Friday, April 30, 2010

Italian Seven Layer Almond Cookies

Italian Seven Layer Almond Cookies

I usually order my almond paste online when I will be making a large quanity of marzipan. This year I ordered 2 pounds of natural almond paste for my  Easter Hat cookies and marzipan carrots. Well imagine my surprise when I opened the container and the almond paste was brown instead of the creamy almond color. My first thought was the almond paste had spoiled and I checked the expiration date, which was still many months in the future. Upon closer inspection I could see the bits of the skins in it which turned it the brown color. I guess natural means the almond were not blanched to remove the skin prior to processing. The taste was the same, but the color was too dark to make the marzipan because it was going to be covered with a pastel fondant, and I didn't want the brown to show through.
Since I had all that almond paste it was the perfect time to try something new. After some recipe browsing, my first choice was these Seven Layer Italian cookies. Traditionally the layers are colored red, white and green, but since I had natural almond paste, I didn't want to add unnatural color. These are easy cookies to make, but they do require 8 hour of chilling before finishing.

These bar cookies are the perfect balance of almond, apricot, and chocolate. The cake is soft and creamy but the chocolate layer gives it just the right amount of crunch. The food coloring is a fun touch that can be adapted to any occassion, or completely left out. You could also use several different preserves such as raspberry or strawberry to change the flavor combinations. I know these were a hit here because they disappeared so quickly, and now I have the perfect recipe to use up any leftover almond paste.

Seven Layer Almond cookies
via Epicurious

4 large eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1 (8-oz) can almond paste
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
25 drops red food coloring  (I omitted food coloring)
25 drops green food coloring
1 (12-oz) jar apricot preserves, heated and strained
7 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped

1. Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 13- by 9-inch baking pan and line bottom with wax paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on 2 ends, then butter paper. I had more than one 9x13 so I did this for three pans because you have to make the three layers of the cake separately before you put them all together. It can still be done with one or two pans, there is just some waiting time in between.
2. Beat whites in mixer fitted with whisk attachment at medium-high speed until they just hold stiff peaks. Add 1/4 cup sugar a little at a time, beating at high speed until whites hold stiff, slightly glossy peaks. Transfer to another bowl.
3. Switch to paddle attachment, then beat together almond paste and remaining 3/4 cup sugar until well blended, about 3 minutes. Add butter and beat until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add yolks and almond extract and beat until combined well, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low, then add flour and salt and mix until just combined.
4. Fold half of egg white mixture into almond mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly.
5. Divide batter between the 3 pans, spread evenly.
         If using food color: Divide batter among 3 bowls. Stir red food coloring into one and green
          food coloring into another, leaving the third batch plain.  Bake in prepared pans.  If you only
          have one baking pan refirgerate that batter until ready to bake.

6. Bake layers 8 to 10 minutes, until just set. (It is important not to overcook. They’ll look like they’re not done, but a tester does come out clean.)

When all layers are cool, invert one layer (green) onto a parchment or wax-paper-lined large baking sheet. Discard paper from layer and spread with half of preserves. Invert a second layer (white) on top of the first layer, discarding paper. Spread with remaining preserves. Invert the thrid (red) layer on top of 2nd layer and discard wax or parchment paper.

Cover with plastic wrap and weight with a large baking pan. Chill at least 8 hours.

Remove weight and plastic wrap. Bring layers to room temperature. Melt 1/2 of chocolate in a double boiler or a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat. Keep chocolate over water.
Trim edges of assembled layers with a long serrated knife. Quickly spread the chocolate in a thin layer on top of cake. Chill, uncovered, until chocolate is firm, about 15 minutes. Cover with another sheet of wax paper and place another baking sheet on top, then invert cake onto sheet and remove paper. Melt remaining chocolate as above and spread chocolate over the top of the cake. Chill until firm, about 30 minutes.

Cut lengthwise into 4 strips about 1 1/2 inches wide.  Cut strips crosswise into 3/4-inch-wide cookies.

printable recipe

These will be my entry for Foodie Friday

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sticky Toffee Pudding and Chockablock Cookies

It's Tuesday April 27 and TWD collides with the Daring Bakers, so you get a two-fer. The Daring Bakers April Challenge was a steamed pudding and Tuesday's with Dorie selection was chockablock cookies.

Over at the Daring Bakers the April 2010 challenge was hosted by Esther of  the Lilac Kitchen. She challenged everyone to make a traditional British pudding using, if possible, a very traditional British ingredient: suet.

The Daring Bakers is a group project in our house. I joined the group so that I would have a fun way to teach my children a variety of baking skills that I take for granted. Having made steamed pudding (cakes) before I wanted them to pick a British recipe, something they might eat at a British table. A google search revealed several traditional British recipes: Roly-poly, Hasty, Teacle, Stickey Toffee and Spotted Dick. Since I have teenagers, there was no way Spotted Dick was going to make it to our table as they just couldn't get past the name without minutes of giggling and jokes, so we finally settled on Sticky Toffee Pudding. Since we couldn't find suet, we chose a recipe that didn't require it but this cake still turned out to be a good choice. It was a nice moist cake, mildly flavored with dates and covered in a gooey toffee sauce. Since the recipe made more batter than my mold could hold we baked the remaining batter in a small cake pan in the oven so we could compare baked versus steamed. They both came out delicious and moist, so whatever way is easier for you is the way to go. To the baked one we added chocolate chips, which completely over powered the date flavor, but was delicious with the toffee sauce. If you wanted to make a chocolate pudding, replace about a quarter cup of the flour with cocoa powder, and  add some chocolate chips.
Sticky Date Pudding with Toffee Sauce
adapted from Gourmet May 1998

For pudding
• 1 3/4 cups packed pitted dates (about 10 ounces)
• 2 cups water
• 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
• 1 cup granulated sugar
• 3 large eggs

For sauce
• 1 3/4 sticks (3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
• 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
• 1 cup heavy cream
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 salt

Make pudding:

1. Butter and flour an 8-inch square baking pan or pudding mold , knocking out excess flour.
2. Fill the bottom of a pot large enough to hold you mold with water put a rack in the bottom to hold you mold just above the water and bring to a boil. I used my pasta pot placed the mold in the inner pot.
3. Coarsely chop dates and in a 1 1/2- to 2-quart saucepan simmer dates in water, uncovered, 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat and stir in baking soda. (Mixture will foam.) Let mixture stand 20 minutes. Pulse with an immersion blender to puree the dates; there should be some texture to the dates.
4. While mixture is standing, into a bowl sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl with an electric mixer beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour mixture in 3 batches, beating after each addition until just combined. Add date mixture and with a wooden spoon stir batter until just combined well.
5. Pour batter into baking pan and cover  tightly with butter aluminum foil. Set the pan in the steamer, cover steamer pan with lid and simmer for 2 hours  (adding water as necessary to prevent the pan from going dry,) or until a tested inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove pan from steamer and cool pudding to warm on a rack.

Make sauce while pudding is cooling:
In a 1 1/2- to 2-quart heavy saucepan melt butter over moderate heat and add brown sugar. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally, and stir in cream and vanilla. Simmer sauce, stirring occasionally, until thickened slightly, about 5 minutes. It will continue to thicken as it cools. Cool sauce to warm.

Unmold and pour 1/4 of the toffee sauce over top of cake. Pour additional sauce over each slice of cake and serve with whipped cream or ice cream.
printable recipe

At TWD, Mary of Popsicles and Sandy Feet decided on Chockablock Cookies.  I was skeptical about these cookies, since they contained practically everything but the kitchen sink.  Butter, sugar, molasses, chocolate chips, coconut, nuts and raisins seemed like a ridiculously long ingredient list. I made 1/2 the recipe and got 18 large cookies, which disappeared fast. All of the flavors came together to make a rich, well balanced, crisp on the outsides and chewy in the middle cookie.

I used walnuts and included the raisins and coconut in our cookies. You could hardly tell the coconut was there, so it's not a deal breaker if you don't use it. Theses cookie are very rich and best enjoyed with a glass of cold milk. They would be equally delicious with cherries or cranberries and maybe white chocolate chips.

If you want the recipe for this flavorful cookie visit Mary. To see what the other bakers cooked up visit our TWD blogroll .

Friday, April 23, 2010

Stuffed Shells

Stuffed shells are a family favorite, so when Mimi Jr. said she wanted to learn to make them we spent a fun afternoon in the kitchen making all the different components. They are a little time consuming, but you do it in several steps which can all be done ahead of time so all you have to do is bake the assembled dish. Along with the ricotta filling that you most often see, we also did a veal and Italian sausage filling. The filled shells are covered by both a bechamel and a marinara sauce and it is all topped with fresh mozzarella and Parmesan. With a nice salad and glass of wine we had the perfect little Italian restaurant right at home!

There are lots of shortcuts to make this a quick and easy dinner. When the children were small, and I cooked by myself, I would just make the cheeses filling covered with balsamella and cheese.  The recipes can easily be halved or doubled to make the amount that suits your family. I like to double the marinara sauce and freeze half for another time, but you could also use your favorite jarred sauce.

24 Jumbo shells- we got 12 of each filling
Marinara sauce
Balsamella (bechamel) sauce
cheese filling
sausage/veal filling
1 lb fresh mozzarella grated
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Marinara Sauce
2 tablespoons Olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped carrots
1 tablespoon chopped basil
2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
1 bay leaf
2 lb plus 6 oz crushed tomatoes
1 6 oz can tomato paste
fresh ground pepper
Pinch of sugar

1. Heat the oil and butter in a heavy skillet. Add onions and cook over low heat about 10 minutes, until soft and opaque. Stir in carrots and cook 4 minutes. Add basil, parsley and bay leaf, stir to incorporate.
2.Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, pepper and sugar. Simmer for 30 to 45 minutes
3. Puree the sauce in a food mill or food processor. Leave some texture to the sauce.

Balsamella Sauce
6 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1 /2 cup cream
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Melt the butter over moderate heat; add the flour and stir together thoroughly.
2. Add the milk and cream and mix together. Stirring constantly, bring the sauce to a boil. When thick and smooth, stir in salt, pepper and nutmeg. Mix well and remove from heat. Stir as it cool to prevent skin from forming. If it does form a skin, just add a little more milk and warm it up again.

Cheese Filling
1 lb ricotta cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 clove minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon each of salt and freshly ground pepper
3 egg yolks or 2 whole eggs
2 tablespoons chopped scallions or chives
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1/4 lb. diced mozzarella

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir to thoroughly incorporate the ingredients. Cover and chill until ready to fill the shells.

Sausage and Veal Filling
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped shallots or onions
1/2 lb sweet Italian sausage
1/2 lb ground lean veal
6 tablespoons fine bread crumbs
1/2 cup cream
2 eggs
1 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
1/2 teaspoon each chopped fresh rosemary, lemon zest and salt
freshly ground pepper.

1.Heat the oil over moderate heat, add the onions and saute for about 5 minutes, stirring often. When they just begin to color add the sausage meat and cook until it loses its pink color. Add the veal, saute for 3-4 minutes until it too has lost its pink color. Drain off the fat.
2.In a large bowl soak the  bread crumbs in the cream for 3-4 minutes.  Add the cook meat and beat together with a wooden spoon until the mixture is fairly smooth, than beat in the eggs 1 at a time. Stir in the parsley, rosemary,lemon zest, salt, and pepper.
To assemble the shells:
Cook the pasta until al dente. We did this in 2 batches of 12 shells each. Lay them on a clean kitchen towel to cool before you fill them. Butter a large casserole dish or several smaller ones. Stuff the shells with about 2 tablespoons of the filling and place them in the dish(es) so they are close, but not too squished together.
Pour the marinara and balsamella sauces over the top and spread to cover evenly. Sprinkle the parmesan and mozzarella cheeses over the top and bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

This my entry for Foodie Friday

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

TWD:Sweet Cream Biscuits

Sweet Cream Biscuits

This week's recipe Sweet Cream Biscuits was chosen by Melissa of Love At First Bite. I have a tried and true biscuit recipe, but I am always willing to try another variation of something I love, and everyone was glad I made these. The crusty outside was perfectly balanced by the creamy interior and the slightly sweet flavor was a nice change from everyday butter biscuits. For such a rich biscuit, they were suprisingly light and fluffy.

We had these for breakfast, which I think is the perfect time to serve them. They were really easy to throw together and were excellent with a little butter and jam or as a side to some bacon and eggs. I still love my standby buttery drop biscuit recipe, but I will definitely make these again when I am in the mood for a sweet and easy way to start the day.

Thank You Melissa for a great pick this week.  If you want to see the success of the other TWD bakers, check our blogroll.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Coconut Ice Cream

Coconut Ice Cream

After the TWD coconut tea cakes I had about a cup of regular coconut milk leftover. Since Mimi Jr. and Boy Mimi are avid coconut fans, coconut ice cream seemed like a good way to used that up. I've never been much of a coconut lover but I am becoming a convert.

Coconut Ice Cream
1 cup regluar coconut milk
1 - 14oz can light coconut milk
1 cup cream
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 to 1  tsp coconut extract (to taste)
*The amount of coconut extract is up to you. The first time I made this I didn't use extract and the coconut flavor was almost too mild. Remember, the flavors will seem to be muted in the frozen final product, so if it tastes a little strong beforehand, it's ok*

 toasted coconut, for serving

Mix together all ingredients except toasted coconut.  Stir to dislove sugar. Pour into ice cream maker and freeze according to directions. It took me about 45 minutes in my Cuisnart model, resulting in a soft serve ice cream. For a firmer ice cream I put it in a freezer safe container and tossed in in the freezer for an additional hour or so. Serve sprinkled with toasted coconut. 

Even Mr. Mimi and Mini Me who are avowed coconut haters enjoyed this mild flavored ice cream. The crispy toasted coconut on top really picked up the coconut flavor for my two coconut lovers and the added crunch was the perfect contrast to the rich and smooth ice cream. Boy Mimi said next time he is going to mix in some dark chocolate bits or toasted almonds to make an Almond Joy/Mounds ice cream, but as with any ice cream, the possibilities are endless!

This is the cuisinart ice cream maker that my family bought for me.  It's a compressor model (ICE-50BC), so no ice or pre freezing the canister is necessary. It makes most ice creams is 30 to 45 minutes to a soft serve consistency. The only draw back is that it is a bit noisy, but that's a small price to pay for fresh ice cream.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

TWD: Swedish Visiting Cake

This week Nancy of The Dogs Eat the Crumbs selected Swedish Visiting Cake. This cake was a winner all around. It was so easy to throw together, and in less than an hour I had a delicious cake with a moist center and perfectly crunchy outer edge. The almonds and sugar on top were a simple way to add a little more crunch and touch of sweetness in every bite. Of course if you feel the need to embellish, there are no limits to the possibilities; you could add chopped or grated apple as they would be delicious with the lemon and almond, or you could add a little cinnamon and nutmeg or sliced pears and anise. But truth be told, this cake is fabulous just the way it is..
 Everyone loved the delicate lemon and almond flavors in this cake. Boy Mimi wanted to be sure that I included the recipe in my family recipe book. Because this cake is so simple and quick, and can be tweaked in so many ways, it's perfect for those days when you want a sweet treat, but don't have anything fancy on hand. I know I will be making this one again soon!

Swedish Visiting Cake
Dorie Greenspan Baking:from my home to yours

1 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 large eggs 
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
About 1/4 cup sliced almonds (blanched or not)
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a seasoned 9-inch cast-iron skillet or other heavy ovenproof skillet, a 9-inch cake pan or even a pie pan.

Pour the sugar into a medium bowl. Add the zest and blend the zest and sugar together with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and aromatic.

Whisk in the eggs one at a time until well blended. Whisk in the salt and the extracts.

Switch to a rubber spatula and stir in the flour.

Finally, fold in the melted butter. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Scatter the sliced almonds over the top and sprinkle with a little sugar. If you're using a cake or pie pan, place the pan on a baking sheet.

Bake the cake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until it is golden and a little crisp on the outside; the inside will remain moist. Remove the pan from the oven and let the cake cool for 5 minutes, then run a thin knife around the sides and bottom of the cake to loosen it. You can serve the cake warm or cooled, directly from the skillet or turned out onto a serving plate. 
printable recipe
Nancy, thanks for a great pick this week. If you want to see what the other TWD bakers thought, visit our blogroll.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Orange Buttermilk Scones

 These buttery scones are tender and light with a sweet orange flavor. The sugar topping lends a nice crispy crunch. They are best eaten fresh out of the oven and are perfect as they are, no butter or jam necessary.

To get a head start for the morning I need them, I mix the flour/sugar mixture with the butter the night before and let it chill over night in the refrigerator. In the morning all I have to do is add the orange zest, the buttermilk and bake.
The simple orange zest recipe is our family favorite, but you could add a handful of dried cherries or cranberries, some chopped nuts, or any zest or extract to make these scones any flavor you desire.

Orange Buttermilk Scones
Adapted from Baking with Julia
3 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoons salt
6 oz butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons orange zest.
For baking:
1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 425F.
Mix together  flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add cold butter and mix with a pastry blender or fork. The mixture should resemble coarse corn meal; you should have some small (size of peas) chunks of butter (this is where I cover it with plastic wrap and leave it over night in the refrigerator). Mix in orange zest and buttermilk to form a soft dough. Gather the dough into a ball pressing it gently to make sure it holds together. Place dough on floured board; knead about 6-8 turns, divide the dough in half.  Roll each half of dough into a 1/2inch thick circle. Cut into six (or eight) wedges. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of sugar. Place on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 425F for 10-12 minutes

This was my entry for  Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum.  Stop by and check out all of the tasty recipes.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

TWD: Coconut Tea Cake

Coconut Tea Cake

This week we had the choice of making Mocha -Walnut Marbled Bundt cake selected by Erin of When in Doubt Leave It At 350 or Coconut Tea Cake, chosen by Carmen of Carmen Cooks. For the coming Easter holiday we chose the Coconut Tea Cake.

We made the lime version and used mini bundt pans. Theses easy cakes were moist and tender, but despite doubling the amount of lime zest, the lime flavor was very faint and you wouldn't even know there was coconut in the recipe. Next time I would add citrus oil and/or coconut extract. This is a good basic recipe, and you could really add any number of extracts or oils to make it your own.
Coconut Tea Cakes
Baking: from my home to yours Dorie Greenspan
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons dark rum
3/4 cup shredded coconut
Pre heat oven to 350F.  Butter and flour  a 9 to 10 inch bundt pan or mini bundts.(I used 1/2 recipe for 6 mini bundts) Don't place on a baking sheet you want the heat to circulate through the inner tube.
Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together.
Pour coconut milk into a small sauce pan, add the butter and heat until the milk is hot and the butter melted. Remove from heat, but keep warm.
Working with a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment beat the eggs and sugar at medium-high speed until pale, thick. and almost doubled in volume, about 3 minutes. Beat in the vanilla and the rum.  Reduce mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed and stopping just when the flour disappears..
Keeping the mixer on low, add the coconut, mixing only until it is blended, then steadily add the hot milk and butter. When the mixture is smooth, stop mixing and give the batter a couple of turns with a spatula just to make certain that all the ingredients are fully incorporated.  Pour the batter into prepared pan(s) and bake for 60-65 minutes for regular bundt 20-25 for mini bunts or until the cake is golden brown and a thin knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean. Cool on. A wire rack for 10 minutes before unmolding cool to room temperature

This was really perfect served with just a dusting of confectioner's sugar. If you would like the recipe for the fabulous tea cake stop on over at Carmen's and  if you want to see what the other TWD bakers thought just visit our blogroll.