18 February 2011

Recipe for an Early Spring: Whole Wheat Lemon Spritz Cookies with Lemon Lavendar Buttercream

A Taste of Spring: Lemon Spritz Cookies with Lemon Lavender Buttercream

Sadly it's time to say goodbye to Cookie Week. For the grand finale I wanted something that would succeed at several levels of cookie-making -- a sort of choose your own adventure to end cookie week. Immediately I thought of Cannelle et Vanille's gorgeous Lemon Cream Cookies post, where the simple spritz cookie is elevated to new levels with a piped rosette shape and buttercream icing.

Spritz cookies are easy to make* and offer an opportunity to be playful in creating different shapes -- using a pastry bag as Arun did, a cookie press, or with your hands as I did. The rosettes from Cannelle et Vanille are beautiful, but I simplified to save time.  The buttercream is another place for interpretation. It adds a special touch, but the cookie is worth trying alone if you're short on time. 

Make the simple version -- a balled shaped spritz cookie sans buttercream -- or let out your creativity as you discover new shapes and add buttercream to create sandwich cookies. I landed somewhere in the middle. I'd never made buttercream before, so decided to focus on that. 

I made a few changes to the recipe and turned to Epicurious for additional guidance on the buttercream. I replaced the hard-to-find lemon oil with extra lemon zest to boost the citrus flavor. I added a touch of lavender to impart a hint of flavor that compliments the zesty lemon. I also used whole wheat pastry flour to hide a few nutrients in this rich cookie.**

A tisane of 1/2 teaspoon dried lavender with two cups boiling water was a lovely pairing with this cookie. It brought out the touch of lavender in the icing.

Lemon Spritz  Cookies with Lavender Buttercream, makes about 1 1/2 dozen sandwich cookies

If making butter cream, add 1/4 teaspoon lavender*** to the juice of half of one lemon to allow the flavors to meld. Set aside.

110 grams butter at room temperature (one stick)
90 grams sugar
Zest of 2 lemons
3 egg yolks
180 grams whole wheat pastry flour
2 grams salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
+Combine the flour and salt.  
+In a medium bowl, cream butter, sugar and lemon zest. Add the yolks; mix until combined. Mix in the dry ingredients until just incorporated.
+Using your hands, form balls approximately 1 1/2 inches in size, then split in two and place rounded side up on a parchment lined baking sheet, about 1 inch apart. I left the first batch as balls and flattened the second batch into rounds for variety.
+Bake 10-12 minutes, or until the underside begins to turn pale gold in color.
+Cool cookies completely on a rack, then fill with lemon lavender buttercream.

This was my first attempt at buttercream so was surprised when it took about 20 minutes of constant whisking over the hot stove, plus additional mixing time. There were moments when I regretted starting and wondered how I'd ever convinced myself this was a good idea. Something would have to be pretty good to be worth all this work. And it was. 

1 large egg white
75 grams sugar
112 grams butter, room temperature (one stick)
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of half a lemon
1/4 teaspoon dried lavender

+Combine the egg white and sugar in a heat-safe bowl. 
+Use a double-boiler, as Cannelle et Vanille did, or if you're like me and don't have one, use a large pot with a pasta drainer. Fill pot with water, to a couple inches below drainer. Bring water to a rolling boil, then put the bowl filled with the egg-sugar mixture in the drainer. Gently whisk until the mixture reaches a marshmallow topping consistency. Remove from heat when hot to the touch or a candy thermometer registers 140 degrees F. I noticed a candy-like smell just before it was done.
+Use an electric or hand-held mixer**** to whip at medium-high speed until a meringue forms.*****
+Add butter in one tablespoon increments, blending after each addition. 
+Add lemon zest and lemon juice and lavender mixture. As Cannelle et Vanille notes, the buttercream will likely separate a bit. Just continue to whip until it becomes smooth again. 

*According to my grandmother, the key to spritz success lies in the temperature of the dough. If the dough is too warm it can be difficult to work with. I had no trouble with the dough on the first batch, but chilled the dough in the fridge between batches to be safe.
** The nutrients were well-disguised -- I never would have known it wasn't white flour if I hadn't made the cookies myself.
*** If you'd like a stronger flavor, try grinding the lavender or add more. 
**** I transferred the egg-sugar mixture to a large room temperature bowl.
***** This didn't happen for me. It just seemed to grow slightly, but to remain the same consistency. After about five minutes I gave up and moved on to the next step. It worked out.

Adapted from Canelle et Vanille's post for Lemon Cream Cookies for Jill and the 2004 Epicurious recipe for Swiss Meringue Buttercream.  

17 February 2011

Recipe for the Perfect Midday Snack: Healthy Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Bites

Snack break: Healthy Cookie Bites, espresso, Miles Davis and The New Yorker
Click here to listen to My Funny Valentine by the Miles Davis Quartet.

After three days of cookies, it's time for a brief interlude from refined sugar. I'm not ready for a cookie break -- in all honesty I've become quite accustomed to the daily cookie -- but a health infusion might be just the shot in the arm this cookie week needs.

I'm a big fan of using ripe bananas and dates to sweeten things, so 101 Cookbooks recipe for Nikki's Healthy Cookies piqued my curiosity. The ingredients -- nuts, coconut, oats, chocolate -- resemble those of an all natural energy bar.

This healthy cookie will likely become a staple at our house. It's a breeze to make and the perfect midday snack with just the right balance of mood-elevating chocolate and energy-rich whole foods. The oats offset the chocolate to provide a more sustained boost of energy without the inevitable chocolate crash. These bites manage to taste both wholesome and cookie-like.

Usually I'm all about dark chocolate, but reduced the chocolate in this recipe. I wanted a hint of chocolate, but wanted the flavor of nuts to shine. I followed Chocolate & Zucchini's modification and used nut butter instead of coconut or olive oil to further accentuate the nut flavor.

 Pair with an espresso for an additional boost, or a small glass of milk. Room temperature cinnamon orange tisane that's been infused overnight is also a delicious match.

Healthy Cookie Bites, makes about two dozen cookies.
I reduced the original recipe and still had enough dough for two nearly full cookie sheets.

wet ingredients:
1 1/2 large, ripe bananas*
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup peanut butter

dry ingredients:
1 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup raw almonds
scant 1/3 cup unsweetened, finely shredded dried coconut (I used reduced fat)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
rounded 1/4 cup dark chocolate chips

+Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
+Line baking sheet with parchment.
+Make almond meal by grinding almonds in food processor until reach fine, sandy texture.
+In a medium mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients.
+Puree bananas with vanilla in food processor. Once smooth, add peanut butter and blend until smooth.
+Add wet ingredients to dry; stir until combined. 
+Fold in the chocolate chips. 
+Using a tablespoon to measure, place mounds of cookie dough on baking sheet, about 1 inch apart.
+Bake 14-17 minutes, until cookie is golden on top and brown on bottom.

*If you're unsure what to do with that extra half banana, try my favorite energy shake. Puree 1/2 banana and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla, then add 1/2 cup milk, 1 tablespoon peanut butter and blend until smooth. If you're looking for an energy boost after a workout, there's nothing better.

Adapted from Nikki's Healthy Cookies on 101 Cookbooks and Wholesome Banana Chocolate Breakfast Bars on Chocolate & Zucchini.

16 February 2011

An Afternoon of Tea, Cookies and Proust: Recipes for Roasted Spelt Flour Pecan Sable Cookies and Orange Cinnamon Ginger Tisane

When I came across Chocolate and Zucchini's recipe for Squeeze Cookies, a roasted flour sable with fun shapes made by squeezing the dough in your hand, I had to try them. The roasted flour creates such a simple twist on a classic -- something interesting, different, but not too unusual or difficult to produce. That's my kind of recipe.

The recipe uses egg yolks, and I have several from yesterday's experiments with coconut macaroons. My husband loves when leftovers are used up, so this, in a sense, is an additional gift.

I prefer to use whole grains wherever possible, so tried pecan meal and spelt flour instead of all-purpose. Make pecan meal by grounding pecans in a food processor until fine and sandy in consistency, then add it to the flour for the last five minutes of roasting.

The cookies emerged fragrant of toasted pecans. The buttery sable falls apart easily, practically begging for tea. The hand-squeezed shape emphasizes the cookie's delicateness and resembles a madeleine, reminding me of the second volume of In Search of Lost Time that's been sitting on my shelf.

The cookie is also rich and flavorful at first, then dissolves and disappears as soon as it touches your tongue. Like the elusive nature of memory Proust experiences with his tea-soaked madeleine, this cookie is powerful, but is hard to pin down.

Inspired by the cookie's madeleine-shape and Canelle et Vanille's recent description of a lovely Sunday afternoon of tea and cookies, I savored my test cookie with Proust and a tisane of orange, cinnamon and ginger.

Tisane of Orange Cinnamon and Ginger Recipe
Combine 1 cinnamon stick, 1 teaspoon unsweetened ginger juice and the zest of one small orange in a teapot or bowl. Pour two cups boiling water over this mixture. Cover and steep to desired strength; strain and enjoy.

Do you have a favorite cookie and tea combination? Anything that draws you back in time like Proust's famous tea-soaked madeleine? Or any favorite lines from Proust? I like this one:

But when you believe in the reality of things, using an artificial means to see them better is not quite the same as feeling closer to them.

--- Marcel, on viewing La Berma through opera glasses, page 21 in Proust's In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower: In Search of Lost Time, Volume 2.

15 February 2011

The Coconut Macaroons that Turned into Mexican Wedding Cookies: A Sad Tale with a Happy Ending

Mexican Wedding Cookies

*** This story is also known as, A Mexican Wedding Cookie in Shining Armor.

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, a young girl awoke, excited to bake some cookies for her Valentine. She'd had so much fun baking the day before, that she leapt from bed, anxious to taste the next sweet for her sweet.

She searched her favorite blogs for a recipe with few steps and ingredients, and started to follow Chocolate and Zucchini's recipe for coconut macaroons. It seemed simple and came from a French source. Things looked good -- she'd have time to bake and blog, and maybe even a head start on tomorrow's cookies!

Then the trouble started. She had reduced fat finely shredded coconut instead of the full fat coconut flakes the recipe called for. The difference seemed like no big deal, but the shredded coconut absorbed too much liquid. She even doubled the eggs, but the cookies still emerged dry and flavorless -- there was just too much dry, skinny coconut in her mouth.

Add to this disappointment the excessively dense texture that emerged from endeavoring to form the pretty little pyramids Clotilde had encouraged. The macaroons didn't show even a glimmer of the chewy levity or springiness she appreciated in a macaroon.

Her next attempt was David Lebovitz's coconut macaroon recipe. It required a few more ingredients and a couple extra steps, but Lebovitz noted that various types of coconut would work in his recipe. Thus bolstered with the certainty that she could avoid repeating her first coconut macaroon disaster, she forged ahead, recalling the admonition to whistle while she worked.

At first, all went according to plan and she succeeded in creating a perfectly gooey dough. She felt optimistic. The next step was to allow the cookies to cool to room temperature. Shouldn't be a problem, she mused, but got busy chasing butterflies, talking to the sparrows and doing other things (including a failed attempt to combine recipes for almond and coconut macaroon recipes from -- we won't even go there!), that by the time she returned to the Lebovitz recipe, excited to turn her cookie dream into a reality, the mixture had completely dried out. None of these problems were either recipes' fault, but on that day, macaroons were just not happening for her.

Now, with most of her magical day gone, where to turn? Her favorite cookie was chocolate chip. And the best chocolate chip cookie she'd ever had was from a Williams-Sonoma recipe. When faced with these cookies, the usual control she maintained in the face of a plate of sweets completely escaped her. It was difficult for her to eat only half a dozen in a day! So she turned to the Williams-Sonoma cookie elves and discovered treasure: a straightforward recipe for Mexican Wedding Cookies.

Sadly, after three batches of disappointing cookies, she felt a bit lazy, so simplified where possible. She didn't have quite enough almonds (which she refused to blanch), so supplemented with pecans. To add a little nutritional value to her sugar-laden Week of Cookies, she used whole wheat pastry flour in place of all-purpose. She also halved the recipe to save time. Other than that she just followed the recipe and things worked like a breeze.

She was greeted with the sweet smell of cinnamon and toasted nuts when she opened the oven door. She nibbled on one of the cookies before rolling it in powdered sugar -- it was delicious! So buttery it melted in her mouth. The nuts created a pleasant crunch and the 1-2 tablespoons of pecans added a bitter hint that perfectly complimented the overall sweetness of the cookie. At last her day was saved -- Mexican wedding cookies to the rescue!

The End 

Click here for Williams-Sonoma Mexican Wedding Cookies recipe

Have you had success making coconut macaroons? What's your favorite recipe?

14 February 2011

Last Minute Valentine's Day Gift: Recipes for a Week of Cookies (Inspired by Dorie Greenspan's CookieBar)

Honey-Sweetened Whole Grain Thumbprint Cookies

In need of a last-minute Valentine's Day gift that doesn't feel generic, I'm finally surrendering to my current obsession for cookies -- since I first heard of Dorie Greenspan's pop-up CookieBar it seems cookies are always on my mind! -- and gifting my Valentine with a week of cookies. It's CookieBar at home. I love to bake, and my husband loves to eat, so the Valentine's Week of Cookies begins.

This morning I started with a simple, relatively healthy recipe for Honey-Sweetened Thumbprint Cookies from 101 Cookbooks. The cookies rely on honey and fruit for sweetness and use whole wheat and oats rather than white flour. They are quite sweet with a hint of saltiness and an almost scone-like texture.

They are delicious just as they are, but also easy to alter to satisfy your Valentine's tastes or avoid a grocery-run by using the ingredients you already have at home. Use different fillings to effortlessly create an assortment of cookies, or a variety of fruit spreads to make prettier plate without doing any extra work.

To keep it quick for a last-minute gift, I halved 101 Cookbook's recipe -- this means just one tray in the oven -- and made larger cookies -- fewer cookies to measure and fill. While you let the dough stiffen for 2-3 minutes, clean up, then, while the cookies bake for 9-12 minutes, write a card and get a nice box or plate ready. 

Honey-Sweetened Whole Grain Thumbprint Cookie Recipe
from 101 Cookbooks
yields about 14 cookies

liquid ingredients

  • 1/3 cup honey 
  • 1/8 cup plus 2 teaspoons purchased ghee (clarified butter) melted over low heat
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
dry ingredients
  • zest from half a Meyer lemon
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 3/8 cup oat bran
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons arrowroot
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda 
  • scant 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Keep in mind that the dough is sweet when choosing the filling. Otherwise, the adaptations are endless. Let your imagination run wild! or choose one, an array, or a combination of these fillings:
  • selection of fruit spreads/ fruit-sweetened jams to make cookies with different colored centers
  • sour cream filling: combine 1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons sour cream, 2 1/2 teaspoons honey, 1/8 tsp fresh Meyer lemon juice, 1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract (added benefit is that this uses some of the juice of the lemon you zest for the cookie dough)
  • fresh fruit, such as raspberries or blackberries
  • chopped dried fruit
  • chopped nuts

to make
  • Put rack in top third of oven.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Whisk together honey, ghee and vanilla in a large bowl.
  • In medium bowl, mix dry ingredients and lemon zest.
  • Add the dry mixture to the liquids. Stir until just combined. 
  • Allow the dough to sit until stiff, about 2 to 3 minutes. 
  • Measure 1 tablespoon dough and roll it into a ball. Repeat for all 14 cookies, placing on baking sheet with about 2 inches between each cookie.
  • Moisten your hands and use your thumb to make a well in each dough ball.
  • Fill each well with 1/2 teaspoon filling of choice.
  • Bake until the bottom edges are golden, about 9 - 12 minutes. The cookies should still be soft, but not sticky. 
Measure 1 tablespoon dough and roll it into a ball. Repeat for all 14 cookies, placing on baking sheet with about 2 inches between each cookie.

Moisten your hands and use your thumb to make a well in each dough ball.

Fill each well with 1/2 teaspoon filling of choice.

Let your imagination run wild!
I didn't have rolled oats, so used oat bran.
The grocery store was out of lemons, so I used a Meyer lemon instead.
You can use coconut oil instead of ghee.
The sour cream filling was a nice contrast to the sweet dough.
Happy Valentine's Day!!!

11 February 2011

Coast to Coast Ramen: Lukshon Chef's LA Favorite, Santouka Ramen, and NY Hot Spot, Momofuku Noodle Bar

Momofuku Ramen at Momofuku Noodle Bar

The ramen craze may have reached its apex a few years back, but my love for rich broth, springy noodles, crisp vegetables, and fatty pork has never waned. A couple weeks ago I tried Momofuku Noodle Bar in Manhattan's East Village, a place I'd wanted to try since it opened, but had never had the time to wait in its long lines. When I returned to LA and tried Sang Yoon's Lukshon a few days later, I fell in love with his restaurant and read everything about him I could find online, including a New York Times' interview that listed four of his favorite restaurants. One was Santouka Ramen in Culver City, so I knew I had to check it out. Friday to Friday, coast to coast, which would have the better ramen?

I cut my ramen teeth at Minca, a small ramen shop below my previous apartment in Alphabet City. When I was too hungover or it was too cold to go outside, I would run downstairs in my sweats to pick up a huge bowl of Minca ramen to take home to enjoy with Project Runway reruns. The considerable effort required to climb five flights of stairs demonstrates my reliance on Minca's healing powers and my first ramen love left its mark. I generally crave a Minca-style ramen -- one with plenty of fat and salt.

Miso Ramen, Pork with Rice and Salmon Roe with Rice at Santouka Ramen

Santouka offers just that. Their miso ramen gave me a euphoric feeling that continued after lunch as I wandered the aisles of the Mitsuwa Marketplace in which it's located, overwhelmed and excited by the offerings of sakes, shochus, sojus, pastries, candies and sushi grade fish. My mother, grandmother and I shared the regular set plate of miso ramen with a side of salmon roe on rice and an additional side of pork on rice. For $14.78 (incl. tax) we stuffed ourselves and still had leftovers. We're not the biggest eaters, but it's rare for the three of us to so thoroughly enjoy a lunch out for less than $15.

New York's Momofuku Noodle Bar presents a lighter, healthier-feeling version of ramen with pedigreed ingredients. I played it semi-traditional on my first visit and ordered Momofuku ramen -- pork belly, pork shoulder, poached egg -- and steamed pork buns. The namesake ramen was fresh but not as rich and salty as I usually crave in ramen. I enjoyed the contemporary space and lively environment and will return to sample their more creative offerings, such as foie gras ramen.

A big bowl of ramen is always soothing and has become one of those foods I seek for comfort. Santouka and Momofuku satisfy different moods. When in New York I'll walk to Momofuku for avant-garde ramen. When in LA I'll drive to Santouka for that classic ecstatic rush of salt and fat. Two ramens, two coasts, two moods. What's your go-to ramen spot?

02 February 2011

Lukshon = Happy

High Hopes Realized
Last night I was initiated into the world of opening night restaurant dining. I had high hopes for Lukshon, a modern Southeast Asian restaurant from Sang Yoon of Father's Office, and I wasn't disappointed. The restaurant was lively, the staff friendly and knowledgeable, the decor interesting and the food and drinks exciting. After the meal I found myself lulled into an extreme state of calm as I washed my hands in the restroom (the soap smelled SO good!) and the bathroom towels were soft and thick. These are just a couple of the noteworthy finishing touches on an already outstanding experience. It's all in the details, and at Lukshon nothing was overlooked.

Lukshon delivered everything I look for in a restaurant and I left with a smile that's still going strong. The restaurant now occupies the place in my brain that that stores feelings of contentment and elation. For me Lukshon is now a happy equivalent. Don't be surprised if I start asking if you're feeling Lukshon this morning, or reminding you that a little chocolate might make you feel Lukshon, or even suggesting that if you're feeling blue, you might just head to Lukshon. In short, Lukshon = Happy.

I'll detail the process of this transformation with a summary of my night at Lukshon, but to start, I'll share the mathematical process that leads to Lukshon = Happy.

Lukshon = Happy
Bathroom soap smells amazing, lulls me into a state of extreme relaxation + Bathroom towels soft and thick + Free still or sparkling water + Complimentary dessert
Interesting design by Ana Henton of Mass Architecture & Design (Intelligentsia Venice) + Patio has a firepit+ Upbeat but soothing music +Free parking on street or in lot + Lively but not too loud
Food and Drink
Delicious, creative food + Fantastic cocktails, balanced flavors and in the land of $19 cocktails, $11 feels really fair (oh, and by the way, I've never had a better cocktail) + Interesting, well-edited wine list with fair mark-up on wines
Friendly, knowledgeable staff + Promptly seated

A Night at Lukshon
We were greeted with a warm welcome and were quickly led to our table on the patio where we were offered still or sparkling house water, a nice touch.


The menus were simple, clean, concise. We were tempted by everything -- beers, wines "on tap", cocktails that use fresh Southeast Asian-inspired ingredients, a selection of interesting liquors and mixers, teas, and dishes categorized as raw, small, large, noodles, rice, sides -- but after a difficult process finally selected two cocktails, a raw dish, two small plates, a noodle entree and a rice bowl.

Left to right: Lukshon Sour and Yokohama Romance

We ordered the first two cocktails on the list: Lukshon Sour, $11 and Yokohama Romance, $11. Both are amazing drinks, but the Yokohama Romance was my favorite. It was flavorful and perfectly balanced with a hint of sweetness. Lukshon Sour, made with Michter's rye, lemon, tamarind and palm sugar, was tart with a hint of saltiness and a fresh citrus aroma.

 Spanish Mackerel
We started with an appetizer of raw Spanish Mackerel, coconut vinegar, jalapeno, lemongrass, and green papaya, $14.  This dish offered balanced textures (crisp vegetables, softer fish), colors (reds and greens) and flavors (with equal weight given to the mackerel's fishiness, vinegar's acidity, papaya's green fruit and jalapeno's spice).

Foie Gras Ganache

Next we treated ourselves to the Foie Gras Ganache dusted in carob, Ceylon cinnamon, puffed rice, almond, and a pinch of salt on a tamarind gastrique, $16. If you like foie gras, you have to try this dish. Simultaneously light and rich, the foie gras ganache's smooth texture was balanced with crisp rice and crunchy almonds. This is one of the best foie gras preparations I've tried.

2006 Charles Schleret Cuvee Reserve Sylvaner

We hadn't planned to have wine, but the foie gras begged to be paired with an acidic white. The wine list is well-edited and presents a strong selection of Alsatian and German whites -- some of my favorites and perfect for the cuisine -- in a nice range of price points. The 2006 Charles Schleret Cuvee Reserve Sylvaner provided excellent value at $35. It was refreshing to actually enjoy a wine at this price point! It boasted neutral fruit and minerality that paired perfectly with our next dish.

X.O. Rice and Lamb Sausage Roti Canai

Our next two dishes were X.O. Rice, a fried rice made with jasmine rice and house-made X.O. sauce, $9, and Lamb Sausage Roti Canai with cumin and mint, and a side of pickled cauliflower, $14. The lamb was flavorful and the bread was buttery, flaky and thick. The dish was rich, but not overly so, and paired perfectly with our Alsatian Sylvaner.

Dan Dan Noodles
Our final savory plate was the Dan Dan Noodles with kurobuta pork, sesame, Sichuan peppercorns, preserved mustard greens, and peanuts, $12. This dish was a more approachable version of a Sichuan dish I tried in San Gabriel Valley. The peppercorn isn't hot, but creates an unusual mouth-numbing sensation. My husband enjoyed the way the wine flooded his mouth after being cleansed of sensation from the peppercorns, but I found this dish difficult with the wine.

Kiwi Soup

The coda to our meal was a small, refreshing kiwi soup with frozen, sweet, thick, tart yogurt, compliments of the house. This was the perfect way to end the meal: a bite of something sweet but not too rich.

I enjoyed everything I tried, but I'll return for the Yokohama Romance, Foie Gras Ganache and Lamb Roti Canai. The food, drinks, people and atmosphere worked in conjunction to create a fun and unforgettable evening. Try it yourself and watch your brain reevaluate the meaning of happiness where Happy = Lukshon.

Adapted from The Franklin Institute

3239 Helms Avenue
Culver City, CA 90034