Red Velvet Snowball Cookies

IMG_3610Now that I’ve completed my last stretch of college, I’ve been unwinding by baking up quite a storm. Baking is such a relaxing activity to me. The methodical weighing, stirring, baking, and even washing up the avalanche of dishes that I aim to pack as much of as possible on the drying rack – it’s all very comforting to me. Humans find meaning in creating, and a part of me might be quite content to be home all day, baking Christmas cookies. (And folding origami while I wait for the cookies to bake. I was attempting this origami spring and despite two attempts, it was a veritable failure.

IMG_3602Luckily, these red velvet snowball cookies are the prettiest little mounds, aren’t they? I really love red velvet anything for its visually arresting color contrast. The pictures have a wintery blue cast over them, and I didn’t edit it out because I rather liked the blue’s effect against the red. The texture of these are really like regular shortbread cookies – buttery, a little sandy texture that melts in your mouth. They aren’t very sweet by themselves as well, and absolutely need the dusting of confectioner’s sugar to taste good.

IMG_3603I halved the original recipe because I didn’t want to deal with 4 dozen of the same thing, and since there weren’t any eggs, halving was easy. That’s why I think a digital weighing scale is essential for any home baker – your baking gets so much more precise, and it’s also much easier to scale down recipes for a smaller home. I weighed my mounds out to 17 g each, and ended up with 25 mounds.

It’s only a few more days before Christmas. Keep baking while you can!

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Red Velvet Snowball Cookies
Makes 2 dozen
Adapted from Baking Bites

3/4 cups butter, room temperature
1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cocoa powder
approx. 1/2 tsp red food coloring
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup almond flour/meal
extra confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 375F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, beat together butter, sugar, vanilla and salt until smooth and creamy. Beat in cocoa powder and red food coloring until the mixture is bright red. Add additional coloring if needed.
Gradually incorporate the flour and ground almonds, mixing until no streaks of dry ingredients remain.
Shape dough into 1-inch balls and place on prepared baking sheet.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the edges of the cookies are very lightly browned.
Allow cookies to cool for 3-4 minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. When cooled, roll cookies in confectioners’ sugar until well-coated in white “snow.”
Store in an airtight bag.
Cool completely on a wire rack before storing.

Chocolate Whiskey Cake

IMG_3583When I saw this recipe, I instantly knew I had to make it. I know I’ve been diverting my attention lately to more European desserts, but you could never tear me away from anything combining chocolate and whiskey. I was deciding between using Jim Beam and some cheapo scotch lying around, and went for the scotch because I was counting on all that sugar and chocolate to cover it up. Cooking is the best way to use up bad alcohol anyway.

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What was interesting about this recipe was the preparation technique. I had to heat up a saucepan with coffee, butter, whiskey and cocoa powder, and then the addition of sugar turned it into a gloopy, caramelly liquid. Fortunately the cake turned out well, though. I really liked the slightly crisp muffin top-esque shell that formed, which was a nice foil against the tender and moist crumb. The chocolate chips added some gooey-ness to its insides so it was reminiscent of a molten chocolate cake. It didn’t taste very alcoholic at all, and I wish it had. This is a very decadent cake, and in a future iteration I might add a pinch of salt, or sub some of the coffee with whiskey, or omit the chocolate chips.

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Note: Although the recipe called for making a whole cake, I think the cake would benefit greatly from being split up into about 8 or so 3.5-inch ramekins, or even cupcakes. Reduce the bake time accordingly. You’d also get that delicious crusty muffin top.

Chocolate Whiskey Cake
Makes 1 10-inch round cake
Adapted from NYTimes

INGREDIENTS

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces, more for pan
85 grams unsweetened cocoa powder (about 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons)
1 1/2 cups brewed strong coffee
1/2 cup whiskey
200 grams granulated sugar (about 1 cup)
156 grams light brown sugar (about 1 cup)
240 grams all-purpose flour (about 2 cups)
8 grams baking soda (about 1 1/2 teaspoons)
3 grams fine sea salt (about 3/4 teaspoon)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground clove (I omitted)
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used regular chocolate chips)
Powdered sugar, for serving (optional)

PREPARATION

1.Heat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 10-inch springform pan. Dust with 2 tablespoons cocoa powder.
2. In a medium saucepan over low heat, warm coffee, whiskey, 12 tablespoons butter and remaining cocoa powder, whisking occasionally, until butter is melted. Whisk in sugars until dissolved. Remove from heat and cool completely.
3. In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, pepper and cloves. In another bowl, whisk together eggs and vanilla. Slowly whisk egg mixture into chocolate mixture. Add dry ingredients and whisk to combine. Fold in chocolate chips.
4. Pour batter into prepared pan. Transfer to oven and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center emerges clean, 55 to 65 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack, then remove sides of pan. Dust with powdered sugar before serving, if you like.

Vanillekipferl (Vanilla Almond Crescent Cookies)

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Vanillekipferl originated from Vienna, Austria, and are popular in Central European countries. Shortbread-like in texture, they are buttery and crumbly but with an additional almond nuttiness. These are often consumed in association with Christmas, and have similar variations around the world: Mexican wedding cookies, pecan sandies, Chinese almond cookies, Greek kourabiedes, polvorones… It’s interesting that in almost all of these cases, almond crescent cookies are associated with celebratory events. I wonder what it is about almonds that make them such a popular choice for fêtes.

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These cookies were super simple to make. Mixing it up didn’t require any special techniques, and the key thing is probably refrigerating the dough. Refrigerating the dough before shaping them is essential for easy maneuverability. I personally found the shaping process very comforting. I tend towards drop cookies, so shaped cookies are quite a change of pace for me. I also used vanilla essence instead of vanilla beans because that stuff is expensive, yo. I weighed each dollop of dough in order to achieve consistency, and that might be a good idea if you want your cookies to bake evenly. I would also recommend sprinkling the sugar when the cookies are still warm: this will ensure that the sugar adheres to the cookie as it cools down.

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Vanillekipferl
Adapted from Allrecipes
Makes 30 cookies

3/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup white sugar
2 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup almond flour
2 cups confectioners’ sugar for rolling

In a medium bowl, cream together the butter and white sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time. Add vanilla essence. Mix in the flour and ground almonds. Divide the dough into two pieces, wrap and refrigerate until firm.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Break off tablespoonful sized pieces of dough and roll them into little ropes about 2 inches long. Bend the ropes into a half circle and place them 2 inches apart onto the prepared cookie sheets.
Bake for 10 to 15 minutes in the preheated oven, until lightly browned. Carefully roll warm cookies in the sugar.

Carrot Cake, French-Style

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This was an interesting cake to make. It was a joint creation between my French classmate and I for our presentation on David Lebovitz. He explains it better, but this cake is French because it originated from Provence. The French are very traditional with their desserts, and adding vegetable to cakes is quite unusual for them. This cake was handed around in class, and garnered pretty positive responses. The texture is less cake-like and more like a soft granola bar, due to the almond chunks. It’s like a Rice Krispie in terms of density and airiness. The carrots, although brightly coloring the cake, tasted unobtrusive and I thought the true star were the almond pieces that provided a nutty chew.

Making this would be substantially easier with a food processor or pre-chopped almonds. The grated carrots need to be relatively fine too. We had altered the original recipe by doubling up on the grated carrot, but since our almond chunks were larger than “relatively fine”, it still did not taste or feel distinctly vegetable-y. Overall, this was a very easy recipe to make up, and worth trying if you’re into almonds and/or carrots.

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Carrot Cake, French-Style
Makes 1 9×9 inch cake
Adapted from David Lebovitz

4 tablespoons butter, unsalted, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups (250g) sugar
pinch of salt
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups (225g) toasted almonds
2/3 cup (90g) flour
1/4 cup, packed, (40g) finely grated carrot

1. Preheat the oven to 325F (160C). Butter two shallow 10-inch (23cm) cake pans and line each with a circle of parchment paper. Then lightly butter the top of each circle of paper.

2. Beat the butter, sugar and salt until smooth.

3. Meanwhile, pulverize the nuts and flour in a food processor or blender until relatively fine, but not powdery. If you don’t have a machine, simply chop the nuts by hand and toss them with the flour.

3. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Afterwards, stir in the ground nut mixture and the carrots, mixing just until smooth.

4. Divide the batter into the pans, smooth it evenly, and bake for 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool, then release the cake from the pans and cut in wedges to serve.