Early mornings at my grandparent’s house in Puerto Rico were extraordinarily beguiling and captivating. My older sister, Cynthia, and I awoke every morning in the soft, white-cloud canopy of mosquito nets hung from hooks embedded in lofty ceilings. In the drowsy world of being not quite awake, as we stirred, not yet aware of sights and sounds, we felt like brides…or princesses. As we lay in our beds savoring the last vestiges of morning coolness, we took pleasure in the cooing of doves outside our windows. The gentle swish, swish, swish of slippers against old floor tiles signaled the house was coming to life and someone, thank you God!, was making coffee. Even as little girls we always drank coffee. Everyone did. I remember my mother laughing as she told me the story of my Tio Roberto and coffee. Mama said my uncle was a young boy of maybe five or six years old when my grandfather found him somewhat wistful and down in the mouth. Tio Roberto was my grandfather’s favorite boy and couldn’t bear to see him unhappy. “Mi nene, pero que te pasa”? “My son, what’s wrong?” In a low voice my uncle answered, “Aye, Papa! I hate school!” “But why?”, asked my grandfather. Tio Roberto answered, “I miss my 10:00 cafe con leche.” That cracks me up every time I think about it. His father replied, “Well, you don’t have to go to school. Stay home and have your cafecito as long as you want.” Can you imagine saying that to your kindergartener? And so my uncle did. Everyday my mother, aunts and uncles would pile into the coach to be driven to school while my Tio Roberto stayed home…alone…with no one to play with. No brothers to go fishing or ride together. No brothers to climb trees with or sisters to tease. That had to be hell. That lasted two or three days, he gave up his mid-morning coffee and back to school he happily went.
Breakfast in Puerto Rico was always modest and light. Don’t get me wrong, it was always enjoyable but never heavy with pancakes and meat and cheesy casseroles. Breakfast typically consisted of strong Puerto Rican coffee laced with steamed whole milk and a generous spoonful of island sugar. Oh, but it was good! Alongside jugs of ice-cold water, one at each end of the table, were baskets of crackers to be eaten with a little local cheese or butter. And there was, without fail, fresh fruit. Luscious wheels of deep, coral-red papaya or sweet, golden pineapple beautifully carved and laid out on platters would complete the meal. But if we were really lucky we would be served guava paste or guava spread. Guava and cream cheese spread is sublime offered firm and cold from the refrigerator or warm and runny having been freshly made. These days it’s a beautiful addition not only at breakfast or brunch but also at cocktail hour. The addition of the cream cheese and sour cream in the recipe lends the spread the perfect balance of sweet and savory. It’s beautiful at a shower, picnic or pool party and lasts forever covered in the refrigerator. Here in Florida guava paste may be found on the bread aisle at Winn-Dixie and on the canned fruit aisle at Publix. If you can’t find it just ask. And last, I buy the guava paste cryovaced in block form made by Goya. Buen provecho!
It’s Fall and I’m back! Without explaining my absence let’s just say this past year has been…hmmm…I’ll be positive about it and say it’s been a year of growth. Fall on your knees and cry out kind of growth. Ugh. I despise the process but I’m pretty sure it’s made me a much stronger and better person. That said let’s get on with Fall! The weather FINALLY turned last night and Fort Lauderdale woke up to a cool, crisp 57°. Here in SoFlo that’s fireplace weather. This sweet treat is just the ticket with a cup of hot coffee or tea or a cold glass of milk. These cookies are ridiculously easy to make and will fly out of your house. I’ve also baked them with coconut chips and raisins. Yes, they can be made with chocolate chips and I suppose they’re good but I’m not a big fan of chocolate chips in my cookies. Call me crazy, I don’t care. These cookies, however, are chewy and rich…the buttery toffee bits complement the oatmeal perfectly. The cookies travel well, whether in a lunch box or through the mail to your favorite college student. I hope you enjoy them!
My father is 94 years old. He lives at home, in the house I grew up in. He takes no medications. None. His preventive regimen consists of vitamins, little or no red meat and more green, leafy vegetables than one can imagine. And it’s all organic. His Achilles heel is his sweet tooth. He has commanded no more cakes or pies to be baked for him. He has no self-discipline. These cookies are different. Not too sweet and pretty clean. I believe he’ll embrace and enjoy the fruits of this recipe. I’m almost certain I’ve developed a wheat allergy so I’ve been trying to figure out how to have the occasional treat without sneezing and coughing. I’m done with red, watery, old-lady eyes and a constant, bothersome post nasal drip.
I fashioned these based on my breakfast cookie. That said, these cookies rock. Made with dark chocolate, they satisfy sweet cravings at first bite. Even Daddy loved them. I replaced conventional white, bleached, wheat flour with almond and coconut flours. In lieu of white sugar, (so bad for you!), I used coconut sugar. The result is a thick, chewy, healthful cookie studded with gorgeous, dark chocolate chips all gooey and soft. I don’t bake them often, they may contain good fats but they’re still fats, however, these make a wonderful occasional indulgence. And my family loves them. Hope ya’ll do, too!
Winter in Florida means citrus…jacked up citrus. It’s the season for heavy with juice, dimple skinned, brilliantly colored oranges, lemons, limes and kumquats all begging to be juiced, baked or eaten out of hand. I had a hankering for a crunchy dunking cookie and this is the end result. I debated whether to drizzle a little icing or dark chocolate over the tops, both go so well with orange, but I opted for neither and went for a more European, unadorned cookie. And healthful. No white flour allowed today. In working with the recipe I used pecans in some batches and walnuts in others. Both are excellent but only if toasted prior to baking otherwise the nuts are bland and lost in the biscotti. It’s a simple recipe and easy.
As I’ve written in other posts, I strongly, strongly suggest using parchment paper to line your baking sheet. It can be found at the grocery store but the paper is in a roll like tin foil or wax paper which makes it tricky to work with. The ends of the paper curl imitating the roll in the box. Flat sheets are found in many food warehouses and are much, much cheaper. Leave them to cool completely before storing them and the cookies will remain crisp. Dunk in a cup of coffee, hot tea or a glass of milk for a satisfying treat.
100% Whole Wheat, Orange, Nut and Olive Oil Biscotti
Early to bed, early to rise. I am an early riser. Often I awaken in darkness and have some version of the following conversation with myself. “If I get up now I can pull some butter and cream cheese out of the refrigerator to soften on the counter while I have my coffee. Am I going to even use the butter and cream cheese? And I can look through some cookbooks for inspiration. Do I have any eggs? What was it I ran out of and was supposed to get at the store? Did I remember to get it?” Wide awake I grab the clock to learn it’s 4:17 in the morning. Ugh. I lie in bed as long as I can and then that’s it. I have to get up…have to. It’s still too early to wake the household with my banging about, but I WILL quietly pad to the kitchen, prepare the morning coffee and mull over what it is I want to cook or bake. The morning is deliciously dark, the kitchen hushed and still. It is an exquisite peace, well worth leaving 1200 thread count sheets. No phones ringing, no dog barking, too early for music, my thoughts silently bounce around my noggin with the speed of a crazy ball. This morning I focused on pecans. And butter. Brown butter. And cookies. With a glaze. More brown butter. Rum? Uh-uh…too harsh. Bourbon, yeah, bourbon. A bourbon and brown butter glaze. Bingo. I know what I want to do with the morning. Pecans mean autumn to me as does brown butter. I pull out books, pens, recipes and notebooks. My coffee sits on the window sill of the kitchen as I settle into the window box to sip and see what I can come up with. I know everyone’s excited about pumpkin right now but I just can’t. I’m sorry. I’m already over and done with all the pumpkin. Pumpkin lattes, coffee cake, Rice Krispy treats, cinnamon rolls and snickerdoodles. Maybe sometime I’ll bake off some pumpkin bread but that’s it for pumpkin. Maybe some soup, too. However, pecans? Georgia pecans? Oh, hell yes. Pecans say college ball, the occasional lit fireplace, short days and cool nights. Pecans say gumbo parties, your favorite boots, cashmere, apples and no bad hair days. The result of all this is a cookie that will blow your cozy, autumnal socks off. The glaze is not at all boozy but a warm, soft blanket of icing with the deep, smooth flavor of butter hinting towards bourbon . The cookie is ever so slightly crisp at the edge becoming chewy, salty and buttery with the joyous meeting of sweet pecan to tastebud. Good Lord, but they were good! I say were because I had to get them out of the house. Too much temptation for this girl.
It’s an easy cookie but because the butter is melted when browned, the dough is best chilled overnight. I put together my dough in the afternoon and bake the cookies off the following morning up to a day later. I bake them for exactly 12 minutes because I have a “hot” oven. I need to buy a new oven thermometer and calibrate it but until that happens I’ll just keep a watchful eye on what’s baking. Also, with holiday baking right around the corner, I strongly urge you to pick up a pack of parchment paper. I find the packs at food warehouses and Michael’s craft store also sells it. The packs are by far easier to use rather than the parchment paper rolls sold in boxes. The edges of the boxed paper curl uncontrollably back to their boxed form. Plus I believe the packages are infinitely cheaper. To form the cookies I used a medium cookie scoop which holds 1 1/2 tablespoons. I packed the dough in generously with a bit extra spilling out.
Brown Butter Pecan Shortbread Cookies with Brown Butter Bourbon Icing
2 1/2 cup toasted pecans (400° for 7 minutes), roughly chopped
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
Bourbon Brown Butter Glaze:
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup bourbon
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
Extra pecan halves for decoration, optional
In a large, heavy bottomed pot brown the butter over medium heat. Stir continuously and briskly to ensure even browning. It will foam up and begin to brown from the center of the pot. Continue stirring until the butter turns a dark brown. Allow to cool 10-15 minutes off the heat.
Pour browned butter into a large bowl and add both brown sugars. Mix to combine then add eggs and vanilla. Mix well.
In a separate bowl combine flour, salt and baking powder. Stir to combine.
Add toasted, chopped pecans to brown butter/sugar mixture and stir well.
Add flour mixture to the wet pecan mixture and beat until all ingredients are well incorporated.
Transfer dough to plastic wrap, shape into a ball, wrap well and chill the dough in the refrigerator until hard and set. I find overnight is best.
When dough has chilled sufficiently pre-heat oven to 350° and line your baking sheets with parchment paper.
Using a medium cookie scoop, cut out dough and place on parchment lined baking sheets. 12 mounds per sheet works best.
Cover the bottom of a smooth meat pounder, salad plate or small flat-bottomed bowl with plastic wrap and press down on each ball of dough so that it measures about 2 1/2″ in diameter.
Bake for 12 minutes. Check the bottom of a cookie for browning and if further baking is needed return to oven checking every 2 minutes. These cookies firm up on top once out of the oven so take care not to over bake.
Cool on baking sheet for 3-4 minutes then transfer to cooling rack until completely cool.
Bourbon Brown Butter Glaze
Place glazing butter in a small heavy bottomed pot and melt over medium heat.
Remove from heat when the butter is dark brown.
Carefully, because it will pop and splatter, pour in bourbon and stir vigorously. The alcohol will burn off but you’ll still be left with that caramel like bourbon flavor.
Stir in confectioner’s sugar and continue stirring until the glaze is smooth and there are no lumps of sugar.
If the glaze is too thick add milk, water or bourbon one teaspoonful at a time taking care not to make it too runny as you’ll spread the glaze with the back of a spoon.
Spread one teaspoonful of glaze over each cookie using the back of the spoon to swirl it around and cover the top of the cookie.
Finish each cookie with one perfect pecan halve pressed into glaze.
If it’s October then it’s time to celebrate my father’s birthday…his 93rd birthday this year! This past year has been kind of hard on him; Mom died last November and Dad has slowed down considerably. Well, for him anyway. We still go to our chosen outdoor organic market one town over every Saturday morning. I treasure those mornings. Each trip, even during the week to the grocery store, I learn something about him. From the mundane minutiae to the spectacular. And laugh? Oh, do we laugh! Here’s an inside fact about Dad that even some of his closest friends didn’t know. And I don’t have to be concerned that Daddy might find out; he’s internet savvy but has no interest at all in reading my blog. His feeling is “Once you’ve seen one church or museum, you’ve seen them all.” Whaaaat? I tell him, “Dad! It’s a cooking blog.” And he always responds, “No, I’m not interested!”. Although Dad is a thin as a rail and a vegetarian, his resolve and self-discipline is weak as a baby when it comes to sweets. There…it’s out. Bake him a pie, some cookies or some sort of crisp or crumble and he will protest vehemently because he knows what’s coming. The following day, after taking possession of the unwelcome sweet he’ll call and in a defeated tone, and it’s always the same, he’ll say, “Vishinsky, you’re not going to believe this. I had my dinner and thought I’d have a slice of that pie you dropped off. I really liked it so I thought I’d have another piece…not a big one just a little piece. So I did. Then I thought, “Well, I can have another taste. And you know what happened, Vishinsky?”. And that’s my cue to answer, “Oh no, Dad. What happened?”. He always answers the same way, “You know what happened. You KNOW what happened! I ate the whole thing. I felt sick, SICK, afterwards. Sick. I’m never eating pie again. Ever! So don’t make me any. Don’t make me anything. I’ve sworn off all sugar. Really. I mean it.” But he doesn’t. I’ll go back with a blueberry cobbler or peach tart and his eyes will light up. “Just leave it on the counter. I’ll have some after lunch. Thanks, Vishinsky, that’s great!” And since he never reads my blog, I’ll tell y’all something else. Sometimes I lie to him and tell him there’s no sugar in the, say cobbler, nope, no sugar at all. “Just a little honey, Dad. Greek Thyme honey, Dad, from the mountains of Greece. You’ll like it!” I feel he could use a bit of weight. Sweet Jesus, he only weighs about 120 pounds and that’s way too thin. So what’s a little sugar and butter?
So for this birthday he received a homemade sweet potato bread, a blueberry cobbler, four dark chocolate bars from Whole Foods and the following Key Lime Shortbread cookies with Key Lime Glaze. He loved them all and hasn’t gotten sick yet. Happy Birthday, Jungle Jack!
In a food processor pulse granulated sugar and Key Lime zest until the pieces of zest are small, about the size of a grain of short grain rice. This can also be done by hand on a cutting board mincing the zest with the sugar. Set aside.
Using a large bowl and hand mixer beat butter until light and fluffy.
Add granulated sugar/key lime mixture to the butter and mix well.
Add the confectioner’s sugar, Key Lime juice, vanilla and salt and mix well.
By hand gently fold in flour and incorporate just until the flour is mixed in.
Transfer dough to plastic wrap and shape into a log roughly 18″ long. Wrap well and chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour or until firm.
Slice into rounds 1/4″-1/2″ thick and place on parchment lined baking sheet 1″ apart.
Bake 22-25 minutes or until barely golden on the edges.
Cool 10 minutes on baking sheet then transfer cookies to cooling rack.
While cookies are cooling place all ingredients for the glaze in a small bowl and mix until the sugar and salt have completely dissolved.
Put about 1 teaspoon of glaze in the middle of the cooled cookies and, using the back of a spoon, swirl the glaze covering the top of the cookie. Place on cooling racks set over baking sheets and let glaze set and harden to touch.
How many times is a kindness extended to you and a grateful “thank you!” just isn’t quite enough? I don’t know about you but it happens to me quite often. From your manicurist who graciously fits you in for that emergency mani when she clearly doesn’t have the time to the seamstress at your dry cleaner who will have your LBD back to you altered and pressed in time for the funeral your weight gain didn’t take into consideration. These acts of generosity are evident time and again in my day-to-day life and in the lives of my loved ones. My 93-year-old father has a whole support group who work at Publix and make the quality of his life much better from engaging him in conversation to helping him choose the most nutritious almond milk. Kesha and David can’t replace my mother but their attentions make him feel valued and respected. I can certainly tip the skycap who didn’t charge me when my suitcase was four pounds over last week but I don’t have the money to do that for someone I deal with on a weekly basis. That’s when I put together a pretty bag of goodies. Here in Boston a certain dental office bent over backwards to take care of us during a little “cosmetic” emergency. I wanted to say thank you not only to the dentist who saved the day but also to his staff who got us in ASAP and treated us with the utmost warmth and concern. I thought most definitely wine for the kind doctor and how about a sweet treat for the wonderful ladies at the front desk? Our apartment is fabulous but I am really limited as to cooking and baking tools. I brought my knives and sharpener from home and picked up a few essentials on Newbury Street…bowls, spatulas etc. I always set aside an empty wine bottle in the kitchen in the event I need a rolling-pin. But I don’t have a food processor or hand mixer. I decided on biscotti since I don’t need any special equipment, they’re easy to prepare and travel well. Dunk them in coffee or vin santo. Grab one for breakfast or a snack on the fly. This recipe produces a firm biscotti but not one that will break a tooth. They seem a bit soft when taken out of the oven for the final cooling but will harden sufficiently by the time they’re completely cool. Enjoy them and thank you!
1 tablespoon dried EDIBLE lavender flowers, rough chop optional
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 pinch salt
8 ounces white chocolate
In a large bowl combine lemon zest and juice, sugar, butter, lemon and vanilla extracts and eggs. Mix until all ingredients are well combined.
In a separate bowl mix flour, lavender, baking powder and salt.
Add flour mixture to lemon-egg mixture and mix until all ingredients are combined.
Cover with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350° and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Cut dough into equal halves and spray a little non-stick pan spray on hands to keep dough from sticking.
Form dough into rectangular logs measuring roughly 11 X 4 X 1. Smooth tops and sides.
Bake 25 minutes and cool on racks for 10-15 minutes.
With a bread knife or serrated knife cut logs on the diagonal about 1 1/2″ thick.
Reduce heat to 325°, place cookies cut side up back on parchment lined baking sheets and bake 5 minutes.
Turn over cookies baking the other cut side 5 more minutes.
Cool on wire racks. Cookies will seem soft when just out of oven but will firm up as they cool.
Melt white chocolate over double boiler. When chocolate has almost but not quite melted completely drizzle over cookies or dip in one end of each cookie. Or dip one cut side. Place on parchment paper to set. If white chocolate cools and thickens while working with it place back in double boiler and stir until warm and easy to work with.