Archive for the ‘Cookies and Bars’ Category

Saying Goodbye

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017

Last week I said goodbye to my friend Seth Stutman, who has been the co-host of Mass Appeal as long as I have been appearing on the show. Seth has always been a generous host, willing to make his guests look good and display their wit—and I have come to think of him as a dear friend.

“Goodbye” might be too strong a word; I hope to see Seth again in the future! I won’t be seeing him, or appearing with him, on Mass Appeal, however. He was ready for a change and has found another job in Western Massachusetts that will display his intelligence and people skills. The new folks are lucky to have him!

I will continue to appear on the show with the lively Lauren Zenzie and her new co-host, Danny New. They are very, very young—but I don’t hold that against them! I keep hoping a bit of their youth will rub off on me. I’ll miss dear Seth, however.

On his last show, three of his favorite cooks came in to prepare party food. I made the cookies below, which my friend Janice gave me when I got my Ph.D. They may look familiar; they are a version of the infamous inauthentic but delicious Neiman Marcus Chocolate-Chip Cookies.

When I noted during the segment that the recipe made complex cookies, Seth responded that I myself was a complex cookie. Really, how could one not love this boy?

After the show, the hosts, the guests, and the production people gathered to nibble and to wish Seth well. I sang him a slightly altered version of “You Made Me Love You,” because that’s how I feel about him.

I may seem a bit TOO sentimental in the video below, but I maintain that there’s nothing wrong with a little sentiment!

The Cookies

Ingredients:

1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
1-1/4 cups blended oatmeal (oatmeal pulverized into a powder in your blender)
1/2 cup pecans, also pulverized (optional but good)
1 cup chocolate chips
2 ounces milk chocolate, cut into small chunks

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cream together the butter and the sugars. Beat in the egg, followed by the baking powder and salt. Stir in the flour; then the oatmeal, pecans, and chocolate.

Shape the dough into balls—either 6 large ones or 12 medium ones. Place them on parchment- or silicone-covered cookie sheets, flatten them with your hand (they don’t really spread), and bake them until the brown nicely, at least 12 to 14 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the sheets for a couple of minutes; then remove them to a wire rack to cool.

Makes 6 to 12 cookies—or even more smaller ones!

And now the video….

Graduation Day Chocolate-Chip Cookies for Seth

A Fluffy Anniversary

Friday, May 5th, 2017

Marshmallow fluff turns 100 this year—sort of. Just about everyone in Massachusetts grew up loving this glossy, sticky substance, which was invented in our state. The humble fluffernutter is our semi-official state sandwich.

Mimi Graney, who organizes the annual “What the Fluff” festival in Somerville, shares her enthusiasm for what she learned while researching fluff’s history in her new book fluff: The Sticky Sweet Story of an American Icon.

As Graney explains, the starting date the Durkee-Mower company uses for its signature (and in fact only) product is a bit arbitrary.

Marshmallow crème or cream—a combination of sugar, egg whites, corn syrup, and vanilla—had been popular for at least a couple of decades when Canadian immigrant Archibald Query started selling his version of the concoction door to door in Somerville in the 1910s.

Increasing federal regulations and World-War-I sugar shortages caused Query to go to work at a candy factory. There he eventually met two veterans returning from the war, Fred Mower and Allen Durkee.

Anxious to make a name for themselves, Mower and Durkee purchased Query’s recipe and started selling their marshmallow fluff in 1920. Later trademark issues led the pair to try to identify its year of origin, and they chose 1917 as an educated guess about when Query first made the product.

Even if fluff isn’t precisely 100 years old this year, Graney makes an excellent case for celebrating it. She acknowledges fluff’s popularity as a nostalgia item and a food that tastes darn good.

She also argues that Durkee and Mower created an innovative, adaptable, and above all honest business model that has stood the test of time. A descendant of Allen Durkee still runs the company, and fluff continues to sell extremely well, particularly here in New England.

Graney’s description of that business is chatty but informative. Durkee-Mower pioneered in radio advertising in the 1920s. In its prime, the company’s programming featured musicians known as the Flufferettes. I’d love to have sung as a Flufferette!

Durkee-Mower cleverly promoted its product with recipes: the “never fail fudge” even I, a food writer, make on occasion when I’m in a hurry; a version of Rice Krispie® treats that save time by using fluff instead of melting marshmallows; the fluffernutter; and many more.

Above all, Durkee-Mower made one product efficiently and well.

fluff is full of vintage photographs and advertisements, along with myriad fun facts. I had never considered the considerable impact of the invention of the egg beater on the home cook until I read Graney’s history.

Inspired by the book, I decided to incorporate a little more fluff into my kitchen. I adapted the rice-cereal treats for an adult palate by adding a bit of espresso powder and drizzling white chocolate over the top.

I THOUGHT the coffee treats were an original idea—until I saw similar recipes all over the internet. Alas, this world allows very few original recipes.

Naturally, I prepared the treats and talked about fluff on Mass Appeal last week. I hope readers will make these bars, or something else fluffy, to celebrate this year’s sweet anniversary.

Fluffy Crispy Coffee Bars

Ingredients:

3 to 5 ounces good-quality white chocolate, in chip form or chopped
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) sweet butter
1 7-1/2-ounce jar marshmallow fluff
2 generous tablespoons espresso powder (I use Williams-Sonoma’s brand)
6 cups crisped rice cereal

Instructions:

Line a 9-by-13-inch pan with plastic wrap, and spray the sides and bottom of the lined pan with canola-oil spray.

Place the chocolate pieces in the top half of a double boiler to melt.

While the chocolate is melting, melt the butter in a 4-quart saucepan over low heat. When the butter has melted add the fluff and continue to stir. When the fluff has almost melted stir in the espresso powder. Continue to stir over low heat until all is melted and blended.

Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the cereal. Using a spoon sprayed with canola-oil spray, spoon the mixture into the prepared pan, and smooth it out.

Drizzle the melted chocolate on top of the cereal mixture. Let the pan cool until the chocolate has hardened; then cut the confection into bars.

Makes about 30 bars. (The yield depends on how big you want to cut them; I prefer small pieces.)

And now the video…..

Fluffy Crispy Coffee Bars

Laurie Neely’s Holiday Cookies

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016
Laurie Neely in Her Kitchen (Courtesy of Laurie's husband Ray)

Laurie Neely in Her Kitchen (Courtesy of Laurie’s husband Ray)

Laurie Neely of Orange, Massachusetts, has been baking holiday cookies since the day after Thanksgiving. By Christmas Day, she will have turned out hundreds. “There will generally be in excess of a dozen kinds [of cookies] and many dozens of each,” she told me in a recent interview.

An artist, writer, and animal lover, Laurie started baking seriously in the 1960s as a stay-at-home mother. The Christmas-cookie tradition began with a family recipe from her first husband, who is still a good friend.

Laurie has added recipes from friends, relatives, newspapers, and the internet to her repertoire over the years, adapting them to her taste.

Many of these holiday treats—including her pfeffernüsse cookies and the German molded cookies called springerle—need to age in order to achieve optimal flavor and consistency. Her gingersnaps take about three weeks to mature.

Laurie carved her own springerle molds years ago and sees cookie baking as deeply creative. “I was a potter for some time,” she explained, “and for me baking and pottery are just parts of the same…. I think the idea of creating art with your hands that people then eat is perfect.”

I asked where all the cookies go. Laurie replied that she mails batches to relatives around the country. After that, the cookies go to “family and friends and neighbors and anybody who leaves their car window down.”

“And my husband Ray is, like, ‘Don’t give them all away!’” she added.

Her family celebrates the season on Christmas Eve with a festive brunch that includes many, many cookies, she said. Her adult son is Jewish so this year the feast will include latkes for Hanukkah; that holiday begins on Christmas Eve.

When we spoke Laurie was baking a new-to-her recipe, wine cookies flavored with anise. The recipe came from her friend Gail and before that from Gail’s mother Mary and grandmother Emilia.

“Mary was an outstanding cook, and I am honored to use not only many of her recipes, but her KitchenAid mixer and quite a few other kitchen items as well,” said Laurie.

“This recipe is one I photographed from a well used card after Mary passed and we were sorting out and sharing her recipe file among family members.”

The photograph of the recipe resides in a special plastic bag Laurie treasures. Each year after Thanksgiving she reaches into the bag for the tattered, food-stained recipes that constitute her evolving Christmas-cookie tradition.

“I really do need to sit down—not at this time of year—and put [the recipes] in a database so when these scraps of paper finally die I have them,” she confessed. “But….”

Her advice to novice bakers is to buy quality ingredients; to use good pans (she relies on silicone mats for her cookie baking and favors insulated cookie sheets); and above all to relax, have fun, and be flexible with recipes.

“You need to stay with the basics. Your ratios of flour, shortening, and liquid are going to be crucial. But then you sort of play. The creativity makes for some pretty good cookies,” she suggested.

Laurie Neely loves the Christmas season and doesn’t plan to stop baking anytime soon.

“Advent has many associations for people,” she mused. “In some homes there are calendars with little paper doors to open heralding the coming Christmas, and in our churches there are wreaths to mark the Sundays as they pass. But in my house Advent has a scent: it smells like cookies.”

Here are two cookie recipes from Laurie’s kitchen. I don’t have anise seeds in the house (and I’d have to order them specially) so I’m holding off on the wine cookies until next Christmas. The gingersnaps are aging in a tin as I write, however.

I got a late start on my baking so they won’t be ready to eat in time for Christmas—but a cookie might taste pretty good in the new year!

Happy/merry to all….

sbuse

Mama’s Cookies with White Wine

Laurie Neely decided, “I may add a drop of anise oil or extract in the next batch [of these cookies]….They are light, mildly anise flavored, sweet, and just a little biscuity, leading me to think they will age well.

“So many of the Italian cookies improve when they age and harden and become great coffee accompaniments.”

Ingredients:

3/4 cup sugar
1 heaping tablespoon shortening (Laurie used Earth Balance brand)
1 teaspoon anise seeds
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup semi-sweet white wine (Laurie used a Riesling)
3-1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
equal portions of cinnamon and sugar as needed, combined

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl combine the sugar and the shortening. Stir in the anise seeds, the oil, and the wine. In a separate bowl combine the flour, the baking powder, and the salt. Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture a little at a time until the combination achieves the consistency of not-too-firm pie-crust dough.

Shape the cookies by forming heaping tablespoons of the dough into logs in the palm of your (mostly closed) hand. Dip the tops of the cookies in a mixture of cinnamon and sugar, and place the logs on greased cookie sheets.

Bake the cookies until they are a deep golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Makes about 3-1/2 dozen cookies.

Laurie took this photo of some wine cookies cooling.

Laurie took this photo of some wine cookies cooling.

Laurie Neely’s Gingersnaps

Laurie has adapted this recipe over the years, adding more and more ginger to achieve just the right flavor.

Ingredients:

2-1/2 cups flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 heaping tablespoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon white pepper (generous)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup molasses

Instructions:

Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. In a large saucepan, melt the butter in the molasses. Bring this mixture to a boil; then let it cool. Stir in the dry ingredients.

Chill the resulting dough for a couple of hours; then preheat the oven to 375 degrees and roll the dough out on a floured board until it is 1/8-inch thick. Cut out shapes with a floured biscuit cutter or floured seasonal cookie cutters.

Bake the cookies for 8 minutes. The yield depends on the shapes you use to cut them out; Laurie Neely usually gets 3 to 4 dozen cookies from this recipe. Store the cookies in a tin for at least three weeks before serving them.

Gingersnaps at our house, waiting to mature. Can you tell that I'm not the world's greatest cookie cutter?

Gingersnaps at our house, waiting to mature. Can you tell that I’m not the world’s greatest cookie cutter?

A Sinatra Centennial Cookie

Saturday, December 12th, 2015

frankcupweb

Today music lovers around the country (and probably around the world) celebrate the centennial of the 20th century’s most popular singer. Frank Sinatra crossed generations in his appeal, then and now. He was born on December 12, 1915.

I actually fêted Frank and his birthday a bit early to avoid the rush. In August, with the help of my neighbor Alice Parker, I performed my own Sinatra concert in Charlemont, Massachusetts.

sinatra poster smaller copy

The concert was a delight. I didn’t actually try to BE Sinatra, of course. I don’t look like him, and I don’t sound like him. Instead, I tried to be Sinatra-esque in my approach to the music, working on my phrasing and feeling the melody and lyrics as much as I could.

The audience loved the evening—and so did I.

The concert was a fundraiser for the minister’s discretionary fund at the local church. We asked community members to bring refreshments to serve after the music. One of the offerings was particularly appropriate for the concert’s Italian-American subject.

Camille Azzalina White is a lively, attractive widow who directs the local senior center. Camille baked her grandmother’s Italian cookies for the concert. Everyone who tasted one fell in love. Naturally, I asked the baker to give me the recipe—and a little information about her grandmother.

Camille’s “Nana,” Marie Incoronata Danata Colantonio, lived from 1897 to 1988. Although her parents were immigrants from Frosolone, Italy (she was one of ten children), Marie was born in this country.

Nevertheless, because of a 1907 law that was fortunately changed during her lifetime, she actually lost her U.S. citizenship in 1916 when she married Angelo Melchionda, an immigrant who had not yet been naturalized. She was forced to take a test to regain her status.

Marie & Angelo Melchionda 1916

This and other vintage photos come courtesy of Camille White.

Camille grew up in a multigenerational house in Medford, Massachusetts, along with her parents, grandparents, siblings, and aunt and uncle. Her grandmother was a benevolent, generous matriarch.

“Although Nana worked full time outside the home [she was a stitcher in a factory in the north end of Boston],” her granddaughter remembered, “she found time to cook many delicious meals for her family, who always came first. Sunday meals especially became a family gathering with relatives visiting for dinner or dessert after dinner.

“In later years at different times, she was a caregiver for her ill mother, her husband, a widowed sister, and then for young grandchildren. She embraced her family with boundless love and gave comfort to others freely and without question.”

Nana making cookie frosting.web

Nana Melchionda makes frosting for her cookies.

One of Camille’s earliest recollections is of making these cookies with her grandmother, although the recipe has changed over the years. (It originally featured five pounds of flour and 18 eggs!)

“Each time I make and bake these cookies,” she told me, “I recall many happy childhood memories of family, anticipation for the holidays, and mostly so many loving times spent with my dear Nana.

“With this recipe, I continue to make new memories with my children and grandchildren….”

I’ll definitely make these cookies for Christmas this year. (I have a cookie swap coming up!) My baking will honor the Sinatra centennial—and also Camille’s Nana Melchionda.

Meanwhile, I wish a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all….

Nana's cookiesweb

Nana Melchionda’s Italian Cookies

Ingredients:

1-1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) butter at room temperature
4 eggs
1 teaspoon anise oil
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
4 cups sifted flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
confectioner’s sugar, milk, and lemon flavoring to taste
sprinkles for topping

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Cream together the sugar and the butter. Add the eggs, the anise oil, and the vanilla.

In a separate bowl blend together the sifted flour and the baking powder; then add them to the butter mixture.

The dough will be sticky. Refrigerate it for 1 to 2 hours, wrapped in plastic wrap or wax paper, to make it easier to handle.

When the dough has cooled form rounds about a teaspoon wide (a little larger is acceptable) by rolling them between your palms. Place the rounds on the prepared cookie sheets, and press down on the top of each lightly.

Bake the cookies until they are lightly browned on the bottom, about 20 minutes–MAYBE LESS. Start looking at 13 minutes. Watch the cookies carefully as they can burn easily.

While the cookies are in the oven prepare the frosting. In a bowl whisk together the confectioner’s sugar, the milk, and the lemon flavoring until the mixture pleases you. It should be thick but not too thick.

Dip the tops of the cookies into the frosting, place them on wax paper, and add sprinkles to make them extra festive. Makes 2 to 3 dozen cookies, depending on how big you make them.

M5 Marie Melchionda

Apple Brownies

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

brownies yum

These fruit-filled bars are a work in progress for me. I’m still having trouble getting them out of the pan! The recipe is worth sharing anyway, however, because they are so very satisfying to eat. And they will make your kitchen smell divine when they are in the oven.

The recipe comes from Lois Brown of South Deerfield, Massachusetts, a friend of my own dear friend Pam Gerry. I have also tried a version of these brownies in which one grates the apples instead of slicing them, but I like the consistency better this way.

You can see me make the bars in the video below. Happy apple season, all!

The Brownies

Ingredients:

1 cup (2 sticks) melted sweet butter
6 medium apples, peeled, cored and cut into slices (about 4 cups of slices)
2 cups sugar
2 eggs. beaten
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 cups flour

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease and flour a 9-by-13-inch pan.

Stir together the melted butter and the sugar, followed by the apples. Mix in the eggs, stirring well to incorporate; then add the baking soda, the baking powder, the salt, and the cinnamon. Stir in the flour, and pour the apple-y batter into the prepared pan.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out clean (watch out for apples; if you put the toothpick in a hot apple it will always come out wet!), about 45 minutes. Don’t cook them for more than 50 minutes in any case. Makes about 24 brownies, depending on how big you cut them.

(You may also cut this recipe in half and bake the brownies in an 8-by-8-inch pan. In that case the cooking time may go down to 35 to 45 minutes.)

Here’s the video:

[youtube width=”420″ height=”315″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDESvK2Hbj4[/youtube]