Lemon Poppy Seed Drops {ModBak}

This week’s Modern Baker Challenge recipe is a simple, but kind of odd, little cookie. At least I’ve never made or eaten anything quite like it before. The main flavor and texture ingredients are lemon, poppy seeds, and almonds. The dough also contains eggs, sugar, butter, vanilla, flour, baking powder, and salt.

The poppy seeds were the ingredient that seemed a bit strange to me. Other than keeflees, kolache, and lemon bread or muffins, I’m not familiar with using poppy seeds in sweets. And they had a strange effect on the dough — they turned it rather gray. So much so that I was a bit skeptical about making these cookies. After all, who would want to eat a gray cookie?

But I pressed on. After all, with the dough mixed up and ready to go, it was just a matter of rolling hunks of dough in chopped slivered almonds, flattening them, and baking them. I found that the amount of almonds was almost perfect. My last few cookies didn’t have quite as many almonds on the outside, but I also didn’t have a bunch of chopped almonds left over.

I flattened the cookies with the bottom of a drinking glass.

Once they were all rolled and flattened, they were ready for the oven. I was still a bit worried about the color, but I had come this far, so I had to finish them.

I baked the cookies in a 350°F oven for about 15 minutes, until they were golden, slightly risen, and baked through. The poppy seeds were still quite evident in the cookies, but they lost their gray pallor in the oven and actually came out looking pretty nice.

Despite the appearance of the dough, these cookies were quite good. They weren’t too sweet and reminded me a bit of shortbread. The lemon gave a bright flavor to them, and the almonds and poppy seeds lent an earthiness that worked well with the other flavors. And even though they weren’t overly sweet, I found myself reaching for them again and again, as there is just something “morish” (as my mother-in-law used to say) about them.

These cookies would be great for a holiday tray, as the flavor is quite subtle and wouldn’t overpower the other cookies on the tray. Of course, they’re not bad on their own, either.

This recipe can be found in the Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti section of The Modern Baker, by Nick Malgieri. If you want to add a great baking book to your library, this one has everything — from cookies and cakes to pies, tarts, and breads. And the recipes are clear, concise, and easy to follow.

Golden Almond Bars {Bake!}

Our latest Twitterbake from Nick Malgieri’s Bake! was chosen by Abby, although I think she may have been channeling Kayte, who has been talking about this recipe since she got the book. Once I tasted them, I knew why. These bars were so good!

To make these bars, I began by mixing up a recipe of sweet pastry dough, which is simply flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, butter, and eggs pulsed together in the food processor. I made the dough the day before I planned to bake the bars, wrapped it well in plastic wrap, and put it in the fridge.

The next day, I took the pastry dough out of the refrigerator, whacked it a few times with a  rolling pin to soften it, then rolled it out to fit the pan. I transferred the dough to the pan, which I had prepared by lining with buttered parchment paper. After pressing the dough into the pan and trimming the top, I put the pan in the refrigerator to chill while I made the filling.

The filling was easy to make. I melted butter in a pan, added sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, and salt, then stirred in cream. I cooked the mixture for a minute, then added the almonds. After stirring everything together, I dumped it into the prepared crust and spread it around.

I baked the bars for about 30 minutes, until the crust was done through, the syrup bubbling, and the almonds well toasted. I cooled the bars on a rack for an hour, then unmolded them from the pan, peeled away the parchment, and cut the bars into 2-inch squares.

The bars were wonderful — tender, moist, slightly chewy, with a nice, toasty crunch from the slivered almonds. The whole family enjoyed them, which was a good thing. Otherwise, I might have eaten them all myself.

Danish Cheese Pockets {Bake!}

For a recent Twitterbake, my friend Margaret chose Danish Cheese Pockets from Bake!, Nick Malgieri’s recent book. The recipe calls for a half recipe of Quick Danish Pastry Dough. Rather than making a half recipe or freezing some of the dough, I decided to make two recipes — one of cheese pockets and another with cherry filling made from homemade cherry jam a friend of mine gave me.

After making the pastry dough, I  mixed up the cream cheese filling.

Isn't the sugar-coated egg yolk cool?

 

I rolled out the dough, cut it into squares, topped it with filling, and shaped the Danish.

I did the same with the cherry Danish, making some just cherry and some cheese and cherry.

After shaping the Danish, I preheated the oven. While the oven was heating, I brushed the tops of the Danish with egg wash and sprinkled them with sliced almonds.

I baked the pastries at 400°F for about 20 minutes, until they were puffed and golden.

Even though most of the Danish came apart on top, they were still delicious. The cream cheese ones were as good as any cheese Danish I’ve ever tasted.

And the cherry and cherry-cheese ones were even better.

I had planned to take most of the Danish to work, but by the time Monday rolled around, there weren’t very many left. The Danish I did take to the office disappeared with lightning speed. One person asked me for the recipe. The rest asked me to make more Danish and bring them in.

Homemade Almond Paste {Recipe}

A few weeks ago, my friend Kayte and I decided to try a recipe from Nick Malgieri‘s new book, Bake! She chose Orange & Almond Scones.

I had all the ingredients on hand, including almond paste, which I had recently purchased for another recipe. It had taken some searching to find the almond paste, and, as you know if you’ve ever bought it, it was quite expensive. In the process of hunting for it, I had come across a number of recipes for homemade almond paste. After paying nearly $6 for a small can of it, I decided making my own might not be such a bad idea.

The recipes I found mostly fell into two categories: paste made with a sugar syrup, or paste made with egg whites. I’m not at all squeamish about uncooked egg whites, but I did think the recipes made with sugar syrup might last longer, so I decided to try the following recipe:

Almond Paste

Ingredients:

10 oz dried blanched almonds
10 oz powdered sugar
5 oz granulated sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
1 cup water

Instructions:

Make a sugar syrup by placing the water, sugar, and corn syrup in a saucepan. Stir it to combine. Bring it to a boil and let it boil for a few moments. Let it cool.

Place the almonds in a food processor and process them to a fine powder. Add the powdered sugar. With the food processor running, slowly add the sugar syrup until the mixture forms a paste.

Store the almond paste tightly covered. If you will be storing it for more than a week, store in the refrigerator.

This recipe came together easily, at least until the end. Evidently, when the recipe says, “add the sugar syrup until the mixture forms a paste”, it means to add it just until it forms a paste. I added all the sugar syrup and ended up with something the consistency of tahini paste. Way too thin for almond paste, although the taste wasn’t bad.

I decided to go ahead and try one of the egg white versions to compare. Here’s the recipe I used:

Almond Paste

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 cups blanched almonds
  • 1-1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 egg white
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons almond extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions

  • Place almonds in a food processor; cover and process until smooth. Add the confectioners’ sugar, egg white, extract and salt; cover and process until smooth.
  • Divide almond paste into 1/2-cup portions; place in airtight containers. Refrigerate for up to 1 month or freeze for up to 3 months. 

Yield: 1-1/2 cups.

 This was also a quick and easy recipe, and the taste was far superior to the sugar syrup version, owing mostly to the almond extract and salt.

I had never used almond paste before, so I decided to open the can of paste to see how it compared to the homemade versions.

Almond pastes: egg white (top left), sugar syrup (top right), and canned (bottom)

The taste and consistency of the egg white paste was closest to the canned version. I actually liked the homemade version better, as it had the most “almondy” flavor.

I remade the sugar syrup version, this time adding only enough syrup to get it to a similar consistency to the egg white version. I also added salt and almond extract to the recipe, which improved the flavor considerably.

At the end of the day, I prefer the egg white version over the other two. The canned is my second favorite, with the sugar syrup version landing up on the bottom of the list.

Since I can buy slivered blanched almonds at Mr. Bulky’s pretty inexpensively, and it’s really easy to mix up, I doubt that I’ll buy almond paste again.

Orange & Almond Scones {Bake!}

I had the pleasure of meeting Nick Malgieri a few weeks ago and taking a few classes from him. On the first evening, he featured recipes and techniques from his newest book, Bake! I had just picked up the book a few days before the class, so I hadn’t had a chance to make anything from it. But watching Nick bake, I knew it had been a good purchase.

When my friend Kayte mysteriously received a copy of Bake! in the mail, return address Nick Malgieri, New York, she was excited to start baking from it. So we decided to do a Twitterbake, where we would both bake the same recipe at the same time and Tweet about it as we went. Kayte chose Orange & Almond Scones, which sounded perfect to me. I’m a big scone fan, and these looked great. We had our recipe, picked a time, and were good to go.

The recipe calls for almond paste. Although I had never baked with almond paste before, there are a few recipes I’m making soon that call for it. And after some searching, I had recently acquired my first-ever can of Solo Almond Paste. In the process of searching for almond paste and realizing how expensive it is, I had also found a few recipes to make it. So, the evening before the Twitterbake, I made two versions of almond paste. I liked the egg white version better, so that’s what I decided to use for the scones.

The scones are very simple to make. After mixing flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in the food processor, I whirred in the almond paste, then the butter. I beat an egg with milk and orange zest, added that to the food pro, and gave it a few pulses. Then I dumped the whole thing out onto a floured board, divided the dough in half, and shaped each piece into a disk. I scored the dough, gave it a little egg wash, pressed on some slivered almonds, and it was ready to bake.

As simple as they were, these scones came out great. I’m going to serve them when my family comes to town for Thanksgiving and make them again for Christmas morning.

From the recipes I’ve sampled from this book so far, I highly recommend it. If you do pick up a copy, let me know. Kayte and I are planning to make a few recipes from it each month, and if you’d like to bake and Tweet along with us, we’d love to have you.