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Posts Tagged ‘unsulphured’

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So begins the first installment of my cooking project! I chose Anita’s cookies because every ingredient in them is like butter on a burn* to me, and because right now I want to expend only the barest amount of effort while still getting a fat payoff. What we cook should work for us. And for where I am right now, these cookies do that.

To be more specific, this month I’m backstage, crewing two theatre shows. And while I love it, it’s hard physical work. Factor in the frosty 95-degree weather, and my head feels like drywall. I hope you’re all less in the mood to dig into Big Thinking and more in the mood for goofing off a little, because I sure am.

I took a page from Anita’s book with this recipe and did my own thing in a few places: I added good-quality 60% cacao chocolate buttons instead of chopping up chocolate (zero energy for that today) and toasted the walnuts before adding them (a very nice thing to do to a nut). I also used organic whole wheat pastry flour for half of the flour called for.  Stirred it all up, scooped it onto cookie sheets, put the sheets in the oven, then I…

…Oh, you think that’s it?

No, right about here let’s throw in a monkey wrench, something completely screwed up, like having my oven refuse to go past 300 degrees, then slowly shut itself off and start emitting gas, like something out of a 1970s made-for-TV movie starring Dirk Benedict.

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Bring on your Battlestar Galactica plastic weaponry. I smite thee with stink.

The NJNG tech told me the igniter in the oven was busted and needed replacing. I asked my downstairs neighbors if I could use their oven. They said they were sorry, but they didn’t want the extra heat on a day like today. They did offer to see if they could relight it, something about kneeling on the floor, reaching through the broiler drawer with an Aim ‘N Flame and brute ambition. I know nothing about this method. It might have worked finely and dandily. But I couldn’t stop picturing a Hiroshima-styled mushroom cloud over the spot where my house had been and brioche tins flying out over the Atlantic. So I called my friends Kim and Doug, who are endlessly amiable and happy to help in a cookie crisis. Within an hour both batches were done.

These cookies are hearty, homey, flavorful, and textured in a very appealing lumpy bumpy way. As Anita points out, they lend themselves well to additions and substitutions. They’ll keep well frozen, I’m sure, and will defrost to keep my stomach full this week as I zip around the county. Thanks, Anita.

Here she is:

This is based on my mother’s oatmeal cookies, but I changed it up. Instead of cinnamon, I added cardamom. Instead of raisins, I used home-dried apricots (although commercially-dried apricots would do as well). I substituted chocolate chips (which I think are rather tasteless)** for chopped dark chocolate. I also added coconut.

I can’t keep these in the cookie jar. Heck. Half of the time they don’t even make it that far—they are eaten right off of the cooling rack.

Oatmeal Cardamom Chocolate Cookies

2 c all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

2 tsp ground cardamom

1 1/2 c butter, softened

1 c brown sugar, packed

1 c granulated sugar

1/4 c molasses or barley malt syrup

4 eggs

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

3 c old-fashioned rolled oats

1 c chopped dried apricots (if unsulphured, slightly reconstitute by soaking in warm water)

1 c chopped walnuts (optional)

1 1/2 c shredded coconut (unsweetened)

1 1/2 c chopped dark chocolate. (I put the pieces in a big plastic bag and whack the bejeezus out of it with a meat tenderizer.)

Preheat oven to 350° F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. In a separate bowl combine flour, soda, salt and cardamom, and set aside. Cream butter and sweeteners together. Add eggs to butter and sweetener mixture, one at a time, incorporating each one before adding the next. Add vanilla. Add oats, flour mixture, apricots, walnuts and coconut. Mix on low speed. Add chocolate. Combine.

Scoop by spoonfuls, about 2-3 tablespoons each, onto cookie sheets, leaving a couple of inches in between. Bake for 11-13*** minutes. Cool on a rack, then feast.

Anita Burns

Corona, CA

USA

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Do I seem obsessed with shiny chocolate?

 

*Especially the butter.

**Absolutely the case with Nestle.

***Mine took 18 minutes.

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Last summer my neighbor, a lovely English lady, flattered me by asking if I would edit her family recipe for Traditional English Christmas Cake. She considers it an heirloom; and in the hopes that her children and grandchildren would make and enjoy it for years to come, she wanted it to be as clearly written as possible. I edit recipes often for the magazine I work with, but the prospect of doing this gave me chills—good ones.

Start with the fact that I am an Anglophile who has seen many recipes for this iconic cake but have never tasted it. Next, add in the fact that my neighbor is a graduate of London’s Cordon Bleu; she actually made Coronation Chicken for ambassadors and dignitaries for the Queen’s coronation in 1953. Wow. Lastly, throw in the history of the recipe, which goes back centuries. (To give you an idea of how far back I’m talking, a variation calls for 12 marzipan balls to be placed on top, and some historians believe they represent the 12 Titans.) This recipe is a piece of living history, and I was offered the chance to be a part of it. I couldn’t wait.

My neighbor asked that I get the edited recipe back to her sometime in the fall, so in early October I delved into it. She was very happy with my edits and reformatting. Last week she gave me a slice of the fruitcake, which she had made for a garden club holiday party. It was like nothing I have ever tasted, surprising and complex. And a couple of days ago, I made the cake for myself—a little version of it.

The recipe predates refrigeration by hundreds of years, back when brainy and resourceful women figured out how to make food last. This is an example of what they learned. We know adding alcohol to foods preserves them. Here, the extra addition of a double layer of icing to the cake acts as a yummy edible Saran Wrap, helping it to stay fresh for a good month.

Which brings me to my next point, which you were waiting for. The traditional holiday fruitcake is much maligned, and generally I’ll agree it’s well deserved. Store bought fruitcake can be leaden, tough to swallow and moreover dangerous to drop even at short distances. But a homemade fruitcake, made with care and beautiful ingredients? I wanted to see if it was worth making, whether it’s been passed down for so many generations for a good reason, one this generation has missed.*

The first thing you do is roughly chop up dried fruits, like fancy raisins, cherries and unsulfured apricots, and soak them in brandy overnight. Or you can use fruit juice. The next day you make the cake batter and mix the fruit into it. My neighbor said to use only dark colored fruits because it’s supposed to be a dark cake (hence why I used unsulfured apricots), and indeed it is; the addition of brown sugar and a bit of molasses to the batter helps keep it dark, too.

Once baked and cooled, you release the cake from the pan and put it on its serving plate, tucking strips of parchment underneath. This way, after you’ve iced it, you can pull the strips out and discard them. Your plate stays clean as a whistle.

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Next you roll out some marzipan (I used my own, but a good quality store bought brand like Odense works, too) that you’ll use to cover the top and sides of the cake. Set it aside for a minute. Then put some apricot jam and a little water into a saucepan and heat it up so the jam loosens and becomes syrupy. That gets brushed on top of the cake, then you cover it with your marzipan. Here’s how mine looked. It’s a bit of a patch job, but this is home cooking. And Martha I ain’t.

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Royal icing comes next. I have never made it before and was amazed at how easy it is. You put a couple of egg whites into a bowl, beat them a bit, then add confectioners’ sugar spoonful by spoonful until you get the consistency and amount you like. That’s it. If it gets too thick, add a little lemon juice or milk. Mine was almost as gooey as honey, thin enough to pour. I used an offset spatula to coax it down the sides and made sure all surfaces were covered.

Royal icing dries at room temperature, or I should say the top of it dries to a delicate crispness, like the top layer of newly fallen snow. Underneath it stays a bit creamy and soft. Luscious stuff.

If you come from the south of England, you decorate this cake with lots of Christmasy embellishments. If you come from the north, you decorate sparingly or not at all. My neighbor friend is from the south, so I followed her lead.

Below is the cake just after I put on the icing. I put the little bottle brush trees on at this point so their bases would stay affixed to the top of the cake.

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I added tiny pine cones around the perimeter, then while the icing dried I made two rabbits, a fawn and a squirrel out of more marzipan tinted with gel paste. (If I added the animals before the icing dried, their color would stain the icing.)

I’ve been making marzipan animals for years, but they’re always somewhat stylized, less realistic. They’re also quite a bit larger. I have never worked so small as I have here: the largest figure is 1.5″ and the smallest is just 3/4″. But when I started thinking about how to decorate the cake, the thought of making this little woodland scene jazzed me. I loved the challenge, and I love working with my hands. This is something I really needed, especially after the grueling past couple of months. Made me feel human again, like myself again.

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This morning I had a little piece of the cake. The allspice, cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg are what come through first, heady and wonderfully fragrant. I didn’t taste a whole lot of the alcohol, but that might be because I have a dopey oven, and when I turned the temperature down from 325 to 295 as the recipe instructs, the cake finished baking before it made it to 295. So most of the alcohol probably burned off, and the cake was less moist than it should have been, but I still love it. I was worried that the marzipan and royal icing that covered the already sweet cake would make it molar-looseningly cloying, but I was surprised to find that they were less sweet than the cake, and actually mellowed it.

And it was a little piece, not a big one. My neighbor tells me another reason why Americans aren’t fond of fruitcake is because we’re used to cutting cake in large slices and eating the whole fat slice. But this cake is very rich, very intense. It is not meant to be cut the way you would a Bundt cake. It is meant to be cut in what she called ‘fingers’, in inch-long lengths, the way my mom cuts a slice of banana bread into fifths. That’s all you want at one time from this cake; a little goes a very long way. Which is good because you’ll want the cake made from this ancient recipe to last, you’ll want to have some to nibble on each day as you watch the sky darken, as our ancestors did before us.

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*Guess the answer 🙂

Post script: This is my 100th blog post! Thank you for reading, and I’m looking forward to playing with my food, with you, as long as I can.

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