Citrus Sugar Cookies

I’ve had this recipe in mind for months.  More impressive, though, I’ve had candied citrus peel in my freezer for months and it’s survived snack attacks.

In May I made a Shaker Lemon Pie and a Citrus Pie, from two different cookbooks, to see how they stacked up against each other.  At the time I imaged a beautiful picture of the two pies perched on rocks looking out over the fake lake that blooms in our desert valley when there’s heavy rain or snow runoff.  (This year it’s mid-August and the lake is still there.  It’s not spring fed – it’s actually usually dry; the desert just got that much water this past weird winter.)

However, I misjudged where the big rocks were I was looking for, and found only small rocks, a great view – and a rattlesnake.

When the pies and I made it home, I had a piece of each and then resolutely threw out the rest.  This is because I didn’t need two pies to myself, my mother-in-law lives too far away to take her two pies on a whim (and what would she do with two of them?) and we weren’t headed her way anyway.  My husband hates lemons, and every friend I know who lives local either never, ever eats flour/grains/sweets, or is protein-dieting heavily.  Before I tossed them, I pulled off the toppings and froze them.  They were too bright and pretty – and tasty – to toss.

My plan was to top sugar cookies with them and see what happened.  But I’ve never been able to make sugar cookies that didn’t turn into crumbs before I got them rolled out.  I’ve tried countless recipes.  This time, after thumbing through a well-loved red binger that bulges with my own recipes and family and friend recipes, I settled on my friend June’s recipe, because she indicated when she gave it to me a century ago, that it was no fail.  (Clearly June isn’t a century old, but I feel that way – perhaps our friendship involves time-travel.)

The recipe didn’t fail.  I failed it, a little, by not chilling the dough for 2-3 hours but overnight because I got sleepy and went to bed.  When I took it out 20 hours later it was rock hard.  By mangling and massaging it, though, the butter won through and the dough became soft enough to roll out.

 

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Cold dough is not friendly.

 

The results are mixed.

The sugar cookies themselves are fantastic!  Light, crisp, and if you like a crisper cookie, give them 8 minutes, watching closely, and a more tender crumb (that still crumbles all over as you eat) 7 minutes.

The frozen citrus rounds were covered in the respective pie fillings.  The Build a Better Pie filling is all lemon and a simpler mix.  The Martha Stewart Pies is more complex, and uses oranges as well as lemons.

I baked some of the cookies with nothing on them.  Just because.  (Well, just because of my husband.)

I baked some of the cookies with the rounds of fruit on top, being baked in place.

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I baked some of them with nothing on them and pressed the fruit on as soon as they came out.

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I already knew the baked citrus was chewy.  A sensible thing might be to gently take the rind off when using sugar-dredged citrus as pie toppings, but the aesthetic would suffer.  Biting into a piece of the pie means really biting, or cutting first with a knife, or getting an entire citrus round in one bite.  It’s worth it!

 

So after baking the rounds on the cookies, biting into the cookie with a piece of lemon or orange, the citrus piece came off promptly and the cookie stayed behind with one bite taken out of it.

Oh.  And the ones that I put on the fruit after the cookies came out, they were softer, and mostly stayed in place, but somehow weren’t as interesting, the flavors not as intense.

There was still a chunk of dough left, warming on the counter because not going through that again, the over-chilling business.  Before rolling it out I cut up a bunch of the fruit into ¼ to ½ inch bites, and then when kneading the dough to make it pliable enough to roll out, I kneaded the fruit right into it (and was consequently sticky as hell).  Then the rolling out, which was more challenging, and the forming of cookies, which were more bumpy.

But the results of that batch were really good.  Kind of like citrons in cookies only so much more bright and tangy (candied peel is often very sweet).

I’m not sure what good this recipe does for anyone who hasn’t baked two Shaker pies and encountered a rattlesnake and had a nice hot summer for several months before making sugar cookies to add the fruit to, but there’s no reason candied lemon and orange slices couldn’t be stand-ins.  My own recipe for citrus strips is below.  No reason it wouldn’t work for slices.

The Cookies

1 ½ cups powdered sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon almond extract

2 ½ cups unbleached flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

Cream sugar and butter until well blended.  Mix in the egg, vanilla and almond extract.  Mix well, then add the dry ingredients, blending them into the creamed mixture.

Refrigerate for two to three hours (apparently it means this).  Probably best to cover the bowl with some plastic wrap, too.

Divide dough in half.  Cover a pastry board with cloth (tea towel tucked under worked nicely) and flour the cloth.  Roll out to 3/16 of an inch thick.  Cut into 2 to 2 ½ inch rounds or whatever shape you like.  I just grabbed a drinking glass which turned out to be 3 inches and ended up with 42 cookies, I think.  They’re mostly gone now….

Place some distance apart (but they don’t spread that much) on greased or parchment-lined cookie sheets.  Bake in a preheated 375 oven for 7 to 8 minutes.  The bottoms should be turning golden brown.

Should make 5 dozen 2-inch cookies but I’ve never in my life had that happen.  I got 42 3-inch.  If they were a half again bigger, I should have had 45, I think – math and I are not friends – which is actually closer to the recipe-stated numbers than I usually get.  And I didn’t eat more than half a tablespoon of dough, because it’s sweeter than I like.  That didn’t stop me from eating the cookies.

Citrus Peel or Rounds

Short of making two variations of Shaker Lemon Pies and tossing out the pie part, I’d try dredging the thin sliced lemon and orange rounds under enough sugar to nicely cover them in a medium sized nonreactive mixing bowl.  Chill overnight and let me know what you decide to do with the vaguely crusty lemon and orange flavored sugar that will be left over.

You could take another step and briefly bake these as if they were the top of a pie, following the directions for the pies in the blog entry linked above.

Another option: try making candied peel and using that – this is my favorite recipe for candied citrus peel from Martha Stewart.

If you try them, let me know the results in the comments!

Two Lemon Pies, One Rattlesnake

It all started because I had a quart of buttermilk. I don’t even remember what I bought it for, though whatever the main recipe was, it was the second quart purchased for it, because I drank a lot of the first one. When I figured out there would be a lot of buttermilk left over after the recipe got made, I started imagining this lemon and buttermilk pie recipe I’d seen in one of my cookbooks.

That recipe might still be out there. Or I may have remembered it wrong. Or imagined it. But I didn’t find it this time. There was a buttermilk pie recipe in one of the cookbooks, but it had no lemon, and I also had a bag of sunny, bright yellow lemons that were encouraging each other to go bad. The thugs had to be removed and the rest needed to go somewhere good.

Flipping through Martha Stewart’s New Pies and Tarts, 2011, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc. I came across a Shaker Citrus Pie.  I’ve made probably half a dozen Shaker lemon pies since finding the recipe in 2013. That summer I wrote about the cookbook How to Build a Better Pie by Millicent Souris, 2012, Quarry Books, for edible Reno-Tahoe COOKS! It’s a bright, summery pie, very light, with a sweet filling and tart lemon topping.

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The first time I made that version, I used the crust from the cookbook, which is step-by-step for anyone nervous about attempting pie crust, and quite good. But my go-to crust for the last 10 years of so is from Baking with Julia, by Dorrie Greenspan and Julia Child, 1996, William Morrow Cookbooks. When I bought Baking with Julia, I stopped using frozen or premade crusts.

With two variations of Shaker lemon pies in open cookbooks right in front of me, and a bunch of lemons and oranges looking beautiful in the sun on the kitchen counter, it was only common sense I was going to make both of them.

And only logical that life would intervene. Which is how I can say for certain that if, once the fruit is cut paper thin and macerating in the rather astounding amounts of sugar, there’s no time to make the pie, the whole thing can be left in the refrigerator for at least four or five days. Mine were on the counter and did just fine, though the day before I finally made the pies, the weather changed and the daily highs shot into the high 70s – refrigerating is probably always the best option.

The Martha Stewart pie is different because it uses a pate brisee for a crust, which is an all-butter crust that’s described as flaky and sturdy at the same time.  It mixes up easily, is light and a slightly sweeter, richer crust than the Shaker pie from the Build a Better Pie book. The pie itself has no brown sugar, unlike the straight lemon version, and uses oranges in addition to lemons, giving the pie a little more sweetness in the fruit. It also mixes some of the macerated citrus in the filling, not just layered on top. My fruit was already many days macerating by the time I read I should julienne some of the pieces, so I just cut them roughly and threw them into the mixer when doing up the eggs and lemon syrup for the filling.

I found the way the citrus pie came together easier than the Build a Better Pie lemon version, because there’s no liquid poured over the carefully arranged citrus fruit. When pouring the liquid over the lemon version, I’ve had the lemons float up and find their own places to sit, which I resent – I’d like them to stay where I put them, and not act like cats and head off wherever they please.

The Build version is tart and explodes with flavor. The egg and brown sugar mixture poured over the lemons is sweet and the lemons tart despite all the sugar, probably because they’re only lemons, no other citrus. I love lemons and my husband doesn’t, so I’ve given away half a dozen of these pies. This one I had a couple slices of and then pulled the fruit off the top.

The fruit layer of the Martha pie is light and both sweet and tart; the oranges make the flavor pop. The filling is very sweet. Once I pulled the citrus off the top and told myself to stop eating it, it was hard to really do so. The crust was shiny with juice that had baked in, like a glazed cookie, if there is such a thing (if there isn’t, there should be).

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I made the pies Thursday May 4, a warm, sunny, still day in Reno’s North Valleys. I’d made both crusts the day before, then ran out of time and forgot to move them from the quick-chill in the freezer to the refrigerator, so I had to wait for them to thaw. Once they were in progress, I spent in between times reworking old short stories in the sunlight at the kitchen table.

This is where the rattlesnake comes in. When both pies were out and cooling, I wanted photographs of them on big rocks overlooking the dry lake and the valley, since the dry lake is full of flood waters and the valley gorgeous. I thought rocks, bright sun, beautiful vista, sunny pies would all complement each other.

Packing the pies into shopping bags because – strangely – I don’t have containers for toiling up steep, rocky foothills with pies in both hands (imagine!), I drove over to one of my favorite places to climb. Backpack on, phone strapped to arm, pies in each hand, I hiked over broken trails where flooding has etched deep channels in what used to be trail, and soft sand has silted into the new stream beds. The path itself is steep at the beginning, and made up of coarse, dry sand over hard dirt, which is slippery (since buying trail running shoes last year, I haven’t slipped once). When that trail makes a 90 degree turn and heads straight up the foothill, it becomes coarse dirt, hard dirt and rocks that have run off in storm after storm. It’s slippery and ankle-turning-dangerous. It’s also very, very steep.

It also doesn’t have big photogenic rocks on top. The rocks are another hike across more up and down and I didn’t have it in me to go the extra distance because by then, I’d met the snake.

When hiking to hike, I’m always looking around to see what animals might be nearby. Hikes are rated on the number of jackrabbits and cottontails, occasional coyotes, crows and magpies and little redheaded zombie birds I see. (Someday I’ll explain the zombie birds. Maybe.)

Today’s hike was awkward (pies), dusty (there were too many ATVs out, by which I mean two), ill-timed (I’d wanted to go early, and now at evening, the sun was angling into a glaring decline). I was watching the ground right in front of me, planning where to step. Usually I take the hard, rocky trail, moving back and forth over tire ruts to the least rocky sections as I go. But with the pies and the pace I was setting and it being my second hike of the day, I cut to the grassier section. The grass isn’t long and the tire ruts head over it, but it’s less rocky and easier.

And occupied. The rattlesnake was six to eight feet from me when I looked up farther than the next few steps and saw it. Diamond-shaped head, rattler design, coiled and shaking its tail at me and making no noise. Rattlesnakes shed their scales at some point, but I have no idea when. Maybe it hadn’t yet reached that level of annoyance, but it was shaking its tail and it was coiled and it was aggressively jutting its head in my direction.

I thought a bunch of stuff, all at exactly the same time:

Oh, bleep.

That’s a rattlesnake.

That’s way too close.

Move.

The non-thoughts, those that didn’t come in cartoon thought bubbles, included my distance from the snake (about six to eight feet, my shadow was nearly touching it and the sun was still high at 5:30), the snake’s probable length (about three feet, which is either as far as it can move in one strike or half what it can move in one strike, and I need to look that up again but am kind of past-tense afraid to).  I also thought that being on rocky, uncertain-footing ground, I couldn’t run or move fast, and that given the time of year, and my lack of knowledge about when snakes reproduce, I wasn’t going to blunder about without looking.

In other words, no leaping sideways and away.

It didn’t lunge. It didn’t strike. I obviously didn’t go any closer. I looked all around me, then gingerly moved to the left, back to the rocky path, where every single rock, stick and shadow now looked like a snake. I made a very large circle around it –

And then stopped to take pictures. I don’t know why. Except that I thought I was far enough away and I was kind of fascinated.

And probably kind of an idiot.

And then I went on to the top of the hill. Where my rocks weren’t.

My rocks weren’t where I left them. This happens to me a lot with anything even remotely geographical. By the time I saw they were another down and up, I gave up. The pies were heavy carried in bags, and the snake encounter left me shaking with adrenaline. I took a few photos from the top of the hill, and then made my very cautious, jumpy way back down, looking for the snake and never seeing it again, which was far less comforting than might be supposed.

This will be my fifth summer tramping about in the hills, and my second rattler encounter. Last year I passed a section in the same path, much farther down, and heard the unmistakable susurrus coming from a sagebrush. I’d heard rattles and dry rasps before and wondered, but the real thing strikes an atavistic response – there is no doubt what you’re hearing. I’ll never again wonder if a jackrabbit preparing to flee or a bunch of quail wanting me to go away are actually a snake. Snakes are snakes. The hackles on the back of my neck know the difference.

Theoretically if you don’t bother them they won’t go out of their way to bother you, which is good, but not all that reassuring. Rattlesnakes are aggressive.

And while I came out of the experience completely unscathed, I note this morning I’m letting the sun come up without my being out there running or hiking. It’s going to take a day or two, and some gratitude that this experience wasn’t any more up close and personal.

As for the pies, there’s only two of us in this household and I’m the only one who likes lemon. They’re delicate pies and ephemeral and I’m not going anywhere today, so no chance to give one away. Instead, I’m pulling the toppings off both and freezing them until I can figure out a good cookie recipe to chop them into.

Hopefully on that day it will be two batches of cookies, no snakes.

 

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These are not my rocks. These are miniature rocks.

 

 

 

 

Natural Easter Eggs – Muddy, Muddier, Muddiest

My house smelled terrible this morning. I decided to hard boil eggs, which smells bad enough without adding to the miasma, and then I added to it anyway.

This is something I did years ago, and it seems like when I did it before I had much more vibrant results. In several different kettles and pots, I turned my kitchen into a steam room what with the sun and wet outside. It rained all morning in my North Valleys and now the sun is kind of out – only kind of. It doesn’t seem to want to commit. But the day is beautiful and I might actually get to hike in the foothills this afternoon. (Note: No, I didn’t. It rained, then the wind blew like crazy, and then the weather went all out and just started snowing again. Hours later, it still is.)

Theoretically these eggs should be sunny yellow, gold, rust, pink and robin’s egg blue. My kitchen stinks and the upstairs smells worse and the eggs are muddy, darker muddy, slightly more dark muddy and a pink that requires significant imagination to actually see it as pink. I call it Hallucinatory Pink – just imagine the color, no muss, no fuss. It’s pale enough I just used those hardboiled eggs for the fifth brew – soaking them in pickled beet juice for the robin’s egg blue.  In the beet juice, where they’ve been all day, they’re turning a speckled, unenthusiastic pink.

 

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Seriously, chickens produce more brightly colored eggs.

 

Here’s what I did, which resulted in 10 hardboiled eggs that look used, somehow. Last time I had better results. Despite that, this won’t be the last time I try it.

For the lightest, which were supposed to be gold, the eggs were boiled with a single onion skin.  I used yellow onions, which made sense to me, and wherever I originally found this idea (a book I’ve since lost or mislaid) there was no specification for what kind of onion.

For the next up in the mud spectrum, what should be rust is supposed to be caused by a handful of onion skins. In both instances, the skins and eggs are boiled together like normal hardboiled eggs. Only muddier looking.

The darkest of the mud colors is supposed to be a bright sunny yellow. It’s brown, speckled and kind of ominous, and was caused by half a teaspoon of turmeric in the water in which the eggs were boiled.

 The only-pink-if-you-imagine-the-are eggs were done with water, vinegar and red cabbage leaves, which smell exactly like you might imagine. The eggs were unimpressed, so they’re turning “robin’s egg blue” … maybe … in pickled beet juice, which also doesn’t smell terrific.

Naturally dyed eggs are often baked into Easter breads. I think I’ll just let these sit and get eaten.  The Finnish Easter Bread I made today doesn’t need the ornament of muddy looking eggs – it’s fabulous on its own.

Brown Butter Cookies

So I did everything wrong while creating this recipe and ended up with a delicate, crispy-bottomed, soft-topped little cookie.  Go figure!

Not sure what I was even aiming for.  I love butter.  My Grandmother used to nibble it, just butter, and I tend to do that also.  In the long run, I suppose it cuts down on the carbs.  No middleman necessary for our butter.

I also love salted sweet cream butter.  Many, many recipes advise not using salted butter.  I only use salted butter unless whatever store I’m in is totally out of the good brands of it.  My favorites, in order, are Land o’ Lakes, Challenge, Tillamook, and out of order, Costco’s brand is really good and really inexpensive.

I browned the butter first, and did that wrong.  Because it’s salted butter, the milk and salt solids rose to the top in the pan, and stayed a frothy cream color.  I kept stirring and picking the pan up and swirling until I looked beneath the froth and discovered my brown butter was deep brewed tea brown.  I thought I’d have to start over, but it just tasted stronger, and sweet, and lovely – and burned my lips thoroughly.  (Patience is not my strong suit.)

Let the butter cool, then broken two large eggs, room temp, into the bowl of the standing mixer, poured in the butter and one cup granulated sugar.  Beat until frothy, then mixed in the dry ingredients alternately with what ended up being 1 cup milk (also room temp).  Probably should have had a teaspoon of vanilla, but I’m always, always out of vanilla, and I quite like these cookies without. 

The resulting batter was so liquid-y I added another half cup of flour to the one-and-a-half I already had.  It was still so soft the half I wrapped in wax paper to try chilling was a pancake in the fridge.  If I bake it at some point, I’ll check back with how it did.

The half of the batter I baked I doled out in goopy one tablespoon ice-cream-scoops onto a parchment paper-lined sided cookie sheet and baked at 350 for 13 minutes.  They’re actually pretty amazing. 

 1 stick salted sweet cream butter, melted and brown, cooled

1 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs, room temperature

1 cup whole milk, room temperature

2 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

 Break the eggs into a mixer bowl.  Add the sugar and melted butter and beat until well mixed. 

 In a small bowl, mix the flour with the baking soda and salt.  Add alternately with one cup milk until well mixed.  Drop by tablespoonsful onto a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet.  Set wide apart – they spread.

 Bake for 12 to 13 minutes, until bottoms of the cookies show golden brown and the tops gently set.  Cool on the pan on a rack for five minutes, then transfer to the rack to cool.

 

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The injured looking cookie is one I poked to see if they were set at that moment.  They weren’t.

 

 

Beer Batter Maple Bacon Spring Break Cupcakes ~ a la Two Broke Girls

I love the show Two Broke Girls, love the relationship between the friends and the entire concept (at least through the second season, which is as far as I’ve binged so far). The idea of owning a bakery has been a dream of mine for a long, long time. The virtual bakery is a way to write my way into the dream, because I’m always going to be a writer first and neither bakery owner nor writer sounds like something that could be added part time.

When I first saw the first season’s two-part finale with Martha Stewart, I became enamored of Max’s Homemade Beer Batter Maple Bacon Spring Break Cupcakes. I went looking for a recipe and found one online that led me to the beer I’m using (a light, citrusy brew) and the idea for a white cake, not chocolate. Have to admit, I didn’t realize Max’s was chocolate and I’m not a fan of chocolate. I made the one I found online [https://londonfare.wordpress.com/2013/03/01/beer-batter-maple-bacon-spring-break-cupcakes/] and it’s good, but I wanted to try it with my own cupcake recipe, a 1-2-3-4 cake, and add in the high altitude parts.

This is the result. I made them on March 21, following intermittent desert rainstorms when our humidity is about as high as it ever gets – 90 percent. The temp was around 40 and while there wasn’t a lot of wind, what there was held icy raindrops even as the sun continued to shine. Because that’s what it does here.

The cakes

6 tablespoons shortening (I used stick Crisco, not the butter flavored)

1 cup sugar minus 1 tablespoon

2 tablespoons hot water

2 eggs, room temperature

1 tsp vanilla

1 ½ cups cake flour plus 2 tablespoons (I’ve never used cake flour in my life – this was unbleached)

7/8 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup beer plus 2 tablespoons plus 3 teaspoons

Cream shortening and sugar thoroughly. Add hot water and beat until mixture is light and fluffy. Add eggs, unbeaten, one at a time, and beat mixture well after each addition. (Note: Breaking the eggs into a glass dish before adding to the batter gives you a chance to check for and pick out any shell fragments.)

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Sift dry ingredients together into a medium sized bowl or if, like me, you don’t have a sifter, put the flour, baking powder and salt into a sieve and shake it into the bowl. Add to the eggs, sugar and shortening alternately with the beer, making sure the batter is always soft enough to stir easily. When dry ingredients and beer are both added, add the vanilla.

Spoon or pour the batter into prepared cupcake tins; makes 12. Bake in a 365 degree oven for 22 to 25 minutes. Check by inserting a sharp knife or toothpick into the center of a cupcake or two to check for doneness; cupcakes are baked when no batter sticks to the tester.

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The frosting

1 ½ sticks butter, softened (I use salted butter for pretty much everything – YMMV)

2 cups powdered sugar

3-4 (or even 5) tablespoons maple syrup

Beat the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer until smooth and well beaten. Add the first cup of powdered sugar and 1 to 2 tablespoons of the syrup. Run the mixer until fairly well mixed, then add the remaining sugar and the other 1 to 2 (or even 3) tablespoons of syrup, one at a time. Frosting should be thick enough to easily frost the cupcakes, not runny.

While the cupcakes are cooling on a rack, cut up as many strips of bacon as desired into half-inch strips. Cook in a frying pan until crispy, drain thoroughly on paper towels.

When the cupcakes are cool, frost with the maple frosting. There’s no rule that requires you to use a decorator bag. A tablespoon, knife or spatula will probably work just about as well. When the cupcakes are frosted, either sprinkle on the bacon, place it artfully, or turn the cupcakes upside down in the bacon bits. There’s no way to do this wrong, and definitely no way to lose.

Devour. Everybody loves bacon.

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