Friday, January 26, 2007

looking forward while looking back...

Looking back: We have had lots of comments on the 2006 holiday cookies we created in December, and reviewed over the past month. Many of the comments specifically identified their "favorite" cookie. And so, here at orenji catering, we feel obliged to ask you: "What is your favorite?" So far, we have received "votes" for the walnut dreams, the peanut butter secrets, the Viennese shortbread with mocha buttercream, the lavender shortbread, and anise scented fig and date pinwheels, and many others. But the surprising front-runner this year is the maple logs!

Looking forward: 2007 is well underway, and with it, we begin to look forward. Keep checking back for posts on many of our recent (and future) culinary undertakings: homemade fruit-infused Japanese liquors, candied figs, a spectacular cupcake wedding cake, a five-star plated dinner party, a sushi-inspired birthday event, various celebratory desserts, and a countdown to our culinary tour of Lima, Peru. It's going to be an exciting year!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

the 34 cookies of Christmas: day 34

Well, it's the last day of our thirty-four cookie recap from Christmas 2006... and what better way to end than with a cookie prepared for the first time this holiday season. We started our discussion thirty-four days ago with a time honored cookie, and end with a relative new creation. It somehow seems appropriate, and possibly is an omen of new and wonderful opportunities that will present themselves in 2007.

Our last cookie is a delicate shortbread cookie that was infused with the finest in Hawaiian lavender blossoms and vanilla. The floral notes of the lavender leaves and petals, visible in the cookies, created a pleasantly subtle contrast to the rich sweetness of the butter and vanilla. These cookies are perfect with a nice cup of tea, and will become a staple of the bridal shower and afternoon tea events that come our way. We brought the lavender-- grown organically on O'ahu-- back from our last trip to Hawai'i. We are confident that it's use in our culinary creations will continue to remind us of our wonderful friends there... at least until we can return!

Monday, January 22, 2007

the 34 cookies of Christmas: day 33

Our next to last cookie of Christmas 2006 is one which has undergone many recipe revisions over the years. First baked in the cold upper "baking kitchen" at the quaint little restaurant in upstate New York, this flaky cookie with a creamy chocolate center had half the filling. We later moved to Manhattan, and it was there that the filling doubled in volume, creating a creamier, denser cookie. It also was there that we first flavored the cookies with almond-- crushed almonds and extract, to be exact. From Manhattan, we moved to California, and the cookies underwent a transition of their own-- almond gave way to hazelnut. We now load the creamy centers of these cookies-- made with fine Belgian bittersweet chocolate-- with homemade ground hazelnut praline and hazelnut extract. The tops are finished with a simple confectioner's glaze, tinted blue in this case, for a beautiful color evocative of a winterscape. Sprinkled with snowflakes and teddy bears, these are certainly sweet holiday treats to be enjoyed. We can hardly wait to see what they evolve into next year!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

the 34 cookies of Christmas: day 32

Our thirty-second day of the 34 cookies of Christmas 2006 brings us a new and interesting twist on a classic tea cookie. Alternately known as Russian Teacakes and Mexican Wedding Cookies, we have taken this "classic" recipe and modified it. Rather than using the traditional ground walnuts as the base for the cookie dough, we have substituted ground macadamia nuts, yielding a sticker and more flavorful cookie. Once baked, the cookies are more crumbly, a bit denser, and somewhat more moist. The flavor of the buttery macadamia nuts cuts through the confectioner's sugar coating, creating an enjoyably well-balanced cookie, that is just a bit different from expectations. We just can't decide on what to call them: Hawaiian Teacakes or Wedding Cookies...

Saturday, January 20, 2007

the 34 cookies of Christmas: day 31

Cookie number thirty-one of the 34 cookies of Christmas 2006 is one of our favorites. Plain and simple. A deliciously creamy dried fig and date filling is rolled between a light cream cheese dough that has been infused with the strongly subtle flavor of anise. The sweetness of the dried fruits, mingled with the high notes of licorice are a balanced match made in heaven. We roll these beautiful cookies in multicolored sanding sugar prior to baking, for a festive effect perfect for the holidays. The baking of these cookies fills the kitchen with a warm, holiday scent, driving away the cold, and calling friends and family to the oven. And when they come out of the oven, the sugar captures the light, glittering back its own holiday wishes. Really, in our opinion, it's nearly the perfect cookie!

Friday, January 19, 2007

the 34 cookies of Christmas: day 30

Day 30 of the 34 cookies of Christmas 2006 brings us back to the warm tropical shores of Hawai'i, with a shortbread inspired by and packed full of toasted coconut. We take a traditional Scottish shortbread, into which we add as much fresh grated and toasted coconut, coconut oil, and coconut extract as the dough can support, cut it into strips prior to baking, and drizzle with the finest Belgian milk chocolate after it cools. It is a buttery, crumbly shortbread that satisfies even the most intense lover of coconut. Personally, it is one of our favorites, and is perfect as a sophisticated cookie to be eaten year-round.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

the 34 cookies of Christmas: day 29

Our twenty-ninth cookie creation of Christmas 2006 is one which we lovingly refer to as "dog bones"-- no due to their taste, of course, but rather their unique shape. These crunchy log-shaped cookies are packed full of chocolate chunks and infused with Tahitian vanilla paste. After baking, the ends are dipped in tempered Belgian bittersweet chocolate, and rolled in an assortment of toasted and chopped nuts. This year, we used toasted slivered almonds to finish the bones, but in past years we have used walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts... even toasted coconut. All in all, these simple cookies are a favorite of humans and dogs alike... although not nearly as inviting to the latter group as our previously described cappuccino flats (see day 24 of the 34 cookies of Christmas!)...

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

the 34 cookies of Christmas: day 28

As we enter the final stretch of our comprehensive review of the 34 varieties of cookies prepared during the 2006 holiday season, we focus on a cookie prepared for the first time this year. Based loosely in design on my mother's favorite cookie we make (the Viennese Shortbread cookies with mocha buttercream), this cookie hopes to capture a flavor combination enjoyed by many of our customers: chocolate and raspberries. We started with a Dutch chocolate sandwich cookie, which we filled with a whipped ganache comprised of creamy white chocolate, fresh raspberries, and Chambord (tm) liqueur. To finish these sinfully rich cookies, we drizzled the finest quality Belgian white chocolate over the top, creating both a delightfully smooth finish and beautiful contrast to the chocolately cookies. In our opinion, this new cookie is sure to stand the test of time, and return in future years!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

the 34 cookies of Christmas: day 27

Our twenty-seventh cookie creation prepared during the 2006 holiday season is one that carries a special meaning. These Kahlua (tm) and almond flavored butter cookies were a favorite of my longtime friend and mentor, Cheryl. We roll these cookies in pink sanding sugar every year in remembrance of her, and to remind us of the importance of breast cancer awareness, treatment, and research. These were one of Cheryl's favorite cookies to eat, although not to prepare as the dough is rather temperamental-- much like Cheryl herself was! They look quite simple, but are complex in flavor and unlike any other cookie we prepare.

Monday, January 15, 2007

the 34 cookies of Christmas: day 26

Cookie number 26 of the 34 cookies of Christmas 2006 is another bar cookie, cut into festive holiday triangles. This is one of the richest and most dense of the cookies we make, packing pounds of butter and brown sugar into every toffee-flavored mouthful. Infused with the strong and bitter flavor of freshly ground and brewed espresso, and topped with Belgian bittersweet chocolate and toasted cashews, these mocha toffee cashew bars are a sure crowd pleaser... and are perfect for any holiday-- just change the decorative sprinkles on top and you'd be sure to please your Valentine, the Easter Bunny... even a leprechaun!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

the 34 cookies of Christmas: day 25

Our twenty-fifth cookie creation for the 2006 holiday season combined the buttery taste of shortbread with the tangy and sweet tastes of the islands. Called "log jams," these are perhaps the most fragile and dainty of our cookies, but also some of the most delightful. A firm butter cookie base is baked with a fruit filling-- in this case, pomegranate in some, and lilikoi (passion fruit) in others. Bright in color, and even brighter in flavor, these cookies are some of our favorites.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

the 34 cookies of Christmas: day 24

The twenty-fourth cookie created for Christmas 2006 is one that we have made for over a decade, first at home, and later here, at orenji catering. Back in the home baking days, these fragrant cookies attracted the attention of our seventy pound black lab, who broke through restraining gates into the kitchen in our absence, climbed onto the counter, and devoured almost twenty-five pounds of these cookies. She certainly learned her lesson, as did we!

The base of these cookies is a dense coffee-infused dough, with a touch of Dutch baking cocoa and melted Belgian bittersweet chocolate. Vanilla paste and freshly grated cinnamon add complex undertones to the coffee flavoring. After baking, a drizzle of fine tempered Belgian white chocolate creates the "cappuccino" effect that gives these cookies their name: cappuccino flats. We think they're good enough to eat 25 pounds of!

Friday, January 12, 2007

the 34 cookies of Christmas: day 23

Yesterday, on day 22, we discussed the first of two "cup" cookies created for Christmas 2006. Today, on day 23 of the 34 cookies of Christmas, we discuss the second "cup" cookie we created this past holiday season. These cookies pack the flavors and textures of a delicate lemon and blueberry tart into a tiny muffin cup. The crust is infused with fresh lemon zest, lemon juice, and lemon oil, where the filling combines fresh and sun-dried blueberries, as well as British blueberry preserves. The topping is an almond streusel containing fresh almond paste, slivered and roasted almonds, and a warm vanilla sugar. This recipe was originally added into the cookie "rotation" for my brother, a self-proclaimed Anglophile, due to it's complex flavors reminiscent of British origins. After tasting it, and modifying the recipe, it has become one of our favorites as well!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

the 34 cookies of Christmas: day 22

Day 22 of the 34 cookies of Christmas 2006 focuses on the first of two tiny "cup" cookies... This cookie, made in a tiny muffin cup, combines a dense and flaky cream cheese based dough, with a deliciously gooey caramel pecan filling flavored with fresh Madagascar vanilla bean. The end result is the flavor of a slice of pecan pie, condensed into a bite-sized morsel. These cookies are based upon one we enjoyed while growing up, lovingly referred to around the extended family dinner table as 'nut cups..." Of course, here at orenji catering, we have since put our own twist on this traditional recipe, adding the caramelized sugar and vanilla infusion, and slightly increasing the richness of the crust. Even though they have been modified, these little culinary gems will always remind us of the warmth and delicious smell of holiday baking while growing up!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

the 34 cookies of Christmas: day 21

Yesterday, on day 21, we discussed a light and buttery Viennese shortbread. Today's cookie is also a shortbread cookie, but is prepared more in the Scottish tradition. This shortbread is also buttery, but with a dough that is heavier, worked longer in the kneading process, and more dense as a result. As is traditional, the dough is shaped into flat discs, which are pre-cut prior to baking, and then cut again after the warm cookies are removed from the oven. This particular shortbread is packed full of fresh and crystallized ginger, pecans, and dried cranberries for a touch of tartness. They are dusted with raw demura sugar, which gives them a gentle glisten in the twinkling holiday lights, and drizzled with fine Belgian white chocolate. These are not too sweet, yet very satisfying cookies to enjoy with a cup of tea at mid-day, or even first thing in the morning as a breakfast treat.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

the 34 cookies of Christmas: day 20

Our twentieth cookie of Christmas 2006 is a delicate and buttery sandwich cookie. The cookies themselves are a Viennese shortbread, a lighter and more buttery cousin of traditional Scottish shortbread biscuits. These unique shortbread cookies are created using an old-fashioned cookie press and baked just to the point of a light browning of the butter in the dough. Because of this, the cookies retain a delicate crumbley texture that melts in the mouth. To sandwich the cookies together we create a traditional buttercream filling, infused with dark roasted coffee. The bitterness of the coffee is further complemented by a fine drizzle of Belgian bittersweet chocolate on the outside of the cookies. Labor intensive and fragile, these cookies are well worth the time and effort it takes to create them... they also happen to be my mother's favorite cookie that we make, and therefore, we will continue making them for a long long time!

Monday, January 08, 2007

the 34 cookies of Christmas: day 19

Every year we develop a few new cookie recipes in our test kitchens, and premiere them during the holiday baking season. One of this year's new cookies was a double chocolate biscotti. Both Dutch cocoa powder and Belgian bittersweet chocolate flavor these cookies, which are also packed with toasted whole hazelnuts and dried sweet cherries. Baked, sliced, and baked again, these cookies were crispy and rich in flavor, with the bittersweet chocolate drizzled on top adding a dark and luxurious finish. We have a feeling that we haven't seen the last of these new holiday treats... and it may happen much sooner than next December! Maybe even as soon as tomorrow morning, with a cup of our dark roast Over the Rhine coffee!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

the 34 cookies of Christmas: day 18

Day eighteen of the 34 cookies of Christmas 2006 focuses on a candy-like cookie that is small and dense, and full of flavor. These cookies first came to our attention approximately a decade ago, when we began baking holiday cookies with a dear friend. This was one of her family's favorite recipes, which we baked once prior to the recipe being misplaced and lost forever. Since that time, we have worked diligently to recreate the cookies made on that first occasion, with this year's result the closest we've come. These cookies are a flaky butter cookie, which envelop a hidden treasure-- a Hershey's Kiss, Kiss with Almonds, or Hug (tm). After baking, we drizzle these pointed gems with the finest quality Belgian white, milk, and dark chocolates. Their tiny size lends them perfectly to popping the entire cookie in one's mouth, and then letting it slowly dissolve... or, for those who can't wait, chomping it quickly and enjoying the medley of flavors-- vanilla, chocolate, and almonds. True to their ingredients, these cookies would make anyone want to kiss (or hug!) the baker!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

the 34 cookies of Christmas: day 17

We reach the half-way point of our chronicle of the 34 cookies of Christmas 2006 with a variety made for the first time this holiday season: a cornmeal guava thumbprint. This recipe was recently discovered on by a dear friend and longtime baking partner. Following a few tests, during which we tailored the recipe to our tastes, we created a cookie unique in both texture and flavor. The grittiness of the cornmeal is complimented by the smooth and sweet guava preserves, creating a pairing that we hope to repeat in the years that follow.

Friday, January 05, 2007

the 34 cookies of Christmas: day 16

Sometimes culinary creations are the product of "happy accidents..." In the case of our sixteenth cookie, these words have never been truer. Similar to the now famous "you got your chocolate in my peanut butter..." television commercials, these peanut-butter chocolate kiss cookies were the result of the combination of excess peanut butter dough and leftover chocolate kiss candies. Together, they created a deliciously simple and sweet cookie, proving that sometimes cookies are more than the sum of their parts! And in the process, they earned themselves a place in our hearts, as well as a regular slot in our annual holiday cookie making!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

the 34 cookies of Christmas: day 15

The 15th cookie of Christmas 2006 is a light, flaky, and terribly fragile cookie scented with key lime, and dusted with sugar. The key to these palate-cleansing cookies is the limited amount of sugar actually in the dough... Rather, the sweetness that complements the tart key lime zest and juice is found on the outside of the cookie, creating a sweet start and a tart finish. These flat discs are made with cornstarch, which gives them a unique snap when bitten, and a "melting" quality when they sit on the tongue. Dusted in white confectioners' sugar and green sanding sugar, they are a simple and pretty cookie, unassuming until the robust key lime tartness shines through.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

the 34 cookies of Christmas: day 14

A decadent caramel peanut-brittle finger is the cookie we focus on during day 14 of the 34 cookies of Christmas 2006. This is a recipe discovered long ago, while working at a lovely little restaurant in Sackets Harbor, New York. Owner and executive chef Cheryl (see previous posts) found this recipe, and over the course of a few years we made it together.

Of course, like most recipes, we found a way to "make it our own" here at orenji catering. Some years we make these with cashews, some years with mixed nuts, some years (like this past year) with peanuts. But the flaky short crust, and the Belgian bittersweet chocolate dipped ends remain the same year after year. These are a family favorite, and for us, a cookie that brings back fond memories of winters in a tiny snow-covered hamlet.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

new year's grapes

We were fortunate to ring in the New Year with some dear friends, who treated us to a splendid meal, wine, port, champagne, Argentinean cidre (made from fermented apples), great company, conversation, and friendship, and introduced us to the Spanish tradition of eating 12 grapes in the seconds before the New Year. This tradition, thought to originate in the Alicante region of Spain is celebrated by many other countries of Spanish influence around the world. The grapes, eaten as the clock strikes 12, are believed to bring prosperity, health, and happiness throughout the new year.

All in all, it was a wonderful evening, and an excellent way to begin 2007.

We wish you all health and happiness in the coming year.

the 34 cookies of Christmas: day 13

The thirteenth cookie highlighted this year is a delicious orange and chocolate chip shortbread. The secret to these fragrant and flavorful cookies is the variety of orange flavorings that give them their robust citrus flavor. Not only do we include freshly grated orange peel, but also orange juice, orange oil, and a splash of organic alcohol-free orange extract. The combination of the peel and the oil provide a slight orange glow to these cookies, into which we fold miniature chocolate chips for textural contrast. After baking, the corners are dipped in fine Belgian bittersweet chocolate, because who doesn't love the sweet-bitter combination of chocolate and orenji?

Monday, January 01, 2007

the 34 cookies of Christmas: day 12

Our twelfth cookie of this holiday season is a brown-sugar based biscotti. Biscotti, in Italian, means "twice cooked," which is how these cookies are made. First, the dough-- a mixture of butter, sugars, flour, vanilla, toasted pine nuts, and salted pistachios-- is mixed and shaped into logs which are baked. Once cooled, the logs are sliced, and then baked again... thus, "twice cooked." After the second baking, the cookies are crispy and dry, perfect for dipping in coffee. We finish our pine nut and pistachio biscotti with a light drizzling of Belgian white chocolate, which adds just a touch of sweet creaminess to the biscuits.