting there!)

When I was figuring out which kinds of cookies I should make for my relatives for Christmas, my mom said, "Err on the side of chocolate." And I did. In fact, I think that's generally a good principle to follow in life.

These are the recipes that I used this year.

Chocolate truffle cookies. I use a recipe from Gourmet magazine that I can't find online. The one I linked above is essentially the same recipe, but the cookies look better if you roll the dough balls with dampened hands when you're putting them on the baking sheets. It's kind of a pain (I'm a fan of drop cookies where you really just drop the dough on the cookie sheets), but absolutely worth it.

Double ginger crackles. These are really good, but next time I'm going to try adding grated fresh ginger.

Mexican chocolate cookies. I used chipotle powder instead of cayenne. These are spicy in a sneaky way: the first bite just tastes like chocolate, but later you can definitely taste the pepper. (I didn't give them away. Some people are really into the chocolate-plus-pepper thing, others not so much, and I was concerned about making my relatives hate me. It had nothing to do with wanting to eat them myself. ahem.) I was going to do the variation with dulce de leche, but then I decided that I liked them the way they were. They were my favorites this year.

Chocolate-almond buttercrunch toffee (one batch with almonds and one with walnuts). I used to be awesome at toffee, but this year one batch came out too hard and one came out too soft. sigh. It still tasted good, though.

Florentines. When I was in high school, I used a Fine Cooking recipe for florentines that had about fifty steps. Since they were really good and they looked impressive (you can see a picture here), I kept making them for a long time. But it was a big time commitment and occasionally I'd burn the topping and it was tragic, so I decided I should try something new. This recipe is a) ten times easier, b) healthier, and c) I like it better. I used untoasted almonds; toasted almonds would've made the cookies crunchier. (The egg cooks before the almonds toast, so only the edges of mine got crisp. I think it's okay for them to be chewy, but it would have been nice to have something crunchy in my cookie tins.)

Brown butter cookies (original from Gourmet here; adaptation here). I kept reading about how awesome brown butter was, so I finally had to try it. The first time I made them, it was late at night and I misunderstood the step where you cool the butter. I'm pretty sure it's still supposed to be liquid, but I stuck it in the freezer until it was solid. Did the dough stick together? No, it really did not. So I added two tablespoons of melted butter (plain, not browned), and the dough came together beautifully. I did the same thing this time, but next time I'll do it the way I'm supposed to. Another thing: I had to add salt because I was using unsalted butter. 1 teaspoon of salt was too much and 1/2 teaspoon was too little. Next time, 3/4 teaspoon. For SCIENCE.

Coconut-cranberry chews. Actually, I made my mom make these.

Flaky black sesame cookies. The recipe calls for equal amounts of butter and shortening. I had a vague recollection of reading that shortening will give you arteriosclerosis and steal your socks (and the shortening at the grocery store was full of trans fats in any case), so I used the Smart Balance stuff that is half butter and half margarine. Also, I used my hands (instead of a food processor) to mix the dough, because it sounded like pie crust and that's how I do pie crust. So it's probably not the recipe's fault that the dough gave me all kinds of problems: I froze it, and it broke into pieces when I tried to roll it out; I let it soften, and it got sticky. When my cookies were baked, they definitely didn't look as pretty as the ones on that page. So this was another batch of cookies that I didn't give away. In spite of all of that, they were really tasty. So I have to try it again.

Anise-scented fig and date swirls. These cookies involve making a giant mess in the kitchen, but they are lovely.

Leckerli, Swiss spice cookies. One of my uncles is Swiss, and he gave us a box of Basler leckerli last year. They were cut in precise rectangles and they had a thin white glaze on top. I thought they tasted like something that Tolkien's Elves would make, like holiday lembas. (I am a nerd, yes.) So this year I tried it out. I followed the recipe linked above, but I had no kirsch. Instead, I soaked dried tart cherries in hot water for a while and used the water. I'm sure it wasn't the same, but it was darn tasty. Also, I used chopped almonds instead of sliced almonds, because that's what was in the version that I tried before.

A gingerbread house! (Not part of my cookie tins, obviously.) This recipe looked really weird to me, but it worked.

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