Wham bam biscotti

My macaron mojo has apparently left the building. I hosted a book club meeting at my house on Sunday night and was intent on dropping a batch of these babies on my guests. If you’ll recall from my previous posts, my most recent attempt at macarons didn’t go so well.

The first few batches I made at the first of the year turned out beautifully, with little “feet” at the bottom of the cookies and everything. Must have been beginner’s luck, because the last time I tried to make them about a month ago, all sorts of things went wrong. First, the dough wasn’t loose enough and the cookies cracked and bubbled as they baked. Then, the dough was too wet and they didn’t rise at all. One thing after another, yadda yadda yadda. Three batches in a row – all disastrous.

On Sunday afternoon, I felt up for another go. Mixed the batter, piped them out and realized they were too stiff. Proud of myself for recognizing the problem while I still had time to correct it, I scraped them back into the bowl, whipped up a couple more egg whites, folded them into the batter and tried again. As they rested on the cookie sheets before baking, they looked much better. Even my piping was fairly consistent. I thought to myself “now that’s more like it! Finally!”

It came time to throw them in the oven, but when the timer went off and I took them out, they looked pathetic. Bubbly and full of holes, barely risen. Disgusted, I tossed them straight into the trashcan without even sampling one and started looking for other cookie recipes to make for my gals. You win, macarons. I give up.

After some consideration, I came across a butterscotch biscotti recipe I’d made once before several years ago. Hm. I had all the ingredients on hand, and it required no sifting or electric mixing. I was suddenly back in business.

The recipe I was using as a blueprint called for a few tablespoons of bourbon and the additions of butterscotch chips and almonds. I can’t make anything like this without putting my own individual stamp on it, so I replaced the bourbon with coffee and left out the chips and nuts, figuring I’d work them in as toppings later.

After I’d mixed the dough, the directions said to shape it into two flat logs. Only problem with this was that the dough seemed very wet and sticky, so every time I tried to flatten it into the requisite shape, it soundly refused to go quietly into that good night. It stuck to my hands like glue and was impossible to form correctly. I somehow figured out to wet my hands in between pats to coax it into the right shape, stuck it in the oven and nervously hoped for the best.

Lo and behold, after the required 20 minutes, the dough had risen into little flat domes just like it was supposed to. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and took the loaves out of the oven. Once they are cool enough to handle, you slice them thinly to make the biscotti and then stick them back in the oven to toast on all sides, turning every few minutes or so until they’re golden brown and crunchy all over.

You can either mix stuff into the dough to flavor it from the get go – chocolate chips, spices, nuts, etc. – or you can follow my lead and dress up the cookies once they’re baked. I melted some chocolate chips in the microwave with a tiny bit of cream to make a quick ganache, which I then used to frost the biscotti on one side. It still needed a little something to increase the wow factor, so I sprinkled chopped almonds on some and toasted sesame seeds on others. You may think sesame an odd choice in this instance, but I’m telling ya, it was awesome.  Almost like a peanut flavor, and a great combo with the chocolate.

All in all, the biscotti went over well. In fact, I just whipped up another batch this afternoon. Take that, macarons.

Basic biscotti

(Makes about two dozen)

Ingredients:

1/2 c. butter, melted

1 cup brown sugar, packed lightly

4 tablespoons strong coffee, cooled (or replace with bourbon or brandy if you want to get a little crazy!)

4 eggs

2 tsp. Vanilla

2 1/2 c. flour

1 1/2 tsp. Baking powder

1/4 tsp. Kosher salt

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl, mix the melted butter, brown sugar and coffee until smooth. Add the eggs one by one, mixing well to incorporate between each addition, then stir in the vanilla. Add the flour, baking powder and salt, mix well to combine.

Line two rectangular baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat. Divide the dough evenly between the two cookie sheets and shape each into one long flat log around 1/2 inch high. Try to spread the dough as evenly as you can, wetting your hands lightly as you go to prevent sticking.

Bake the logs for 18 to 20 minutes, rotating the pans once at the halfway mark, until dough is solid and has risen slightly. Remove the baking sheets from the oven and let cool slightly.

When the dough is cool enough to handle, transfer each log onto a large cutting board. Using a long, serrated bread knife, slice the dough on a diagonal into 1/2 inch widths. Return all the cookies back to the baking sheets, placing them on their sides and spacing them out as far as possible.

Put the cookies back in the oven for another 15 to 20 minutes, flipping all the cookies over once halfway through the baking time. When they’re light golden brown and toasted on both sides, they’re done.

(As I mentioned before, there are all sorts of ways you can jazz these up:  mix chocolate chips, butterscotch chips or nuts into the dough before baking; or frost/glaze them with icing of your choice, then sprinkle with chopped nuts or jimmies.)

Buon appetito!

chocolate almond and chocolate sesame biscotti

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Visions of sugarplums

The newly minted Top Chef Just Desserts season has kicked my sweet tooth into overdrive. (What’s with all the drama, by the way? An open plea to Top Chef producers – PLEASE just stick to the food. Leave the whining, bitching and bipolar episodes to Hell’s Kitchen. I expected more a little more from you. Here’s hoping you’ll redeem yourself with Top Chef All Stars…)

The holidays demand sweets. That’s just all there is to it. When I was growing up, one of the events I most looked forward to was our church’s annual holiday tasting party. Each year on the first Sunday evening of advent, the church played host to a huge seasonal program. Following the big show, the tasting party would take over the basement to offer table upon table laden with every imaginative use of sugar one could fathom. All created by the loving hands of the church ladies and you know as well as I do, no one cooks like a church lady.

Here how’s it worked:  you’d grab a paper plate and troll the aisles, loading up with anything that struck your fancy. Cookies, brownies, buckeyes, cupcakes, Rice Krispies treats, bars, chocolate-covered whatever, sweet Chex mix, corn flake wreaths, peanut butter fudge, butterscotch chow mein noodle haystacks… good grief. It’s enough to send me into sugar shock just thinking about it. Looking back, I’m not sure how it was successfully managed, but it was. I don’t think actual fights broke out over the last item on any given plate, but the potential was definitely there. I do seem to remember an awful lot of hyper children running around that basement.

Every year around the first of December, I start sorting through my cookie recipes, intending to recreate some old favorites and maybe try a few new ones. I even picked up a jar of red and green holiday sanding sugar at Michael’s the other day in anticipation of this year’s baking extravaganza.

I’d like to try my hand at sugar cookies and gingerbread men, but I’ve traditionally not had good luck with these kinds of dough. In fact, the last time I attempted to make gingerbread men, I recall spending an entire afternoon painstakingly mixing, rolling, cutting, decorating and baking them, only to bite into one and discover that it tasted like nothing but straight-up flour. Bleh.

To me, nothing says Christmas like the winning combination of chocolate and mint. (It even brings back fond memories of mixing up mugs of peppermint schnapps-spiked hot chocolate in my IU dorm freshman year.) I’ve got a wickedly decadent recipe for crème de menthe brownies, and another for double chocolate chip cookies with crushed candy canes that I plan on dusting off within the next week or so.

Creme de menthe brownies

I’m all for collecting other ideas and suggestions. If you’ve got a favorite cookie recipe, holiday or otherwise, feel free to post as a comment below. In the meantime, here’s a recipe I made several times last year to much acclaim. It’s super easy, doesn’t require many ingredients to fuss with, and is consistently delicious. Enjoy – and bring on the sweet eats!

Cookies ‘n creme fudge

3 (6 ounce) packages white chocolate baking squares

1 (14 ounce) can EAGLE BRAND® Sweetened Condensed Milk

1/8 teaspoon salt

3 cups crushed Oreos (it could be fun to experiment with other cookies as well)

In a heavy saucepan over low heat, melt the white chocolate squares, sweetened condensed milk and salt. Remove from heat and stir in crushed cookies.

Spread evenly into a wax paper-lined 8-inch square pan. Chill 2 hours or until firm.

Turn fudge out onto a cutting board; peel off the wax paper and cut into squares. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.