Thursday, December 29, 2011

Date-Filled Cookies, Page 121, 2nd Column, 1st Recipe

This week’s recipe is yet another I would not have picked out, Date-Filled Cookies!  I’ve had dates before, but never gone out of my way for them.  So this cookie never really appealed, but this is an adventure and I’d never made filled cookies before, so time to try!

This Filled Cookies I recipe from All Recipes matches the Better Homes and Gardens on almost exactly for the ingredients.  There is a mistake in the recipe, 1 egg is listed twice.  It should only be there once for the dough, not the filling.  Down to the Vanilla Extract are the ingredients for the cookie, below that is for the filling (excluding the egg).  The instructions are a little different too, but overall it's close enough.

First check is to see out of my 6 cook book editions when this shows up and how it has changed.  It looks like the first appearance is my 1976 cook book. It shows up in the two following cook books as well, but in the second following one it is an alternate to the Date Pinwheels which made me look back through all the books for that.  As it turns out the Date Pinwheels are the same thing, just assembled differently.  A sugar cookie dough with a date filling rolled up and sliced instead.  So when I looked again, Date Pinwheels went back to the 1953 edition.  So basically Date-Filled Cookies or Date Pinwheels were in every edition except the 1936 one.

The recipe varied slightly in the date filling (older recipes adding nuts to it as well.) And the cookie varied slightly as well, but it was pretty much a sugar cookie dough and date filling made with dates, sugar and water.  It must have been a well liked recipe to keep making an appearance.

Since the sugar cookies would be rolled out I decided it was time to try Rolling Pin Rings to keep the thickness consistent.  I’ll talk about these more later.  Dates would be nearly the only ingredient I’d need to get (and a lemon as well.)  So easy to buy for.  The only down side is that the packages of dates I got give you 1 ¾ cup of dates when the recipe calls for 2.  So I’ve got some spare now.

The dough was a standard rolled sugar cookie dough, cream shortening, sugar, add other wet ingredients, then the dry ones, so I prepared that first and then put it in the refrigerator to chill for later and then started in on the filling.

Dates in the sauce pan with water and
sugar before cooking.
I had assumed that the filling would have the fruit, some thickener, etc. But it turned out to be quite simple.  The cut up dates, a little sugar, water, bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes.  Tah dah!  Date filling.  After cooling it’s like thick preserves, perfect for a filling.  Really neat.  

Date filling after cooking
5 minutes.
So I let everything cool in the refrigerator until the next day.  Next step was to roll out the sugar cookie dough to 1/8 of an inch.  This was where the rolling pin rings would come in.  The recipe recommended taking half the dough at a time to roll out.  This probably works if you’re not using the rings to keep a consistent thickness.

With the rings I could press down and not worry about making the dough too thin, but I also was very restricted on how wide the dough could get.  It had to fit between the two rings at each end of the rolling pin.  You’d have the same problem with another solution, strips of a specific thickness on either side of the dough, but at least you could use a wider rolling pin.

Circles cut into the dough.
So I actually rolled out about ¼ of the dough at a time.  Even so, I still had to roll it long and narrow to fit between the rolling pin rings.  I used a 2.5 inch circular cutter with a decorative edge and then a pastry scraper to carefully pick up each cookie.  Even if the cookies were kind of stuck to the surface a bit, just jiggling the scraper under them lifted them off very cleanly.  I placed my usual number of cookie bottoms on the sheet (rows of 4, 3, 4, 3, and 4, so 18 cookies to a sheet) 

Bottoms on the cookie sheet.
The recipe then called for using a teaspoon of filling.  Now it gets confusing, do they mean a measuring teaspoon or an eating teaspoon?  I chose to use a measuring teaspoon very slightly heaped to measure out the filling.

Slightly heaping teaspoon of filling on the cookies.
Next it was time to lay a second cookie over the first.  I slightly squished down the filling a bit when I did this.  The amount of filling sometimes cause the top of the cookie to crack a bit when I pushed down the edges, but the look was not unattractive.
Edges pressed together with back of the tip of a spoon.
Then I sealed the two layers of cookies together using the back of a regular spoon as recommended.  I suppose someone could get very fancy with this, but I just did a serviceable job.  Some of the editions of this recipe recommend using fork tines instead to seal the edges.

Next, bake for 10-12 minutes.  I was anxious to see how they came out.  They were slightly browned at 11 minutes so I used that time.  They looked pretty good on the cooling rack, and when I tried them I was surprised how good they were.  For a recipe I wouldn’t have given a 2nd glance at, they were very tasty and I ate a good number of them over the holiday weekend.

The finished Date-Filled Cookies on the cooling rack.
The cookies are more crispy when they first cool from the oven, then they soften a bit after a while.  I really liked it when they were crispier, but they were still very good softer and there is probably no way to keep the filling from eventually softening the cookie.

They also went over well at work.  I’d definitely make them again.  They were like little mini pies, but the cookies as the container instead of pastry made them even better.

Lessons Learned:

Roll out in smaller batches, or use strips and a wider rolling pin.

Save all the scraps from cutting out cookies to recombine all at once to ensure you don’t get too much flour into the dough rather than trying to reuse the scraps from a roll out of ¼ of the dough over and over.

A slightly heaped teaspoon did not use up the filling, I could have done more.  Interestingly the later versions of this recipe only use 1 and ⅓ cup of dates instead of two, so maybe there is too much filling.

I could probably flatten the filling out a little more to make it more even before layering the 2nd cookie on.

Next time try sealing the cookies together with fork tines.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Cookie Throw Down Number 1!

As I made the Lemon Pecan Sandies, I decided to make shortbread again for my vegetarian friends at work (and anyone else who preferred them!)

As I've been making these cookies and varying recipes and techniques, I thought what I would love to do if I had a bakery is put up 2 versions of cookies and let people give their feedback on them on which they thought was best.

Well I don't, and won't have a bakery, but I have a willing audience of software folks at work that are more than ready to sacrifice themselves in trying cookies.

So this weekend I decided to see what the real difference was between using the "Old Fashioned Oats" that I prefer and the "Quick Cooking Oats" that recipes seem to always call for.  Oatmeal Shortbread would be the battleground.

Sadly there is no Oatmeal Shortbread recipe that comes close on  All of those were HEAVY on the oatmeal, when the cookie I do just has 1/3 cup with the flour just reduced a little.  I think most late 80s and beyond versions of The Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book have this as a variation on their Shortbread recipe if you want to find it.

So I whipped up 2 batches of Oatmeal Shortbread and set up my trial at work.

Hands down the preference was for the ones made with Old Fashioned Oats.  The cookie was crunchier, that was preferred, and had a stronger oatmeal taste that give these cookies a fantastic flavor.  As I always say, the Old Fashioned Oats have more "umph!" So I'll be sticking with the Old Fashioned Oats from now on!

Next Throw Down I'll post pictures.

Happy Baking!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Lemon Pecan Dainties, Page 120, 2nd Column, 2nd Recipe Down

This week’s recipe that I pulled from my little container of slips was “Lemon Pecan Dainties.”  Again, something I might not have picked out. 

First step was to dig through my 6 versions of the recipe book and see what kind of history this recipe had.  As it turns out, it was only in my 1976 book, and the 1953 book.  The older recipe has shortening instead of butter, but otherwise it was basically the same.  Sadly, I could find no similar recipe on

The recipe reminded me of the “Sandies” I’d made earlier, but this time there was the added lemon zest, and lemon juice.  Also the dough was to be formed in a roll, chilled and sliced rather than chilled and shaped by hand.

Now in these older Better Homes and Gardens recipe books, most recipes have the ingredients listed up top then instructions, but some have all the ingredients woven into just a paragraph, so no listing of ingredients.  So you have to read the whole recipe to figure out what all you need, which is annoying.

But this time it was pretty simple.  I just needed the lemon and chopped pecans, everything else was standard stuff off the shelf.

Lemon zest from my microplane!
The cookie started the standard way, cream butter and sugar, then start adding other wet ingredients.  I had fun with my microplane again and got my teaspoon of lemon zest and then a tablespoon of juice and added those to the butter and sugar.  Then combining all the dry ingredients (except the nuts) and mixing that in.  This was another stiff dough and the mixer definitely earned its keep.

The microplane.
Next was to add the 1 cup of finely chopped nuts.  Now these were clearly pretty coarsely chopped, so I knew I needed to chop them up and used my food processor to do it.  But I am uncertain how far down you have to go for it to be considered “finely” chopped.  I suppose there must be some formal cooking definition, but I just got them to about half the size they were from the package and went with that.
Creamed butter and sugar with
lemon juice and zest ready to mix in.

I added the nuts and started up the mixer again and got them thoroughly mixed in.  When I went to scoop the dough from the mixer, I found it to be very clingy.  It stuck to the beater and the sides of the bowl, and my rubber spatula as well.
Dry ingredients added.

Nuts mixed in.

I turned out the dough onto some plastic wrap and started forming a cylinder.  As I squeezed down the size, since it was supposed to be two inches in diameter, the plastic got wrinkly so I ended up  unwrapping the dough and rewrapping it to smooth the surface out as I got it into shape.

Next I put it in the refrigerator to chill thoroughly.

Now once it was cooled, the next step was to slice “very thinly.”  I really wish they’d just give a thickness instead.  So being the mathy geek I am, I measured the length of the roll, and then divided that by the number of cookies it was supposed to make.  Based on that the thickness should be between 1/8 to 3/16 of an inch thick.
Section of chilled dough ready to slice.

Sliced dough, need to work on even slices.
But the dough, although thoroughly chilled, was still a bit on the pliable side.  After cutting enough cookies for one sheet, I put the rest of the roll in the freezer.  Once the dough was completely frozen, slicing went much better.

For the slicing I did have to use a very sharp smooth edged knife (not serrated!) and a sawing motion to cut through the cookie.  Otherwise I think the nuts would have been dragged through the dough.  Even so I had a difficult time maintaining a 1/8” slice.  Somehow ¼” is easy to slice, but 1/8” is more troublesome.  I would keep veering off partway through.

So the cookies were ready for baking, and I used the full 12 minutes after checking them at 10 and still finding them too soft.  I then made the mistake of listening to the recipe when it said to leave the cookies on the sheet for a few moments after coming out of the over.  After a few moments, they didn’t want to come off the sheet.

The finished Lemon Pecan Dainties!
After that I removed them promptly and that worked fine.  The result was a crispy cookie with a gentle lemon flavor and a nice dose of pecans in each.  I took them into work and folks really liked them.  Definitely a very nice cookie, very tasty.

I then pulled next week’s recipe from my container. “Date Filled Cookies”  Definitely something I would never pick on my own.  But I’ve now got 2 packages of dates waiting on the shelf for this one.

Lessons learned:

Label stuff.  I had some extremely finely chopped nuts on the shelf in a Ziploc baggie, but I had no idea what type they were or when I had done them.  I need to label stuff I put on the shelf in baggies in the future.

Freezing worked better for slicing these cookies.

I either need practice, or a better way to get 1/8” slices from a cylinder of cookie dough.

Only taking part of the dough at a time for slicing worked well, that way the dough stayed consistently firm as I grabbed a new piece to work with.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Lebkuchen, Page 122, 2nd Column, 2nd Recipe Down

My Better Homes and Gardens Cook Books in order of age.

Because I was having problems picking a recipe, this marks my first week of picking a recipe at random.  Also as part of this cookie experimenting, I now have 6 different copies of the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book to cross compare with.  I already had 3 and have added 3 others finding old used copies and getting the latest version.  So now I have ones from 1936, 1953, 1976, 1981, 1989, and 2010. 

First of all Lebkuchen is another traditional German cookie which is also often called “Honey Cakes.”  You can read more here at Wikipedia.  This recipe required me to buy something I’ve never bought before – “chopped, mixed candied fruits and peels.”  I probably would never have picked this recipe out by choice.

Chopped candied fruit and peels.
First I read through the recipe, made sure I had all the needed ingredients and equipment.  This is a rolled cookie that would have to have time to chill as well.  But before I made it I wanted to see how this recipe had changed over time.

The recipe from my 1976 book is identical to this one for German Lebkuchen on  Next I went back to my 1953 book, there was no molasses or nutmeg, an additional egg, regular sugar instead of brown and slightly different proportions of ingredients, and only candied lemon and orange peels.  In addition there was no icing applied afterwards as well. 

Main ingredients besides flour, brown sugar, etc.
Next was to see what the 1936 recipe book contained, and this diverged even further.  Even more eggs, a much larger proportion of sugar to flour,  the almonds that were added were to be ground, and the fruit this time was Citron, also called for to be ground.  A friend at work and I puzzled over this a bit, but finally concluded that they must mean the candied peels of Citron ground as in a meat grinder to get smaller pieces.  There was no leavening either, so I’m not sure how cakey this could be, and it was limited to 2 spices rather than the four from the 1976 recipe.  This time it was only cinnamon, but also cardamom which was not in the other recipes.  Also this recipe was a drop cookie rather than rolled which seemed at odds with the history of the cookie.

Looking forward the Lebkuchen recipe appears in my 1981 book and is identical to the 1976 recipe, but then is absent in all future editions I have.  So clearly a cookie that has fallen out of favor it seems.  I had never had it in my life, so I was looking forward to the making, and the tasting to see what it would be like.
The egg, brown sugar, molasses and honey
and my new mixer blade!
First off was to beat the egg, I used my new mixer blade that has built in scrapers along the edges, should be less of a problem having stuff build up on the sides of the mixing bowl for my KitchenAid mixer now.  But they are a little noisy.

Then the sugar and the honey and molasses next.  This produced a syrupy mix, and I realized for the first time, there is no butter or shortening in this recipe.  No wonder they say to grease the cookie sheet!

Before I measured out the dry ingredients I wanted to make sure I had the cut up further the chopped candied fruit and peels and measure out 1/2 cup.  How to do this...these things were a sticky mess, so I though maybe the food processor would do the trick.  Alas, it chopped it up so fine parts of the fruit now looked like beads, and the shredder attachment didn't work out at all.  So I had to resort to chopping it up by hand.

Next was to get all the dry ingredients together.  Anytime a recipe calls for more than 2 cups of flour, I can easily lose track.  When I was making the Springerle I had to remeasure at least twice because I lost count of the 4 cups of flour I was supposed to use.  So I kept careful track and then added in all the spices and the baking soda.  I was ready!

The finished dough, sticky beyond belief!
I slowly mixed in all the dry ingredients, and it was definitely giving my mixer a workout.  Now I could smell all the spices I'd used.  When I lifted the mixer blade out, the dough was extremely sticky.  I scraped as much off the beater blade as I could, then I mixed in the slivered almonds and the minced fruit.  That was quite a chore!  Here is the resulting cookie dough: 

Now the dough had to chill for at least 3 hours, I was hoping that it would firm up reasonably, it seemed too soft for a roll out dough, but I was going to find out.

While the dough chilled I made the icing.  I had just gotten a micro plane to get cirtus zest, so this was my first chance to try it out.  I really should have taken a picture.  It was quite amazing, if you zest any fruits on a regular basis, you'll want this tool.  It produced fine fluffy zest that looked beautiful.  I mixed together the ingredients for the glaze and also put that in the refrigerator.

The dough hand patted down and ready for rolling.
Three hours later and the dough was supposed to be ready.  I put an ample amount of flour on the counter and turn out the dough and patted it together with well floured hands.  Although it was still quite sticky, enough flour and I could work with it.

I rolled it out to about 1/4 inch thick.  I think I definitely want to get some of those add ons for rolling pins that will give you an exact height across all your dough.  I can never get it even.  Once I was done rolling it out, I attempted to cut out the 3.5x2 in rectangles recommended.  This turned out to be harder than expected, but I shouldn't have been surprised.
Ready for cutting cookies!
The slivered almonds and sometimes the fruit impeded the pizza slicer I was using.  It took some vigorous repeat rolling and pressure to cut through some of it.  But that wouldn't be my only problem.  As I'd rolled out the dough, there was not enough flour underneath it in some areas and when I tried to lift the cut rectangles, they were seriously stuck to the counter.  

The cut cookies.
With a little work I eventually got them onto the cookie sheet and started baking.  The smell was amazing.  It took three cookie sheets to hold them all and eventually I got them all baked and on the cooling rack.

Ready for baking!
The house smelled great and I was curious to see how they tasted, but I wanted to let them cool.  Then I remembered - the glaze!!  I quickly got out the lemon glaze which was to be applied while they were still warm and got them coated.  But I need to work on using it evenly, I ran short on the last few cookies.
The baked Lebkuchen.

The finished Lebkuchen!
The resulting cookie has a dense texture, very chewy, and very very strong in flavor, stronger than gingerbread I've had.  The nuts were nice, but I'm still not sure about those candied fruits and peels.  Some of those had a pronounced flavor I can't say I cared for.  We'll see how these go over at work on Monday.  

Ginger Shortbread
To make a treat for my vegetarian friends at work, I tried making ginger shortbread.  A recipe I made up.  Not sure that it's something I would make again, but we'll see how they go over too.

Lessons Learned: 

Cutting up candied fruit and peels is a pain.  Is it really worth it for this recipe?  Maybe try without next time.

Use more flour under the dough when rolling out, and don't forget to put back on the apron when you start rolling out the dough.  I got coated in flour.

Don't forget the icing!