Happy New Year to all of you! Sorry I've been AWOL,  but my daughter and I have been working like crazy to bring my new place into order. We're almost there and I'm going to miss her like mad when she returns to NYC on the 2nd. She's my best friend and THE best helper and organizer I've ever known!

Thank you my darling daughter!



Gingerbread Cupcakes

I thought I'd end my holiday posts with these little beauties. Last Christmas I took them to our Garden Club's annual holiday pot luck dinner. This year, because our club had money in the bank, (Shock!) we chose to cater our annual "do"; such a pleasure to get dressed up and not have to drag a dish and serving utensils along, which invariably everyone forgets to take home. 

These cupcakes were delicious. (Did you notice the rum? Mmmmm.) I seem to be on an Ina Garten kick right now, but I'm not going to apologize as I love her recipes. Anyway, these are easy to eat...you don't need a plate and what fun to serve them mini-style in these adorable little cupcake liners. 

Gingerbread Cupcakes with Orange Icing
2009, Ina Garten, All Rights Reserved

1/4 cup dark rum or water 
1/2 cup golden raisins 
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter 
1 cup unsulfured molasses 
1 cup (8 ounces) sour cream 
1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange zest 
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour 
3/4 teaspoon baking soda 
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger 
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves 
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt 
1/3 cup minced dried crystallized ginger (not in syrup)

For the frosting 
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature 
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature 
1/2 teaspoon orange zest 
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 
1/2 pound confectioners' sugar, sieved
For the decoration: 

6 pieces dried crystallized ginger (not in syrup), sliced in half

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a muffin pan with paper liners. 
Place the rum and raisins in a small pan, cover, and heat until the rum boils. Turn off the heat and set aside. Place the butter and molasses in another small pan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Pour the mixture into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Cool for 5 minutes, then mix in the sour cream and orange zest. 

Meanwhile, sift the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and salt together into a small bowl. Mix with your hand until combined. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the molasses mixture and mix only until smooth. Drain the raisins and add them and the crystallized ginger to the mixture with a spatula. 

Divide the batter among the muffin pan (1 rounded standard ice cream scoop per cup is the right amount). Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from the pan. 

For the frosting, mix the cream cheese, butter, orange zest and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until just combined. Add the sugar and mix until smooth. 

When the cupcakes are cool, frost them generously and garnish with a slice of crystallized ginger. 



Ina's Ham and Cheese in Puff Pastry

Have you made these yet? Honestly, frozen puff pastry makes everything so easy and you can try so many combinations with this appetizer. This was my first attempt but I've made it many times since and used other cheeses and other meats. Try salami, or goat cheese or add some black olives...anything goes. I tend to make a recipe that sounds interesting exactly the way it's written the first time, then experiment.

Ham and Cheese in Puff Pastry
2008, Ina Garten, All Rights Reserved

1 package (2 sheets) frozen puff pastry, defrosted (recommended: Pepperidge Farm)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 pound black forest ham, sliced
1/2 pound Swiss Gruyere cheese, sliced
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Place a piece of parchment paper on a sheet pan.

Lay 1 sheet of puff pastry on a floured board and carefully roll it out to 10 by 12 inches. Place it on a sheet pan and brush the center with the mustard, leaving a 1-inch border around the edge. Place a layer first of ham and then cheese, also leaving a 1-inch border. Brush the border with the egg wash.

Place the second sheet of puff pastry on the floured board and roll it out to 10 by 12inches. Place the second sheet on top of the filled pastry, lining up the edges. Cut the edges straight with a small, sharp knife and press together lightly. Brush the top with egg wash and cut a few slits in the top to allow steam to escape.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until puffed and golden brown. Allow to cool for a few minutes and serve hot or warm.


Honey Cookies

It appears I share a German heritage with Pastry Affair....although I don't remember my grandmother ever making these cookies.  I love the spices, the coffee addition and the anise in the glaze. The sour cream makes these a soft cookie and after tasting them, it's no wonder the recipe has been "shared between mother and daughter, grandmother through granddaughter, and cousin to cousin."  Pastry Affair's family has a winner here.

Honey Cookies

From Pastry Affair

Yields approximately 4 dozen cookies

1 cup honey 
1 cup brown sugar 
1/2 heaping teaspoon cinnamon 
1/2 heaping teaspoon nutmeg 
1/2 heaping teaspoon ground cloves 
1/2 teaspoon anise extract 
1/4 cup butter 
1/4 cup black coffee 
2 eggs, beaten 
1/2 cup sour cream 
1 teaspoons baking soda 
1 teaspoons baking powder 
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

In a large saucepan, bring the honey, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, ground cloves, and anise extract to a boil over medium-high heat. Once boiling, turn off the heat and add the butter and coffee. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature before adding the eggs, sour cream, baking soda, and baking powder. Stir well. Mix in the flour to form a soft dough. Refrigerate overnight. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

On a heavily floured surface, roll out dough to 1/4 inch thick. You may need to work in up to 1/2 cup flour to prevent dough from sticking. Cut out 2 inch round cookies, re-rolling dough as needed. Bake for 12 minutes, or until cookies are lightly browned and puffed. Cool completely before glazing. 

Anise Glaze 

1 cup powdered sugar 
1/8 teaspoon anise extract 
2 teaspoons heavy cream, plus extra if needed

In a small bowl, mix together powdered sugar, anise extract, and heavy cream. If glaze is too thick, add more cream 1 teaspoon at a time until glaze is spreadable. Spread glaze onto cookies and allow to rest for a few minutes for glaze to set before serving.


Alice Medrich's Brownie Bowties

I love this cookie! So adorable and so delicious. What a great addition to your Christmas cookie tray. The cream cheese in the dough makes the crust so nice and tender. I froze a batch....it's always an advantage to be able to freeze your Christmas cookies so you can work ahead when you have time. And these do take a little time, but you can have them done in two hours. (Most of the time is wait time in the fridge. Don't let the long instructions put you off. These are simple to make.) 
Of course, anything Alice Medrich comes up with is the best! 

Brownie Bowties
From Alice Medrich via Fine Cooking Magazine

To make the cookies, you will need:

One-third of a batch (about 14 ounces) chilled Cream Cheese Dough  (recipe follows)
Chilled Brownie Filling  (recipe follows)
1 Tbs. granulated sugar; more as needed 

Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Line two cookie sheets with foil.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator, stand it up on its rounded edge, and cut it in half (as if halving a bagel) into two equal rounds. Return one round to the refrigerator and, if necessary, let the other dough round sit at room temperature until pliable enough to roll. Square off the dough by pressing the round edge on the counter four times. Roll on a lightly floured surface into a 9x11-inch rectangle a scant 1/8 inch thick. As you roll, check frequently to be sure it isn't sticking and reflour lightly as needed.

With a pastry wheel or a knife, trim the rectangle to even the edges. Cut the dough crosswise into quarters and lengthwise into thirds to make 12 squares. Set 1 rounded teaspoon of the brownie filling in the center of each square. Set a dish of water on the counter. Pick up two opposite corners of a square, moisten one with a wet fingertip, overlap the corners by about 1/2 inch, and gently press them together over the filling to seal the dough and flatten the filling slightly. Transfer to a foil-lined baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining squares of dough, arranging the cookies 1-1/2 inches apart. If the dough becomes too soft to handle at any point, refrigerate briefly to firm it. Roll and fill the second piece of dough.

Sprinkle the cookies liberally with sugar. Put both sheets in the oven and bake until golden brown on the bottom, 17 to 20 minutes, rotating the pans from top to bottom and front to back about halfway through baking. Let the cookies cool on the sheets for a few minutes before transferring them to racks to cool completely.

Cream Cheese Dough

17 oz. (3-3/4 cups) bleached all-purpose flour 
3 Tbs. granulated sugar 
3/8 tsp. table salt 
12 oz. (1-1/2 cups) cold unsalted butter 
12 oz. cold cream cheese (in bricks)  

Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, mix briefly to distribute the ingredients. Cut each stick of butter into eight pieces and add them to the bowl. Mix on low speed until most of the mixture resembles very coarse bread crumbs with a few larger pieces of butter the size of hazelnuts, about 3 minutes. Cut the cream cheese into 1-inch cubes and add them to the bowl. Mix on medium-low speed until a shaggy-looking dough begins to clump around the paddle, 30 to 60 seconds. Dump the dough onto the work surface, scraping the bowl. Knead a few times to incorporate any loose pieces. There should be large streaks of cream cheese. Shape it into a fat cylinder, 6 inches long and about 3-1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the dough in parchment or waxed paper and refrigerate until cold and slightly firm but not rock-hard, about 2 hours. Portion the dough by measuring the cylinder and cutting it into equal thirds. If you have a scale, weigh each third; each should weigh about 14 oz.

Brownie Filling 

 2 oz. (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, cut into 5 or 6 pieces 
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped 
Scant 1/2 cup granulated sugar 
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract 
1/8 tsp. table salt 
1 cold large egg 
1 Tbs. all-purpose flour 

Melt the butter and chocolate in a metal bowl set in a skillet of barely simmering water, or in the top of a double boiler. Stir frequently with a rubber spatula until the mixture is melted and smooth. Remove the bowl from the water or double boiler. Stir in the sugar, vanilla, and salt. Stir in the egg. Add the flour and stir until the mixture is smooth and glossy and cohesive, about a minute. Cover and refrigerate until the filling thickens and is fudgy, at least 1 hour.


Kurt's Chestnut Soup

OK, I know. I cheated. But I have a great excuse: unpacking from the move. Still, I wanted to share this with you before Christmas. A brief respite, if you will, from my cookie recipes.

When my daughter gave me Kurt Gutenbrunner's cookbook last year, I immediately wanted to make his apple strudel.

She said oh no, make his chestnut soup first, it's ambrosial. I meant to make it for you this December, I really did, but while I was in NYC recently, we went to Wallsé for dinner and I ordered it. And took a (not very good) photo with my cell phone. It was the easy way out when I'm so busy.  
Of course, Tracy was right, the soup was divine. She and Kurt have been friends for quite a while and Tracy's held several gallery opening night dinners at his restaurant.

Kurt has several restaurants, one right across the street from where she lives, Blaue Gans, on Duane Street in TriBeCa. She eats there regularly and I've been there too, but this trip, she treated me to a meal at Wallsé
. Double yum. As I have the cookbook, I'll share the recipe and the photo I took of the soup and hope you'll forgive me for bending the foodie rules by not actually making it myself. Next year, I swear I'll make it at home and let you know if mine turned out as well. (I very much doubt it.)

Chestnut-Soup Viennese Melange With Black Truffles
Courtesy of Kurt Gutenbrunner

3/4 cup armagnac or cognac
8 whole pitted prunes
12 ounces button mushrooms, washed
2 dried porcini mushrooms or other flavorful dried mushrooms
1 pound fresh peeled chestnuts
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium-size celery root, peeled, dark spots removed, and diced
Salt and white pepper
1 tablespoon sugar
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups skim milk, hot
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

1 fresh black truffle (optional) 

8 parsley leaves

Early in the day or the night before, put the armagnac, prunes, and 1/2 cup water in a saucepan, and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat, cover the pan, and allow the prunes to steep for 6 hours or overnight. (The prunes can be refrigerated in an airtight jar for a week.)
Put the button mushrooms in a saucepan, cover with water, and simmer for 1 hour. Remove and discard the mushrooms (there should be at least 1 cup of juice). Pulverize the dried porcini mushrooms in a coffee grinder.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. With a sharp paring knife, cut an X into the flat side of each chestnut. Place the nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet, and roast in the middle of the oven for 10 to 12 minutes, until the shell curls. Remove from oven, and allow to cool. Peel and discard the shells, reserving the chestnuts.
Melt the butter over low heat in a large, heavy saucepan. Add the celery root, and cook gently for 5 minutes without browning. Add the peeled chestnuts, and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the sugar, increase the heat, and cook for a few minutes, until the mixture caramelizes. Add the remaining armagnac and cook for a minute. Pour in the reserved mushroom juice and the chicken stock, reduce the heat, and cook slowly for 15 minutes. Add the cream, and cook for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from heat, and allow to cool for about 5 minutes. Transfer soup to a blender in batches, and purée thoroughly for several minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Strain purée through a fine sieve, and reheat. (Can be made up to this point a day in advance and refrigerated.)Place 1 room-temperature drained prune in each of 8 soup bowls. Put the milk in a tall, slender container, and add ı teaspoon of the porcini powder and the nutmeg. Using a nozzle on an espresso machine or a separate foaming device, foam the hot milk. Divide the soup among the soup bowls, and top with a scoop of the foam, a shaving of black truffle, if desired, and a parsley leaf. Serve immediately.


Cranberry Rum Shortbread Cookies

It's December! Are you ready?
Get in the mood with this:

And then, by making these!

Calling these gems Cranberry Rum Shortbreads might a little off base. I'd call them RUM Cranberry Shortbreads. They pack quite a kick. You know what they say about listing the main ingredient first. Well, it's what you taste first.  :) 

Now it might be because I used dark rum, but I doubt it. Every year it seems I post a cranberry shortbread of some kind. I love having them in the freezer ready to slice and bake. But I must say, these are not your usual shortbreads. Not very sweet, although you could sprinkle them with some confectioners sugar, but oh the booze. Who needs sweetness when you've got dark rum as a flavor?? 

I plan to take them to a few parties this season. They look so innocent in the photo, don't they? Don't be taken in. Leave them out for your favorite Santa!

Cranberry Rum Shortbread Cookies
From Everybody Likes Sandwiches, adapted from a 1980s recipe in the Vancouver Sun newspaper

1 c dried cranberries
1/2 c rum
1 c butter, softened
1 T orange zest
1/2 t vanilla extract
1/2 c icing (powdered) sugar
2 c all purpose flour
1/4 t salt
1/4 t baking powder

In a small saucepan, bring cranberries and rum to a boil. Remove from heat and let stand for 30 minutes until the rum is absorbed into the cranberries. Set aside to cool.
Cream butter, zest, vanilla and sugar together. In another bowl, mix flour, salt and baking powder – add gradually to the creamed mixture. Add the dried cranberries, stirring until just combined. Shape dough into 2 rolls, about 1 1/2? each in diameter. Wrap tightly in parchment paper and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375F. Slice each log into cookies about 1/4? thick and place on a prepared cookie sheet (I always line mine with silpat or ungreased parchment). Cookies don’t spread very much, so you can bake more at once if you like. Bake for about 10 minutes or until the edges are lightly golden. Cool on a wire rack. 

Sprinkle with icing (powdered) sugar if desired.


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