European Pecan Cookies

Blog Note:  I know I’ve been away for a while.  A long while.  I have no excuses.  But I do enjoy blogging, so I will work to get back into the swing of things.  You can also check out my Instagram (linked in the margin) where I’ll try to post little tastes of my daily life that don’t merit whole posts.  On to the recipe!

Blog Note 2: Apparently, I had posted this recipe to the blog years ago. This version has more detailed directions, so I decided to post it anyway. 
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I’ve been working on digitizing some of my recipe cards, because I often find myself searching my online recipe stash instead of thumbing through cookbooks or cards.  I figured I would also share them with you.  This one I got from my grandma, though she just called them “Refrigerator Cookies”.  I renamed them to European Pecan Cookies.  It’s a funny name, because pecans are natural to North America.  But I feel like the cookies have a more European sensitivity to the taste: they are not too sweet and they go great with coffee and tea.

Like many of my grandmother’s recipes, there are quirky notes in places that don’t make sense to me.  For example, her notes say that the flour is “not sifted”.  I never sift my flour unless a recipe says to.  However, she doesn’t give any guidance on how thick to slice them, which seems especially crucial. Don’t fear though, I took notes the last time I made them so that if you attempt them, you won’t have to experiment too much.

I recommend using the pecan “bits” or tiny chopped pecans that you can find in the store.  I find that if I chop them myself, they’re irregular and there’s a lot of pecan dust.  I haven’t found it hurts the cookies too much, it just feels messy and time consuming when I could just spend a little bit more to make it easy.

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Ingredients

  • 0.5 lb (2 sticks) butter
  • 0.5 cup packed brown sugar
  • 0.5 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 0.5 tsp baking soda
  • 0.25 tsp salt
  • 2 cups flour
  • 0.5 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

Directions:

  1. Cream butter and sugars together.  Add in the egg.  Then add baking soda, salt, and flour.  Then gently stir in the vanilla and pecans.
  2. Roll into 2 even rolls in wax paper. (I use a couple cheap silicone cookie sheet liners.)  Chill in the fridge for at least 8 hours or overnight.
  3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  4. Pull one roll from the fridge.  Slice into 1/4″ slices and place on a cookie sheet about 1.5 inches apart.  Return the roll to the fridge while baking.
  5. Bake for about 10 minutes or until the cookies are light tan with a slighter darker color around the edges.  Cool on the pan for minute or two before moving to a rack to cool completely.

Recipe du Jour: Makownik

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Andrew’s family is Polish, and by coincidence, so was part of mine. Thankfully, this means that we share a few holiday traditions, and there are no conflicts. Like the breaking of Oplatek before the meal. His family and mine both did that before we met.

As far as food goes, his family tries to follow the Polish Christmas Eve tradition of twelve courses, one for each disciple. Poland is predominantly Catholic, so the meal follows the Catholic tradition of no meat. The meal tends to feature fish, a mushroom or beet soup, sauerkraut, eggs, pierogis, boiled potatoes, nut rolls, poppy seed rolls, and fruit compote. Naturally, being Americans, and not wanting to necessarily cook and eat 12 courses, we make some modifications. But one thing we don’t change is the makownik.

Makownik (see the wiki for pronunciation) is an eggy yeast cake/bread, with a poppy seed filling that’s rolled into the bread. Think cinnamon raisin swirl, but less sweet and with a thicker filling. We made one for Christmas last year when the family came out here (sister-in-law couldn’t travel), and they had me make it again when we came to see them this year. For some reason, everyone is super impressed with me when I make it. This is a combination of the recipe from The Polish Heritage Cookbook. (Note: The book is written like my grandma’s old recipes. There’s not an ingredient list before the recipe. The amounts and ingredients are hidden among the directions. If you get the book, make sure to read everything carefully before you start.)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cake yeast (or 1 envelope yeast)
  • 2 tbsp sugar, separated
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm milk
  • 1 cup flour (for sponge)
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • about 3 to 4 cups flour
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 (12.5 oz) cans poppyseed filling
  • Glaze (make to your desired thickness)
  • ground walnuts, sliced almonds, finely diced candied orange rind, whole poppy seeds  or raisins for topping

Directions:

For the sponge, combine yeast with 1 tbsp sugar and dissolve in milk.  Add flour and the other tbsp sugar, mix well, cover with cloth and leave in warm place to rise.  Meanwhile, beat egg yolks with salt until smooth and lemony.  Continue beating while adding powdered sugar and beat until fluffy.  After the sponge has risen, add yolk mixture and slowly add flour, combining well, until dough is formed, but still slightly sticky.  Add butter and vanilla. Cover and let rise until doubled.

Transfer to a board, divide in 2 and roll into 1/4 inch thick rectangles.  Spread half of the poppyseed filling on each rectangle, leaving 1-inch around the edges.  Roll each up tightly, jelly-roll style, pinch ends shut and fold them under.  Wrap in parchment paper leaving the ends open and set seam-side down on a cookie sheet, side by side.  Let rise until doubled.  The rolled-parchment method causes the dough to expand out the open sides, forming long, elegant rolls.  Bake in parchment in pre-heated 350 degree F oven for about 45 minutes.  When fully cooled, glaze and sprinkle with desired topping.

Notes: This is best made a few days ahead. When it comes out of the oven, it tends to be crisp, like most artisan breads. But let it have a few days in a sealed container after you’ve glazed it, and it will be soft and delicious. I haven’t made the filling from scratch yet (still working through a big stash of the canned filling because we were worried I’d have to make multiple attempts). If you can’t find canned filling, or would like to try making it all from scratch, I’ve included the directions for the filling below. You will need bulk poppy seeds. Do not look in the spice aisle for a dinky little jar of poppy seeds. This is for a filling, not a garnish.

Homemade Filling:

  • 2 cups cleaned poppyseeds
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 4 tbsp honey
  • 1/2 to 1 cup soaked and drained raisins
  • 1/2 cup ground walnuts
  • 1 tbsp finely diced candied orange rind (optional)
  • 3 to 4 almond oil
  • 2 eggs

Place poppyseeds in pot, scald with boiling water which should cover poppyseeds by 2 inches and heat on very low.  Simmer very gently 30 minutes, drain, and grain 3 times through fine strainer (or use a special poppyseed grinder).  In clean pot, combine butter, poppyseeds, sugar, honey, raisins, walnuts, and candied orange rind.  Heat mixture on low flame about 10 minutes, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat and cool.  Add almond oil and eggs and mix ingredients well.

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For both the canned poppy seed filling and bulk poppy seeds, I recommend Amazon Grocery. Good prices, quick shipping, and great for obscure ingredients that your local stores may not have. (Seriously, there is not a large Polish community in Oklahoma.)

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Recipe du Jour: European Pecan Cookies

Blog note: I’ve posted an updated version of this recipe.  You can find it here.
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HOLIDAY BAKING SEASON IS UPON US!!!

Sorry to shout, but I love the holidays. I don’t like the weather, but the lights, how everything gets decorated, and the general feeling of happiness that seems to happen in December can’t help but make me smile. And one of my family’s traditions was holiday baking. When I was younger, we gave our neighbors a collection of baked goods: cookies, homemade fudge, mini quick breads. Nowadays, since I don’t really know my neighbors (a side effect of living in an apartment complex), I do the holiday baking as part of my gifts to friends. I have a lot of friends, and not enough cash to buy them all nice gifts, so I bake nice gifts instead.

Last year, I shared my favorite Christmas music. This year, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite holiday treat recipes (especially since my blog appears to be turning into a mostly food blog). 🙂 The first one is a great one to take to parties (assuming that nobody has a nut allergy). The cookie is not super sweet, with a rich buttery flavor punctuated by the nuts. The recipe breaks into steps, since you have to wait on the dough to chill, which is great if you have a few busy weeknights where you can’t afford to mix and bake the cookies all at once.

Ingredients:

  • ½ lb butter
  • ½ cup brown sugar, packed
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 2 cups flour (not sifted)
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt (I leave this out if I’m using salted butter)
  • ½ tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

Directions:

Cream butter and sugar. Add egg, flour, and soda. Add vanilla and pecans. Form into 2 or 3 rolls, using wax paper to shape them. I normally make mine about 1½ to 2 inches in diameter. Keep them rolled in the wax paper and chill overnight. Slice and bake on greased cookie sheet for 10 minutes at 350 degrees F or until light tan. Cool on rack.

Notes:

Watch out on the baking time! These are easy to get too dark, especially depending on how thick you cut them. You want them barely brown at the edges. The last time I took these to a holiday party, all the international participants loved these. I was told that most American baking is so sweet it hurts, so something this mild was much appreciated. I personally like two of them with a cup of tea or wassail after a heavy dinner, when I’m not in the mood for an equally heavy dessert.

Recipe du Jour: Pumpkin Scones

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So, I’ve already posted how to make your own pumpkin puree, now for a recipe that you can use it in (besides pumpkin pie, of course). My first attempt at pumpkin scones involved a different recipe that called for ¼ cup of ground ginger, and a ¼ cup of cinnamon. I didn’t trust my baking instincts when I saw that. So, take that as a warning, dear readers. If something seems off in a recipe, it probably is.

These were my second attempt. This recipe comes from a magazine called TeaTime. It’s really quite lovely, especially if you like tea or tea parties. The magazine has ideas for decorations for your party, and often includes 2 to 3 full tea party menus, with tea suggestions. You can find the link to the original recipe here.

Ingredients:

  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp gr. Cinnamon
  • ½ tsp gr. Allspice
  • ½ tsp gr. Nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp cold unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside. In a large bowl, sift together 2 ¼ cups flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and spices. Using a pastry blender or fork, cut the butter into the flour mixture until mixture resembles course meal. Add the egg and pumpkin and stir until just combined. Add additional flour, if necessary, until the mixture forms a loose dough

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll to ¾ inch thickness. Cut into 12 (2 ¼ inch) rounds. Place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until lightly golden. Transfer to wire racks to cool slightly.

Notes:

These are a great basic scone recipe, if you haven’t made them before. The dough comes together quickly, and the finished product has a subtle pumpkin and spice flavor. I also made the Maple Butter (follow the link above to the original recipe for that), and it was really great, but I’m sure these would be fantastic with normal butter or even cream cheese. Watch out though, the butter recipe makes a lot.

Recipe du Jour: Homemade Pumpkin Puree

Just a quick sidenote to announce the creation of two more pages: The Recipe Index and the How-To Index. Of course, you can still use the tags or the search function to find things like this, but if you’d like to see a big list of everything without scrolling through the posts, these are the way to do it.

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As part of my real food project, I try to eat as seasonally as I can. I avoid strawberries in December, and apples in the spring. While we do live in a world with a global economy that allows us to have foods from all over the map at any given moment, this isn’t the way food was meant to be consumed. Also, most of the time, in order to look nice when it gets to you, the produce has been picked before it’s ripe. Varieties have been bred in order to survive the long abusive shipping time, not necessarily to taste good. So if you want the best taste out of your food (and want to save a little coin), it’s best to eat in season, when the plants would have given it to you.

This makes each season a special treat for me, and one of the things I love about fall and winter is that I get to use pumpkin. I love pumpkin, and I love baking with it. Now, the canned stuff is ok, but if you’re going to cook with pumpkin, why not go all out? Make your own homemade pumpkin puree.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pie pumpkin

You need a pie pumpkin because jack-o-lantern pumpkins are too tough and have very thin flesh. Not good for eating.

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Cut the pumpkin in half, like you would a hamburger bun, with the stem on top of one piece. Clean out the seeds and strings. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Put a piece of parchment paper down on a cookie sheet. Place the pumpkin halves on the parchment paper, cut side down. Toss in the oven for about an hour, until you can tell the pumpkin is soft, either by appearance, or inserting a knife or fork. Pull out of the oven, let cool. Once you can handle the pumpkin, scoop out the flesh, into a blender or food processor. It should be very soft and you should be able to just scrape it off the inside of the skin. Puree until smooth. Store in an airtight container.

Notes:

In the fridge, this might last a week, depending on how wet your pumpkin is. In the freezer, it lasts a long time. I don’t know when it goes bad because I’ve always used it up before then. If you notice a liquid from your puree, just drain it off. It’s a side effect of the pumpkin cooking, and you don’t want it if you want your puree to behave like the canned stuff. Use in equal portions as you would canned pumpkin.

Also, I have heard of methods of boiling pumpkin, but that involved peeling it, cutting it small, and the end product was way too watery. I like the roasting method because it gives me a nice caramelized flavor, a not so wet puree, and it’s easier.

Recipe Du Jour: Samoas Scones

sd530695So, I spend a lot of time reading blogs.  It’s what got me thinking maybe I could start one of my own.  Now, most bloggers have a single thing they write about, a specialty.  I obviously don’t, and that’s because if I find something neat worth sharing, I want to be able to share it.  My blog is about pulling my life together one day at a time, and the life of Shay.

Anyway, one of my favorite blogs is Baking Bites.  I stumbled across it when I was looking for a whole wheat pie crust recipe.  My skill at pie crust hasn’t improved, but my drooling skills certainly have.  Nicole is an absolute genius.  She’s done copycat Girl Scout cookie recipes, and this delightful confection here is a Samoa Scone.  It has all the flavors of a samoa cookie, in a delightful breakfast treat.  Andrew couldn’t stop eating them.

Anyway, in the interest of giving credit where credit is due, you can check out the original recipe here.  I’m going to reproduce it below, for the lazy among you.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, chilled and cut into pieces
  • 3/4 – 1 cup milk
  • 6-oz semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used semi-sweet chocolate chips)
  • 1 cup prepared caramel sauce (store bought or use recipe below)
  • 3/4 cup shredded coconut

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add in chilled butter and cut it into the flour mixture until no pieces larger than a pea remain visible (this can be done in a food processor).
Add in 3/4 cup milk and stir to combine. Gradually add in remaining 1/4 cup milk until dough comes together into a ball.

Divide dough in half. Working with one piece at a time, turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and flatten into a disc about 1/2-inch thick. Cut into quarters and place on baking sheet. Repeat with second piece of dough.
Bake for 16-20 minutes, until scones are a light golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

Melt the chocolate in a small bowl. Use a small knife or spatula to spread a thin layer onto the bottom of each scone. Place coated scones on a cool baking sheet lined with a piece of wax or parchment paper to set up.
Combine caramel and shredded coconut in a small bowl. Spread about 3 tbsp of the caramel and coconut mixture onto each scone and drizzle with remaining melted chocolate. Allow chocolate drizzle to set for at least 30 minutes before serving. Makes 8 scones.

Caramel Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 7 tbsp heavy cream (I actually used canned evaporated milk.)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla

Directions:

In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup, water and salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until syrup turns dark gold. Working carefully, stir in cream and vanilla. Caramel will start to steam and harden when you add the cream – continue to cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until caramel is smooth. Transfer caramel to a refrigerator-safe container and cool. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Note: You may have extra caramel sauce if you use it for the scones, so feel free to use it as a topping for ice cream, etc.


Tastiness Factor:

Yum!  I love Samoas cookies, and had tested Nicole’s recipe for homemade Samoas last year.  (I fully intend to remake them this year, too!)  As expected, this recipe is a winner!

Reheat Factor:

What are you, nuts?!

Overall Impression:

These are awesome.  Surprisingly, for the amount of chocolate and sugar involved, they’re actually not too sweet.  They have a sweet topping, sure, but the scone seems to counteract it a little.  My photo obviously didn’t turn out as well as Nicole’s, and I think I know part of the reasons why.  First of all, I just mixed the coconut into all of the caramel sauce I made. It looked like a cup, so I figured, eh, close enough.  This may or may not have been wise.  Second, I used unsweetened organic coconut.  I measured out a cup, but it came in these tiny tiny flakes.  Not sure if that made a difference.  Third, I don’t have pastry bags.  I used a sandwich baggie that I had snipped the corner off of.  So I’m not going to get that pretty piped effect.  But I still love these things and would totally make them again.  I think everyone else should try some!

Peaches, Peaches, Everywhere!

So, I recently moved into a new apartment with my boyfriend.  It’s big, has a fireplace,  a big pantry, a nice sized bathroom, and a huge walk-in closet for the bedroom.  And the rent isn’t too bad either.  We’re still getting settled in and everything, but if you’d like to come visit or anything, just let me know.  I’m feeling much better after the pile of mush I was last semester, and definitely want to work on rebuilding some of the friendships I pushed aside to deal with personal issues.  (This entry is also to kind of let people know I’m alive at all, and back in Oklahoma.)

Anyway, before I came back, my family bought a big box of Fredericksburg peaches.  For those who don’t know, Fredericksburg is a German tourist town near where my family lives, and they’re known for all the local peach orchards.  However, what this means for me is that I have 20 some fresh peaches on my hands.  So I’ve been trying like mad to make a lot of different peach desserts to use them up before they go bad.  Which is the theme of this entry.

My mom emailed me a recipe for Peach Upside Down Cake, and yesterday, I decided to try it.  I had never made upside down cake before, and while I knew the theory behind it, it was still an adventure.  If you’re interested in photos and the recipe, read on.

First are the photos: (I tried to keep them small to save loading time.)
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As you can see, Andrew and I already dug into this cake, but you can get the idea of what the whole thing looked like.
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This is a closeup of the peaches arranged in the top of the cake.  I think I should have done a different pattern, but I couldn’t move the slices much after I had placed them.  Read the recipe and you’ll see why.  Also, the recipe calls for an 8 inch cake pan, but I used a 9-inch and it was fine.  Also, mine ended up being baked for about 45 minutes.  I don’t know if that’s because of my oven (which I’m not completely familiar with yet) or just the recipe itself.

Peach Upside Down Cake

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup egg substitute
1/4 cup stick margarine softened
2/3 cup skim milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
–Topping–
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 cups fresh peach slices  –or frozen–thawed
1 tablespoon stick margarine softened
whipped topping optional

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Coat 8-inch cake pan with no-stick cooking spray.

Combine brown sugar and 1 tablespoon margarine in cake pan; pat over bottom of pan. Arrange peach slices in circular design in bottom of pan.

Combine all cake ingredients in large mixing bowl; beat on low speed of electric mixer for 30 seconds, scraping bowl constantly. Turn mixer to high speed and beat for 3 minutes. Pour batter over peaches.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 5 minutes.

Turn out onto large serving plate. Serve with whipped topping, if desired.

Makes 8 servings. 

Peach-tastic.  Stay tuned for other experiments from Shayna, cooking or otherwise.