Cookies


What a big month!

I resigned from my job.  Started another.  Prepared for Christmas, our special visitor and all our festive entertaining.  Oh, and somehow managed to squeeze in some Christmas baking in between!

The beginning of the month hailed the end of my job for six years.  I returned to work from maternity leave at the end of August, but quickly started to search out a part-time alternative – as the work-life balance in the Mélanger household lacked the necessary harmony, to say to least!  Fortunately, a few months later, I secured the perfect part-time alternative at a brand new company, and immediately made the switch.

But there was no time to dwell on leaving my old job, as Christmas was fast approaching.  Much to organise and prepare!

I have to say, this year has been one of my best Christmases yet, thanks to my pint-sized minature.

It may technically have been baby Melanger’s second Christmas, but it certainly felt like her first.  With bub only a few months old last year, the day came and went without much fanfare.  This year, however, was bursting with endless shrieks, giggles and laughter at the endless stream of everything ‘new’.

The tree attracted the greatest attention.  There was nonstop pointing and ‘talking’ with lots of fast hand movements.  And there were quite a number of dances in front of the tree, including the odd twirl or two for added effect.  It seems to have made quite an impression!

Our visit from bub’s Ukki, also added much to the festive cheer.  It was such a delight for baby Mélanger to meet her grandfather face-to-face for the first time, and for her Ukki to see her BIG personality first hand.

I also had a lot of fun baking up some new traditions this year.  The Joulutortut and Joulupulla were the firm favourites.  And I have no difficulty visualising baking these goodies up year after year (whilst trialing some new flavours and ideas, too!).  Many thanks again to my friend Celina Laaksonen who was an enthusiastic guide in this month’s menu.

I hope you all enjoyed the selection this month, too?  I may or may not take a little break in January, but I hope to post a new exciting theme again soon.  In the meantime, here is the round up of this month’s recipes.

:: I hope everyone had a safe and happy holiday and that 2012 brings much joy and happiness to you all xxx ::

{ Joulutortut :: Finnish Christmas Stars } For some time I have greedily eyed off these tender butter pastries, simply shaped as a festive star, and dotted with a small kiss of sweet prune filling in the centre.  This recipe produces a soft, cream based pastry.  It is incredibly simple to put together, and fairly easy to work with.  These little Finnish Christmas stars got an immediate thumbs up from Mr Mélanger{ Read more here…. }

 

  { Jouluriisipuuro :: Finnish Rice Pudding & Joulupiparkakut :: Gingerbread } Traditionally, this Christmas rice pudding can be served alongside a dried fruit soup (sekahedelmäkeitto), and there is always a whole blanched almond hidden inside (a bit like hiding a sixpence in a Christmas pudding!).  But I could not resist sharing this combination as a tribute to Celina!  The idea is genius.  The creaminess of the pudding, goes deliciously with the spicy, crunchy gingerbread.  I particularly love the gingerbread.  As soon as you warm up the spices with the syrup, the entire kitchen starts to smell a little of Christmas.  { Read more here …. }

  { Taatelikakku :: Finnish Christmas date cake } Finland has some light, fragrant and curiously bundt shaped Christmas cakes.  Far different from my Christmas cake memories.  I selected to bake up the taatelikakku, as part of this month’s experiment.  This is a wonderfully light yet moist cake.  The addition of coffee to the mixture adds a lovely depth of flavour against the sweetness of the dates.  And in my opinion, this cake should not be reserved just for Christmas.  It is simply too delicious!  { Read more here….}

  { Joulupulla :: Finnish Christmas buns }  This is really just a basic pulla dough shaped into the special festive shape.  I have made pulla more times than I can remember, and I have ultimated adapted this recipe from a few different sources (Beatrice Ojakangas, the Nordic Bakery Cookbook plus my friend Celina Laaksonen).  My father-in-law mentioned his mother’s pulla was less sweet, but he preferred the extra sugar in this recipe.  So feel free to experiment! { Read more here….}

Blogging has given me the opportunity to meet people from around the world who share a similar passion for baking.

Back in 2010, I received a comment from a girl in Finland – who I later came to find out was a professional baker in Espoo.  The lovely Ms Laaksonen has been a great “penpal” ever since, and also an always enthusiastic guide about baking, in particular Finnish specialities.

She has helped me enormously with oodles of background detail on Christmas baking in Finland, and provided endless tips and ideas for this month’s theme.

During our correspondence on Christmas baking, she happened to mention she adores Finnish Christmas rice pudding (Jouluriisipuuro) with gingerbread (Joulupiparkakut) crumbled on top.

Traditionally, the Christmas rice pudding can be served alongside a dried fruit soup (sekahedelmäkeitto), and there is always a whole blanched almond hidden inside (a bit like hiding a sixpence in a Christmas pudding!).  But I could not resist sharing this combination as a tribute to Celina!

The idea is genius.  The creaminess of the pudding, goes deliciously with the spicy, crunchy gingerbread.  I particularly love the gingerbread.  As soon as you warm up the spices with the syrup, the entire kitchen starts to smell a little of Christmas.  I will be whipping out a few more batches of this cookie dough!

{ Jouluriisipuuro :: Finnish Rice Pudding } Recipe by Anja Hill from The Food & Cooking of Finland

* Ingredients *
90g short grain rice
1.2 litres of milk
Pinch salt
15ml ground cinnamon
200ml double cream
50g caster sugar
25g toasted flaked almonds

* Directions *
Put the rice and milk in a pan and bring to the boil.  Add the salt, lower the heat, cover and simmer for 1 hour, until the rice has absorbed most of the milk and is almost tender.  Stir frequently to prevent the rice from sticking and burning on the bottom of the pan.  Add the cinnamon, cream, sugar and almonds to the rice and cook for further 10 minutes, until the rice is tender.

{ Joulupiparkakut :: Gingerbread } Recipe by Anja Hill from The Food & Cooking of Finland

* Ingredients *
100ml golden syrup
5ml grated orange rind
5ml ground cinnamon
2.5ml ground pepper
2.5ml ground ginger
2.5ml ground cloves
5ml ground cardamom
10ml baking soda
100ml double cream
200g unsalted butter, softened
100g caster sugar
1 egg, beaten
400g plain flour

* Directions *
Put the syrup, orange rind and spices in a pan and heat generally until warm.  Remove from heat.  Mix the baking soda into the cream. Put the butter and sugar in a large bowl and whisk together until fluffy.  Whisk in the warm spiced syrup, the egg and cream mixture, until well combined. Add the flour and mix together to form a dough.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refridgerate overnight. Preheat the oven to 200C.  On a floured surface, roll out the dough to a 3mm thickness.  Place a sheet of baking parchment over the top of the dough, then turn the dough over so the paper is underneath.  Using round cutters, cut out the dough, re-rolling as necessary.  Bake for 7-10 minutes until light brown.

The cookie jar has certainly been filled to the brim with buttery, sugary treats this month.

Slice and bake shortbread filled with fruit and nuts and flavoured with the scent of rosemary.  Quick and simple shortbread bars with a creamy custard flavour.  Gluten free inspired shortbread with some punchy zesty tang.  And lastly, a healthier shortbread option packed with oats and wholemeal flour.

These cookies have been shared with friends, family, and also enjoyed as a quick little treat.  And although technically the entire round up may not be classified as shortbread, as such, they could all certainly be labelled as delicious!

Are you planning on making shortbread this holiday season?  What is your flavour inspiration for your selection?

Next month, I will be tackling some new Christmas food traditions for the Mélanger family.  Stay tuned….

In the meantime, here is the round up of the month.  I hope you enjoyed it!

{ Rosemary, apricot and almond shortbread }  The sugar and fresh rosemary from the garden was processed to incorporate the flavour without the texture.  With the crunch from the almonds, as well as the additional sweetness from the apricots, this little rosemary flavoured cookie turned out to be delicious experiment.  { Read more here … }

 

 

  { Melt ‘n’ mix custard shortbread }  The original recipe for this quick and easy shortbread calls for cornflour where I have used custard powder.  I had the idea of using custard powder after making an apple pie recipe from Ben O’Donoghue (actually his Gran’s recipe) using custard powder in the pastry.  It produces such a delicious, creamy flavour.  { Read more here … }

 

 { Gluten-free citrus currant shortbread } Working with gluten free flour, I was a little nervous that the dough would be difficult, but on the contrary, it was a breeze to work with.  All in all, it came together very quickly.  Taste wise, these little shortbreads were deliciously buttery, soft and crumbly.  And of course, bursting with the tang of citrus and currants!  { Read more here … }

 

  { Oat & wholemeal shortbread bars }  In this little cookie that can be enjoyed with perhaps a little less guilt, plain, white flour has been replaced with a combination of wholemeal (whole wheat) flour and rolled oats.  The quantity of sugar has been squeezed down to an almost modest amount. And although the butter component is still relatively high (it is shortbread, after all!), an egg has been added to boost protein.  { Read more here … }

Believe it or not, I do not consume vast quantities of butter, sugar and white flour with unbridled abandon.  Particularly now I am a mother (and responsible for not just my own nutrition), I do have a heightened awareness of what I eat.

Many items that I bake and share on this blog, are, to be perfectly frank, only ‘sometimes treats’.  Certainly not everyday extravagances.  (Well, not now!)

More and more, I am trying to healthify recipes where I can to create an end product with greater nutritional value.

When it comes to shortbread, and its inherently high levels of butter and sugar, there is only so much you can do.  But for this next cookie in the line up, I thought I would give it a shot.

Plain, white flour has been replaced with a combination of wholemeal (whole wheat) flour and rolled oats to add fibre.  The quantity of sugar has been squeezed down to an almost modest amount to reduce the intake of refined sugars.  And although the butter component is still relatively high (it is shortbread, after all!), an egg has been added to boost protein.

And for the taste?  Certainly not as sweet as some of its shortbread counterparts, but certainly a cookie that will satisfy, with perhaps a little less guilt!

{ Oat & wholemeal shortbread bars }  Original recipe by Julia Tuomainen @ Mélanger

* Ingredients *
150g wholemeal flour
150g rolled oats, proceedd
75g brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
150g unsalted butter
1 egg
1/2 cup ‘no added sugar’ jam (I used the ‘French’ jam in tall glass jar)

* Directions *
Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl, and add in the processed oats.  Set aside. In the bowl of a mixer, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add the egg and mix well, then add the flour mix and stir only to combine.  Spread half of the dough on the base of a prepared 18 x 27cm baking tin.  Wrap the remaining dough in plastic wrap.  Chill both for 30-60 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 180C.  Spread the base of the dough with the jam, then crumble the reamining dough on the top.  Bake for 20-25 minutes or until slight brown.  Transfer to a cooling rack.

Makes approx. 12-15 cookies

It is amazing what can catch your eye.  Innocently trawling the aisles of my local supermarket recently (carefully focused on my shopping list, of course!), the line “with the tang of citrus and currants” boldly printed on a packet of plain, sweet biscuits, jumped out at me.

I paused in my thoughts, reflecting that citrus and currants is such a winning combination of flavours, but sadly, not a combination I have used recently.  So as I turned my trolley into the next aisle, I decided to use the inspiration for the next shortbread in the line up this month. (Why not?)

Back home, I extracted the necessary ingredients from the pantry.  With everything neatly on the counter ready to go, I hesitated.  Drumming my fingers, I was unsure I wanted to go down the standard shortbread cookie route.  I was keen to try something new.  Experiment a little.

I returned the plain flour, and grabbed some rice flour and tapioca flour as a replacement.  I wanted to try my hand at some gluten free shortbread.

I was a little nervous that the dough would be difficult, but on the contrary, it was a breeze to work with.  All in all, it came together very quickly.  Taste wise, these little shortbreads were deliciously buttery, soft and crumbly.  And of course, bursting with the tang of citrus and currants!

 

{ Gluten-free citrus currant shortbread } Original recipe by Julia Tuomainen @ Mélanger

* Ingredients *
75g rice flour
75g tapioca flour
75g corn flour
10g baking powder
120g butter
2 tsp vanilla
30g icing sugar
2 tsp lemon and orange zest
30g currants

* Directions *
Sift the flours together and set aside.  In the bowl of a mixer, cream the butter, vanilla and sugar until fluffy.  Add the flours and then stir in the zest and currants.  Turn the dough out and shape into a log that is 5 cm in diameter. Wrap the log in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour.  Preheat the oven to 180C.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Slice rounds 2cm thick. (Don’t worry if the cookie breaks, just squeeze it back together.)  Place the cookies on the baking sheets, and bake for 12-15 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack.

Makes approx. 12-15 cookies

 

Once upon a time, there was a girl called Julia who would leisurely spend hours baking.

She would lovingly flip through food magazines, cookbooks and blogs admiring various recipes and ideas.  She would craft endless lists of cookies, cakes, breads and pastries to make.  She would happily dream of creating elaborate, and even simpler treats, knowing she would never need to consider short cuts, as time was her best friend.

But then Julia became a working mother, and time changed.  Forever.

Julia had an ‘ah-ha’ moment one day, finally realising the charm of time saving recipes.  She now seeks to create a versatile list of her own good ideas.  This custard flavoured shortbread is one such recipe in the repertoire.

After a quick measure, melt and mix of the ingredients, Julia can pop this shortbread in the oven within minutes.

What a good idea!

{ Melt ‘n’ mix custard shortbread } adapted from Australian Women’s Weekly

The original recipe calls for cornflour where I have used custard powder.  I had the idea of using custard powder after making an apple pie recipe from Ben O’Donoghue (actually his Gran’s recipe) using custard powder in the pastry.  It produces such a delicious, creamy flavour.

* Ingredients *
250g unsalted butter
35g icing/confectioners’ sugar
55g caster sugar
40g custard powder
360g plain/all purpose flour
Pinch salt

* Directions *
Melt butter over low heat, allow to cool slightly.  Sift icing sugar and custard powder into bowl, add sugar.  Add butter and beat mixture until thick and creamy.  Add sifted flour and mix well.  Press mixture into 18x28cm (7×11 inch) lamington tin, smooth over with a spatula; mark into fingers with sharp knife.  Prick each finger decoratively with fork.  Bake at 180C/350F for 25-30 minutes or until light golden.  Cut into fingers while still warm.  Cool in tin.

With scissors in tow, I popped outside to the garden and eyed off the selection of home grown herbs, courtesy of Mr Mélanger.  The ever expanding rosemary bush caught my eye.  After cutting a handful of sprigs, I started to ponder their use as I returned inside.

Back in the kitchen, with the collection still in my hands, I was still undecided how to include this fragrant herb into a shortbread.

While I mulled over the idea, I pulled a selection of dried fruits and nuts from the pantry – to find some little friends for the rosemary – and quickly settled on apricots and almonds.

As I gathered the remainder ingredients to make the shortbread, I also reached for my spice grinder.  I took one look at the sugar on the counter, and then the rosemary and immediately set to whizzing the two together.

The result was a soft pale green sugar, the consistency of icing (confectioners’) sugar.  Perfect to incorporate the flavour of rosemary without the texture.

With the crunch from the almonds, as well as the additional sweetness from the apricots, this little rosemary flavoured cookie turned out to be delicious experiment.

{ Rosemary, apricot and almond shortbread  } Original recipe by Julia Tuomainen @ Mélanger

* Ingredients *
1 ¾ cup flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
Leaves from ¼ sprig of fresh rosemary
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 cup butter, at room temperature
¼ cup finely chopped dried apricots and almond flakes
1 egg

* Directions *
Mix the flour and salt together in a bowl, and add the dried fruit and nuts.  Set aside.  In a spice grinder, process the rosemary leaves with ¼ cup of the sugar until it resembles the consistency of icing sugar.  (It will be a pale green colour.)  In the bowl of a mixer, beat the butter, rosemary sugar and remaining caster sugar until creamy.  Mix in the egg until combined.  Then mix in the flour mixture gently until just incorporated.  Do not over mix.  You can do this step by hand if you prefer.  Turn the dough out onto some cling film, and using the cling film, form into a log shape.  Depending on the thickness of your cookies, you will make approximately 3 logs around 20-30cm in length each.  Refrigerate the logs for at least 4 hours or preferably overnight.  However, after around 30 minutes to an hour in the fridge, remove the logs and fine-tune the shape if necessary.  Then return to chill.  To bake the logs, preheat the oven to 180C.  Line a baking sheet with non-stick paper.  Slice the log into 75mm-1cm cookies.  Place the cookies on the baking sheet, leaving space between each.  Bake for 15-20 minutes depending on the size.  Be careful not to over bake.  The cookies will remain pale and feel a little soft to the touch when you remove them.  Once you have removed them from the oven, cool on a wire rack.  The cookie dough can remain in the fridge for 3 days, or can be frozen for a month.  To bake the cookies from frozen dough, do not allow the dough to defrost, simply slice and bake for a minute or two longer.

:: Plain cookie variation ::
This recipe is equally good in its most simple form.  Replace the apricots and almonds with an additional ¼ cup of flour, and simply beat the 1 cup of butter with ½ cup of unprocessed caster sugar.  Mix and bake in the same way.  Alternatively, experiment with other fruit, nut and aromatic combinations of your own!

To always have a cookie jar filled to the brim with a selection of homemade treats (….or at the very least, some pre-prepared dough in the freezer ready to bake a tray of cookies at a moment’s notice….!), is a priority in the Mélanger kitchen.

A small baked indulgence can sometimes serve to nourish and soothe, or (between you and me!) simply be enjoyed as a petite, sweet treat anytime.

Last Christmas, my baking plan included a selection of shortbread.  Flavoured.  Filled.  Fancy.

My plans changed, as some of you may remember, and my baking efforts needed to be put on hold last festive season.  But my urge to whip up a few different batches of buttery goodness did not wane.

So perhaps in (early) preparation for Christmas this year, I am going to fulfil my old baking plan and load up the kitchen with a few pounds of butter, sugar and flour for Shortbread month.

(Oh, and as it is almost half way through the month, I better get a wriggle on!)

It is good to have a back up plan when things go awry.

I was fooled into believing that us folk in Brisbane were enjoying a delightful spring.  But it seems we have skipped spring and gone straight to summer.  (Not happy.)  Not only because I am not a fan of summer (apart from being furnished with juicy, fresh stone fruit) but because my next planned dish for Kid’s Party month was best prepared in temperatures, let say, under 30C (~90F).

This past weekend I was ready to put together a new recipe for a soft cookie ice-cream sandwich.  (One of Mr Mélanger’s favourite treats.)  The ice cream was made.  Check.  The cookie dough had been chilled, rolled and baked.  Check.

But then it came to assembly.

Despite working on a cool marble surface, the surrounding warm air melted the ice cream almost instantly as I tried to cut wedges out.  An initial very neat 8cm square chunk quickly became a 6cm, then 5cm, then 4cm fuzzy round type shape thing.  It was all a bit of a disaster, so I decided to abandon the cause.

On the up side, given the fact baby Mélanger’s birthday will always be at an unfriendly-baking-temperature time of year, it is probably best to realise it would not be sane to try to turn out a couple of dozen homemade ice cream sandwiches for a party celebration in the future.

So, enter plan B.

With a cookie concept still on my mind, but sans the pesky ice cream prone to melting, I opted to whip up a batch of hundreds and thousand cookies!  A healthy dose of playful hundreds and thousands (nonpariels) was originally planned to decorate the edges of my ice cream sandwich.  So why not pop them on a cookie instead?  The popular store bought version of the hundreds and thousand cookie was my inspiration, showcasing the perfect pink hue, just the thing for this month’s theme.

{ Homemade hundreds and thousand cookies }

This recipe uses a basic sugar cookie dough.  Once the dough is chilled it can be cut into any desired shape.  The topping is a simple (coloured) royal icing, but made with pasturised egg white powder as opposed to the traditional fresh egg whites.  Also, to keep things simple, I created only one consistency of royal icing – no separate versions for outlining and flooding.  Hence the ‘rustic’ finish!

* Ingredients *
Dough
225g plain flour
85g unsalted butter
75g sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoon vanilla

Royal icing
115g icing sugar
1 teaspoon egg white powder
3 teaspoon warm water
3 teaspoons lemon juice

* Directions *
For the dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Add the eggs and vanilla extract and beat until combined. Add the flour mixture and beat until you have a smooth dough. Divide the dough in half and wrap each half in plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.  Preheat oven to 160C and place rack in center of oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Remove one half of the chilled dough from the refrigerator and, on a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to a thickness of 1 cm. Cut out desired shapes using a lightly floured cookie cutter and transfer cookies to baking sheet. Place the baking sheets with the unbaked cookies in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes to chill the dough.  Bake cookies for about 8-10 minutes (depending on size) or until the edges are just starting to brown. Remove from oven and let cookies cool on baking sheet for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling. Frost with royal icing, if desired.

For the royal icing:  In the bowl of a mixer beat the icing sugar, egg white powder, water and lemon juice until combined.  Then beat on medium speed until glossy and stiff peaks form (about 5 minutes). Add food coloring, if desired.

Makes about 18 cookies, depending on size

 


I entered this month’s theme with a little trepidation.

I set myself the challenge to investigate homemade alternatives for four (4) popular, and standard packaged good items.  The plan was to create my own recipes for each, and bake them from scratch.  But I truly had no idea how it would all turn out.

As I started this challenge, I was wondering would it require an enormous amount of time to prepare and bake some of these goods?  Would the cost of the ingredients significantly exceed the store bought item, and blow the case for homemade out of the water?  Would some of these items be a little tricky to make, and not necessarily practical for most people?

But fortunately, after creating the four (4) recipes, the case for homemade has been made (well, I think anyway!).  Most items only required 5-10 minutes preparation time, the raw ingredients were a fraction of the cost of buying prepackaged (as low as 1/4 of the cost of store bought!), and all the recipes were pretty simple to put together.

It is no secret the side of the fence I sit on, but if homemade is not your thing, I hope this month has encouraged you to give it a try?

Mrs E.P. – I am very proud of your homemade banana bread effort. :)

  { Buckwheat & nutmeg banana bread } Banana bread is very popular. Not only in children’s lunchboxes, but as a staple in coffee shops and cafes around town. It will certainly make a regular appearance in baby Mélanger’s daycare lunch box – as well serve as breakfast-on-the-run for the busy working mum I know I will soon be!  { Read more here … }

 

  { Homemade milk arrowroot biscuits } Even though these biscuits are not an exact replicator of the biscuit you will find in store, it still imparts a characteristic softness from the arrowroot flour, is only slightly sweet from the small dose of sugar, has a slight crunch but still melts in your mouth like a good arrowroot should. { Read more here … }

 

  { Homemade nut-free muesli bars } After three muesli bar trials, this recipe version was my favourite.  Lightly crunchy, these muesli bars are a snap to make, and stay fresh and crisp for up to 2 weeks in an air-tight container.  Feel free to adapt the combination of seeds and fruit to your own preferences, and include nuts if nut-free is not an issue. { Read more here … }

  { Homemade olive oil wholemeal crackers } Hardtack crackers (made from a simple combination of flour, water and salt) are quite popular and easy to make, but I wanted to mimic the depth of flavour and crunchy texture of a soda cracker.  So enter here some leavening agents, a hint of shortening, and a few rounds of experimentation, et voilà!  { Read more here … }

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