Monday, June 10, 2013

Little Piggy Cookies

I've talked about my friends' Cinco de Mayo party in a previous post, along with the recipes I've made to take which are not necessarily traditional Mexican dishes, but then neither again is the holiday itself!
This year, as the date approached, other media sources were building up with discussions of festivities and ways to participate, and NPR raised the topic of cochinitos, or "piggy cookies." These are not something I had heard of before, though apparently they are ubiquitous all over Mexico year-round. I suspect that now that I know them, I will notice them everywhere, but it was fun to make a new discovery. They are a cinnamon-spiced honey or molasses cookie in the shape of a pig.

The recipe called for piloncillo, a type of brown sugar that is packed in a cone shape. It can be cut from the cone with a serrated knife, or grated. I tried multiple ways to prepare it, because it is quite firm, including serrated and chef's knives, box grater, and microplane. I found the microplane to be easiest, though for this particular recipe, because it is combined with water until it dissolves, I don't think the sugar has to be prepared quite so carefully, just cut into small enough pieces that it can dissolve evenly.

On my trip to the Latin market to purchase some, I checked their bakery section for already made piggy cookies, which naturally they had. I bought a few so as to have a comparison with my homemade version. The cookies from the store were very molasses-y, but the texture was quite similar. I baked my cookies the day of the party, so as the recipe explains, they were very soft and cakey. The guests all raved about them (though I suspect that could partially have been a result of the only other dessert being some dry brownies), so we didn't have enough to last days and see how they tasted as they got a little crunchier.

[For the shape, I used a pancake mold that I happened to have from a set of farm animal shapes that had been given to me due to the sheep, and the pig and cow molds were just the bonus. If you know of any "cow cookie" recipes, send them my way!]

Piggy Cookies
by Pati Jinich, from
1 3/4 cups (10 ounces) firmly packed grated piloncillo (or dark brown sugar)
3/4 cup water
1 Ceylon cinnamon stick
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, at room temperature, plus more for the cookie sheets
2 tablespoons honey
4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten, at room temperature, plus
1 large egg, lightly beaten, for glaze
Confectioners' sugar for dusting

1. In a medium saucepan, combine the piloncillo, water, and cinnamon and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the piloncillo has dissolved and the liquid thickens to a light syrup. Turn off the heat and remove the cinnamon stick. Add the butter and honey and stir until they melt.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Make a well in the center and pour in the piloncillo mixture. Mix with a rubber spatula until well combined. Add 2 of the eggs and stir until thoroughly mixed. The dough will be very sticky and gooey.

3. Place two long pieces of plastic wrap, one running horizontally and one vertically, in a medium bowl, letting the ends overhang the edges of the bowl. With a rubber spatula, scrape the dough onto the plastic wrap, then bring the edges of the wrap over the dough and secure tightly (leave the dough in the bowl). Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 2 days.

4. Preheat the oven to 375°F, with racks in the upper and lower thirds. Butter two cookie sheets.

5. Sprinkle flour on a work surface and a rolling pin. Cut the dough in half. Working with one piece at a time, roll out the dough about 1/4-inch thick. Using a 3-inch piggy cookie cutter, press straight down on the dough to cut out cookies, moving the cutter slightly on the work surface to make it easier to lift up the cookies. Gather the scraps into a ball and roll out again. Transfer the cookies to the prepared cookie sheets, spacing them about 1-inch apart. If the dough becomes too sticky, roll it into a ball, wrap it again in plastic wrap, and place it in the freezer for 5 to 10 minutes before rolling again.

6. Gently brush the cookie tops with the remaining egg. Bake in batches for 7 to 9 minutes, or until the cookies are puffed and golden on top. Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely. Sift confectioners' sugar on top of the cooled cookies.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Tropical Carrot and Pineapple Cake with Coconut Frosting

This is the best carrot cake. It is so moist and sweet but it also gets an amazing caramelized crust. I frosted with coconut buttercream in this photo, but the coconut cream cheese frosting is also good.

I used the recipe as written to bake 12 cupcakes and two six-inch rounds. The cupcakes went with me to a party and the rounds went in the freezer. As it turned out, they ended up saving me from having to bake the very next weekend, but I know they would have lasted and still been delicious for much longer.

Tropical Carrot and Pineapple Cake with Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting

2 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground cloves

2 tablespoons minced crystalized ginger
 4 large eggs
2 cups superfine sugar
2/3 cup plain vegetable oil
¼ pound (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
One can (8 ounces) crushed pineapple in natural juices (I drained about 3 hours)
2 1/3 cups lightly packed grated carrots (I used the grate blade of the food processor, but if I had patience, I would prefer the smaller shreds from a box grater.)

Coconut Buttercream or Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners or baking pan with parchment. Enough for 3 8" rounds or 24 cupcakes. 
Sift flour, baking powder, soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves onto a sheet of waxed paper; set aside.
Beat eggs in the large bowl of an electric mixer on moderate speed 1 minute. Blend in sugar and beat 1 minute. Blend in oil and melted butter. Beat in vanilla and drained pineapple. Scrape down the sides of the bowl frequently with a rubber spatula.
On low speed, add sifted flour mixture in two additions, beating just until flour is absorbed. Stir in carrots and ginger. Scrape into prepared baking pan. Bake 20-24 minutes for cupcakes, or 40 to 50 minutes or until risen and golden brown on top; a wooden pick inserted into the center of the cake should test clean. The cake will pull away slightly from the sides of the baking pan. Let cake stand in pan on a cooling rack. Cool completely.

Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting

Makes about 4 ½ cups

12 ounces cream cheese, softened
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
 5 cups unsifted powdered sugar
 1 teaspoon coconut extract

With an electric hand mixer, or a food processor, beat cream cheese and butter together until well combined. Blend in extract.

On low speed, add powdered sugar in three additions, beating until thoroughly combined before adding the next batch. Scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Use the frosting within 30 minutes of mixing.


Coconut Buttercream
from Laura Temple
1 1/2 cups of sugar
6 large egg whites 4 cubes of unsalted butter (1 pound) softened to room temperature
3/4 teaspoon coconut extract

Put egg whites and sugar in top of double boiler over simmering water. Whisk until temperature reaches 160 degrees. Remove from heat and move to a stand mixer bowl. Whip on medium high until they are room temperature. (Wrap ice packs or bags of frozen vegetables around the base of the bowl to speed cooling).

Once the whites/sugar mixture is at room temperature, keep mixing, and add the butter a couple of tablespoons at a time until all is incorporated. It might looked curdled part-way through, but just keep going and it will come together. Add the vanilla and mix just enough to incorporate it fully. Stir in any optional food coloring. This makes a great stark-white buttercream on its own.
Use immediately, or keep at room temperature and re-beat for a minute before using. If you want to freeze the leftovers, make sure to bring it completely to room temperature before you re-beat or it will curdle.


Beet and Barley Salad with Kale

I decided to take it upon myself to be the healthful contribution to a Memorial Day "meat-a-pooloza"
© extravaganza. I had some amazing beets from the farmer's market, huge lovely golden ones. They formed a colorful base for this delicious and hearty side that was perhaps more autumnal than most would choose for Memorial Day season, but happened to pair perfectly with the 50-degrees and torrential downpour that pushed all grilling under the eaves and onto the stovetop.
Barley Beet SaladServes 8
1 cup barley, cooked in 2 cups chicken stock
2 large (8 oz each) golden beets, roasted at 375 for 45-60 minutes
1 bunch (8 oz) kale, center ribs removed then chopped in bite-sized pieces
1/2 onion
2 cloves roasted garlic
1/2 cup dried cranberries
Toss with lemon mustard vinaigrette

Bring 2 cups chicken stock and 1 cup water to boil, stir in barley, then reduce heat to low and simmer, covered for 35 minutes or until done.
Meanwhile, dice onion and sauté in olive oil until tender. Stir in smashed roasted garlic and kale. Cover and heat over medium until kale is wilted. Stir in cranberries and toss with cooked barley and diced beets. Toss with a vinaigrette of your choice - I used lemon/mustard. Serve warm or chilled.