Friday, December 18, 2009

Praline Cookies

Finally a post on cookies on Cookie Shutter! Well worth the wait. Now that I have an oven, I'm on a frenzied baking spree! These praline cookies are thick and chewy, choc-a-bloc with crunchy bursts of praline and melty gooey chocolate chips. The absolute best way to enjoy these cookies - eat one while it's still warm, straight from the oven with a glass of cold milk. (and you're sitting on the kitchen counter waiting for the rest of the cookies to cool down). You're now in cookie heaven.


This recipe is from a book titled Spectacular Desserts from Better Homes and Gardens. It's a fairly old book that I picked up at a library sale. There are basic recipes on how to make good bittersweet chocolate sauce, home made creme fraiche and extravagant ones like the 5 layered mango butter cream cake that uses a whole pound of butter, just for the frosting! Sometimes, you find the best and winner recipes in old forgotten books......


These cookies are delicious - especially if you're looking for a splendid twist in your favourite chocolate chip recipe. Just make the praline and use in your recipe along with the chocolate chips.


If you don't have pecans you can use walnuts, almonds or cashew nuts instead. Makes almost three dozen regular sized cookies. Lots to share and perfect for the festive season!



Difficulty level - easy
Cooking time - 30 mins
Makes 3 dozen regular sized cookies or 18 large cookies


1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts or pecans(you can use almond/cashews/walnuts)
1 cup or 2 sticks butter, softened
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 ounces semi sweet or bitter sweet chocolate chips


Grease a large baking sheet with butter. Set baking sheet aside.

For praline, in a heavy medium saucepan stir together 1/3 cup sugar and water. Cook and stir over medium-high heat till boiling.Then Cook for 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 minutes more until syrup is a deep golden brown. Remove from heat. Stir in 1 cup nuts. Immediately pour onto the prepared baking sheet. cool completely on a wire rack until firm.

When firm, transfer the praline into a heavy duty plastic bag. Using a rolling pin, crush the praline into small pieces. Set aside.

For cookies, in a large mixing bowl beat the 1 cup butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed about 30 seconds or until softened.
Ad about half the flour, all of the brown sugar, 1/2 cup sugar,eggs, vanilla and baking soda. Beat till thoroughly combined, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally. Then beat or stir in the remaining flour. Stir in crushed praline and chocolate chips.

Scoop the dough using a cookie scoop one at a time, 4 inches apart onto a cookie sheet. Flatten slightly. Bake in 350 F for 13 - 15 minutes or till edges are lightly browned. cool cookies on the cookie sheets for 1 minute. Then remove cookies and cool on wire rack.

Note - The praline can get a little tricky - it actually went from sugar to syrup and back to sugar on me. Just keep at it - stir away and it'll suddenly caramelize into a golden hue. At this stage work quickly as the caramel tends to burn. There's another way to make caramel and it requires no water; here's a fantastic post by David Lebovitz on how you can do this easily.
Don't fret if you don't have an electric mixer - use a hand whisk/spoon to cream the butter. Takes a little longer but totally do-able.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Mark Peel's Pesto (Pasta)

Pesto is a flavorful Italian condiment that is often used as a topping for crisp bruschetta, on a delicious no-tomato-sauce pizza, as a sauce for summery pasta, it even tastes fantastic when just spooned over golden oven roasted chicken. There are infinite possibilities with how you can combine and use this versatile pesto to liven up a dish.


Pesto is usually made with fresh basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic and olive oil - all crushed to make a deliciously fragrant sauce. Fresh pesto is vibrant and brilliant green in color and is best when used immediately. But I know a lot of people make pesto and stash it away in the refrigerator for a rainy day. This pesto keeps for at least 2 weeks when refrigerated. As the basil gets oxidised quickly, make sure to pour a thin film of olive oil to keep the discoloration minimal. The appearance suffers but the taste is just as good. Once you make a batch of this use it liberally on sliced toasted baguettes, inside a wrap or make a delicious roasted vegetable sandwich.


This recipe is adapted from Martha Stewart's Living Cookbook . A compilation of over 1200 recipes from the first decade of the magazine. It's a great book to have on your shelf, especially because it's so extensive and still has one of the best indexes that I've seen in a cookbook. So it's very easy to find a recipe with an ingredient that you have on hand and want to use up (very good for an ingredient hoarder like me, as I often buy a whole bunch of shiny new things to cook with and run out of ideas before the actual ingredient runs out). I've bookmarked quite a few recipes and cannot wait to try them out in my new oven!



Difficulty level - Easy
Cooking Time - 5 mins
Makes - 1/2 cup - enough to use as a sauce for a pound of pasta - serves four.

Mark Peel, chef/owner of Campanile in Los Angeles, makes this coarse-textured pesto using a mortar and pestle rather than a food processor. Basil leaves turn black if exposed to the air after they are cut, so pour extra virgin olive oil over the surface of the sauce to preserve its brilliant color.


3 garlic cloves
3 tbsps pine nuts, toasted ( I used walnuts instead)
1/2 tsp kosher salt, plus more for seasoning ( I used sea salt instead)
1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
1/4 tsp of fresh cracked black pepper ( my addition )
Fresh lemon juice


Using a mortar and pestle, crush the garlic and the nuts with 1/2 tsp of salt and 1tbsp of oil until pulverized. Add basil; work until you have a rough paste. Whisk in remaining oil in a stream. Season with salt and lemon juice.

To make pesto pasta - Cook pasta in rapidly boiling salted water until al-dente, usually takes around 10 -12 mins for dried pasta. Drain the pasta and reserve some of the cooking water. Coat the pasta liberally with the pesto. You can also add fresh grape tomatoes, olives, roasted eggplants and any other veggies that you like. If the pasta gets too dry, use the reserved cooking water to thin the sauce out.

Note - if you don't want to go the mortar, pestle and exercise route, blend all these ingredients in a blender to a coarse paste. It's totally optional but I add about 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan into the pesto just before using it. Feel free to leave this out if you don't intend to use it. If you do not plan on using the pesto immediately and want to refrigerate it - do not add the cheese until just before serving/using.