Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Baby Shower Cookies

I recently made these cookies for a baby shower and I'd like to show you step by step how easy it was to make them.  The chocolate cookies are true keepers.  Treat this particular dough as a rollout cookie and proceed from there.  The sugar cookies are always a favorite and the recipe makes wonderful cutouts.   It's important to chill the cookies before baking in order to retain that perfect shape.  Pick out your favorite cookie cutters and start rolling!

On a well floured surface, roll out your cookie dough.  I use a piece of plastic wrap over the dough to help me.  Doing this reduces the amount of flour you add to your dough when rolling it out.  Notice that I'm using a large 2 foot professional rolling pin.  This particular one is made by Ateco.

Start cutting your dough from the outside and work your way in.  Try to get the shapes as close together as
possible.  This is a smart way to work.  I always keep a dish with flour for dipping my cookie cutters.  This helps release your cutouts.  The remaining scraps can be gathered up and rerolled a second time.  The first cutter is a vintage baby chick and the others are collectible Martha by Mail ~ ABC Cookie Cutters made
of solid copper. 

My baking sheets are lined with silpats, but you can also use parchment paper.  Once you've cut out your shapes, give the cookies a good 1" clearance.  You don't want these cookies to run into each other as they bake.  I always chill the cutouts for 30 minutes and promptly bake them in my preheated oven.

Once your cookies have baked and cooled, you can begin to assemble your decorating ingredients.  The royal icing recipe is quite easy to make.  I've used pastel greens and yellows for these treats. 

These are the tools & ingredients I find most useful for decorating with royal icing.

-Ateco tips #2, #3, #4 and #5
-disposable 12" piping bags
-small glass bowls for mixing colors
-Ateco gel food coloring
-several glasses lined with wet paper towels
-a small offset spatula
-fine and coarse sanding sugar

Once I've filled my piping bags, I stand them up in glasses that are lined with wet towels.  This prevents the tips from drying out as I work from cookie to cookie.

The baby chicks have a simple outline, a wing and a cute little eye.  While the icing is still wet I flock them with sanding sugar.  Let your decorations dry completely.

Here is another tray of letters with a plain polka dot design. 

A small army of chocolate baby chicks.  Aren't they cute?

This batch of cookies was being shipped across the country, so I packaged them with great care.  Sturdy reusable containers with tight-fitting lids are ideal for this type of job.  When packaging cookies for shipping, it's important that they fit snugly and don't shift.  I have filled the gaps with crumpled up paper towels.  Find an appropriate shipping box and cushion the containers well.

These were very special cookies and the recipient was quite pleased to have them at her baby shower.  If you decide to make cookies such as these for a special occasion, be sure to personalize them by asking what the theme of the party will be.  Your recipient and their guests will thank you for these.    

Martha's Chocolate Cutout Cookies

This is a recipe that I revisit every year.  The cookies are tender and a bit spicy, with just a hint of cinnamon and black pepper.  The Martha Stewart Weddings Book first introduced us to these tasty morsels and has since been used in many of her publications.  Everyone always likes them, so I tend to make several batches.  Click here for the recipe.  This dough can be refrigerated for a few days or frozen if you don't plan on making them that day.  Follow along.

The ingredients are carefully measured out. This recipe can also be found in her magnum opus, The Martha Stewart Cookbook.

Since the recipe calls for cocoa powder, I always sift it through a strainer to get rid of the lumps.  Cocoa has a habit of clumping, so it's very important to take this step.  I used dark Valrhona cocoa powder from France.

If a recipe calls for creaming butter and sugar, I take the step of doing the butter first.  This helps make it more malleable and easier to incorporate the sugar.

I add the sugar in a steady stream until it's creamed well.  Don't forget to scrape down your mixing bowl.

This is what your creamed butter and sugar should look like before adding your eggs.

When adding the dry ingredients, I shut the mixer down and add the entire contents to the bowl.

I then cover my mixer with a clean kitchen towel to keep the flour and cocoa from flying out of the bowl.  I learned this from Martha.

Turn your mixer on low speed and let the dough gather around the paddle attachment.  This is what your finished product should look like when it's ready. 

Divide your dough and cover it well with plastic wrap.  You can now proceed with your recipe.

One of the things that I love about this dough is that it can be treated as a refrigerator cookie dough or a rollout butter cookie dough.  It's quite forgiving and always a pleasure to work with.  Give this recipe a try.  I'll show you how I made these cookies into baby shower cookies in a future post.  Start baking!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Kitchen Towels

I don't know if you're like me, but one of the things I cannot live without is a good, sturdy, fluffy, white kitchen towel.  These multitasking towels are a must in a busy kitchen like mine.  From wiping up spills to drying dishes, a good 100% cotton towel will help make your life a bit easier and keep things clean.  Look for them in packs to save yourself some money & buy several to have on hand at all times.  I like all white towels because it makes laundering them a cinch. 

This is the type of towel I prefer for the kitchen.  100%  absorbent cotton.

For storage, I fold my towel in half lengthwise.

I then simply roll them up.

My storage container is a repurposed wine crate.  This was a lovely French Hermitage.

All of the towels are neatly rolled and stacked.  This box sits upright, underneath my prep area.  Flour sack towels fit snugly right behind--those are used for drying delicate glassware.

Dedicate an area for your kitchen towels and keep them handy.  One thing that I try to do these days is use less & less paper towels.  If you have many washable kitchen towels like me, I guarantee you'll be reaching for these time and time again.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Chicken Stock 101

Chicken stock is something that I love to have on hand at all times and for me, homemade is best.  It isn't difficult to make & it takes little preparation time.  After I've roasted a chicken (so long as the seasonings aren't too strong) and have picked the bones clean, I drop it into a freezer bag if I'm not going to use it right away.  This is something I like to do on the weekends early in the morning, because the minimum preparation that goes into making stock can be completed while the coffee brews.  You will need a good stockpot, a good strainer, a large bowl, some cheesecloth, a ladle & some freezer containers.  The stock can be frozen in 1-2 cup portions.   

The Ingredients 
  • 1 large yellow onion (skin intact) quartered
  • 2 large carrots chopped in 1" pieces
  • 3 celery stalks chopped in 1" pieces
  • 1/4 cup celery leaves
  • 4 sprigs of Italian parsley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 whole chicken carcass (or 2), leftover from Roast Chicken or saved from Cutting up a Chicken
Tie the peppercorns & bay leaf in a small square of cheesecloth.  Add all of your ingredients in a large stockpot & cover with cold water.  Set it on your stove & bring to a boil.  As the stock comes to a boil, skim any impure foam that floats to the surface and discard.  Lower your flame as it begins to boil & simmer your stock for one hour or 2 hours for a richer stock.  Remove any impurities along the way and don't let the stock maintain a rolling boil.  A high flame & boiling your chicken stock will cloud it up.  Simmering is best.

Here is the finished stock.  You can either let it cool completely in the pot or you can strain it while it's hot.  Personally I prefer to let it cool in the stockpot, because there is less of a risk getting burned by scalding stock. 

Usually I would be using a chinois for straining my stock, but for now I'm using a regular sieve.  To get a clear stock, I like to line my strainer with cheesecloth held by clips. 

I'm straining into a large enamelware bowl that is capacious for the task.  Pour your stock carefully, especially if it's hot.

As you strain the last of the stock, be careful that you don't let the chicken bones fall into the bowl.  If those ingredients do fall in the bowl, you risk clouding it up.

Give the strainer a final tap to extract every bit of stock.

This golden color is what you want to see.  Leaving the onion skin, not letting the stock boil and using cheesecloth helps a lot.

Strain your stock carefully into freezer containers and pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

Containers awaiting the freezer.  As soon as they're cool, refrigerate for several hours or up to overnight.  Remove any fat that has accumulated and freeze the stock for up to one month. 

As you can see, making chicken stock is pretty effortless.  Having some homemade stock like this in your freezer is not only a good thing, it's an essential thing.  If I didn't say so already, there is no salt in this stock whatsoever.  The next time you're at the supermarket, look closely at the sodium levels of the chicken stocks available and think about the prices as well.  My stock uses leftover chicken bones and just a handful of ingredients that you probably already have in the refrigerator.  Save yourself some money by making some homemade chicken stock and do your body some good while you're at it.  Why not try making my chicken stock this weekend?   

Friday, December 10, 2010

Organizing Baking Equipment ~ Batterie de Cuisine

One thing I love about drawer storage is that it gives me easy access to my batterie de cuisine.  Having some of my baking equipment in one area saves time and effort when searching for the right tool.  Nowadays, I don't have to hunt for that tart pan or those cookie cutters like I used to in my former kitchen whenever I bake.  Everything is in one place and within easy reach.  Take a look at how I fit some of my tools in just two drawers.

The top drawer shows you how deep & wide it is. 
Here I have set out what I will store in this drawer.  First, I layer my round springform pans (8", 9" & 10").

I put my silpats in mailing tubes to keep them tidy.  This also prevents them from being scratched or nicked.  Those are layered in sideways.  Click here to see how your silpats should be placed within these tubes.

Now it's time to put in my decorating cake stand with the iron base.  This is essentially a lazy susan which can be spun when icing a cake.  On top of that is my set of Ateco graduated cookie cutters.  I love these
because they come in all shapes and sizes.  To the right are my square cake pans in 8" and 9" sizes--two of each.

Now I layer in my fluted tart pans with removable bottoms.  These are made in France and come in handy when making quiches.

On the left is my shallow tart pan, along with two scoops and some measuring charts.  On the right are two nesting madeleine molds.

Finally I place these kitchen towels on top purely for decoration.  These were a special gift from a family member so they are treated very gently.

The second drawer is a bit more simple.  This holds my various muffin tins, a 9x13" baking pan, different
sized loaf pans, some reusable muffin liners and round professional cake pans. 

You wouldn't guess that these two shaker-style drawers set in the corner of my kitchen, underneath the dough counter, held so much equipment.  Setting my baking essentials in one place makes it easy for me to bake a loaf of bread, a batch of cookies or a special birthday cake with complete ease.  Keeping things here is definitely a Good Thing for me.   

Friday, December 3, 2010

Persimmon Holiday Pudding

This steamed pudding, which originally came from a Martha Stewart Living publication, has been in my repertoire for about a decade now, and every year I seem to tweak it a little to make it more suitable to my tastes.  It has become a tradition to make at least one of these for our guests during the holidays and at least one or two to give away as a gift.  Even those who claim they don't like persimmons, will be quite surprised at how delectable this dessert really is.  It reminds me of a plum pudding, which is very traditional for the holidays in Great Britain.  Why not try making one this season?

I came across these beauties at my local farmer's market.  Can you blame me for buying them? The most common persimmons are Fuyu and Hachiya.  Fuyu persimmons are shaped like a squat tomato and are ready to use even when they are firm to the touch; the skins must be peeled.  Hachiya are more tear shaped (pictured above) and must be soft before they are edible or they will be astringent.  There is a native persimmon that grows in the midwest and south that many people swear by. Use whatever you like. 

Start by placing a small round cake rack at the bottom of a deep stockpot.  This pudding can be made in a traditional pudding mold or in a heatproof bowl.  Fill your pot with water so that it comes up at least halfway up the sides of your mold.   Turn on your heat and bring it to a boil.

In a small saucepan, heat 1/2 cup cranberry juice.  Pour over 1/2 cup chopped dried cranberries and let macerate for 10 minutes.  Drain & reserve 1 tablespoon.

Note: you may substitute other dried fruit, but use the same amount.

Slice the tops of 2 large persimmons.

Slip a large spoon under the skin and scoop out the flesh.  Cut the fruit & puree in your food processor until smooth.  If you notice any seeds, remove them.  You should have 1 1/2 cups puree. 

Note: you can mash this up with a pastry cutter if you don't have a food processor.

The Ingredients
  • 4 tablespoons of room temperature unsalted butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup of packed light brown sugar
  • 3 large room temperature eggs
  •  1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  •  1 tablespoon reserved cranberry juice
  •  1 cup room temperature milk
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 cups persimmon puree
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons hot water
  • 1/2 cup chopped, dried cranberries that were macerated (above)

I'm using the new paddle attachment (right) for my Kitchenaid.  This has built in scrapers which reach up the sides of the bowl.

Cream your butter and sugar well until it is very light.  This should take you about 3 minutes or so.

Add your eggs one at a time.  You want the butter and sugar to absorb the eggs fully before adding the next one.  If you don't have one of the new paddles, stop your machine and scrape down your bowl.  This is very important.

Add your reserved cranberry juice.  At this point you should also add your vanilla.

Sift your dry ingredients into a large bowl using a sieve.  I know most people nowadays sift by using a whisk, but for this pudding, I use a sieve.

Add your pureed persimmon on low speed.  Mix well.  In a small bowl, combine your hot water and baking soda.  Add this to your mixture.

Add your dry ingredients next.  Mix this in 3 additions alternating with the milk.  Incorporate these on low speed.  You don't want to have a snowfall of flour on your counter.

The milk being poured down the side of the bowl.

Finally add your dried cranberries.

 I used Pam with flour to prepare my mold.   A more traditional approach would be to butter the vessel.  A steamed pudding mold like this one should come with a lid, so spray/butter that too.  However, if you're using a pudding bowl, cover it with a piece of parchment.  You can secure it with a large rubber band or tie it with kitchen twine.

 Fill your pudding mold and scrape ever bit of batter.  I'm using a 2 qt. mold.

 Carefully lower your pudding into the simmering water.  Steam for 2 hours and 15 minutes.  From time to time, check your water level and make sure it stays halfway up the sides of your mold.  It's very important to maintain a simmer and NOT a boil.

 After the pudding is done, remove the mold carefully and cool on a rack for 15 minutes undisturbed.  Find a nice cake stand or serving plate and unmold it.  This one sits atop an antique pressed glass cake stand.  The pudding is quite fragrant.

I use my favorite pieces of Wedgwood drabware to serve some tea & a generous wedge of the pudding.  The napkin is Russian jacquard.

A closeup.

Now that I've shown you how easy it is to prepare this pudding, I hope you make it one of your traditions this holiday.