Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

I don't usually know when to stop filling my plate - the metaphorical one for starters. So with Christmas literally around the corner, I wanted to share with you all some of my recent forays into baking.

These were made as gifts for my larger circle of loved ones: a couple sweet treats, and on top of that a personal project: my first mustard.

Having read into the matter it sounded pretty simple. And, as a real mustard lover it seemed like next thing to try out. For the moment, I can only hope it turns out as a smashing success. It is essential to wait a few days for the mustard's true character to reveal itself. But, to create something and not be able to taste it before offering it as a gift felt like a risky move for sure. At least the recipients are kind (and honest) people... :)

The first is my mom's standby recipe, her famous - and 8 years in the making, mine too - raspberry diamonds. This version was made with black currant preserves, along with the raspberry:

Raspberry Diamonds
2 cups coarsely chopped almonds
4 cups pastry flour (I used whole wheat)
1 lb unsalted butter, cut into cubes (helpful to bring faster to room temp)
2/3 cup sugar
1 jar raspberry - or your favorite - preserves
4 large eggs
2 cups light brown sugar
1 tsp almond extract
1 1/2 cups flaked coconut
6 tbsp flour
1 tsp baking powder

Toast almond in 375 degree oven about five minutes or until golden; remove and set aside to cool.
Using a food processor with dough blade, mix pastry flour, butter, and sugar together until a smooth ball is formed. I usually remove the ball and kneed the last bits together to make it uniform. Press the dough evenly into the bottom of a 12 x 18 x 2 inch baking pan (also called a half sheet cake pan) and prick all over with a fork. Bake at 350 degress for about 15 minutes or until the dough becomes golden. Remove it from the oven and set aside to cool slightly, lower temperature to 325 degrees. 
In a large bowl, beat eggs and brown sugar until very light, about eight minutes. Beat in almond extract. Fold in reserved toasted almonds, coconut, flour, and bakig powder, blending well.
Spread raspberry preserves evenly with a butter knife over the complete surface of baked dough - don't forget the corners. :)
Spread mixture over entire raspberry-coated surface. Bake until top is golden, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool before cutting. Using a very sharp knife and gentle sawing motions, cut into strips about 2 inches wide. Angle-cut each length into diamonds. This recipe makes about 50 cookies.

A new cookie recipe from Saveur:

Flat & Crisp Chocolate Cookies
I didn't find these chewy as in the original recipe, so I've renamed the title. If you figure out how to make them chewy, please let me know!
2 cups flour (again, I used whole wheat)
1 scant tbsp kosher salt (I used sea salt, as I like the presence of salty-sweet dynamic and the texture of those wonderful crystals)
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
1 1/4 cups sugar
16 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
2 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
12 oz finely shaved bittersweet chocolate
8 oz finely ground walnuts

Whisk flour, salt, and baking soda in a bowl; set aside. In a bowl, beat sugars and butter with a mixer on medium speed until fluffy, 1 or 2 minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time and then add vanilla. Add reserved flour mixture, chocolate, and nuts; mix until just combined and chill.

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Divide dough into 1 tablespoon portions. Roll into balls and transfer to parchment paper-lined baking sheets, spaced 3 inches apart. (I chilled them again after making the balls so that the next step would occur without issue) Flatten. (bringing you aside to have a little talk) It just says "flatten" in the recipe, and I was dumbfounded. There is no description of the "how", and it's in these seemingly simple steps that I usually get tied up: I didn't want my dough to stick to whatever I was using to flatten, plus I wanted the dough evenly flat for baking. So I  decided (thank you, light bulb moment) to place another sheet of parchment on top and use an old enameled mug to do the job. Anything completely flat will work, so long as it isn't big enough to get in the way of the baking sheet edge, other dough balls, etc.
Bake until set, about 9 minutes The original recipe calls for 15, but I found that too long for the cookies to have any chances ending up as "chewy". I shortened the time to 9 minutes and they still did not end up chewy. I also made a batch that was less flattened, and no, they didn't turn out particularly chewy either. Though, each of them had a light, and crisp texture that went absolutely perfectly with coffee or tea. Delicate and subtle, with a pleasing saltiness at the very end of each bite. A definite delight....

Last but not least, here is the Apple Brandy Mustard, from Wrightfood:

FYI, dark mustard seed is much hotter than yellow seed. Use with caution... Most recipes call for soaking the seeds in the vinegar-water solution for 24 hours before making. This softens the seeds, making them easier to grind. I quadrupled Matt's recipe, as I was making enough for gifts (and enough for me to test it and see the results!)

1/2 cup mustard seeds - mostly yellow, with about 1 tablespoon of dark thrown in
1/2 cup vinegar of choice - I used apple cider
1/4 to 1/2 cup water
1/8 cup apple brandy
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 tsp turmeric, for color
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp dried thyme

Put the brandy in a small flameproof container. Light liquor with match so that it catches fire. Let it burn for some moments to burn off some of the alcohol.  I let it burn for about a minute.
Put the mustard seed, vinegar, water, honey and turmeric in a blender, and pulse a number of times.  Scoop the mixture down from the sides between bursts. If the mustard is too thick for your taste, add a little more vinegar and water. Blend until smooth but still with some texture.
Pour in a tablespoon of the brandy, pulse, and taste. See how you like it and try to forecast... the tricky part! If you taste the brandy, leave it there or add more if you like.
This mustard improves a lot (read: mellow’s out) once left in the fridge to age for a few days. I will keep you posted on how this version ended up. :D

Whatever it is that you celebrate, I hope that you have a delicious experience, shared with loved ones. And I'll see you all in the New Year, wooo-hoOOo!!!


  1. I am glad you started a blog! It seemed such a torture to see your photographs and wonder how they tasted earlier. Being an Indian I am not really a mustard craver but the recipe and the picture did stir an interest! Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year, Melina!

  2. Great recipes, thanks for Sharing, and delicious looking Photos As always! I Hope you had à wonderful xmas!

  3. Thanks for your visits - I traveled to my parents' for the holidays, and having been spending needed and wonderful time with them, so sorry to not return until now. ;)
    I was tormented with to- or not-to begin a blog for a while, and finally came to terms with it being relevant and great.... so thanks for your support! We'll find out soon how this mustard turned out, indeed. Have a Happy New Year to you both!

  4. you do a really wonderful job of pairing the photos with your recipes. i want to make them all! nice props, nice looking food and really nice light. let us know about that mustard! best, Colin