Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Sweet Tradition

Cookie baking is one of my favorite things about the Christmas season. It is synonymous with snow storms, candles, Handel’s Messiah, sparkly white lights, sweet smells, and happy smiles.

Never mind that I live in Virginia and we rarely have real snow storms. Or that I don’t have a radio, tape deck, or CD player in my kitchen (only the one on the computer and it’s finicky and doesn’t count). Or that I get royally pissed off at my kids when I’m up to my elbows in butter and greasy cookie sheets and they insist on pulling up stools (that would be FOUR stools, one for each kid) so they can sample the dough or grab spoons to stir while simultaneously brushing the little piles of sugar and flour that are dotting my kitchen counter to the floor via their shirt sleeves.

Nobody smiles all that much.

And never mind that I do too much cookie-tasting myself and end up feeling sick and not wanting to cook supper, but my kids are starving hungry (because I only let them have one cookie sample) so they are grumpy and mad at me and I’m mad at them and then Mr. Handsome walks in the door and I’m mad at him, too, just because he’s in my house and his presence hasn’t miraculously vanished all my problems since there is still sugar and flour on the floor, mounds of dirty cookie sheets, measuring cups, and stainless steel bowls cluttering up the sink, and piles of cookies on the cooling rack and I haven’t even gotten around to icing them yet, and, oh crap!—there is a still a tray of cookies in the oven and they are way past the golden-brown stage. It's usually right about then that an enormous wave of cabin fever washes over me and I bellow at everyone that I am leaving and I throw on my jacket, stomp out of the house, and take off down the road for a breath of fresh air, the children’s wails fading into the distance.

Baking cookies was a lot easier back when I was in highschool. My mom let me make as many cookies as I wanted as long as I cleaned up my mess. One year I made a list of all the cookies I baked. I kept this little scrap of paper---hold on a second, will you? It should be in the back of my recipe file...

Okay, here it is: sugar cookies, gingerbread boys, brownies, chocolate chip cookies, Russian tea cakes, peppernuts, peanut butter cookies with Hershey Kisses, lemon cookies, molasses cookies, coconut macaroons, hard tack, and mint-chocolate chip cookies. There are some other cookies on the list that do not have a check by them, so I assume I did not get around to making them: lemon squares, butterscotch cookies, stained glass windows, fruit cookies, and chocolate covered pretzels.

I would make oodles of cookies all December long and then come the last day of school before Christmas vacation I would fix little plates of cookies, bundling them up in plastic wrap, pulling all the corners up to a festive peak above the plate and tying them together with some Christmas ribbon, the ends zipped curly with a pair of scissors. I delivered the cookie plates to all my teachers, and the bus driver.

I still make cookies, but not as many as I did when in highschool. On Saturday I made a list of different ideas, being sure to include all of the Cookie Food Groups—lemon, chocolate, nuts, iced, plain sugar, fruit filled, ginger, and coconut. I think I have all my bases covered. One of our most anticipated and talked about (among the children) Christmas traditions is our Cookie Breakfast: on Christmas morning we have a huge plate of cookies for breakfast (after the requisite scrambled eggs—I’m not a complete glutton for punishment), and the children are allowed to eat however much they want. It’s a pretty important tradition.

So, all this to say that this cookie-baking season I will do my best to type up all of my Christmas cookie recipes, so brace yourself for some sweet writings, okay?

***

I made some Truffle Brownies the other day, just as an experiment.


Now, after eating them for a couple days, I have decided that this recipe is not really a brownie recipe after all. See, brownies are a dessert for any day, for anybody—kids, grown-ups, your great aunt Eunice, the dog. You can eat a couple pieces in one sitting and not feel too gross.

By that definition, these so-called truffle brownies are most definitely not brownies (thus the name change to "Chocolate Truffle Cake"). For one thing, they call for dark chocolate which tends to be too strong for children (and Mr. Handsome, who, believe it or not, does not really care for chocolate, poor guy). For another thing, there is coffee liqueur in both the batter and the ganache, and while I can not taste any alcohol in the batter, the ganache has a pleasant, very adult-ish, zing to it.


The bottom line: When I want to have a brownie, I will still turn to my basic brownie recipe, but this is a darn good decadent chocolate dessert (that was redundant, I do believe) of the snobby sort. However, it prefers to stand alone, so don’t go stuffing it on any plastic-wrapped Christmas platters.

Chocolate Truffle Cake
Adapted from The All-American Cookie Book, by Nancy Baggett

Remember, your truffle cake will only be as good as your chocolate, so it doesn’t pay to scrimp.

You may want to serve the cake with some whipped cream which will help to cut the dense richness. (Whipped cream is somehow able to cozy up to the snobbiest among us, desserts included.)

6 ½ ounces bittersweet chocolate, broken into bits
1 ½ ounces unsweetened chocolate, broken into bits
1 stick butter
3/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons, sugar
1 ½ tablespoons coffee liqueur (I used Caffe Lolita)
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 eggs
½ cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

In a heavy bottomed saucepan, melt the butter and chocolate on low heat. Remove from the heat and add the sugar, liqueur, and vanilla, and eggs. Stir in the flour, salt, and baking soda. Pour the batter into a greased 9-inch square pan and bake at 350 degrees for about twenty minutes (the toothpick will still be wet, but not gloppy-gooey). Cool completely.

For the ganache:
1/3 cup cream (the heavier the better)
1 ½ tablespoons coffee liqueur
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, broken into bits

Simmer the cream and the liqueur in a saucepan on the stove. Melt the chocolate in the microwave (or in a double boiler on the stove top). Add the chocolate to the cream. The chocolate will seize up, but do not panic, just continue to stir it steadily and it will smooth out. Pour the ganache through a sieve to eliminate the remaining few lumps, cool it slightly (by the time you get it through the sieve, it will probably have cooled enough), and pour it over the cake. Using a rubber spatula or knife, smooth the ganache out all the way to the cake’s edges. Cover the cake with plastic and refrigerate.

Note: You can substitute strong dark coffee for the coffee liqueur.


Ps. I just read this out loud to Yo-Yo and Miss Becca Boo, and Miss Becca Boo informed me that she, too, likes the truffle cake. So I guess it’s not totally an adult thing after all.

Note: This cake freezes well. Just cut it into pieces, package in a box (or plastic wrap), and stash it away. When the chocolate cravings hit, you will be so glad you saved some.

9 comments:

  1. What great times we had at your parents place over Christmas. Endlessly eating from the piled high plate of cookies you baked to perfection. Stored separately in their own plastic bag with a twisty so that when assembled together for dessert they each had their own flavor and the lemon bars and snicker doodles didn't taste like a peanut butter cookie. With coffee to go with them.(that was before I had my own coffee maker and coffee was a rare delight I only got at other peoples houses) How many years ago was that? We did have fun... sniff sniff.

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  2. I forgot to sign my comment.

    -Aunt V.

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  3. Yeah, I remember those high school days. Yum!

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  4. My dear, sweet friend, Mama JJ dropped by this afternoon with a casserole of her Potatoes in Cream with Gruyere (from her "I'm in Love" post) and a large piece of this Chocolate Truffle Cake. My, oh, my. Both were delicious (Stinker JJ took me up on the challenge I left -via comment- on her potato dish post). They were both delicious- I will eat those potatoes in a box, on a plane, with a fox, you name it. When Sam stood up to take his dishes over, he announced, "THANK YOU, Jennifer!". Thank you, dear.

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  5. Wow, a cookie breakfast - you are clearly the best mom in the whole world! :D

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  6. Ah. So you don't actually like the actof baking cookies with your children; you just like the *idea* of it. Because the idea of it has lots of warm fuzzies which immediately go out the window as soon as you actually begin doing it. Yup, I am that way, too. With a LOT of things involving my children. The reality is not quite as lovely as the thought.

    Hardtack is a cookie? I thought it was a nasty hard biscuit that soldiers ate back in the old days. (We made some once; Spaz liked it; go figure.) Did you put that in there just to see if people would notice?

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  7. Thy Hand, I'm so glad you liked the eats. I forgot to tell you that the potatoes were topped with sharp cheddar because I ran out of Gruyere---didn't meant to be deceiving you. I had a pan of potatoes at home for myself and that's all I had for supper.

    40winkzzz, Hardtack is a homemade hard candy, all different kids of flavors. I wasn't trying to trick anyone, but I am impressed with how closely you pay attention. (You probably catch all my schpelin/gramr erers, two, huh?)

    -JJ

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  8. Oh yes, Lily Girl, being the best mom in the world comes natural to me, thanks to my sweet tooth! I think all those newfangled parenting books are missing the truth: the only thing a parent needs in order to be effective and successful is a stash of homemade cookies in the freezer, but I guess they can't say that because it wouldn't make them much money...

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  9. Wow, that chocolate cake looks good!
    Thanks for your compliment about Hen.
    He is a loving little boy in addition to his angelic
    looks. I feel so fortunate to be able to be at
    home with him.

    Hear you are having visitors in a couple of weeks.
    Have fun.

    ~Kim

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