Sesame Crisps

We were having a conversation about what you can do with tahini this morning in the office, and I mentioned the sesame cookies my mom made when I was little, which don’t actually have tahini in them but are strongly sesame-flavored nonetheless. That may sound a little odd, but they’re really much like the idea of peanut butter cookies, and sesame cookies have a long history in the South, where they’re called benne cookies (benne being an adapted African name for sesame).  The coconut in these may be a little non-traditional, but I sure do have fond memories of these cookies from childhood. I believe this recipe came from Joy of Cooking.

¾ c. sesame seeds

½ c. grated coconut (mom says she has used both sweetened and unsweetened with good results)

2 c. sifted flour

1 t. baking powder

½ t. baking soda

½ t. salt

1 c. brown sugar, firmly packed

1 egg

1 t. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spread seeds on a rimmed cookie sheet and toast in oven for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to promote even browning. Add coconut and return sheet to oven for additional 5 minutes, until seeds and coconut are golden brown.

Sift the flour together with the powder, soda, and salt.  Cream the butter in a large mixing bowl. Gradually add brown sugar and cream until light and fluffy.  Add egg, vanilla, sesame seeds and coconut.  Beat well.  Blend in sifted dry ingredients gradually and mix thoroughly. 

Shape balls of dough, using a rounded teaspoonful for each. Place three inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten to 1/8 in. thickness using your hand or the bottom of a glass. Bake for 8-10 minutes at 350 degrees, until golden.

Makes 48 cookies.

Apple (or other fruit) Crisp

This was born as Apple Crisp, and there was much of that when I was growing up, but I think it was just as often Blueberry Crisp, which I actually prefer. Today it is Peach Crisp, in honor of the 20 lbs. of peaches, plums, and nectarines I brought home from this week’s photo shoot.  Pictured are some of the victims.

I had to call my mom for this recipe this morning. I know I wrote it down some years ago but couldn’t find the card or sheet I put it on when I went hunting today. Mom was happy to read it off again so I could type it in. She says she likes to let this cool rather than eating it hot and serve it with vanilla ice cream on the side so that the crisp stays that way. I can remember eating it hot with a little milk poured into it to cool it, which was pretty wonderful as well.

She also says that she used to make this with Gravenstein apples when we lived in Maine because she liked their flavor – she says mostly now she uses Granny Smiths because that’s what she can find. A few years ago, though, she said she found Macintosh and Cortland apples at the Minnetrista Center market and made a pie that reminded her of her maternal grandmother’s pie. Her Grandma Bullock used Cortland apples for her pie.

6 c. pared sliced apples
1 T. lemon juice
Grated peel of one lemon
1 T. water

3 / 4 c. firmly packed brown sugar
1 / 2 c. flour
1 / 4 c. oats
1 / 3 c. soft butter
1 tsp. cinnamon
(My mom sometimes ads a little bit of nutmeg and/or mace)

Mix the fruit with the lemon juice, lemon peel, and water, and turn into an 8 x 8 or 10 x 6 baking dish. In a medium bowl, combine the remaining ingredients, mixing with a wooden spoon until incorporated and crumbly. Uniformity is not necessary. Sprinkle the topping over the fruit. Bake at 375 for 40 – 45 minutes and serve warm or cold with milk, cream or ice cream.

Totally Decadent Cheese Bread

I have previously mentioned my love of Cook’s Illustrated. This recipe is from this month’s issue. I was expecting a nice little loaf with a toasty cheese flavor – but this is totally over the top. This thing, seriously, is cheese bound together with other full-fat dairy products and a tiny bit of flour. I would suggest that this remain a special-occasion recipe, because as soon as I tasted it, I could tell that it would have an instruction tag on it for my stomach that would read “Send straight to thighs.”

This recipe originally called for “Parmesan” cheese, a falling-down-on-the-job not usually characteristic of Cook’s. Domestic Parm can have a bitter, acrid flavor, only amplified by baking, and genuine Parmigiano-Reggiano would be too strong in this application, in my opinion. I’m going to counsel that Parrano (from Holland, a sharp Gouda type) be used where Parmesan is called for, as it’s fairly widely available now and it bakes wonderfully.

I don’t keep nonstick cooking spray on hand, and this calls for it – I greased the pan heavily with butter instead, but had release problems with the bottom of the loaf.

NB from Cook’s: If, when testing the bread for doneness, the toothpick comes out with what looks like uncooked batter clinging to it, try again in a different (but still central) spot; if the toothpick hits a pocket of cheese, it may give a false indication. The texture of the bread improves as it cools, so resist the urge to slice the loaf while it is piping hot. Leftover cheese bread is excellent toasted; toast slices in a toaster oven or on a baking sheet in a 425-degree oven for 5 to 10 minutes, not in a conventional toaster, where bits of cheese may melt, burn, and make a mess.

3 oz. Parrano cheese, shredded on large holes of box grater (about 1 cup)
3 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1 T. baking powder (yes, 1 tablespoon is correct)
1/4 t. cayenne
1 t. salt
1/8 t. ground black pepper
4 oz. extra-sharp cheddar cheese, cut into 1/2 in. cubes, or mild Asiago, crumbled into 1/4 to 1/2 in. pieces (about 1 cup) (I used McAdam NY Sharp – I would have used Grafton Village Classic Reserve Cheddar or McAdam NY Extra Sharp if I had access to it around here.)
1 1/4 c. whole milk
3 T. unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg, beaten lightly
3/4 c. sour cream

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position, heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 5 by 9-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray, then sprinkle 1/2 c. Parrano evenly in bottom of pan.

2. In large bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, cayenne, salt, and pepper to combine. Using rubber spatula, mix in cheddar or Asiago, breaking up clumps, until cheese is coated with flour. In medium bowl, whisk together milk, melted butter, egg, and sour cream. Using rubber spatula, gently fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients until just combined (batter will be heavy and thick). Do not overmix. Scrape batter into prepared loaf pan; spread to sides of pan and level surface with rubber spatula. Sprinkle remaining 1/2 c. Parrano evenly over surface.

3. Bake until deep golden brown and toothpick or skewer inserted in center of loaf comes out clean, 45 – 50 minues. Cool in pan on wire rack 5 minutes; invert loaf from pan and continue to cool until warm, about 45 minutes. Cut into slices and serve.

Evil Biscuits

Some cookbooks have recipes for angel biscuits. These are not those biscuits.

These biscuits, funnily enough, came about because of my years at St. George’s Camp at Shrine Mont, in the Shenandoah mountains. I don’t remember eating biscuits at home, so they were a big treat for me at camp. They came along with Shrine Mont‘s famous fried chicken (which was quite good as well, I think, though of course I eschewed it for the last couple years of camp) and I think that at any rate, I usually ate a far greater volume of biscuits than I did chicken.

Chicken has been totally out of my diet since camp days, but my love of biscuits remains; this is the recipe I use to feed that hankering. I didn’t know how to make biscuits when I first started cooking in earnest when I went away to college in 1993, and I tried a number of recipes until I hit on one from The Bread Book by Betsy Oppeneer. She calls hers “Southern-Style Biscuits,” but I think Evil Biscuits (as opposed to yeast-raised Angel Biscuits) is more telling. I have adapted the recipe quite broadly – the original called for lard, which may have also been what made the Shrine Mont biscuits so good, but is not going to find a home with me. I’m also giving the option of white whole-wheat flour – it makes an equally good, if slightly different biscuit. Finally, I use yogurt in these more often than I do buttermilk – I have more uses for leftover yogurt – and guess what? It works great and maybe it’s a little better for you.

Preheat the oven to 450.

3 c. unbleached all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur. I often make these with all white whole wheat, which makes them heartier and stronger-tasting. If you want to make them a bit healthier but still light, up to half of the unbleached all-purpose flour can be replaced with a white whole-wheat flour.)
2 t. cream of tartar
1 1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
10 T. butter, cold, cut into small pieces (I warned you: Evil.)
1 1/4 c. buttermilk or plain yogurt (I use organic Stonyfield Farms brand – you can use fat free, lowfat, or full fat. I did once have the tops of my biscuits slide off when I used full fat, but ugly biscuits still taste good.)

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt until well combined. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until it forms pea- and rice-sized pieces. Add the buttermilk or yogurt and toss gently with a fork or dough whisk to combine.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead gently 4 or 5 times, folding the mass over on itself more than using the heel-and-turn motion used for bread. I know it looks at first like it will never come together, but it will. This folding starts to create the layers that make the biscuits puff up. Do this just until the mixture holds together enough to be rolled, lightly flour your rolling pin, and roll the dough out to a 1/2 in. thickness. Fold the dough in thirds, like a letter, to finish creating the layers, and roll to 3/4 in. thickness. Cut biscuits with a lightly floured biscuit cutter or glass. Press the cutter or glass straight down without twisting. If you twist, your biscuits will not rise as they should. Pat the scraps together as much as you can and cut more biscuits. You can re-roll after you get as many out by patting together if you like, but re-rolled biscuits will not be as tender.

If you like crisp sides, put the biscuits about 2 in. apart on a ungreased large baking sheet. If you like soft sides, put them closer. Bake for 13-15 minutes, rotating the sheet 180 degrees halfway through baking if you know your oven is uneven. Serve hot with honey or preserves. Collect compliments.