Friday, December 9, 2011

Chocolate Mint Sandwiches

I made these beautiful, rich cookies last year for my chocolate/mint loving family. I'm pretty particular about my chocolate and peppermint duos, for example, I don't like Peppermint Patties, Peppermint Bark or Junior Mints (sorry Kramer), Andes mints are...okay, Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream, now you're talking, Starbucks White Chocolate Peppermint Mocha--oh yeah and objectively speaking, these cookies were pretty awesome, the peppermint is not overpowering, it's mostly about the ganache  and chocolate glaze for me.

For the Cookies:
1 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. flour
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg, room temperature
Confectioners' sugar, for the work surface

For the Ganache:
1/4 cup heavy cream
6 oz. semisweet chocolate, very finely chopped ( I just used chocolate chips)
3/4 tsp. peppermint extract

For the Glaze:
6 oz semisweet chocolate

1. Make cookies: Whisk together cocoa powder and flour in a medium bowl; set aside.  Put butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Mix on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Mix in egg until well blended.  reduce speed to low.  Add flour mixture; mix until just combined.  Divided dough in half, and shape each half into a disk; wrap in plastic.  Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour (or overnight).

2.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Transfer dough to a work surface lightly dusted with confectioners' sugar. Roll out dough to 1/8 inch thick.  Cut out cookies using a 2 inch round cookie cutter (you can see I used a small snowflake cutter); space 1/2 inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.  Repeat with remaining scraps of dough.  Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through, until firm, 10-12 minutes.  Let cool completely on sheets on wire racks.
3. Meanwhile, make ganache: Bring cream to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add chocolate.  Cook, stirring constantly, until chocolate is smooth.  Stir in peppermint extract.  Let cool slightly, 10-15 minutes.

4.  Spoon 1 tsp. ganache onto the bottom of 1 cookie; sandwich with another cookie.  Repeat with remaining cookies and ganache.  Refrigerate until firm, about 10 minutes.

5.  Make glaze: Melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring constantly.  Let cool slightly.  Dip 1 flat side of each sandwich into melted chocolate to coat; gently shake off excess. Place sandwiches, chocolate side up, on wire racks set over baking sheets.  Refrigerate until set, about 15 minutes.  Sandwiches can be refrigerated in a single layer in airtight containers up to 2 days (2 days? Whatever, we had them for at least a week and they were fine, I did keep them in the fridge, because of the heavy cream).

Not gonna lie, these cookies were some of the most time consuming 
I've made, but it's kind of fun once a year to spend time in the kitchen 
making special treats. They really are beautiful.

I can't believe I didn't get a picture of the finished product! Thankfully Martha still has a link for hers, click here for the complete look.


Coconut Macadamia Shortbread

This recipe comes from a 2005 Holiday Cookies magazine from Martha Stewart. I've been making them for a couple Christmas seasons now, and look forward to them all year. Coconut is one of those things, like cilantro, you either love it or hate it, I personally love both, so if you too are one of those coconut lovers out there, you might want to give these a try.

1 cup macadamia nuts (about 3 oz) toasted
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
3/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
4 Tbsp. cream of coconut or unsalted butter ( I have always used butter, I mean who has heard of cream of  coconut??)
2 tsp. pure coconut extract
2 cups flour, plus more for work surface
1/2 tsp coarse salt
1 large egg white, lightly beaten

1.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Process nuts and 2 Tbsp sugar in food processor until finely ground; set aside. Process 1 cup coconut until coarsely ground; set aside.

2.  Put butter, cream of coconut, and remaining 3/4 cup sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Mix in coconut extract.  Reduce sped to low.  Add flour, salt, nut mixture, and ground coconut; mix until combined.

3. Halve dough.  Shape halves into disks, and wrap in plastic.  Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.  Let soften before rolling.

4.  Roll out each disk on lightly floured parchment to 1/4 inch think.. Cover with plastic; refrigerate until firm, 30 minutes.

5.  Cut dough into squares using a fluted 2 1/4-inch square cookie cutter ( Use whatever you like, as you can see I used a heart cutter, snowflakes would be pretty cute too).  Reroll scraps; continue cutting out shapes.  Space about 1 inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment.  Lightly brush tops with egg white; sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup coconut.  Bake until golden, 20-25 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks.  Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature up to 1 week (they also freeze great! We snacked on them for a couple months.).

 Before they go in the oven...

and after.  So delicious served with tea.

For a picture of Martha's square cookies in their cute paper cups click here.


Thursday, December 8, 2011

Christmas Lights

Like everyone, everywhere, we love getting in the car to go see the lights of the season. Here in Seattle we have several opportunities and these are just a few...

1) The most advertised of course is ZOO Lights at Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma.

For ticket rates click here. You can pre-order, pay at the door or purchase at Fred Meyer.  Military and Pierce County residents may qualify for a discount as well as Zoo members.  There is a little cafe where you can order coffee and treats to keep you warm while you stroll through the park.  Get warmed up in the toasty aquarium, you may even want to treat the kiddos to a festive camel ride!

2) Last year we learned about Fantasy Lights. This is a park you drive through at less than 5 mph, the kids can get out of their car seats, open the windows, moon-roof, put the top down, there is even a radio station you can tune into to hear Christmas music played by a local high-school band. You can print out a $3 coupon from the Pierce County website. Expect a wait on weekends, and you may want to make a pit stop before entering the park. It's a fun, low key event, and don't forget to pack the car with cocoa and cookies!

3) Okay now I'm just searching the web, so these recommendations are not from personal experience. Garden d'Lights in Bellevue. Check out their website for directions, ticket rates, and even free admission nights! 

4) Clam Lights at Coulon Park runs nightly between 5-9pm with an annual kick off each season full of festivities ending with a visit from the Argosy Christmas Ship.

5) Speaking of which, the Argosy Christmas Ship. This was my first Christmas gift to Jeremy while we were dating. We had a fancy-ish dinner in downtown Kirkland, boarded at Carillon Point, cruised down Lake Washington passing lots of beautiful, lit-up homes including the Gates mansion. Once we got to Bellevue, our destination, we were greeted by a bay full of private yachts all decked out in Christmas lights--pretty cool.

6) Stanwood's The Lights of Christmas gathers more than 40,000 people each season and features 1.2 million lights, pony rides, Polar Express Train Rides, with the option of a gourmet Dinner Theater. I did not even know this existed 5 minutes ago...we have to go!

Other helpful links:

For a regional listing of private neighborhoods and individual homes click here. I grew up going to the Viewpointe at Redondo, a 44 home neighborhood.  One year there was even an open house for the public to attend, I remember getting cider and cookies, kind of a fun memory.

Candy Cane Lane for some reason gets a lot of hype, but we were pretty disappointed the year we went and my sister's family went last year and said it was a dud. My opinion--don't bother.

Kerry Park in Queen Anne keeps coming up, apparently a good view of the City Lights including the iconic Space Needle's Christmas Tree.