Cranberry Orange Biscotti

Cranberry Orange BiscottiCrazy Cookie Lady
My daughter and I fought the crowds this past weekend not because we were trying to find the best deals on the latest 75-inch flat-screen, but because we needed to stock up on cookie tins. Now, you would think that this is a pretty straightforward mission. They’re just cookie tins, after all. But, you would be wrong because when it comes to cookie tins and cookie gifting I am very high maintenance, my friends. I have serious issues.

Here’s the deal… I want anything I give to people to look a certain way, whether or not it’s cookies. I have been known to drive great distances to achieve this goal. From the boxes (or tins) to the ribbon, everything has to be just right. Unfortunately for my daughter, she had to go with me on my journey because she wants to give cookies to her friends. You might be surprised to know that finding cookie tins on the first weekend in December can be a challenge. This is mainly because all of the other cookie bakers with issues, who are better planners than I am, have already stocked up leaving a less than abundant selection in their wake.

Finding the right tin takes much thought and consideration. Do you go with the round tin which is traditional but darn near impossible to put a ribbon on or the square version? What about the tin’s color and decoration? Will it be a monochromatic holiday this year or something more whimsical? Then there is size to consider. Just how many of those tasty treats are you willing to part with? And, would it require a deeper tin? So many options it makes your head spin!! And last but not least, do you get a matching mini tin for the toffee you plan to make? It’s madness! Madness I tell you!

Anyway, we managed to find the tins that meet all of our needs. Now for the hard part, narrowing down the list of cookies we want to fill them with. For my family, it’s not the holidays without our Swedish Ginger Cookies. And, you can find multiple lists of cookie possibilities on our Christmas Cookie Collection post.

This year I am definitely including Cranberry Orange Biscotti. I tested a batch about a month ago and my kids went crazy for them…

Cranberry Orange Biscotti
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
Yields 24 to 30 biscotti (depending on cut size) Read more…

No-Shrink Pie Dough

No-Shrink Pie DoughUpper Crust
Thanksgiving can be stressful. That is no great revelation. The stress can come from many sources. For some, it’s having their entire family under one roof and the tension that can cause. For others, it can be the actual meal preparation. I’ve had numerous conversations over the years about what stresses people out about the Thanksgiving meal. For some, it’s the cooking of the turkey. For others, it’s having enough drippings for a really tasty gravy. But, without a doubt, the thing that causes the most stress, at least according to the people I have spoken to, is the pie crust.

I can’t really speak for other families, but in mine, the pie course of the Thanksgiving meal is extremely important so when the pie crust doesn’t work it’s a problem. Last year my daughter and I were responsible for the making of the pies and because I didn’t want to ruin Thanksgiving, I did a lot of research on pie crust. I tried A LOT of them. I basically landed on two that I thought were the best. One is a traditional half butter and half shortening pie crust. This is the pie crust I use year-round for everything from sweet pies to pot pies.

The other is a crust that uses a technique I had never heard of before that comes from Japanese bread baking that uses a cornstarch “gel” as the moisture for the pie crust. I was intrigued to say the least. The recipe was created by Christopher Kimball of America’s Test Kitchen fame but can be found along with a video on the Williams Sonoma website and on YouTube.

I used this crust for my pecan pies last year and the results were amazing! It’s very easy to work with and rolls out beautifully. The crust was flaky and tender but held up well to the filling. I have yet to try it on a two-crust pie, like apple. My sense is that it might be too “short” for that kind of pie but you never know.

If you are in charge of the pies this year and have some time this weekend to experiment, give this crust a try. I don’t think you will be disappointed.

No-Shrink Pie Dough
Adapted from Christopher Kimball and William’s Sonoma
Yields one 9-inch pie crust Read more…

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

Pumpkin Whoopie PiesPumpkin Perspective
Halloween is here and I am just not feeling the Halloween spirit. I’m thinking that it’s because our priorities are focused elsewhere this week. Maybe it’s because most of the Bay Area is worried about having power or, worse if their house is still standing. It’s probably more important to have candles to see at night versus candles to put in your pumpkin. I’m just sayin’.

It is kind of a bummer, though. I actually had plans to make fun treats and dress up like I usually do. But, I no longer have the will nor the energy. This past weekend wore me down mentally. At one point there was fire 4 miles to the south of me and fire 3 miles to the west of me with air tankers overhead. With those ridiculous winds, you just didn’t know where it was going to pop up next. It’s the unpredictability that drives you nuts. Thankfully, my home was not threatened but I got a tiny taste of what they are going through in Healdsburg and the surrounding areas. My heart goes out to everyone. I can’t even imagine the stress and heartbreak…

I may still try to make the Whoopie Pies that I had planned on because, you know, stress eating. Whoopie Pies, I have been told, are an East Coast thing. I love them—though I couldn’t tell you where I was the first time I tried one. The traditional version features a chocolatey cakey cookie that is filled with vanilla-flavored cream. Kinda like a giant, soft Oreo. The recipe I was planning to make for Halloween have pumpkin cakes with a cream cheese filling. Anything with cream cheese filling is a winner in my book. And, I have made these before and I know how good they taste.

Here’s hoping conditions improve and the fires can be put out quickly. In the meantime, if you have the will and you have the power, give these treats a go. I am fairly confident they will improve anyone’s mood.

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
Yields 1 dozen 4-inch Whoopie Pies Read more…

Chocolate Stout Cake

Chocolate Stout CakeIt’s For The Kids
A friend of mine is holding a beer pong tournament this weekend. In fact, this will be the 6th Annual tournament and my husband and I will be there. Our attendance is remarkable for two reasons: 1. At the age of 46, I don’t really feel the need to relive the days of my ill-spent youth (it hurts too much). And, 2. As a general rule, I don’t like to drink beer.

The first reason is easily overcome because it is a fun night hanging out with friends and raising money for charity. The people-watching entertainment alone is pure gold. The second reason my attendance is strange is much more problematic.

There have been only a few occasions where I have purposefully ordered a beer and was satisfied with my choice. The bucket of ice-cold beer with lime I enjoyed while lounging on the beaches of Mazatlán 20 years ago was beyond perfect, both in setting and in thirst-quenching achievement. The winner for best beer I ever tasted in my life was the pint of Guinness I drank after taking the tour of the brewery in Dublin, Ireland with a pint of that same brew that I had in Boston being a very close second. Both pints were smooth like liquid chocolate and both were the best remedy for a very blustery cold day.

I doubt very seriously that the beer being poured into keg cups this weekend will be of the same quality. I’m pretty sure it will be a mix of the cheaper fraternity party favorites in the beginning with the better stuff only coming out as the competition gets tighter. My husband, a beer lover, has vowed to take one for the team and drink the beer for me ‘cause he’s a giver like that.

In a preemptive strike, I am planning on making this chocolate stout cake to bring to the party to help take the bitter cheap beer taste from everyone’s mouth while still sticking to the theme…

Chocolate Stout Cake
Yields 12 servings Read more…

Gam’s Cocoa Apple Cake

Gam’s Cocoa Apple CakeSeason’s Greetings
For most of the country, the Labor Day weekend signals the beginning of cooler temperatures and spiced flavors of fall (regardless of what the calendar says is the actual start of the season). Those of us here in California know that, despite the recent cooler weather, it is not yet time to guzzle pumpkin spice or bring the sweaters out of storage. Because, dear friends, the hottest days of the year are actually ahead of us. For Californians, fall doesn’t really start until around Halloween.

For the record, I had a chai latte this morning. Why should you care? Because chai spices are basically the gateway to pumpkin spice. I’m not quite ready to go there yet! But, I found myself in a bit of a fall mood brought on by the cooler temps this morning as well as the apple picking we did over the weekend. So, I compromised.

The apple picking happened because my brother in law’s apple tree runneth over at the moment and it is just WAY too much for one man no matter how many neighborhood squirrels there are. I think we picked at least 40 pounds of apples…maybe more which means now I have to figure out what to do with all of them. Upon arrival at home, I immediately threw some in my pressure cooker and made applesauce. That was a no-brainer. My daughter made a couple of Dutch Apple pies which the kids have been enjoying for breakfast. Of course, we have been eating the apples straight as snacks. And, the kids have been putting them in their lunches with a little peanut butter. But, I have to figure out what to do with the rest. Thus, I have been going through my cookbooks and re-examining some of my favorite recipes.

One recipe that jumped out at me was my grandmother’s Cocoa Apple Cake. It is one of two that I always loved growing up. The second one was an applesauce cake that she made with her homemade applesauce. (I’m still trying to find it.) The chocolate in this bundt cake recipe makes it popular with the young as well as the old while the apples keep it nice and moist. It’s a delicious addition to a lunch box or as a snack for the PTA meeting.

Gam’s Cocoa Apple Cake
Yields 10 to 12 Servings Read more…