Limoncello and Poppy Seed Cookies

I am excited to once again be back in baking mode this holiday season and share all the cookies, biscuits, tarts, and other winter deliciousness from my kitchen. This has been the longest hiatus I have had from blogging – turns out planning a wedding, finishing a PhD, and trying to get a job takes a lot of time (or at least mental effort), which kept me away from blogging! But I’m hoping to remedy that this winter, and I would like to begin with some of the cookies I made this weekend for my friends and colleagues at work.

Limoncello is one of my favorite liqueurs, especially from the time when my partner made a bottle for me from scratch a few years ago. And with so many cookies being heavy on the chocolate or nuts this season, a cookie with lemon seemed like a great, light antidote. These cookies are also not too sweet, and are just sweet enough to curb cravings for a light post-meal snack. If you do not have limoncello on hand, you can probably add the zest from another half a lemon or so – you can always taste your dough to figure out if you want a stronger flavor. The dough for these cookies can also be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator or freezer. I love to freeze my cookie dough – it lasts fresher much longer, and it is so easy to slice off a few and get fresh baked cookies in 10 minutes!

Peanut butter and dark chocolate cookies (L) limoncello and poppy seeds cookies (R)

Peanut butter and dark chocolate cookies (L) limoncello and poppy seeds cookies (R)

Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients

  • 2 sticks (8 ounces; 230 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 and 1/2 tbsp poppy seeds
  • Zest from 1 lemon
  • 2 teaspoons limoncello

Directions

  1. Put the butter in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat at medium speed until it is smooth. Add the sifted confectioners’ sugar and beat again until the mixture is smooth and silky. Beat in the egg yolks and vanilla extract and limoncello, followed by the salt and poppy seeds. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour, beating just until it disappears. It is better to underbeat than overbeat at this point; if the flour isn’t fully incorporated, that’s okay just blend in whatever remaining flour needs blending with a rubber spatula.
  2. Turn the dough out onto a counter, gather it into a ball, and divide it in half. Wrap each piece of dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.
  3. Working on a smooth surface, form each piece of dough into a log. Wrap the logs in plastic and freeze for half an hour. (The dough can be wrapped airtight and kept refrigerated for up to 3 days or stored in the freezer for up to 1 month.)
  4. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  5. Then, using a sharp slender knife, slice each log into cookies. (See photo below – you can make the cookies thicker if you’d like; just bake them longer.) Place the cookies on the lined baking sheets, leaving about 1/2 inch (1.5 cm) space between them.

    Slicing the cookie dough logs

    Slicing the cookie dough log

  6. Bake the cookies for 10 minutes, or until they are set but not browned. These cookies will start browning from the bottom much sooner than the top, so you want to keep an eye. Transfer the cookies to cooling racks to cool to room temperature.

I cannot wait to share the recipes of the other cookies I have been baking. What are your favorite cookies?

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Boozy Baked French Toast

The only thing better than delicious brunch is brunch that you do not have to get up early in order to pull off well. This baked french toast is least stressful thing you could make while hosting brunch or lunch. I made this while preparing for a friend’s baby shower and this was definitely the easiest part – cut slices of old Challah, and let them soak in the custard overnight. In the morning, just bake it and serve! I went with a very citrusy flavor here with lemon zest and cointreau, but you can definitely go with a wide range of flavor combinations – Frangelico (hazelnut liquer) and nutella or cookie butter, Chambord (raspberry liquer) and fresh raspberries, bourbon and toasted pecans., Calvados and apples – just name a season, and there’s an apt combination to devour. This french toast also puffs up beautifully, so you should plan on baking it right before it’s supposed to be served, so you can get all the ohs and the ahs!

Boozy Baked French Toast

Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients

  • 1 and 1/2 loaves supermarket Challah bread in 1-inch slices
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 5 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 tsp lemon zest
  • 2 tbsp Cointreau

Directions

1. Generously grease a 9×13-inch baking dish with salted (my choice) or unsalted butter.
2. Arrange bread in two tightly-packed layers in the pan. I cut one slice into smaller pieces to fill in gaps. If you are using any fillings of fruit or nuts, this is the time to get them between the layers or sprinkled atop.
3. Whisk milk, eggs, sugar, salt, lemon zest, and cointreau and pour over the bread. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.
4. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. The bread will absorb all of the milk custard while you sleep.
5. Bake at 425 for 30 minutes, or until puffed and golden. This will take longer if you have additional layers.
6. Cut into generous squares and serve with maple syrup, fresh fruit, powdered sugar or all of the above.

Rosé Sangria

Some of my favorite summer foods are fruits – and the sweet and juicy berries and peaches that I’ve been finding in Virginia are almost enough to make me not miss Indian mangoes. But a few weeks ago, I finally gave in and decided to buy some mangoes, knowing full well that it would not measure up to the mangoes I was used to. And while that was true, it did help me fulfill my craving, and I barely missed their usual lack of juiciness when mixed in with some sangria. And speaking of favorites, sangria is one of my favorite summer drinks – it’s not only delicious, but also incredibly easy to throw together. When making sangria, do not bother using fancy wine – any mediocre bottle of wine will do. The only trick is to let the fruits rest in the wine for at least a few hours so that the wine can acquire some of the sweetness and acidity from the fruits. I use a combination of blackberries, raspberries and mangoes in this recipe, but feel free to substitute peaches, blueberries and nectarines.

For this sangria, I decided to go with some rosé wine. I am usually not a huge fan of rosé – they can sometimes be a little too dry for me and I usually prefer sweeter and floral whites. But lately, in tasting several wines for our wedding, I’m hooked to the 2014 Norton Rosé from Keswick Vineyards and so I feel underwhelmed by most other rosés. And fortunately, we always have the option to make sangria with underwhelming wines!

Rosé Sangria

Ingredients

  • 1 bottle (750 ml) dry rosé wine
  • 1/3 cup triple sec
  • 2 tablespoons sugar (if desired)
  • 1 cup blackberries
  • 1 cup raspberries
  • 1 large mango, diced into cubes
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1 and 1/2 cups seltzer water (I used peach-flavored seltzer water)

Directions

  1. Pour the Rosé into a pitcher. Stir in the triple sec and lemon juice.  Add the fruits.
  2. Chill for a few hours (preferably at least 3-4 hours). Taste, and add sugar if desired.
  3. Right before serving, add the seltzer water to the pitcher, then pour the sangria into glasses.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

I ate Muhammara for the first time 2 years ago, and I’ve thinking of trying out the recipe ever since then. It’s a Syrian red pepper dip that has a nice, nutty flavor to it from walnuts and is really versatile and can be used as a smear or a dip. Unfortunately, that thought totally skipped my mind while roasting some red peppers and I decided to go with roasted red pepper hummus. This recipe is perfect for eating with pita chips, or what I did – stuffed into some cucumbers. These make for some amazing party appetizers, look good and taste great. Plus, they’re gluten-free, which is good for those who can’t dip pita bread or crackers into this hummus. This recipe can be easily adjusted depending on your preference, so go ahead and experiment with the amount of salt, paprika and cumin you want in your hummus.

Cucumber rolls stuffed with roasted red pepper hummus

Cucumber rolls stuffed with roasted red pepper hummus

Recipe adapted from Crepes of Wrath

Ingredients

  • 3 large red bell peppers or 1 jar roasted bell peppers
  • 1 15 oz. canned/rinsed/drained garbanzo beans
  • 2 tablespoons tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

 

Directions

1. If you have fresh bell peppers, preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. Cut your peppers in half, removing the pith and seeds, and place skin side up on a roasting tray. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until nice and charred. Allow the peppers to become cool enough to handle, then simple peel away the skin and roughly chop the peppers so that they will all fit in your food processor.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

 

2. Add the chopped roasted red peppers, garbanzo beans, tahini, minced garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, paprika, cumin and salt to your food processor and blend until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. This keeps well in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 7 days.

Lemon Blueberry Mini Bundt Cake

I recently bought my first silicon baking pan. I didn’t realize how flexible these pans can be until I actually handled it, which made me slightly suspicious of whether these would be ideal for baking and holding shapes. Fortunately, the pan more than surpassed my expectations – it’s completely non-stick, does not even need to be greased, the baked goods can be popped right out, and it’s barely a pain to clean. For more on basics of baking with silicon pans and how to check the quality of silicon bake ware, check this link out.

To inaugurate my new mini bundt cake pan, I went with one of my favorites – the lemon blueberry combo. These cakes aren’t as light as muffins, but I also decided to have them without icing or any kind of glaze, so that it’s a great and filling breakfast on-the-go.

Lemon Blueberry Mini-Bundt Cakes

Lemon Blueberry Mini-Bundt Cakes

Recipe adapted from Taste of Home. Gives 9 mini-cakes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup 1% milk
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 1.5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
  • Confectioner’s sugar (optional)

Directions

  • In a small bowl, cream butter and sugar. Beat in the egg, milk and vanilla. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt; stir into creamed mixture. Fold in blueberries.
  • Pour into three 4-in. fluted tube pans coated with cooking spray, filling them only two-thirds of the way.
  • Bake at 350° for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to cool completely.
  • Dust with confectioner’s sugar or with some glaze if you please.

Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Buttercream Frosting

I finally got to use a KitchenAid stand mixer, and it was no less than the Professional 6000 HD! It made the mixing process super-easy and I finally understand what it means to have a light and fluffy batter, and how it is possible to make such light buttercream frosting. It worked like a dream and I can’t wait to own one when I can afford one and have enough counter-space to store an appliance as huge as this!

And I’m glad that I was able to use this to make a lemon creation, these cupcakes are not too sweet and the taste and aroma of Meyer lemons make this a perfect light dessert, in a season that’s normally full of heavy desserts.  This recipes yields about 24 cupcakes and the frosting was enough for me for about 24 cupcakes. However, I neither put *too much* frosting on every cupcake, and nor did I put too much sugar in the frosting. So if that’s not your style, you might want to adjust the frosting accordingly.

If you’re only looking for gluten-free lemon cupcakes, then see this recipe of lemon-poppy seed muffins and use the recipe for the lemon buttercream frosting given below. Enjoy!

lemoncup2

Recipe adapted from une gamine dans la cuisine – Yields 24 cupcakes

INGREDIENTS

For cupcakes

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 tablespoons grated lemon zest (about 4-5 lemons – I used Meyer lemons since they’re the most flavorful)
  • 1 cup ( that’s 2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 4 room temperature eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 cup buttermilk (allow it to sit at room temp. for about 20 minutes)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

For the frosting

  • Slightly less than 1 cup (that’s one full stick and 3/4 of another stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temp.
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar (have an extra 1/2 cup on hand, just in case because I don’t like sweet frosting, so I used lesser sugar)
  • 1/4 cup half & half cream
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

DIRECTIONS

For cupcakes:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 F. Line muffin tins with paper liners (this recipe will make about 24 cupcakes).
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  3. In the bowl of a stand-mixer (or any large mixing bowl if you’re using a hand-held), combine the sugar and lemon zest. Use your finger tips to rub the zest into the sugar until it’s moist and fragrant. Add the butter and, using the paddle attachment, beat on med-high until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes). Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for about 1 minute per egg. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the almond extract.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and lemon juice.
  5. Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of buttermilk and lemon juice, and beating until just combined after each.
  6. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared tins (about 3/4 full for each).
  7. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or the tops spring back when lightly touched and a small knife inserted into a center cupcake comes out clean.
  8. Remove from the oven and put the muffins out on a wire rack to cool completely before putting on the frosting.

For the frosting:

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until light and fluffy (about 3-5 minutes).
  2. Slowly begin adding the sugar, and beat until well combined. Beat in the cream, vanilla, and salt.
  3. Once combined, turn the mixer up to medium speed and beat for about 3 minutes straight. Turn the mixer down to low and add the lemon zest and lemon juice. Beat for another 3 minutes until the frosting is fluffy and light. [Note: If the frosting looks too thin, add that extra 1/2 cup of sugar. If it’s too thick, add a splash of cream, and beat to combine.]

    Beating the lemon buttercream frosting until it's light and fluffy

    Beating the lemon buttercream frosting until it’s light and fluffy

  4. Decorate the cooled cupcakes as desired!

lemoncup

Lemon Madeleines

Thanksgiving always leaves you feeling pretty full (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). But it also meant that I was look for sweet things that were light, so as to get at least some sort of balance on the Thanksgiving table. That decision was made easier when I realized I had some two dozen eggs sitting in the fridge. My first thought was a souffle, but given that I don’t have an electric mixer (sigh), I decided to go with madeleines. And nothing say light and refreshing like lemons!

Recipe courtesy The Kitchn

Ingredients: (makes 24)

  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup melted butter
  • 2 cups sifted flour (or 2 cups all-purpose gluten-free flour, for those who’re looking for gluten-free madeleines!*)
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract or other flavor (optional)

Directions

  • By hand, cream the egg yolks with the sugar using a wooden spoon. Do this for at least 5 minutes.
  • Add most of the lemon zest and any  flavor you might want such as vanilla extract, orange blossom water or almond extract.
  • Whip the egg whites to soft peaks. (What does it mean for egg whites to develop soft or stiff peaks?)
  • Whipping egg whites till they hold soft peaks

  • Fold in the egg whites to the egg/sugar concoction and then add in the butter and flour making sure not to overwork the batter but making sure to mix well.
  • Cover bowl and let it refrigerate at least for an hour before baking. Butter and flour the baking sheets and preferably put that inside the fridge too.
  • Once this has been done, drop in the batter, filling the molds 3/4 the way full. Clack the molds against the table to get any air bubbles to come to the surface. Set oven to 300 F

    Sprinkling some lemon zest on top of the batter just before putting the tray into the oven

  • Bake for around 12 minutes. Baking time might be lesser depending on oven. Just remember, the longer it is in there, the less lighter and moist it’s going to feel. So keep checking after 8 minutes. 

*NOTE: If your gluten-free flour mix DOES NOT contain xanthan gum or guar gum, add 1/4 teaspoon of your favorite gum to this recipe.

Feeling a bit more adventurous? Try these nutella-filled madeleines! or these Amaretto Madeleines