December 23, 2009

Linzer Cookies with Raspberry Jam

Filed under: Cookies, Desserts — by Carla



Along with the iced sugar cookies, rugulach, gingerbread and snowballs, these Bavarian treats yell “Look at me” on the cookie tray. The warm spices of cinnamon and clove pop with flavor, not to mention the fruity raspberry jam’s tart bite. They take a little time to make, but that’s part of what makes them special. Everyone who eats one knows that they are biting into something that was baked with love. I usually place them around the edges of the cookie tray because they really stand out with that snowy covering of powdered sugar. The dough freezes really well, so make as many as you want and then tuck the remaining dough away for another time. Not just for Christmas, they’d be pretty fabulous with a cup of coffee in January or February as well. Happy Holidays!



 Kitchen Counter Point: Rolling the dough between sheets of plastic means that you can re-roll the scraps over and over again. Rolling the dough in flour toughens it so you usually can’t re-roll scraps more than 1 or 2 times. It also helps to make cleaner cuts with no sticking if you dunk the cutter into flour once in a while. I like to use a decorative round cutter for the tops. It just makes them look a little more special. Just bake them separately from the solid rounds because they cook a little faster. To make the sugar topping look its best, use a strainer filled with powdered sugar to dust the tops of the cookies.


Makes about 3 dozen cookies

2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1 cup finely ground almonds
1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam
Additional powdered sugar

In a small bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, cloves and salt. Wisk to blend.

Beat the powdered sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and add the dry ingredients by the cupful. Stir in the almonds.

Divide the dough in half and roll it out to about 1/8-inch thickness between 2 sheets of plastic wrap. Chill on a cookie sheet until firm, about 20 minutes. Cut out rounds with a 2-inch round cookie cutter and cut the center out of half the rounds with a 3/4-inch round cutter. Re-roll the scraps and cut out more in the same manner.

Preheat oven to 350ºF

Bake on parchment lined sheet pans for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly golden. Cool on wire racks and spread the rounds with raspberry jam. Top with a ring and sprinkle powdered sugar over all.

December 18, 2009

Brie, Pistachio and Apricot Phyllo Bites

Filed under: Uncategorized — by Meredith

Brie, Pistachio and Apricot Phyllo Bites

Some dishes are just naturally jolly, and this buttery, flaky, cheesy treat certainly fits into that category. Phyllo dough, buttered and wrapped around small bites of gooey brie and a dollop of dried apricots, chopped pistachios held together with apricot preserves are baked until golden brown and crispy and served with an easy dipping sauce made of reduced apricot nectar and rum. These little treasures are just the thing to make ahead and keep frozen in the likely event that unexpected company shows up on your door this holiday season.

Kitchen Counter Point- Make sure you thaw your frozen phyllo dough in the refrigerator.  If you thaw your phyllo on the counter, it tends to collect condensation inside the package which will make your dough too moist with a tendancy to tear as you pull the layers apart.

Makes 40 pieces

Dipping Sauce
1 cup apricot nectar
1/4 cup white rum

1/2 cup natural (green) pistachios , finely chopped
1/2 cup dried apricots, very finely chopped
1/3 cup apricot preserves
1/4 teaspoon salt

16 phyllo sheets
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted

8 ounces brie (rind removed) and cut into 40 ½-inch cubes

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

1. Cook the apricot nectar and rum in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the mixture has reduced to 1/4 cup. Remove the apricot sauce from the heat and reserve.

2. In a medium bowl, thoroughly combine the pistachios, apricots, preserves and salt.

3. Remove the phyllo from the package, unroll it onto a workspace and immediately cover it with a large sheet of plastic wrap. Cover the plastic wrap with a damp towel to weigh it down and prevent the air from drying out the pastry. You must work quickly when making the layers and recover the pastry as soon as possible.

4. Carefully remove one sheet of phyllo dough and lay it out on a work surface. Brush the sheet with the melted butter and lay a second sheet on top of the first. Brush again with the melted butter. With a pizza cutter or a sharp knife cut the phyllo into 5 3″x9″ strips. Lay 1 cheese cube, a teaspoon of apricot/pistachio mixture on the short end of each strip. Fold the phyllo over the filling to form a triangle or as you would fold a flag and continue to fold leaving a seam on the bottom of the triangle. Brush the triangle with melted butter and place it on a parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining phyllo and filling leaving about 1/2-inch between triangles. (The triangles may be frozen at this point and then transferred to freezer bags for storage up to 3 weeks. They may be baked off frozen. Just add a few minutes to the baking time.)

5. Bake the triangles for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden. Serve hot or room temperature.

6. Serve the apricot nectar/rum mixture on the side as a dip.

Make-ahead: The phyllo bites can be assembled and frozen, uncooked in a single layer on a baking sheet. Once frozen, they can be transfered to a ziplock bag and kept for up to 1 month in the freezer. Bake as directed.

December 7, 2009

Pain Chocolat

Filed under: Pastry — by Carla



As good as a homemade croissant is, it can’t hold a candle to pain chocolat.  Wherever you stand on the chocolate issue, flaky pastry wrapped around a bar of bittersweet chocolate just can’t be wrong. Sadly, unless you happen to live near an authentic French bakery, you’ve probably never tasted a truly fine example of this simple, but heavenly pastry. But, never fear. Once you get the knack of making the dough, this treat is not complicated to make. The flavor and texture is just unbelievable when eaten warm from the oven when  the chocolate is oozey. At the first bite you will be transported to the Paris and the rive gauche, where pain chocolat is just a short stroll away no matter what direction you happen to be wandering. For best results, try eating one (or two if you’re feeling naughty) with a really good cup of French press coffee. Bon appétit.

pain-chocolat_0511Kitchen Counter Point: This recipe is a basic croissant dough. In baking circles it is called a laminated dough because the butter is actually sandwiched between many layers. When the pastry bakes, the butter melts and creates steam, which causes the layers to rise and form that delectable flaky texture. Though this dough does take some time to make, it is mostly just rising. cooling or hands off time. I usually begin the process a day ahead and make the pastry through all of the “turns”. After a night in the frig, the dough is ready to be rolled out and shaped into either pain chocolat or butter rolls, your choice.

Thanks to Julia Child and Simone Beck’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking for the inspiration of this recipe.

Makes 12 pain chocolat

1 1/2 cups cold milk warmed in a microwave oven for 45 seconds (bathwater temperature)
1 package (7 grams) dry yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 sticks cold, unsalted butter
Flour as needed
3- 4oz bars bittersweet chocolate, each broken into 4 pieces
1 large egg, beaten with 2 tablespoons water and a pinch of salt

To the warm milk add the yeast and sugar and let sit undisturbed for 5 minutes while assembling the flour and salt. The top of the milk will be foamy and the yeast activated. Stir to dissolve the sugar.

In a large bowl or stand mixer bowl, combine the flour and salt and stir to combine. Make a trough in the center of the flour and add the milk-yeast mixture. If using a stand mixer attach the paddle and mix on speed 2 until the dough is mixed and then change out the paddle to the dough hook and mix on the same speed for about 2 minutes or until it is smooth and elastic. If making the dough by hand, mix the dough until combined with a wooden spoon, turn it out onto a work surface and knead the dough by hand until smooth and elastic, about 4 minutes.

Place the dough in a large (12 cup) bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set the dough to rise in a warm place (72 degrees) until tripled, about 3 hours. Punch the dough down to deflate it and let it rise again until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.

Deflate the dough by loosening up the sides with a rubber scraper, recover and place the dough in the refrigerator for a 30 minute chill. This will make the dough easier to work with.

Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and turn it out onto a floured surface. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out into a rectangle measuring 14x 20 inches.

Flour a work surface near the dough and lay out the cold butter with the two sticks side by side and the half stick across the top end to form what looks like two columns with a top. Flour the butter and with a rolling pin or a meat pounder,  pound the butter flat, trying to keep it stuck together in one piece until it measures roughly 12x 14-inches. Transfer the butter to the dough covering 2/3 of the dough, leaving a 1-inch border around the edges. (It’s alright if the butter breaks into pieces, just piece it back together on the dough.)

The dough now needs to be folded in to 3 layers (like a business letter.) Start at the edge that isn’t covered in butter and fold the dough up and over to cover 1/2 of the butter covered dough. Pat down to secure it and fold over the remaining butter covered dough. You now have 3 layers of dough covering 2 layers of butter. This is called turn #1

To make second turn, position the dough so that an open end is facing you and roll out the dough with a rolling pin into a rectangle about 18x 10-inches. Brush any flour from the top of the dough with a dry pastry brush and fold it into 3rds as before. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and place it in a plastic zip lock bag. Store the dough in the refrigerator for 1 hour and then complete turns #3 and #4. Refrigerate again for another hour or let rest overnight to bake off the next day.

To shape the pain chocolat: About 2 hours before you need them, remove the dough from the refrigerator and let the unwrapped dough sit for 10 minutes to warm up slightly. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle about 30x 8-inches. Cut the dough in half crosswise and refrigerate the other half while you shape the first batch.

You now have a piece of dough about 15 x 8-inches. Cut in half lengthwise and refrigerate one half. Cut the remaining piece into 3 equal squares and roll them out so that they’re a little thinner. Lay down a piece of chocolate in the center and bring up the sides to cover. Pinch the seam closed and lay the pastry seam side down on a parchment lined sheet pan about 3-inches apart. Continue to shape the remaining pastries in the same manner. You will have 12 pastries total. It is important to keep the dough cold. If it starts to look oily or becomes difficult to work with, return it to the refrigerator to firm up.

Cover the pastry with a clean kitchen towel and let rise for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 425º F.

Brush the risen pastries with the egg wash and bake in the preheated oven for 15 to 18 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tip: To make dinner rolls, cut the rolled out dough into about 20 triangles and roll the long end down to the tip. Or, just roll the dough into two logs, cut into 2-inch slices and bake the rolls on a parchment lined sheet pan or in greased muffin cups. Bake the same amount of time as for the pain chocolat.