Thursday, April 17, 2008

'Tis The Season For Passover Cookies (And A Guest Blogger!)

As you all may know, even though I love to cook, I do not bake (mostly out of concern for the safety of others). Fortunately for me, I have plenty of friends who do, and light years better than me I might add. So, here to satisfy your sweet tooth with a double post on Passover cookies is Alyssa, fellow home cook and substantially more successful baker. I've personally sampled the cookies myself and definitely give them the Olive Tree seal of approval. So without further ado, I turn the post over to Alyssa:

In high school, I worked at a bakery. It was one of my favorite jobs, because I got to sample all the fresh baked goods. My family is Italian so I was used to cannolis and the lesser known sfogliatelle (a flaky pastry filled with a sweet ricotta filling) but there was a whole other world of non-Italian treats, like hamantaschen and rugelach. It’s been 14 years since I left that job and I haven’t had good-quality versions of them since.

In honor of passover, I decided to try making them myself. I love cooking and baking is a good way to involve my son, Ethan. He’s only 2 so he can’t help me chop produce or stir sauces on the hot stove, but he can help measure ingredients and works a mean mixer. I’ve included him in my culinary experiments since he was only a year old. I found a hamantaschen recipe on Smitten Kitchen that seemed worth a shot. I followed the recipe almost exactly, only subbing whole wheat flour for 1/3 cup of the all-purpose flour she used. I also experimented with the filling. I did some with a traditional jam filling (I used strawberry). For others, I used nutella (the perfect compliment to the dough), peanut butter (came out dry), and peanut butter with chocolate chips (which also came out dry but I was willing to overlook it for the chips). My hands down favorite were the not-so-traditional nutella, because dessert is always better with chocolate. The hint of orange in the dough was the perfect accent to the chocolate hazelnut spread. My one word of advice: Make sure you really twist the corners of the dough when you are shaping the hamantaschen. The more I made, the harder I twisted, and when I pulled the trays out of the oven it was clear that I had not twisted the first few as much because they had flattened like jam-topped pancakes.

I used Ina Garten’s recipe for my rugelach. This is the second time I’ve used this recipe (the first at Christmas), and they were even better this time around. Although last time I followed the recipe exactly, this time I modified it a little bit. First I subbed whole-wheat for half the flour. I was recently told I have high cholesterol so my compromise with myself for baking cookies with 2 sticks of butter was to incorporate some whole grains into them. Second, the recipe calls for 8 oz of cream cheese. For some reason, I thought it called for about half that and bought an 8 oz block of cream cheese to split between both the hamantaschen dough and the rugelach dough. Ethan was already on his stool, posed over the mixer, so I didn’t want to deal with a last-minute trip the store. I had some leftover sour cream in the fridge from dinner the night before, so I used about 4 oz of cream cheese and 4 oz of sour cream. I don’t know if that is what made the cookies even more tender than the last time, but I plan to make this substitution every time. (bonus: the sour cream was reduced fat.)

The last switch I made was to the filling. I eliminate raisins and walnuts, just because I wasn’t in the mood. In half the cookies, I used strawberry jam instead of the apricot her recipe calls for because I wanted to use up the container in my fridge. And to the other half, I applied my “desserts need chocolate” rule and used chocolate chips.

Below is my modified rugelach recipe. The hamantaschen recipe is so close to the one on Smitten Kitchen, I’m not going to bother posting.

4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
4 ounces sour cream, at room temperature (I used reduced fat)
1/2-pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar plus 9 tablespoons
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 cup strawberry jam, whisked with a fork to loosen consistency
a couple of handfuls of chocolate chips
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon milk, for egg wash

Cream the cream cheese, sour cream and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light. Add 1/4 cup granulated sugar, the salt, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add both the all-purpose and whole-wheat flours and mix until just combined. Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and roll it into a ball. Cut the ball in quarters, wrap each piece in plastic, and refrigerate for 1 hour. (I refrigerated overnight.)

To make the filling, combine 6 tablespoons of granulated sugar, the brown sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon.

On a well-floured board, roll each ball of dough into a 9-inch circle. On two of the circles, spread the dough with 2 tablespoons strawberry jam and sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the filling. On the other two circles, sprinkle dough with 1/2 cup of the filling and top with a handful of chocolate chips. Press the filling lightly into the dough. Cut each circle into 12 equal wedges—cutting the whole circle in quarters, then each quarter into thirds. Starting with the wide edge, roll up each wedge. Place the cookies, points tucked under, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Brush each cookie with the egg wash. Combine 3 tablespoons granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon and sprinkle on the cookies. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove to a wire rack and let cool.

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