Italian Hazelnut Cookies (Baci di Dama)

Italian Hazelnut CookiesChristmas On The Couch
It is officially December…which means cookie season is here! I love cookie season. Planning the selection. The cookie-palooza day of baking and the packaging. The best part, of course, is the delivery. The look on people’s faces never gets old.

This year is going to look a little different.

While on vacation this past July, I injured my knee—which required surgery. So, I am on the couch for the foreseeable future. That means cookie-making is not in the cards. At least not for me. But, I refuse to go without.

So, I am enlisting the help of my resident sous chef. And, between the two of us, we should be able to make things happen. First up will be our traditional Swedish Gingers Cookies which we will be devouring while I micromanage the decorating of the tree. After that, we will have to see…as this year’s cookie lineup has yet to be determined.

The list will no doubt include traditional favorites like Classic Scottish Shortbread,  Chocolaty Caramel Thumbprints, and Red and White Pinwheel Cookies. We’ve been looking at books and websites for some new additions. But, one thing I know for certain is that last year’s star of the show will be back.

These little Italian Hazelnut Cookies require a bit more labor and attention than the average cookie. But, they are soooo worth it. They are a hazelnut lover’s dream! I swap chocolate ganache for Nutella to make the sandwiches. This both adds hazelnut flavor and makes things a bit easier. And, this year I am all about easier!

Italian Hazelnut Cookies Recipe (Baci di Dama)
Adapted from Americas Test Kitchen
Yields 32 small cookies

These tiny Italian hazelnut-chocolate sandwich cookies are made from a very rich, fragile dough that easily crumbles when you bite into them. Read more…

Mocha Pound Cake

Mocha Pound CakeLet Them Eat Cake
There you sit. You have your turkey and gravy. You have your stuffing and your mountain of mashed potatoes. The cranberry sauce sings its siren song to you from the middle of the table. Your mouth is watering in anticipation of the feeding frenzy that is about to commence. (Step aside Joey Chestnut.)

The little voice inside your head reminds you to save room for dessert. But, you know that dessert consists mainly of pies. You are not really a fan of pumpkin pie or any kind of pie. The accompanying vanilla ice cream is always good but lacks a certain wow factor. What do you do? Leave room for the ice cream or go big on the yams?

To me, the Thanksgiving feast isn’t complete unless there is a pecan pie at the end of it. Some have the same intense feelings towards pumpkin pie. For my dad, it’s a mince pie. One of my relatives, though, is the ice cream guy. The reason? He just doesn’t like pie. Any pie. (I know. Freak of nature.) It got me thinking about what would be an appropriate cake for Thanksgiving.

My daughter suggested a carrot cake which makes a lot of sense given the spices. But, she was adamant that there be no raisins. (There is a serious raisin aversion amongst my children). I figured anything harvest-y would work well. A spicy cake with hazelnut frosting is very autumnal, or even this Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting would be lovely.

But, what about getting away from the flavors of pumpkin and other pies? You could just go crazy with a double chocolate cake. You can never go wrong with a chocolate cake. This Mocha Pound Cake recipe works particularly well for a couple of reasons. It is a bundt cake which makes it easy especially when oven space is at a premium. And, it contains coffee which is always necessary to battle the snoozies after you have stuffed yourself…

Mocha Pound Cake Recipe
Adapted from King Arthur Baking Read more…

Apple Bourbon Cake

Apple Bourbon CakeOctober Fest
Last weekend some friends hosted their annual Oktoberfest celebration. It was perfect. The weather was crisp and fall-like. The beer flowed and many pretzels were consumed. There were tasty brats and my favorite bockwurst. There may also have been lederhosen but it’s a visual that I’m trying to ignore.

I was in charge of bringing a dessert. But, what does one bring to a beer party? Chocolate seemed wrong. So, I figured a harvest-y flavor like apples would pair nicely. And, since the group was mostly adults, I knew something boozy would also work well. I went with this Apple Bourbon Cake, and it didn’t disappoint.

Don’t be afraid of the bourbon glaze. The flavor is not as overpowering as you might think. Some lightly sweetened whipped cream is a must, though…

Apple Bourbon Cake Recipe
Adapted from Melissa Clark, NY Time Cooking
Yields 10 to 12 servings Read more…

Cinnamon Apple Twist Bread

Cinnamon Apple Twist Bread RecipeWhen you find a recipe that piques your interest, your mouth starts to water in anticipation of what could be. But, there is always the possibility that the picture you have in your mind is not the reality. Sometimes that is due to user error and other times it is because of the way that recipe is written.

My problem is, when I get excited about a recipe, I want it to be perfect and I am really bummed when it’s not. One of the hardest things to do is to write a recipe that is clear and concise for a reading public that includes cooking talents that span the spectrum. It is almost impossible to get it perfect for everyone.

Therefore, when I find a recipe that I want to try, I always read through it a few times before I start the process. That way there are usually no surprises, and it usually comes out the way I expected. There are a few occasions when even armed with knowledge, it doesn’t work right. It can be very disappointing and disheartening especially when you can’t figure out what went wrong. Baking is notorious for this…

Case in point, I recently tried to make a cinnamon apple twist bread that I found from King Arthur. With the little chunks of apple and the cinnamon dressed up with a sweet glaze, this recipe appealed to my need for some indulgent fall flavor. And, I thought it would be a fun treat for a lazy Sunday breakfast.

Things started out just fine. The dough came out beautifully. But, things went sideways with the filling. I opted to go the Clear Gel route and that may have been my mistake. Or, maybe I just chose the wrong apples—because there was so much juice that the filling went everywhere. I managed to get the bread braided and ready to rise but I knew that the result was going to be gooey sticky. (Which could actually be a good thing, am I right?)

At the end of the day, the bread sorta worked. It tasted great but looked terrible. This weekend, I am going to try it again going the cornstarch route. I will not let this recipe defeat me!!

I’ll let you know how it goes…

Cinnamon Apple Twist Bread Recipe
Adapted from King Arthur Baking Company
Yields 2 loaves

This makes a delicious breakfast loaf and presents beautifully on the table. Read more…