Linzer Tart Cookies

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Valentine’s Day has come and gone and I completely forgot to make one of my most requested cookies for this occasion—heart-shaped Linzer tart cookies. But no special occasion is needed to make these tasty treats. Round ones can be baked for any day, or egg-shaped ones for Easter. At Christmas I form the center cutout into a Christmas tree.

Linzer tart cookies are usually almond shortbread cookies filled with raspberry jam. Instead of almonds I used finely ground pecans, and rather than raspberry jam, I fill the centers with cherry preserves. It’s just another case of me tailoring a recipe to my own tastes. Valentine’s Day is all about the chocolate—well, maybe not just about the chocolate. Dip one end of the heart-shaped cookie in melted chocolate and sprinkle with nonpareils. If you like, wrap each one individually in cellophane bags and red bows and give them away, or place on a pretty platter and serve to guests. The cookie component can be made ahead and even frozen until you are ready to fill them.

Linzer Tart cookies

For cookie dough:

16 oz. pecans

1 cup cornstarch

6 sticks unsalted butter, softened

2 cups confectioner’s sugar

4 tsp. vanilla extract

1 ½ tsp. salt

2 large eggs

5 ½ cups flour

In a food processor, pulse pecans and cornstarch until pecans are finely ground.

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until blended, about 2 minutes. Add vanilla, salt, and eggs. Slowly add flour and then the pecan mixture until fully blended. Divide into 6 balls. Flatten each ball into a disc on a piece of saran wrap. Refrigerate 1 hour or more if desired. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. On a floured surface, roll out cookie dough and cut out with cookie cutters, making equal amounts of tops and bottoms. The tops have the extra cutout. Bake about 17 minutes. The edges should just be starting to get golden. Cool on a wire rack. Spread cherry preserves on bottom half of cookie and place top half over the jam. When all are assembled, melt semi-sweet or dark chocolate in a double boiler or a microwave. Dip the pointed end of the heart into the chocolate. Sprinkle with nonpareils. Place on foil or wax paper. Leave to dry overnight. Sprinkle powdered sugar on cookie, avoiding the chocolate areas.

Yields about 40 cookies

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Mini Cinnamon Chocolate Cakes – Happy Valentine’s Day

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Saturday is Valentine’s Day, but in my home Wednesday was “fake” Valentine’s Day. Yes, that’s what I said, “fake” Valentine’s Day. The concept of “fake holidays started several years ago when my daughter was asked to be the maid of honor at her friend’s destination wedding in St. Thomas during the Christmas break. Not wanting to miss Christmas with her family, I had what we now call “fake Christmas” at my home a few days before she left. All the family members who would normally be at my parent’s home on Christmas Eve came to my house to exchange gifts with Eleni and have a Christmas Eve meal. That was the first of our fake holidays but it wasn’t the last. When you have a daughter with wanderlust it’s bound to happen more than once. And it did. Two years ago she went to Ecuador with her friend for the holidays. Friday she is leaving to visit that same friend, escaping the cold weather for sunny skies and gladly leaving the snow behind. I usually make a special dinner Valentine’s Day weekend and a decadent dessert to go with it, and me being the mom I am, didn’t want her to miss it, so we had our first “fake” Valentine’s Day. On the plus side, I get to share the recipe in time for anyone who wishes to make it for the “real” day.

Mini Cinnamon Chocolate cakes

Cake

6 ounces unsweetened chocolate

2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 ¼ teaspoons baking soda

¾ cup boiling water

2 ¼ cups flour

¾ teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

2 ½ sticks unsalted butter, softened

2 2/3 cups sugar

5 large eggs

1 cup Greek yogurt

3 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease a large sheet pan and dust with flour. Line the bottom with parchment paper.

Microwave the chocolate for one minute. Stir and microwave in thirty-second intervals until the chocolate is melted. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together the cocoa powder, cinnamon and baking powder. Pour the boiling water over the mixture and stir until blended. Set aside to cool to a warm temperature.

In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.

In a large bowl, beat the butter with a mixer for one minute. Add the sugar and beat for another minute. Beat in one egg at a time until blended. Add the cocoa mixture and continue beating. Add the melted chocolate and beat until fully incorporated. Add half the dry ingredients, mix and then add the yogurt and vanilla. Add the remaining dry ingredients until fully blended. Pour the batter into the greased pan and bake for 30- 35 minutes.

Transfer to a cooling rack. When the cake is cool, place the cake on an even surface and use a biscuit cutter to form round mini cakes. Each layer should be about ¾ inch thick. Cut each round to achieve the desired thickness. The cake can be made a day or two ahead and wrapped in saran wrap to preserve freshness. The whipped cream must be made the day the cake will be served.

Whipped cream

1 quart heavy cream

¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

1 teaspoon vanilla

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ cup confectioner’s sugar

In a large chilled bowl beat together on medium speed beat together the heavy cream and cream of tartar. As it starts to thicken add the vanilla and cinnamon. Then add the sugar. Beat until the cream forms stiff peaks.

To assemble

Fill a pastry bag with the whipped cream. Using the pastry bag top the first cake layer with the whipped cream. Add halved strawberries or the berry of your choice. Top with another cake layer. Repeat the last step. Pipe on the last layer of whipped cream and top with a whole strawberry.

Steaming Cornbread On A Freezing Night

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Each person finds a way to fill in the blank spaces of their day, or to find something to do to distract them from whatever is haunting them at the moment. Waiting for my family to come home without incident during the ice storm was weighing on my mind. I knew they would be tired and freezing, and it would be a relief to be home after battling the elements getting to and from work. My answer to filling time while I nervously wait is cooking a meal or baking something decadent. I threw together an Asian rub for a pork tenderloin and made a couple of vegetables, but I was tired of rice or potatoes. In lieu of a starch I made an easy cornbread recipe. I pulled the pan out of the oven a few minutes before sitting down for dinner. Light, flakey and sweet, the muffins were steaming hot and the ideal side dish on a cold night.

Cornbread

1 ¼ cups flour

¾ cup cornmeal

½ cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup milk

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 egg, beaten

2 tablespoons honey

Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease an 8 or 9 inch pan or a muffin tin. Combine the dry ingredients. Stir in the milk, melted butter, egg and honey until the dry ingredients are absorbed. Do not over-mix. Pour batter into pan or muffin tin. Bake 20 – 25 minutes.