Sunday, December 8, 2013

Train Wreck Kitchen: Holiday Cookies

It's been a long time since I've blogged, but when your grandmother tells you she reads your blog and checks now and again if there's anything new, I think that's a good sign it's time to find something to write about. Thankfully, the day after seeing my Gramarie (the conjunction of Grandmother and her name, Marie - what I've always called her), our good friend Ruth came over to bake some holiday cookies.

Ruth has popped up several times on this blog, but I don't think I've every talked about 'Train Wreck Kitchen'. It's our little joke for when we get together to cook or bake. There's usually some cocktails and plenty of laughs (or maybe plenty of cocktails and some laughs), and an occasional break for karaoke or food. Today was no different.

Ruth and Dan each picked a recipe they wanted to make, plus we knew we had to make some Rum Balls. I was a bit hungover from the night before (a work holiday dinner), and struggled to figure out what I wanted to make. At first I thought I'd make some ganache and make truffles, but that sounded like too much work. While Ruth and Dan got to work, I pulled out a couple dozen cookbooks and dove in, looking for inspiration.

Dan had already started early on his cookie, as it required golden raisins to be soaked in Pernod (an anise-flavored liqueur) for 3 hours. He also had to shell a cup of pistachios. His Pernod-Pistachio cookie was from his favorite cookbook - Best of the Best from Hawaii
- and was a drop cookie that resembled a classic chocolate chip cookie, but has a very unique flavor when you bite in.

Pernod-Pistachio Cookies
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup Pernod
2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbspn poppy seeds
1 tspn baking soda
1/2 tspn salt
1 cup lightly salted shelled pistachio nuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Soak raisins in Pernod for 3 hours. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar, then add eggs. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, poppy seeds, baking soda and salt. Combine Pernod mixture with butter mixture. Gradually stir in dry ingredients. Add pistachios and stir just to combine. Scoop spoonfuls of dough onto oiled (or silicone mat/parchment lined) baking sheets. Bake 20-25 minutes, or until you smell the Pernod wafting out of the oven. Makes about 3 dozen.

My first cookie choice ended up an Eggnog cookie I found in Christmas Cookies: 50 Recipes to Treasure for the Holiday Season. I absolutely love Eggnog (and their less-milky cousin, Tom & Jerrys), so this recipe jumped out at me. It's basically a refrigerator sugar cookie dough with an egg yolk and spices, plus a rum icing and grated nutmeg on top.

Eggnog Cookies
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tspn freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tspn ground cinnamon
1/4 tspn salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup confectioner's sugar
1 large egg yolk

Whisk together flour, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter in a large bowl until creamy. Add the sugars and beat until thoroughly blended and velvety. Beat in the egg yolk. With the beaters on low speed, mix in the flour mixture just until thoroughly combined and the dough starts to come together. Gather the dough into a ball, then divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, place it on a lightly floured surface. Use your hands to shape it into a log and then roll it back and forth to form a smooth cylinder about 6-7 inches long and 1 3/4 inches in diameter. Wrap up the log in plastic wrap and secure with a layer of foil. Repeat with remaining dough. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or until very firm. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment or a silicone mat. Working with one log at a time, use a sharp knife to cut the dough into slices between 1/4 and 1/3 inch thick. Place the rounds on the prepared sheet, arranging them about 2 inches apart. Bake for about 13 minutes or until the cookies are pale golden, a little browner around the edges. Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool.

Rum Icing
1 cup confectioner's sugar
2 1/2 to 3 Tbspn light rum
1 whole nutmeg, for grating on top of cookies

Whisk the confectioner's sugar and 2 1/2 Tbspn rum in a small bowl until smooth. Add a little more rum as needed to get a spreadable, slightly thin consistency. Spoon 1/2 tspn of icing onto the center of each cookie and spread it with the back of the spoon to form about a 1 1/5 inch circle. Grate a little nutmeg on top of the cookies while the icing is still wet. Let stand until the icing sets completely. Makes about 40 cookies.

During a lull in the kitchen action, I pulled out my recipe for Rum balls and whipped up a batch. This is an incredibly quick and easy no-bake cookie that gets better the longer you can resist eating them. We didn't last long. The origins of the recipe I use are lost, but it's found in a little cookbook I put together many years ago - before I started blogging - to give to family for Christmas. It may in fact be what got me to food blog, as each recipe is accompanied by a story. This recipe talks about when we made it at Burning Man - making new friends walking around with chocolatey rum balls to give out in the searing desert heat. Our friend Serenity also always makes rum balls for Christmas, but has the self control to age them - which make the consistency even better.

Rum or Bourbon Balls
3 cups finely crushed vanilla wafers (about 75 cookies). Ginger snaps can also be used.
2 cups confectioner's sugar
1 cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 cup Dark Rum or Bourbon
1/4 cup light corn syrup
confectioner's sugar to coat

Mix the crushed wafers, powdered sugar, nuts and cocoa. Stir in the liquor and corn syrup until thoroughly combined. Cover your hands with powdered sugar and shape the mixture into 1-inch balls, rolling each in powdered sugar to coat as you go. Ideally, refrigerate in a tightly covered container overnight (or for weeks) before serving.

For my last cookie, I decided to use up the bittersweet chocolate I bought to make truffles, and some of the macadamia nuts we bought with the intent of making mini macnut pies for Thanksgiving (which we hosted this year). This is an even easier no-bake recipe, with three whole ingredients. I'll call it 'Koa Bark', since it's essentially a chocolate bark recipe, using macadamia nuts and coconut.

Koa Bark
12 oz bag of bittersweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups of chopped macadamia nuts
1 cup unsweetened large flaked coconut

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Place in the freezer. Empty the chocolate chips into a large glass bowl. Heat for 30 seconds in the microwave on high heat. Stir. Repeat until the chocolate is smooth after stirring (probably 2 more times). Add nuts and stir to combine. Add coconut and stir to combine. Pour the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet and spread out into a thin layer. Return baking sheet to the freezer to set for 30 minutes or more. Remove and break into small pieces.

For Ruth's cookie, she decided to explore the history of one of her go-to dessert recipes (one Dan & I LOVE): St. Louis Deep Gooey. The version she usually makes starts with a yellow cake mix and ends up a sweet, buttery, gooey bar cookie. But apparently, it had more upscale beginnings, and Ruth wanted to try out the recipe from the restaurant that originated it. This version is much more involved, but my sweet-tooth actually likes the one she usually makes, as it's sweeter and softer (and easier!). I'll have to beg her for that recipe.

Fancy St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake
For the cake:
3 Tbspn milk at room temperature
1 3/4 tspn active dry yeast
6 Tbspn unsalted butter at room temperature
3 Tbspn sugar
1 tspn salt
1 large egg
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
For the topping:
3 Tbspn plus 1 tspn light corn syrup
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
12 Tbspn unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 tspn salt
1 large egg
1 cup plus 3 Tbspn all purpose flour
Confectioner's sugar, for sifting on top

In a small bowl, mix milk with 2 Tbspn warm water. Add yeast and whisk gently until it dissolves. Mixture should foam slightly. Using an electric mixer with a paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar and salt. Scrape down sides of bowl and beat in the egg. Alternately add flour and the milk/yeast mixture, scraping down the sides of the bowl between each addition to help keep the mixture consistent. Beat dough on medium speed until it forms a smooth mass and pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 7-10 minutes. Press dough into an ungreased 9x13 baking dish at least 2 inches deep. Cover dish with plastic wrap or a clean tea towel, put in a warm place, and allow to rise until doubled, 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. To prepare topping, in a small bowl, mix corn syrup with 2 Tbsn water and the vanilla. Using an electric mixer with paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy, 5-7 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat in the egg. Alternately add flour and corn syrup mixture, scraping down sides of bowl between each addition. Spoon topping in large dollops over risen cake and use a spatula to gently spread it in an even layer. Bake for 40-45 minutes. Cake will rise and fall in waves and have a golden brown top, but will still be liquid in the center when done. Allow to cool in pan before sprinkling with confectioner's sugar for serving. Cut into bars. Makes 2 dozen bars. From

We ended up with a great mix of cookies - bars, balls, refrigerator, drop, and bark - that we liberally sampled throughout the process strictly for quality control. That, and we ordered some pizza, so we'd have something other than sugar and champagne in our stomachs. That helps when you're scream/singing Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball" after popping a few rum balls. Ruth brought over small and large pastry boxes and we loaded them all up with a mix of cookies to take to coworkers, who said they were all delicious. And I ended up eating probably one whole box over the next few days, so I can attest to that.

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