Tag Archives: cookies

A Splash of Licorice

It’s no big secret that I love to bake. So when two of my friends took a trip to Atlanta recently, they were kind enough to bring me a new baking book – Sonya Jones’ Sweet Auburn DessertsThis collection of recipes, named for the author’s bakery in Atlanta, focuses on Southern and African-American traditional recipes. 

My attention was immediately caught by one of the recipes – the Sazerac Tassies. Sazeracs are a New Orleans variation on an Old-Fashioned, one of the earliest examples of an American cocktail. Made with rye, absinthe, and Peychaud’s bitters, the cocktail has a distinct licorice note. The word tassie refers to a traditional Southern tart, so teeny that they are served more as cookies. Chef Jones plays up the licorice flavor of the Sazerac in these treats, filling the tartlet with a light custard flavored with anise liqueur.

I was intrigued because the Sazerac is a favorite cocktail of mine, as a lover of all things licorice, and I liked  the idea of the cute little tarts. So when the third Comicazi Cookie Clash rolled around, I decided to bake the little guys as my wild card entry. I was pretty sure that they wouldn’t do well in the judging – anise is a very polarizing flavor – I know far more folks who don’t like the black jelly beans than those who do (whereas I have loved them from an early age!) I decided to make them anyway because it was something new and it’s important, when one is baking six dozen cookies for charity, to make cookies that you want to eat.

Baking from a new recipe did not prove to be without its challenges, however. The process isn’t terribly complicated – you make a dry, crumbly dough reminiscent of a Mexican Wedding Cake and let it chill in the fridge. Roll it out and press it into tart pans or mini muffin tins. Whip up your custard (I flavored mine with Pernod), pour it into the tart shell, and bake.  It should have been easy, and yet…
despite a mini muffin tin with a non-stick surface AND some strategic use of cooking spray, my tassies stuck. Hard. Any attempt to remove them, from a sharp knife around the edges to some gentle tapping on the bottom led to the tops dislodging. In the end I had to scrape the entire first batch out of the pan and into a giant, sticky mess that I regrettably neglected to photograph.

However, did I let disaster stop me? Heck no I did not! For the second half of the dough I added a key ingredient – mini cupcake liners. I’d considered them at the beginning but since they weren’t called for had decided to leave them out. I fretted that I would still have a sticky mess, this time with paper embedded in it, but thankfully this was not the case – round two came out beautifully!

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Tiny, tasty perfection.

 The tart dough was buttery and light, the custard sweet and full of licorice flavor. From my point of view they are the perfect treat!

As I suspected, the judges disagreed and these cookies did not do well in the Clash (although my Mexican Chocolate Brownies placed in the bar category, thank you very  much.) However, my fellow licorice-lovers adored them, so I feel quite justified in my choice. If you hate licorice but like the idea of mini, flaky tarts, I think the flavoring could easily be changed to lemon or almond or anything you might prefer – the recipe can be found at Serious Eats. I’ll definitely make these again and would love to hear about any modifications you make!

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Holiday Cookies

Happy holidays, everyone! I apologize for the longish blog silence, but between the holidays and some other madness that’s gone on, there hasn’t been much time for writing. Additionally, there is a big post in the works that I hope to publish in the next week or so. In the meantime, how have you all been, my fellow food-adventurers? If you celebrate your holidays in a gift-giving way, did you give and receive great gifts? I certainly did! Friends and family were very generous with the kitchen-wares this year, and I’m excited to spend some time working with my new tools and sharing them with you all!

Before I get into that, however, I thought I’d update you with my annual Christmas baking. Long-time readers will remember that Mr. Menace and I host an annual cookie decorating party, and this year was no exception! In fact, we hosted more people than any year yet, which meant quite a bit of baking. Luckily, I had two stalwart companions to help with this process. The first was my sister, Kelly, who generously donated her time and talents to helping me roll out and cut over 160 sugar cookies! (She also assisted with decor and platter-making – thanks, Kel!) In her honor I created a new cocktail at the party:
1.5 oz Barbancourt Rum
1 oz Laird’s Applejack
.5 oz St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram
.5 oz lime juice
Barspoon Trader Tiki’s Cinnamon Syrup
Dash Fee’s Whiskey Barrel Bitters

Shake ingredients with ice. Strain and serve! (Full disclosure: The lime juice was an afterthought in the original, but it makes a HUGE difference from something a bit too heavy and sweet into something much brighter and tastier.)

My second helper was the sugar cookie recipe from the Flour Bakery cookbook. I’ve mentioned this cookbook before, but it bears repeating: these recipes are fantastic! Well-thought out and easy to execute. I suspect you may be subject to another post or two as I work my way through this. In any case, people really enjoyed the cookies, and the dough was very easy to work with – I know because while Kelly did a lot of the heavy lifting on the party cookies, we made them again for family cookie decorating, and my 5 year-old niece and I rolled and cut those. Thank you to Joanne Chang for a super recipe!

This year I did not take pictures of the individual winners of every category as the party went a bit late, but I did get pictures of the voting plates – we had so many cookies that I asked folks to submit their cookies into the contest. We also changed the categories up a bit this year to include a “Rookie of the Year” – the Rookie Cookie, if you will – to acknowledge the many folks who’d not had the chance to hone their skills over 5 years of frosting manipulation. So here we have:
The Classics – mostly folks using the shapes as they were intended:
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That said, the winner here was the Mr. Hanky cookie, which I would NOT consider traditional use of the shape. What can I do, though, the people spoke! Kudos to The Goog.

Next we have the opposite category, Best Use of Shape:
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The winner here was that lovely mermaid! It began life as a trout, but became so much more. Congratulations, Jenn!

The Most Artistic Cookies:
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The winner here was Mr. Menace, with the fire-elemental. Truly he has a talent for the frosting medium.

The Rookie Cookies:
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This vote ended up being a battle between two pop-culture titans – as well as between the couple who decorated them! It came down to one vote – for Raphael the Ninja Turtle, just beating out The Thing. Congratulations, Jill – I hope Matty has forgiven you.

The last category was also a subject of some shenanigans. This was the “What the Hell?!” category, a popular one in the voting. Technically, Mr. Menace won this category as well. However, he did not submit his own cookie for voting, and had already won, so I stepped in and judged in favor of the next cookie, the “Out of Body Experience” cookie by Emily. I am not going to post the picture directly because Mr. Menace’s cookie is…well, NSFW. I will link the photo page and you may click if you feel up to it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Congratulations on your win, Emily! Sorry your cookie shared a plate with…that.

To cleanse us of that image, here are some bonus photos from family Christmas:
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Aren’t they great? Mom did the elf, and my sister Kate made the Foofa and Megamind cookies (among others).

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Cookiethulu and a micro-cephalic angel.

My five-year old niece did this one:
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I think it’s pretty great! Then again, her mom did the Mega-mind in the first photo, so talent must be hereditary, though I think it skipped me.

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Kelly did the Big Bird!

Dad clearly likes the creative use of shape category:
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Thank you so much to everyone who came and decorated cookies with us! I feel so privileged to know so many amazing, creative people and I love sharing the holiday with you. I hope you have a very happy New Year, and that we will see you at Cookie Decorating 2011 – the Reckoning!

Dry Run

What an exciting week of running that was, folks! Our weekday mileage has increased to 17 total – 4 on Mondays, 6 on Tuesdays, and 7 on Thursdays – and I think the entire team is feeling it a bit. For one thing, working in a 7 mile run on your average Thursday can be a bit tough – Kelly and I resolved the problem by running directly from the office all the way home. Since we usually take the T to Central Square before running home, this was big change. Running through all of the folks in Downtown Crossing who are commuting home is a slightly crazy-making proposition, but we managed, and were rewarded with a gorgeous view of the Boston skyline at sunset courtesy of the Longfellow Bridge.

The other thing about our mileage increase is that, while I can’t speak for everyone else, my legs are tired. I wouldn’t say they’re sore, exactly, although sometimes that’s true, but they’re slightly stiff and I find myself noticing them more, which I realize is a bit vague but is the only way I can describe it. I am very aware of my legs.

Despite all of this, though, I have to say – this week’s long run may have been one of the best yet! This week we were able to run the last 17 miles of the marathon course – Children’s Hospital and The Liver Foundation (who all wore wacky Valentine’s Day related costumes) put together this amazing training run every year. Runners are bussed from the Riverside T stop out to Natick – and run right to the finish line! It was a wonderful opportunity to really understand some of the challenges of the route.

I’ll admit that I was nervous on the bus ride to Natick. Last week’s 15 miler had been pretty exhausting, and 17 miles seemed like an impossible number in my head. As I told Nandi, I couldn’t even wrap my head around it – it was too large.

When we reached our destination and started running I decided that the best way to approach the course was to do what I could and not worry about what everyone else was doing. This meant I lost Kelly and Nandi, who were keeping a brisk pace, pretty quickly, but since we had a clearly marked rendez-vous point at the end I wasn’t concerned. The weather was about as perfect for running as you could wish for – clear blue skies, sun, and just under 40 degrees. As I ran, I was in awe of how good my legs felt – no numbness or woodness, no real pain. I did have one terrifying moment around mile 6 when I bent to tie my shoe and something literally exploded in my right knee – I saw stars and was convinced I was done for, until I stood up and felt great! The slight stiffness in the knee was gone! If anyone has any explanation for this I would love to hear it.

Around mile 8 or so we started on the Newton hills and I was pleasantly surprised by how manageable they were! While I realize that in the real marathon I’ll have run about twice as far when I come across them I still feel like all of the hillwork we’ve done in the weekly runs is paying off. After the hills the course is pretty easy – a small climb in Coolidge Corner but that’s rewarded with what’s practically a downhill slope all the way to the finish line. In this week’s dry run I crossed it with a huge smile on my face – let’s hope I can do the same in April!

Alas, I have no pictures of this week’s run. Here’s one from last week’s pegleg run, for contrast:
Crushing Ennui
That’s Jess and I, exhausted from our efforts and the evil set of stairs at mile 14!  Note my sad, zombie-like demeanor.  Now imagine me bounding with joy – that was this week.

Big fundraising news!
1. I am over the minimum $3,250 threshold! Special thanks to the folks that made that happen this week: Kevin Kominsky, Matthew Fuller, my sister Kelly and most especially my dad! You are all amazing!
2. The staff teammates are hosting what promises to be a really fun trivia night at Crossroads Pub on 2/19, at 6 pm. Details are here. We only have room for 100 people, so please let us know if you plan to attend.
3. February Raffle! $1 for one chance, $5 for six, this month it’s going to be cookies. Your choice of chocolate chip, ginger molasses, brownies or lemon squares.
4.As always, you can check my fundraising progress, buy raffle tickets or make a donation here.

Holiday Happenings

I mentioned in the “Snowy Day” post that I would fill you in on the further details of our cookie decorating party, and here they are!

This is a tradition that started about four Christmases ago, when I was getting ready to prepare my usual cookie plates. A large bulk of the cookies are decorated sugar cookies – they’re festive and fun, not too difficult, and have a sweet simplicity that people seem to enjoy. However, in large quantities, they are horrifyingly tedious. Sugar cookies are refrigerator cookies – the dough needs to be chilled, then rolled out with a pin and cut into shapes, or rolled into a log and sliced into circles if you’re less ambitious. The baker then baby-sits umpteen cookie sheets at about 5-8 minutes each, finally decorating them when they’re cool. I prefer to make a simple icing, color it, and paint the cookies. Which is fun for about five cookies or so, but when one is making five dozen becomes the most boring task imaginable. I found I’d often resort to dipping cookies into one color or another just to be done. The joy was being sucked out of my holiday preparations!

Then, in 2006, it struck me that what I needed was help. Not only to reduce the number of cookies I was icing, but to inject a little fun into the proceedings. I decided to throw a party – not a cookie swap, I didn’t need cookies coming INTO the house, but a decorating soiree, complete with savory snacks and mulled wine! (Mulled wine is a sure-fire way to make your house smell like Christmas, as well as to make a $14 box of wine a completely acceptable beverage to serve to your guests. I’d link you a recipe, but I just use a tin of mulling spices and follow the directions on it. My only real addition – orange slices.) That first year just four folks came over, but we had such a grand time that I vowed never to ice alone again.

We’ve come a long way with this party – more participants, better snacks, and prizes for arbitrary categories of my choosing! This year I even made different sorts of sugar cookie – a regular batch, a double-vanilla batch, and a spiced batch. I nearly didn’t hold it this year, what with all of the Marathon baking, but I’m really glad I did. It’s a wonderful way to celebrate the season with good friends!

Here are this year’s winning cookies!

Best Traditional Cookie: Shaded Snowman
Traditional Snowman

Most Creative Use of Shape: Coyote from Dragonfly:
Coyote

Best Use of Color: Trout
Color winner

Most Evil Cookie: Blue Ghost
Hungry Ghosts

And last but not least…

What?!: Trojan Horse
Trojan Horse

Thank you to everyone who came out this year and celebrated with us! Merry Christmas to all who celebrate, and to those who don’t, Happy Year’s End!

Baking and Baking and Baking…

Week three of training is complete! We had our second coalition run this week, six miles that went by surprisingly quickly. Running with other people is essential as the mileage creeps up, otherwise the time can feel extremely long and tedious, despite the fact that I actually like running.

Yes, I will freely admit it. I LIKE TO RUN. People ask me all the time if I do, in this slightly incredulous tone, even more so now that I’m training for the marathon. “So, then do you LIKE to run? I mean…you must…” and then they trail off and look at me as though I were some exotic species of insect. Well, yes, I like to run. The first mile is never fun (our team coach, who has run some ridiculous number of marathons, also said this, so I know it’s not just me.) but there’s joy in the movement of a run for me. What can I say, I’m a lousy dancer, but this, I can do. In any case I’m rallying our team to meet on the weeks that the coalition doesn’t so that we can continue to support each other and keep the fun coming, even on the off weeks.

But what, I hear you thinking, does any of this have to do with baking? Well, in my endless quest to raise funds for this adventure I am going to be selling baked goods at a truly fabulous event, the second annual Comicazi-Con and Bad-Ass Bazaar!


Take one-half comic book convention and one-half holiday craft fair and stir – that’s Comicazi-Con! Some truly amazing artists and crafts people presented last year, and it looks like this year is going to be bigger and better than ever. My own humble little table will be groaning with the fruits of my labors – chocolate chip and ginger cookies, fudge, and other goodies all made from scratch. There will also be another pie raffle and just maybe a chance to win my mom’s amazing cheese cake! It’s all happening on December 12th from 10-4 at the Dilboy VFW Hall in Davis Square, so come check it out! I would be delighted to see all of the local folks who read this blog there.

Please note that I’ve added yet another team member’s blog to my round-up! Check out Laurelin’s blog for updates from our most far-flung teammate! Laurelin is a former employee of Boston Partners in Education and a super-fast runner, so her training adventures should be well-worth the read.

Speaking of reading, I’ve just taken Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running out of the Boston Public Library. Murakami is one of my favorite fiction writers – The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle remains one of the most lovely and strange novels I’ve ever read. The transition from fiction to non-fiction can be tricky, so we’ll see how Murakami fares, but he’s off to a good start in the foreword with a quote (the specific source isn’t stated) that really spoke to me – “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.” This sums up beautifully my philosophy not only of running, but for life. It hurts sometimes, but yes, I like to run.