Do Or Pie


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Carrot Cake

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Not so long ago, in the days before web clipping apps and saving-everything-important-as-an-email-draft, I made a really excellent carrot cake. Regrettably, I have no idea where the recipe came from. It might have been one of those generic crowd-sourced recipe websites (I think)? I wanted to make a lemon meringue pie the other day and, what do you know, I didn’t save that recipe either. In typical twenty-something fashion, I’ve learned something new that every real adult already knows: if you want to remember what you made, you have to actually save the recipe somewhere. I’m still working on this “real adult” thing.

Second lesson learned: weighing ingredients makes a lot of sense. I’m not an obsessively precise baker but I’ve been reading the Flour cookbook by Joanne Chang pretty closely and she is a huge supporter of adding ingredients by weight rather than volume. The reasoning actually makes sense. Ingredients are packed differently depending on the manufacturer, and 1 cup of flour might not be the same quantity as 1 cup of flour from a different bag. She says the difference can be as much as 1/4 cup (!!). While making Joanne Chang’s carrot cake I actually went for it and weighed some of my ingredients. I don’t know if it made a difference but at least I don’t feel the guilt of that 1/4 cup lost or gained. We’ll see how long the habit lasts.

This cake was really excellent. Moist, carroty, nutty, and a good ratio of cake to frosting. Definitely give it a try when you’re sick of Christmas cookies.

Happy holidays!

Adapted from the Flour Cookbook by Joanne Chang

Cake
2 eggs
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup canola oil
3 tbs buttermilk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tbs (160 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
2 cups (260 grams) shredded carrots
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Frosting
12 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 2/3 cups confectioner’s sugar

1. In a Cuisinart, shred carrots and set aside.

2. In a standing mixer, beat together sugars and eggs for about 4 minutes on a medium-high speed. Mixture should be thick and light-colored.

3. In a separate bowl, combine oil, butter milk, and vanilla. Add this mixture into the sugar/eggs and combine.

4. In another bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and ginger. Add dry ingredients into wet ingredients a little bit at a time. When combined, add shredded carrots and walnuts with a spatula and fold in.

5. Butter and flour 2 8-inch round cake pans. Add equal amounts of batter to each.

6. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. Check frequently for the top to be just spongey and for the cake to pull away from the sides of the pan. Let cakes cool for about 30 minutes before frosting.

To make the frosting:

In a mixer, beat cream cheese until smooth. Add butter and combine. Add confectioners sugar. Frosting should be smooth and creamy.

Remove 1 cake from pan, frost top liberally. Add second cake on top, cover with remaining frosting.

You can add toasted walnuts to the top if you’re into that. Recruit your sister to do it artfully (she’s good at that sort of thing. Hi Rachael.)

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Almond Cherry Linzer Cookies

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Everyone should read this endearing article about making Christmas cookies.
Choice quote: “It’s cookies, not the Olympics.” So true.

I had a realization: I’ve been calling these “linzer tarts” when technically they are just “linzer cookies.” Did anyone else not know this? A linzer tart is cut into slices… you know, like a tart. A linzer cookie is the cookie version of the same dessert. I keep reciting that line in my head from When Harry Met Sally in Billy Crysal’s excellent bumbling New York accent: “What does this song mean? My whole life, I don’t know what this song means!” *  Ok maybe not a precise analogy, but a serious realization nonetheless.

* Harry on “Auld Lang Syne”: I mean, ‘Should old acquaintance be forgot’? Does that mean that we should forget old acquaintances, or does it mean if we happened to forget them, we should remember them, which is not possible because we already forgot?

These cookies tasted wonderfully nutty and buttery. The cherry jam and almond cookie went together perfectly, although raspberry would have been equally delicious. The original recipe asked for hazelnuts in the dough but you can substitute almonds or walnuts.

Adapted from Gourmet Magazine, 2005

2/3 cup whole almonds (3 oz) [I used whole roasted almonds]
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 12 ounce jar cherry jam (or other fruit jam)

First toast the nuts on a baking sheet in the oven until they’re fragrant. In a food processor, combine the toasted nuts and 1/4 cup brown sugar until finely ground. Set aside.

In a bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a standing mixer combine butter and 1/4 cup brown sugar until whipped and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla. When combined, add the almond mixture. Then add the dry ingredients a little bit at a time.

Divide the dough in two balls and wrap each in plastic wrap. Flatten each into a thick disk.

Let sit in the refrigerator for about two hours. Dough should be cold and firm.

On a well-floured surface, roll out the dough to about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick (I prefer thinner cookies). Using a round cookie cutter create your cookies. Half the cookies should have a window in the center (of any shape, really!).

Bake for about 10 minutes at 350. Edges should be golden brown.

Let cookies cool, then cover the cookie halves (without windows) with jam. Create sandwiches.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar.


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Black and White Cookies

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I’ve lived in New York my whole life minus one year, and spent that one year dreaming about bagels. While charming in a million ways, Somerville and Cambridge, MA just don’t sell them. I don’t mean to criticize the area’s breakfast options; there’s no shortage of cozy coffee shops and bakeries. But I missed Absolute and H&H Midtown East more than is socially appropriate to admit. When traveling between New York and Boston I’d specifically carry a roomier bag so that I could bring back a fresh dozen leaving my clothes (and me) smelling like roasted garlic. Apologies to all the people who sat next to me on Bolt Bus. Well, maybe not since a lot of you smelled weird, too.

That bagel rant was really an excuse to talk about black and white cookies. I don’t think I ate one for nine consecutive months while in Boston and didn’t think twice about it. This sadly highlights my fixation on the bagel conundrum. Black and white cookies are so New Yorky and importantly: they are the only cookie to spread positive social messages. [1. See Seinfeld quote below]

A few years ago I tried making these and had no success. The icing tasted terrible (I don’t know how I messed up sugar and milk) and the cookie was a bit too lemony. This time I used a New York Times recipe and the results were much tastier. I should address one hiccup, not unique to this recipe: batter curdling. You know, when your batter looks… curdled? I am an impatient baker and never let my ingredients come to room temperature like you’re supposed to. Curdling happens and it looks gross and sad. Luckily there is an impatient person’s solution: just keep going. Add flour and your batter no longer appears unappetizing. I suppose I should learn to allow my ingredients to come to room temperature. I’ll stash that away as a New Year’s resolution.

1. Seinfeld Episode “The Dinner Party”:

Jerry: Uhm, see the key to eating a Black and White cookie, Elaine, is you want to get some black and some white in each bite. Nothing mixes better than vanilla and chocolate. And yet still somehow racial harmony eludes us. If people would only look to the cookie — all our problems would be solved.

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Cookies in progress.

Recipe adapted from the New York Times on the occasion of Seinfeld’s final episode in 1998

Cookie Batter
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), at room temperature
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon lemon extract
2 1/2 cups cake flour
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour [I didn’t have any cake flour and used only regular flour; this substitution worked fine]
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Icing
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Note: I halved this recipe and got 16 cookies. Each cookie was about 3 inches in diameter.

1. Beat together unsalted butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

2. Add eggs, one at a time. Add milk. When combined, add vanilla and lemon extracts.

3. Add flour a litte bit at a time. Batter will be smooth and sticky.

4. On parchment lined baking sheets, dollop batter. Each cookie should be about 3 inches across, and 2 inches from its cookie neighbor.

5. Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes. The edges should be just golden brown.

6. Make icing: Combine confectioner’s sugar, milk, and vanilla in a bowl. Make sure the consistency is spreadable and not too liquidy. This might require a bit of trial and error–keep adding sugar or milk until you get the consistency you like.

7. Melt chocolate chips. Add about 1/3 of the white frosting to the melted chocolate.

8. Spread white icing on half of each cookie. Let harden before spreading the other half with chocolate. You may have to wait about 20 minutes for the icing to harden. Keep your chocolate icing on the stove to prevent it from solidifying while you wait.

9. Look to the cookie.


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Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies

I found these brownies online entirely by accident and was curious as to why the world has Katharine Hepburn’s brownie recipe. After some snooping, I learned that the recipe came from a New York Times letter written by a woman whom Ms. Hepburn had once advised. The woman was thinking about dropping out of college in 1983 (to which Ms. Hepburn responded “‘What a damn stupid thing to do!”). Katharine Hepburn’s advice included these pearls of wisdom: “1. Never quit. 2. Be yourself. 3. Don’t put too much flour in your brownies.” Cheers to that.

I had yet to make brownies that were as good as the ones from the box (you know the ones with the fudgey packet?) until these. The box brownies are just so impossibly chocolatey and fudgey, they aren’t too cakey or dry, and they take 5 minutes to pull together. I was so pleased to finally have made a brownie that 1) tastes awesome in all the ways I like and 2) required minimal clean-up just like the box brownies. Chocolate craving: satisfied.

The original New York Times letter is worth a read.

Recipe adapted (only slightly) from Laurie Colwin and this New York Times letter

I added extra chocolate chips because I have no self control. Feel free to exert restraint. Actually, no why would you do that?

1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
A handful of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

In a pot on the stove, melt the chocolate and butter, stirring constantly over low heat. Be careful not to burn the chocolate. Add sugar, eggs, and vanilla. When combined, add salt, then flour. Mix in walnuts.

Pour batter into an 8×8 buttered baking pan. Sprinkle chocolate chips on top.

Bake for 40 minutes at 325 degrees. Insert something pointy to check for done-ness; should come out clean.

So few dishes to clean!

So few dishes to clean!


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Almond Biscotti

I have to own up to my Thanksgiving baking mishap: I exploded our pumpkin pie. Let me explain. I took the pie out of the oven and placed it on the stove top (so far so good). I then proceeded to turn on a burner to boil tea water but actually turned on the heat under the glass pie dish. A few minutes later the pie dish was shattered. I am now the most vigilant chef of ever when it comes to turning on burners. Lesson learned? I’m certain this stuff happens to no one else. Wah.

gretchen

I made these biscotti the week before Thanksgiving thinking we would save them for the big day. I should have known they wouldn’t last nearly that long. The recipe was insanely simple, and produced the perfect cookie to pair with coffee or tea. Added bonus: literally anything would taste good mixed into these biscotti. I used almonds but next time I’d love to try chocolate chips or dried cranberries. Added added bonus: I did not explode this dessert in error (re: exploded pie above).

Let’s address the elephant in the room: biscotti means “cookies” in Italian. Now everyone ponder how little sense this makes when used in English. Yeah.

Adapted from Bon Appetit

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon orange juice
2 1/4 cups whole almonds (about 12 ounces; I used roasted whole almonds)

Mix dry ingredients. Add eggs one at a time. Add honey and orange juice. After ingredients are combined, mix in whole almonds.

Spread batter on a prepared baking sheet using a spatula until it forms a roughly rectangular shape that’s about 3/4 inch thick. Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes. Turn down the oven to 350 degrees and bake for another 10 minutes. The cookie dough should be golden brown on top.

Remove the entire mass onto a cooling rack. After a few minutes, slice into 1-inch wide wedges. Arrange on a prepared baking sheet and bake at 350 for another 7 minutes. Biscotti will be browned and crunchy.