Hazelnut Biscotti {TWD-BWJ}

The first July recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie — Baking with Julia is one of my favorites: biscotti. I’ve made, and eaten, a lot of biscotti. There’s just something about dunking a crunchy biscuit into a steaming cup of coffee.

I used to think biscotti must be difficult to make, but they are actually quite simple. You mix up a quick dough, press it into a log shape on a pan, bake it, slice it, and bake again to crisp them up.

Since I discovered how simple they are to make, I’ve made many different biscotti, including several original biscotti recipes. So, I was really happy about this month’s first recipe — Hazelnut Biscotti.

I decided to make the biscotti on a lazy Sunday afternoon, and I didn’t feel like running to the store. I didn’t have any hazelnuts, so I decided to use a snack mix from Trader Joe’s with macadamia nuts, almonds, dried cranberries, and candied ginger.

The first thing I noticed about this recipe was how wet the dough was. Biscotti dough is usually the consistency of biscuit or cookie dough — soft, but mailable, and easy to shape. The recipe said the dough would be stiff and sticky, but it was downright gloppy. I had a heck of a time shaping the dough into logs on the baking tray.

I knew it would bake up OK, but it was really an unpleasant dough to work with.

It wasn’t pretty after the first bake, but I knew it would slice up fine. I let the logs cool, then sliced them into individual biscotti.

I put the slices on a cooling rack, which I put in the oven to crisp up the biscotti. I liked the idea of baking the biscotti on a rack so the heat can circulate evenly around them to crisp them up.

The best part about these biscotti was the Trader Joe’s snack mix. The nuts, cranberries, and candied ginger gave the biscotti the only discernible flavor. Otherwise, they were quite bland.

Between the unworkably wet dough and the lack of flavor in the finished biscotti, this recipe is definetly not one that I will make again.

Our hosts this week are Jodi of Homemade and Wholesome and Katrina of Baking and Boys.

Hungarian Shortbread {TWD-BWJ}

This week’s recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie — Baking with Julia was a new twist on an old favorite for me. I’m a big fan of shortbread cookies and love to try different versions of them (Nick Malgieri’s macadamia shortbreads were especially delicious), but I had never heard of Hungarian shortbread before making this recipe.

What sets Hungarian shortbread apart from other shortbreads is that it is layered and filled with a tart fruit filling, rhubarb jam in the case of Dorie’s recipe. The other thing that is unique about this recipe is the way the shortbread is formed. After mixing the dough, you divide it in half and shape each half into a ball, freeze the dough balls for half an hour, then grate the dough into the pan using a box grater. The filling is spread between two layers of dough, and the whole thing is baked. Finally, the shortbread is dusted with powdered sugar as soon as it comes out of the oven.

Here are my observations on this recipe:

  • I don’t really understand the purpose of freezing and grating the dough.  The recipe says that it makes the dough easier to work with, but I didn’t really find that to be true. First, I had a heck of a time shaping the dough into balls and wrapping it. Then, when I tried to grate it, it got so crumbly that I gave up on the box grater and  just crumbled it into the pan by hand. I think it would have been just as easy to press the dough into the pan from the beginning, and that’s what I’ll do next time.

  •  I’m generally not a fan of rhubarb, and it’s not really in season here yet, so I decided to use my homemade four-citrus marmalade for the filling. The tart bite of the marmalade offset the sweetness of the shortbread and brought the whole thing together.

  • The shortbread baked up beautifully. Some of the other TWD bakers reported that their shortbread came out underdone, but mine was perfect.

  • I dusted the top of the shortbread with powdered sugar as soon as it came out of the oven, as the recipe instructed. However, since it was hot, the sugar melted and got kind of funky. Next time, I’ll let it cool first, then dust on the sugar.

  • And now, a word about purple. When I first looked at the picture of the finished shortbread in the book, I thought it was beautiful. I especially liked the contrasting colors — the golden shortbread punctuated by the red filling and bluish-purple topping. I quickly turned to the recipe to see what made the bluish color on top of the shortbread, but the recipe just said to dust it with powdered sugar. Nothing blue; nothing purple — just powdered sugar. I flipped back to the picture, looked at it more closely, and realized the blue tint was just a reflection from the background. Undaunted, I decided mine would be purple.
  • I tried coloring the powdered sugar with food coloring, but it didn’t mix in. Then I stirred in purple finishing sugar that I use for King Cake. It mixed in fine, but when I dusted the top of the shortbread, the colored sugar didn’t make it through the sifter. I finally ended up just sprinkling the sugar on top of the shortbread. It didn’t give quite the same effect as the photo in the book, but I still liked the look of it.

The final verdict: we really liked this recipe, and I’ll definitely be making it again. I might change up the filling, but I’ll keep it tart. And I won’t bother with trying to grate the dough; I’ll just press it into the pan. And, yes, I’ll use purple sprinkles again.

Blackberry Jam Sandwiches with Lemon Icing {ModBak}

This week’s Modern Baker Challenge recipe was, indeed, a challenge for me. Although Kayte, the official baker for this recipe in the Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti section, reported great success with these cookies, mine didn’t work out so smoothly. I’m sure at least part of the problem was my attitude going into it. I’m not a fan of fussy cookies, and with the mixing, chilling, rolling, cutting, filling, and icing required, these definitely fall into the fussy category.

My problems began with the dough. It only has six ingredients — butter, sugar, vanilla extract, lemon extract, egg yolks, and flour — and I mixed it precisely according to the instructions. The dough came out OK, although it seemed a bit on the dry side. It had to be chilled for at least an hour or two before rolling, although the recipe notes that it can be refrigerated for up to three days.

My dough sat in the fridge for about two days until I was ready to roll it out. Kayte reported that the dough was easy to work with and rolled out without tearing or breaking. As soon as my dough hit the board, I knew I had a problem. My dough was dry and crumbly, and neither pressing it nor letting it rest at room temperature seemed to help. I managed to press out enough dough to cut nine cookies.

The cookies baked up nicely, and while they were in the oven, I melted and reduced the blackberry jam to use as filling for the finished cookies. By the time the cookies were cool enough to assemble, the filling had set and needed to be rewarmed. In reheating the jam, I overreduced it. It was liquid enough to spread on the cookies, and the assembly was easy enough. Unfortunately, when the filling cooled, it was gummy and slightly bitter from having been overcooked.

The final piece to these cookies was a simple lemon icing made of confectioner’s sugar, lemon juice, and water. Easy enough to make, it is then drizzled over the top of the cookies. Because I ended up with fewer cookies than the recipe called for, I cut the icing down quite a bit. In doing so, it came out too thick to drizzle. After trying, and failing, to make nice streaks of icing on the cookies, I spread it on with the back of a spoon. It turned out to be a bit too much icing, although it did counter the gumminess of the jam a bit.

Overall, these were good cookies. And while I know what I did wrong with the jam filling and lemon icing, I’m still not sure what happened to the cookie dough. I’ll be making the chocolate sandwich cookies and raspberry linzer disks in the next few weeks, both of which employ a very similar dough and the same chilling-and-rolling method. It will be kind of like getting a do-over on the cookie dough and a chance for me to see if I can figure out what went wrong this time around.

Tart Lime Wafers {ModBak}

This week’s recipe for the Modern Baker Challenge is a great make-ahead cookie. The dough is formed into rolls, which can be refrigerated or frozen until you are ready to slice and bake them. Kind of like the cookie dough you see in tubes in the dairy case, but without all the nasty preservatives.

The dough is mixed up in the food processor, and I could tell by reading the ingredient list that it was going to be a lot. I’m pretty sure Nick Malgieri must have a 14-cup food processor, because several of his recipes have filled by 11-cupper to the brim. I thought about cutting the recipe in half, but I really wanted that extra roll of dough to freeze, so I went with the full recipe.

I started by mixing flour, sugar, salt, and lots of lime zest in the food pro, then adding 3 sticks(!) of butter.

Next I added eggs, then mixed until the dough formed into a ball.

I had to stop and scrape the dough down into the bowl a few times, but eventually it came together.

I scraped the dough out onto a floured pastry mat, divided it in half, then shaped each piece into an 8-inch cylinder.

The next step is to roll the cylinders in lime sugar, which I made using lime zest and King Arthur Flour sparkling white sugar.

I spread the lime sugar out on the pasty mat and rolled each log until it was well coated.

I had a lot of lime sugar left over, so I packed it up and stashed it in the freezer. I’m not sure what I’ll use it for, but coating the rim of a mojito glass comes to mind.

Nick gives great instructions for tightening up the dough cylinders using parchment paper and a dough scraper. Mine went from the loose logs you see above to this:

I wrapped the cylinders in plastic wrap and stuck one in the fridge to bake the next day and the other in the freezer for later use.

To bake the cookies, I sliced the dough into thin disks and placed them on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. I baked the cookies at 350°F for about 15 minutes, until they were slightly puffed and just starting to brown around the edges.

These cookies were a huge hit around my house. Sweet, tart, buttery, crispy — they reminded me a lot of a shortbread cookie. And they were perfect for dunking in tea or coffee.

This is definitely a recipe to repeat. And it makes a generous amount of dough, so you can bake one roll and freeze the other for later. Re-roll the dough in the leftover sugar, slice, and bake, and you can have these fresh, delicious cookies anytime.

Cornmeal & Pine Nut Biscotti {ModBak}

This week’s recipe for Modern Baker Mondays is another biscotti. Like its predecessor, spicy hazelnut biscotti, this is a classic, crunchy, twice-baked biscotti. Although I’ve never had biscotti with pine nuts, what really surprised me about these cookies was the addition of cornmeal.

The dough mixed up quickly in the food processor. It came out powdery, much like the hazelnut biscotti dough. And like that dough, it came together on the dough board with a little mixing. Even though I had to press the dough firmly but gently to get it to stay together, I knew once it hit the oven, the butter would melt and pull the dough together.

After I put the logs of dough in the oven, I looked at the recipe again and realized I hadn’t added the correct amount of pine nuts. The recipe called for 3/4 cup pine nuts, but I only added 1/4 cup. I thought it seemed a bit light on the pine nuts while I was adding them, but by the time I figured it out, it was too late to fix it.

I baked the dough logs, then cooled them while I mixed up tart lime wafer dough for later in the week. After the logs had cooled, I sliced them into biscotti, then put them back in the oven to crisp.

I was a bit worried that these cookies might have an overly strong cornmeal flavor, but they were really good. As Nick says in the notes, the sweet corn flavor is enhanced  by the lemon zest and vanilla in the recipe. And even though they were light on the pine nuts, they still had a nice, nutty flavor, too.

This recipe is part of the Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti section of the Modern Baker Challenge. Check out the challenge page to see what other bakers thought of this and other recipes in the cookies section.

Pine Nut Macaroons {ModBak}

The next recipe I made for the Modern Baker Challenge combined something I love (pine nuts) with something I’m not so crazy about (macaroons). In my book, macaroons rank right up there with meringues. They have the same lighter-than-air quality that makes me wonder why I bother with them. And like meringues, they don’t keep well, so you have to plan on eating them the day you make them.

Given my lack of enthusiasm and the must-eat nature of these cookies, I decided to make a half batch. I didn’t have any almond paste, so the first order of business was to mix up a batch of homemade almond paste. I measured out 4 ounces of the almond paste, mixed it with granulated and confectioner’s sugars, and beat them together in the stand mixer while I gathered the rest of my ingredients. I added vanilla and an egg white to the dough and stirred it just until everything was mixed together.

I spooned the dough into a pastry bag and began piping the cookies onto the baking sheet. I could tell right away that the dough (which was more like a batter) was too loose, probably due to the egg white. I buy my eggs from a local farm, and they aren’t sized or graded. The recipe calls for large eggs, but mine were probably closer to jumbo. The dough/batter started to spread on the cookie sheet, so I piped the macaroons as far apart as I could.

The final step before baking is to flatten and moisten the cookies (unnecessary in my case), then to sprinkle them with pine nuts. I pressed the pine nuts into the dough a bit, then baked the cookies in a 375°F oven. The recipe said to bake them for about 20 minutes, but mine were starting to smell quite done by 15 minutes, so I took them out.

They weren’t pretty (hence the reason I didn’t take any pictures). They baked together into one big, flat, brittle-like mass. But they smelled good; and they had that macaroon shine to them.

I let them cool on a rack, then broke off and sampled a piece. And another. And another. Then the girls appeared and started breaking off pieces, too. And before long most of the pan was gone. They had a great nutty flavor from both the almond paste and pine nuts. And the shattering crispness of the macaroons was balanced by the slight bite of the pine nuts.

So even though these weren’t a rousing success, I’d like to try them again to see if I can achieve results closer to what Sara accomplished when she made them. Based on flavor alone, they are worth a second go-round.

Spicy Hazelnut Biscotti {ModBak}

Today I present to you the first biscotti recipe in the Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti section of the Modern Baker Challenge. Unlike the biscotti regina I made back in January, which was actually a cookie (biscotti is, after all, “cookie” in Italian), this is what I would consider a classic biscotti recipe. It’s twice-baked, very crunchy, and made for dunking in coffee or tea.

What makes these biscotti unique is the addition of lots of spices, including some that might surprise you — ginger, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, and black pepper. The dough also contains lots of hazelnuts, some of which are ground with the sugar, while the rest are chopped up and stirred into the dough. A bit of honey and orange zest round out the flavorings.

The dough came together very quickly, although it was a bit powdery after I initially mixed it up. I worked it on a floured board until it held together, then I formed it into a log, put it on a cookie sheet, and flattened the top. I baked the log at 350°F for 40 minutes, until it was firm and nicely browned.

I cooled the log on a rack for half an hour or so, then cut it into 1/2-inch slices. I put the biscotti back on the cookie sheet and returned them to the oven, this time at 325°F for about 20 minutes, until they were dry and firm.

The aroma of the spices filled the house like Christmas at grandma’s. They smelled so good, I couldn’t wait for them to cool before trying them. I brewed a cup of French roast coffee, grabbed two biscotti, and headed for the living room.

How do I describe these biscotti? Crunchy, sweet, spicy — all those things, but so much more. The combination of flavors is absolutely genius, perhaps Nick Malgieri’s finest work.

These would be a perfect for the holidays, when spicy treats are on everyone’s minds. But don’t wait until then to make them. They’re too good not to enjoy year-round.

Melting Moments {ModBak}

The next recipe in the Modern Baker Challenge is an old British cookie that Nick Malgieri describes as “little buttery orange-flavored clouds”. Now I’m all for melt-in-your-mouth goodness, which is what these cookies promised. But I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical when I read the recipe and saw that the lightness in these cookies comes from cornstarch. That’s where the lightness in the meringues I made recently came from.

And like the meringues, I was worried that the melting moments cookies might have a strange, overly dry mouthfeel. The fact that the recipe called for half as much cornstarch as flour didn’t give me any comfort, either. But this was the next recipe in the Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti section, so for better or worse, I was going to make it.

In addition to the flour and cornstarch, the recipe calls for baking powder, salt, butter, confectioner’s sugar, eggs, vanilla, orange extract, and orange zest. I mixed the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Then I beat the butter and powdered sugar in the mixer until light and fluffy. After beating in the eggs, I added the orange zest and extract (I substituted fiori di sicilia for the orange extract), then beat in the flour mixture. I scooped small spoonfuls of the dough, rounded them slightly, and put them on a cookie sheet.

I baked the cookies at 325°F for 20 minutes, until they were puffed, set, and lightly golden.

The cookies smelled delicious. The orange zest and fiori di sicilia were almost intoxicating, and despite my reservations, I couldn’t wait for them to cool so I could to try them. And once I did taste them, all my fears were put to rest. They were light, crisp, and brightly flavored. And, yes, they melted in my mouth with no cornstarch aftertaste.

I’m glad I made these cookies in spite of my initial skepticism. And I’m sure I’ll be making them again.

Macadamia Shortbreads {ModBak}

I was hopeful that this week’s Modern Baker Challenge cookie would make up for the tuile disaster and the fussy thumbprint cookies. Since it’s a shortbread, I knew it would at least be fairly easy, without a lot of ingredients. And the addition of macadamia nuts seemed like it would elevate the cookies a bit, both in style and flavor.

A classic Scottish shortbread recipe uses three ingredients: butter, sugar, and flour. This recipe adds baking powder and, of course, macadamia nuts to the trinity, but otherwise stays true to its Scottish roots.

After grinding the macadamias with sugar in the food processor, I added the flour, baking powder, and butter and whirred it together until it made a fine, powdery mixture.

When I dumped it into the pan, it was hard to envision how this sandy, silty substance would pull together into a cookie.

Of course, that’s the beauty of shortbreads. Since the only liquid in the recipe is butter, and it starts in its solid state, the dough really comes together once it hits the heat. In the meantime, I pressed the dough into the pan as best I could.

I sprinkled the dough with a little water, then topped it with macadamia nuts ground with sugar.

The shortbreads baked up beautifully. They smelled so rich and buttery, I couldn’t wait to try them.

And the flavor did not disappoint. Macadamia nuts have a buttery richness to them that paired perfectly with the shortbread dough. In fact, it’s such a natural combination, I’m surprised I’ve never heard of it before.

The cookies kept well in a plastic container, and we enjoyed them for several days. In case you’re wondering where the picture of the finished cookies went, you’ll have to ask him…

I realized I hadn’t plated the cookies for a picture, and went to get them, but they weren’t on the counter where I had left them. I looked all over the kitchen and dining room, but to no avail. I never found the cookies, but I did find the container under my daughter’s bed, where Bailey likes to take his purloined treasures.

Stupid dog.

But at least he has good taste.

Cappuccino Thumbprint Cookies {ModBak}

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’m not a fan of fussy cookies. My idea of making cookies is mixing the dough, dropping the cookies onto a pan, and baking. Bar cookies are even better, as you get to skip the individual cookie dropping step. So I tend to pass over recipes with a lot of shaping, dipping, rolling, and filling. Like this one.

These cookies had it all, and then some. First, you make the dough, shape it into a square (I put it in an 8×8 pan), and chill it.

After the dough chills, you unwrap it (as you can see, I had a bit of trouble getting mine out of the pan), then cut it into squares.

The individual pieces of dough (all 40 of them) are then rounded, dipped in an egg wash, rolled in ground almonds, and placed on the pan.

Next, you make a cavity in each cookie and then bake them.

While the cookies are baking, you make a white chocolate and espresso filling. I’m not a huge fan of white chocolate, so I made two fillings, one with white and the other with bittersweet chocolate. After the cookies cooled, I piped the filling into the cookies, then sprinkled them with cinnamon.

These cookies were a lot of work, but they tasted really good. To my surprise, I even liked the white chocolate ones. I could see making these cookies again for a holiday cookie tray. Maybe by next Christmas I’ll have forgotten how much work they were.

This recipe is from The Modern Baker, by Nick Malgieri and is part of the Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti section of the Modern Baker Challenge.

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