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Well hello there.  I know in my last post I promised to write about a compote I was making, but it ended up not being as great as I wanted and thus I don’t feel ready to share the recipe.  BUT.  I did make some Christmas cookies for my book club last weekend, and those are a fun, easy recipe that I needed to share before the holidays.

Our book club (where these cookies, along with my roommates equally delicious almond raspberry cookies, were a big hit) is a feminist book club.  That doesn’t mean we only read female authors, but everything we read, we discuss through a feminist lens.  So far, we’ve read Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood and An Object Of Beauty by Steve Martin (yes, Steve Martin).  Next up is The Feminist Porn Book.  In the future, I might throw some John Updike in there.  I find his books to show an interesting vision of America, specifically in the way he talks about women and their bodies.  If you have any books you think an all lady book club would enjoy discussing, please post in the comments!

My roommate and I also greatly enjoy hosting book club because it means we get to create fun images of our cat, Persephone, to send in our monthly book club reminder emails.  You can see our most recent one below:

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So classy

But back to cookies.  It’s Christmas (and Hannukah) time, which means it’s baking time and cookies are a huge part of that.  These cookies are salty, sweet, rich, and airy, and perfect for your Christmas celebration.  I recommend them with a glass of milk or some heavily spiked eggnog.  Maybe you should leave them out for Santa?  I’m sure he’d appreciate them.

The true power in the cookies though, comes from the interplay of the textures.  The cookies themselves are relatively soft, not firm or crunchy like shortbread.  The burned sugar crust, however, is crunchy, like the hazelnuts in the cookies.  This, along with the flakes of salt that melt on your tongue, combine to make a truly special Christmas treat.

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Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies with Sea Salt and Sugar Crust

Adapted from the NYTimes, makes about 50 cookies

Ingredients:

2 ½ cups/363 grams all-purpose flour

¾ cup/75 grams cocoa powder

1 teaspoon espresso powder (my fun addition)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 ½ cups/340 grams (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 ¼ cups/250 grams granulated sugar

2 large eggs at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup/133 grams roughly chopped, toasted hazelnuts

Egg wash (1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon water)

About 1/2 cup/120 grams coarse sugar (such as sanding or demeura sugar), for rolling

Flaky salt, preferably Maldon, for sprinkling

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, espresso powder and salt.

In another bowl, with either an electric mixer or by hand, beat butter for about thirty second and then add sugar on medium-high until the mixture is light, fluffy and pale, about 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add in the eggs, 1 at a time, and vanilla extract.  Beat until everything is well combined, about 2 minutes.

Add dry ingredients all at once, and mix on low until almost incorporated, or fold in with a spatula. Add hazelnuts, and continue to mix until just fully incorporated.

Scrape dough out of mixer, and divide it into 2 pieces onto cling wrap. Wrap each piece in cling wrap and roll them into logs about 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter, and 12 inches long.  This can be a very frustrating and messy process.

Refrigerate the logs at least 2 hours, or up to 5 days.

Heat oven to 325 degrees.

Brush the outside of each log of dough with egg wash. Sprinkle sugar (regular granulated sugar also works here) onto a piece of parchment paper, and roll the logs in it.  Alternately, sprinkle and press on the sugar onto the outside of the log.  You want to make a nice sugar crust, so be sure to have a true coating of sugar that you can see around the entirety of the log. Slice log crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices.

Place dough slices on parchment-lined baking sheets 1 inch apart, and sprinkle with flaky salt. Bake until the edges are just set and cookies are baked through (difficult to tell with chocolate cookies, but the center should feel set when pressed gently), 12 to 15 minutes.

 

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This isn’t Paris, this is Strasbourg, but it is also very pretty.

Well well.  It’s been a few weeks since I last posted, and let me tell you, I’ve had a good few weeks.  I spent Thanksgiving in Europe visiting friends (and cities) I haven’t seen in awhile.  Did you know the euro is almost even to the dollar now?  My credit card surely does.

The majority of my trip was in Paris, where I was staying with my friend Maria who has an absolutely lovely apartment in the 5th.  As soon as I left the RER train from the airport, I was greeted by a market just opening for the day.  I walked through slowly, and eventually stopped in front of an oyster stand to take in the wide variety of bivalves available.  The owner of the stand saw me staring and offered me an oyster to try.  I protested that I didn’t have any cash, but he said “pas de souci” and gave me a beautiful, icy, briny oyster to start my trip.  A good omen of what was to come.

I’m awful at taking pictures of food before I eat it, so my apologies that all of the photos in this blog are of animals.  I just can’t bring myself to photograph a dish I want so badly to start eating!

However, I do want to offer recommendations of where to eat in Paris because it is one of my favorite cities.  I want everyone who goes there to feel like they can eat incredible food and don’t need to be stuck with the touristy restaurants.

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Almond cakes, such as financiers (which are technically tiny cakes, but I made a big one), are a tradition in my family.  Our familial almond cake is denser than the above cake, with larger almond chunks, and less sweetness.  It’s baked for birthdays and has a hint of icing on it.  Growing up, I requested pies and cheesecakes as my birthday cakes – I had something against the austerity of our cake.  But now, with my more refined palate, I have grown to love almond cakes in any form.  And this cake competes with our familial cake as my favorite cake for celebrations.

I’ve made this cake before.  In fact, I’ve chronicled making it before on this blog, when I tried to make a gluten free version of it.  It didn’t work.

This time, I accepted the gluten (I love gluten) and also added two new elements to the cake.  The first was a hint of rosewater, added at the end, to round out the flavors in the cake.  The second was some blackberries, added to the cake just before it baked.  The result?  One of the best cakes I’ve made in recent years.

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Ah and so it begins.  The cold is descending upon us, smothering our dreams of spaghetti straps and tan lines with parkas and functional scarves.  Many are fearful this means the end of our fun for the year.  From now on, we must stay inside, forever apart and wrapped in blankets.

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Persephone, wondering if she can leave her cat fort when the temperature dips below 70

I, being from New England, strongly disagree with this sentiment.  I am excited to welcome in fall in the next few weeks and then winter in the coming months.  I am a winter baby and I intend to enjoy the heck out of tights, woolen sweaters, and wintery baked goods.

So, to welcome to new season and to prepare myself for the onslaught of baking that will soon be upon me, I made an apple spiced cake.  It was vaguely reminiscent of the apple cakes my grandmother always used to have freshly made, but with a lot more bourbon.  Although it does remind me to get Gummy’s apple cake recipe from her in short order…

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With some ice cream of course.

I’ve recently moved into a new apartment, brought my ice cream maker back from the dusty depths of Rhode Island, and I’m excited to start sharing baking stories once more.

This time around, I made a summer berry pudding from Melissa Clark and a variation of David Lebovitz’ ricotta ice cream. Everything, of course, turned out wonderful. I’m so awesome.

I served the berry pudding to a group of my friends the day I procured a new cat. Her name is Persephone and she is filled with personality. We refer to her as the Goddess of Sprung.

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Sultry, yet terrifying

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I am not a warm, ooey gooey, holiday person.  I mean, I like the holidays because I get to go home and sleep in my massive bed and have real closets and space in my room to walk around.  But I’m not into gifts, I’m not into festive cheer, although I am into aggressively spiked eggnog.

All that being said, Thanksgiving is my favorite day of the year.  I like that it’s the beginning of the feasting season, wherein we gorge ourselves on as much food as possible and then take a nap till the snow all melts.  I like that before Thanksgiving, it is still fall, and after Thanksgiving, we’re so much closer to winter. Mainly, I like the foods of Thanksgiving.  Rich, hearty, autumnal foods.  And of course, pumpkin pie.

Pie for breakfast. Also, pie plate matching shirt.

Pie for breakfast. Also, pie plate matching shirt.

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It’s strange because I never eat that many pears in the fall.  I really love them, but they’re only good for so long and apples last much longer which works better with my current lifestyle.  And also apples go great with peanut butter which, again, works well with my current lifestyle.  But nothing beats a pear so plump and luscious that you slurp the juices with every bite, although plenty run down your chin instead of making their way into your mouth.

Pears poachin'

Pears poachin’

Last week I decided to make poached pears for a team dinner with some people from my work.  I’m going to just secretly admit that I really wanted to eat pears and didn’t care too much what everyone else wanted for dessert… sorry chocolate lovers.  Also, I took the chance to get eight pears rather than the require six because an extra pear or two never hurt if they’re expense-able. Of course, I saved the extra pears for myself to enjoy at my leisure.  Or more immediately once they became ripe.

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