March 3, 2009

Snow Day Baking

Yesterday was a wonderful gift - a snow day! I called the school main number at 7AM and heard the glorious announcement. So I went back to sleep until 9:30. Yup, feel free to hate me. It's okay.
Alex also had a snow day as his patients cancelled one by one throughout the day. Finally, the clinic told him to just stay home!
So, what do I do with a surprise snow day? I BAKE! In my new red kitchen, of course.

Sugar Topped Molasses Spice Cookies (Baking, From My Home to Yours)

These cookies are spicy and sweet, with a little background of heat from the black pepper. I loved the way the molasses came through and you can really taste all the spices. A definite cookie winner!

2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
pinch (small or not so small) of cracked or coarsely ground black pepper (I should have used more!)
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses (not blackstrap)
1 large egg
about 1/2 cup sugar, for rolling

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, allspice and pepper.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Add the brown sugar and molasses and beat for 2 minutes or so to blend, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the egg and beat for 1 minute more. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing until the flour and spices disappear. If some flour remains in the bottom of the bowl, to avoid overbeating the dough, mix in the last of the dry ingredients by hand with a rubber spatula. You'll have a smooth, very soft dough.

Divide the dough in half and wrap each piece in plastic wrap. Freeze for 30 minutes, or refrigerate for at least 1 hour. (The dough can be kept refrigerated for up to 4 days.)

Getting Ready to Bake:
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

Put the sugar in a small bowl. Working with one packet of dough at a time, divide it into 12 pieces, and roll each piece into a smooth ball between your palms. One by one, roll the balls around in the bowl of sugar , then place them on one of the baking sheets. Dip the bottom of a glass into the sugar and use it to press down on the cookies until they are between 1/4 and 1/2 inch thick.

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 to 14 minutes, or until the tops feel set to the touch. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and, if the cookies have spread and are touching, use the edge of a metal spatula to separate them while they are still hot. Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool to room temperature. Repeat with the second batch of dough.

Halva Cookies (Sesame Fork Cookies)

If you've ever been to a Kosher deli or supermarket, you should know what Halva is. It's a Middle Eastern candy made from tahini paste and it's got a wonderfully unique flavor. A few weeks ago, a coworker came back from Israel and brought some authentic Halva back with her. It was melt-in-your-mouth amazing and inspired me to dig up this recipe and try to make Halva cookies!

After they baked and cooled, the tahini/halva flavor was a little less pronounced than I would have liked, so next time I'll add in more. Overall, though, these were a delicious cookie to dip in a cup of tea.

3/4 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/5 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 egg
3 TBS tahini (sesame paste)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup whole wheat flour (I didn't have this so I just used regular)
1 2/3 cup regular flour
1/3 cup sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 375, rack in the middle position. Line baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone mats.

Using either a hand-mixer or stand-mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy, about 1 minute. Add the brown sugar, baking powder, and nutmeg; beat until combined. Beat in the egg, tahini, and vanilla. Slowly add in the dry ingredients, mixing until just encorporated. Use a wooden spoon to mix in any streaks of flour and the sesame seeds.

Shape the dough into 1-inch balls and place them on a baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. Flatten eath ball by pressing with the tines of a fork in a criss-cross position. Dip your fork in flour or sugar to prevent it from sticking.

Bake until lightly browned, 7-10 minutes. Remove from baking sheets and allow to cool on a rack.