Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Cinnamon Sugar Puffs

Have you ever come across a recipe you wanted to try and yet for every known and unknown reason under the sun you kept procrastinating? And if you procrastinate long enough you sometimes forget about it or, worse yet lose the recipe that had you salivating when you found it. This happens to me more often than I would like to admit (so many recipes, too little time, so not as organized as I could be). But thankfully and I mean really thankfully the recipe for Cinnamon Sugar Puffs was one permanently etched in my memory and stored in an accessible place (unlike many of the other recipes I come across and spend hours (re)searching for).

Sometimes the best descriptions are simple ones. So here is my attempt at keeping the description of the experience of eating Cinnamon Sugar Puffs simple. OMG!!!!! Okay, well I am not sure that this seemingly simple acronym adequately describes these amazing bites of deliciousness. But OMG it has been awhile since I have eaten something so good I was left momentarily speechless. So there will not be any proliferation of adjectives or a short novella describing these Puffs today. Instead I will simply say your life will not be complete until you have eaten them. Yes, these are seriously that good.

The Cinnamon Sugar Puffs melt in your mouth. Perfectly spiced you will find it hard to eat only one of them (yes, even those of you who believe your will power is your strongest asset will be challenged to stop yourself from taking a second one). If I told you they were a cross between the best donut and best muffin you had ever had, I still would not be doing them justice. If I told you the Cinnamon Sugar Puffs just could be one of the things your family and friends will travel miles and drive over bridges to eat (for as long as you keep the recipe from them), I would not be lying. If you are looking for a new obsession, this could be it.

So what compelled me to finally make these Cinnamon Sugar Puffs? The short answer is that I wanted to thank someone for doing me a favor and I thought a bag of warm Cinnamon Sugar Puffs might be the perfect thank you. You might be thinking 'if you hadn't made them before how would you possibly know they would be perfect?' Well every once in awhile you have a sixth sense about something and you just know. I only wish this sixth sense was operational a little more often.

This is one of those recipes where you probably have all of the ingredients in your refrigerator and pantry.There are quite a few spices in this recipe which probably contributes to why the puffs are so delicious (a perfect example of why more really is better). The measurement for two of the spices in this recipe were defined not in terms of teaspoons or tablespoons but as a 'pinch'. It turns out that a pinch is considered by some to equate to 1/16th of a teaspoon. So until I can find a 1/16 measuring spoon, in my world a pinch is one half of an 1/8 of a teaspoon (that may sound a little confusing, but for some reason it makes perfect sense to me).

Sometimes when you read a recipe and it calls for browning the butter, you might be tempted to think 'ah I don't need to do this'. Whatever temptations are on your list of ones to resist, don't let this be one of them. The browned butter takes on a nutty flavor that rivals the flavor of butter simply melted. Once the butter is browned it is poured into the mixing bowl you plan on using for blending all of the ingredients. Just remember to allow the browned butter to come to room temperature before going any further.

Once the butter has cooled to room temperature the egg and one half cup of granulated sugar are mixed in with a hand mixer until well combined. The flour mixture (flour, baking powder, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, ginger, salt and orange zest) and a half cup of whole milk are added in alternately beginning with the dry ingredients (my sequence was dry-wet-dry-wet-dry-wet). The finished batter will be thick and smooth in texture.

To ensure each of the muffins were the same size I used my favorite kitchen tool, the ice cream scoop. This recipe makes a dozen perfect puffs. I used a non-stick muffin pan, however, I still sprayed and floured the muffin tin. As reliable as a non-stick pan can be, I wasn't taking any chances.

The Cinnamon Sugar Puffs are baked for 20 to 25 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven until golden brown. You can test for doneness by lightly pressing on the top of the muffin. If it springs back, your puff is done. My baking time was almost 22 minutes.

In addition to the four spices (cloves, ginger, allspice and nutmeg) in the puff batter there is one more. What better to compliment the flavor of those spices than cinnamon. Especially when the cinnamon is mixed in sugar to create the cinnamon sugar coating. When the puffs come out of the oven carefully remove with an offset spatula or knife. Dip each one first in a bowl of melted butter and then roll in a bowl of cinnamon sugar. Your hands get a little messy with the dipping and rolling process so it might be easier if you remove all of the puffs from the muffin tins before they get their final coating (a lesson learned in the puff making process).
Cinnamon Sugar Puffs (an oh so slight adaption to the Cinnamon Sugar Breakfast Puffs recipe shared by fiveandspice and posted on Food52)

1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/16 teaspoon ground cloves
1/16 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon orange zest
1/2 cup whole milk, at room temperature

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon Saigon cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray and lightly flour a 12 cup muffin tin (prepare even if pan is a non-stick one).
2. Combine flour, salt, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, ginger and orange zest. Set aside.
3. Melt butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan and cook stirring constantly until browned and having a nutty aroma. Transfer browned butter to medium-large bowl and allow to come to room temperature.
4. When the butter is cooled, add the egg and 1/2 cup sugar, beating with a mixer until creamed.
5. Add flour mixture and milk into the butter-sugar mixture, alternating with the wet and dry ingredients. Beat well after each addition.
6. Using an ice cream scoop, divide batter evenly in prepared muffin tin. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden browned (puff should spring back when lightly pressing on with finger). Carefully remove from muffin tin with an offset spatula or butter knife.
7. Combine 1/2 cup sugar and cinnamon in bowl. Pour eight tablespoons of melted butter in another bowl.
8. Dip puff in the melted butter, swirling to ensure all sides of the puff are covered. Roll in cinnamon sugar mixture until coated. Place finished Cinnamon Sugar Puff on a platter. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Roasted Panko Crusted Shrimp with Garlic Aioli

How many times have you been to a cocktail or dinner party when by the time you get around to putting a few morsels on your plate (because now you need to eat something to stay grounded after a glass or two of wine, a bottle or two of beer, or glass or two of scotch) you discover there are an abundance of vegetables and cheeses to choose from, but the only things left on the shrimp platter are the lemon wedges and a few drips of cocktail sauce? It was the drips of cocktail sauce that concerned my sister during the holidays, only not for reasons you might be thinking.

When planning the Christmas dinner and sharing my appetizer ideas with my sister she immediately said 'not shrimp with cocktail sauce' and then after a pause said 'we have some spillers in the family and I don't want all of your white and ivory furniture ruined'. I don't always listen to my sister (even though she usually has my best interests at heart), but she started me thinking that I really needed to find a different way of serving shrimp. Because in spite of having 'spillers' in the family, I also have a family that loves seafood, particularly shrimp.

It took me awhile but I think I came up 'the' one to rival all other shrimp appetizer recipes and to replace the traditional shrimp platter. But maybe most important it is 'the' one to not having a furniture ruining liability. Shrimp marinated in garlic, coated with Panko bread crumbs and then roasted transforms them to such a state you probably won't be waiting for that second cocktail or even the first one before you put at least one on your plate. After serving the Roasted Panko Crusted Shrimp with Garlic Aioli (in full disclosure the semi-homemade kind, as sacrilegious that may seem to some of you) at a recent birthday party dinner, it garnered all of the oohs and ahhs I (secretly) hoped it would.

The Roasted Panko Crusted Shrimp can be served hot out of the oven, warm or at room temperature. However, when I made them they didn't last long enough to get to room temperature. I don't even recall there being any leftovers and there were only five of us. While this made for am absolutely great appetizer, it could also be served as a main dish with some pasta and a salad. For the moment I am keeping it as an appetizer as it made for a memorable prelude to the dinner that followed.

For this appetizer to have that certain wow factor, you will definitely want to use any of the Colossal shrimp varieties (10 to 15 shrimp per pound). Depending on whose chart you look at, did you know there are 10 or 11 different sizes to shrimp ranging from extra small (61/70 pieces per pound) to Extra Colossal (10 pieces per pound)? The shrimp likely to be found on a platter at a gathering range from Large (31/35 pieces per pound) to Extra Large (26/30 pieces per pound) to Jumbo (21/25 pieces per pound). Not to make things more complicated but the names for the various shrimp sizes will vary, so it is best to look at the shrimp count per pound when buying them. In the case of these Roasted Panko Crusted Shrimp, size matters.

Whether you are lucky enough to live near a source of fresh (not frozen) shrimp or have to rely on the frozen shrimp from a grocery store or seafood market, you will want to devein, peel two and butterfly (2) pounds of shrimp (leaving the tails on).

The fresh (or thawed) deveined/peeled/butterflied shrimp should be dried before putting in a bowl. Depending on your affection for garlic, mince either two or three cloves, toss in with the shrimp and marinate in the refrigerator for 30 to 60 minutes. If you love garlic, longer is better.

As I was reading through roasted shrimp recipes most called for some sort of dried seasoning or herb added to the flour mixture. Whether I had one of those forgetful moments or not, I brought home a 'fresh' and not dried herb (thyme) from the grocery store. This is where in this recipe creation process where I made what I will call a mistake. Fortunately it turned out to be one with a favorable outcome. The 1 1/2 teaspoons of freshly chopped thyme added to the flour, salt and pepper mixture turned out to give the right amount of flavor to the roasted shrimp. But I don't know if fresh or dried thyme is a real deal breaker when making this recipe. If for some reason you can't find fresh thyme, use 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme (fresh herb quantities are three times the amount of dry herbs).

This is a three step dipping process recipe. The shrimp are dipped first in a seasoned flour mixture, second in the egg white/milk mixture and finally in the panko crumbs. When placing the dipped shrimp on an aluminum foil or a parchment paper lined baking sheet lightly sprayed with oil give each shrimp a little bit of breathing room.

Place the baking sheet in a preheated 400 degree oven and bake for up to 18-20 minutes. I checked the shrimp at 16 minutes and then again in 2 minute intervals to make certain I wasn't overcooking them. While the suggested baking time is 18-20 minutes, it is probably a good idea to begin checking the shrimp at 16 minutes.The shrimp are done when they are pink in color and firm to the touch.

The Roasted Panko Crusted Shrimp are sinfully delicious all on their own, but served with side of either homemade or semi-made garlic aioli takes them to an even higher level of sinful deliciousness. You can make your own semi-homemade version of garlic aioli, so try to resist the temptation to buy the pre-made jar versions.

Roasted Panko Crusted Shrimp with Garlic Aioli 

2 pounds colossal shrimp (10-14 shrimp per pound), thawed, peeled, butterflied, tails on 
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly chopped thyme
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 egg whites
1 Tablespoon whole milk
1 to 1 1/2 cups Panko bread crumbs

Garlic Aioli (semi-homemade)
3/4 cup mayonnaise (recommend Hellman's)
2-3 cloves minced garlic

1. Rinse and dry shrimp. Marinate shrimp with minced garlic for 30 to 60 minutes.
2. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper and lightly spray with oil. Set aside.
3. Mix together the flour, thyme, salt and pepper in small bowl. Set aside.
4. Mix together egg whites and milk in small bowl. Set aside.
5. Spread panko bread crumbs on a shallow bowl or large plate.
6. Dip shrimp first in flour mixture, second in egg mixture and last in panko bread crumbs ensuring the shrimp are completely coated in crumbs. Place each shrimp on prepared baking sheet. Note: You can prepare the shrimp several hours in advance up to this point, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to bake.
7. In a preheated 400 degree oven bake shrimp for 18-20 minutes until shrimp are done. Remove from oven and arrange on platter. Can be served hot from the oven, warm or at room temperature.

Garlic Aioli
1. Mix together mayonnaise and garlic. Refrigerate for several hours to allow the flavors to come together.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Pretzel Style Pigs in the Blanket

Suspend reality for a moment and think of the world as black and white and less fifty shades of gray. This world is divided into only two kinds of people: first food responders and first food followers. First food responders would be those individuals who are on the cutting edge of trends and willing to take a new concept or food to see where it goes. In other words they are the kind of risk taker who tries to figure out early what works and what doesn't. On the other hand the first food followers are a little more conservative and have the benefit of observing the lessons learned (or mistakes made) by the first responders before jumping in. In other words, they are okay with not having to be part of every food trend out there.

I am in the first food followers group, which isn't necessarily a bad group to be in. I haven't yet jumped on the quinoa and kale bandwagons (I know you might be thinking what kind of foodie am I?). And up until this week have only consumed Pigs in the Blanket once (now you must be thinking in what food dimension do I live in?) Yes, I know Pigs in the Blanket have been around for quite some time so I can also be a really, really, really slow first food follower. Just remember every once in a while, good things come to those who wait.

Pigs in the Blanket always seems to get a significant amount of air and print time around the holidays and sports tournaments (particularly during the Super Bowl). Some claim they are the most popular food item on a game day buffet. In spite of all of the accolades given to hotdogs wrapped in dough, I still wasn't lulled into doing the popular thing (which is a bit out of character for me). And then one day my childhood best friend made them. Only not with pre-made refrigerated dough, but with a homemade pretzel-like dough. Waiting finally had its' benefits. Believe it or not, I waited a little while longer before I made them myself. 

The dough for the 'Blanket' is a pretzel-like dough, but it is one a little different than most of the pretzel dough recipes out there. Instead of melted butter, this recipe calls for room temperature butter; includes one egg; and uses one half cup of sugar in addition to the yeast and salt. The amount of flour ranges from 6 to 7 cups of flour (I used 6 cups) depending on the humidity.

I am not sure why I used the paddle attachment instead of the dough hook in making this dough. For some reason I thought the recipe called for a paddle attachment. Whether this was an error or not, the dough came together pretty well (maybe it was my lucky day).  However, the next time I make this recipe, I will most likely use a dough hook. This will eliminate the need to knead the dough after all of the flour has been added.

Once the dough is fully mixed it is kneaded for several minutes until smooth. The ball of dough is placed in lightly buttered bowl, covered with plastic wrap and then placed in the refrigerator. Yes, the refrigerator is the place where this dough proofs (another difference from other pretzel doughs). The dough remains in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours (I waited almost 22 hours before using the dough). The dough rises but not to a double in size rise.

Taking inspiration from some of the other Pigs in the Blanket recipes I had found, I rolled out the dough into long strands (about 24 inches in length) to wrap the hot dogs. While I cut the dough into 8 even wedges, next time I might cut them into 10 even wedges and roll out the dough to a slightly thinner strand.

When comparing the recipe I had with others I had found, I also discovered almost all of them boiled the dough wrapped hot dogs in a baking soda and water solution before baking them. While immersed in the boiling mixture for only 30 seconds, the baking soda changes the alkalinity of the dough's outer surface. The result is intended to give the finished dough a golden color and chewier crunch. Note: I learned something else after making these Pigs in the Blanket. In order to give the dough the pretzel like finish all over, turn the simmered dough wrapped pretzels over and simmer for additional 30 seconds. Remove and place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.

In keeping with the black and white theme, I just had to use both kosher salt and poppy seeds. I suppose this made them a little less pretzel like, but hot dogs without the added flavor of poppy seeds on the bun?

After the wrapped hot dogs have been boiled, brush with an egg wash and sprinkle on Kosher salt and poppy seeds. If you can find pretzel salt by all means use it. And if you aren't a fan of poppy seeds feel free to leave them off.

The Pigs in the Blanket are baked in a pre-heated 425 degree oven for 15 to 18 minutes or until they are a golden brown. Mine baked for the full 18 minutes. I attributed the longer baking time to the thickness of the dough wrapping the hot dogs as well as the temperature of the chilled dough. If I had let the wrapped hot dogs rest for 25 minutes before boiling them in the baking soda/water mixture, my baking time might have changed (reduced) slightly. In learning from this experience, I will follow the original recipe and let the wrapped hot dogs rest for 25 minutes.

Serve them whole or cut them into halves or quarters with a bowl of yellow mustard. Dipping a pretzel-like dough wrapped hot dog in ketchup isn't for me, but for your family and friends who are ketchup lovers they might be disappointed if you didn't serve these bites of goodness with a bowl of it. 

Whether you are having friends and family over to watch a sporting event on television or having a barbeque or any other kind of gathering, Pigs in the Blanket can be an appetizer (a slightly hearty one), the main course or one of the main course choices. Don't worry about leftovers, I am pretty certain they will quickly disappear. 

Making these Pigs in the Blanket may seem like it might be a lot of work, but it really isn't. Really it isn't. The dough can be made the day before and the hot dogs wrapped in dough hours before they are simmered in the water/baking soda bath (just keep the wrapped hot dogs in the refrigerator). Once you taste these you may never want to take a bite of the 'pre-made refrigerated in the can dough' wrapped hot dogs again. Just sayin.

Pretzel Style Pigs in the Blanket (inspired by my childhood BFF's recipe)

2 cups warm water (110-115 degrees)
2 packages of active dry yeast
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg, room temperature
6 to 7 cups all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and poppy seeds for sprinkling on top

Water Bath
8 cups flour
2/3 cup baking soda

Egg Wash
1 large egg and up to a tablespoon of water (for a darker finish use only the egg yolk and up to a tablespoon of water)

8 to 10 large/jumbo sized all beef hot dogs (buy the best ones you can find)

Directions (for use with a dough hook)
1. Combine warm water and yeast in the bowl of stand mixer. Allow to sit for five minutes. It should become foamy and frothy.
2. Add in sugar, salt, butter, egg and 3 cups of flour. Mix on low to medium speed until combined.
3. Add in 3 additional cups of flour. Increase speed to medium for approximately 4 minutes or until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
4. Form dough into a ball and place dough in a large buttered bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours.
5. Cut dough into 8 to 10 wedges. Roll out dough to lengths of approximately 24 inches (to wrap large/jumbo sized hotdogs)
6. Wrap each hot dog pinching the ends of the dough to seal. Allow wrapped hot dogs to rest for 25 minutes.
7. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
8. Bring water and baking soda to boil. Submerge each dough wrapped hot dog for 30 seconds. Turn dough wrapped dogs over and simmer another 30 seconds. Place on parchment paper lined baking sheet.
8. Brush dough with egg wash mixture. Sprinkle on Kosher salt and poppy seeds.
9. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until dough is golden in color. 
10. Allow the baked hot dogs to rest for a few minutes before serving or cutting.
11. Serve with a bowl of yellow mustard (and, if you must a bowl of ketchup).
Note: If not using a dough hook but a paddle attachment on your mixer, knead mixed dough for 4 to 5 minutes until smooth. Place kneaded dough in the buttered bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Mocha White Russian

Several years ago we traveled to Telluride for a family ski trip. In spite of the fact that I was the only non-skier in the group, I was looking forward to spending time taking in views of the beautiful snow capped mountains against the deep blue Colorado sky. While everyone else went skiing on the slopes, I went on a snowshoe hike for the experience and to take photos. Unbeknownst to me the hike turned out to be more physically rigorous than skiing. The wind cutting into your face gondola ride should have been my first clue that this was going to be an adventure.

Having never hiked in snowshoes before as well as having spent less than 24 hours acclimating to the elevation, I thanked my lucky stars I was in a hiking group of one. I genuinely felt sorry for my guide as I made the hike longer (and probably more challenging) by stopping every few minutes to pull out my camera to capture the views. In actuality photographing the mesmerizing mountain images was just the excuse to enable me to catch my breath (I am certain my guide figured this out pretty quickly as this  was probably not the first time he had someone like me in his group) and keep the whining from becoming audible. Why I didn't just stay back, sit by a warm fire and enjoy a beverage or two instead of having what felt like a near death experience is anyone's guess. Every now and then I take a pretty good landscape photo but I am no Ansel Adams.

The White Russian and Blind Russian cocktails are all variations of the Black Russian. While not a Russian in origin cocktail, all versions of the Russian cocktail are made with vodka. If you believe everything you read on Wikipedia (the not written by scholars only internet version of the Encyclopedia Britannica) Vodka either originated in Poland or in Russia. While being primarily of Polish descent, I am happy someone had the wisdom to defer the name of this cocktail to the Russians. Even the Dude in The Big Lebowski may not have been so obsessed with a cocktail by any other name.

A White Russian is made with Vodka, Kahlua and either cream or half and half. It can be hard to resist the taste of cream and this may not be the time to cut out a few calories. Simply by adding a frozen coffee ice cube to the mixture, the White Russian is transformed into a Mocha White Russian.

What better way to use any leftover coffee than to make coffee ice cubes. And hey what better way to use coffee ice cubes than to make a Mocha White Russian. Any ice cube tray will do but these two inch square silicone ice cube trays (I found these at Williams-Sonoma) make the most prefect two-inch square ice cubes.

In an old-fashioned glass, add one coffee ice cube. Pour in 2 ounces of vodka followed by 2 ounces of Kahlua. Top the cocktail with 2 ounces of the cream or half and half. Before stirring this cocktail just take in how beautiful this cocktail looks. It sort of resembles a snowcapped mountain. Once stirred the black and white cocktail becomes one resembling fifty shades of brown.

So whether you are watching the Winter Olympics, sitting by a warm fire, or looking for that great after-dinner or end of the day cocktail, one sip of a Mocha White Russian will have you temporarily forgetting what seems like the most wicked, coldest, snowiest winter ever. And if you happen to be someone enjoying and living in a much warmer, sunnier climate (lucky you), this cocktail will remind you how wise you were for making the decision to live somewhere other than the frozen tundra.

Just the resist the urge to drink this quickly. It is definitely one of those sip slowly and savor cocktails.

Mocha White Russian (inspired by Giada De Laurentiis's Black and White Italian Cocktail)

1 coffee ice cube
2 ounces Vodka
2 ounces Kahlua
2 ounces cream or half and half

1. Place a coffee ice cube in an old fashioned cocktail glass.
2. Add Vodka and Kahlua
3. Pour cream or half and half over. Enjoy the black/white visual before stirring.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

White Chocolate Raspberry Linzer Cookies

After making raspberry sauce last week I have been craving the taste of raspberries. Of course not in their healthy fruit form, but in their almost as healthy preserve form. To satisfy this craving I needed to bake something. I debated as to whether to make a Raspberry Linzer Torte or Raspberry Linzer cookies as traditionally each has a raspberry preserve filling. In looking at the 'have not been used in awhile' collection of both antique and new heart cookie cutters, there seemed to be little choice of what I would bake. Cookies it would be. But that wasn't the only reason I decided to make Linzer cookies. I have been wanting to make a recipe out of the recently published Napa Valley Model Bakery cookbook for some time now. Their Raspberry Linzer cookie seemed like the perfect one to make first. And with Valentine's Day less than a week away I thought I too would jump on the 'make something heart shaped confection' bandwagon.

I noticed the Raspberry Linzer cookie recipe in Model Bakery's cookbook was different than one they had apparently published several years ago (one I found online). The newer version used all-purpose flour and two teaspoons of vanilla while the older one used pastry flour and one tablespoon of vanilla. Decisions, decisions. The all-purpose flour version might create a firmer cookie but the pastry flour might create an ever so slightly tastier cookie. The pastry flour version won the debate I was having with myself. More vanilla is always a good thing, so why not stay with a tablespoon was my thinking.

Traditional Linzer cookies are dusted with confectionary sugar, however, I thought maybe it was time to mess with tradition just a bit (a moment of conservative rebellion). What better way to further enhance this classic cookie than by dipping the tops of the cookies in white chocolate. I only had to wonder how ambitious of an endeavor this change in tradition would be.

I channeled my inner Thomas Keller today when making these cookies. What this means is that I decided to measure out the ingredients using a scale.

The Linzer Torte has Austrian origins, however, the Linzer Cookie is a North American adaption of the  lattice topped pastry. Hazelnuts are the more traditional nut used in the torte, however, almonds and walnuts can also be used. With hazelnuts being one of those acquired taste nuts (in spite the recent surge in popularity of Nutella) this Linzer cookie would have almonds.

The almonds need to be ground into a fine meal. In a food processor fitted with a steel blade the almonds and one-half cup of the flour are processed together to get this desired consistency. The flour helps to prevent the almonds from turning into a paste. Using skins on sliced almonds give the dough and finished cookie a look that says 'there are nuts in here'.

This dough came together really well. Beginning with beating the butter until a light consistency, followed by gradually adding the granulated sugar, lemon zest and vanilla, you are almost done making the dough. The ground almond/flour mixture is then added in three batches and mixed until dough is smooth.

 The first step in deciding whether or not I like a cookie is tasting the dough. Good dough, good cookie, great dough, great cookie. This was great dough. Once the dough is divided in half, it is flattened to a disk and refrigerated for 2 hours or overnight. If the dough becomes too firm, allow to set out for 15 minutes before rolling out.

On a lightly floured surface, the dough is rolled out to about an 1/8-1/4 inch thickness. This dough rolled out perfectly. 

Using either a heart or round cookie cutter you cut out both the bottoms and tops for the cookies. Many use a crimped edge cookie cutter to make Linzer cookies, however, since I was using one of my antique cookie cutters (one without a crimped edge and one without a corresponding smaller crimped edge one) my cookies would be having a flat edge.

In a preheated 350 degree oven the cookies bake for 15-16 minutes. The parchment paper lined cookie sheet is placed in the upper third of the oven and rotated mid-way through the baking process. Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for at least five minutes before transferring to a cooling rack to finish the cooling process. Whether you are coating these cookies in chocolate or not, they need to cool completely before the raspberry preserves are spread on them.

Before dipping the cookie tops in white chocolate, they need to cool completely. To be honest, the dipping process wasn't hard, just a little more time consuming than dusting with confectionary sugar. As long as you are careful, you won't break any cookie tops. After tasting the finished white chocolate dipped Raspberry Linzer Cookie, I would definitely dip them again and not just for the finished look. The flavors of the almonds, lemon zest, white chocolate and raspberry preserves were amazing together.

The confectionary sugar topped Raspberry Linzer cookies are equally delicious. If you are not a fan of white chocolate, make the confectionary sugar topped version. But regardless of your finished Linzer cookie top preference, this is a cookie so worth all of the time and love that goes into making them.  Just don't make them only for Valentine's Day or any other holiday because life is short to deny yourself such divine deliciousness.

White Chocolate Raspberry Linzer Cookies (inspired by Model Bakery's Raspberry Linzer Cookie recipe)
Makes about 24 2 1/2-3 inch cookies

2 cups/230 g sliced almonds (with skins on)
2 1/4 cups/325 g pastry flour, plus additional flour for rolling out the dough
1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks)/280 g unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup/130 g granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon vanilla
Grated zest of one lemon
12-13 ounce jar of raspberry preserves (seeded or seedless)
1 1/2 cups white chocolate for dipping or confectionary sugar for dusting

1. In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, process the almonds and 1/2 cup of the flour until nuts are finely ground. Be careful not to process to much or a paste will form. Transfer ground almonds/flour mixture to the remaining flour. Set aside.
2. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle blade, beat butter until smooth (about 1 minute).
3. Gradually add in granulated sugar and continue beating until light and fluffy (about 1-2 minutes).
4. Mix in vanilla and lemon zest.
5. Add flour mixture in three batches. Mix until smooth.
6. Divide dough in half, forming two disks. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled (2 hours to 1 day). Note: If dough is too hard to roll out, let sit for approximately 15 minutes to soften slightly.
7. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.
8. Lightly flour work surface and roll out one dough disk until 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. Using a round or heart shaped cookie cutter, cut out shapes. Place half of cut dough on a cookie sheet.
9. With remaining half of cut dough, cut centers (this will form the tops of the cookie).
10. Bake cookies for 15-20 minutes or until cookies are lightly browned.
11. Remove cookies from oven and allow to cool on pan for 5 minutes before transferring to cooking racks. Cool completely.
12. Melt 1 cup of white chocolate over hot water. Carefully dip tops of cookies (cut in the center). Allow chocolate to set.
13. Spread raspberry preserves on each whole (uncut in the center) cookie.
14. Place chocolate covered cookie on top of each whole cookie. Press dough slightly to form cookie sandwich.
15. Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature.
Note: If using confectionary sugar instead of white chocolate, dust confectionary sugar over cookie tops before finishing the cookie assembly.

As soon as February arrives there always seems to be an increase in the number of articles, stories and surveys related to relationships of all kinds. Most likely prompted by the holiday of month (Valentine's Day), the reminders and redundant messages that come from these sources are usually received differently, depending mostly on which side of the relationship world you live in as well as your level of skepticism over articles on relationships (particularly when they espouse ideas different than your own). For reasons too complicated to explain, I experience an endorphin rush when I read things with redundant ideas that resonate with some of the things I believe. Multiple sources of validation can sometimes make you feel less of an outlier.

Some say the secret to every relationship (every successful, satisfying relationship that is) is honesty. And that if honesty is a constant presence it can be so powerful it masks all of those little imperfections (our neurosis, fears, struggles with perfectionism). So if this is really true, don't you wonder why anyone would allow honesty to erode in a relationship they value? If for whatever reason(s) you are in a relationship where you can't be honest (and we aren't just talking lying here), the other person often may find it more difficult to talk to you because they won't know which 'who' they are talking to. Particularly if the who you are today and the who you were yesterday are not always the same person (we are talking selective memory here). If more time is being spent discussing imperfections, honesty might just be the underlying (sometimes unspoken) real issue causing havoc in the relationship. If you have ever been lucky enough to be in a relationship where honesty really mattered then you know those little imperfections (either yours or theirs) really didn't. And you didn't have to read that anywhere.