Monday, December 23, 2013

Cheese Biscuits and the Holidays

I've got time to squeeze in another post before Christmas, and I guess it's gotta' be another holiday baking post -- since that's been the majority of my focus in the kitchen for the weekend! Yesterday, I had a marathon baking session and turned out a batch of Butter Spritz Cookies and Cheese Biscuits. My mother always made Cheese Biscuits at Christmas, as did my Aunt Cissy, who gave her the recipe. No one loved to entertain like Aunt Cissy did. She always had a huge buffet on Christmas day, that included roast beef and country ham, as well as these Cheese Biscuits. Nothing goes with a holiday cocktail or a glass of wine quite like a cheese biscuit. Everyone always had fun at Aunt Cissys' parties -- she loved to laugh and tell stories, and she was a wonderful cook. There was always so much to eat, and she understood that you eat first with your eyes, so everything looked as good as it tasted.

I've updated her recipe only pertaining to the method for producing the cookies, not the ingredients. The original recipe clearly states the following, right at the top:


I can't find salted pecans in the store anymore, but I think the unsalted kind work just as well. I sprinkle just a touch of coarse Kosher salt on the pecans after I press them into the dough. And since so many people have nut allergies, and a few simply don't like nuts, I only place a pecan on about half of my cookies.  I also make the dough in my food processor. The dough is stiff and heavy, and I find the processor, fitted with a steel blade, is the easiest way to do it. I also use a mouli-grater for grating my cheese, but you could do that in your food processor as well. 
Cheese Biscuits

Cheese Biscuits

1 lb. sharp cheddar cheese
1 lb. all purpose flour (about 4.5 cups)
1 lb. butter, softened
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 T. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
pecan halves (salted if you can find them)
1 egg + 1 T. of water for egg wash
paprika for dusting the tops plus a little coarse and/or Kosher salt for sprinkling the nuts

Grate the cheese. Put it into a large bowl or into your food processor. Add the flour, butter, cayenne, salt and baking powder. Mix until the dough comes together and cheese is completely incorporated. If not using the food processor, you may find your hands to be the best tool! At least that's what Aunt Cissy recommended in her original recipe! 

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

The original instructions call for the dough to be rolled or patted out at this point. Rolling dough is not my favorite thing, and frankly, I am not that good at it. I either get the dough too cold so that it's hard to roll or I let it get too soft and it sticks to everything! I think it is best to slightly chill the dough so that it holds together well and you can handle it. The method my mom came up with -- obviously rolling dough wasn't her thing either! -- is to divide the dough into 6 - 8 pieces and roll the pieces into "logs" about 1" to 1.5" around. If you roll your dough out, it should be about 1/4" thick and you should use the smallest biscuit cutter you have to cut out the biscuits. If you roll the dough into logs, cut the logs into slices about 1/4" thick. Place the cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet -- they don't spread much, so you can place them fairly close together. Beat 1 egg with a T. of water in a small cup. Brush each biscuit lightly with the egg wash, and sprinkle over a dusting of paprika. Press a pecan half into however many biscuits you choose (and a few grains of Kosher or coarse salt, if you want). Bake for ~15 minutes. You must watch them as they can go from done to "browned" quickly and the taste will be off. Check them after 12 minutes. Browning them will definitely alter the taste! Makes about 12 dozen. This recipe can be easily halved or even quartered. 

Thanks Aunt Cissy, and Merry Christmas to you and yours! 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Triple Dark Chocolate Peppermint Cookies

I've been tinkering around with this recipe since I first made it (see my post here) one afternoon when I had a chocolate attack. I love the combination of dark chocolate and mint. It reminds me of my mom, who always kept a box of thin mints stashed in a cupboard, up high where we couldn't get to them easily. Apparently, she had her chocolate attacks too! Mom would have loved these cookies, of that I am sure!
My mom with 3 of her 4 grandsons one Christmas.

By adding and subtracting a few things from the original recipe, which I got from The Pioneer Woman Cooks, I've come up with a real winner of a holiday cookie! They look festive, thanks to the peppermint chips, and they are chewy and chocolatey in the best possible way!

I hope you enjoy them as much as we have! I've got to say, these may find a permanent spot on the Christmas Rotation! Thanks, Ree Drummond for the inspiration!

Triple Chocolate Peppermint Cookies

2 sticks softened butter
2 c. sugar
2 large eggs
3 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Triple Chocolate Chip Peppermint Cookies
2 c. all purpose flour
3/4 c. Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa (100% Cacao)
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 1/2 c. Nestle's semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 c. Nestle's white chocolate chips + a few extra for decorating 
1/3 c. Ande's Peppermint Crunch baking chips or finely chopped hard peppermint candies + a few extra for decorating

Preheat oven to 350. Using a mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition. Add vanilla. In another bowl, sift together flour, salt, baking soda and cocoa. Be careful adding the cocoa, or you'll end up with a dark chocolate snow storm on your counter. Add dry ingredients to the wet ones in 3 batches, mixing each in using slow speed.
Stir in all the chips until everything is just combined.
Using a large teaspoon or a smaller cookie scoop, add 1 T. portions to a baking sheet. I dotted the top of each scoop of dough with 2 or 3 white chocolate chips and a piece or 2 of the peppermint chips, so that they show and look pretty. Bake for about 10 minutes until they are just barely done. Cool for 4 minutes on baking sheet and move to a cooling rack for 10 minutes or until they are set. makes about 5 dozen + cookies.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Pecan Tarts -- The BEST of the BEST!

The fall has FLOWN by and it's time to start making those Christmas treats! I can't believe how swiftly the autumn has come and gone, but with the weather we've had this week in Central Virginia, I know that winter is coming in fast! Even though we are ALMOST empty nesters, there always seems to be lots to do around the house and in the kitchen.

I used to bake hundreds of cookies -- yes, literally hundreds -- when my kids were younger. That was back in my Room Mother/Sunday School Teacher/Children's Choir Director/Cub Scout Mom days. In those days there was ALWAYS an occasion to pass out Christmas Cookies, often 2 or 3 a week! While I miss those days, I honestly DON'T miss those marathon baking events! I must have spent hours in the kitchen. At our house, just because you spent all afternoon making cookies, that did not eliminate the need to cook dinner! On days like that, I was always grateful for the big batches of spaghetti sauce or bags filled with "taco meat" that I'd made and frozen for those busy, busy days.

This year, I've asked each person in the family to name one treat they consider their favorite and the most important to usher in the season. The oldest son spoke up first, and since he has a December birthday, he got first consideration. While I've already made pans and pans of "Nuts and Bolts" (that's amped up chex mix for you non-southerners) this weekend I made his favorite, Pecan Tarts.

I got this recipe from a family friend many years ago. I've made it every Christmas since receiving it. While the tarts are a little trouble to make, you are rewarded with rich, crumbly pastry filled with nutty, sticky pecan goodness. Truly, they are well worth the trouble. You'll need at least 2 of those mini-muffin tins to create these treats. Four is better, so you can get one batch in the oven and make up another one, ready to bake. You'll need lots of these treats, I promise!

Pecan Tarts
For the Dough:
1 stick salted butter, softened
3 oz. cream cheese ("Lite" is fine) softened
1 cup flour
Mix these ingredients together, until all the flour is incorporated and the butter and cream cheese is evenly distributed. Make the dough into a flattened, round disk. Chill in the frig for 20 - 30 minutes to firm up the dough so that it's easy to handle. Make 24 small balls and press each one into a mini-muffin cup that has been sprayed with non-stick vegetable oil. Gently press each ball into the muffin cup to form a shell, using your fingers to press the dough up the sides of the cup so that it just reaches the top. Set aside while you make your filling.
Pecan Tarts, ready for the oven.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 
For the Filling:
3/4 c. chopped pecans
1 c. packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla
In a bowl, stir together all the ingredients until well mixed. making sure there are no "clumps" of brown sugar. Put a heaping tsp. of the filling into each muffin cup, so that the filling is just below the line of dough at the top of the cup. Don't overfill them, or you'll have a sticky mess on your tins and they'll be harder to get out of the pan. 
Bake the tarts for 20 - 25 minutes, until a crust forms on the tops of the tarts. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan. Loosen each tart gently with the tip of small, pointed, sharp knife. Let tarts cool completely on a cooling rack or  on wax or parchment paper before storing in air tight tins. Will keep up to 30 days if stored in a cool area in a well sealed container. Makes 24 tarts. 

Pecan Tarts, ready to eat!