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!

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

 

My sister used to make the world’s best coffee cakes.  They managed to be moist without being cloying, and to have just the right sweetness without being cake.  A breakfast treat for weekends, with the sour cream lending a tang.

I don’t know what her knack is but I don’t have it.  This is a family recipe and it’s easy but time-consuming – if you want this fresh and hot for breakfast, at least give yourself a jumpstart by laying out the ingredients the night before and starting what you can.  Maybe soften the butter, or even mix the butter and sugar, and crack the eggs into a separate bowl to avoid those pesky shell bits and not have to take the time in the morning.

Even so, it takes a while and inexplicably doesn’t seem to know how long it bakes.  Whoever it was who recorded it in the family indicated 350 for the oven and must have had high altitude amounts in place, because there was no problem with that – the cakes rose just fine and didn’t fall.  But the directions say to bake for 30 to 60 minutes – that’s a very broad difference in time.  Kind of like someone took a guess.

I think this recipe could benefit from some experimentation.  It’s lightly sweet, which I suppose coffee cake is meant to be, and it has a nice open crumb.  It just needs something to go with – hot chocolate, maybe.  Or strawberries gently steeped in powdered sugar and poured over.  Or blackberries.  Or maybe I just don’t quite get coffee cake.

It makes two loaves, and goes stale quickly, despite the moist interior (or maybe because of it).  I’m planning to wrap the second loaf in freezer or parchment paper and a thick zipper-close plastic freezer bag and freeze it until the day comes I need bread pudding.  That day will more likely be deep winter than deep summer.

Serve this with thick, dark coffee or clean, sweet breakfast tea, dress it up with fruit or drown it under cream – and let me know what works for you if you try it.

Makes 2 loaves

Need 2 loaf pans, greased and floured (I greased and floured my nonstick as well as my old metal pan)

The Batter

This is a super thick batter, because the liquid all comes from the eggs and the sour cream.

¾ cup of salted butter (1 ½ sticks), softened

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

3 cups flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt (preferably sea salt)

3 eggs

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla

1 ½ cups sour cream

The Crumb Topping and Middle

1 cup brown sugar, packed

4 teaspoons cinnamon

½ cup flour

 

Preheat oven to 350.

Cream together the butter and sugar.  Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until blended.

Mix together the dry ingredients and add alternately with sour cream, beginning and ending with the dry.  This is a thick, creamy batter that comes out of the mixer bowl in thick spoonsful.

 

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This is the halfway point. From here sprinkle the crumb topping and then top with batter and more topping.

Grease and flour 2 regular size loaf pans.  Spoon ¼ of the batter into each pan, then sprinkle ¼ of the crumb topping over the batter.  Top with the remainder of the batter.  You’ll have to gentle it over the crumb mixture, and if rubber spatulas work for you, that’s your best bet.  For me, a wooden spoon, as rubber spatulas seem more trouble than they’re worth.  Divide the remaining crumb topping between the two loaves and sprinkle evenly over.

 

Bake in 350 oven for 30 to 60 minutes, my instructions say.  At 30 minutes batter still clung uncooked on the toothpick.  At 45 minutes they were abruptly and perfectly done.

Best eaten once cooled.  Place the hot pans on a wire rack but it may not work to remove the coffee cakes – mine just bent and tried to dissolve into crumbs.  The first piece, warm, was good, but nothing to get ecstatic about.  The second piece, now, when it’s two hours out of the oven, is heavenly.  So maybe best served cooled.

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My office assistant doesn’t like coffee cake but can dress up any post. 

 

 

 

 

Caramel Sticky Buns & Buttermilk Bread

This recipe started circling through my head a couple weeks ago but there was never any time to give it a shot. Deadlines, more deadlines, taking the cat to acupuncture, taking myself to acupuncture (Note: the cat and I have different doctors…) and then more deadlines.

This past week, though, Rick was off work and we were celebrating our anniversary with a vacation at home – getting to all those things there’s never enough time for, watching the last of the Veronica Mars series (we’d never seen it!) and many, many different Fast & Furious movies as the new movie is hitting theaters. We stayed up way too late on our last night off. Even though we had to be up at 5:30 for Rick to go to work, we watched all of Fast & Furious 2 and had to talk ourselves out of staying up for Tokyo Drift.

 

So with the week off there was time to start the batter Saturday night and see if it could endure a retarded rise overnight in the refrigerator. It did, though if I leave it overnight again I’ll grease the bowl – it was a little hard and a little wrinkled when it came out in the morning. Kind of the way I feel most mornings.

 

I gave the dough half an hour or so to warm up, even though it had risen to the top of the bowl.

 

For the bread, I took half the batter and punched it down on a lightly floured marble pastry board. I had a very small packet of walnut halves I’d coarsely chopped and then roasted at 325 for 15 minutes just on a sheet of foil. (Some time ago I bought a little two part hand-crank nut grinder from King Arthur Flour. It looks like something that Lucy Ricardo would be selling, just like a late night TV ad: “But wait! There’s more!” But it’s actually fabulous. Drop the nuts in, turn in one direction for larger pieces, another for smaller, and the chopped nuts drop into a measuring cup.)

 

I had less than an entire palm-full of toasted chopped walnuts and I scattered them over the bread and kneaded them in, along with what was seriously only a dusting of cinnamon – maybe two very judicious sprinkles and that was kneaded throughout too. Then formed a loaf which remained very small and cold and unfriendly until it went into the oven. It never peeked over the pan, never did anything to prove itself willing to turn into a fragrant, delicious loaf.

 

For the buns, I used a cupcake tin for 12 regular size cupcakes. At first I thought I really wanted a larger sized tin but this turned out perfect. Each cup got about a teaspoon and a half of very cold salted butter, and 2 rounded teaspoons full of light brown sugar. The majority of the toasted walnuts were divided among those cups, then 3 got a sprinkle of cinnamon, 3 got a sprinkle of both cinnamon and nutmeg, 3 got both cinnamon and nutmeg and two slices of frozen and thawed organic peach slices, and 3 just got brown sugar and walnuts.

 

With the exception of the peaches, all of the toppings went into the preheating oven so the butter and sugar could melt and meld. The peaches went in after the melted bits came back out of the oven and were therefore between the caramel and the bun, which worked out very nicely. Pretty as two slices are bracketing the bun top, cutting it into bite sized pieces would stop the entire slice of peach from coming off in one bite.

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The dough for the buns got cut into 12 pieces, rolled into balls and placed in the cups on top of the butter, brown sugar, etc. Bread and buns were covered with a light tea towel and left on top of the oven to warm. Oven preheated to 425.

 

The buns took 15 minutes and came out fantastic. Only problem is when turned upside down onto waxed paper, they left a lot of sticky caramel and nuts on the tin. I thought butter would be enough to discourage that. Next time, then, either nonstick tin or a light greasing with vegetable oil (canola doesn’t seem to leave a vile, Hello, I’m vegetable oil taste).

 

The nutmeg somehow gets lost, though there’s no harm in sprinkling it gently. I’d guess I used less than 1/8 teaspoon for all the cups that had it.

 

The bread came out at 25 minutes. It tapped hollow and turned out of the pan beautifully and it’s really, really good bread. It’s a thick, hearty bread, which makes no sense, since the loaf itself feels light as a feather. I think it could have used 2 to 3 more minutes, so probably depending on variations in ovens, time for the bread is best put as 25 to 30 minutes.

 

The Sponge

 

1 cup buttermilk, room temperature

 

2 packages active dry yeast (not rapid rise)

 

2 teaspoons salt

 

1 tablespoon sugar

 

¾ cup hot water

 

2 cups all purpose flour

 

 In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in the buttermilk. Let stand for 10 minutes.      

 

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The sponge at 10 minutes.

 

 

 Add the salt and sugar. In a large mixing bowl, 2 cups all purpose flour. Make a well in the center of the flour. Add the buttermilk/yeast mixture, and pour in the ¾ cup of hot water. Mix in just enough flour to make a thick paste.

 

Let the sponge rise for 20 minutes, covered with plastic wrap or, if you’re like me and can’t remember to buy cling wrap, cut up a large plastic baggie and drape it over the bowl.

 

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The sponge at 20 minutes.

 

 

The Dough

 

1 to 3 more cups all purpose flour

 

The Steps

 

Mix 1 cup flour into the sponge. When I took the dough from the bowl, it was very sticky, and only had the initial 2 cups + this additional cup. On my lightly floured marble board, I kneaded for about 8 minutes, adding an entire fourth cup of flour.

 

Return to a good sized mixing bowl, cover and allow to rise. This is where I covered the bowl with the savaged gallon plastic bag and put the whole thing in the refrigerator until the next morning. Next time if I leave it overnight I’ll oil the bowl. Otherwise I think a clean or well-scraped bowl would be enough if the dough is just going to rise on the counter.

 

When the dough came out of the refrigerator Sunday morning I let it sit for about 30 minutes to warm, despite it being very well risen. I preheated the oven to 425 while it was rising.

 

On a lightly floured board I punched down the dough and divided it in half. The bread got the dusting of cinnamon, scant handful of toasted walnuts and was kneaded gently to form a loaf. I used a regular sized loaf pan, nonstick, light colored, and lightly greased.

 

For the buns, see above, with the details about caramel sticky topping.

 

Both buns and bread rose under a light clean dish towel on top of the oven as it preheated. Buns baked for 15 minutes, bread for 25; see above for details on the bread – it could have used a little more time.

 

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Rising in well-used & well-stained pans.

 

 

A lovely, fattening experiment that resulted in a guilt-ridden early morning hike today but more than worth it. I get the urge to make sticky buns about once a year, and most of the time have been less than thrilled with the recipes – enough so that I don’t have a go to recipe. This might be the one; definitely the bread was perfect and the buns? Are all gone.

 

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