Excellent Elephant Ears

This sugar coated puff pastry cookie may seem daunting at first (the puff pastry preparation is somewhat lengthy) but it’s totally worth the effort. Resist the urge to add cinnamon or another spice to the sugar, it might interrupt the delicate caramelized butter flavor.

All you need is this Instant Puff Pastry recipe (a truncated version of the traditional) and sugar. The puff pastry will yield four times more than you will need for the cookies, so good news, you’ll have plenty. You can either make a boatload of cookies, or freeze the dough for later use, which I recommend. Puff pastry dough is extremely versatile and easy to use once it has been prepared – I made Spinach, Caramelized Onion & Goat Cheese Turnovers with mine, but more on that later, it’s cookie o’clock.

Quick & Easy Puff Pastry (Recipe adapted from Nick Malgieri’s The Modern Baker)

  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 4.5 sticks or 18 oz. cold unsalted butter
  • 1 cup cold water
Elephant Ears
  • 1/4 recipe Quick & Easy Puff Pastry
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • Tin foil or parchment paper to prevent sticking

Preparation (you will need a food processor):

1. Sift flour and salt together in a bowl. Place in bottom of food processor fitted with metal blade.

2. Cut butter into small chunks and add it to flour and salt. Pulse twice.

3. Remove cover and use a spatula to stir dry mix from the sides of the bowl. Cover and mix again until crumbs appear.

4. Add the cold water to the food processor and pulse again. Use the spatula to clean the sides of the bowl, refit metal blade and pulse again.

5. The dough will still look crumbly and unset, but it is important not to overmix. Invert the bowl on to a well floured surface and corral the dough into a rough rectangle with your hands.

Dust the dough with flour and press (don’t roll) it with a rolling pin to flatten.  Lift and turn the dough 90 degrees and press it again, re-flouring the bottom if it begins to stick.

6. Roll the dough into an 18 inch square and divide it in half to make two rectangles (about 9 x 18 inches each).

Roll one rectangle to make it 12 x 18 inches. Fold the left third of the dough over the middle third and the right third across over that.

Roll the dough into a tight package from one of the short ends then repeat the process with other half of the dough.

For the elephant ears, we will only need 1/4 of the recipe, so divide each roll in half and wrap all four chunks of dough tightly with saran wrap. Refrigerate a quarter of the dough for at least an hour and thirty minutes. (The remainder may stay refrigerated for 2-3 days or frozen and defrosted for later use).

7. Sprinkle your work surface with about half of the sugar and press the dough into the sugar to soften it, turning it 90 degrees until the dough is soft enough to roll out. Making sure to keep both the dough and the work surface generously sugared, roll the dough into an 8 x 12 inch rectangle.

8. Trim the edges of the dough with a knife.

Fold the longer sides of the dough a little less than halfway (about 1.5 inches) towards the middle.Repeat with the opposite side until there is a half inch gap between the two folded pieces.

Fold each side over again so that the ends meet in the middle, being careful not to stretch the dough and break it.

Flatten the formed dough with the palm of your hand, cut it in half, and wrap each half tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least an hour. Scrape excess sugar into a bowl.

9. Preheat oven to 375. Line a baking pan with parchment paper or tin foil. Remove dough from refrigerator and place it on a cutting board. Use a thin blade to slice the cookies into 1/2 inch slices.

Dip each slice in sugar before arranging it on the baking sheet. Repeat until all the rolled dough has been sliced, sugared, and arranged.

10. Bake the elephant ears until they have puffed and caramelized (about 10 – 15 minutes). Cool elephant ears before serving. Store in airtight container.

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Blackberry Jam Sandwich Cookies

One for the jam lovers.

Blackberry Jam Sandwich Cookies

  • 2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • zest of 1 lemon (to make good use of the grater I received for Christmas)
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 jar seedless blackberry (or any other fruit) preserves

Preparation:

1. Mix butter and sugar in bottom of electric mixer and until creamed. Or, if you aren’t using an electric mixer, do so by hand.

2. Add egg yolks, lemon zest, lemon juice, and vanilla extract. Mix until combined, making sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl frequently.

3. Slowly add flour and mix again on a low setting, scraping down the sides of the bowl once again when necessary.

4. Scrape dough out of the bowl and press it into the bottom of a pan until it is about 1/2 inch in thickness (I divided mine in half and did so in the bottom of a cake pan). Chill the dough, covered in saran wrap, for at least an hour.

5. Heat oven to 350 degrees. While the dough chills, reduce the jam by heating the it in a saucepan over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Once it comes to a boil, let it rest and thicken.

6. After an hour, take the dough out of the fridge and turn it out on a floured surface. Gently press the dough with a rolling pin to soften it and roll the dough to the desired thickness (I think mine turned out a little too thick, but who’s counting).

7. Use a reasonably sized glass (or cookie cutters, if you have them) to cut the dough into disks and lift them carefully onto a foil lined baking sheet, placing them at least an inch a part. I wanted a “window” effect for my cookies, so I used a small shot glass to cut out the center of half of the disks, but this is unnecessary (though it does look quite fancy). You can re-roll the scraps after they have been molded into a ball and chilled for another 10 minutes.

8. Bake the cookies until they reach a deeper golden color, about 15 – 20 minutes and let them cool completely.

9. Spoon about 1 Tbs jam on the base (the darker, flatter side) and spread it almost to the edge. Top with a second “window” cookie and gently press them together. Fill “windows” to the brim with extra jam, if you have any, after filling the rest of the cookies.

Cinnamon Raisin Babka Loaf


A yeast-risen, not-too-sweet, breakfast specialty! The moist cinnamon raisin swirls make this bread look more difficult than it really is – bake a babka loaf and impress someone today.

*Recipe adapted from The Modern Baker by Nick Malgieri.

Cinnamon Raisin Babka Loaf

  • 2 Tbs heavy cream
  • 1 cup warm tap water
  • 5 tsp (2 packets) dry active yeast
  • 8 Tbs unsalted butter (melted and cooled)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 6 large egg yolks (save 3 whites for cinnamon raisin filling)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 Tbs oil (olive or vegetable)

Cinnamon Raisin Filling

  • 1.5 cups raisins
  • 3 egg whites
  • 3 Tbs cinnamon
  • 2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 cup nuts (optional)

Preparation:

1. Start by measuring all of the ingredients in separate containers so that they are at-the-ready and can be incorporated into the mixer efficiently. Yeast doughs can be extremely easy to work with provided the dough does not have time to begin rising while you measure.

2. Melt the butter in a saucepan on low heat or in the microwave (just be careful not to scorch it). Let the butter congeal in the pan.

3. Add yeast to bottom of an electric mixer fixed with the paddle attachment. Measure 1 cup of warm tap water from your faucet (it should not be steaming or too hot to touch) and pour it over the yeast. Mix with a spoon to dissolve any large lumps. Make sure the yeast is beginning to activate (becoming cloudy, bubbly) before you add any more ingredients.

4. Add melted butter, sugar, salt, egg yolks,  and vanilla. Stir to combine. It should look unappealing, like this:

5. Add flour, 1/2 a cup at a time, beating on medium speed to incorporate after each addition.

Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides before each addition of flour. When all the flour has been added, beat the dough on high speed for 2 minutes. Allow the dough to rest in the mixer for 10 minutes before beating it again on medium speed for 2 additional minutes. These steps should result in a clean looking dough, like this:

6. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl. Turn the dough in the bowl to coat with oil to prevent sticking. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

(man hands)

7. As the dough rises, prepare the filling by whipping the three egg whites in the mixer with the beater attachment. Add the sugar slowly to the eggs as they are whipping.

Mix on high speed until the whites form stiff peaks, about 5-8 minutes. Also, gather raisins, cinnamon, nutmeg and any nuts you wish to use.

8. After an hour, the dough has magically risen!

Cut the risen dough in half and turn it out on a well floured surface. Gather a rolling pin (or wine bottle), two loaf pans and begin rolling out the dough, using the length of one of the loaf pans as a general guide.

9. Once dough reaches about 3/4 inch thickness, smooth half of beaten egg whites carefully over the dough.

Sprinkle a little over half a cup of the raisins onto the egg whites.

Then sprinkle generously with cinnamon and a little bit of nutmeg (no need to measure really, just go with your taste buds on this one).

Form the dough by  starting with the side closest to you and slowly rolling it upwards, careful not to press down and displace the filling.

End with the seam on the bottom so the dough stays rolled while you grease and flour each of your loaf pans. Carefully lift roll into pan and repeat procedure with the other half of the dough.

10. Cover the dough with a towel and let it rise until doubled in size, 1 – 2 hours depending on the temperature of the room.

11. Bake babkas at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until well risen and a deep golden brown color on the crust. Cool loaves in the pans for at least 30 minutes before turning them out of the pan (to avoid collapse).

Slice with a serrated knife if enjoying right away or seal loaf in plastic wrap to be stored in the freezer for later use (defrost for 30 minutes and reheat at 350 for about 10 minutes).

 Personally, I couldn’t wait to try it. So I ate this slice while freshly baked.

And another for dessert – smothered in apple pecan honey butter.

And because it isn’t overly sweet, this bread might make a mighty fine sandwich. If you’re brave enough to try it, let me know how it goes.

Fresh Pasta

Simple egg and flour pasta recipe shaped by hand or pasta maker.

All you need to make the dough is 2 eggs for every 1 cup of flour. (This will yield 2  servings of pasta).

Note: I’ve used semolina flour (a durum wheat product) to make a more traditional pasta, but regular ol’ all purpose flour will work just fine.

Simply make a well in the flour, crack the eggs into the center, and mix slowly by hand. If you feel like doing more dishes, feel free to use a food processor to blend.

Next, turn the dough out onto a floured surface

and knead until the dough looks less and less grainy (about 10 minutes).

Once your dough looks like this:

You’re there.

Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it sit for at least an hour.

If you’re working sans pasta press the product will be slightly thicker and less uniform, but delicious just the same.

Start by rolling the dough from center to end on a floured surface until it is as thin as you can get it without ripping. Periodically let the dough rest and retract.

Once the dough is rolled out, experiment with different tools for slicing the dough into long thin strips. I began by cutting the dough into fourths for easier handling. My giant kitchen scissors proved too awkward to handle the dough so I opted for an X-ACTO knife and a ruler to make long thin strips. Be creative with the tools you have around and find the one that works for you. If you choose to slice your pasta into thicker strips (more like fettucini than spaghetti) just make sure to adjust the cook time.

And after a few tedious minutes, voila! Pasta!

And if you’re lucky enough to own or borrow a pasta maker, set it up according to the instructions, making sure it is solidly attached to the countertop.

Adjust the roller thickness opposite the crank to level one (the largest of six). Flatten the dough with your hands until it looks like it will fit into the rollers.

Shove the end of the dough into the machine and begin cranking. Don’t panic if the sides curl or if there are a few runs in the dough when it comes out, this is expected on the first couple of runs. After the dough is flattened to the same thickness, fold it in half and run it through setting one again, guiding the dough with one hand and cranking with the other. Only flour the dough on the outside only if you see small tears or if the dough starts sticking to itself.

Repeat the process of cranking the dough through the machine three times on each setting. Once the desired thickness is reached, attach the cutter tool onto the top of the machine and crank the though through the cutter one time, flouring the finished product to make sure the edges don’t stick together.

If you’re ready to cook the pasta right away, bring a pot of water to a boil. Add a teaspoon of salt and the fresh pasta, cooking for 2-4 minutes or until desired tenderness is reached. If you’re not ready to eat the pasta right away, or if there is extra, toss in more flour and store in sealed bag in the refrigerator for up to two days or in the freezer for up to a month.

Try this amazing homemade bolognese on top of your pasta or find a recipe of your own.

Absolutely.