Smoked Salmon Mille-feuilles {ModBak}

Although we have launched headlong into the Cookies, Bars & Biscotti section of the Modern Baker Challenge, I still have a few blog posts to finish up in the Puff Pastries section, including this one. I made this recipe quite some time ago; it has just taken me until now to upload the pictures and post it.

This is a rich, savory hors d’oeuvre, perfect for a fancy cocktail party or as an appetizer for a dinner party. And as fancy as it looks, it’s really easy to put together.

I started with a baked puff pastry layer made using homemade puff pastry. I layered the baked pastry sheet with smoked salmon and a mixture of cream cheese, butter, and chives.

Having pre-baked the puff pasty layer and mixed the cream cheese, here’s how easy it was to assemble:

This was really delicious. The salty, smokey salmon played well against the rich puff pastry and filling. The only thing I would do differently next time would be to cut the portions smaller, as the pastry and filling are really rich. Of course, that didn’t stop me from eating several of the them.

If you need an appetizer to put out with drinks at the start of a nice dinner party, this is an easy hors d’oeuvre with tons of “wow” factor. Just be sure to cut them small. And don’t put out too many of them, or your guests might not be hungry for dinner.

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Three-way Gingersnaps {ModBak}

The second recipe I signed up to blog for the Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti section of the Modern Baker Challenge is a modern twist on a classic: gingersnaps. What sets these cookies apart from their old-fashioned counterparts is the use of three kinds of ginger: powdered, fresh, and crystallized. Having just received an order from King Arthur Flour containing some deliciously spicy, finely diced candied ginger, I was ready to make these cookies.

Although there are quite a few ingredients in this recipe, like most cookies, the dough came together quickly. I mixed the dry ingredients, creamed butter and sugar, added egg, then mixed in the dry ingredients and minced and crystallized ginger. After that, it was just a matter of scooping the dough, rolling it into rounds, and dredging the dough balls in sugar.

I baked the cookies in a 325°F oven for about 15 minutes, which was the low range suggested in the recipe. I like my gingersnaps chewy, rather than crispy, so I took them out of the oven as soon as they were set.

These were easily the best gingersnaps I’ve ever tasted. The three types of ginger give them a strong, but not overpowering, ginger flavor. The candied ginger added a spicy, sweet note that really sent these cookies over the top. I loved them warm. I loved them cold. I ate them for dessert, breakfast, lunch, and everything in between.

I know we still have a lot of cookies left to make (this is my second out of 25 recipes in this section); but I will be making these cookies again before I move on. And probably a few more times along the way.

New Orleans Praline Disks {ModBak} {Recipe}

Throughout the year, I’ve participated in a number of online food parties. I even hosted a few myself, like the Pumpkin Dinner and Thanksgiving Dinner roundups. With these “parties” everyone makes a dish, takes pictures, and posts about it on the same day. Then the host does a roundup featuring links to everyone’s posts.

These are always enjoyable, and invariably we bemoan the fact that we don’t actually get to try each other’s food. Well, this year a couple of enterprising food bloggers came up with the idea of combining real and virtual cookie exchanges. Thus was born the First Annual Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap.

Here’s how it worked: everyone who signed up was sent the names and addresses of three participants. Once I got my names, I baked cookies, packed them up, and mailed one dozen to each of the three people whose names I had received. Then I sat back and waited for a dozen cookies to arrive from three other bloggers.

The cookies I received came over the course of two days. They were all delicious: peppermint sables; candy cane chocolate chunks; and a mixed dozen of molasses, double chocolate, and butterscotch cookies. It was fun making the cookies and sending them off. And of course, getting cookies in the mail made me feel like a kid at Christmas.

This is the final part of the Cookie Swap. We each agreed to post our recipes on the same day, so we could see what everyone made and have all the recipes. At last count, there were 625 participants. That’s a lot of cookies!

For my contribution, I made New Orleans Praline Disks from The Modern Baker. As it happens, these were also one of my designated posts in the Cookies section of the Modern Baker Challenge. I love pralines, so I was excited to find a cookie that has a similar flavor profile.

The cookies were easy to make. I pulsed pecans and brown sugar in the food processor, then beat butter, more brown sugar, and the pecan-sugar mixture with the mixer until it was well combined. I beat in an egg and vanilla, then mixed in flour.

The recipe said to roll a teaspoonful of dough in between your palms, but I found that using a small scoop made perfect dough rounds.

After putting the dough on the pan, I flattened the cookies slightly and sprinkled the tops with chopped pecans.

I baked the cookies at 375°F for about 12 minutes, until they were firm and well-browned around the edges.

I made some crispier than others, and I found I liked the slightly chewier ones better.

These were really delicious cookies. The flavor reminded me of pralines — buttery and sweet, with a strong pecan flavor — although they weren’t as rich as real pralines. But they were a lot easier to make, so I’m sure they’ll be showing up around here on a regular basis.

New Orleans Praline Disks (adapted from The Modern Baker by Nick Malgieri)

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups pecan pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, very soft
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment or Silpat.
  2. Place pecan pieces in bowl of food processor and pulse until chopped, but not too finely. Measure out 1/4 cup pecan pieces and set aside. Add 1/2 cup brown sugar to the food processor bowl and pulse until well mixed and pecan pieces are finely chopped.
  3. Combine remaining brown sugar, butter, and pecan-sugar mixture in a mixing bowl. Beat on medium speed until well mixed, about 1 minute. Add egg and vanilla and beat just until smooth.
  4. Add flour to bowl and mix on low just until flour is mixed in. Give the dough a final mix with a large rubber spatula.
  5. Scoop the dough onto the prepared pans with a small cookie scoop, or roll the dough by the tablespoonful between your palms to make a small balls. Space the dough balls about 1 1/2 inches apart.
  6. Flatten the spheres with your fingers and sprinkle each cookie with chopped pecans.
  7. Bake the disks in the center of the oven for about 12 minutes for chewy cookies or 15 minutes for crunchy cookies. Cool on a wire rack and store in a plastic container or zipper-top bag.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Scottish Shortbreads {Recipe} – Virtual Cookie Exchange

It’s that time of year. Time for decorating, shopping, attending holiday parties, and, of course, COOKIES!! Like many of you, I bake a lot of cookies during the holiday season. So I was excited to once again get invited to my friend Di’s second annual Virtual Cookie Exchange.

Given the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, I thought I would choose a really easy recipe. After looking around a bit, I settled on a Scottish Shortbread recipe by my friend and baking mentor, Nick Malgieri.

When I say these cookies are easy, I’m not kidding. There are only three ingredients — butter, sugar, and flour — and they go from mixing to the oven to baked in no time.

Since the only binder is butter, the dough is quite crumbly. But a little kneading and pressing brought it together quite nicely.

After dividing the dough, I pressed it out by hand (no rolling needed), then cut the cookies with a 2 1/2-inch fluted cutter.

The cookies baked up nice and crisp and had that wonderful, buttery shortbread flavor. As simple as it was, this was definitely a winning recipe, and one I’m sure to repeat often. And not just during the holiday season.

Nick’s recipe for Scottish Shortbread can be found here, along with a lot of other wonderful recipes. I’ve also reprinted the shortbread recipe below.

Scottish Shortbread

Makes about 40 cookies, depending on the size of the cutter used

  • 24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)

2 cookie sheets or jelly roll pans lined with parchment or foil

  1. Set racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.
  2. Beat the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed until very soft and light, about 5 minutes.
  3. Remove the bowl from the mixer and incorporate the flour by hand, using a large rubber spatula.
  4. Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and fold it over on itself 2 or 3 times to makes sure it is completely smooth. Use a knife or bench scraper to divide the dough into 4 pieces.
  5. Lightly flour the work surface and gently pat the dough with the palm of you hand until it is about 1/4-inch thick (The dough is much too soft for a rolling pin.)
  6. Run a large knife or spatula under the dough to make sure it isn’t stuck to the work surface.
  7. Use a 2 1/2- to 3-inch fluted cutter to cut out the shortbreads. Place them in the prepared pans about 1 inch apart on all sides as they are cut.
  8. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.
  9. After you have used all the dough, gently knead the scraps together, then press the dough and cut it again. You may continue to do so until there are no scraps left as long as you don’t use too much flour under or on the dough, which will toughen the shortbreads.
  10. Bake the cookies for about 15 minutes, or until they are light golden. Change the position of the pans from upper to lower rack and vice versa, also turning them back to front at least once during baking. If your oven gives strong bottom heat, stack 2 pans together for baking on the bottom rack to provide extra insulation against burning the shortbreads.
  11. Slide the papers from the pans to racks to cool the shortbreads.

Cocoa Nib Brownies {ModBak}

It’s a new month, and a new section for the Modern Baker Challenge. If you’ve been following along with the Challenge, you know that the next section in the book is Cakes. However, since the beginning of this section coincides with holiday baking season, we decided to jump ahead in the book to the last section, Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti. And the first recipe in the Cookies section is Cocoa Nib Brownies.

When I first looked at this recipe, I had no idea what cocoa (sometimes written cacao) nibs were. In the intro to the recipe, Nick Malgieri explains that “nibs are cocoa beans that have gone through the fermenting, roasting, crushing, and skinning process.” Generally, cocoa butter and sugar are added to the nibs, and the resulting mix is processed into chocolate. 

Cocoa nibs have become popular in baking and are used to add a bittersweet crunch to baked goods. If you’ve never tried them, the closest comparison I can think of is coffee beans. If you’ve ever tasted a roasted coffee bean, you have an idea what nibs taste like. Bitter, astringent, and not something you’d want to eat on its own. Now think of a chocolate-covered coffee bean. It’s still has a strong bitter flavor, but the chocolate tempers it, and the crunch and bite of the bean can be enjoyed.

That’s pretty much what nibs are like. You definitely don’t want to eat them on their own (although if you’re like me, you have to try them just so you’ll appreciate the flavor and texture). But mix them into something like a rich, fudgy brownie, and the bittersweet crunch they add is truly something to experience.

Other than the nibs, the ingredients in these brownies are all fairly common. Like most really good brownie recipes I’ve tried, this recipe calls for bittersweet chocolate, rather than cocoa powder. To make the brownies, I melted butter in a saucepan, then removed the pan from the heat and added chopped chocolate, allowing the heat from the butter and pan to melt the chocolate while I prepared the remaining ingredients.

I put dark brown sugar in the mixer bowl and added eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. After beating in salt, sugar, and vanilla, I removed the bowl from the mixer and folded in the chocolate-butter mixture with a rubber spatula. I mixed in the flour by hand, then folded in 1/4 cup of the cocoa nibs. The recipe is baked in a 9 x 13-inch pan, but only calls for 1 1/4 cups flour, so I knew the resulting brownies would be really fudgy.

I scraped the batter into the pan, which I had sprayed with pan spray. The recipe calls for lining the pan with buttered foil, so that the brownies can be lifted out of the pan in order to cut perfectly even squares. Since I planned to serve the brownies right from the pan, I skipped the foil.

I scattered another 1/4 cup cocoa nibs on top of the batter and baked the brownies in a 350°F oven for 30 minutes, until the brownies were firm but still very moist. After cooling the brownies in the pan (and maybe cutting off a tiny little corner to sample), I covered the pan and put it into the refrigerator overnight. The overnight rest made the brownies easier to cut — they were very moist — and really intensified the flavor.

I put the brownies on the snack table while my family was in town for Thanksgiving. I wasn’t around when the brownies were cut into, and everyone was trying to figure out what the crunch was from. No one had ever had cocoa nibs, but they all agreed that the bittersweet, chocolatey crunch was perfect for these rich, fudgy brownies.

This was a great start to the Cookies section in The Modern Baker and has me looking forward to the next five months of cookies, bars, and biscotti.