What kind of Christmas cookies am I making this year? Lots of them. That’s what kind. Thirteen dozen cookies so far, and six dozen left to make.
There aren’t any recipes here. But this year’s baking bounty includes gingersnaps and orange cardamom shortbread. The gingersnaps are from Chez Panisse, via David Lebovitz, and are my most favorite gingersnaps in the world. And the orange-cardamom shortbread is homegrown, available here, and may be my very favorite winter cookies hands down.
Bake and enjoy! I can’t send you all cookies, alas. But by making them yourselves, you all get the added bonus of rescenting your house with the not-too-saccharine smell of holiday cheer!
My intention, I have to admit, was not to make a pear-apple crisp. This was meant to be a tart. It was meant to be neatly sliced wedges of fruit lined up in a pretty pattern, forming concentric spiraling circles, embedded in an ever-so-slightly sweetened mascarpone base, inside the most delicate of shortcrust pastry shells.
I had imagined it — obviously — maybe a little bit too vividly. It would have been glorious.
These eclairs were pastries of necessity, people. With almost four dozen eggs haunting my fridge, I really had no choice but to act rashly. But the thing with making eclairs for no particular occasion is that they can only be done in batches of two dozen. And with only three or four people to devour them — that’s a high per capita rate of pastry cream.
I cannot — alas — give you a recipe. It isn’t mine to give. But if you’re interested, I would highly recommend investing in a copy of Pastry: Savory & Sweet by Michel Roux. It is short, cheap, and has lots of pictures. But despite those things, I have not seen a better book for making elegant pastries at home.
Tempering chocolate used to drive me crazy. There were several years there where I’d make chocolate dipped shortbread to send around to friends and family as gifts for the holidays. I would grit my teeth, pull out my electronic thermometer, marble slab, and heating pad, then fuss with getting my chocolate up to 130F, then down to 88F, then back up — just a hair of a hair, mind you — to the point of liquidity.
Achieving and maintaining those precise temperatures required constant vigilance. It always made a huge mess. And half the time, despite my best efforts, I missed my marks anyway, and my chocolate-dipped treats turned out streaky and waxy and gross, and totally unfit for service in yuletide care packages — or anywhere else.
Life, alas, handed me some lemons last week.
It is difficult for me to overstate just how disruptive it has been to have been without a working oven for a week and more. Oh, in part the disruption has been about the blog. Every summer treat I might want to show you all — from tarts and quiches, to simple roasted vegetables, to fine and fancy eclairs — all requires an insulated box full of fire to transform raw ingredients into food.
I like cherries. I like them a lot. They are, so far as I can tell, the smallest of the stone fruit — miniscule cousins to the plum, peach, apricot, and all those most cherished sweet drupes of summer. They are the harbingers and the advance guard of the season’s coming in earnest, which — as any of you who are regular Twice Cooked readers already know — might actually count as a strike against them in my humble book. But their flavor is so intense, and so explosive when encapsulated in so compact a package, that it is difficult to think of them as other than bearers of the concentrated essence of all that is good in this too-hot season of the year.
There are some classic, really fine cherry desserts out there. Clafoutis may be the most deserving of attention, with its delightful texture — somewhere between a custard and a cake — and whole cherries, unpitted, baked right in. The denizens of Limousin, the region in central France from which the dessert derives, say that the inclusion of the pits enriches the final product, perfuming the whole thing with a scent that is not unlike almonds. And they say (I would assume) that folks concerned about swallowing a pit or cracking a tooth should really be more careful.
Strawberry shortcake is elegant, unpretentious, and simple. Yet so often it goes unbearably awry. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen this thing that often lives near the strawberry display in the supermarket. It’s a little bowl-shaped golden cake, encased in plastic packaging, that bills itself as the shortcake component of the dessert, and sometimes makes the claim that it’s ready for reddi-wip, or some such other nonsense.
This is not a shortcake. This is an angel food cake — generously speaking. Or less generously — in Sarah’s words — it is a Twinky without the filling. Shortcake has a technical definition, and what it is is a biscuit. That simple. Sometimes it’s a biscuit of the same sort that you’d serve with fried chicken. Or sometimes it’s sweetened slightly — which it is in this recipe, here.
The rhubarb is a vegetable most often used as a fruit – in much the same way that the tomato is a fruit used as a vegetable. But unlike the ubiquitous tomato, rhubarb sometimes stymies American cooks. What’s to be done with this briefly available, bitter, even poisonous plant?
Well, there’s pie. In the nineteenth century, rhubarb was so strongly associated with pie that it was commonly called pie plant. And then there are the many variants of pie: crisps, crumbles, buckles. Rhubarb is so very assertive that it was not much eaten until and unless it could be sugared; prior to that, it was prized only for its medicinal properties. But other fruits have a mellowing effect on rhubarb’s harshness. Apples, especially, soften it without transforming its flavor. Personally, I believe that it’s a crime against strawberries to pair them with rhubarb – and it’s underselling the rhubarb as well!
For anyone who has had any contact with me for the last month, the idea of a lemon kefir tart shouldn’t come as a great surprise. I have, after all, spent that time all but obsessed with kefir, stashing mason jars of room-temperature milk all around the house, and watching gleefully as my grains — the live active culture — transform said milk into a thick, sweet, sour, sometimes slightly carbonated beverage.
What has set me down this path is a recent trip to New York, to visit Hana and her husband. Walking into their tiny Manhattan apartment, two things struck me almost at once: the happy, healthy, gigantic kombucha mother gurgling away in a jar on their counter, and the jar of kefir, just about done fermenting.
It’s been a holiday-scented whirlwind of baking around here. Because like I told you in the eggnog post — this year is all about the Grinch reduction effort. What we’ve got are some (festively shaped) gingersnaps from David Lebovitz, my own winter spice oatmeal cookies, and a batch of homemade canine treats that I’m sure are delicious — just not to me.
Folks who are getting cookie care packages this year — you know who you are. Everybody else: make some! You’ve got the recipes.