Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Cookie of 1000 Disguises - Oregon Coffee Nuts

Russian Tea Cakes or would that be Mexican Wedding Cookies? Maybe Southern Pecan Butterballs? Polvorones? How about Swedish Tea Cakes, Italian Butter Nuts, Snowdrops, Viennese Sugar Balls, Sand Tarts, Melting Moments or Snowballs? Any of those sound familiar?  How about Almond Crescents, Danish Almond Cookies (Mandelsmørboller) or Finnish Butter Strips?

You may recognize several of the above names.  I myelf am familiar with Melting Moments, Almond Crescents and Snowballs.  And while it's true that the last three in the above list have a little more to do with the final shape of the cookies, which helps to distinguish them slightly, they are all basically the same cookie whose history runs all the way back to the Moorish invasion of Spain.

Oh, there are slight differences... Mexican wedding cookies sometimes have cinnamon mixed in with the confectioners' sugar that they are rolled in, and I think they are made with Almonds.  Russian Tea cakes seem to be made primarily with Walnuts. (though that may not necessarily be true)  Almond Crescents are crescent shaped instead of round little balls.  I assume that "Southern Pecan Butterballs" are made with Pecans. ;)  Bringing me to what seems to be the general rule of thumb -- "If you change the nuts, change the shape, or add a spice to the dusting sugar, you get to give it a new name"  LOL

Thus, since I am using Oregon Hazelnuts, I am dubbing these..... Oregon Coffee Nuts (We drink more coffee than tea 'round these parts.  As a bonus to today's recipe, I am going to walk you through blanching a Hazelnut.  There are a billion posts out on the net "labeled" as blanching that involve actually toasting the nuts in the oven and rubbing the skins off with a towel....  MESSY!
I spend weeks sweeping Hazelnut skins off my kitchen floor every single time I do it that way, not to mention the multiple launderings to get the skin bits out of the towel. 

Blanching by definition involves boiling water, not an oven.  Thus, one must drop said nuts into boiling water for a certain amount of time, then shock them with cold water.  When it comes to nuts, it is best to add a little Baking Soda to the blanching water.  Baking Soda will break down the cellulose in the skins and make peeling that much easier.  No messy towels.  Woo Hoo!!!

Oregon Coffee Nuts

2 Quarts of Water
2 TB Baking Soda
1 cup (8 oz) (227g) Unsalted Cultured Butter
1/2 cup (1.9 oz) (55g) Confectioners' Sugar (Plus a lot more for rolling the cookies)
1 tsp Vanilla Extract (or Bean Caviar)
1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
2 1/4 cups (11.3 oz) (320 g) AP Flour
3/4 cup (3.5 oz) (100g) finely ground Toasted Hazelnuts

Bring 2 quarts of water, laced with 2 TB Baking Soda, to a boil. (The Baking Soda breaks down the cellulose structure of the skins, allowing them to slough off)

Drop hazelnuts into the water and boil for 5 minutes.

(The water is going to turn a REALLY weird purplish-brown color from the tannin in the skinsI know the season is past, but you can dye Easter eggs with it, I'm just sayin)

Drain and shock the nuts with cold water; so much for skins. (though you may still need to do a little rubbing, but they slide right off)

And while I never look forward to cleaning the strainer afterward,

I love having nice clean Hazelnuts.  (The roasting, peeling in a towel thing NEVER works this well)

Now place the nuts in a single layer on a sheet pan.

Roast at 350 for 8 - 10 minutes. (just until they start to brown)

Set nuts aside to cool; then chop finely. (do not throw them in a chopper while warm or you will have "hazelnut butter" in 2 pulses, which in and of itself is not a bad thing, but will not assist you well in the formation of these cookies)

In a large bowl beat the Butter and Kosher Salt until light.

Add Confectioners' Sugar and Vanilla.

Beat on low speed of mixer about 1 minute, until fluffy.

Gradually add flour at low speed until just combined

Stir in the finely chopped nuts.

Roll dough into 1 inch balls (.5 oz) (15g); (I use a small cookie scoop) and place about 1 inch apart on parchment lined baking sheet.

Bake at 350 F for 12-14 minutes, though my old oven baked them in 10 minutes, until firm to the touch but not actually browned. (careful, cause they burn very quickly on the bottom)

Meanwhile, prep a storage bag by dumping copious quantities of confectioners' Sugar therein.

You wioll also want to set waxed paper underneath your cooling rack to catch any wayward sugar that falls off the cookies.

While still warm, roll the cookies in the bag full of Confectioners' Sugar. (I do 4 at a time)

Set on a cooling rack.

Save the Confectioners' Sugar in the bag, because you will need it again.....

Before serving, re-roll in powdered sugar.

Enjoy with a nice cup of coffee..... or tea (as is implied by about 1/2 of the names under which this cookie is known)  ;)


Monday, May 16, 2011

Just a Hunk, a Hunk of Burnin' Cake - Old Fashioned Burnt Sugar Cake

So I am finally blogging about the Burnt Sugar Cake recipe that I got from my Grandmother.  I promised a while back that I would get to this and I would hate to disappoint anyone who has been waiting breathlessly for it.  :)

Honestly, I should have blogged about it sooner cause this cake is positively delicious!  Though, how could it not be?  It's basically a Caramel cake with Caramel 7 minute frosting schmeared all over it.  If you love Caramel, you will LOVE this....  Thanks Grandma!!!!!

Burnt Sugar Cake

Burnt Sugar Syrup
1/2 cup (3.5 oz) (100g) Granulated Sugar
1/4 cup (2 oz) (60ml) Water

Burnt Sugar Cake
3 cups (11.3 oz) (320g) sifted Cake Flour (sift before measuring, if your using weight don't worry bout it)
1 TB Baking Powder
1 tsp Kosher Salt
1/2 cup (8 TB) (4 oz) (114g) Unsalted Butter
1 1/2 cups (10.6 oz) (300g) Granulated Sugar
3 large Eggs, separated
1 cup (8 oz) (237ml) Water, room temperature
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
1/2 of the Burnt Sugar Syrup

Burnt Sugar 7 Minute Frosting
3/4 Cup plus 2 TB (6.1 oz) (175g) Granulated Sugar; Divided
1 TB light corn syrup
2 TB water
3 Large Egg Whites
1/4 tsp Cream of Tarter
The remaining Burnt Sugar Syrup

First you have to make the syrup and let it cool.  So, place 1/2 cup (3.5 oz) (100g) sugar in a heavy bottomed pan and place over medium flame.

Once the sugar has melted and become dark brown, remove the pan from the flame and add the water

and continue stirring until all the lumps have dissolved.

You well end up with about 6 TB of syrup.

Set this aside to cool while you begin constructing the cake.

Grease the bottom ONLY, of 2 9-inch (23 cm) pans, then line with parchment or waxed paper, then grease and flour the paper....  and preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C) (GM 4) Degrees

Once you have sifted and measured the flour....

Add Baking Powder and Kosher Salt, then sift at least 3 more times to mix the ingredients together.

Set this aside for now and separate the eggs, setting the whites aside for a little later.

In the bowl of your mixer, beat the butter until light.

Add the Sugar and continue beating until fluffy.

Add the Egg Yolks one at a time, mixing well after each addition so the emulsion doesn't "break".

Add the Vanilla and 1/2 of the Burnt Sugar Syrup.

Now begin adding the Flour mixture, alternating with the Water, beginning and ending with the Water. (Basically, 1/4 cup Water, 1 cup Flour, 1/4 cup Water, 1 cup Flour, 1/4 cup water, 1 cup Flour, 1/4 cup Water)

Continue beating, after adding the last of the Water, for an additional minute or two until a nice smooth batter is formed.

In a clean bowl, beat the Egg Whites until firm peaks.

Fold the beaten Egg Whites into the batter.

Divide the batter between the 2 pans.

Bake the Cakes for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick, inserted in the center, comes out clean (careful not to over bake or the cake will be REALLY dry due to the egg whites)

Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes before running a spatula around the edge and turning the cakes out onto a rack to finish cooling. (don't forget to remove the paper)

While the cakes are cooling you can make the Burnt Sugar 7 Minute Frosting.

In a small saucepan, combine 3/4 cup (150 g) Sugar, Corn Syrup and Water and boil over low heat.

Bring to a boil and cook until they syrup reaches 232 F (112 C) Degrees.

Meanwhile, in a grease free bowl, begin whisking or beating the Egg Whites with the Cream of Tarter until soft peaks form; then sprinkle in the remaining 2 TB (25 g) Sugar while continuing to beat until firm peaks form (this take about 3 minutes).

Remove the syrup from the flame and slowly pour it into the meringue, in a steady stream while continuing to beat the meringue on medium speed; being careful not to hit the whisk or beater with the syrup cause it will fling little shards of sugar into your frosting.

Once the syrup is completely added (do not scrape the pan) go ahead and add the remaining Burnt sugar syrup too.

Continue beating until the meringue cools down; somewhere between 5 - 10 minutes (7 Minutes on average).

OK, Now let's finally get this cake put together......

Apply 3/4 cup of the 7 minute frosting to one of the cake rounds then, of course, lay the other on top.

Schmear the remaining Burnt Sugar Marshmallowy goodness ALL over the cake....

Top with a few Pecans if you like, but they aren't really necessary. (For some reason, this cake screams pecans to me)

Then the best part... Cut into this puppy and have a BIG ol' Slice.

MMMMMMM  surprisingly "buttery" with a strong caramel flavor all wrapped in caramel marshmallow deliciousness.  Heaven!   Is it possible to swim in a cake?