Sunday, December 21, 2014

Almond Crescent Moon Cookies

Two of my favorite Christmas cookie recipes have been given to me by my dear mother-in-law, Adalou.  She has a vast repertoire of delicious recipes, but I just adore her Spritz Cookies and these tasty almond cookies.  The almond cookie recipe came from her Aunt Cathie who called them Canadian Cookies, but I like to call them Crescent Moon Cookies because it conjures up a Norman Rockwell Christmas card image in my mind.  Passing down recipes from one generation to the next is a tradition I hold dear and a way to stay connected with both the past and the present.

Another tradition I adore is the holiday cookie tray.  What is more festive than a large plate of assorted cookies to add to the Christmas table?  The Almond Crescent Moon Cookies and the Spritz Cookies are a good start.  For a light and fun addition try the Meringue Mushrooms or the Meringue Drops,  Or for a delicious traditional cut-out sugar cookie recipe try the Vanilla-Scented Sugar Cookies.  Whether you include a few or all of these recipes your Christmas cookie tray is sure to be a hit and a great way to pass on a fun culinary tradition at the holidays.  

Wishing you all many Christmas Blessings!

Use a food processor or blender to finely grind the almonds.  The mixture can have some almond pieces, but the finer the grind the easier the dough will stay together.

Almond Crescent Moon Cookies
makes about 3 dozen cookies

1 cup (8 ounces/225 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (105 g) confectioners sugar
2 cups (280 g) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups (250 g) finely chopped blanched almonds
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon ice water
1 cup (140 g) confectioners sugar, for coating the cookies

Preheat the oven the 325℉ (163℃).  Line 3 baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.

In the bowl of a standing mixer using the paddle attachment cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy.  Sift together the flour and salt.

On low speed add the flour/salt, almonds, almond extract, and ice water.  Mix just until the dough comes together.

Roll spoonfuls of dough by hand then form into a crescent shape.  Put on prepared baking sheets.

Bake until cookies start to brown, 20-22 minutes.  

Remove from the oven and roll in confectioners sugar while warm.  

The cookies will keep at room temperature stored in an airtight container for several days.  Layer the cookies between waxed paper or parchment paper sprinkled with additional confectioners sugar.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Cake for Maddie

We have celebrated some milestone birthdays recently.  My father turned 80 years old and now Maddie has turned 18.  My father chose to celebrate with pie, but Maddie is a cake girl all the way. She loves cake.  As a senior in high school she has much to celebrate.  She will graduate in May and go off to college next autumn.  While she does not know yet where she will land, the anticipation and excitement makes for an exhilarating and sometimes stressful year.  Maddie is intelligent, beautiful, independent and talented.  She is my child who has always said, "I can do it myself!" - and so she does.   A dear friend remarked that this time of life is truly the definition of 'bittersweet' as your children make their way in the world you are so happy for them, yet it will forever change the landscape of your own life.  Go Maddie make your mark, but first let's celebrate with cake.

This recipe is adapted from a recipe by the fabulous cookbook author Dorie Greenspan and makes a perfect white cake.  The cake is delicately flavored with lemon zest and extract then brought together with a layer of raspberry jam followed by rich, lightly lemon-flavored buttercream.  The combination is bright and festive - just perfect for a birthday celebration.  But the great thing about this recipe is its versatility.  For more of a lemon kick substitute lemon curd for the raspberry jam.  Or for a pure vanilla cake replace the lemon zest and extract with pure vanilla extract.  The basic recipe works with so many different interpretations that you will come back to this cake recipe over and over whenever you need a perfect, reliable cake fit for any celebration.

Birthday Cake with Buttercream
Adapted from Baking From My Home To Yours by Dorie Greenspan


2 1/4 cups (315 g) cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups (300 ml) buttermilk or whole milk
4 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups (300 g) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup (4 ounces/115 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure lemon extract

Preheat the oven to 350℉ (175℃).  Butter and lightly flour 2, 9-inch (23 cm) round cake pans.  Line each bottom with a buttered round of parchment paper or waxed paper.

In a bowl whisk together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt.  In another bowl whisk together the buttermilk (or whole milk) and the egg whites.  In the bowl of a standing mixer rub the sugar and lemon zest between your fingers to release the oils in the zest.  Add the butter and beat with a paddle attachment until very light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add the lemon extract.  Alternate adding the flour and buttermilk mixture in three additions beating on medium speed and scraping down the sides of the bowl a few times.  Once completely incorporated beat on medium speed for 2 minutes.  Divide the batter between the prepared cake pans and smooth the tops.

Bake on the center rack until a cake tester comes out clean about 25-35 minutes.  Cool on a rack for 5-10 minutes.  Invert the cakes and allow to cool completely on the rack.  Leave the parchment paper or waxed paper on until the cakes are completely cooled.  Loosely cover the cakes with a thin, clean kitchen towel to keep them from drying out as they cool.  (Once cooled remove the parchment paper or waxed paper before filling and frosting the cakes.)  If not using immediately wrap air-tight and store at room temperature up to a day or freeze for up to a month.

I love this buttercream recipe because it is nearly foolproof.  You don't need a candy thermometer, you just heat the egg whites and sugar together to dissolve the sugar then beat until stiff and glossy before adding the butter.  It makes a perfectly luscious buttercream every time.


1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
4 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces/340 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup (60 ml) fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Whisk egg whites and sugar in a mixing bowl over a pan of simmering water (don't let the bowl touch the water) until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is thick and very warm, about 3 minutes.  Move the bowl to an electric mixer with a whisk attachment and beat on medium speed until mixture has cooled and the egg whites have formed stiff, glossy peaks.  (If the mixture isn't cool it will melt the butter and cause it to separate.  Just keep beating until the egg whites are cool about 5 minutes, but longer if needed.)  Switch to a paddle attachment and add the butter a few pieces at a time until well incorporated.  Beat the buttercream on medium-high speed for 6-10 minutes until very smooth and thick.  If the buttercream starts to separate continue beating until it comes back together.  Reduce the speed slightly and add the lemon juice slowly until incorporated, then add the vanilla extract.  

If not using immediately press plastic wrap onto the surface and set aside.  Buttercream can be stored in the refrigerator for several days, but needs to be brought back to room temperature before using.  Buttercream is always best served at room temperature.

To Assemble

3/4 cup (190 g) seedless raspberry jam

Stir the raspberry jam vigorously or warm slightly to make it spread easily.  Cut each cake in half horizontally with a large serrated knife.  Invert one layer on a cardboard cake round or cake plate.  Spread with about a 1/4 cup (65 g) of raspberry jam then cover with a thin layer of buttercream.  Do the same for two more layers then top with the final layer, cut side down.  Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining buttercream.  

The cake is ready to serve.  If not serving immediately cover and allow to sit at room temperature for up to 6 hours.  Refrigerate for longer storage, but allow to come to room temperature before serving.  The cake is best served the day it is made, but will keep, refrigerated and well covered, for up to two days.