Buttery Jam Tarts

I saw a recipe for these Buttery Jam Tarts in a cookbook, and it called to me. It made me think of nursery rhymes, as in “the Queen of Hearts, she made some tarts.” But I hesitated to make them because the dough called for milk. In my experience, milk in cookie dough = tough cookies, as milk combines with the flour, and gluten strands start forming left and right, and pretty soon you have a cardboard cookie.

Still, the recipe called to me, and I jumped in, with my rolling pin at the ready, having ferreted out all my tiny cookie cutters. Sure enough, within minutes I was wrestling with a dough I knew would be awful, and only throwing in some sour cream made it useable. Still, even the awful dough cookies looked pretty cute, and I decided to try the recipe again with my own dough, my favorite shortbread dough that I used last week to make Sparkly Butterfly cookies. This dough makes a good cookie.

Magic! The buttery dough rolled out perfectly, and soon I had ten really cute Buttery Jam Tarts. You will see that I used a variety of tiny cookie cutters, but if you don’t have any, you can just cut a cross in the top cookie layer–it works nicely. Also, I used a fig fruit spread, from Aldi, which has a mellow flavor, but you can use any jam you want. The combination of the buttery cookie and sweet jam is so good! For the recipe, just click on this Sparkly Butterfly cookie link, and make the dough. Then proceed as follows.

Buttery Jam Tarts

Make a batch of shortbread dough as noted above, and divide the dough in two. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Ingredients–be sure to use butter. The clementines are included just for pretty.
The tiny cookie cutters I used.
I like fruit spreads because they have less sugar than jam. Stir the fruit spread or jam before using.
You will need a three-inch cookie cutter. I didn’t have one, so I used the lid of a peanut butter jar. (In the words of the Marine Corps, sometimes we have to “adapt, improvise, and overcome.”)
Roll out half of the dough, and cut ten circles with the three-inch cookie cutter. Place on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Place one teaspoon of fruit spread or jam onto the ten circles. Spread it out a bit so it will fill entire top cutout.
Roll out the other half of dough. Cut out ten more circles, and then, using your little cookie cutters, cut out shapes in each. (You can re-roll dough scraps if you need to make enough circles.)
Place cut out cookie top on bottom half. With a fork, press around each cookie to seal.
Cookies ready for oven. I sprinkled them with a bit of granulated sugar. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until edges are golden brown.
Edges golden brown, fresh from the oven. I baked the cutouts, too. Animal crackers!
The tart with cut “cross,” looks good, and you don’t have to use a cookie cutter.
Love it!
The Queen of Hearts could have made this one.

Baking notes: Use butter. Stir the jam. Don’t worry. Even if you shy away from seemingly complicated cookies, this dough 1) handles easily, 2) you only make ten cookies, and 3) they are so cute. If you would like to use tiny cookie cutters, check out cookiecutter.com for an irresistible assortment.

 

Just a robin, but I’m happy to see him during this long, cold spring.

Looking thoughtful.

A few more pages from the Paper Butterfly Scrapbook, showing some resourceful butterflies who have developed protective coloration in order to blend in with zebras, giraffes, and frogs. Not sure why you would want to do this, but it works for them. Peace to you. Fran

 

Sparkly Butterfly Cookies

Since I love baking cookies, and I love butterflies, it was only a matter of time before I baked a butterfly cookie. I was thinking sparkly, pretty, delicious. I decided to use the shortbread recipe from my post Glittering Shortbread Stars, because it’s an A++ recipe: easy to mix, easy to roll out, and it results in a melt-in-the-mouth butter cookie. I also used this recipe for Llama Cookies.

So I made the cookies, using a butterfly-shaped cookie cutter, iced them with a simple powdered sugar glaze, and then started strewing the cookies with sparkly sprinkles. You can do this masquerading as a responsible adult (must . . . bake . . . Easter . . . cookies), but your inner kid will be having so much fun!

I ended up dipping the iced cookies in a pile of sprinkles for a super sparkly look, but I almost like the less sprinkled cookies better. Either way, these cookies will (as promised) melt in your mouth, and then there will be a little creamy icing, and then .  . . crunch, into the sprinkles. Fun to make, fun to eat!

Sparkly Butterfly Cookies

2 sticks (1 cup butter) softened
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, beat the softened butter until smooth, and then add the sugar and vanilla. Beat until fluffy. Mix the flour with the salt. Add to the butter mixture and stir briefly, to start bringing it together. Then mix the dough together with your impeccably clean hands. It will be a bit crumbly.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough until it is about 1/4″ thick. (Divide the dough in half, and roll out one batch at a time.) Cut dough out with butterfly-shaped cookie cutter. Bake for 13 to 15 minutes. Allow to cool.

Glaze: Mix two cups of powdered sugar with five tablespoons milk. Beat with a spoon until smooth. Frost each cookie (icing will be thin), and sprinkle with sparkles, or dip into a pile of the sparkles. Allow to set. Makes about 14 cookies. (You can ice the cookies while still warm–the glaze will become transparent.)

Baking notes: If you bake these for 13 minutes, you will have a softer cookie. Fifteen minutes will yield a crisper cookie with some browning at the edges. In my experience, this cookie is infallible–just be sure to use butter, as margarine handles differently in baking.

Ingredients with cookie cutter.
Half of the dough ready to be rolled out.
Cut out cookie.
Ready for the oven.
Fresh from the oven. Looking cute already.
Cooling cookies. Wondering if Jim has already read the Book Review section.
Upending the freshly glazed cookie into a pile of sparkles.
Experimenting. I thought the pretty little Easter pearls were a bit too big for this cookie–might be better on a cake.
Pretty on a plate.
Packed up and ready to go to Easter dinner,

You can use this recipe for any cookie cutter and whatever sprinkle you would like! Here are the other cookies I made with this recipe (so far).

and llamas . . .

 

A beautiful goldfinch. Birds are mysterious. I’ve been hearing goldfinches on and off all winter, but they rarely appeared at the feeder. How did they survive? I think this is a male just starting to have his golden summer feathers coming in.

Another page from the Paper Butterfly Scrapbook. It tells of a butterfly that was touched by King Midas many years ago. The butterfly has lived in the lap of luxury ever since, sleeping on silk cushions and wearing a little golden crown.  In his heart, though, he yearns for the freedom of blue skies and to have his own wings back. We hope this will happen some day. Peace to you. Fran

(Thanks to Dawn for the beautiful golden paper.)

 

Cosmic Bread and Cardinals

At a local library’s used book sale recently, I picked up a copy of “A Blessing of Bread: Recipes and Rituals, Memories and Mitzvahs,” by Maggie Glezer. This is a wonderful book. I made a braided challah that was spectacular, and then made this bread, called “Churek: a Rhodes Sabbath Bread,” and am I delighted again. When the swirling golden-brown loaves emerged from the oven looking like little galaxies, my first thought, as an old hippie, was: “cosmic!” So I’m thinking of this as cosmic bread. Whatever you call it, it’s special, reminding me again that bread is more than just bread: it’s a sacred thing.

If you are a beginner, you can make this bread. Really! It uses instant yeast, so it rises quickly and reliably, and the dough, with its eggs and oil, is easy to handle. And it bakes up into delicious swirls of feathery bread, with a thin, golden crust. Slices make crispy toast.

Here is the recipe:

fullsizeoutput_3631Churek: Rhodes Sabbath Bread

1 envelope fast rising (instant) yeast
about 7-1/2 cups bread flour
2-1/4 cups warm water
2 eggs
1 tablespoon table salt
7 tablespoons vegetable oil

Be sure to use bread flour, and instant (also called fast rising) yeast.
Mix the yeast with 2-1/4 cups of the flour, and then stir in the  warm water.
Allow the mixture to sit for 15 to 20 minutes, so it puffs up and is bubbly.
Mix in the two eggs, salt, and oil until smooth and then stir in remaining 5-1/4 cups of flour. It will form a shaggy mass, moist in some areas, a bit dry in others.
Turn the shaggy mixture out onto your lightly floured work surface, corralling it with a dough scraper.
Knead the dough for about 10 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. It will be slightly sticky.
Place the dough into the cleaned bowl, and spread just a bit of olive oil all over it.
Cover the bowl with a plastic bag, and twist under tightly. Allow to rise for about 1-1/2 hours, or until doubled.
After rising.
The risen dough turned out on work surface.
Cut the dough in half. Roll each out into a rectangle about 1/2″ thick. Then roll each rectangle into a strand about 30 inches long. (You might want to use a tape measure.)

Mark each long strand into thirds. Fold the right end against the center third, then wrap the left end around it, creating a spiral. Place each spiral on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Below: before and after rising.

 

 

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. (I also pour some water into a 13 x 9″ pan–about one inch–and place it on the lower rack to create steam.) Brush each loaf with some beaten egg. You can also sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds.

Bake for about 50 minutes, or until the bottom crust is golden brown.
This bread has a light, feathery texture.

Ready for toasting, to make bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches for supper!

Baking notes: Bread making involves a bit of estimating and experience: is the yeast foaming and alive? have I added enough flour? should I knead the dough more? when has it risen enough? and when is it finished baking? If you follow the above steps, though, you will have some nice loaves of bread, and will be ready to try again!

Our garden seems to full of cardinals lately, and I love it. Here is a male cardinal at the feeder, and also on our garden bench. He has such dignity and presence.

And some little Dutch irises are up! These are dusted with snow. Peace to you. Fran

 

Chocolate Mint Cookies and More

I was feeling a bit sad this morning, because Girl Scout cookie season is over, and we had eaten up all of our Thin Mints. Actually, I don’t remember eating them–one moment we had a full box of Thin Mints, the next moment, two empty cellophane sleeves and some crumbs lay on the floor.

So this morning I decided to ease ourselves through this (very small) crisis and make some Chocolate Mint Cookies from one of my favorite cookie cookbooks, Big, Soft, Chewy Cookies by Jill Van Cleave. I have made many recipes from this book, and each has been delish.

These were no exception. I would say they are better than Thin Mints, but the thought of the delightful little Girl Scout who came to our door selling cookies makes that seem a bit churlish. They are actually different from Thin Mints, being big, soft as feathers, moist and fudgy, with the frosting, made with heavy cream, adding a bright pepperminty touch. And, you get to drizzle! Here is the recipe:

Chocolate Mint Cookies

4 ounces semisweet chocolate, cut into pieces
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, cut into pieces
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1-3/4 cups cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Mint Cream Icing

Heat oven to 350 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Melt chocolate and butter in the microwave for about 2-1/2 minutes on half power. Stir until completely melted. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat the sugar and egg until blended. Add whipping cream and peppermint extract. Stir in cooled chocolate mixture. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder and salt. Add to creamed mixture. Set mixture aside for a few minutes as you tidy up–it will become quite firm. Using a large ice cream scoop, drop dough onto prepared cookie sheet, about 2-1/2 inches apart.

Bake until top of cookie look crackled, about 12 minutes. Allow them to firm up for a few minutes, and transfer to a rack for cooling,

Mint Cream Icing: Mix until smooth one cup powdered sugar, 5 tablespoons whipping cream and one teaspoon peppermint extract. Cut the tip off of a plastic sandwich bag, fill with frosting, and drizzle over cooled cookies. When drizzling, keep a firm pressure on the bag, and move along quickly. This icing recipe made enough to drizzle over the cookies twice.

Baking Notes: Be sure to use peppermint extract, not spearmint. Peppermint is sharp and tingly, spearmint a bit musty, in my opinion. Be sure to use cake flour, and whipping cream, not milk, because these ingredients make a difference to the soft richness of the cookie.

Pictured below: Ingredients, chopping the chocolate, chocolate and butter ready for microwave, after melting, mixing batter, cookies ready for baking, and baked cookies, showing crackled, domed tops.

The soft, fudgy interior.

 

I know spring is here when 1) the snowdrops are blooming, 2) the rhubarb is emerging, and 3) robins sit calmly on fence posts, basking in the sun. Here is just such a robin, the sun shining through his translucent beak.

 

And from the Paper Butterfly Scrapbook, come these pages of the amazing Iris Butterflies. If you have irises, you probably will have these lovely butterflies fluttering amidst the blossoms inconspicuously.


These Iris Butterflies were made from instructions in “Origami Flowers: Fold Beautiful Paper Bouquets,” by Kazuo Kobayashi. I used 3″ squares of rice paper, tinted with violet and blue watercolors.

Peace to you. Fran

Melted Brie in a Box and More

The pathway to this week’s post was short and sweet. I was browsing among our library’s cookbooks (love doing this, could spend the rest of my life doing this) and I ran across two French cookbooks by author Hillary Davis: French Comfort Food and The French Oven. I had riffled only a few pages through the first book when I ran across a recipe for “Brie Melted in Box with Brown Sugar for Two.” Had. To. Make.

Fast forward a few hours, after a quick trip to the store, and Jim and I were snarfing down the melted Brie in box, and I knew I had to make it again and to share–it’s so good! And easy. Here are the particulars:

You could make this with crackers, but the baguette was perfect.
You will need an 8 ounce Brie cheese in a box.
Take it out of its box, and then remove the paper wrapper.
The cheese will be covered with a thin rind.
With a sharp knife, slice off the top rind. (It doesn’t have to be perfect.)
Put the cheese back in the box, and then cover it with one to two tablespoons of brown sugar. Place it in a baking dish and then into a preheated 350 degree oven for about six to ten minutes, until oozy. You can also heat up your baguette at the same time.
The recipe suggested serving the baked Brie with jam, fruit compote, or honey and walnuts. We tried jam, with our favorite being cherry preserves. This raspberry jam was good, too!
The jam stirred and in a small bowl.
Melting, oozing cheese!
Spoon some melted Brie onto the warm baguette slice, then top with a little jam.
The Brie, baguette and jam. Oh, my.
This recipe serves two. You might think it would be impossible for two people to eat all this, including the whole baguette, but there was only a teaspoon of jam and a blob of cheese rind left. You can eat the rind, though it’s optional.

You might notice something in the above photos: I forgot to put the Brie back in the box before putting it in the oven! My only defense is that sometimes my kitchen turns into Grand Central Station, with Puff wanting out, and then in, and then out, Jim circling like a buzzard over the cheese, the news on . . . and well, I forgot to put it back in the box. But I can testify that it works beautifully and is delicious either way!

 

Wild Starling Free-for-All

The sparkle of Spring is in the air, and birds have returned. I had never thought of starlings as beautiful birds until I saw them close up. They are so handsome! Here is a wild starling free-for-all with suet.

 

Page from the Paper Butterfly Scrapbook

More pages continue to fall from the old Paper Butterfly Scrapbook I found in a dusty attic. This page actually features moths. An old clipping, dated February 1962, noted the following: “A squadron of young moths, inspired by John Glenn’s orbit around the Earth in Friendship 7, are on their way to the moth constellation Noctuoidea. This constellation will not be found on any human celestial map. Bon Voyage, Moths!” It is not known if the moths reached their destination–perhaps another clipping with reveal this. Peace to you. Fran

 

 

Coconut Macaroons and More

A platter of coconut macaroons.

The moment I saw the bags of organic, unsweetened coconut flakes sold at Aldi–they are something new–and noticed there was a recipe on the back of the bag for Coconut Macaroons, I had to try them. I had a vague, childhood memory of macaroons–that they were chewy and delicious with the fresh flavor of snowy white coconut. And I liked the simplicity of this recipe–just egg whites, powdered sugar, coconut and salt. At any rate, I was soon in the kitchen, baking.

They are delicious! The outside is toasted and crispy, the inside chewy. The chewy coconut center is so good. You could dip these in melted chocolate, but sometimes sweet and simple is best. Here is the recipe.

Coconut Macaroons

4 egg whites
1-1/4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
7-ounce bag of organic coconut

Preheat oven to 325 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Sift together the powdered sugar and salt. Beat egg whites until very stiff, gradually adding the sugar mixture while beating. Fold in coconut. Using a small cookie scoop, drop batter onto prepared baking sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until bottoms are golden brown.

Baking notes: There are quite a few recipes out there for Coconut Macaroons–some made with sweetened condensed milk, some with more coconut, some with flour or granulated sugar. But I do like the easiness of these, and that they are not overwhelmingly sweet–the coconut flavor is front and center. They will become softer and chewier the next day.

Ingredients, and the copper bowl I used.

Since I had a copper bowl, I used it, but you could use any bowl. There is a scientific reason why egg whites beat up really well in a copper bowl–something to do with copper ions and the protein in the egg white–but my eyes glazed over as I read about it, so I won’t include it here.

Separate the eggs before you do anything else–they will warm up a bit and have bigger volume when beaten. Also, be sure the bowl and beaters are super clean.
Add the sifted sugar/salt as you beat.
The egg white foam will expand as you beat in air.
Beat at high speed for about five to six minutes, until the egg whites are stiff.
Fold in the shredded coconut, scooping under the batter with a spatula. This is the fun part!
Scoop batter out onto the baking sheet. I used a small cookie scoop, but you could use a tablespoon.
Baked macaroons fresh from the oven.
I sprinkled some powdered sugar on the macaroons.
The chewy center, the crispy crust.
Coconut macaroons and snow drops–a nice combination.

And the birds are back, including a large flock of red winged blackbirds roosting in our juniper tree. And here is a sweet little female goldfinch. We’ve survived winter!

I still am poring through the Paper Butterfly Scrapbook, and finding new pages. A faded newspaper clipping fell out the other day with an item about the debut of a tissue paper butterfly in Swan Lake. Apparently, she was a wild success. To quote: Beating her wings and antennae in time to the limpid strains, the ravishing butterfly enthralled the crowd.

Another scene, with the corps de ballet. Note: We know that she went on to dance with both Nureyev and Baryshnikov, but has recently retired to Costa Rica.

Peace to you. Fran

Jammy Muffins and More

Spring paid a fleeting visit yesterday, just long enough for its sunbeams to point out the dusty corners in my kitchen and the windows that need washing. But instead of sweeping and window washing, I found myself making Jammy Muffins. This is another recipe from Muffins A to Z, by Marie Simmons. (I just checked, and it’s available for 15 cents plus shipping at Amazon. A bargain.)

Jammy Muffins are made with an insane amount of sour cream, and then topped with a jewel of sparkling jam. They are moist and delicious, and are so perfect 1) to eat, of course and 2) for a brunch. I baked these muffins in PaperChef parchment tulip cups. I recommend these cups, even though they cost more than the usual cupcake liners, because they make any muffin look cute and festive, and like they come from a pastry shop. So here’s the recipe for twelve jammy, sour-creamy toasty muffins.

Jammy Muffins

2-1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
16 ounces sour cream
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
12 teaspoons of your favorite jam

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper cupcake liners

Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the sour cream, eggs and vanilla until smooth. Add to the dry ingredients all at once and stir in just until moistened. Using a mounded 1/4 cup ice cream scoop, divide the batter evenly up among the cupcake liners. Make a small hollow in the batter with the tip of a spoon, and spoon one teaspoon of jam into each hollow

Bake until the tops are golden–about 20 to 22 minutes.

Baking notes: Be sure to sift the dry ingredients together, especially making sure that any baking soda lumps are broken up. I used a fancy-schmancy Four Fruit Jam for this recipe, but any favorite jam will be fine. Stir the jam so it’s smooth, before using. Also, when you add the dry ingredients, there may be a nervous moment when you wonder if there is too much flour, but it will be fine. You might want to scoop up under the dough with a spatula, just to make sure all the flour is mixed in. The dough is solid because the eggs and sour cream are the only liquid.

The muffin revealed in all its glory.
The texture of the muffin is fine and moist.
Muffins on a china platter.
Total jamminess. Big question: Will you eat the muffin and leave the jam for the last bite? Or will you go for the jam first? I’m a jam last person.

PS: Directions for the coiling blue mat seen above can be found at my friend Dawn’s blog. I used a single color of pale blue cotton.

Photos below: Ingredients, sifting the flour, the paper tulip cups, stirring the jam before using, whisking the sour cream mixture, the batter, the filled muffins before baking.

 

 

Last step: licking the spoon.

After the silence of winter, it was nice to hear birds singing this morning, when Jim and I went out for our Monday morning breakfast. Here is a female cardinal who appeared at our feeder yesterday. She was in a hurry to leave when she saw my camera!

Another page from the Paper Butterfly Scrapbook. It shows that rarity of all rarities: fraternal twin plaid butterflies. Identical twins are often seen, but fraternal? Almost never!

Seen yesterday, in the early Spring sky, the moon and clouds. Peace to you. Fran