Anise-Corn Biscotti

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I think I make too many biscotti. Must be my addiction to a hot cup of something. The writing life is a lonely one, and having a hot cup of coffee, tea, chocolate, even lemon-flavored water keeps my fingers nimble and my attention focused.

 

An unexpected mis-labeled bag of white flour turned out to be a new idea for biscotti. I usually make a traditional Greek biscotti, flavored with anise seed and Ouzo, and as I opened a new bag of flour yesterday, I noticed little brown flecks of outer bran? Whole-wheat flour was my guess, but really who knows. With only corn flour in my cupboards, I substituted my second cup of white flour for corn.

 

Now I know the Greeks discovered a lot of things, but corn isn’t one of them. Thankfully, the flavors didn’t clash and actually tasted rather nice together. The corn flour also lends a nice crunch and added layer of sweetness. It’s my version of the Old World meets New World sweet.

 

Anise-Corn Biscotti

Makes two small logs, and when cut, about 24 cookies.

 

1 cup white all-purpose flour

1 cup corn flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon whole anise seed, ground

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature

3/4 cup sugar

1 extra-large egg

3 Tablespoons Ouzo or other anise-flavored liqueur

 

1. Whisk together flours, powder, salt, and anise in a bowl; set aside.

2. In another bowl, whisk together softened butter and sugar, either by hand or in a standing mixer, until light and fluffy. Add egg and Ouzo and mix well to incorporate. Add the flour mixture and mix  to combine. Cover the dough and chill for at least an hour.

3. Place oven rack in center of oven and pre-heat oven to 350°. Remove the dough and divide evenly in half. On a large sheet pan, form each portion of dough into a log, lengthwise on the pan, so that it is approximately 4-inches wide by 12-inches long.

4. Bake biscotti logs until they lightly brown on the edges and set to touch, about 15 minutes. Remove pan from the oven and allow the logs to rest for about 3 minutes. One at a time, remove a log and place on a cutting board. At a slight angle, slice log into 1-inch strips, and return biscotti to sheet pan. Repeat with second log and place pan back in the oven for another 7 minutes. Remove pan and cool cookies until room temperature. Store in an air-tight container for up to one week.

Rosemary Shortbread

It’s that time of year again when I impulsively start buying extra flour, sugar, and butter, so don’t ask my why I ended up making a batch of pumpkin-flavored rice crispy treats. Finding a recipe off the web can be risky, and as I learned a few days ago, adding moisture like pumpkin puree to a perfectly good indulgence like rice crispy treats just doesn’t work (do you hear that ApartmentTherapy!). And since I was going to mail them to my son away at college, I’ve been eating them instead. Soggy, yes, but not that much different than when the plain cereal is doused with milk for breakfast.

So now I am going to use those baking ingredients that are taking up valuable counter space with a batch of Rosemary Shortbread. (His idea, not mine.) I got the recipe off of Epicurious.com and feel much better about using recipes where the comments are from people who actually make the recipe, confirming its accuracy, and not just responders saying they “look good”. Lesson learned. These are spot on perfect. Enjoy!

Rosemary Shortbread Cookies

1 1/2 Tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary

2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

2 Tbsp. honey

1/2 cup confectioners sugar

1. Mix together first four ingredients; set aside.

2. Place butter in a standing mixer bowl or large bowl and whip until light and fluffy. Add honey and sugar and continue to whip until well incorporated. Add flour mixture and blend just until dough forms.

3. Remove half of dough from bowl and place on a 12″ sheet of wax paper; flatten and lengthen to form a rectangular log 1″ thick. Fold wax paper over until dough is wrapped. Repeat with other half batch of dough and refrigerate until firm, up to overnight.

4. Remove dough from refrigerator, unwrap, and slice in equal pieces and bake on an ungreased cookie sheet in a 350° oven for 15 minutes or until lightly browned on the bottom. Store in an airtight container for up to a week. Makes 32 cookies.

Pumpkin Spice Cookies with Maple Frosting

There’s a sweet little cafe in downtown San Carlos that serves the most amazing treats. My instincts tell me that originally it started out as a cupcake shop, but has slowly transitioned to a cafe that serves savory and sweet edibles, including cupcakes. The proprietor was smart to name her shop something broad enough to ride the cupcake trend without pigeonholing her brand and ultimately limiting the success of her shop.

Last Saturday I popped in with my daughter on a mission to bring home their amazing maple-glazed oat scones, but also walked out with a pumpkin spice brown sugar cookie. Divine. Soft and cake-like with a swirl of vanilla-spiked brown sugar frosting. Here’s my version.

Pumpkin Spice Cookies with Maple Frosting

These are best served the same day, but can be stored for up to three days in an airtight container. Pumpkin spice consists of cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and nutmeg. Because I’m crazy for spices, I like to mix my own. If you have this blend on hand, feel free to substitute 2 tablespoons of it in place of the individual spices in the recipe below.

Cookies:

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. ginger

1/2 tsp. allspice

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. baking powder

1 stick unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 large egg

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 cup pumpkin puree

Frosting:

1 1/4 cups confectioners sugar

5 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature

3 tbsp. maple syrup

Cinnamon for dusting

1. In a bowl, sift together first seven ingredients; set aside. In another mixing bowl, beat butter using a hand-held mixer or standing mixer until fluffy, about 1 minute. Add sugars and beat again for another minute. Add egg and beat, scraping down sides of bowl, until well incorporated. On low speed, add vanilla and pumpkin puree and combine. Add flour-spice mixture and mix until batter forms, about one more minute.

2. Refrigerate batter for at least 15 minutes. If making ahead, cover and refrigerate for up to half a day.

3. Preheat oven to 350° and line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Remove batter from refrigerator and, using an ice cream scoop, scoop batter onto lined cookie sheet. Each sheet should fit 12 cookies. Dip fingers in water and smooth the tops of each cookie to flatten so that each cookie measures about 1/4″ x 2 1/2″.

4. Bake cookies, one sheet pan at a time in the center of the oven, for 15 minutes. Remove cookies from pan and place on wire rack to cool.

5. To prepare frosting, sift sugar into a mixing bowl to remove any lumps. Add butter and whip on high; slowly add syrup. Whip until frosting is fluffy and smooth, about 2 minutes.

6. When cookies are cool, spread frosting on cookies  and dust lightly with cinnamon.

Blueberry-Lavender Ice Cream

An impromptu book club gathering (and the discovery of long forgotten culinary lavender in the back of my spice cabinet) led me to making this delicious ice cream. This type of ice cream is classified as “Philadelphia-style” since it doesn’t contain eggs or require any cooking.I found a  base recipe to work with off the web and altered it a bit to suit the lavender. Though not as decadent or complex as a custard-based ice cream, it certainly meets the needs of a quick dessert on a hot summer day.

Blueberry-Lavender Ice Cream

Make sure you are using culinary lavender and not lavender from the garden. Culinary lavender can be purchased from your local farmers market or online. Mine comes from Dixon’s Eatwell Farm.

1 1/2 cup half & half

1/2 cup sugar

2 Tbsp. culinary lavender

2 cups fresh blueberries

1/2 cup sour cream

1/2 tsp. salt

1. Place half & half in a saucepan and bring to simmer on medium heat; add sugar and lavender and reduce heat to low. Keep on heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and cool.

2. Place blueberries, sour cream, salt and half & half mixture in a blender or  food processor and process until thoroughly blended. Strain mixture through a fine sieve or strainer and pour liquid into an ice cream maker. Make ice cream, following manufacturers instructions. Remove ice cream and place in a freezer-safe container and freeze for at least 4 hours before serving.

Blueberry-Almond Coffee Cake

 

I don’t buy berries that often, especially out of season, but when I do I want them to live up to the hype. They should be juicy, plump, and have just the right ratio of tartness to sweetness. But, like many things in life, you can’t always believe (or trust) the hype. So when life serves you a pint of so-so berries, and you’re faced with what feels like an overwhelming serving of disappointment, just bake with them because a loving dose of butter and sugar really can do wonders.

Blueberry-Almond Coffee Cake

1 2/3 cup all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1/2 tsp. almond extract

1 cup light sour cream

1/2 cup low-fat milk

1 cup blueberries

Topping:

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup slivered almonds

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

1/2 stick of butter, chilled and cut into small pieces

1. Combine first four ingredients in a bowl; set aside. In a medium-size mixing bowl, beat butter until fluffy. Add sugar until well combined. Add eggs, one at a time, until well incorporated into butter-sugar mixture; add extracts and mix.

2. Add sour cream, milk, and flour mixture to mixing bowl and mix until smooth. Add blueberries, mix, and spoon batter into a buttered 9-inch square baking pan.

3. In the same bowl used for the flour mixture, make the topping by combining all of the topping ingredients except for the butter; mix until well combined. Add butter pieces and blend with topping ingredients until small pieces of butter are evenly distributed throughout topping ingredients.

4. Evenly sprinkle topping mixture over batter and bake in a 350° oven for 40 minutes, or until cake is evenly browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Olive Oil-Citrus Cake

As a follow up to my previous post on Olive Oil Gelato, I wanted to also provide the recipe to the olive oil cake I made. There are several different cake recipes out there on the internet and in various cookbooks. After reviewing many of them, I came up with my own variation. For this cake I used a local Paso Robles olive oil, golden in color and very fruity on the palate. Unlike the gelato, the olive oil flavor is very subtle and provides a very moist end result. In the future I would always turn to olive oil in a cake batter recipe that calls for another oil such as vegetable or canola oil, especially if the cake has added flavorings such as citrus.

Olive Oil-Citrus Cake

1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

3 eggs

1 cup sugar

2 tsp. orange zest

2 tsp. lemon zest

1/4 cup whole milk

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1. In a bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt; mix well and set aside.

2. In another bowl, add eggs and sugar and mix until fluffy and sugar is well incorporated, about 2 minutes. Add zests, milk, and oil; continue to mix until well blended. Add flour mixture and combine until flour is incorporated; don’t overmix.

3. Pour batter into a buttered and floured 8- to 9-inch cake pan and bake for 30 minutes at 350°, or until center of cake springs back when touched and toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool and serve ,or cover with wrap and serve next day.

Olive Oil Gelato

I’ve been on an olive oil high as of late, writing articles for The Olive Oil Times, receiving generous samples from Cobram Estate, and generally consuming far too much of this golden elixir. But its good for me (and my skin) so until I see any adverse reactions, I’ll continue on course.

Last week I prepared an olive oil–centered meal for some friends and educated them about the extra virgin olive oil business, current terms and their meanings, and what to look for when shopping for the real deal. Most hadn’t given the topic of authentic extra virgin olive oil much thought so I felt I did my job as a food journalist (and friend).

There were olives and/or olive oil in several dishes I prepared, but the dish that received the most notice was the Olive Oil Gelato I served. Never having tried it before, I too was truly surprised by the depth of olive oil flavor and how it worked so well with the custard-like ingredients. If you have an ice cream maker, this should be at the top of your list the next time you pull it out of storage. In fact, keep it on your counter near your coffee maker because I promise you’ll be making it more often than you ever imagined.

Olive Oil Gelato

This really is just a basic custard recipe, with the addition of extra-virgin olive oil, chilled, and poured into an ice cream maker. Serve alone, with a dense chocolate ganache cake, or with an olive oil cake as I did. (See Olive Oil Cake post.)

3 cups whole milk

1 cup heavy cream

6 egg yolks

1 cup sugar

2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (Cobram Estate Fresh and Fruity or similarly fruity oil)

1. In a medium-size saucepan, combine milk and cream and slowly heat to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring often to avoid scorching.

2. While milk mixture is heating, place yolks and sugar in a mixing bowl and with a hand-held mixer, whip on high until yolks turn a light pale color and have doubled in size. While mixer is running, add olive oil in a steady stream and continue to mix until well incorporated.

3. Remove milk mixture from stove top and add a small amount to yolks, incorporating with mixer on low. Continue to temper yolks with another two additions of hot milk (about 1/4 cup each time), continuing to mix while adding. Once yolks have been tempered, pour yolk mixture into into pan with remaining milk and cook over medium heat until mixture reaches about 175° and coats the back of a spoon. Stir constantly and watch so that the yolks don’t cook. Once thickened and temperature is reached, remove from stove and stain if needed.

4. Chill custard, placing a piece of plastic wrap on top. Once custard has chilled, it can be poured in an ice cream maker according to manufacturers instructions.


Coffee-Chocolate-Ginger Loaf Cake

Titling recipes is tricky. One would think that dominate ingredients should be included in a recipe title, but what if those ingredients don’t sound as appealing as a minor player in a recipe? Take the cake title above. The recipe’s got loads of coffee, enough molasses to attract or deter molasses lovers or haters, some chocolate, and a little bit of ginger. You might even call it a gingerbread cake, except that gingerbread doesn’t normally have coffee or chocolate. And let’s not forget that this is the age of the internet, when titles (and title tags) draw readers to your site. Even though the finished cake has a pronounced molasses flavor, rarely do you see the word molasses in a recipe title. Instead, it’s up to readers to assume that if the words ginger and cake are in the same title, molasses will be included in the recipe deck. If the recipe is accompanied by an image, the dark color of the food will also be a giveaway as well.

According to fellow SFPFS member, Dianne Jacob and her book, Will Write for Food: The Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Restaurant Reviews, Articles, Memoir, Fiction, and More… (Avalon. 2005) a recipe title should be descriptive, informative, and inviting. She advises that vague titles that could possibly include multiple ingredients, like the phrase “stone fruit”, distracting and misleading. Titles that read like a menu item can be too long. Considering your audience is also important, especially when using descriptors such as “quick” and “easy”.

Consumers don’t like to be deceived, but in the world of marketing and advertising, it’s done all the time. Whether it’s a recipe title that results in a recipe that has little to do with the title or a cookbook title that doesn’t quite deliver what it promises, we consumers are often tricked into investing our time and money on things that disappoint.

My good friend Anne recently let me borrow a cookbook she got as a gift. Goat Cheese by Maggie Foard (Gibbs-Smith. 2008) is a lovely book, filled with tempting recipes. Notice how I didn’t say recipes using goat cheese? The title would make you assume otherwise, but several recipes don’t use goat cheese and only suggest various goat cheeses served alongside. Not to discredit this seemingly well-thought-out book, but the title is a bit misleading. From a publishers perspective, I can see how a very broad title like “Goat Cheese” would appeal to a wide audience, or at least anyone who enjoys goat cheese, but I believe that there should have been a sub-title assigned, disclosing that the book also contains recipes that don’t use goat cheese and merely suggest it as a side.

This recipe for Coffee-Chocolate-Ginger Loaf Cake comes from Foard’s Goat Cheese cookbook. I’ve altered it slightly, using a loaf pan instead of muffin tin, removing the crystallized ginger and replacing it with ground ginger. I also added chocolate because it’s the only way I can entice my kids to give it a try. Foard recommends serving her version, Espresso Ginger Cakes with Chevre and Bodega Dairy Caramel, with a fresh chevre and bottled specialty caramel sauce. I suppose you could do the same with mine.

Next time I’m going to make something from the book and not alter it, making sure that it has goat cheese in the recipe deck.

Coffee-Chocolate-Ginger Loaf Cake

3/4 cup very strong coffee or espresso

1/3 cup dark unsulfered molasses

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 egg

1/3 cup canola oil

1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. salt

3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350° and grease a loaf pan; set aside. Warm coffee and add molasses; stir to dissolve. Add baking soda, and stir while it bubbles up, continuing until it bubbles down; set aside to cool.

2. In a mixing bowl, add sugar, egg, and oil and beat well to combine. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. Add flour and coffee mixture to sugar and eggs, beating until well combined. Fold in chocolate chips and pour into prepared pan. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean. Cool and serve with goat cheese, if desired.

Hazelnut-Raisin Biscotti

This was my second year judging the biscotti competition at the San Mateo County Fair. Last year’s entries were good, but this year’s were even better. There were classic anise-flavored biscotti, two chocolate versions, two ginger-flavored versions, a couple with raisins and dried cranberries, a full-blown peanut butter, and a rosemary-pistachio. (Apologies for any that I forgot.) Before the judging begins, we take a walk around and give each entry a once over. My first reaction to the winning cookie was that it would be a hard one to beat. It looked like a Stella D’Oro biscotti—perfectly sliced, evenly browned, with a precise amount of chocolate drizzled on each. The winner was a cinnamon-hazelnut biscotti with chocolate.

One aspect of the judging process is to check the recipe for accuracy. And being that this is an amateur competition, invariably there are some faults. I end up taking the longest out of all the judges because I love to examine the recipes and give suggestions. My only complaint with the winning biscotti was that the contestant left the hazelnuts whole. Otherwise, I didn’t have anything else to say other than job well done.

I find biscotti such an interesting cookie because there are so many variations. Texture change considerably when a fat is used and often the amount of egg is balanced by the right amount of flour. It’s pretty apparent when a recipe has gone wrong and a biscotti is either tooth-breaking hard or too soft for dunking. I prefer a little fat in my biscotti and like them nicely toasted or twice-baked to a golden brown. Below is a biscotti recipe that recently created and it has a good balance of flavor, fruit, and nuts (which are chopped).

Hazelnut-Raisin Biscotti

Feel free to save the brandy for another recipe or enjoy as an after dinner treat with the biscotti.

1 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup brandy
1 cup hazelnuts, toasted and chopped
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 egg white
1 tsp. vanilla

1. Heat raisins and brandy in a microwave-safe bowl in microwave for 1 minute. Remove, cover, and allow to sit for at least 1/2 hour.

2. Place hazelnuts on a cookie sheet and toast in a 325° oven for 10 minutes, or until fragrant. Remove from oven and place hazelnuts on a clean dish towel. Fold towel over nuts and vigorously rub them together so that most of the skins are removed. Chop nuts and set aside.

3. Mix together flours, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon; set aside.

4. In a standing mixer, beat butter until fluffy; add sugars and continue to beat. Add eggs and egg white, one at a time, until incorporated; add vanilla.

5. With mixer running, add flour mixture and mix until just incorporated. Add nuts and strained raisins, reserving brandy for another use.

6. Turn dough onto cookie sheet and form three logs, running perpendicular to length of pan, each 4” by 10”. Smooth tops of each log.

7. In a 350° oven, bake for 30 minutes. Remove pan and cool logs for 5 minutes. One at a time, remove logs and slice each into 1/2” cookies, and place back on cookie sheet.

8. Reduce oven temperature to 325° and place cookies back in oven for 15 minutes, or until cookies are lightly toasted.

9. Remove from oven, cool, and store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

Tahini Ice Cream with Bittersweet Chocolate and Sesame Candy

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When I wrote an ethnic market piece for the San Francisco Chronicle, I had the opportunity to become reacquainted with the diverse selection of amazing markets in the Bay Area. One Middle Eastern market that had previously slipped through my radar was Alhana Foods in San Mateo. I took some photos of their large display of hookahs for the article, but wanted to also give them recognition for their wonderful array of Middle Eastern products. Unfortunately, space constraints didn’t allow for individual establishments to be noted so I thought I’d post about Alhana here.

When I visited there was one product that stuck out and I kept promising myself to return to purchase it. I finally made it back last week and picked up the Tahini with Honey that I had been pining over. I immediately knew it would make an amazing ice cream, even without tasting it, and I was right. Unlike traditional tahini, the Macedonian version is flavored with honey. It’s the sesame version of Nutella. It’s smooth, creamy, and slightly sweet with an addictive nutty flavor. I imagine it would be delicious on toast or bagels and enjoyed as one would peanut butter or other nut butter.

Alhana Foods not only carries food products from several countries, but also houses a restaurant and catering business. If you don’t mind eating within the grocery isles (and why would you) then drop in for some shopping and lunch. Everything I’ve eaten there has been fresh and delicious.
Alhana Foods. 25 West 37th Avenue, San Mateo, CA 94403. (650) 349-3300. http://www.alhana.net

Tahini Ice Cream with Bittersweet Chocolate and Sesame Candy

If Macedonian Tahini is hard to find, use regular tahini and add 3 Tbsp. of honey in step 5 and reduce sugar to 1/2 cup.

2 oz. sesame candy (Makedoniko Pasteli)
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate
1 1/2 cup reduced fat milk
1 1/2 cup heavy cream
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. Tahini with Honey

1. Finely chop sesame candy. Candy should measure about 1/2 cup.

2. Shave chocolate with a knife, creating small pieces/shavings. Chocolate should measure about 1/2 cup. Set aside both candy and chocolate.

3. Combine milk and cream in a heavy-bottom saucepan and place over medium heat. Stir occasionally so that mixture doesn’t scald on bottom and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and set aside.

4. In a mixing bowl, add eggs, yolks, and sugar and whisk by hand until mixture is thick and glossy and pale yellow, about one minute. In a slow stream add a ladle of hot milk mixture to eggs, about 1/4 cup at a time, whisking constantly so that eggs don’t curdle. Repeat until half of milk is incorporated into eggs. Return yolk-milk mixture back into saucepan with remaining hot milk. Place back on stovetop and heat on medium, whisking constantly until custard has thickened and coats the back of a spoon, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat. If there are any lumps, strain mixture through a fine sieve or fine mesh strainer.

5. Add tahini to custard, whisking well to incorporate. Cool custard, stirring occasionally, on countertop for about 15 minutes. Pour custard into a measuring cup and place in the refrigerator to cool completely, about 2 hours. There should be 4 cups of custard.

6. Pour custard into ice cream machine and continue to prepare ice cream according to manufacturer’s directions. About halfway through freezing, add chocolate and candy to machine and continue to freeze. Remove ice cream from machine and place in a freezer-safe container. Keep frozen for up to 1 month.

7. To serve, remove ice cream from freezer and soften at room temperature until able to scoop. Serve ice cream with a drizzle of honey on top.