Entries from January 17th, 2010

Snickerdoodles

11

17.1.10

Apparently, snickerdoodles are everyone’s favorite type of cookie.  A while back, a close friend of mine suggested I make them.  He immediately scanned the recipe he uses, and emailed it to me — so I tried it.  For some reason, the first batch didn’t turn out so well, as far as my snickerdoodle standards go (the UC Santa Barbara DLG made bomb snickerdoodles).  There were a number of possible explanations for my less-than-perfect snickerdoodles: I was short on butter, skeptical about using white sugar in brown cookies, and slightly delirious from the previous weekend.  The cookies came out a little too crunchy, a little too light in color, and not so melt-in-your-mouthy.
So, for the second attempt, I opted to substitute brown sugar for a portion of the white sugar to help with the color, and I made sure I had enough butter on hand to fix the consistency.  Here we go, thanks Pat!

WHAT YOU NEED
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 medium-sized egg
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
2 tablespoons coarse, white sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
WHAT TO DO
First, combine the brown sugar and white sugar, and cream it with the butter.  For those of you who don’t know, creaming the butter means to mix the butter and sugar together evenly, to the point where it forms a very smooth mixture.  The easiest way to do this is with an electronic mixer, but if you are short-handed with kitchen equipment, you can do it by hand, and work on your forearm muscles while you are at it.  By hand, mix the sugars together first, then take a form and smash the softened butter against the sides of the bowl.  Once the butter is broken down, stir and mix with the sugar very briskly, until the mixture is even and smooth.
In a separate bowl, combine the remaining dry ingredients (flour, salt, cream of tartar, baking soda) and mix until even.  Add the egg, vanilla extract, and creamed mixture, and stir until the dough is consistent.  Then, roll into 1-inch balls.  Combine the 2 tablespoons sugar with the ground cinnamon, and coat each ball of dough in the mixture.  Then place on a baking sheet, each two inches apart.  Bake for 8 to 10 minutes at 375 degrees.

Glazed Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

12

14.1.10

Yesterday, the temperature broke 35 degrees.  I’ve never been so excited about weather below 70 degrees in my life.  Laugh all you want, but the past two weeks have been unbearably cold — I didn’t leave my house without two pairs of stockings, pants, layers of shirts and sweaters, and my unbelievably heavy coat.  It’s a shame my ghetto-fabulous boots broke last weekend, because they really helped keep my legs warm.
Anyway, the non-freezing weather called for a celebration: something citrusy, because the above-freezing landmark rekindled my excitement for warm weather (which I know I will complain about once the Atlantic humidity invades our nation’s capitol.  Fresh, easy, lemony, poppy seed cake!

WHAT YOU NEED:
1-1/8 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
Zest of two small lemons
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 large eggs (or 3 small ones)
Powdered sugar for garnish
WHAT TO DO:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and grease the cake pan of choice (I used a 4 x 9″ pan to make a shallow cake).  I like to cut out a piece of parchment paper to fit the shape of the bottom of the cake pan — that way, the cake pops right out.
Sift the flour, sugar, and salt together until evenly mixed in a medium-sized mixing bowl.  Stir in the poppy seeds and lemon zest, then beat the eggs in a separate bowl.  Add the eggs and butter to the dry ingredients, and beat with an electric mixer until evenly mixed.  Transfer the batter into the cake pan, and bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes, or until you can poke the center of the cake with a toothpick and have it come out clean.
While the cake is baking, juice the lemons you used for zesting into a small saucepan.  Heat on low, and add about once cup of granualted sugar to the juice, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved.  After the cake has cooled, pour the syrup over the top of the cake, letting it drip down the sides.  Then, garnish with powdered sugar.

Mana’eesh bi Zaa’tar

8

13.1.10

In college, I was in Lebanese Club.  No, I’m not Lebanese–or any form of Arab, for that matter.  My undergrad concentration involved Arabic, and some mutual friends sucked me into Lebanese Club, where I was adopted as the honorary half-Filipino member amidst my new Arab friends (don’t worry, I contributed my own personal ethnic confusions to a UCLA dissertation study on people who identify with cultures other than their own).
A friend of mine in college had a parallel obsession.  He explained it well, claiming that because his white people had no culture, he simply opted to adopt another.  I’d have to agree.  I, personally, identify as half-Filipino because I look Filipino–but I was raised in white “culture.”  This involved a number of fun and borrowed traditions, alongside a number of relatively boring European ones and other miscellaneous fascinations.  A example of a fun borrowed tradition would be my family’s love of oldies music–most of those artists are black.  A boring European tradition would be eating potatoes, like our Irish ancestors, as we discuss how much it sucked that Irish people had to live off of them for so long.  Sometimes potatoes are great, but “white” culture didn’t have a thing that swept me off my feet like the beautiful Arabic script or Islamic architecture.  And, Catholic school doesn’t teach you a single thing about the Middle East, aside from the fact that the Hebrews were God’s chosen people.  So needless to say, the moment I stepped off a plane in Dubai, I was smitten.
Anyway, I’m years removed from my beloved Lebanese Club of Santa Barbara, and I still remember the way they would swoon over mana’eesh, a flat bread from Lebanon that is baked with za’atar, an Arab mixture of herbs.  I’ve always wanted to walk down a road in Beirut and buy it right off the street, exactly in the way they described — someday, I will.  But for now, I just live out my imagination by making it from scratch and testing it’s authenticity on my friends here in Washington.  I’m pretty sure they’ll continue to adopt me into the Arab world, and I will love every minute of it.

WHAT YOU NEED:
Whole Wheat Flat Bread:
1/2 tablespoon active dry yeast
2-1//4 cups warm water
1/8 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 cups whole wheat flour
Za’atar:
1/2 cup ground sumac
4 tablespoons thyme
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
4 tablespoons marjoram
4 tablespoons oregano
2 tablespoons coarse sea salt
WHAT TO DO:
First, combine the yeast and the sugar with 1/4 cup of the warm water.  Stir until completely dissolved, and then let it sit in a large mixing bowl for about five minutes, until the solution becomes frothy.  Then stir in the remaining water.
Add in half of the flour and mix into a dough.  Then, add the salt and olive oil, begin to knead, and then knead in the rest of the flour.  The dough should be relatively soft, but it should also spring back when you poke it (kind of like memory foam).  Roll the dough into a ball, and cover in olive oil.  Place it back in the bowl, cover with saran wrap, and leave it in a warm place to rise for about two hours.
In the meantime, prepare the za’atar.  If your sesame seeds are raw, you will need to roast them — doing so releases the natural oils in the seeds that supply their strong flavor.  Heat your sesame seeds in a clean, ungreased, frying pan, on low heat, for about 5 minutes or until the seeds are golden in color.  Then, pulse-grind the sesame seeds in a food processor.  Combine the rest of the ingredients in the food processor.
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.  When the dough has finished rising, split it into smaller pieces, and roll to about 1/4 inch in thickness.  I used a pint glass to cut round circles of dough, which I then further rolled with a rolling pin down as thin as I could get them without tearing the dough.
Mix the za’atar blend with just enough olive oil to create a thick paste.  Then spread about a tablespoon of za’atar onto the small pizza dough we’ve just rolled out.  Bake in the oven for about 4-5 minutes.  Mana’eesh is traditionally soft, so avoid letting it crisp.
Would be great with some feta — they’re like mini Levantine pizzas.  I love them.
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