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: Sugar Plum Drops

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It’s the holiday season. You’ve been invited to a couple of holiday parties, there’s the huge holiday dinners coming up, and you’ve been so busy you haven’t had time to work out. You’d like to make something healthy so you don’t gain too many pounds, but you know the relatives would throw a fit. Sound like you?

Sounds like me. Except I have this recipe up my sleeve. These sugar plum drops sound like they came straight out of the Nutcracker, and they’re so tasty nobody would guess that they’re (mostly) healthy. Rolled in sugar, nobody would be the wiser. And they’re a flash to make!

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup raisins
  • ½ cup chopped dates
  • ½ cup dried apricots
  • ¾ cup dried cranberries
  • ¾ cup pecans
  • 1 cup blanched almonds
  • ¼ cup orange juice, no pulp
  • ½ cup sugar (granulated or confectioners’)

Directions:

Combine the dried fruit and nuts in a food processor and pulse until you get a coarse mixture, about 1 minute. Add the orange juice and pulse again until the mixture sticks together, about 15 seconds. Shape into 1-inch balls, then roll them in sugar for a sweet coating. Refrigerate. Makes about 2½ dozen.

Notes: I like to roll mine in granulated sugar. It makes them more festive to me. I also like to keep them chilled until serving, so that they don’t fall apart. Another advantage is that they’re gluten-free, so you can feel good giving them to those hard-to-bake-for friends.

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.