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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Lemon Cornmeal Crisps

I am so excited to finally share this recipe with you! A while ago (oh, geeze, can it really have been over two years ago!?!), I shared a recipe with you for lemon cornmeal cookies. In that post, I detailed how I had been fiddling with two different recipes. The recipe I previously posted makes a light, tender, lemony cookie that is sweet and - most definitely - a cookie. The other recipe, which I am sharing today, is a cookie-like crisp that is less sweet, more crispy, and has some resemblance to a thin, crispy cracker. Although the basic flavors of the two are the same, the end result is quite different, and I absolutely adore them both!

I am trying to come up with the best way to describe the texture of these lemon cornmeal crisps. If you look at the following picture, showing the top and bottom of the crisps, you can see they almost look like really thick tuile cookies. And in a way, they fit that bill. These crisps are snappy and delicious!

I mix the dough in a food processor. The procedure for making this dough is very similar to making pie crust. I love the wonderful texture and flavor that cornmeal adds!

After mixing the dry ingredients (including the sugar), add the cold butter (cut into cubes) and the lemon zest. Pulse just until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Mix the buttermilk and vanilla together and then add to the processor, only working the dough until it just starts to pull together. A word of caution: this dough is quite a bit stickier than regular pie crust due to the high sugar content. If you dampen your hands before handling it, it helps a bit.

Dump the dough onto the counter and shape into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 6 to 24 hours. Longer tends to be better in the case of this dough. Again, it's a bit sticky, but as it sits in the refrigerator, the cornmeal hydrates and results in a less sticky dough. When you are ready to cut the cookies, cut the dough into four sections so you can work with a small amount at a time. Keep the remaining parts refrigerated until you are ready for them.

Prepare sheet trays with parchment and preheat the oven to 375° F. The crisps don't spread too much, so you can place them fairly close together (closer even than I show in this picture).

The big thing is to roll them thin!! Again, this dough can be a little tricky to work with, but I promise the end result is worth it. Just roll them as thinly as you can while still having the dough maintain its integrity.

The last step, if you're so inclined, is to sprinkle the tops with sanding sugar. I really like the added crunch this adds to the crisp, but it is entirely optional. I also like how it adds a little sparkle to the crisps. In the photo below, the crisp on the left is naked while the one on the right was sprinkled with sanding sugar.

Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until the edges are nicely golden. The crisps will not brown evenly and they will burn on the edges before the centers become golden, so keep an eye on them. Like any cookie this thin, once they start to brown at all, keep a close eye on them; they can go from "not yet" to "oh no!" in a matter of moments. Let the cookies cool briefly on the sheet and then transfer to a cooling rack to finish cooling completely. Strangely enough, I find I prefer these cookies after they have had a chance to sit a few days. This can be a wonderful thing as they make great gifts that can be made ahead of time.

Lemon Cornmeal Crisps
Yield: approx 60 - 2 1/2 inch rounds

1 3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup cornmeal
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup cold butter, cut into small cubes
zest of one lemon
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
sanding sugar (optional)

In a food processor, pulse together the first four ingredients. Add the butter and lemon zest and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Mix together the buttermilk and vanilla and add to the processor, mixing only until the dough starts to come together. Dump the dough out and shape it into a disk. Wrap the disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 6 to 24 hours. For easier dough handling, longer refrigeration is better.

When ready to bake, cut the dough disk into four pieces. Rolling one piece at a time, keep the remainder refrigerated until ready to use. Preheat the oven to 375° F. Roll the dough out as thinly as you can. This dough can be a bit tricky and you will want to use plenty of flour to keep it manageable. I cut mine into 2 1/2 inch rounds, but you can cut them in any shape you desire. Sprinkle with sanding sugar if you want a shiny, crispy top to the crisps. Bake 12-14 minutes, or until the crisps are nicely golden around the edges. They will not brown evenly; the edges will become too done before the center turns golden, so keep an eye on them. Cool slightly on the baking sheet before transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely. Store in an air tight container for up to ten days. These crisps actually taste best two or three days after they are baked.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Coffee Liqueur

Sometimes it makes me chuckle at how much I enjoy making homemade liqueurs considering I'm not a huge fan of drinking them. But they make wonderful gifts and I enjoy using them to make other homemade goodies taste even better.

Take this coffee liqueur, for instance. I don't drink coffee, but I do love a good dark chocolate, coffee truffle. You can make this coffee liqueur much more cheaply than you can buy a bottle of the good stuff. The other nice thing about this liqueur, unlike the blackberry I posted earlier, is that it can be made, start to finish, in less than a week. How's that for handy!?!

Coffee Liqueur
Yield: approximately 4 cups

2 2/3 cup vodka
2 cups whole French vanilla coffee beans

1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water

Dump the coffee beans into a large glass jar with a tightly fitting lid. Pour the room-temperature vodka over the beans. Put the lid on the jar, swirl to mix and then set in a cool, dark place to steep for five days, swirling occasionally.

After the five days, the vodka should be quite dark. If it is not, give the mixture another day or two to sit. I wouldn't recommend letting the mixture sit over two weeks, at the maximum. Strain the vodka, first with a colander and then through a couple of coffee filters to ensure a nice, clear product.

Heat the sugar and water just until the sugar melts. Let this mixture cool to room temperature. Pour into the strained vodka and stir. Decant into pretty bottles and enjoy!

NOTE: Obviously, the quality of vodka you choose to use in this recipe will affect the outcome. It all depends on what you intend to do with the final result. If you are looking for a fine sipping liqueur, then buy the best quality vodka you can afford. If you are making this recipe to use as an ingredient in other products, you can get by with the cheap stuff.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Lemon Poppy Seed Pound Cake

This has been quite a week. After driving two days with my horse from Florida to Virginia, and dropping her off to live with a good friend, I've been looking at potential rental homes in the Washington DC area. We're moving there later this summer and are trying to get our ducks in a row. Although there's been very little cooking, there has been a lot of good eating! It has inspired me and I am excited to get back home and start cooking and baking again.

This is a recipe I have made quite a bit. I often make it to give to friends as a thank you gift. It is beautiful and it has a wonderful soft, spongy texture with a fantastic lemon kick. I think I could eat this cake day in and day out and never get sick of it.

Making this cake is a little more involved than for most pound cakes, but it is very worth it... and it's not hard, it just entails a few extra steps.

The first step is to sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Then beat the eggs and sugar together in a mixer until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is thick and light yellow, about 3-5 minutes.

Meanwhile, gently melt the butter and then add the cream, lemon juice, lemon zest, and poppy seeds. Make sure it is not too hot before moving on to the next step.

So, this recipe involves three separate mixtures that are then brought together: the egg/sugar mixture, the butter/lemon mixture, and then the flour/leavening mixture.

Fold the flour mixture into the eggs and sugar. Then spoon one quarter of this batter into the butter mixture to lighten it, and then fold in the remaining batter until just mixed.

Pour the mixture into a prepared pan. To ensure I have a clean release, I grease the pan and then line with a small piece of parchment. There is nothing more frustrating than to go to all the trouble to make a nice cake and then have a big chunk of it remain in the pan. This recipe will make one 9x5 cake or one 8x4 and one mini loaf. I often like to go the later route because then I can partake of the bounty without having to eat some of the main cake.

Bake the cake in a preheated 325° F oven for 60-70 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden and a tester comes out clean. Let the cake cool on a rack in the pan for 20-30 minutes before removing to finish cooling. Once the cake is completely cooled, mix the icing and pour over the top of the cake. I keep the cake on the cooling rack, but place the rack over a pan to catch the excess icing. Let the cake sit out to let the icing dry completely before serving or storing in an air tight container. While the cake will keep for a week, it is best within the first two days.

Lemon Poppy Seed Pound Cake
Yield: one 9x5 cake or one 8x4 and one mini loaf
Adapted from Joanne Chang's Flour Cookbook

2 cups cake flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp table salt

4 large eggs
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar

1/2 cup + 3 TBS butter
1/4 cup heavy cream
3 TBS lemon zest
1 TBS fresh lemon juice
1 TBS poppy seeds

For the icing:
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 TBS lemon juice
1-2 TBS low-fat milk

Preheat the oven to 325° F and prepare the pan by greasing it and lining with a piece of parchment. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside.

In a mixer, beat together the eggs and sugar together until thick and pale yellow, about 3-5 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small pan, gently melt the butter and then, off the heat, add the cream, zest, lemon juice, and poppy seeds. Let the mixture cool, if necessary, until lukewarm before proceeding.

Fold the flour mixture into the egg/sugar mixture. Spoon about a quarter of the batter into the butter mixture to lighten it, then fold in the remaining batter, just until mixed. Pour into the prepared pan and bake at 325° F for 60-70 minutes, until the top is golden and a tester comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan on a rack for 20-30 minutes. Remove the cake from the pan and set back on the rack to finish cooling. When the cake is completely cool, mix the icing and pour over the top of the cake. Let the cake sit out until the icing has completely dried. Store in an air tight container. Cake is best if served within two days.

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