Italian (American) Easter Cookies

Today I made a small batch of the Easter cookies, and made a couple changes just to experiment, and I like the result, so here you go way down below for the new recipe. My new method uses only butter, at a higher proportion. And I thinned the icing slightly more than usual besides making it egregiously bright, 🌈 so it soaked in a little and made the cookies look like Easter eggs. 

Italian (American) Easter Cookies, original version—this is culled together from an old yellowed piece of notebook paper, and some trials with various internet recipes. It's one of 4 or 5 recipes I should have asked my mother for, that I've been trying to conquer for a long time. 

Yield: 6 dozen. 

6 large eggs

1 cup oil (You can use half butter, but the recipe had oil written on it, and I'm certain actual Sicilians would use olive oil.)
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons milk
2 tbs vanilla or 1 tbs anise flavoring (or combine vanilla with almond extract, which is what I prefer.)
6 cups flour
2 tbs baking powder

4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup milk, add a little at a time to the powdered sugar, until it's thin enough to dip cookies in.
1 tablespoon lemon, almond, or anise flavoring (I mean, you should probably use the anise only if you used vanilla in the dough, but maybe you like anise a whole lot. And you could combine some vanilla and anise or vanilla and lemon for the dough; I just particularly like almond.)
A few drops of food coloring can be added to make Easter colors—just be sure to start with only 2-3 drops, then add more, one at a time until you have the color you like. 

Cream sugar and oil. Beat eggs until lemon-colored and foamy. Here is the de rigueur egg photo:
Combine with sugar mixture, milk and extract and beat until light. Sift dry ingredients together. Combine with egg mixture, and knead lightly on a floured surface, until the dough is smooth and easy to handle, then roll dough lightly into 1 inch balls. If you like, you can roll the balls into ropes about five inches long. Tie into loose knots or braid and place cookies one inch apart onto greased cookie sheets. Bake at 350 degrees until lightly browned, about 14 minutes. If you want more browning and don't plan to ice, you can brush the ropes or braids with egg yolk beaten with a wee bit of water.
Dip into icing when cool, and let dry on waxed paper. 

My grandma made these at Easter, and we each got a special one which was a braided circle with a colored hard-boiled egg placed in the center of it. She put a cross made of dough over the top, and cooked it in a slower oven. They are not very sweet, especially if you leave off the icing. They are perfect for coffee or tea, and improve the next day. 

Modified Easter Cookie Recipe

2 eggs
1/2 cup softened butter
2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon milk
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder

Follow procedure above, and use 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar and @3 tbs milk for the icing. This makes 24 cookie balls. Chill them for a few minutes before baking. 

Today I used only vanilla in the cookies, then made 2 cups of icing with 1/4 cup milk, divided it into 3 custard cups, then added 1/4 tsp anise extract to one, 1/4 tsp lemon extract to one, and about 1/2 tsp almond extract to the third. Then I added 2 drops of gel food coloring to each, but you might want just 1 drop if you don’t want bonkers bright colors. There was extra icing, so next time I make a small batch, I will use 1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar and about 3 tbs milk. 


A tasty fruitcake that is not appalling or anything

First, because this was last Tuesday, I needed one which wanted only a month to cure or less. I wanted one that was less cakey than the cakey ones, but not comprised entirely of fruit. And I wanted to use the combination I already had of organic dried fruit and some good quality glacéed fruit. Boozyfruit
I found Mrs MacKinnon's Christmas Fruitcake. I realized only after getting into making it that it has no nuts. And I think that is actually its virtue. The nuts will draw moisture from the cake, you see, so if you don't eat it within the first week, the cake part just won't be as good. To me. Plus, nuts are so expensive! I got a good deal on pecans and walnuts last month, and I'm saving them to make pecan tarts and Magic Cooky Bars in a couple weeks.

I was short the amount of fruit needed, and had to run up to Dollar General for some raisins. I dislike raisins mixed with other things, but they are actually just fine in this. I used my own combination of fruit; for the amount of golden raisins, I added chopped prunes, and for the amount of currants, a combination of chopped dried figs and apricots. If I make it again next year, I will use more of all those in place of the raisins, but it is really not raisiny at all. Chunkybatter
The bigger change is that I put in bourbon instead of rum. And I was a little generous with the molasses, but not by a lot.

My springform pan is 9.5 inches whereas the recipe calls for 10, and that left me enough batter to make a small tester cake to try. It was so delicious, I ate it in two sittings. Delicioussampler
You can eat the cake right away or within a few days. I wrapped mine in bourbon-soaked cheesecloth and then foil, and today I removed the foil and added more bourbon. A fruitcake will last for years if you do that, but I just want to eat it at the end of the year. Readytowrap

Experimenting with a dessert no one likes but me

And writing this as I go.

I chopped five challah hamburger buns (I know, what a thing, but they were marked down,) and divided them; there were maybe six cups challah bread total. I don't know. I mixed each half with a couple tablespoons of melted butter and put them in 9 inch cake pans. So, as much as will fit in two of those. Whichever of these you try, just double everything for a 9x13 pan.

To one I added a generous amount (@2 tsp) of cinnamon and half a cup of brown sugar, and to the other, about a half cup of sliced almonds and a half cup of white sugar. 20170215_123748
Over each of them I poured two eggs and an egg yolk, whisked, and milk added to that to make two full cups of liquid. The brown sugar one got a splash (let's say 2 tsp) of vanilla extract, and the white sugar one got almond extract. I am going to use the extra egg whites along with their shells to clarify some soup stock which is reducing on the stove.

I forgot to add a little salt, but I think the salted butter will help with that. Also, and this is before I am tasting it, a half cup of sugar might be too much; it looked like a lot as I was sprinking it on, and might want only a third. 20170215_124824
They are in the oven at 350º for 35 minutes, and I am expecting them to need at least five more.

Before I finish, I want to point out that the longer the bread cubes soak in the liquid, the more puddingy they will be. Personally, I like them only half-puddingy, suspended in the custard around them, and with a tiny bit of crunch on top, so I don’t let it soak long before baking. That sounds super gross, doesn’t it? But it is delicious. I just adore bread pudding, as long as it doesn’t have raisins in it. It can have chocolate chips in it, if you like to do that*. I don't, but it occurs to me you could add some shaved chocolate and grated orange peel, and that might be really nice. Maybe with a splash of orange liqueur.

Also, sometimes people make a hard sauce to go over it. I do like that, however, as I need to reduce and have no business eating bread pudding in the first place, I’m going to skip it.


*I wish I could remember the name of the book in which an old lady is staying with some kids and they make chocolate chip stale bread pudding. The concept utterly fascinated me, but my mother refused to make bread pudding. Sigh. Screen Shot 2017-02-15 at 1.13.06 PM
In the end, these small pans baked for 39 minutes. The brown sugar one puffed up more, but settled down to the same level as the other. 20170215_132959
When you get bread pudding at a restaurant, it's much more dense, because they use a deeper pan, pack in the bread, and also start the custard process before pouring it over the bread cubes, by warming the milk and other ingredients first. I like my way better, and it's simpler to do. And so far, I like both versions, though I might favor the almond one slightly more, because I really love almond-flavored desserts. I'm going to taste them both again later to see if I feel the same way.  They would be divine with a little cream poured over the top, or with ice cream, if you really like ice cream. The brown sugar cinnamon one would be good with a chopped apple added to it; if you use a green apple, maybe toss the pieces with a spoonful or two of sugar first, and a squinch of lemon juice. The half cup of sugar was just right otherwise, for a lightly sweet dessert.


Occasionally crafty, and tasty, too

I made a gingerbread house. I’d never made one before, except from a pre-baked kit my daughter found at a yard sale or something one time. And I think that’s all. Housefront
First I bought some candy, and then I went looking for templates, recipes, etc. I didn’t like any of the kits, and also, whenever you buy an all parts included kit of something, what you make never looks like the picture on the box. That’s not good for the psyche. But I found a different kind of kit that I did like! And I am recommending it to you if you want to try this, for a couple reasons. Bakeset
It contains just the frame pieces and a set of good instructions, which is all you really want. It even has recipes for the gingerbread and the icing. I compared them to some online, and decided their gingerbread recipe made very good sense. I am glad I used it. It has a very small amount of baking powder; recipes I saw at websites either had none, or too much. Well, I guess those ones either shrink or spread, or I might be wrong about that, but I’m not taking the chance since this one didn’t. Housepieces
I didn’t use molasses, though, and that might have been a good thing in terms of how it baked, or it might not have mattered at all. I used dark corn syrup I already had, because I was trying to make this house for an amount of money I could recommend without guilt. You might already have dark corn syrup for some other purpose, as well, but if you don’t, it’ll be less expensive than molasses. Royalicing
People were discussing whether it would taste as good or better, and worried the dough would be too light in color. This seemed odd to me, as all I was concerned about was the physical and chemical properties; would it have the same viscosity, and would it change how the dough rose? It turned out very well, barely changed size at all, and set up perfectly. Also, still brown. Spreadingtray
I used some candy from Big Lots and some my son brought me from the store he works at. And I took my time. Baked one day, assembled and decorated another day, decorated some more the next day. I might add a little more to the back. I’m a very “less is more” kind of person regarding this sort of thing, so I had to try to see it another way.  "Finish," go back, add more, repeat. Housebase
It still wasn’t super cheap. The kit was $12 and the candy also came to around $12. It could be done for less, though, if you make your own templates and follow the recipes I am sharing below. And it could be done for a lot more if you buy a fancier kit and/or fancier/more candy. Completehouse
Shame to end on a blur, as phone decided to focus on background instead, but I didn't feel like going down to take another photo. So there we are. And here are the recipes. I used salted butter. Screen Shot 2016-12-07 at 11.40.20 AM
Roll the dough 1/4 inch thick and place on parchment-covered baking sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes at 350º F. The edges will look crisp. Set your cutters or templates over the warm dough to see if the pieces need squaring. Let them cool completely before handling.

To make Royal Icing: 3 egg whites, 1 lb confectioner's sugar, 1/2 tsp cream of tartar, 1/2 tsp almond extract (go ahead and use vanilla if you don't have almond,) beaten on high for ten minutes. If you want to dye it, spoon some into individual bowls and add gel colors. It will harden quickly, so keep it sealed airtight or covered with a damp cloth.

If you do it yourself without a kit, just take your time, spreading icing over a foil-covered cardboard or tray (which I did only in the center first, adding more later when it was time to arrange the trees, etc.,) setting the completely cooled bottom pieces in and sealing them together with more icing, and be sure to let the base dry before adding the roof pieces with yet more icing; holding each section in place until it will stay on its own. Then wait until that's all dry before pasting on the decor. In the meantime, seal away the icing, and also keep a damp cloth over it while you work.

One other thing—when I took the dough out of the refrigerator, I worked with 1/3 of it at a time. I cut three house pieces each from the first 2/3, then used cookie cutters on the rest.


Cookie Season Begins

I got to making pecan balls today. Most often I have heard them called snow balls. But they are also Russian tea cakes and pecan sandies, except as balls and rolled in powdered sugar. 

Since Better Homes and Gardens changed their recipe and it is rather different from the Land O’ Lakes one, I asked my friend Karen how her mom made them. It’s most like Land O’ Lakes, just slightly different. Karen was offended at the notion of powdered sugar in the cookies, which BHG said to add instead of granulated sugar, and that intrigued me. Her reasoning seemed sound and she has looked more into the science of these things than I have, but it made me curious so I decided to do it. As well, they recommended toasting the pecans, which sounded neat. And they added a little water to the dough. 

I ended up making a hybrid, and doing a couple of my own changes, on account of how I know what I’m doing. Don’t you do that unless you are pretty good at baking, and also know why you are. Baking is more of an exact science than most of the other kinds of cooking. 

So I did this. I had two sticks of butter on the counter while I cleaned. After an hour they were not soft enough, so I microwaved them for 30 seconds at 50% power. I have experimented with various degrees of butter melting in my microwave oven, which is very strong. They are not all the same, so you have to do your own thing. But you want the butter to be just softened, not at all running or melted


I combined them with 1/2 cup of powdered sugar, and two tablespoons of bourbon instead of vanilla or water and vanilla. You can instead use 1 tablespoon water and 2 teaspoons vanilla. Then I added two cups of flour. My flour is currently about 1/3 whole white wheat, so my cookies will reflect that, and I added 1/2 tsp of salt, which Karen’s mom and Land O’ Lakes did, but not BHG. I feel that with a wheaty cooky, a little salt is a helpful thing.

I pulsed 1 1/2 cups pecans and a heaping tablespoon of flour in the food processor to a crumbly condition, then lightly toasted them on the stove, and stirred them in. So the dough was warm, but it retained its consistency. Then I rolled it into 40 balls (I like mine a little larger than standard; it would be around 55 otherwise,) and chilled the pans while the oven preheated to 325º. I prefer this method when it’s possible, instead of chilling the dough first and then rolling. But sometimes that is the necessary path because the dough is too soft to shape. 

I decided to see how they’d do chilled for different times, so the first pan had about ten-fifteen minutes in the freezer. Then I moved the second pan to the refrigerator while the first one baked. Well, they both took 13 minutes to bake to my satisfaction. 

When the first batch was cool, I put them in a bag with 1 cup of powdered sugar, and removed them with plastic tongs. Metal ones will work if you are gentle. I'm not...a super dexterous person, myself. 


I really like the texture super much. I think the powdered sugar did fine, and I might continue to use it. But they do taste just lightly sweetened inside, so if you'd prefer them a little sweeter, 1/2 cup of granulated sugar definitely works perfectly well. I like the salt, too, but it strikes me as unnecessary, unless you are using unsalted butter. When I make these again, I will use only 1/4 teaspoon.

Finally, the addition of white wheat flour in that proportion still made a very tender cookie (with a little fiber!) but for the classic texture and flavor, you'll want to just use all-purpose flour.

Time to Make the Biscotti

I make biscotti every few weeks. I have a basic recipe I put together that can be modified to suit my taste for the day. Then I add them to my cookie jar and enjoy them for six weeks or so, because they take a very long time to grow stale.

Yesterday I decided to try a different recipe altogether. Well, the proportions are largely the same, but the instructions for making them were unique to me. Also, I used white whole wheat flour, which I hadn't done before; usually I use it for quick breads, things like that. If you want to bake with more whole wheat flour, you can use more or less in the recipe depending on the texture of the final result. Delicate foods require more delicate flour. Here's a good post about that from King Arthur Flour, which is the brand I buy.

I didn't realize I was nearly out of all-purpose flour until I opened the new bag of whole wheat flour. So instead of putting it in its separate container, I mixed it all in a bowl, and now the container is about 10% unbleached all-purpose, 90% white whole wheat. DSC_3867

The recipe called for lemon zest, lemon juice, and almond extract. That suited me perfectly. If I'd had almonds I would have added some, but I am economizing. DSC_3866

Don't cracked eggs look nice in a bowl? That must be why everyone always includes a photo of them. CameraZOOM-20150921130639511

Usually I'd make two smaller logs to make smaller cookies, but I was following instructions. DSC_3868

After it baked for 25 minutes, I let it cool for a few minutes, then cut it in half, then in half again, then again, then each piece into three, making 24. This was my one departure from the recipe, which wanted me to cool the log completely, spray it with water, then commence to cutting.

The newer technique I did follow was in the second baking. Instead of laying the cookies flat and turning them over after ten minutes or so of baking, the recipe said to stand them on their sides and cook for 30-35 minutes at the lower temperature. For me, 25 minutes was enough. It's a neat trick, though, and I'm going to use it in future. DSC_3870

The cookies do not have a strong lemon or almond flavor, though I used 2 tbs lemon juice plus the zest, and 1.5 tsp almond extract. This will be partly due to the flour I used. But what they have is a lovely cookie taste, and a very nice texture. You could finish them with the lemon glaze or (my choice would be) almond glaze. But I am economizing on the sugar I eat as well as the money I spend, so I left it off.

birthday treats

The other day I found myself desiring a birthday cake. I wanted it to taste a bit fancy without much effort. Effort is for other people's birthday cakes. So I looked around for ideas and pieced this together from two or three sites. 

I used a Duncan Hines fancy cake mix, and made two 8-inch layers, coated with ganache. I made raspberry-lime sauce for the plate. 

The ganache has 8 oz dark chocolate chunks melted with 6 tbs of butter, 2 tbs Chambord, 2 tbs heavy cream, 2 tbs corn syrup, and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract.  I poured it over the cake layers after they cooled for a few minutes and put them in the refrigerator for about half an hour. 

Then I put a small package of raspberries in the food processor, squeezed in a couple of limes' juice, and some sugar, and then it wasn't enough sugar, so I added more. Maybe 1/4 cup altogether. Next time I'd splash in more Chambord, as well. 

Here's a phone pic of cake slices.

12 - 1 (1)

I also made dinner, which was not a perfect success, but a good trial for another effort sometime. 

This is a Vietnamese farmed fish I probably won't buy again, but it was there, and okay. It's firm and light. 

I made a pistou, processing basil leaves from the garden with garlic and olive oil, then stirring in a handful of shaved Grana Padana, and some pepper. And spread it on the fish. 

They're rolled up with bacon. I baked them at 350º for about half an hour, then broiled them for a couple minutes. 

The phone pic is awful. And you see I didn't trim the green beans, but I was tired of things just then. The salad is made of things from my garden; some lettuce, greens, and early onions, and white balsamic vinegar and olive oil. 

12 - 1
It was all very nice, and the nicest thing of all is that I picked my first tomato. I don't know why it ripened so early, but maybe it was just a birthday gift from the universe, or some such fun notion.