Lemon Curd

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The holidays are over. Heavy sigh. I feel a bit cheated due to the fact that our real break (after Christmas) was only just beginning when nasty viruses hit. My Mother, who lives nearby, came down with what seemed like the flu. A week later, she showed little improvement, so I took her into urgent care on New Year’s Day. Diagnosis: bronchitis. Prescription: antibiotics. Simultaneously, at our house, my husband and daughter were fighting off similar bugs. Somehow through nursing these three back to health, delivering Pedialyte, cough meds, homemade chicken soups, and components of the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, and tea) to all, I managed to stay well! I can’t even believe I dared to type that!

In years past, my Mother and I have closed ourselves up in her kitchen for an entire day, baking and decorating a variety of holiday cookies. Since ‘simplicity’ was tagged as my word for December 2014, and I would be baking on my own this year, two or three kinds of cookies seemed more manageable. Three days, 250+ cookies, and many rounds of clean up later, I emerged, tired and grumpy. Next year… seriously!

By some gravitational pull… ahem, butter… this year’s cookie theme was shortbread. You know what goes really great with shortbread? Lemon curd. Now as a rule, I’m not a huge fan of lemon desserts, but this lemon curd, made with Meyer lemons, is nothing short of phenomenal! Meyer lemons tend to be sweeter than regular lemons, and lack the eye-tingling punch of acid of regular lemons, so they bring a refreshing flavor to this curd. Meyers come into season during mid-winter, so grab them up while you can. If you’re a big lemon fan, by all means use regular lemons instead. Or mix it up and use a few of each. Either way, this is one badass lemon curd!

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Add the buttery flavor and sandy texture of shortbread, with the creamy tartness of lemon curd, and you have a combination that will have you sneaking out to the kitchen after guests have gone to savor every last drop.

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I actually made four kinds of shortbread… chocolate, peanut butter, almond and vanilla.

You may be under the impression that lemon curd is difficult to make, but trust me, this is easy. And that step of straining it through cheesecloth you may have heard about? non-existent!

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I found these perfect boxes at The Container Store early in the season.
Note to self: pick up plenty of boxes early, even if you think you won’t need them (you will).They won’t be there when you return to buy more.

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The challenge was finding small jars for the lemon curd that would fit nicely into those perfect boxes. Thankfully, the wonderful people at Weck had me covered. Their 2.7 oz jar was a Cinderella fit. Be careful, Weck jars are addicting!

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Lemon Curd
Makes about 2 cups
This recipe easily doubles. I made 4 cups to fill 12 jars, and still had some left over.

Ingredients
3 oz. (6 Tbs.) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice (about 4 lemons) I used Meyer lemons (see notes on that above)
1 tsp. grated lemon zest (optional)

Directions
In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer, about 2 min. Slowly add the eggs and yolks. Beat for 1 min. Mix in the lemon juice. The mixture will look curdled, but it will smooth out as it cooks.

In a medium, heavy-based saucepan, cook the mixture over low heat until it looks smooth. (The curdled appearance disappears as the butter in the mixture melts.) Increase the heat to medium and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens, about 15 minutes. It should leave a path on the back of a spoon and will read 170°F on a thermometer. Don’t let the mixture boil.

Remove the curd from the heat; stir in the lemon zest. Transfer the curd to a bowl. Press plastic wrap on the surface of the lemon curd to keep a skin from forming and chill the curd in the refrigerator. The curd will thicken further as it cools. Covered tightly, it will keep in the refrigerator for a week and in the freezer for 2 months.

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Holiday Cookies. A few of my favorites.

While scanning through the many holiday cookie recipes on Pinterest, I was pondering what makes a cookie worthy of gifting. What do I want to nosh on? My criteria is relatively simple. As with any dessert, texture is extremely important. Soft, cakey, textured cookies are good. Slightly crisp and sandy is awesome too. Brightly colored dough is not appealing, although a few colored sanding sugars are nice. The taste should not be overly sweet. Buttery is good. Chocolate is crucial. Size is important. Smaller is better, a few bites is best. As with any baked goods, the best ingredients are of utmost importance… pure butter, good chocolate, real vanilla, fresh eggs, etc. Starting with only the finest, purest ingredients is key to producing delicious cookies every time.

Here is the list of cookies I have rotated in the last few years. In an effort to simplify and reduce holiday stress, I’m choosing two or three varieties this year. And due to their complexity, some of these will automatically disqualify.

Recipes are below the descriptions.

Butter Cookies. Buttery goodness. One recipe, two different cookies.
Christmas Cookies

Cut-outs. This recipe is a two for one. One batch of butter cookie dough makes both spritz and cut-outs.
Decorated Holiday Cookies

Double Chocolate Snowflakes. Soft, chocolately cookies with a cake-like interior.
Holiday Cookies

Pecan Tassies. Miniature pecan pies. A bit of work, but worth the extra effort.
Pecan Tassies

Gingersnaps. Spicy, sweet, soft. Yum.91911-153

World Peace Cookies. The name says it all. If we could all eat these every day, there would be peace in the world. If you love dark chocolate, this slightly crisp, sandy textured cookie will float your boat.
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Chocolate Chip Cookies. Made with cake flour and chunks of dark chocolate, these are small, dense, and extra special.
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THE RECIPES
Notes:
• Butter = unsalted butter, unless otherwise noted
• I like to splurge on good chocolate. Guittard, Ghirardelli, Scharffen Berger are good.
• All cookies listed are baked in a 350 degree F oven.
• It is better to underbake than overbake cookies. Take them out of the oven while they’re still a bit soft, and butter and sugar cookies should still be very light.

Christmas Cookies
Butter Cookies
2 Cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 Tablespoons pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons salt
5 cups all-purpose unbleached flour

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
Add eggs, vanilla, and salt; mix on medium speed until combined.
With mixer on low speed, add flour in 2 batches, mixing just until it’s incorporated.

Divide dough into two equal portions. Place each on a piece of plastic wrap, flatten into disks. Wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate until firm, or at least 2 hours or up to 1 week.

Take out one disk and let it get to room temperature before putting it through a spritz cookie press. Use same baking instructions as above for cut-outs.

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Cut-outs
When you’re ready to bake, roll out the other disk to about 1/4 inch thick and cut out desired shapes. Place onto a cookie sheet, sprinkle with sanding sugars. Bake in preheated oven for about 12 minutes, or until they’re slightly golden just around the edges.

Cool cookies overnight before frosting.

Icing
For spreading:
Makes about a cup, enough to coat 1 recipe’s worth of 1/8-inch thick cut out cookies.
In a bowl, still until smooth: 3 cups powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1/4 cup water
To tint, stir in food coloring, a few drops at a time.
Icing should spread evenly, and after a second, settle to make a smooth surface. If too thick, mix in a few drops of water; if too thin, stir in powdered sugar, a little at a time.
Spread icing onto cool cookies with a metal spatula. Let stand until icing is firm, about 1 1/2 hours.

For piping:
Makes about 3/4 cup, enough to decorate 1 recipe’s worth of 1/8-inch thick cut out cookies.
In a bowl, stir until smooth: 2 cups powdered sugar, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, 1 1/2 Tablespoons water
To tint, stir in food coloring a few drops at a time. Icing needs to be still enough to hold a line when piped through a pastry bag fitted with an 1/8-inch tip. If too thick, mix in a few drops of water; if too thin, stir in powdered sugar, a little at a time.
Let stand until icing is firm, about 5 minutes.

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Holiday Cookies
Double Chocolate Snowflakes
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups chocolate chips

Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt
Cream butter, add sugars
Add eggs and vanilla. Mix well.
Add flour mixture and mix until a soft dough forms.
Add chocolate chips and mix well.
Cover dough and chill for at least an hour.
Shape dough into balls and roll in powdered sugar.
Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven until cookies have puffed and cracked. About 8-10 minutes.

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Gingersnaps
1/2 cup butter
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup molasses
4 cups sifted flour
2 teaspoons soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ginger

Cream butter and sugar together, beat in eggs.
Stir in molasses.
Sift in all dry ingredients. Mix into dough.
Roll dough into 1″ balls. Roll in sugar (cinnamon optional).
Bake at 350 degrees for 7-10 minutes.

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World Peace Cookies (Chocolate Chunk Butter Cookies with Sea Salt)
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips, or a generous 3/4 cup mini-chocolate chips

Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together.
Working with a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, or a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla and beat for 2 minutes.
Pour in the dry ingredients (drape a towel over the mixer to protect yourself from flying flour) and pulse the mixer at low speed about 5 times for a second or two each time. Take a peek; pulse a few more times if there’s a lot of flour still on the surface of the dough. Mix on low speed for about 30 seconds more until the flour disappears into the dough. Work the dough as little as possible for the best texture. Don’t be too concerned if it looks a little crumbly. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix to incorporate.
Turn the dough onto a work surface. Gather it together and divide in half. Shape each half into a log that is 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.
Preheat oven to 325F degree
Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.
Using a sharp, thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are 1/2 inch thick. Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them.
Bake one sheet at a time for about 12 minutes. The cookies won’t look done or be firm, but they’ll firm up and become more sandy-crumbly as they cool.

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Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 3/4 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 large eggs

Sift together baking soda and salt. Set aside.
Soften butter. Add sugars and mix until smooth and fluffy.
Add vanilla and eggs. Mix well. Add flour mixture and blend.
Add chocolate chips. Mix.
Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10-12 minutes.

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Happiest of holidays to you all!

World Peace Chocolate Cookies

In honor of National Chocolate Day, I’m posting a recipe that is so fabulous it started a worldwide giveaway on my previous blog.

Dark bittersweet chocolate, sea salt, what’s not to love?

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The intense flavors of dark chocolate and fleur de sel come together for a party in your mouth. If you have not yet tried this combo, don’t walk, run to the store and pick up the ingredients to make these now. I’m pretty sure that if every human being could eat just one of these every day, there would indeed be peace in the world!

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The key to the wonderful flavors in these cookies, and any good pastry, is this: use only the best ingredients. I used Guittard chocolate, with 72 percent cacao, which is one of my favorites. I used my mini-chopper to break it into small pieces. A good fleur de sel is also an important ingredient, I’m using sel de Guérande from France, which you can order through Amazon, but many grocery stores are now carrying good sea salts. Guittard chocolate chips are available in many grocery stores. There’s an extensive list on the Guittard site.

chocolate and sea salt

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Chocolat Paix Mondiale et Cookies au sel de mer
World Peace Chocolate and Sea Salt Cookies
Makes about 4 dozen 

Ingredients

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup plus 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter (at room temperature)
2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips

Directions

Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together. Set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and pale yellow. Add the sugars, salt and vanilla and mix another 2 minutes.

Turn off the mixer. Pour in the sifted dry ingredients, drape a kitchen towel over the mixer to protect anything around it from flying flour. Mix at low speed about 5 times for a second or two each time. Then mix about 30 seconds more. Mix just until the flour disappears into the dough. Work the dough as little as possible. It may look a little crumbly… no worries. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix just until incorporated.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface and gather it together and divide it in half. Shape into logs that are 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.

Using a sharp knife, slice the logs into rounds that are about 1/2 inch thick. (They may crack a bit as you’re cutting them. No worries. Just squeeze the chocolatey bits back onto the cookie). Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them.

Bake each batch, one sheet at a time, for 12 minutes. They won’t look done, they won’t be firm at this point. They’ll firm up and become sandy/crumbly as they cool. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack.