Monday, December 20, 2010

Pizzelles - Italian Waffle Cookies

These cookies have been a Christmas tradition in my family starting with my great-grandmother, and possibly before. My mom and I have made them every Christmas since I can remember. She nearly quadruples the basic recipe, which has been in her recipe box on this index card in a plastic sleeve for decades, and then passes them out to tons of family and friends.
Everyone has come to expect them from our family at Christmas time. In order to meet the demand, we bought two pizzelle waffle irons and make a day of it. My mom and I get out the Christmas DVDs and spend nearly a whole afternoon into the early evening pressing these beautiful cookies out two by two while watching White Christmas, Miracle On 34th Street, A Christmas Carol and It's A Wonderful Life . This year however, our antique waffle iron, the one we've been using for decades, died on us. So we were working with one machine and not the better of the two. The one that crapped out on us was an Italian model, all metal waffle iron that made the cookies extra thin. The second iron, more modern, has a non-stick surface. This makes the baking much easier but doesn't make the pizzelles quite as thin and delicate as the Italian iron. Oh well. We made the best of what we had.
Nonetheless, the season doesn't feel like it has arrived until we bake pizzelles. The house fills with the sweet smell of butter, sugar and anise. The best part of the whole process is eating the ones that bake a little too long or accidentally break when being packed up or pulled from the iron. The challenge is not to eat too many as you go along. Every year for the past 10 years we've had an eager kitchen helper, as you can see. She gladly eats up the scraps and crumbs along the way.
There are hundreds of recipes out there for pizzelles. They are a very simple cookie. Nothing real fancy. They almost taste like a waffle cone and can be a canvas for any flavors you prefer. In my family we have always used anise seed. My mom takes her basic recipe, pictured above, and adds in anise extract and anise seed. My grandmother used to also add lemon or orange zest, but my mom has omitted that ingredient. You can add a little cocoa powder to make chocolate pizzelles, substitute almond extract for the anise seed, or any other kind of extract really. In the end you get a light, wafer-like butter cookie that resembles a snowflake and literally melts in your mouth.
Like most Italian desserts, they go excellently with a nice, hot cup of espresso or other strong coffee. The bad thing about pizzelles is you can eat 6 of them and not even notice. They are addictive and go down like potato chips! You do need a pizzelle waffle iron to make these cookies, an investment that is worth it if, like in my family, you make hundreds of these every Christmas season. Buon Natale!!

1/2 cup shortening (my mom uses butter)
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 to 2 tsp anise extract
3 tb anise seeds
1 3/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and the sugar together. Add in the eggs and incorporate. Next add in the vanilla and anise extract and mix in the anise seeds. In a separate bowl, mix together the dry ingredients (flour, powder). Stir into the eggs, butter and sugar mixture until the dry and wet ingredients are fully incorporated. Chill batter, covered, in the fridge until it's slightly firm, about an hour. Get your waffle iron hot. Once hot, put a tablespoon of batter into each side of the waffle iron. Close and bake. When you close the lid you'll hear the steam hiss and rise out of the iron. After about 15 seconds open up the iron to check your progress. Bake until they are firm but not brown. Burnt cookies will taste bitter because of the anise seed. The time may shorten up as you move along since the iron will get a little hotter. You may burn the first few trying to figure oput how long you need to bake each one for, but eventually you'll figure out how much time your particular iron needs to cook up the batter to a crisp cookie. Remove the cookies gently with a fork and place on a rack to cool. Once cool you can stack your cookies and store them in an airtight container. Cookies will stay fresh for up to two weeks. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Chocolate Cherry Almond Biscotti

This is a quick, pre-Christmas cookie post. We made these beauties to accompany the date and pistachio biscotti below. These are so good!! I switched the semisweet chocolate for white chocolate and in my opinion it really makes these cookies. It adds just the right amount of sweetness and helps bring out the cocoa flavor in the cookie.
One other thing I changed were the almonds. I couldn't find whole unblanched almonds so I just opted for blanched slivered almonds and used about 3/4 of a cup so as not to overwhelm the batter with almond slivers. It worked out fine. Another note to whoever takes on these cookies - they bake up HARD. These are not biscotti for the wimpy. These are the real deal. Crunchy and a small workout on the teeth. So if you have some weak molars etc. then be sure to soak your biscotti in some strong espresso first, or maybe a little cappuccino. I read that the absence of butter in biscotti recipes gives them that authentically hard, tack-biscuit consistency. If you're not a fan of the harder biscotti then find a recipe that uses butter. I found these to be just perfect though.
On top of that, they are just plain ole' pretty. The color contrast is nice and the little colored beady sprinkles stand out nicely against the snowy white chocolate background. They just put me in the holiday mood. How about you? I hope you get a chance to enjoy some delicious cookies this season.

Dried Cherry and Chocolate Biscotti with Almonds
Source: Emeril Lagasse,
2 cups flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup unblanched whole almonds
1 cup dried cherries
3 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a mixing bowl, sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Stir in the almonds and cherries.

In another mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar, and vanilla until smooth. Stir the dry ingredients into the egg mixture. Mix well. Lightly dust the work surface. Turn the dough onto the surface and knead the dough a couple of times. Shape the dough into a log, about 12 inches long and 4 inches wide. Place the dough on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for about 30 minutes, or until golden and firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack. Using a serrated knife, slice the bread diagonally into 1/4-inch slices. Place the slices on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for an additional 12 to 14 minutes or until golden and crispy.

Remove from the oven and cool completely a second time on a wire rack. Dip half of each biscotti in the melted chocolate and place on a parchment lined baking sheet and refrigerate until the chocolate sets.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Chocolate-Dipped Date and Pistachio Biscotti

For years my mom and I always made the same cookies for Christmas. Gingerbread men and sugar cutout cookies (which both involve rolling, cutting and decorating), Mexican tea cookies (also called Russian tea cookies or Pfefferneusen or something like that), chocolate chip cookies and Pizelles. This year I just didn't have the energy or the time for making that many labor-intensive cookies so I decided to keep it simple. We made Pizelles, which I will post about shortly, as well as two kinds of biscotti. I find biscotti to be a pretty simple, quick cookie to make since there is no rolling or even dropping by the tablespoon involved. You simply cut the dough in quarters or halves, form it into logs and bake it whole. Then you cut it and toast the biscotti - making them twice-baked cookies. For a special touch, we dipped these particular fruit and nut biscotti in melted semi-sweet chocolate.
These biscotti were inspired by a recipe for Fig and Pistachio Biscotti on Proud Italian Cook's blog. I made a lot of changes and omissions however, so here is my version below. I substituted dates for figs because my mom had bought a huge bag of dried medjool dates to make an appetizer for Thanksgiving and we had plenty left over so instead of spending more money for figs, we used what we had. Also, since the Pizelles we make every year are anise flavored, I didn't want the biscotti to be as well. Plus, I'm not a huge fan of anise so I eliminated that ingredient. I just put in extra vanilla extract. Also, as I've said before on this blog, you won't catch me within 50 yards of a piece of zest. I'm not a fan, no matter how hard I try to like it, I just don't. Orange, lemon or lime, it doesn't seem to matter. I just don't like citrus zest. Sorry, not happening to my baked goods! Oh well. So, in short (ha), I left that ingredient out as well. Lastly, I dipped them in melted chocolate to add a holiday touch. I also added in a touch of cinnamon to give them a warm finish.
They turned out nice and crumbly. Apparently, biscotti made with butter have more of a cakey texture and those without butter have more of a traditional hard, crunchy consistency. These leaned toward the cakey end, but still had a nice toothy crunch. Hopefully you have time to enjoy a little holiday baking this season! These aren't too hard to make inbetween shopping and trimming the tree. Enjoy!

Chocolate-Dipped Date and Pistachio Biscotti
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temp
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 t. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1/2 cup shelled pistachios
1 cup chopped pitted dates
8 oz semisweet chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350 degrees.
With your mixer, beat butter and sugar on medium-high until smooth, about 2 minutes.
Add eggs and extract beat until creamy and light.
Combine dry ingredients together, then add to the butter mixture, add the dates and the nuts last.
Mix everything on low speed until incorporated then remove dough and divide in half.
Form two 7×3 inch logs, place on parchment lined baking sheet apart from each other, and bake until lightly browned (25 to 30 minutes).
Remove from oven, and let them cool down, you can't cut them when they're hot they'll crumble.
Using a serrated knife, take your time and slowly cut logs into 1/2″ thick slices.
Arrange biscotti on their sides on the baking sheet. Return to oven, and bake until golden, about 10-15 minutes. Turn biscotti over on the other side and bake for another 10-15 minutes more, or until desired crispiness. Cool on racks.
Once cool, melt your chocolate over a double boiler. Once melted, dip the tops of your biscotti in and sprinkle with jimmies or cookie decorations if desired. Chill in the refrigerator until the chocolate sets back up and then enjoy!
Makes around 36-40.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

White Bean and Brussel Sprout Soup

Well, it's here. Winter. Cold, blustery, bitter and raw. They are even calling for snow flurries today! I guess I shouldn't complain. It is December, after all (as I keep hearing people say). Nothing could be as crazy as last winter when we had blizzard after blizzard of unrelenting snow. I swear it didn't melt till May!
At least it puts you in the holiday spirit. Speaking of holidays, do you have your tree up yet? We do! I've also already watched the obligatory Christmas movies and had the required festive eggnog while tree trimming. That is required, right?? Hee.

And in the spirit of Christmas here is a nice abstract shot of our tree from outside our house:
And here's a pic of our most favorite Christmas blessing of all, sleeping in "HEAVENLY" peace, as the song so beautifully says:

Anyway, the one redeeming thing about cold weather is the host of foods it inspires me to cook. Mainly - soup. I love a hearty bowl of warm, homemade soup on a cold, winter's night. There is NOTHING better in my opinion. I have some favorites, onion soup, traditional minestrone and roasted tomato bisque. However, last night we were looking to use up some brussel sprouts in the fridge so I fashioned up a tasty soup that made these mini-cabbage heads the star. You can just rinse them, cut them in half and throw them into the soup raw. They will boil in the broth while the beans soften up, floating like little green apples while your soup simmers.
You can easily make this with canned beans, but it's not that much harder to use dried beans and you really get your money's worth as well as a major flavor payback with dried beans. If you use canned beans however, you'll want to probably cook your brussel sprouts ahead of time since you won't have to simmer the soup as long.
Another tip, I like a thicker soup consistency, so, as you'll see in my recipe, I pureed two cups of beans once they were cooked, and then stirred them back into the soup to thicken up the broth. If you like a thinner, clearer type of soup then just skip that step. We topped our soup with crispy cubes of prosciutto and a generous spoonful of grated Romano cheese.
Finally, a word of warning. Eat this soup with ones you love. Beans and brussel sprouts can be a dangerous combination, if you know what I mean. So tread lightly but don't be afraid - the taste is worth it! Or Beano before if you must.

White Bean and Brussel Sprout Soup

1 lb dried white beans
1/2 cup cubed prosciutto
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
2 tb fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2 tb olive oil
1 qt chicken stock
2 cups water
1 can diced fire-roasted tomatoes with juice
1 bay leaf
1 lb brussel sprouts, rinsed, trimmed and then cut in half
salt and pepper for seasoning
grated pecorino romano cheese for serving

Soften the beans first. Rinse the beans, place in a large soup pot, and add cold water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 2 minutes, cover, and remove from the heat. Let stand for about 1 hour, then drain. Place aside.
In the bottom of that same soup pot, place your cubed prosciutto and crisp up over medium heat. Once the prosciutto has browned and crisped, remove it from the pot and set aside. You'll use this to top your soup when serving.
In the same pot, throw in your onion, garlic, carrots, celery, rosemary and olive oil. Saute them in the prosciutto grease and brown bits until softened. Once softened, add your drained beans to the pot along with the rest of your ingredients, stock, water, tomatoes, bay leaf and brussel sprouts. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Allow soup to simmer uncovered until the beans are tender and the brussel sprouts have cooked. Miraculously, these two things seem to happen at the same rate, which ends up being about 30-40 minutes, depending on your stove.
Once done and the beans are tender, strain out two cups of beans (these will unavoidably include celery, onion, carrots and garlic but if you can try to avoid whole brussel sprouts and leaves within these two cups). Puree the beans and miscellaneous vegetables in a food processor until smooth. Return this puree to the soup pot and stir to combine. This will help thicken your soup to a nice consistency. Ladle soup into bowls, top with crispy prosciutto and grated romano cheese and serve.