custom cakes/cookies

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Nuts & Notions

For awhile I had a fascination with Coraline. She was my Halloween costume last year (yep, I submitted a pic to Evil Buttons) and the reason I now own a blue wig and yellow wellies. When I came across an idea awhile ago for Coraline-inspired button cookies, I tucked it away in my memory. I thought it'd be a welcome change from the usual criss-cross pattern used to decorate classic peanut butter cookies, and maybe an adorable idea for a cute-as-a-button-themed baby shower. Then last week my friend Lisa showed me another pretty blog with shortbread button cookies. With a directive from the Daring Kitchen to make something with self-ground nut butter, I decided this would be my chance to try out the button technique. My rendition, however, is made a little differently with hazelnuts that I toasted and then ground into a buttery paste. If I'd a had any cacao nibs in my pantry, I'd have tossed those into the food processor as well to make something akin to a chocolate-hazelnut spread. Nutella buttons! Maybe next time...

To tell you the truth, though, the nut butter cooking challenge wasn't supposed to involve something sweet. Dessert was an optional bonus I just couldn't resist. So with the extra credit out of the way, I did make something savory with ground nuts. Before washing the bowl of the food processor completely clean of the hazelnut butter, I tossed in more hazelnuts and roasted almonds and toasted bread and garlic. To that I added piquant spices, fresh basil leaves, a roasted red pepper, and fresh tomatoes from the farmer's market. What resulted was a Catalan-style Romesco sauce. This version is a great healthy and versatile (and vegan!) accompaniment to grilled or broiled vegetables, especially potatoes, as well as smeared on grilled polenta (as I did in the picture down below) or meats or fish. My plan is to freeze it in batches, to use all summer (or however long it lasts) as a fancy alternative to ketchup.

The July 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by Margie of More Please and Natashya of Living in the Kitchen with Puppies. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make their own nut butter from scratch, and use the nut butter in a recipe. Their sources include Better with Nut Butter by Cooking Light Magazine, Asian Noodles by Nina Simonds, and Food Network online.

Hazelnut Buttons
makes ~11 dozen

3 cups hazelnuts
5½ cups flour
1½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
12 ounces unsalted butter, softened
⅔ cup granulated sugar, plus extra for flattening into rounds
2¼ cup dark brown sugar, packed
⅓ cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs plus 2 yolks
2 TBS vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375°.

Toast hazelnuts for 12-15 minutes until golden. When cool enough to touch, rub off as much of the skin as possible with a clean dishtowel. Process in a food processor until a firm, thick and grainy butter forms, stopping the machine to scrape down the sides as needed. This should take 2-3 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 350°.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. In the bowl of a standing mixer, combine 1⅓ cups hazelnut butter, butter, sugar, and oil. Beat at high speed until pale and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs, yolks, and vanilla and beat until just incorporated. Reduce speed to low, then add the flour mixture in three portions, mixing until well incorporated.

Scoop scant tablespoons of dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets. If the dough is very soft, chilling it for an hour or 2 will make this easier. Roll into balls and space about 1½ inches apart. Dip a small drinking glass into sugar and flatten each mound evenly to about ⅓ of an inch high. Use the non-business end of large diameter piping tip and the business end of a small tip to press button details into each round.

Bake until slightly puffed and golden around the edges, about 10 minutes. Before cookies cool completely, use the small piping tip to reopen the button holes that closed during baking.

Romesco Sauce
from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
makes ~3 cups

1 slice country-style white bread
Olive oil for frying
¼ cup almonds, roasted
¼ cup hazelnuts, roasted and peeled
4 garlic cloves
2 tsp red pepper flakes
4 Roma tomatoes
1 TBS fresh basil leaves
salt and fresh ground pepper
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 red bell pepper, roasted
¼ cup sherry vinegar
½ cup plus 2 TBS extra virgin olive oil

Fry the bread in a little olive oil until golden and crisp. When cool, grind the bread, nuts, garlic, and red pepper flakes in a food processor. Add everything but the vinegar and oil and process until smooth. With the machine running, gradually pour in the vinegar, then the oil. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.

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