Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Cardamom-Apricot Newtons

I like sweets. Pretty much on a daily basis. And while most days a hunk of dark chocolate is enough to satisfy me, sometimes I want to sink my teeth into something gooey, and warm, and full of texture. Something baked. Something buttery. At Sassafrass Catering, we would take left over black pepper fig jam and turn it into delicious, grown up fig newtons, using this recipe. One of the things that makes this cookie so especially delicious is the presence of nutmeg in the dough without it's old cohort, cinnamon. So instead of tasting reminiscent of apple pie spices, the nutmeg is allowed to shine through, lending an almost lemony and not at all sweet note to the dough.

Despite having grown up in California, there is no end to my surprise at what produce is available here at which time of year and for how long. I'm on a stone fruit kick, buying and eating it with near feverish frequency. Despite my friends' assurances that it will be around for several more weeks, I'm not taking any chances.

I planned to make an apricot version of the aforementioned fig cookie but I was lacking almost all of the necessary ingredients (though I'm starting to think that xantham gum is something worth having on hand.)** So I found this recipe which looked more easily adaptable.

I made the jam with a combination of fresh and dried apricots. It would be equally tasty made with only one or the other.

Cardamom Apricot Newtons
adapted from Food 52 & 101 Cookbooks

For the jam
1lb dried or fresh apricots or a mix of the two, chopped
5-8 cardamom pods (or 2 t ground)
zest from one orange or one lemon
1/2 cup sugar or honey
pinch of salt
cracked black pepper

For the dough
5 T unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 t vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 t baking soda
2 t baking powder

Combine the jam ingredients in a heavy sauce pan. Bring to a boil and then simmer, stirring occasionally, until thick. About an hour. Remove the pan from heat, take out the cardamom pods if you used them, and let the jam cool. Once cool, mash up large chunks with a fork or pulse the jam in a food processor to desired smoothness.

While the jam cools, make the dough.

In a large bowl combine the butter, sugar, and vanilla. Beat in the eggs one at a time.

Sift together the flour, baking soda and baking powder. Add dry ingredients to wet ones and stir until combined.

Cover the dough in the bowl and refrigerate until firm, at least one hour. (I chilled mine overnight)

Pre heat the oven to 350 degrees. 

Split the dough in half and place on a piece of parchment or a sil pat. Cover the dough with another piece of parchment and roll it out into a rough square, about 1/4 of an inch thick. Uncover the dough and slide it, parchment and all, onto a baking sheet. Spread the jam in a thick layer almost to the edges of the dough square. 

Roll out the second half of the dough as you did the first. Gently lift it off the parchment and place it on top of the jam. Press all around the edges of the giant cookie square with the tines of a fork or with your fingers to prevent the jam from oozing out during baking.

Bake for 10-15 minutes, checking half way through to make sure the dough isn't over browning. When the dough is golden and firm and the edges are beginning to crisp, remove the baking sheet and let cool for about 10 minutes.

Once cool, cut the edges off the cookie to make straight lines. Slice the square into rows of whatever width you desire and then cut into squares. These are extra delicious the second day.

** Since posting this I have gotten some interesting input about xantham gum and its questionable health benefits. Apparently it can cause some people extreme digestive discomfort. Xantham gum is used in many gluten free recipes as a binder and thickener. Gluten Free Girl,  who is pretty much the authority on gluten free cooking and baking, has an interesting post about what xantham and other gums are made of and her decision to stop using them in her recipes. Worth learning more about. Thank you  Jenny Nelson for turning me on to this question! 

Please feel free to hit up the comment section to weigh in on this subject or on the post in general.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Watermelon, Spiced & Salted

It's watermelon time. Fourth of July, sweaty afternoons in the garden, barbecues, beach days. Watermelon is the quintessential summer time fruit. The aptly named melon is 90% water, and while it tastes super sweet it has less than half the sugar per gram of an apple. Lately, my appetite for the thirst-quencher is insatiable.

I can't recall the exact moment when I fell in love with the sweet-salty continuum. My dear friend Eliza, of Milk & Honey, convinced me with her salted chocolate sauce that I had never enjoyed a sweet without its salty counterpart. As a teenager in Costa Rica, I learned the local custom of sprinkling ripe mango with salt. Those bites of juicy, thickly sweet and slightly salty fruit were more refreshing than a glass of ice water or a popsicle, or even a plunge in the Pacific. A few weeks ago, after a run, I tried salting my watermelon as a rehydrating snack. Nature's answer to gatorade! It was 20 minutes after my run before I needed a glass of water.

Since then I have spiced up my salt mix, fighting the fiery temps with fiery flavors. I like to pre cut the watermelon and store it in the refrigerator for an extra refreshing, any time treat. 

Choosing a ripe watermelon: It's not always easy to tell if you are choosing a ripe melon from a pile at the store or farmer's market. There are few things more disappointing than cutting into a watermelon and finding dried out, tasteless and pale flesh. Turn the melon all the way around, in all directions to find a light yellow mark where it sat against the dirt before harvest. If you don't find a yellow mark, it probably isn't ripe yet. If you still aren't sure, give the melon a light tap with your knuckle. If it sounds hollow, it should be ripe. 

Spiced Sea Salt
1t smoked paprika
1t Adobo or other chili powder
1 T Maldon or other flakey sea salt

Combine the salt mix ingredients in a small bowl and mix well so the spices evenly distribute.

Cut the watermelon around the circumference and place flesh side down on a cutting board. 

Using a very sharp knife, carefully trim away the green peel and white rind. (*note: The green part of the peel is incredibly high in chlorophyl and the white rind is high in organic sodium. Both can be added to smoothies and juices in small amounts for an extra nutritional boost) Repeat with the other half or place the un-peeled melon face down on a plate and store in the fridge for later.

Cut the watermelon into slices or chunks. I like my pieces on the heftier side, around 2 inch cubes. Sprinkle with the spiced salt and eat. This is a highly addictive snack.

Other serving ideas
-Skewer the cubes on toothpicks and sprinkle with the salt as a party appetizer.

-Toss smaller chunks of watermelon with avocado, raw pumpkin seeds, arugula, lime and good olive oil. Sprinkle with the spiced salt or put it in a communal pinch pot on the table. Serve as a first course salad with very cold rosé.