Thursday, January 20, 2011

Pepparkakor (Ginger Thins)

I have a confession to make: I only go to Ikea so that I can stack up on these  delicious crispy cookies & Almondy's Almond Tarta and they're one of those elusive things, like Homemade Oreos, that I'm always planning to make but never get around to.

Faced with a relatively slow day & nothing else to do, I decided to finally look up a recipe for Pepparkakor and give it a try. It took a bit of searching to locate an authentic one here & I adapted it slightly to include orange peel instead of lemon because I wanted to make exactly the kind of cookies I buy from Ikea.

For those who don't know what Pepparkakor is - they are traditional Swedish cookies otherwise referred to as 'ginger thins' because they're very thin & crispy. They're spiced heavier than regular ginger cookies but the spices are not at all overpowering because orange is the major player here.

The recipe yields 10 dozen cookies & I didn't want an inedible disaster on my hands I had to halve it. And since I hadn't planned on baking these cookies, I just had to use what I had on hand and go with it - which meant that I had to substitute molasses for the golden syrup (and cross my fingers that it would work out). But like they say: if something can go wrong, it will. Not only did I add salt to the batter on top of my salted butter, I also misread a step in the recipe and added a tablespoon of cardamom when I should have added 1 tablespoon of cinnamon . .  no use trying to pick out  a spice after it's been added.

There's no deterring me once I get started, so I decided to just go with the flow and prepare the cookie dough. The worst thing that could happen is that my family would hate these cookies & I'd have to eat them all or feed them to the birds. There are fates worse than consuming a batch of cookies not worth eating.

 The dough is very sticky & needs to rest in the fridge overnight. But of course, I didn't have the patience to wait another day before tasting my experiment. So I divided the dough into two, wrapped the discs separately and took one of them out after barely 4 hours of refrigeration. It felt as hard as rock (it's supposed to) & so I figured I would have no trouble with it. I broke off a small bit & rolled it out pretty thin. Got my cookie cutter out & got to work. . so far so good. . and then, I realized it was impossible to lift the cookie shapes off my counter without tearing and ruining them. Too soft, too sticky.

I then broke off another bit of dough and rolled it out thicker. This seemed to work so much better. But, of course, it meant that my cookies would not be as thin and crispy as the original Pepparkakors. But at this point, I didn't care as long as they tasted anything like the real thing.

Since they bake just 7-8 minutes, I didn't have to wait  long to find out & judging from the aromas in my kitchen, I was sure I had nailed it. And how right I was - these cookies were simply wonderful. There was no evidence of my 'accidents' while preparing the dough except for a faintly stronger taste of cardamom. Otherwise, apart from the thickness, these were exactly like the ones I buy which was very exciting for me! The discs of dough are waiting in my refrigerator for a second trial & I can't wait to see if I can make them thinner next time. For now these pair perfectly well with my cup of coffee.

adapted from Anne's Food
(yields several dozen delicious cookies)
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tbsp ground ginger
1/2 tbsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp salt (omit if using salted butter)
1/2 tbsp baking soda

150g salted butter (or 1/2 cup + 1/8 cup)
250g sugar (or 1/2 cup + 1/8 cup)
150g brown sugar (or 2/3 c) - the recipe didn't specify so I used light brown

1 egg
zest of 1/2 an orange
150 ml molasses
150 ml heavy cream
4 cups + half of 3/4 cups flour

Day one: 
Sift the flour and baking soda in a bowl. Set aside. 
Mix the butter and sugars,  add in the spices, egg, molasses, orange zest and cream till smooth. 
Mix in the flour till well blended. The dough will be very sticky - divide and roll into 2 or more balls or discs, wrap them in saran wrap and refrigerate overnight. 

Day two:
Preheat oven 350F.
Take out a ball or disc of dough. Break off a small piece at a time and roll out on a well-floured surface (I can't emphasize this enough - don't be shy & just sprinkle the flour on otherwise this dough will really stick). Roll it till it is about 1/8th of an inch. Cut into shapes and bake 7-8 minutes. Remove & place on wire racks till completely cool.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Baking With Dorie: Apple Coconut Family Cake

There's something so rustic & comforting about the term 'family cake'. And I expected to like this one very much because of the unlikely combination of apples and coconut. As usual, I wasn't disappointed. 

I halved the recipe & used just one large apple for the filling. It may have been too little because my cakes were airy & moist whereas other BWD bakers described theirs as slightly 'mushy'. 

I used unsweetened, finely shredded coconut which lent a nice chewiness to these cakes & coconut was the dominant flavor here because I had subbed water for the rum. Once baked, I brushed my cakes with very little thinned orange marmalade because that is what I had on hand.

Verdict: very simple & delicious cake which, if given the chance to sit overnight, will taste even better the next day. Although this might be more of a 'cake for adults' as Tina said because even though my daughter 'helped' me make it (she layered the apples on top and then sprinkled them with sugar) she didn't quite seem to like it very much. Here's a look at one of her creations: 

If you'd like to get the recipe for this cake, please head over to Mia's wonderful blog Bright Morning Star, or to page 214 of Baking from my home to yours by Dorie Greenspan

Next up, we're baking Coffee Break Muffins. If you'd like to join our baking challenge, please drop me an email at needfulthings at ymail dot com. We'd love to have you bake along with us!

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Fig & Frangipane Tart

I have been obsessed with the idea of this tart ever since I saw the tour of Paule Caillat's kitchen here

Paule, the owner and operator of Promenades Gourmandes, offers cooking classes & gourmet walks in Paris. I'd written to Paule during the summer in order to make reservations for my 'Paris Encore' trip in December which, quite sadly, had to postponed indefinitely. When I saw her kitchen & the photos of her fig tart I had to write to her again & ask for the recipe. It looked so beautiful. 

Paule wrote back & told me the tart was a simple sweet tart dough with crème d'amandes - which she said was butter blended into equal amounts of almond meal, sugar and 1 egg & I could use any fruit on top. I had to do a little research to find a recipe for crème d'amandes which I had initially thought would be almond pastry cream. But another look at the ingredient list told me it wasn't. And so what she probably meant was Frangipane. 

Once again, there were so many recipes for frangipane that it was hard to pick one to work with. So I just went with the first and simplest one that showed up in my google search (found it at and made the Frangipane before I started working on the tart shell. Here's the recipe I used:

Frangipane (makes enough to fill one 9" tart shell)
barely adapted from

1/2 cup ground almond meal (I ground my own almonds - I think it took about 120g to make 1/2 a cup)
1/4 cup granulated sugar (I could have used a little more)
1 egg
3 tbsp butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla vanilla extract

Blend the butter with the almond meal and sugar. Add in the egg and vanilla extract, mixing till smooth. Set aside. 

Now there's no reason for me to look at recipes for sweet tart dough anywhere when I've had such great success with Dorie Greenspans' Sweet Tart Dough. However, Paule was the inspiration for this experiment and her recipe involves a completely different, very intriguing technique which I've really wanted to try out since I saw it on David Lebovitz's blog. 

The recipe requires butter, water and oil to be  to be heated in the oven after which flour is thrown into the melted mixture and everything is stirred together till it's smooth. There's no need to chill the dough or to even roll it - all you  have to do is simply press it into a pan and bake. You don't even have to add baking weights because all it needs is a few pricks with with tines of a fork. That's all. really. 

It is so simple to make and yields such a beautiful, flaky pastry shell. This dough will not let you down. Try it out the  next time you decide to make a tart. 

 Paule Caillat's French Pastry Dough
(do head over to his blog to see DL's photo tutorial here)

90g unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 tbsp vegetable oil
3 tbsp water
1 tbsp sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 slightly rounded cup all purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 410F. 

In a medium-sized oven-proof bowl, combine the butter, oil, water, sugar and salt. 

Place the bowl in the oven for 15 minutes, until the butter is bubbling and begins to brown just around the edges. 

Carefully remove the bowl from the oven (be very careful here - it really sputters!), throw in the flour and stir it quickly. I used a whisk initially & worked it until I had large clumps of dough - then I switched over to a spatula and gave it a stir or two after which it formed a perfect ball of dough. 

I divided the dough into 4 & transferred it to my mini-tart molds, patted it down with the spatula and then worked with my fingers to press it up the sides. I allowed the shells to cool and then pricked them with a fork before par-baking them for 5 minutes. One of the shells had puffed up a little when I took it out, but I simply patted it down with the back of a spoon. 

Once the shells were completely cool, I divided the frangipane between them and baked them for 15 minutes (Paule's instructions were to bake the tart for a total of 30 mins, adding the fruit after 10 minutes - but I was using small molds so I increased the amount of time). I then layered the sliced figs on top and baked the tarts for 30 - 35 minutes. I think I over-baked a little, since I wasn't sure how long to bake them. And so my tarts looks nothing like Paule's tart, but I loved creating them.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Baking With Dorie: World Peace Cookies

It is so hard for me to describe these fabulous & famous cookies and so I can only summarize by saying that these are the most wonderful chocolate cookies I have ever had.

Closely related to sablés in texture, these cookies are light and sandy but with a stronger burst of chocolate flavor. The tiny bits of hand-chopped chocolate & intense cocoa flavor make them seem almost like a fudgy brownie. In fact the thicker they are sliced the more fudgy-brownie-like they taste because their middles are soft & the edges crispy.  I'd say this is a rather sophisticated, yet unassuming cookie.

Since I have zero will-power, I halved the recipe & wanted to use a Lindt Chili Bar in place of the dark chocolate required but then I discovered I didn't have it on hand like I usually do. So I added in just a little over 1 teaspoon of ground Chipotle Chili Pepper. That may have been a little  bit too much since I had halved the recipe - of course that didn't occur to me while adding it in. 

I had a few problems with the dough - it came together really well because I used softened butter. But after the dough had been shaped &refrigerated and I began slicing it, it would split in half. I pressed the sliced & split rounds together and baked the as they were while I refrigerated the log again. Eventually the problem solved itself when I sliced the cookies very thick which also meant very fat cookies. But I'm not complaining! 

I have to say the chipotle pepper added a deceptive heat to these cookies and, for me, it was an interesting blend of flavors. I should have added a little less chili powder because it pricked a little at the back of my throat. But here's the real surprise: my kids ate them. Not one each, but several - and they think 'the chili pepper is kind of nice' but 'these cookies are so, so good - they would be even better without the chili pepper'. I guess I was really pushing my luck with those chilies, wasn't I?

That said, I'm not done talking about these cookies yet. I wanted to compare them to chocolate sablés and figure out which I like better because I really couldn't decide.

Here are the sablés I used for comparison purposes:

One bite is never enough to decide. I took several: 

Was I any closer to deciding? No. 
The verdict: I love them both! The sablés taste far more buttery and were slightly little less sweet than world peace cookies.

The addition of fleur de sel  intensifies the cocoa flavor in the world peace cookies which, along with the hand-chopped dark chocolate, satisfies every chocolate craving I could ever have. They're not really like shortbread but taste more like double chocolate chip cookies with a pleasant saltiness.

Thanks for picking this recipe Rebecca! It was a wonderful way to roll in the new year. You can find the recipe for World Peace Cookies on Rebecca's blog Beurrista or pages 138-9 of Baking from my home to yours by Dorie Greenspan

Next up we're making Apple Coconut Family Cake. If you'd like to join our baking challenge, please email me at needfulthings at ymail dot com. We'd love to have you bake along with us!

Happy New Year to you all & I hope 2011 brings peace to all mankind!


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