Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Afternoon Tea Lavender Cookies

In our country, every day, we practice what multitudes of workers call “coffee breaks,” where highly caffeinated drinks are often accompanied with sugary pastries such as doughnuts and croissants. Generally, these are short social breaks in between working hours, dressed up with a substantial amount of ritual. Being neither a coffee drinker nor a lover of fried dough, I've never been much for the idea of the coffee break.

What does appeal to me is the lesser-practiced Afternoon Tea. Although I wouldn't mind tiered stands of petit fours, cucumber sandwiches, and scones, along with delicate tea cups on saucers, I am not so attached to its formality (stuffiness, some may call it), but rather to its very existence. For me, tea time lasts from my wake-up cup of English Breakfast to my bedtime chamomile. Throughout the day, my tea is at times paired with a cookie or some other treat, and at times, it stands alone. As much as I like to appreciate the teas that I drink and truly take in their individual flavors, there is also can be a place for a delectable morsel of food alongside the tea cup; why else would tea houses and coffee shops also stock such a wonderful selection of baked goods? I have yet to designate an official “afternoon tea time” for myself, or even obtain a fancy cup and saucer. But I still like to try out an assortment of cookies and pastries that simply beg to be sampled alongside a cup of Earl Grey.

The following Lavender Tea Cookies are a perfect fit. Basically a shortbread, the cookies are buttery and rich, and the addition of lavender frosting adds another dimension to the already fragrant base.

Lavender Tea Cookies

1 tbsp. dried culinary lavender flowers
1 cup butter, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp.pure vanilla extract
¼ tsp. lemon extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp. salt
Lavender Frosting (see recipe below)

1. In a mortar, grind lavender flowers with the pestle.
2. In a medium bowl, cream together ground lavender flowers, butter, sugar, vanilla extract, and lemon extract. Add flour and salt; mix until combined (dough should be soft but not sticky.)
3. Refrigerate 1 to 2 hours or until dough is firm.
4. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Remove dough from refrigerator and shape into small discs, about ¼ inch thick. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until cookies are lightly browned around the edges. Remove from oven and cool on wire racks. When cool, frost with Lavender Frosting.

Lavender Frosting

1 cup powdered (confectioners) sugar
2 tbsp. dried culinary lavender flowers
2 tbsp. milk

1. In a small plastic bag, combine powdered sugar and dried lavender flowers. Let stand at least 1 day before using. When ready to use, sift the mixture into a medium-size bowl; discarding lavender flowers. Add milk, mixing well. Spread on cooled cookies.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Construction For Change Almond Meringue Cookies

Baking for an audience is one of my favorite things; I enjoy the opportunity to create something that others will (hopefully) take pleasure in tasting. And I also feel it's important to support causes that resonate with me personally, so when a friend asked me to help her with a dessert menu for her charity event, I was eager to offer my talent. She works for a wonderful Seattle-based non-profit organization called Construction For Change, and they hosted a large-scale banquet fund raiser last week. The mission of Construction For Change is this: “We partner with organizations worldwide to provide needed infrastructure for economic, medical, and educational growth in developing communities; giving them the tools to eradicate poverty and improve quality of life for those in need.” And from what my friend told me, the event was a massive success, with a substantial amount of money raised for their initiative in Zambia.

I was very happy to help support her efforts in whatever way I could, and even if a dessert at their banquet may be a humble offering, I hope that the Almond Meringues I baked made a small difference, at least, in someone's evening.

Almond Meringue Cookies

From The Joy of Baking

3 large egg whites
¼ tsp. cream of tartar
¾ cup superfine sugar
¼ tsp. pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees and place the rack in the center of your oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Beat the egg whites on low-medium speed until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and continue to beat the whites until they hold soft peaks. Add the sugar, a little at a time, and continue to beat until the meringue holds very stiff peaks. Beat in the vanilla extract. The meringue is done when it holds stiff peaks and when you rub a little between your thumb and index finger it does not feel gritty.
3. Before placing the cookies on the cookie sheet, place a little of the meringue on the underside of each corner of the parchment paper. This will prevent the paper from sliding. Transfer the meringue to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch tip. Pipe 2 1/2 inch rounds of meringue in rows on the prepared baking sheet. Alternatively, spoon mounds of meringue, using two spoons, onto the prepared sheets. Sprinkle with a few shaved almonds.
4. Bake the meringues for approximately 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours, rotating the baking sheet from front to back (about half way through) to ensure even baking. The meringues are done when they are pale in color and fairly crisp. Turn off the oven, open the door a crack, and leave the meringues in the oven to finish drying overnight.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Rich Chocolate Cookies

Last week I was playing around, as I so often do, with chocolate chip cookie recipes, and I decided to blend the elements of three of my favorite recipes together into one cookie. What I got in the end was a dark, rich cookie that was cakey and not too sugary – exactly how I enjoy my chocolate chip cookies. Normally, I use semi-sweet chips in my cookies, but given the addition of unsweetened cocoa powder, milk chocolate chips work perfectly to soften the flavor.
As usual, I had a wonderful time experimenting in the kitchen, and I wanted to save this particular recipe, as I feel that it's a bit more special than regular chocolate chip cookies, but not overly fancy: just a simple, delicious drop cookie of chocolaty goodness.

Rich Chocolate Cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
¾ cup packed brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs
¼ cup milk
2 cups milk chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a small bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. In a medium bowl, blend together the sugars, butter, and vanilla extract. Add the eggs one at a time. Gradually beat in the flour mixture, alternating with the milk. Stir in chocolate chips.
3. Bake for 11-13 minutes and cool on a wire rack.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Sweet Summer Berries to Come

The abundance of Spring produce that entices us with their fresh, sustaining scents and flavors fills me with unlimited gratitude, especially now that I am able to spend so much of my time on an organic farm here in the Pacific Northwest. Never have I felt so close to the food that I eat: the fresh spinach I had for lunch, my breakfast eggs that had been plucked from the hen house only a day before, the texture of homemade bread baked through with hand-picked rosemary. Each meal and snack is a treat for the senses and a gift to the body.

Living in this area of the country, I am particularly thrilled for berry season. While I love my assortment of vegetables, berries are my weakness. I'm looking forward to days where I consume nothing but fruit and homemade bread, the occasional nibble of cheese thrown in here and there for good measure. This past weekend, I enjoyed a little preview of what berry season can mean to Washington State when my boyfriend and I picked up a 3 pound bag of frozen berries, straight from Remlinger Farm in nearby Carnation, WA. Our initial plan was to make a mixed berry cobbler for dessert, but there was such an abundance of berry delightfulness I was able to put together a whole second mixed berry dessert – Berry Crumb Bars – the next day.

I've always loved the month of June, but this year I'm full of another level of anticipation: strawberry season begins mid-June at Remlinger Farm, with raspberries and blueberries following close after. That, combined with the copious amount of wild blackberry bushed in this beautiful state, stand to guarantee a gloriously colossal array of fruit-filled desserts...assuming, of course, that the berries make it home at all.
Mixed Berry Cobbler

From Cooking Light Magazine

2 cups granola
½ cup milk
2 (12-oz.) packages frozen mixed berries
¼ cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 tsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. cardamom
¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
1. Preheat oven to 350º. Stir together granola and milk in a small bowl. Let stand 5 minutes.
2. Toss together berries and next 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Spoon berry mixture into a 8-inch square baking dish.
3. Stir granola mixture, and spoon over berry mixture. Lightly coat with cooking spray.
4. Bake at 350º for 1 hour or until bubbly.
Berry Crumb Bars
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. white sugar
2 tsp. lemon zest
1 pinch salt
½ cup butter, chilled and diced
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 ½ cups mixed berries
¼ cup white sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
5 tbsp. butter, softened
½ cup packed brown sugar
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1. Preheat oven to 400º. Grease a 9x13 inch baking pan.
2. In a medium bowl, stir together the 2 cups flour, 2 tablespoons white sugar, lemon zest and salt. Cut in the 1/2 cup butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Beat egg and vanilla together; stir into the crumb mixture. Press into the bottom of the prepared pan.
3. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes in the preheated oven, until golden. Remove from oven and set aside to cool slightly.
4. Sprinkle berries over the crust. In a small bowl, combine the 1/4 cup sugar and nutmeg; sprinkle over the berries. Make the topping: In a medium bowl, cream together the 5 tablespoons butter and brown sugar until smooth. Mix in the flour until the mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle over the berry layer.
5. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes in the preheated oven, until browned.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies

As is common knowledge, I have quite the soft spot for cookies; it doesn't matter if they are the most traditional of traditional, the same chocolate chip cookies that have been made since the dawn of Hershey's, or if they are strange, adventurous recipes that mix unlikely partners in a surprisingly tasty and offbeat snack.

Peanut Butter cookies are on my list of classic cookies that adorn every bakery case, and I've never found the need to experiment much with them – some chocolate chips or cocoa powder here and there, perhaps. But when I found this recipe for peanut butter cookies, I was amazed at the different, and altogether wholesome, ingredient list: oats, wheat bran, whole wheat flour. I knew I had to try these cookies, and add my own twists. I replaced applesauce for the butter, used raw sugar instead of granulated, and reduced the overall amount of sugar (only slightly with the brown sugar).

The original recipe also made no mention of chocolate chips, and I figured that must have been a printing error of some sort; the chocolate only enhances the peanut butter flavor, and it provides a good, sweet balance to the bran and the oats.
The cookies, then, turned out not only delicious, but nourishing (at least partly so, or as much as a cookie can nourish). At the very least, my spirit was heartily stimulated after eating a couple of these Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies
Yield: About 4 dozen


½ cup applesauce
¾ cup raw sugar
1 cup peanut butter
1 ¼ cup whole wheat flour
¾ cup rolled oats
¾ cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup wheat bran
2 tsp. baking soda


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a large bowl, beat together applesauce, sugars, vanilla, peanut butter, and eggs. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, bran, oats, and baking soda. Slowly stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture until smooth. Drop by rounded teaspoons onto an ungreased baking sheet.
3. Bake 15-17 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool.