Category Archives: Cookies

homemade graham crackers & nanaimo bars (daring bakers)

It’s been a little quiet around ye olde simmer down kitchen for the past month or so, but things are finally starting to kick back into gear.  Two weekends ago I finally made that yuca shepherd’s pie I’ve been wanting to make, and this past weekend I went nuts and made about 5 different Indian dishes.  To be honest, I wasn’t even planning on participating in this month’s Daring Bakers because I  didn’t think I’d have the time, but I found an eleventh-hour burst of energy and decided to go for it, especially seeing as how I missed last month’s gingerbread house challenge.

The challenge was two-fold: to make gluten-free graham crackers, and to use those graham crackers to make a Canadian treat called Nanaimo bars.  Because I was doing the challenge super last-minute (like, um, the day before it was due) I was not able to go hunt down the special GF flours the recipe called for, but luckily the challenge hostess was gracious enough to allow for regular flour, which was cool because I happened to have a bag of graham flour left over from this challenge that I wanted to use up.  Rather than try to convert the GF recipe, I just used the graham cracker recipe from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook (see below).  It was easy but the crackers came out VERY rich and buttery, more like shortbread than what I think of as a graham cracker.  Since the Nanaimo bars only required 1 ¼ cups graham cracker crumbs, I reserved half the dough for future use as a pie or tart shell.

I have mixed feelings about the Nanaimo bars- any of my regular readers probably know I don’t have much of a sweet tooth; I prefer desserts with more complex flavors or a note of sour or bitter to balance the sweet.   The base of the bars, made of butter, cocoa, egg, almonds, coconut and crushed graham crackers, was right up my alley.  I used Green & Black’s organic cocoa powder and the flavor was wonderful.  Where this recipe lost me was on the middle layer.  I originally thought it was a sort of custard, but it’s actually an insanely sweet buttercream.  I tried to do this layer really thin because I knew I wouldn’t like it, but it still ended up too thick for my taste.  I even flavored it with some instant espresso powder to try to counteract how sweet it was, but it didn’t make much difference.  The top layer was just melted chocolate with a little butter to make it spreadable, so no objections there.

It was fun to make the homemade graham crackers, but I will probably be giving away the bulk of the Nanaimo bars- the icing layer just made them too sickly sweet for me.  Or perhaps I’ll end up disassembling some and eating the bottom layer by itself… coconut, chocolate, graham, almonds, yum!

The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and www.nanaimo.ca.


Martha Stewart’s Graham Crackers
printer-friendly version

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups graham flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
2 sticks (½ cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
2 Tbs honey

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Put the flours, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl; stir to combine.

Put the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  If it’s still on the cold side, you can cut it in chunks and mix it by itself for a minute or two to make it more malleable.  Add the brown sugar and honey and mix until fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.

Put the mixer on low speed and add the flour mixture about ¼ cup at a time until fully combined.  You may want to scrape the sides down once or twice during the process.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and cut into 4 equal pieces.  Note: Martha doesn’t instruct you to rest the dough, but if it’s at all difficult to work with, 10-20 minutes in the fridge won’t hurt.  Roll out each piece between 2 layers of wax or parchment paper into a 6″x9″ rectangle (I use my bench scraper to coax the dough into the right shape and to even up the sides).  Cut the dough into whatever size crackers you want.  I used a zigzag cutter that came with my pasta maker and cut each rectangle into 12 crackers.   Transfer the dough to a sheet pan (keeping the parchment underneath) and chill in the freezer until firm, 10-15 minutes.  Prick the dough with a fork in a decorative pattern.

Bake for 15-18 minutes, rotating the pan(s) halfway through.  These can quickly go from a nice toasty brown to burnt, so keep an eye on them!  Cool on a rack and store in an airtight container.

ceci n’est pas un macaron* (daring bakers)

*French for “Giant Macaron Fail!” But I figured the least I could do was pretty them up with a nice seasonal photograph.

macaron fail horizontal

I was so excited about this month’s challenge, really I was.  I’ve been enviously eyeing the beautiful photos of macarons all over people’s blogs for the last little while now, but not having much of a sweet tooth, I needed the Daring Bakers gauntlet to be thrown down to give me the push I needed.  I was a little apprehensive after doing a lot of reading about how difficult and temperamental they can be. But I thought that at the worst, mine might turn out a little flat, or a little browned, but otherwise reasonably resembling a macaron.

Macarons are known for their exotic flavors.  I knew the DB’ers would bring it and that I’d have to be fairly creative to stand out in the crowd.  I rummaged through my cupboards and came up with three flavor ideas: Malted Milk Ball, Ginger Green Tea, and Chai Pumpkin Spice.  Sounds good, right?  The Malted Milk Ball macarons were flavored with cocoa powder and malted milk powder and were going to be filled with a malted milk ganache.  The other two were flavored with powdered dry tea, as per a suggestion from one of the folks in the DB forums.  The Ginger Green Tea flavor was going to be filled with mascarpone with little bits of crystallized ginger, and the Chai Pumpkin Spice was going to be filled with cream cheese blended with pumpkin butter (this combo is really good on an English muffin, BTW.)

Why “going to be filled”, you ask?  Well, all three of my batches of macarons were complete and utter failures.  None of them even came CLOSE to resembling the beautiful macarons on my computer screen. (Did I mention I made THREE batches?  I’m nothing if not persistent! But apparently I had some subconscious need to make good on my “I am not a baker” statement from last month.)  I think I just don’t have that attention to precision and detail (or obsessiveness?) that one needs to attempt a macaron fail 1recipe like this. My macarons were all pathetic, flat, dense little creatures, none of them rose or developed “feet”, nor did any of them have that characteristically shiny shell.  Duncan of Syrup & Tang did a 5-part series on the macaron, which I read diligently (twice!), but it did not unlock any secrets as to why I failed (other than mentioning that the type of recipe chosen by DB had a 50% failure rate).  I have made flourless cake and soufflés before, so I’m familiar with the “folding” technique. I know one batch was definitely overmixed, but with the others I really made an effort to thoroughly combine it without going overboard. (I have to say, though, as I was mixing, I couldn’t help thinking that I didn’t understand how 5 egg whites could possibly hold 2 cups of almond flour & 2 1/4 cups of sugar without collapsing… that’s almost a full pound of solids!)  I thought my last batch (the chocolate ones) actually stood a chance; the batter looked similar to Duncan’s photo of correctly mixed batter and seemed to have the same properties.  But alas, they were just as flat as the rest, if not more so.

I really wish I could have had time to try again and get it right, but I just don’t have the resources (time OR money- that almond meal was $10 a bag!).  I don’t think I’ll ever attempt to make macarons again unless I can get a tutor to come to my house.  Any volunteers?

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S.  She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

ginger green tea cupcakes

P.S. I gave the ginger-green tea flavor a second life as a batch of cupcakes.  I don’t even love cupcakes but I felt I had to redeem myself after the total failure of the macarons!  I took a standard yellow cake recipe, added two teabags of Tazo Ginger Green Tea that had been ground to powder in a coffee mill, and topped them with a lightly sweetened whipped cream/ mascarpone and chopped candied ginger.  I don’t have much of a sweet tooth so these were perfect for my taste- an ever-so-slight bitter edge from the tea and a warm kick from the ginger.

chocolate-covered marshmallow cookies, s’more style (daring bakers)

cookies on plate verticalThe end of July sneaked up on me like a ninja, what with studying for a final exam and just being busy in general.  We were supposed to post this a week ago… But as they say, better late than never, especially where cookies are concerned, am I right?  Hopefully this post will still “count” and I won’t be booted off the DB blogroll for being a procrastinator!

The July 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Nicole of Sweet Tooth.  She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network.

cookies w marshmallow 1

I’m not the hugest marshmallow fan, but the Milan cookies just seemed a tad bit boring/ unchallenging, and Daring Bakers is all about stretching yourself to try new things, so I opted for the Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies.  It occurred to me that I could make them a little more exciting by trying to make them taste like s’mores, so I substituted graham flour for half of the regular flour in an attempt to make the cookie part taste like a graham cracker.  (It sort of worked, but I think if I tried it again I would use an actual graham cracker recipe; I think it needed brown sugar or something else in there to give it that “graham cracker” flavor.)  For my marshmallows, I used golden syrup instead of light corn syrup because that’s what I had on hand.  It resulted in the happy accident of my marshmallows tasting like burnt sugar, giving them more of a toasted-marshmallow flavor which fit in perfectly with the s’mores thing I was going for.  Nice!

cookies being dipped

My marshmallow didn’t fluff up as much as it should have, and was a little runny, but other than that, the assembly went pretty smoothly.  I wasn’t sure if I had enough chocolate, so I just dipped the tops, which was actually a LOT easier in terms of messiness, and I think there was still a more than adequate chocolate-to-cookie ratio.

cookies on plate closeNow I just have to find a way to get rid of these… any takers?  I’m taking some to the zoo today to give to my niece & nephew, but I still have a few dozen in the fridge and there’s no way I’m going to eat them all myself!  Please apply within…

P.S.  I couldn’t resist updating this with a couple snapshots of the kids enjoying their cookies! Joey ate the top off his first, while Aleyna went for a more “direct” approach. 🙂

Joey cookie 2

cookie monster aleyna

sweets for the sweet

valentine-bags-vertical1I did it- I managed to make Valentine goodie bags for my pals and actually distribute most of them on Valentine’s Day. Now if I could only get ahead of the game enough to post about holiday-themed food before the actual holiday, it would probably be more useful… but hey, I’m just happy to have gotten it done. There’s always a new goal to strive for next year! I made three different sweets: cinnamon jelly candies, heart-shaped sandwich cookies, and coconut ice ( a fudge-like confection consisting mostly of powdered sugar). I found red sandwich bags and clear cellophane “treat bags” at Michael’s, and used some red and white tissue paper left over from Christmas gifts from Anthropologie for further decoration. The final touch was a vintage-repro Valentine card, made by the publisher of Golden Books.

cookies-on-napkin-2

For the sake of getting this posted in a timely fashion, I’m going to skip posting the cookie recipe, but if you want it, it’s from Feast by Nigella Lawson.  It’s just a basic shortbread-type sandwich cookie; the only modification I made was to replace half the flour with whole wheat flour.  Nigella uses one of those little corn on the cob holders to do the cutesy little perforations, but I didn’t have one so I used the tip of a meat thermometer.  Anyway, here are the candy recipes:

coconut-ice-on-plate

Coconut Ice

(printer-friendly version)

7 cups powdered sugar
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
4 1/2 cups unsweetened grated coconut
2 tbs lemon or lime juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbs coconut rum
a few drops red food coloring
an 11 x 7 x 2 pan lined with parchment or wax paper and lightly dusted with powdered sugar

Directions: Put the sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and pulse briefly to get out any lumps. (Alternately, you can make this by hand in a bowl with a wooden spoon, but be prepared to use plenty of elbow grease!) Put the mixer on the slow speed and drizzle in the condensed milk. Once it is combined into a stiff paste, add the lemon juice, vanilla and coconut. Add the coconut rum one tbs at a time- if it seems too moist, don’t add the second tbs. It should be a very stiff paste.

coconut-ice-in-bagTake half the mixture from the bowl and press it into the prepared pan, getting it as even as possible and pressing it all the way into the corners. Lift the parchment paper and candy out of the pan and, using a rolling pin, lightly go over the first layer to make it flat and level. Return the candy to the pan, keeping the wax paper underneath.

Mix a couple drops of the food coloring into the remaining paste to make a pink layer. (Don’t overdo it or it will look garish… I could have used a bit less in mine.) Press the remaining paste on top of the first layer, repeating the process with the rolling pin to get it even. Let the candy set for a couple hours; then remove it from the pan and cut into squares (this candy is very sweet, so I suggest making the pieces fairly small.

cinnamon-candy-w-valentines1

Cinnamon Jellies

4 1/2 tbs gelatin
3 cups sugar plus additional for coating
1 3/4 cups water
1 tbs cinnamon oil (you can use a little more if you want it “spicier”)
red food coloring

8-inch square cake pan (I did not have a square pan and had to use a rectangular one; as a result, my candies were thin and flat rather than square)

candy-in-potDirections: Put the water in a medium-sized heavy saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat, sprinkle in the gelatin and stir with a metal spoon until gelatin is dissolved.  (Don’t worry if a few small stubborn lumps remain; they will be filtered out.)  Add the sugar and stir to dissolve.  Return to a boil and continue boiling for 10 minutes.  Don’t turn your back like I did or the mixture can boil over, leaving you with a sticky mess.

Remove from heat and stir in the cinnamon oil and a few drops of red food coloring.  Run a little water into your pan and dump it out so the bottom is wet.  Strain the candy mixture through a fine-mesh strainer or triple layer of cheesecloth into the pan.  Refrigerate until fully set- it should be quite firm.

valentine-kitty1Put a thick layer of sugar onto a work surface.  To remove the candy from the pan, run a wet knife around the edges and dip the base of the pan in hot water for a few seconds.  Turn the candy out onto the sugar, flipping it around so that all sides are coated.  Cut the candy into small squares, putting them into a zip-lock bag or other container with the leftover sugar and tossing so that all sides are coated.  If you like, you can spread them on a sheet of wax paper and leave them sitting out for a while; they will firm up even more, and the sugar will get crunchy.