WTF! (What The Fig!)

For Purim this year I made and donated 4 dozen hamantaschen to our California temple for their bake sale. I really, Really, REALLY liked the fig variety and knew there must be another place to use that fig purée.  I was considering homemade Fig Newtons®, but those cookies are available in those so-convenient two serving packages I thought, why try to copy perfection? I mean, artists copy Renoirs to hone their artistic skills, but only as an exercise… for practice… right? How could I chance trying to improve my baking skills and thereby perhaps plagiarize perfection?

I thought a fig-filled/short-bread cookie might Fig Shortbread Cookie 3be a good combination. The slight snap of this buttery cookie and the sweet/tartness of the fig pureé should pair well.  

I was right, but the first batch had a minor problem.  I tried to roll the shortbread dough thinner than usual for cookies, but it still ended up too thick. I rolled them directly on the parchment paper covered cookie sheet thinking they would be too fragile to move after cutting. I chickened out and still left them about 2x too thick, much like leaving your birdie putt short. (NEVER leave your birdie putt short!) By making the cookie thick, the buttery flavor of the cookie overpowered the fig flavor, so I added additional fig filling for each cookie. (What a shame.) When biting the cookie, the filling squeezes out the sides of the cookie and has to be licked off. (What a shame.)

Shortbread Cookie

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup butter or margarine, softened
  • ¾ cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 ½ cups Gold Medal™ all-purpose flour

METHOD

  1. Heat oven to 350°F. In large bowl, beat butter, powdered sugar and vanilla with spoon. Stir in flour. (If dough is crumbly, mix in 1 to 2 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened.)
  2. Roll dough ¼” (or less if you can) thick on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Cut into small shapes and remove the excess, combine and roll out again, and again.
  3. Bake 10 to 16 minutes (depending on thickness of the cookie) or until set and bottoms are light golden brown. Immediately remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely, about 30 minutes. I like to slide the parchment paper off the cookie sheet with all the cookies still attached, let cool until cookies release from the paper and leave on the wire rack until cool.

Fig Filling

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 ½ scant cups chopped, stemmed, dried black figs (about 9 ounces)
  • 3/4 cup (177 ml) pomegranate juice
  • ⅓ cup (66 grams) sugar
  • Finely grated zest of 1 orange
  • 1 star anise, or ¼ tsp crushed fennel seeds
  • 1 cup water

METHOD

  1. In a saucepan, combine the figs, juice, sugar, zest, star anise (or fennel), and 1 cup of water and bring to a boil.
  2. Simmer over low heat until the figs are softened and the liquid is syrupy and is reduced to about ½ cup.
  3. Let the figs cool in their syrup, then puree in a food processor until smooth. [If you dislike the taste of star anise, you should remove it before pureeing, but if you do, leave it in.
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Somewhere, Under the Rainbow

Frances sent me a picture of these cupcakes thinking I might like the design and might make them. She was right, I did and I did. Sadly, she is not eating any added sugar at the moment… sigh. I also had a new white cake recipe I wanted to try and the confluence of these two irresistible forces resulted in an almost perfect cupcake. However, my unpaid, full time, in-house taste tester felt the cupcake was sweet and adding the buttercream frosting just put her over the edge. You know, the typical shakes, cold sweats and hyperactivity of a pure sugar high. The white cake recipe is a keeper though. Maybe a cream cheese frosting…

Land o’Lakes published the rainbow piping concept. I read it but then I did it my way

Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew (get it?)
But through it all, when there was doubt
I ate it up and spit it out (never!)
I faced it all and I stood tall
And did it my way

Buttercream Frosting

Previously if I wanted multi-colored piping I will fill small piping bags with different colored frosting, snip the ends off and cram them into a large bag. This worked fair at best. This technique is far superior, and maybe even easier. I use Wiltons Icing Colors. They are concentrated and you don’t need much for very vibrant colors.

Once the colored frosting is piped into rows on a piece of food wrap, roll the wrap up and snip off the end. Put the rolled frosting into a large piping bag with a large star end.

Run a little of the frosting out until the mixture comes out evenly distributed, then pipe the rainbows, surrounding the marshmallow clouds.

Thank you Land o’Lakes, this was a great technique.

THE BEST BUTTERCREAM FROSTING

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 cups of powdered sugar (or 1 box)
  • 1 Cup (2 sticks) of softened butter
  • 2-3 teaspoons of vanilla
  • 1-2 tablespoons of milk
  • Violet food coloring

METHOD

  1. Add powdered sugar to mixing bowl.
  2. Add softened sticks of butter
  3. Add vanilla. If you want white buttercream use clear imitation vanilla. Also, adding a little violet food coloring (like the end of a toothpicks worth) will help lighten the yellowish color due to the butter.
  4. Add 1 tbsp of milk.
  5. Beat on low until powdered sugar is incorporated. Then move mixer up to medium-high speed. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often. When completely mixed the frosting may appear dry.
  6. Add more milk, a little bit at a time until frosting is the proper consistency.

White Cup Cakes –

I don’t remember where I saw this recipe but it is a basic white cake with whipped egg whites (meringue) gently folded into the batter. I made a half recipe just to try it. This made 15 medium sized cupcakes. Either follow the instructions and make cakes, or do what I did, or both, and make a lot of cupcakes!

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 5 egg whites

METHOD

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Grease 3 (8-inch) round cake pans; line bottoms with parchment paper, and grease and flour paper.
  2. Stir together milk and vanilla.
  3. Beat butter at medium speed with a heavy-duty electric stand mixer until creamy; gradually add sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Sift together flour and baking powder; add to butter mixture alternately with milk mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed just until blended after each addition.
  4. Beat egg whites at medium speed until stiff peaks form; gently fold into batter. Pour batter into prepared pans.
  5. Bake at 350° for 20 to 23 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes. Remove from pans to wire racks; discard parchment paper. Cool completely (about 40 minutes).
  6. Spread Vanilla Buttercream Frosting between layers (about 1 cup per layer) and on top and sides of cake.

Sir Lawrence Olive Bread Sticks

I love olives. I love olives stuffed with pimentos, or not. I love green olives, I love black olives. I am the only one in our house who does love olives, so…. When the spouse is away, the baker can play. Several years ago when Fran was away I would treat myself to a dish of grilled turkey sausage over a bed of black beans and white rice and finished with a monolayer of sliced jalapenos.  Mmmmmm… But I digress, I was talking about olives.

Paul Hollywood made olive bread sticks on a GBBO Masterclass month. You may know, I love olives and you may also have caught the hint with Fran away I can make a variety of foods I prefer not to make. I made olive bread sticks today.

I used Paul’s recipe and technique, and it worked spot on, first time. I cut the recipe in half and ended up with about 18 bread sticks about an olive wide and 12” long. As an experiment, I added and egg wash to 4 and coated the tops of 4 with butter. It was not needed. It didn’t offer much. I wonder how they would be with turkey sausage and jalapenos?

INGREDIENTS

  • 1kg/2lb 2oz strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 20g/¾oz salt
  • 20g/¾oz instant yeast
  • 800ml/1½ pints tepid water
  • 4 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for oiling
  • 1 x 1kg/2lb 2oz jar pitted green olives in brine, drained
  • fine semolina, for dusting (optional)

METHODmixing-dough-with-olives

  1. Oil two 2-3 liter/3½-5¼ pints square plastic container. (One for half recipe.)
  2. Put the flour into the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the salt to one side of the bowl and the yeast to the other. Add three-quarters of the water and begin mixing on a slow speed. As the dough starts to come together, gradually add the remaining water.dough-with-olives-incorporated
  3. Mix for a further 5-8 minutes on a medium speed. The dough should now be wet and stretch easily when pulled. Add the olive oil and mix for a further two minutes. Add the olives and mix until well-distributed.
  4. Put the dough into the oiled containers and leave until they have at least tripled in size – for approximately an hour.mixed-dough-before-rise
  5. Line four baking trays with baking parchment or silicone paper and preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas
  6. Dust the work surface heavily with flour – add some semolina too, if you have some. Carefully tip the dough onto the surface. It will be very loose and flowing – but don’t worry. Rather than knocking it back, handle it gently so that you keep as much air in the dough as olive-loaf-risen-1possible.
  7. Dust the top of the dough with flour and then stretch it out gently to a rough rectangle. Starting at one long edge, cut the dough into approximately 36 strips. Stretch each piece out until 20-25cm/8-10in long. Place six strips onto each of the prepared baking trays, spacing them apart.dough-cut-straightened-and-baking
  8. Bake the dough sticks for 10-15 minutes. Cool on wire rack.olive-loaf-completed-1

Sugar Cookies with Sugar Icing, I can’t stop shaking!!!

As if plain sugar cookies aren’t enough to start heart palpitations and have you bouncingsugar-cookies-chanukah_0005 off the walls with a sugar high, let’s coat them with sugar icing! There is no thought of balancing flavors or textures here, just sweet and crunch. I saw a hint somewhere of using squeeze bottles with medium fine tips rather than traditional piping bags to decorate cookies. At about $1 each, what go wrong? As it turned out, they worked great and provided squeexe-bottlemore fine motor control than piping.

I “piped” the edges of the cookies with a fairly thick batch of colored, or not, icing to make a damn dam. Be careful not to try to sugar-cookies-christmas_0005pipe thick icing. #1, it plugs the tip and “b” it takes a lot force (read: tired and cramping fingers and hands here). Once the damn dam is dried flood the inside with thinner frosting. Poke any holes with a toothpick. Let dry, probably overnight.

INGREDIENTS

COOKIES

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

ICING

  • 1 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 3-4 tablespoons water
  • 1-2 tsp lemon juice

Method

  1. In large bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, and salt. With an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture; beat until combined. Divide dough in half; flatten into disks. Wrap each in plastic; freeze until firm, at least 20 minutes, or place in a resealable plastic bag, and freeze up to 3 months (thaw in refrigerator overnight).
  2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment. Remove one dough disk; let stand 5 to 10 minutes. Roll out 1/8 inch thick between two sheets of floured parchment, dusting dough with flour as needed. Cut shapes with cookie cutters. Using a spatula, transfer to prepared baking sheets. (If dough gets soft, chill 10 minutes.) Reroll scraps; cut shapes. Repeat with remaining dough.
  3. Bake, rotating halfway through, until edges are golden, 10 to 18 minutes (depending on size). Cool completely on wire racks. To ice cookies, spread with the back of a spoon. Let the icing harden, about 20 minutes. Decorate as desired.
  4. For the icing, sift confectioners’ sugar into a small bowl. Mix water and lemon juice. Whisk in water/lemon juice mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time, until smooth and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. If too thin, whisk in more sugar; if too thick, add more liquid. Spread over cookies with back of a spoon. Add other decorations, if desired. Let the icing harden, about 20 minutes.

NOTES

Use flour on utensils to keep dough from sticking: Dip the cookie cutters, and dust the spatula before transferring uncooked dough to a sheet. You can store cookies in airtight containers at room temperature, up to 1 week.

Cheddar Cheese Crackers

I wanted a snack to go with football and a beer or two this past weekend and remembered this recipe in Paul Hollywood’s bread cookbook. I based my recipe on his for poppy or caraway seed or Gruyere cheese crackers but mine just uses cheddar cheese.

A couple of caveats I learned the hard way:img_0009

  • Rolling the dough out thinner makes more, crispier crackers. They will puff up, especially if thick. Next time I will use the spacer rubber bands on my rolling pin to be sure they are thin and uniform.
  • Make sure they are img_0004cooked through. They need to be a good golden brown. Leave them in a few extra minutes and test a thick one when you think they are done. They should be well cooked all the way through or they won’t have a good cracker snap (they will still taste great though.)

 

Ingredients

  • 325 g white bread flour
  • 8 g salt
  • 110 g softened butter
  • 45 g water
  • 2 eggs
  • 120 g sharp cheddar cheese

Method

  1. Put the flour, salt, butter, water and 1 beaten egg into a bowl and mix for 5 min. (Stand mixer level 2)
  2. Add the shredded cheddar cheese and mix until well incorporated.
  3. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill for 1-2 hrs.
  4. Preheat an oven to 400o fan and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  5. Roll out dough on a lightly floured counter to about 1/8″ (no more) and cut. I used a 2″ round cutter. Place on the lined cookie sheet, brush with the second egg (beaten.) Dust with Kosher or Sea Salt and bake for 15 – 20 min.
  6. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Serve warm or cold.
Makes 30-40 crackers.