Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Chocolate Chip Cookies in New York State in the Fall

Jackolantern chocolate chip cookie made with Wilton cookie cutter

In New York State, you can travel through Ichabod Crane's Sleepy Hollow town ( as you follow the road through the landscapes sprinkled with colorful fall foliage in October. 

After following side roads such as I9 west, you can go through Saugerties to the Catskill Mountains, where trees shine metalically, like glow-in-the-dark puzzle pieces, as the sunlight strikes their backs. Locals who declare having arrived for the Woodstock concert in the 1970's, now run restaurants and other small businesses in that small town in the state park.

Seneca Lake, one of the Finger Lakes in New York

Colorful barns and silos on the road, near Niagara

Further north, vines curl around Seneca and Keuka Lakes, as red and orange tree flags pop up every so often. As you near Niagara, barns and silos loom ahead, one after another, until you reach the powerful River, and waterfalls. 

Alton Brown's Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie
Follow the recipe to make the dough, and get a small scoop ready. You can only do half of the scoop, for a regular-sized cookie, or you can do the full scoop, the way his recipe indicates in ounces, to make a larger one.

 Make sure you line your cookie sheets with parchment paper to ensure better shaped cookies. Either avoid using darker pans, or make sure you reduce the baking temperature by 25 degrees if you do use them.
Your cookies will turn out chewy and have a round shape if you use the scoop!
To make the jack'o'lantern, use a Wilton cookie cutter. Place some dough on the cookie sheet, making sure the dough shape is larger than the cutter. Push the cutter into the dough, and remove the dough left around the cutter. You can bake with the cutter still on the dough. This large cookie takes at least 15 minutes longer usually, to bake. Once you take it out of the oven, let it rest for three minutes. Then remove the cutter inmediately, using a knife to run it along the interior edges to make the cookie come out. It will come out in pieces, which you can either paste together with frosting, or just set together on the plate.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Irish Potato Apple Pancake for Halloween

I didn't try these delectable potato pancakes when I went to Dublin in April. I am trying them now, though, because they are an Irish Halloween staple. When Halloween used to be a festivity called Samhain, all kinds of foods used to be eaten. However, when it became All Hallow's Eve, people had to fast, and meals were vegetarian. Hence the tradition of eating potatoes on this day.
While this recipe is sweet, there are others available elsewhere that are savory. Mainly, harvested foods are enjoyed.
Trick or treating began when children or poor people would go from house to house singing a song, or saying a prayer for the dead, in exchange for a soul cake, flattened bread with fruit in it. Other people would dress up to scare away evil spirits, or to avoid being carried away by them the following morning.

1 pound potatoes, weighed after peeling
1 oz. melted butter
1 1/2 ounces flour and 1/2 ounce oatmeal
pinch of salt
2 teaspoons sugar
10 oz. cooking apples, peeled, cored and sliced
a little milk
1 ounce butter
1 ounce sugar, white or brown
pinch of ground ginger or cinnamon
bake at 400 degrees.

Boil potatoes until they are cooked. Mash them with butter, and add flour, oatmeal, and salt. Roll out half of the dough into an 8-inch round. Cut and slice apples and place them on top of the circle; add butter. Place the second round on top.

Brush the cake with milk and sprinkle the sugar and cinnamon on top.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Tarte Tatin


Visitors arrive on horseback at the stunning, expansive castle surrounded by hunting grounds. After waiting to be invited in, they are ushered to a spiral staircase. As they climb the stairs, a nobleman inside descends them hurriedly, emerges through a  hidden door and steps into a stagecoach, leaving the grounds as quickly as he can.
Both characters are in Chambord, a hunting castle in the Loire Valley, France covered with turrets that look like they're made out of cookies and candy. In this region, castles and 16th century Italian-style palaces dot the countryside. Chambord has a winding double staircase designed by Leonardo da Vinci, so that the inhabitants could easily escape at the same time as their visitors take the staircase upwards, in the opposite direction. 
Another palace, pictured above, is called Chenonceaux and it stretches on arches across the Cher River. 

The Tatin sisters, Caroline and Stephanie made this tart for the first time in the 1880's. They used basic ingredients: sugar, apples, butter, flour, and water. At the time, they used unpeeled apples, though nowadays most people peel them before cooking. They began a hotel in 1894, and its most famous dessert was this tart.

200 grams flour
100 grams butter, chopped in small pieces
500 grams warm water or milk
1 pinch of salt
Apple topping
2 kilograms of apples, peeled, cored, and halved
200 grams of sugar
75 grams of butter

Mix the dough for the crust and chill in the refrigerator. Preheat oven to 180 degrees C.  Place butter and sugar in a skillet. Add apples, and cook for 15 minutes. Remove the apples, and let the sugar mixture thicken. Place the apples in a 12-inch pan. Add the caramel, then cover everything with the dough round. Poke holes in the top of the dough. Place in oven and bake for thirty minutes. Remove from oven, then turn over onto a plate so the apples are on top. Cut and serve.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Marquesitas, Toledan Almond Gluten-Free Cupcakes for Columbus Day

Toledan coat of arms
When I stepped off the bus onto the cobblestone streets of Toledo, I was transported to Spain of post-Roman times, when it was once the capital of the nation, until the 8th century. The steep paths led me upward through the gates of the fortified town. One of the first sights is the cathedral, where warm statues smiled tenderly at visitors, and a skylight holds figures that peek inside, with their legs dangling impishly over the edge of the dome as if they were leprechauns instead of saints and cherubs. 
Around the corner, silversmiths welcome onlookers as they insert their tools on the handles of swords to decorate them with intricate, black designs, just like others did centuries before them.
My visit though enchanting was short, as I hurried to take the hour-long bus ride back to Madrid to catch a plane. Someday I will return to visit the Toledan home of  the Cretan il Greco, a famous Spanish painter.

History of the Marquesita

These delicacies were created in Sonseca, by the son of a Toledan candymaker, who had learned the craft of making mazapanes (almond paste candy) from his family. His wife was from Sonseca, so he set up his own candy store in that neighboring town. 

300 grams finely ground almonds
5 eggs
250 grams powdered sugar
zest of 1/2 a lemon

Sift the finely ground almonds and powdered sugar together. Beat eggs separately, then combine both. Add the zest of 1/2 a lemon, and pour into mini cupcake papers. Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. As soon as you place the cupcakes in the oven, lower it to 350 degrees and bake for 10 minutes. Yields 36 cupcakes.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

New Orleans Beignets at Cafe du Monde

Beignets served at Cafe du Monde 24/7

Cafe du Monde at Jackson Square
"Only two spots left!" the horse carriage driver bellowed. At Jackson Square, several of these vehicles depart at a time.  They wind around the streets, the nimble horses hooves rhythmically clicking against the pavement like long fingernails tapping on keyboards. On the opposite side of the street, one of the main landmarks in the city-Cafe du Monde- is open day and night. Inside, flocks of waiters and waitresses flutter around tables, as tourists sit down to vaccuum in the snow-covered, irregular-shaped donuts, excited to be in a restaurant that never closes. 

On the opposite side of the square, St. Louis' Cathedral regally reaches to the night sky, as statues cast giant shadows that enthrall photo-takers.
St. Louis Cathedral interior, at Jackson Square

The second Cafe du Monde location is in another section of town, near the view of the bustling Mississippi River. A small cafe du monde is surrounded by the competing stands doing their best to sell the hottest hot sauce on earth, while long barges float, seeming clumsy, much like a Hummer or limousine trying to find a parking space in a crowded parking lot. It is closer to the port where coffee entered the United States for the first time in the 1700's. so  people quickly grew fond of the unique taste in their cup, thus still adding it to Louisiana coffee to this day.

In the middle ages, the Spanish made bunuelos, fried flour-water balls. The French made a similar concoction called beignets (from the word beigne which means to raise), and took them to Louisiana, where it became a staple, and was declared the state donut in 1986. In New Orleans, Cafe du Monde began serving strong coffee and beignets since 1862, during the Civil War. 
The New Orleans coffee served along with the beignets has chicory (endive root, related to lettuce) in it, because it was added to stretch coffee supplies during the French civil war, when it was scarce. It added body and flavor.

Pontalba Building, at Plaza de Armas (Jackson Square)

1 tablespoon yeast 
3/4 cup of warm water (110 to 115 degrees)
1/2 cup of evaporated milk
1/4 cup of granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
2 tablespoons shortening
3 1/2 cups of flour

optional: experiment by placing 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon and nutmeg.
Homemade beignet dough

Homemade beignet squares
Roller for cutting beignet dough into squares (Cafe du Monde, Riverwalk)
Heat water until it is almost boiling, add a tablespoon of sugar, then cool until the water reaches 115 degrees.  Add the yeast to it. Mix ingredients in bowl; beat the yeast water in too. Knead the dough for five minutes, and let sit for an hour. Next, roll out the dough onto a generously floured surface, and cut into squares. The dough will be very soft; therefore you will need a lot of flour. Fry the squares in a pot filled with oil until they're golden. Remove them and place on paper towels. Serve on a dish; sift powdered sugar on top of them. If you only spoon the sugar on them, it will clump.

Homemade beignets fresh out of frying pot

Beignet frier at Cafe du Monde, Riverwalk
Sprinkling powdered sugar on the beignets


Monday, October 1, 2012

Kid Sandwich Cookies (Cipotes) for International Children's Day, October 1st

October 1st is Children's Day in only five random countries: Sweden, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Guatemala, and El Salvador. The United Nations and Canada celebrate it on November 20th, since 1953, whereas most of the world chooses June the 1st. In the United States, this special occasion appeared in the 1860's, before Mother's or Father's Day, and the purpose of it is to "promote the welfare of all children". The Declaration of Children's Rights was signed in 1956.

Cipotes, the Sandwich Cookie
These buttery cookies from Guatemala and El Salvador hide a dulce de leche or jam filling, and are a perfect project for children to keep busy, as they cut small rounds of dough, or place some jam in between the baked ones.

14 ounces of flour (3 1/2 cups)
9 ounces of butter
6 ounces of granulated sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla

Cut into 2.5 cm rounds with a decorator's tip, as cipotes are not usually very large. (I made them large by mistake the first time I tried them). You can also use small garden cookie cutters if you prefer. Bake at 350 degrees for 7 minutes. Fill sandwiches with guava jam, milk candy, or any other candy. I like to dip the edges in mini chocolate chips, but you can use powder-fine grated coconut, or minced walnuts or pecans, as well. Cipotes (Kid cookies) aren't usually covered with powdered sugar; then again, you can do what you prefer with your cookies. You could even bathe them in ganache, (such as the one pictured above, to the center left) if it strikes your fancy.