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Day 2: Pains d’Amande

Or Brown Sugar Almond Slices.

I’ve come across this recipe a number of times in my endless trolling for cookie recipes online and I even have the book that it was originally published in.  By all accounts, it is a perfect cookie.  Nutty, buttery, crisp and perfect with tea or coffee.  It’s also a good keeper and the recipe makes a huge batch of cookies so that you can keep most of the dough in the freezer for cookie emergencies.  I’m not sure why it has taken me so long to try this recipe, actually, since so many bakers that I respect have raved about this cookie.  But, better late to the party than never, right?

The dough comes together quite easily and then you press it all into a square pan.  Place in the fridge to firm up overnight.

Then, the next day, you can slice them up.

And bake them.  I only baked a quarter of my dough, which made roughly three dozen.  The rest I wrapped and froze for the future.  This was a really good recipe to kick off the cookie baking season here.

It’s quite a good cookie, though not fancy to look at.  The little bit of spice makes it more than just an almond butter cookie.   I suspect that this is one of those cookies that doesn’t impress you at first, but is instead the reliable one that you can count on when a cookie situation arises.  It’s the type of cookie that you can eat everyday of the year and not get tired of it, which makes it actually quite special indeed.

Recipe for Pains d’Amande can be found here.

Don’t forget to leave a comment to be entered into the drawing.  More details here.  Tell me, What cookie can you eat everyday and never get tired of?

 

Cake of the Week: Pear Almond Torte

This week’s cake came from an overabundance of pears.  It happens to us all from time to time. We go to the store.  We need some fruit, so we buy some.  Maybe more than we need because it is cheaper to buy the three pound bags of fruit than it is to pay the select your own price.  However,  life is busy and we bought other fruit at the store, too.  This  always results in a few pieces hanging around that we need to “do something with” before they go bad, but no one is willing to do the obvious and just eat them.  This must be how cobblers and crisps got their start.  Another alternative is to make this cake.

Bake of the week: Pear Almond Torte.  #beautifulfood #cakeeveryday #freshlybaked

This is a super easy cake.  If your butter is fairly soft (like mine was not because it is winter and room temperature butter is cold here), you can even mix this cake up without turning on your mixer.  I did not bother to peel the pears since I had bartletts and they are thin skinned.  If you have pears with thicker skin, I would recommend peeling.  Also, other fruits would be good here.  The original recipe called for purple prune plums, but cherries would be good as well as peaches.

Ours was gone so fast that I did not have a chance to get a photo of a single slice for you.  You’ll just have to make one for yourself to see it.

 

PEAR ALMOND TORTE

adapted from The Essential New York Times Cookbook

1 cup (5 ounces) all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar plus 1 additional Tablespoon for topping

1 Tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened

2 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

3-4 ripe pears, cored and sliced into 1/2 inch wedges

juice from 1/2 lemon

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

a handful of sliced almonds

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 inch springform pan.
  2. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small bowl.
  3. Cream the butter and 1 cup of sugar together in a large bowl until light and fluffy.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and then add the eggs and almond extract.
  5. Spread the batter in the pan evenly.
  6. Arrange the pears on tope of the batter in concentric circles.  Push them into the batter a little.
  7. Sprinkle the lemon juice, cinnamon, and almonds over the top of the cake.
  8. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean.
  9. Cool on a rack.  Then unmold and enjoy with tea or coffee.

 

Chocolate Cherry Almond Cookies

Cherries are probably one of my favorite fruits. I could easily eat a giant bowl of sweet cherries in one sitting when they are in season. Sadly, the season for cherries is very short, so the rest of the year I make do with either frozen cherries, cherry juice, or dried cherries.

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Sour cherry juice has become a staple in our house lately since it has been discovered that they are naturally high in melatonin, a chemical that helps regulate your sleep cycles. I am a notoriously poor sleeper, so when I heard about this melatonin in cherries thing, I was eager to try it. It’s been a few months now, and I can’t say that I always remember to drink my one ounce of cherry juice every morning and evening, so I may not be the best judge of its efficacy. However, what I can say is that I don’t sleep any worse and I rather enjoy having my little dose of cherry juice every morning and evening.

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Dried sour cherries are absolutely my favorite dried fruit. I love them in my oatmeal, in my breads, and now, with this new cookie recipe, I love them in my cookies. It’s hard to beat the combination of chocolate, dried cherries, and almonds. They compliment each other really nicely in this cookie. The soft chocolate cookie base with its chunks of chocolate bar almost melt in your mouth while the cherries bring a tanginess that offsets the sweet chocolate. Add in the crunchy texture of slivered almonds and you have what may be one of my favorite cookies of all time.

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If you can find it, get some sour cherry jam to add to the cookie dough. I make my own, but many grocery stores are carrying it now. It adds an extra level of fruity flavor to the cookie. You can leave it out, but it really is very yummy with it and the leftovers are wonderful on toast.

Chocolate Cherry Almond Cookies
makes about 3 dozen

1 cup (200g) light brown sugar
12 Tblsp (170g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 Tblsp (60g) sour cherry jam
1.25 cups (175g) unbleached all purpose flour
.5 cup (60g) dutch processed cocoa powder
.25 tsp baking powder
.5 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla
1.25 cups dark chocolate, chopped into bits or chocolate chips
1 cup (140g) dried sour cherries
1 Tblsp kirsch, cherry juice, rum, or water
1 cup (140g) slivered almonds, toasted for 10 minutes in a 350 degree oven

If you are baking right away, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line at least two baking sheets (12 by 18 inches in size) with parchment paper. Make sure your oven rack is in the center of your oven.

In a small microwavable bowl, combine the dried cherries and kirsch. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and microwave for 45-60 seconds or until the liquid is boiling. Remove from microwave with oven mitts and shake the bowl a few times to distribute the liquids. Set aside to cool to room temperature while you go on with the recipe. The plastic wrap with shrink down and that is alright and actually desirable. It helps with the maceration process.

Cream butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl until very light and fluffy about 4-5 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and add the cherry jam, egg, egg yolk, and vanilla. Mix until everything is evenly distributed.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add all the dry ingredients at once to the butter mixture. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are almost all incorporated. Stop the mixer and add in the chocolate, nuts, and macerated cherries (take care that these are cool when you add them or they will melt your dough). Mix slowly until just evenly distributed.

If you are baking now, use a large tablespoon or small ice cream scoop to scoop out the dough into balls and place them 2-3 inches apart on your cookie sheets. Press the dough down lightly with moistened palms until they are about a half inch thick. Bake one pan at a time for 12-15 minutes. The cookies should be firm around the edges, but still soft (but not doughy) in the middle. Cool on the pans.

If you want to freeze the dough and bake later, simply scoop out the dough, using the same size scoop onto a parchment lined baking sheet. This time, you can space them just about an inch apart since you will be freezing them. Cover the dough balls in plastic wrap and press lightly to ensure all the balls get pressed into disks about a half inch thick. Freeze the pan for at least 1-2 hours. Once they are frozen, you can transfer them to a freezer bag and store in your freezer for up to 6 months. When you are ready to bake, follow the spacing instructions above and add a few minutes to your baking time.

A Cake Recipe, Finally!

It seems ages since I have made a cake. The last two months of the year were all about cookies and after that, all I made was bread. Lots of bread. My freezer is so chock full of bread that when I open the door, bread falls out. Not a terrible problem to have, but I decided that I had had enough of cookies and bread. What I need now in the new year is cake.

This particular cake is an adaptation of a recipe from Flo Braker’s Book, Baking for All Occasions. She calls for a tangerine, which I did not have on hand today and a different mixing method than the one I employ. Otherwise, the recipe is just about the same.

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The first time I made this cake, I had a lot of trouble getting the almond paste to break up into bits. I must have had a really dried out package. In any case, the resulting cake was filled with bits of dense almond paste and, while it wasn’t terrible, it was not the texture I was hoping for. Since then, whenever a recipe calls for almond paste, I always stick it into the food processor with any sugar that is called for in the recipe.

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It does a wonderful job of breaking up even the most stubborn bits of almond paste. and it also incorporates a little air which I think helps lighten the texture of the cake.

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The rest of the process follows your basic creaming method for making a cake batter.

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Once the cake is baked, a most yummy glaze is applied that gives it a beautiful appearance and helps to seal in the moisture of the cake.

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A slice of this cake with a cup of tea will brighten any cold wintry day. And, since this cake is of the pound cake category, it is an excellent keeper. It’s possible that it even tastes better a day or two later than it does on the first day.

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The combination of almonds with citrus is not a new one. They go together so well and, in this cake, neither outdoes the other. The cake is also not too sweet, which is a nice change from all the Christmas candy and treats we’ve been having around here lately.

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So, what do you think? Isn’t it time for some cake?

Orange Almond Tea Cake with Orange Glaze
makes one 9-10 inch tube cake to serve 8-12

for cake
2 1/2 cups (10 ounces) cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
2/3 cup (5 ounces) almond paste
2 teaspoons orange zest from 1 medium orange
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter at room temperature
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon orange extract
1/2 cup (4 ounces) milk at room temperature

for glaze
1 cup (3 ounces) powdered sugar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter at room temperature
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

to make cake:

Preheat oven to 350 or 325 if you are using a dark pan like mine. Using a baking spray with flour included spray a 9-10 inch bundt type pan with at least an 10 cup capacity. Set aside until the batter is ready.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt together.

In the bowl of a food processor, process the sugar and almond paste together until the almond paste is all broken up and the mixture has the appearance of fluffy sand. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a mixer. Add to the bowl the grated zest and the butter. Beat on medium speed until thoroughly mixed and fluffy.

With the mixer running on low, add the eggs, one at a time, waiting to add the next one until the previous one has been incorporated. You may need to scrape down the bowl a few times to get a uniform mixture.

Beginning and ending with the flour, alternate adding the flour and milk to the batter, mixing well and scraping if necessary between each addition. Before scraping the batter into the pan, give the batter a last mixing with a spatula by hand in order to make sure that all bits of the batter are incorporated.

Scrape the batter into the pan and make it level with a spatula. Bake for about 55 minutes or until the cake is beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan and a tester comes out clean. Put the pan on a rack to rest for 10 minutes while you prepare the glaze.

For the glaze:
Mix all glaze ingredients in a bowl with a whisk until evenly combined.

After ten minutes, turn the cake out onto a rack. Place a sheet of foil or wax paper under the rack to catch drips. Using a pastry brush, brush the glaze all over the cake. Let cool completely on the rack.

Day 3: Amaretti

Have you noticed that many fancy Christmas cookie recipes have nuts in them? This is only my third post about cookies and every one so far is a nut cookie. I suppose nuts are an expensive ingredient, so they are often seen as luxury food items for special occasions.

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For me, this cookie is an attempt to reproduce an Italian almond cookie that we get sometimes from a local Italian bakery. At the bakery, they call it an almond cookie and it is really chock full of sliced almonds with a chewy center. I really had high hopes that this recipe would be similar to those cookies because I am tired of paying over $10 a pound for these cookies!

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I found this recipe in Baking with Julia and was really surprised that I had never tried them. There are really very few things I have not made from this book. Anyway, remembering my past experiences with almond paste, I decided to depart from the mixing method, which called for using a stand mixer. Almond paste tends to be hard to break up, so I mixed everything in the food processor instead.

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It worked like a charm and was done in just a few minutes. Then, instead of piping out the dough, I scooped it with my smallest cookie scoop and rolled them in sliced almonds.

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I say rolled, but it was more like pressing as many almonds as would stick onto and into that little ball of dough. The cookies I get from the bakery are more almonds than dough, I think.

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When the cookies came out of the oven, I really did a happy dance around the kitchen. They look almost exactly like the ones from the bakery. Those are little more chock full of almonds, but I think I actually prefer these.

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These are crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside and really fragrant with the almonds and almond paste. They were super easy and now I don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for one of my favorite cookies. That makes me very happy.

What makes you happy during this holiday season? Leave a comment for a chance to win a tin full of cookies!

AMARRETI or Italian Almond Cookies
Makes about 24

The original recipe calls for the cookies to be topped with pine nuts. You could really use any nut that you like; pine nuts, almonds, pistachios, and walnuts would all be good.

8 ounce can of almond paste
5.25 ounces (3/4) cup granulated sugar
2 large egg whites
2-4 cups sliced almonds or other chopped nut

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and make sure your oven racks are evenly spaced.

Break up the almond paste into pieces and place in the food processor with half of the sugar. Pulse until the almond paste is completely broken up. Then, add the remaining sugar and pulse until uniform. It may appear a little fluffy. Add the egg whites, one at a time, and pulse until the dough balls up on the blade a little.

Scoop out level teaspoons of dough, about one inch balls. It is very sticky, so drop them directly into a shallow bowl of nuts. Roll each dough ball in the nuts, pressing the nuts gently into the dough. If the dough gets really sticky, you can dip your scoop into some water and shake off the excess water before proceeding with the scooping. Place dough balls onto a lined baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake cookies for 15-20 minutes, rotating pans halfway through the baking time if you have more than one pan in the oven at a time. They should be golden brown. Place pans on racks and let cool completely.

These will keep for up to a week in a sealed container, though they will get drier as they sit.

I only baked one pan and froze the rest of the dough balls because I wanted to see if they would be good that way, too. I will let you know what happens when I bake them.