Monthly Archives: December 2012

Parmesan Shortbread Rounds

Parmesan Shorbread RoundsParmesan Shortbread Rounds

Four recipe tests, four.  That’s how many times it took for me to finally master this recipe, or at least get it to the point that I wanted it to be.  I’d made a sweet shortbread cookie before and had managed to get the base for the Millionaire’s Shortbread right with just a couple of tries.  This weekend, I’d made it my project to get this savory shortbread right.  Part of the secret is keeping the balance between the different ingredients to maintain the cookie-like structure, especially when adding spices and flavorings.

Grated Parmesan Cheese

I decided that grating the cheese on the fine holes of a box grater worked the best to bring out its nutty, creamy flavor in the rounds.  The final results just didn’t seem to come out the same when I used a Microplane, which created a finer, fluffier pile of cheese.  I also made sure that there was just a bit of sugar included in the mix to give them structure and a touch of softness to go with the crisp edges.  These will go perfectly for one of my next gatherings, if I don’t eat them all myself first.

Parmesan Shortbread Rounds

Serving Size: 30 2-inch rounds

Prep Time: about 1 hour, with time for dough to chill

Ingredients:

1 c. All-purpose Flour

2 Tbsp. White Sugar

1/4 tsp. Salt

1/4 tsp. Dry Mustard

1/8 tsp. Cayenne Pepper

1/2 c. plus 1 Tbsp. finely grated Parmesan Cheese

8 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter, softened

Assembly:

Combine the flour, salt, dry mustard, and cayenne pepper in a bowl.  Add in 1/2 cup of the grated Parmesan and stir together with the flour mixture.  Then, put the softened butter in the bowl and mix it into the dry ingredients.  Once the butter is thoroughly incorporated, the mixture should resemble fine pebbles.

All the ingredients mixed together

You’ll need to use the warmth of your hands to shape the dough.  Form the mixture into a round log about two inches in diameter.  Once it is formed, wrap it in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to rest and chill for a minimum of 30 minutes.

Form dough into a log

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  While the oven is heating up, remove the dough from the refrigerator and slice it into rounds about 1/16 inch thick. If a bit of dough seems to crumble, just stick the round back together.

Slice dough into rounds

Place the rounds on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Sprinkle the rounds with the remaining 1 tablespoon of Parmesan cheese.  Place in the oven and bake them for 12 minutes, turning the cookie sheet around after 6 minutes so that the rounds bake evenly.

Rounds on baking sheet

Once the shortbread rounds have baked.  Remove them from the oven and let them sit on the baking sheet for 15 minutes at least.  If you pull them from the baking sheet too soon, they will break apart.

Baked Parmesan Shortbread Rounds

Once the shortbread rounds have cooled on the baking tray, remove them and place them on a wire rack to cool further.  Then, place them in an air-tight container where they will keep for several days, if folks don’t eat them all right away.

Parmesan Shortbread Rounds

Buon appetito!

Ham Biscuits

Leftovers. I’m a huge fan of them, as I’ve mentioned before. I think that having different kinds of leftovers brings to light culinary creativity in reinventing how to repurpose foodstuffs. This doesn’t apply to things like my father’s annual Turkey Garbage Soup creation, but it definitely fits for making Ham Biscuits, using up those last pieces of the enormous holiday ham that you might have bought to serve to family and friends.

Putting together the ham biscuits

When I was putting together the menu for my Park Avenue Tree Lighting Cocktail Party this year, I was mulling over what to add as any extra meat-based item that would be easy to throw together given my tight time schedule to get everything done. The rest of the menu was based around testing my recipes for a menu project that I have to complete for culinary school, so those were taking a bit longer to create and prepare.

Cutting out the biscuits into small rounds

Then, it dawned upon me, I really love this recipe for buttermilk biscuits from Thibeault’s Table and have found it to be incredibly reliable as well as easy to prepare in advance and then to reheat before serving them. What about if I whipped up a batch of these a day or so ahead and then filled them with country ham?  Taking a small biscuit cutter, I managed to get about 40 or so biscuits out of one batch of the recipe.

Hot biscuits, right out of the oven

A half a pound of country ham from the Italian deli in my neighborhood gave me just enough to fill each biscuit, as I didn’t have the benefit of having a leftover holiday ham for this project. Then, I put a jar of Honeycup Mustard, one of my favorites with its sweet-tart-spicy kick, and a bottle of Mike’s Hot Honey for the heat-lovers at the party to the side of the serving platter as a condiment. These ended up being the perfect addition to the festivities. They were also, not suprisingly, the first platter to get wiped clean at the party.

Platter of Ham Biscuits

Ham Biscuits

Prep time: about an hour

Serving size: 40 2-inch biscuits

Ingredients:

Follow your favorite Buttermilk Biscuit recipe.  Mine is here.

1/4-/1/2 lb. of Country Ham

Mustard for serving alongside biscuits

Assembly:

Make your favorite buttermilk biscuit recipe, cutting the biscuits into 2-inch rounds.  Bake the biscuits.  Let them cool.  At this point, you can prepare these a day or two in advance and then store them in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.

Slice the biscuits in half.  Cut or tear the ham into small pieces that will just cover on the bottom half of the biscuit base.  The ham should not be piled high; this is meant to give a taste of salty meat as a contrast to the soft, fluffy biscuit.  Cover with the top half of the biscuit.  Pile filled biscuits high on a serving platter.  Put mustard on the side so that folks can add it as they wish to the biscuits.

Buon appetito!

Bloggers’ Tribute to Sandy Hook Elementary Shooting Victims

NationalBloggingDayofRemembrance_zpsfcb06e06

This post is difficult to write.  I should have a happy, playful theme for today, as it is the Seventh Anniversary of my starting off as a food blogger.  Interestingly, too, it is also four months away from my anticipated completion date for culinary school, opening up a new chapter in my life as a food industry professional (at least, that’s what I’m hoping).  I had a post lined up for Friday about how one of the joys of the holiday season is getting together and feeding your friends and loved ones and then a recipe included for a Southern party favorite, Ham Biscuits. Then, the AP alerts flashed on my iPhone.  They wouldn’t stop.

When I looked down at them and saw what had happened in Newtown, CT, not far from where I live in New York City, I did something I never normally do during the daytime.  I turned on the television.  After the instantaneous incredulity of the news wore off, I started to cry, like so many others, my heart just torn apart.  These are all our kids, even if we aren’t their biological parents.  We are the proud aunties and uncles, the babysitters, the family friends, the godparents.  For those of us who are the elder children, these are our younger siblings, the ones we are supposed to take care of and protect fiercely against bullies and bad people.  No one is supposed to hurt them, much less take them away from us like that.

This past weekend in the city, I saw lots of children with their parents, shopping for the holidays and running their usual errands.  Nothing really seemed usual about it, though, the sadness just hung in the air.  A mom cradled her school-aged son on the subway, stroking his cheek and tossling his hair.  A father held his tiny daughter’s hand just a little bit tighter as she toddled alongside him walking through the neighborhood.  A mother strolling with her three children alongside Central Park kept her arms wrapped around all of them at the same time as best she could, pulling them close to her.

I’ve tried to sit down and write something about this for a few days now, but I haven’t been able to find the right words to express how I feel about what happened, much less the words to talk about food.  So many others are able to do this better than I.  Most of my nieces and nephews are elementary or pre-school age, with the exception of a couple of them.  I wish I could gather them all up and give them a big hug to let them know that it will all be o.k., that this is not normal, and that they do not have to live in fear that something like this will happen to them, especially not when they go to school.

Millionaire’s Shortbread for Cookie Swap NY 2012

Side view of layersMillionaire’s Shortbread

Crisp, buttery cookie base, topped with gooey, rich, creamy caramel, covered with deep, dark chocolate, what could be more irresistible in a cookie?  I’ve been wanting to try out this recipe for ages, so this year’s Bloggers Without Borders Cookie Swap NYC on Sunday, a gathering of bloggers, writers, and bakers all with sweet treats in hand, seemed like the perfect opportunity to do just that.  I’d first heard of this confection through an English colleague who declared at work one particularly extra-stressful day that she had a craving for them.  Sadly, I never got to make them while we were still in the same office, but maybe I can swing a trip to the UK soon for us to get together to share a plate of them over mugs of steamy, milky tea and a good gossip.

Barbecue Chicken, Brisket, Sweet Potatoes, Green Beans, Corn Pudding, Mac ‘n Cheese – Oh, my!

This year we were again hosted by the wonderful folks at Hill Country Barbecue (cookies + barbecue & fixin’s = perfect Sunday lunch).  We took over the downstairs of their restaurant, located just off of Madison Square Park, and piled up the cookies on the tables they’d sent up just for us.  More than only an excuse to indulge our respective sweet teeth, this gathering also highlighted the work that BWOB has been doing with Why Hunger?, which is dedicated to providing food resources through grassroots and community organizations, and a portion of the entry fee went to supporting their work.

Some of the fabulous cookies

Chocolate anything seemed to be one theme this year with several folks making various chocolate-chocolate creations.  Colleen of Souffle Bombay brought these gorgeous Chocolate Chambord cookies.  By the way, her phenomenal Caramel & Chocolate Tart with a Shortbread Crust from the Pie Party in October is now up on her website, too. Jersey Girl Cooks Lisa brought Cherry Toffee Cookies with drizzled dark chocolate and sea salt.  Then there were the gooey creations like the Pecan Bars from BK Baker and Sharon’s Wedding Squares by Abby Dodge that just made your eyes open wide as they passed by you on the way to the table.  Gail from One Tough Cookie, my cookie-decorating idol, brought beautiful venue-appropriate, cowboy-themed creations.

With the holiday rush in full swing, it was really nice to have a chance to take an afternoon out of all the shopping and planning madness to catch up with these talented and amazing folks.  Kelly of Kelly Bakes came up to the city from Philadelphia.  Betty Ann of Mango Queen and her husband Elpi drove in from New Jersey, where they’d been really hard hit by Hurricane Sandy.  I also got to catch up with Tara of Chip Chip Hooray, whom I’d only caught in passing at the Pie Party. Given how upside down our lives had all gotten with weather-related incidents the past couple of months, I think that seeing each other in person, safe and sound, might also have been a bit therapeutic, I mean, aside from bonding over our mutual love of baking and sweets.

Millionaire’s Shortbread on display

Millionaire’s Shortbread

Prep Time: A few hours (each layer has to cool and set before the next one is added)

Serving Size: Makes one 8″ x 8″ pan, so I’ll let you be the judge of how many servings

Ingredients:

Shortbread Layer: (this follows the classic 3-2-1 ratio of flour-fat-sugar)

1 c. All-purpose Flour

1/2 c. Salted Butter (1 stick), softened

1/4 c. White Sugar (regular, not superfine/caster)

Caramel Layer: (see this helpful tutorial by David Lebovitz)

1 c. White Sugar

1/4 c. (4 Tbsp.) Unsalted Butter

1/3 c. Heavy Cream

1/8-1/4 tsp. Sea Salt (I used Maldon)

Chocolate Layer:

Two 3 oz. bars Semi-sweet Chocolate (72% cacao)

1 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter

Assembly:

Shortbread Layer:

Mixing all the ingredients together

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Mix together butter and sugar until creamy.  Then, add the flour and combine it thoroughly.  In an 8″ x 8″ pan (I used a Pyrex one and left it ungreased), pat in the crumbly shortbread dough.  Unlike pie dough, this one is very forgiving, so you can patch it together to create the dough layer in the pan.

Shortbread dough in pan

Bake dough for 25-30 minutes, turning around halfway during the cooking time so that it bakes evenly.  The outer edge should be a medium golden brown when it is taken out of the oven.  Set aside to cool down while making the caramel layer.  You can also bake this part in advance and add the other layers later.

Caramel Layer:

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, put one cup of white sugar and turn the heat on low.  Wait.  Be patient.  Let the heat, sugar, and chemistry work their magic.  (here’s a tutorial to watch before attempting to do this)

Sugar starting to brown

Don’t walk away from the stove.  Wait some more.  Be patient a little bit longer.  After maybe ten minutes, if that, you will end up with a dark amber liquid with all the sugar melted completely.  Turn off the stove and move the pan to another burner.  The range between perfectly melted and a burnt, dark, mess that has to be thrown out is about 10 seconds, if that, as Tara and I discussed on Sunday.

Sugar melted

Then, quickly stir in the butter.  The mixture will foam up once the butter is added.  Once the butter has been fully incorporated, mix in the heavy cream.  The caramel will thicken up the longer it is left to sit.  I placed the caramel in the refrigerator overnight.  To loosen it up again so that I could pour it over the shortbread, I gently stirred it while re-heating it over a low flame until it was more viscous.

Pouring the caramel over the shortbread

Pour the caramel over the cooled shortbread.  (seeing this photo, Kelly said, “I want my mouth right there under that stream of caramel.”)  Spread it with a rubber spatula or use the tilting the pan side-to-side method to make sure the caramel covers the shortbread completely and is in an even layer.  Sprinkle with a light dusting of sea salt.  The caramel doesn’t have to be completely coated in salt, but the pop of a little bit of salt brings out the other flavors in the layers.  Let the caramel layer set for 10-15 minutes before adding the chocolate layer.

Chocolate Layer:

Break the chocolate into chunks, if using bars of chocolate.  In a double boiler (or in a metal bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, which is my usual method), melt the chocolate until it is completely liquid.  Remove the bowl from the water, and stir in the butter until it is completely incorporated and the chocolate is glossy.

Adding butter to the chocolate

Pour the chocolate over the cooled caramel layer.  Use a spatula or the same tilting the pan side-to-side method to make sure that the mixture coats the top of the caramel evenly so that the cookies will have three distinctive layers.  Let it set for at least an hour in the refrigerator.

Adding the chocolate layer

Before cutting the cookies into pieces, let them come to room temperature for 5 minutes or so.  The shortbread and caramel layers are rather firm, so it will be difficult to cut through them if the cookies are really chilled.

Cutting the cookies

Once the cookies are cut and plated, you can return them to the refrigerator to chill and to maintain their three-tiered shape.  Kept out at room temperature for an extended period of time, the caramel layer will warm up, and the cookies will start to sag, as you can see in the photo of them from the Cookie Swap.

Millionaire’s Shortbread

Hide a few pieces for yourself, as once these are put out for everyone to enjoy, they won’t last long.

Buon appetito!

Kitchen Witch Tip:

The butter I used throughout this recipe was Kerrygold.  I’ve long been a fan of using this brand for my baking projects as I think it gives the most consistent results and has the right fat-water ratio to make them come out exactly right (unless I mess up another part of the recipe that is).  I also have to give them a special nod as they were a sponsor for the Pie Party this year and provided us with free butter to take away at the end of the evening in addition to a coupon for free butter or cheese – any baker’s dream!