I must tell you there are not many things I like better in this world than a party. It could be a dinner party, a cocktail party, a small intimate gathering with just a few friends, I am good with all of them. I like planning them, I like hosting them, I like going to them. A party is an excellent excuse to buy a new outfit (maybe something a little sparkly), get dressed up and enjoy the company of good friends. Our friends Kevin and Kristine had a lovely Christmas party this past weekend. Good wine, good food, some festive music, and great company were the trademark of the evening. I always feel that if I am willing to help out, people will be more willing to have parties in the future, so I volunteered to bring along a dessert. I made tiramisu, which I had never made before, and by all accounts, it came out pretty well. I felt a little guilty, because tiramisu is not a very difficult thing to make. In fact, it is more about the assembly than anything else. My sister sent me her recipe, and I looked at a few others in various cookbooks before I sort of made up my own. It involved only one actual bit of cooking. That was the cooking of egg yolks and sugar in a double boiler on the stove top. I even used instant espresso, since we are not coffee drinkers in my house, and I don't even own a coffee pot (when I have my own parties, I assign coffee to one of the guests, and they bring it in a lovely thermal carafe). It was rich, not too sweet, and had a little kick from the espresso and Kahlua. It is important to make it the night before so that the moisture seeps into the dry lady fingers, and all the flavors come together.
6 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
2 8 oz. containers mascarpone cheese
2 cups whipping cream
1 1/2 cups espresso (cold)
1/2 cup Kahlua
cocoa powder for dusting the top
dark chocolate curls for garnish
2 packages dry lady fingers
In the top of a double boiler, place the egg yolks and the sugar. Whisk and bring up to temperature. Once the water in the bottom of the double boiler is boiling, reduce heat and whisk continuously for 10 minutes. Take the mixture off the heat. Add the mascarpone cheese and continue whisking until it is well incorporated. Let the mixture cool. In the meantime, whip the cream until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the whipped cream into the cheese mixture.
Prepare a 9 x 13 inch pan. Quickly dip the lady fingers, one at a time, into the espresso, then place in the bottom of the pan. Line the pan entirely, then sprinkle the tops of the lady fingers with about half of the Kahlua. Spoon the cheese and whipped cream mixture over the lady fingers until covered entirely. Continue the procedure with the lady fingers, creating another layer, ending with the cheese and whipped cream mixture. Using a fine sifter, dust the top of the dessert with cocoa powder. Use a vegetable peeler to make chocolate curls, and place on top of the tiramisu. Let sit overnight before serving.
I have often written about my mother's lack of interest in cooking. She loves good food and is happy to bring good wine along to a meal that we have cooked at our house. She is excellent company and is a great help in cleaning up after a good meal, but she has no interest in actually cooking. She is, however, quite an excellent baker, and makes the best desserts. When we were growing up, she would spend hours and hours baking wonderful Christmas cookies. She had incredible patience in dealing with two young girls who wanted to get their hands into everything. She always encouraged us and made the Christmas baking a festive and enjoyable event to which we looked forward. She made a number of different kinds of cookies. Back in the days before "cookie swaps" were popular, my mother would regularly put out a platter of many different kinds of cookies, made all by her (and us). To this day, I view the baking of the Christmas cookies one of the holiday festivities; it is not just the finished product that is the enjoyable part, but the process of baking the cookies, too. In fact, that is very much the way my mother always lived her life, and does to this day. It is not only what we accomplish that should be enjoyable. It is important to enjoy the process as well, and if you can do it surrounded by those we love, all the better.
So, the holiday baking season is upon us, and my mom's favorite kind of cookie is the one I made first this year. My sister and I were not terribly fond of them when we were little. They were not very sweet, and they had nuts: the kiss of death for young kids. As an adult now, however, I totally get it. These have a delicious crust, are light and flaky, subtly sweet. The star of the show in these cookies is the cinnamon, so buy the best you can, as I did. I splurged and ordered it from King Arthur Flour, and it was worth every cent.
Mimi's Meltaway Horns
For the crust:
3 cups flour
1/2 lb butter, very cold
1/2 pint sour cream
3 egg yolks
1 package dry yeast
In the bowl of a food processor, place flour, yeast, and butter. Process on short pulses until the mixture resembles cornmeal. Add sour cream and egg yolks, and process until well mixed and smooth. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
For the filling:
3 egg whites, beaten until light and fluffy
2 tbsp good quality cinnamon
3 tbsp granulated sugar
1 cup chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts)
To prepare the cookies:
Cut the large ball of dough into 4 equal pieces. Roll each out on a floured surface to about 1/8 inch thickness. Using a pastry brush, brush the beaten egg whites on the dough circle. Sprinkle with 1/4 of the cinnamon sugar mixture, then the chopped nuts. Cut each circle into 16 wedges, then roll each wedge up starting from the wider end. Place on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, or until lightly golden brown. Let cool on wire racks, then sprinkle with confectioners sugar.
I always thought that someday, when I earned enough money, I would only buy the best ingredients for my recipes, shop exclusively at local markets and places like Whole Foods, buy only artisan cheese, local honey, fresh pasta. You know, that kind of thing. Growing up, we did not have a lot of money, nor did my mother's family when she was young, but there was always good food. My grandmother always believed it is important to eat well. We may not have had a lot, but we always had good meals, cooked by and eaten in the company of the people who loved us most, so we never felt poor.
I still hope that day will come that I am able to buy the finest of ingredients, but in the meantime, I am doing the best I can making good food with the best stuff I can buy. I did, however, decide to splurge recently on some ingredients for my holiday baking. I love to shop from the King Arthur Flour company. The products are fresh, wonderful, and everything I have tried is very high quality. I regularly buy their cinnamon mini chips for the scones I make. This time, I decided to buy some real vanilla beans to make my own vanilla extract. They arrived in a plastic vial, plump and pliable, much healthier looking than the ones I had eyed at the supermarket. This falls into the category of a recipe for an ingredient, and I completely stole the idea from Ina Garten. The problem is that I should have decided to do this a few weeks ago, as the vanilla extract will not be ready for my holiday baking. I am consoling myself with the fact that I will have some awesome New Year baking going on in my house. Just in time for dieting. So after the Christmas bills are paid, I will still have my little slice of luxury: juicy vanilla beans and delicious homemade vanilla extract made from real vanilla beans and good vodka, ready to be used in a drink recipe.
Vanilla Extract (adapted from Ina Garten)
2 or more vanilla beans
8 oz. good quality vodka
Place the vanilla beans in a mason jar. Cover with the vodka. Let sit at room temperature for a month or until the vodka has turned into vanilla extract and the beans are more pliable. This can sit at room temperature indefinitely.