Yes, I’ll admit it – I’m a bit of an Anglophile. And, with the holidays just around the corner, I don’t simply dream of a white Christmas, but a Dickensian one. I imagine a holiday with Victorian carolers strolling snow-covered cobbled streets, a cozy Cotswold cottage lit with candles and scented with crackling roast goose and steamy figgy pudding, pulling Christmas crackers with family and friends around the table, and nibbling treats like these very British Eccles cakes.
The Eccles cake may have been created about 20 years before Dickens was even born, yet these are just the type of sweetmeat I imagine gracing Mr. Fezziwig’s overladen Christmas Eve party table.
An Eccles cake is a small, heavily spiced pastry filled with currants and candied orange peel wrapped in a flaky (rough puff) pastry. The origins can be traced to the town of Eccles, formerly within the Lancashire boundary, but now a suburb of Manchester. Weights are in grams, nodding to their British origin.
Stir together all filling ingredients in a small bowl. Microwave for 45 seconds to 1 minute until butter is melted. Cover and set aside for the flavors to meld and currants to soften. Refrigerate. Once cold, the filling should bind together without extra liquid. Drain if necessary.
Pulse flour, salt and butter in a food processor until butter pieces are pea-sized. Gradually pulse in about 100-125ml cold water until mixture comes together into a dough. Do not overwork.
Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle three times as long as it is wide. Fold the top third down into the middle, then the bottom third up over the top, then rotate the pastry 90 degrees so the fold is now vertical. Roll out again and repeat then wrap in cling-wrap and chill for 20 minutes. Repeat the rolling, folding, rotating, rolling and folding one more time. Chill for an hour.
Roll the pastry out on a lightly floured work surface a little thicker than 1/8th of an inch, then cut out rounds about 3 ½ inches wide. Put a half-tablespoon of filling in the center of each, then dampen the edges of the circle and bring the edges into the middle, pinching together to seal well. Put on a parchment-lined baking tray smooth side up, and squash slightly until flattened. Repeat with the rest and chill for 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Remove pastries from refrigerator, brush with egg white and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Cut three slashes in the top of each and bake for about 20-25 minutes until golden and well-risen. Allow to cool before eating – the filling will be hot.
At dinner tonight, I noticed a female cook working the line. Tall and graceful, with delicate earrings dangling from her ears, she moved thoughtfully, preparing each dish deliberately and unhurried. Her figure skater grace was eclipsed by the customary bravado of her hockey player fellow cooks, and yet, surprisingly, the boys left her to her own methods, without remark. Could she be an owner and thus excluded from the usual kitchen hazing? During my (short- lived) kitchen exploits, lacking the obligatory culinary machismo wasn’t tolerated by the rest of the line. She had the same forearm burns as the boys, turned out the same dishes, but with a tranquility and fluidity not typically found in a restaurant. It was a pleasure to watch her and gave me hope as a female chef.
– 1 ½ cups hazelnuts, toasted and skin removed, or toasted almonds, or 9 oz. toasted almond meal
– ¾ cup sugar
– ½ cup all-purpose flour
– 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (divided)
– 1 teaspoon baking soda
– ¾ teaspoon salt
– ½ teaspoon cinnamon
– 1/8 teaspoon cloves
– 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
– 3 Tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch cubes
– Grated zest from one orange (about 1 Tablespoon)
– 3 Tablespoons fresh orange juice
– 2 Tablespoons rum or hazelnut flavored liqueur (divided)
– ½ cup confectioners sugar
– 3 Tablespoons water
– 3 Tablespoons toasted nuts or toasted cocoa nibs
Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a sheet pan with parchment or a silicone liner and spray with cooking spray.
In a food processor, pulse nuts, sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt, and spices until finely chopped. Add butter and zest and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add juice and 1 Tablespoon rum and pulse until dough comes together into a ball, but is still crumbly.
Form tablespoons of dough into balls (18-20 grams each) and slightly flatten to about 1 ½ inches, arranging 1 inch apart on sheet pan. It’s important the butter in the dough remains cold prior to baking.
Bake cookies until puffed and slightly cracked, about 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack until barely warm.
Meanwhile, whisk together confectioners sugar, ½ cup cocoa powder, 1 Tablespoon rum and water until smooth. Frost each cookie with a bit of icing and sprinkle with nuts or cocoa nibs. Frosting the slightly warm cookies will ensure icing spreads smoothly. Let cookies stand until icing is set, about 1 hour. These cookies remain soft and improve with age if kept in an airtight container at room temperature.
Variation: reduce salt to 1/4 teaspoon and substitute toasted nuts/cocoa nibs with a sprinkle of sea salt.
Our search for Clarity occasionally demands us to set aside to-do lists in favor of prayer books. It inters us within a temple of quiet solitude, away from the dazzle of worldliness, insisting on reflection. Our weaving of elaborate plans is replaced by solemn contemplation. When I ache with this azan in my ear, I bow at my kitchen’s altar for answers often found within the merging of butter, sugar and flour.
Flavored with candied orange and anise, these cookies are a nod to the French sweet bread, gibassier
– 3/4 cup sugar
– 8 oz. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
– 2 teaspoons orange flower water
– 3 eggs
– 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
– ½ cup almond flour
– 2 teaspoons baking powder
– ¼ teaspoon salt
– 1/3 cup candied orange peel, finely chopped
– 1 teaspoon anise seeds, toasted and slightly crushed
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a sheet pan with parchment and spray with cooking spray.
In a stand mixer, beat sugar and butter until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Add extract and beat well.
Add flour, almond flour, baking powder and salt and mix until blended. Add candied orange peel and anise and mix until just combined.
Shape dough into two rolls the length of the sheet pan. Flatten each to 3” wide. Bake 20-25 minutes until set and barely beginning to brown. Cool 10 minutes. Cut rolls ½” thick across into 18 biscotti each. 5. Arrange biscotti on their sides on sheet pan and bake 8-10 minutes. Turn cookies over and bake an additional 5 minutes. Bake cookies until dry and crispy, but not brown. I enjoy these treats dipped in a cappuccino or glass of milk.
Trusting has been difficult for me, yet of the highest importance. I don’t trust easily – or often. It takes years of loyalty to gain my trust, one bad deed to destroy it. One boyfriend, The Irishman, managed to garner my complete trust during our exceedingly brief 8-month relationship. At the time, I should have questioned it further – why did I trust him, what was his secret trust sauce? Because now, I could use a magnum of it. I find myself obliged to trust others with my livelihood, my reputation, my future, my pride and, most importantly, my heart. Utter reliability on others has never been my forte and, today, I’m left vulnerable. I possess no options except to close my eyes, fall back from a great height, and pray someone’s there to catch me.
While I anxiously await answers to my immediate future, I divert myself with this holiday-appropriate use for leftover cranberry sauce, using last week’s recipe.
6 Tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons whole milk
1 cup cranberry sauce
½ cup oatmeal
½ cup chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 375°F. Line 8×8-inch baking pan with heavy-duty foil, leaving overhang. Spray foil with nonstick spray.
Combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, and salt in processor; blend for 5 seconds. Add butter and extract. Pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add milk and pulse until mixture comes together in small clumps.
Transfer ½ cup (packed) mixture to small bowl and reserve for streusel. Blend remaining mixture in processor until large moist clumps form. Press dough over bottom of prepared pan. Don’t clean processor bowl. Bake dough until golden, about 15 minutes; cool crust 15 minutes. Maintain oven temperature.
While crust bakes and cools, blend cranberry sauce in processor into a chunky puree. Add oatmeal and walnuts to reserved 1/2 cup dough. Mix dough with fork or fingers, breaking streusel topping into small clumps.
Spread cranberry sauce over baked crust. Sprinkle streusel topping over. Bake until filling is bubbling and streusel topping is golden brown, about 20-30 minutes. Cool in pan on rack. Using foil overhang as aid, lift from pan. Peel off foil and discard. Cut cookies into 16 bars.
Staying true to its name, The back page of each month’s Cook’s Illustrated displays drawings of a specific variety of culinary ingredient such as Gulf Coast fish (March/April 2014) , types of pears (Sept/Oct 2014) or an array of classic tapas (July/Aug 2015). This month’s illustration is “classic American cookies.” I scan the line-up and check off the usual suspects– chocolate chip – yep, peanut butter – made them, oatmeal raisin – of course, snickerdoodles – baked my first batch at 12. They took liberty with some – is chocolate sandwich truly an American classic (outside of the store bought Oreo variety). Then one lumpy, Cliff-bar looking cookie catches my eye – hermit. Whaaaa??? What the hell is that? I’ve never heard of a hermit cookie. Where could this hermit have been hiding all these years? A bit of cookie wiki and I soon learn they came from the New England area and, although ingredients differ, seem to be a chewy, heavily spiced cookie- bar (usually) or drop – with any combination of raisins, currants, dates and walnuts.
What have I been missing? Well, a lot. We’ll see these again around Christmas time. Oh yum.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 13×9” pan.
In a large bowl, beat together sugar and butter until smooth. Beat in egg, spices, salt and baking soda. Gently stir in flour then add the molasses and beat until fully incorporated. Stir in the raisins and nuts.
Pat dough evenly into pan and sprinkle with demerara sugar. Bake for 20-25 minutes until just set. Do not over-bake. You want the final bars to be chewy. Cool completely before cutting.