Sunday, April 18, 2010

Chocolate Biscotti


I love Sunday mornings in my house. I wake up late to the smell of coffee and the sound of my cat padding down the hallway, whining to be fed. I get myself out of bed slowly, wash my face and brush my teeth in the bathroom, where cream colored light slants through the skylight and softens my sleepy reflection in the mirror, and then head downstairs to the kitchen. There are bagels on the counter—our Sunday ritual—and a kettle of water is already on the stove for my morning cup of tea.

But the best part of the morning is already on the table, huge and gray and sprawling and already divided into piles by my mother. It’s the Sunday New York Times, possibly the one thing besides chocolate and my copy of Little Women that I absolutely cannot live without.

The Kaplan family is very specific about reading the paper. We all have our favorite sections—my mother likes the Styles, my dad reads the Sports section first, and I always reach for the Week in Review before anything else. We’re stingy about it too—my dad won’t give me the front section till I hand him the Week in Review, my mom won’t let anyone touch the magazine until she’s finished the Sunday crossword puzzle. But there are few places in the world I’d rather be than sitting at my kitchen table on a cozy Sunday morning, a cup of chamomile tea and a toasted pumpernickel bagel in front of me, and the Sunday paper in my hands. I love the familiarity, the way certain writers’ tones are always the same. I love that the “laugh lines” are always on the second page of the Week in Review and that Thomas Friedman’s columns are always on the left hand side of the first opinions page. But it also changes every day; there are new things to learn, new articles to ignite my sense of indignation and give me another cause to devote myself to.

These biscotti, deliciously crunchy and chocolate-y, go perfectly with the Sunday morning paper. Eat them plain or dunk them in your coffee--either way you'll find yourself reaching for seconds (and then thirds) before you even finish the front section.

Chocolate Biscotti
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 large eggs
a little less than two cups of flour (I had exactly two cups and the dough was really crumbly and not all the flour mixed in--I might go for 1 ¾ next time)
½ cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

In a medium bowl cream butter and sugar till fluffy. Add vanilla and eggs one at a time and mix until well combined. In another bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Add to wet ingredients a little at a time and stir to form a stiff dough.

Split the dough into two balls and place one on each baking sheet. Form the mounds of dough into slightly flattened logs, about 4 inches by 8 inches. Bake until firm, about 20 minutes.

Remove the biscotti from the oven and allow to cool for five minutes. With a serrated knife, carefully cut biscotti at an angle into 1-inch thick slices. Arrange biscotti cut sides down back on the baking sheet and cook for 10 minutes more, flipping them about halfway through to ensure that they crisp on both sides.

I kept the dough plain, but these would be delicious with chocolate chips, almonds, or dried cranberries in them. The original recipe called for pistachios, which I’m sure would also be tasty and would look beautiful.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Milano Cookies


Yesterday I went into Manhattan to see a friend’s senior recital at Julliard. It was wonderful. I’m amazed by the fact that at only eighteen she can play violin and piano, sing, and compose, and she does it all in a modest, effortless kind of way.

But A isn’t only a musician. She’s fun and friendly, always bouncing around and giving people hugs and making up words to fit her mood. She’s both a runner and a tennis player. She’s also brilliant at math and physics and she loves philosophy. She likes to talk about how the three relate to each other, how mankind’s knowledge of science affects our understanding of ourselves. She’s multifaceted amazing.

I’m like A in that way. Not that I’m as talented as her, but in that I have a lot of different interests spurting out in so many different directions. I love to bake, yes, but I also love to write and travel. I love biking and swimming. I can’t imagine living anywhere but a city but a part of me also dreams about hiking in the mountains and wandering through praries that stretch for miles. Sometimes I think about opening a bakery when I grow up, and spending my days in the kitchen whipping up buttercream frostings and kneading bread and nibbling on cookie dough scraps. Sometimes I think of myself as a writer or a poet, getting to work on my own schedule, reading and researching and writing as much as I want, whenever I want. I even wonder what it would be like to work on a farm, spending the summer months in endless green fields of strawberries and corn, every salad I eat filled with the satisfaction of knowing that I grew all the ingredients myself.

But something pulls me out of these daydreams and fills me with a sense of certainty that my future lies not among cookie dough scraps or pencils or carrot tops, but in journalism. Reality creeps in and chases away my fantasies like the sun chasing clouds, dispelling uncertainties and illuminating all the truths I need to learn to face. I’ll read a newspaper or see something on television about some tragedy in one corner of the world or another, and I know that I can’t simply sit and bake while there’s so much that needs to be done. Lately it’s been the reports that I read for my internship at Human Rights Watch. I’ll read that adults in Kenya are twice as likely to get treatment for HIV as children are, or that child domestic workers in Indonesia often work 18 hours a day, seven days a week, and I’m filled with indignation. I want to get up at that very minute and knock down the doors of the governments of Kenya and Indonesia and force things to change. At the very least I want to do something that will make other people aware of these injustices and inspire them to want to help. I imagine myself as a latter day Nellie Bly, a one-woman force of nature hurtling across the globe and fixing everything wrong with it as I go.

Right now there doesn’t seem to be much I can do. I do my best to learn all that I can, storing up information for when I have a chance to make a difference. I volunteer, I write for my school newspaper, I send the occasional letter to my congressman. When nothing else works I rant to my friends about how broken the world is, how much there is that needs to be done. And I fill the rest of my time doing the other things I love—listening to music and writing poetry and going on long bike rides. And, of course, baking.

I made these cookies for A’s concert, based on a recipe from 17 and Baking. These milano cookies are a perfect balance between delicate and crunchy, a layer of creamy dark chocolate between two sweet vanilla-y cookies. The perfect remedy for my despair over the world’s many problems. These cookies are delicious straight from the oven, but they tasted even better after a day in the fridge. Hopefully you can make them last that long.

Milano Cookies
(adapted from Elissa Bernstein, adapted from Gale Gand)

1 ½ sticks of unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 cups of confectioners sugar
the egg whites from 6 eggs
2 tablespoons of vanilla extract
1 tsp of lemon juice
1 1/2 cups of flour

Chocolate filling
1/2 cup of heavy cream
8 ounces of dark chocolate, chopped

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In a medium-sized bowl, cream the butter and the powdered sugar. Add the vanilla, lemon juice, and egg whites, then gently stir in the flour a little at a time. The batter will be a little wetter than traditional cookie dough.

Coat a cookie sheet with parchment paper and pipe cookie batter into a milano shape onto the pan. If you’re having trouble getting the cookies to be the right size, trace a milano-shaped cutout onto the paper (it’s what I did). Slide the cookie pan into the freezer for five minutes before baking, then bake the cookies in the oven for 10-12 minutes, until the edges are crispy and golden. Repeat with the rest of the batter.

When the cookies have cooled, melt chocolate with cream in a heavy saucepan over medium heat to make the filling. Let ganache cool for a few minutes. Spread chocolate on to the flat sides of one cookie and top with another to make a sandwich.

You can add other ingredients to these cookies as well. I put strawberry jam in addition to chocolate on some, which was delicious. I’m sure they would also taste good with orange or lemon zest in the chocolate, or peppermint extract.

(my cat was a big fan of these cookies)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Chocolate Covered Granola Bars


Is there anything in the world more wonderful than springtime?

It starts slow. First the wind comes. Not the wind that's howled all winter, rattling your bones and biting at my exposed limbs. This wind is different. It's kinder, though still fierce in its own way. It smells green--sharp and damp and alive. Then come several weeks of torrential rain that melts the snow but turns the streets of Brooklyn into rivers. Though on my walk to school, the hems of my jeans heavy with three inches of mud, I deplore the downpour, a part of me also rejoices. If I were three and wearing rain boots I’d jump in the puddles.

Then, without warning, the sun comes out. My backyard, once a dull brown swampy mess, is littered with white and purple crocuses pushing their noses up out of the dirt. It's a miracle. Between the 4th Avenue and Smith and 9th Street stops, children on the F train sit with their knees on the seats and their faces pressed against the windows, marveling at the changes sunshine and a few patches of green can work on the dreary Brooklyn landscape. Even the grown ups have a certain look of peace about them. There are fewer lines about their eyes, and the creases in their foreheads have been eroded from canyons into gentle valleys. I walk to school with my face turned upwards like a flower bent towards the sun, drinking in the sunlight and converting it into energy.

It only recently turned warm enough for me to bike to school in the mornings, and I still have to wear a heavy windbreaker against the early morning chill. But those forty minutes in the fresh air change everything for me. My dread for school--for my first period calculus test, for the dullness of the crowded hallways and fluorescent lighting—is offset by my excitement to be on my bike, zooming past sleepy brownstones and bleary eyed businessmen on their way to work. My bike ride, with the sharp spring breeze biting my nose and cheeks, wakes me up more than any five-minute cold showers ever could. The sun comes out in full force just as I reach the Brooklyn Bridge, unquestionably my favorite part of my morning. Because it's so early I have the bridge practically to myself. As I make my way up the bridge’s steep incline, I have to focus on merely keeping myself moving. But reaching the center of the bridge is nothing less than magical. The East River shimmers below me, not looking at all as though New Yorkers have been dumping their sewage into it for going on four hundred years, and ahead of me the sun's slanting yellow rays reflect off of the Manhattan skyline. Warm from the uphill climb, I shed my jacket and race down towards lower Manhattan, ready for the day.

I’ve been on break from school for a little more than week, and at the moment my bike ride is the only thing I’m looking forward to about going back tomorrow. I’m going to miss the freedom of nothing to do, the ability to wake up late and make an omelette for breakfast. (I rarely have time in my morning routine for anything more complicated than toast.) So I decided to make these peanut butter and raspberry granola bars today (yes, Passover is not quite over but these don’t have leavening in them so I’m going to call them an exception) so I can still enjoy something delicious in the morning. Though the bars came out softer than I would have liked them to, the raspberry jam adds a delicious freshness to them that I wouldn’t sacrifice for crunch.

Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Raspberry Granola Bars

2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1 cup almonds (chopped or whole)
¼ cup of honey
¼ cup of unsweetened raspberry jam
¼ cup of peanut butter
2 tablespoons of brown sugar (or more, to taste)
the zest of one lemon
½ a cup of good dark chocolate, melted

Grease a small glass baking dish and preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Spread the oats and almonds in a large cookie sheet and cook for five to ten minutes. Meanwhile, melt honey, jam, peanut butter, and sugar in a heavy saucepan until thoroughly combined. Combine the mixture with the oats, almonds, and lemon zest and then press into the baking dish. Cook for 20 minutes or until the bars become hardened and brown on top.

Allow granola to cool and then drizzle with melted chocolate. Stick the dish in the refrigerator (or the freezer, if you’re as impatient as I am) until the granola and the chocolate have completely hardened. Then cut into bars and store in the fridge.