The Passion Fruits

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Ecumenical Party Dept.: Vietnamese Passover Macaroons

Mr. T. and I went to a “Seder” last-last weekend. While a lovely event, it wasn’t QUITE the real thing though, and not just because it was a week behind schedule. There were pork and shrimp spring rolls next to the kugel and gefilte fish, and the only bitter thing there might have been me (I kept missing the latkes). Given that our host and hostess were Vietnamese- and Jewish-American, the menu makes a bit more sense–even if it was an evening of tasty syncretism that would make the more Orthodox blanch in horror.

That’d be a shame, though, as everything was really tasty. Ok, almost everything was really tasty. The gefilte fish was… edible. And, given it’s peerless provenance, I can only shudder at the thought of rank and gefilte fish. Ech. Nevertheless, the guests demolished 10lbs of toothsome brisket, stacks of matzo schmeared with chopped liver and charoset, and fastest to dissapear were the fleets of spring and garden rolls handmade by the host’s mom and aunties. And, in an impressive feat of group adventuresomeness, even the gefilte fish got eaten.

In talking to the hostess in the week before the party, I’d offered to bring sweets–after convincing her that a) there was going to be enough food and b) kugel was going to be waaaay easier to serve at a cocktail Seder than tiny shots of matzo ball soup. The obvious choice, even for a shiksa goddess such as myself, was coconut macaroons. I also included tiny bite-sized versions of my favorite flourless chocolate torte, but more on them later.

For the macaroons, I turned of course to Rose, whose christmas cookie book (ironically) has a lovely recipe for coconut macaroons… that started out with baking a whole coconut and then shredding it by hand. *sigh* Rose, Rose, I love you, but I am NOT dealing with a whole coconut. Speaking from experience, the blood and broken crockery just isn’t worth it.

So, stepping back from that whole Robinson Crusoe ordeal, I elected to mix sweetened and unsweetened coconut and add a judicious tot of rum to the traditional sweetened condensed milk that binds it all together. Still sweet, but not throat-closingly so, they were met with serious acclaim at the party, with far better Jews than I calling them the best macaroons ever. I’ll take it.

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These Cookies are the Cat’s Meow: Langues des Chats

Ok, so not so much the cat’s meow as its tongue. Actually, both. These delightful little cookies are fabulous in their crispy, salty-sweet and buttery, decadent Frenchiness. Thus, they’re a most fitting accompaniment to a chocolate pot de creme, but they’re also tremendously useful at dressing up a dessert of store-bought ice cream–and that’s generally how I serve them.

This recipe is a back-hacked version of the divine Clotilde Dusoulier’s, mistress of the wonderful Chocolate & Zucchini. She presented a green tea version several years ago and I was captivated with the idea–though much less with the whole green tea aspect. I’ve been burned too many times by gakkily bitter green tea-flavored sweets to be that into such a thing. Dropped back to it’s ur-version–flecked through with fragrant vanilla bean, though, and we’ve got something special.

Of course, having just poo-poo’d the green tea variation, I now have to admit that the possibilities really are endless: flavor the batter with a bit of cocoa, or orange zest or praline paste; or sandwich them with a bit of melted chocolate for a Pepperidge Farm-spanking Milano; or sprinkle them with black sesame for an elegantly Asian flavor… you get the idea.

Apart from the hour needed to chill the batter, these are quick and fun to make as well. The ones pictured were squeezed directly from a zip-top bag. If you use an actual piping bag and an actual tip, yours will have perfectly even margins. (Mine usually do too; I don’t know WHAT came over me…)

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Topical, Tropical Pandan Meringue Cookies

Ok, Happy to report that the baby shower went rawther well. Everyone had, I think, a nice time; Baby Momma and Baby Daddy were suitably fete’d and got lots of weird BABY thingies; the diaper cake was gorgeous; and the food was very well recieved indeed. Go team!

Promises were made that several of the recipes would make it onto the blog, and since I need to extract the curry puff recipe from J and I kind of have to reverse engineer the peanut sauce and the banh mi bites, we’re kicking off with these lovely little meringue cookies flavored with tropical pandan.

Pandan, or screwpine, is a palm tree-ish plant whose leaves are used in SE Asian, particularly Filipino, cooking. It imparts a really lovely kind of toasty, nutty flavor and a pretty green color. (The latter may or may not be chemically enhanced, but who isn’t these days?)

I’d decided to make meringue cookies for the shower because they were light and pretty but hadn’t gotten much further than that. I wanted them to taste like SOMETHING, though, and they needed to go with the pan-Asian, tropical, purple and green color scheme because I am OCD like that.

So, I was super chuffed when I was rummaging around in the back of my baking cupboard for something to flavor the meringues and I found a bottle of dark green, deeply fragrant pandan concentrate that I’d bought a while ago and promptly forgotten about. (It was between the unopenend yuzu essence and pineapple extract, FYI.)

Hooray for my compulsion to hoard bizarre flavorings, then, because these were perfectly tasty–the pandan concentrate lent a gorgeous on-theme color and richly scented complexity to what is otherwise just sugar and egg white.
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Making It Work: Baking for Project Runway

coconutbrownies1So, I was invited to a Project Runway party on Thursday, and when I volunteered to bring something, I got tapped for cookies. While I racked my brain to come up with something thematically as lovely as such items as Wendy Pepper’d Steak, Stella’s Fruit Leatha, and Where’s Andrae? Red Lobster Rolls, I could not for the life of me dredge up a witty cookie. Fie.

And, since I didn’t quite have the time, energy, or cookie cutters to produce sugar cookies iced to look the always stylin’, ever-pregnant Heidi Klum, I decided to focus on making something that delivered in other, slightly less glamorous ways. And then, remembering that another guest was making black and white cookies, it occurred that building on her riff of black and white–which is ALWAYS fashionable–would be fun.

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Spoon Cookies, Wider Than a Teaspoon…

There are times when I must accept something: I’m not Ina Garten or Martha Stewart.SpoonCookies
Sure, I’d like to think that I’m capable of turning out 150 individuals breakfast tarts for an area homeless shelter while knitting a Civil War outfit for a premature baby but, hey, I’m not buoyed by a sizable kitchen staff (or ANY kitchen staff) able to prep and prep and prep all day long. Case in point: this past holiday season. I fantasized about channeling Ina and Martha, whipping out varying cookies of different sizes, textures, and flavors; then wrapping them in individual bags and running about town, passing them out to friends:

“You’re welcome. Really, R-E-A-L-L-Y, it was nothing. Just a little butter and flour.”

In reality, it is something.  A lot, in fact.  In the end, there was no time and I knew there wouldn’t be any time until I made it to January, that time of the year where there is nothing but, uh, time.  Time to make these cookies, inclusive of just a few ingredients but a bit labor intensive as the butter is cooked in two stages and “some assembly is required.” Just like Fisher Price.

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Every Boy and Every Girl… Spice Up Your Life!

gingercookiesYes, I went there… a Spice Girls reference. A SECOND TIER Spice Girls reference. My brothers are now killing themselves solely so they can turn over in their graves. Bwahahaha…

Ahem. Having committed myself to sending cookies all over the Eastern seaboard, I found myself needing to get my bake on. My answer? These chewy, crunchy, flagrantly fragrant ginger-spice cookies. They come together quickly, and are a perennial family favorite. I’ve made several minor changes to the recipe over the years, with each additional spice or alteration noted with a different color ink in my terribly beat-up copy of the Rosie’s Bakery cookbook, whose spine is conveniently cracked all the way through right at this recipe. Rolling the cookies in turbinado sugar deepens the flavor and makes for a more striking textural contrast between the chewy cookie and crunchy exterior, while adding dry mustard and pepper to the dough–a nod to Maida Heatter’s Moosehead gingerbread–gives these enough spice for Sporty, Baby, Crazy Scary, Ginger, AND Posh.

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CARE for a Cookie? Cranberry, Walnut, & Oatmeal Hit the Road

This fall, I have a list–a cookie list. Not cookies to try, or to make,  but a list of people who need cookies. MY cookies. While, really, EVERYONE should be on this list, the pressures of reality mean that the final cut is slightly more selective: Paul our master of teh webz, Cousin Sam who just started college, Molly our fabulous designer, and Grampy J, who just needs cookies.


This oatmeal cookie is perfect for sending off to the people on your cookie list. Perfect too, for taking camping or munching at home with milk or a glass of vin santo (really). Perfect, really for anything at all. Though the recipe started out on the top of a box of Quaker Oats, it is by now an entirely different–and I’d say better–animal. Less sweet but with more oats, nuts, and fruit, they have an almost unidentifiable lilt from the orange oil and are my Platonic ideal of oatmeal cookie-ness.

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