I generally don’t buy into all that “men are from mars, women are from venus” mumbo jumbo, but there are times when I think there are vast differences between the sexes. Remembering uncommonly detailed bits of conversation is one example. For as long as I’ve known my husband I’ve been asking questions like “What happened?” (when a buddy broke up with his girlfriend) or “What did she say?” (when my husband ran into said girlfriend a week later). On almost every occasion he simply shrugs: “I dunno. I didn’t ask.” Or worse, “I don’t remember.” I often ask myself: how is it possible for him to have a thirty-minute conversation without finding out why they broke up or whether there is hope of reconciliation? I met a friend at Alice’s Tea Cup more than two weeks ago and not only do I remember details but I could repeat entire sentences, word-for-word, if I wanted to. So you can imagine how gypped I feel every time I’m faced with this gulf in conversation style, right here, right now, between my husband and I. Especially when it comes to food.
As a gal who loves to bake but isn’t too keen on gaining weight, I often send the hubby to work with freshly baked cookies, muffins and cupcakes. I even sent cake once – cake! I am happy to perform this civil service for free, brightening corporate days with the generosity of my kitchen. But I do admit, I want to know what people say when they eat my food. Empty containers are not enough. Nor are intelligence reports like: “Well, they ate everything.” Yes. I can see that.
I share these heart-wrenching stories of a baker unfulfilled because I have a miracle to report. Yesterday my husband took a batch of the spiced sugar coins you see pictured above to his office, and he paid attention to what everyone said. Then he remembered what they said and guess what? He told me! Let us have a moment of silence for this momentous occasion. Our marriage has reached an awesome new level of communicative bliss.
According to a chap named Sam, these ‘coins’ are “Better than Pringles.” And when the hubby didn’t understand that comment because we rarely eat chips, he asked a follow up question: “Whatever do you mean Sam? How could sugary cookies taste like salty potato chips?” “Well,” replied Sam as he popped another cookie into his mouth, “They’re like Pringles because you can’t eat just one.” Never in my life have I been so thrilled to have my cookies compared to commercially prepared potato products.
The recipe for these spiced sugar coins is from “The Essential Baker” by Carole Bloom, which has been getting quite a bit of use in my kitchen these past few weeks. When I embarked on my goal to reach 125lbs I swore I would only bake twice a month, but I do have a review to write and how could I possibly do that without conducting proper research beforehand? Exactly. And in my own defense, you’ll notice that I have been working out a lot. Made using the refrigerator cookie method, these coins are easy to make. Flavored with cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg, these silver-dollar-sized cookies will fill your kitchen with a delightful aroma reminiscent of Fall, Thanksgiving and spiced cider. Given how blisteringly hot it’s been in CT these days I could use a blast of cool Autumn breezes, but for now I’ll have to make do with scents that remind me of the chilly weather to come.
The recipe is included below along with a review of “The Essential Baker,” and after the jump I filled out a meme called “Fantastic Four” because Scott tagged me.
Spiced Sugar Coins
Reprinted with permission from “The Essential Baker” by Carole Bloom.
Ingredients: Makes 5 dozen cookies
- 6 ounces (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar + 1/3 cup granulated sugar (divided use)
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or vanilla paste
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 extra large egg yolk
Place the butter in the bowl of an electric stand mixer or in a large bowl. Use the flat beater attachment or a hand-held mixer to beat the butter on medium speed until it’s fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of sugar, and cream together well. Stop occasionally and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
Add the vanilla to the butter mixture and blend well. Over a large piece of waxed or parchment paper or a bowl, sift together the flour, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. Add the nutmeg and salt and toss to blend. Add this mixture in 3 stages to the butter mixture. Stop after each addition and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Mix thoroughly.
Place two large sheets of waxed paper on a flat surface and divide the dough evenly onto them. Use the waxed paper to shape and roll the dough into cylinders about 10 inches long and 1 inch wide. Cover the cylinders tightly with the waxed paper and wrap each roll in plastic wrap. (I used an extra large ziploc bag instead). Chill in the freezer for 45 minutes or in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, until firm enough to slice.
Adjust the oven racks to the upper and lower thirds and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line each baking sheet with parchment paper or a non-stick baking liner. Using a fork, lightly beat the egg yolk in a small bowl. Divide the remaining 1/3 cup of sugar evenly between sheets of waxed or parchment paper. Unwrap each cylinder. Using a pastry brush or a spoon, coat the outside of each cylinder with yolk, then roll in the sugar, coating each completely.
Place the cylinders on a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, cut each cylinder into 1/2 inch slices. Cut straight down and roll the cylinder a quarter turn after every 6 slices so it will keep its round shape. If the dough becomes soft while you work with it, re-wrap it and chill for another 10 to 15 minutes, then continue slicing.
Place the slices on the baking sheets, leaving at least 1 inch of space between them. Bake for 5 minutes. Switch the baking sheets (between racks) and bake another 5 to 6 minutes, until set. Remove from the oven and cool the cookies completely.
* Note: Keep an eye on these cookies as the sugar along the edges can caramelize if it is too close to the heat source in your oven.
Storage: Store the cookies in an air-tight plastic container between layers of waxed paper at room temperature up to 1 week. A kitchen cupboard or the pantry is the ideal storage place.
Streamlining: The dough cylinders can be made and kept in the refrigerator 3 days before baking, tightly wrapped in several layers of plastic wrap.
Making a Change: Use 2 teaspoons of another single spice, such as cardamom, five-spice powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, or allspice, in place of the blend of cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.
Book Review: “The Essential Baker: The Comprehensive Guide to Baking with Chocolate, Fruit, Nuts, Spices and Other Ingredients” is a new book by Carole Bloom, who is a professional pastry chef and confectioner. As the title promises the contents include an impressive array of recipes that use everything from coffee & tea to vegetables & fruits as their main ingredients. More than this, however, Bloom’s recipes are unique, with a dash of sliced almonds adding both flavor and texture to banana muffins and pearl sugar enhancing the visual appeal of apple turnovers. I loved her recipes for coconut biscotti, jasmine tea cakes and spiced sugar coin cookies. Indeed, though I usually give away most of the goodies I bake, I couldn’t bring myself to share the biscotti with anyone other than my husband. On a few occasions I wasn’t entirely thrilled with the way a recipe turned out, but given my delight with other recipes I have to chalk this up to taste. One cannot expect every single recipe in a book to enthrall, after all, and modifications can always be made to suit your preferences.
Bloom’s instructions are clear and easy to follow, though the way ingredients are presented took some getting used to. Instead of listing ingredients before the recipe, as most cookbooks do, recipes are divided into stages with the ingredients for each stage listed beside the instructions. At first I didn’t like this aspect of the book, but as I continued to cook with it I realized that this arrangement a) forced me to read through the entire recipe before beginning, I’m a notorious improviser, and b) made it nearly impossible to become confused about which ingredient should be used where. Essential gear is listed along side the recipe, where helpful information is also included: storage tips, variations, and instructions for streamlining the baking process over more than one afternoon (i.e. How to begin cookies one day and finish them the next.) While I’m always appreciative of baking books that have photos for every recipe, the straightforward presentation of Bloom’s recipes made it easy to visualize the final result without an image. Photos for twenty recipes are collected in the center of the book, representing the various chapters, which include: fruit & vegetables; nuts & seeds; chocolate; dairy products (milk, cream, cheeses); spices & herbs; and coffee, tea, liqueurs & spirits. The first chapter is devoted entirely to baking techniques, language and an overview of essential baking gear.
Recipes range in difficulty from easy to challenging, so this may not be the best book for a novice baker. Yet those with baking experience and a curiosity for novel recipes may want to check it out. From Key Lime Squares and Raspberry-Blueberry Galettes to Pomegranate Butter Cookies and Triple Vanilla Souffle, there is something in this book to pique everyone’s interests.
// Edit: After I posted this entry Pamela over at Wiley Books contacted me to donate 6 more books to the raffle, one of which is “The Essential Baker.” New grand total? 76 books!
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