Meringue Sandwich Cookies with Caramel Coffee Buttercream Filling (Laskonky)

It’s that time of year again. We flipped our calendars, wrapped up the year 2015 and lifted our glasses in a toast to happy new year. Folks have been reminiscing and talking about their resolutions. I have to say I’m not usually one to set new-year’s resolutions – to me they’re just empty lofty proclamations that don’t have a big chance to stick for long. That doesn’t mean I don’t reflect on things that happened and think about changes I’d like to make, though.

We made a trip to the ocean on a New Year’s day. I’m a Pisces and love the sea, and as I was strolling along the beach listening to waves crashing against the shore I was thinking about the year that passed – pondering the things I wish I’d done, those I wish I’d not done, and what I’d like to take from it for the future. Over the past year, I have all too often found myself pushing myself – to do more, to work harder, to try make everything just right until I could no longer continue. We women and mothers especially are quick learners when it comes to taking care of others, and can get very good in anticipating and fulfilling their needs. Seemingly we also take very good care of ourselves – at least on the outside: I start off every day with a green smoothie and drink sixty-four ounces of water. I eat healthy and use sunscreen religiously. I schedule yearly check-ups and keep up with the doctor’s recommendations. But way too often I forget the other, far more important part – how to take care of myself on the inside. I push myself to the side, play resilient, slap band-aids on feelings I’d rather not know about or tell myself I can deal with them later. I convince myself and everybody else I’m fine when in fact nothing could be farther from the truth.

And so my resolution and “to-do list” for the 2016 consists of only one item, really: Learn to take better care of myself. I want to be gentler with myself and listen to my body and soul more, instead of paying too much attention to the world and people around. I vow to become a better friend to myself – after all, we just wished each other a happy new year, and it’s rather hard to be happy when someone is mean to you, even if/especially if that someone is you! I plan to make a conscious effort to do me – to do whatever brings me joy as opposed to what I for whatever reason feel compelled to do. Be more present, and live a fuller and more authentic life.

As for me, spending time in the kitchen playing with tastes, textures, and aromas is definitely a step in right direction! So without further ado I present to you my first baking effort of the year. I had way too many egg whites left after the Christmas baking that needed to be used up, and these meringue sandwich cookies fit the bill perfectly. They are commonly sold in Slovak bakeries, just as the popular French macarons are made with only egg whites, ground nuts, and sugar, and can be filled with different buttercream based fillings. The typical oval shape is achieved thanks to a special plastic form with openings through which you press the batter onto the baking sheet, but if you can live with less uniform and less perfect cookies, you can just take an icing bag/tablespoon and make small mounds of batter on the parchment paper and flatten them slightly. I went a little overboard in my quantity estimations – the batch made with six egg whites gave me 50 individual cookies, which I filled with buttercream and ended up with final count of 25. It was way too many, so next time I’ll probably halve the recipe. Good news is that you can store the unfilled meringue cookies in an airtight container in a cool and dry place for couple of days and fill them later as needed. The buttercream is caramel based with hints of coffee, but you can use any buttercream that suits your fancy!

Whether you bake, make pottery, sing, or jog, may we be able to make this year truly happy for ourselves. Here’s to 2016!

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Meringue Sandwich Cookies with Caramel Coffee Buttercream Filling (Laskonky)

 Cookies:
  • 6 egg whites, room temperature
  • pinch salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 330 g (11.5 oz.) white sugar
  • 160 g (5.5 oz.) finely ground walnuts (pecans)
  • 100 g (3.5 oz.) powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour (if you want to make the cookies gluten-free, use gluten-free flour mix in the same quantity)
  • pinch baking powder
Caramel Coffee Buttercream Filling:
  • 6 tablespoons white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 250 ml (8 oz., 1 cup) half-and-half or whole milk; divided
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon instant coffee
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 10 g (0.4 oz.) cornstarch
  • 230 g (8 oz., 2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

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Method:
  1. To make the cookies: Line two big baking sheets with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 265 °F (130 °C).
  2. Put egg whites with the salt and cream of tartar in a bowl, and then place the bowl over a pot with small amount of boiling water. Whisk the egg whites over the water bath gradually adding granulated white sugar until very firm peaks form, about 15 minutes. (I transferred the egg white mixture after 15 minutes into a bowl of my stand mixer and whisked it on a high speed for a couple more minutes to achieve a very stiff consistency.) You want the egg white mixture to be very firm, so it won’t thin out after adding the ground nuts. This way, the cookies will be easier to form as well.
  3. Combine  finely ground nuts, powdered sugar, flour, and baking powder, and carefully fold them into the egg white mixture. Use a spatula and take care not to deflate the egg whites.
  4. When using the special cookie making tool for laskonky, spray the bottom side with a cooking spray and place it onto the parchment lined baking sheet. Place about 1.5 tablespoons of meringue batter into each opening, pressing it down lightly. Level off excess batter with a knife and then carefully lift the form off, so that the cookies can fall off onto the parchment paper. Wash the form, spray it with the cooking spray again and continue making the cookies until you use up all the meringue batter. Alternatively, make the cookies with an icing bag or a tablespoon forming a small mounds and flattening them slightly.
  5. Place the cookies into the preheated oven and bake them for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes lower the temp to 176 °F (80 °C) and let them dry out slowly in a warm oven until very firm to the touch, about 30 minutes. When they are done, you should be able to easily peel them off the parchment paper. If they don’t seem to be dry enough, give them a couple more minutes in the warm oven. Let the cookies cool completely before filling.
  6. While the cookies are baking/cooling, prepare the Caramel Coffee Buttercream: Place 6 tablespoons of granulated sugar into a deeper pan. Add 2 tablespoons water and let the sugar mixture cook, not stirring, until the water evaporates and the sugar turns nice golden color. Watch the sugar closely so it doesn’t burn.
  7. Take the caramel off the heat and carefully pour in 200 ml (6.5 oz.) half-and-half (milk). The mixture will sizzle and the caramel will crystallize. Place the milk-caramel mixture over a low heat and cook, stirring constantly, to melt the caramel again. Add in the vanilla extract and the coffee.
  8. Combine cornstarch, 2 egg yolks, and remaining 50 ml (1.5 oz.) half-and-half (milk) until smooth. Combine the egg yolk-cornstarch-milk mixture with couple of tablespoons of hot caramel milk to temper it, and then add the warmed up egg yolk-cornstarch-milk mixture to the caramel coffee milk. Cook the mixture over a low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens, about 3 minutes. Let the caramel coffee pudding cool to room temperature before proceeding.
  9. Whip the soft butter until light and fluffy. By tablespoons add in the cooled caramel coffee pudding, whipping constantly, to make a light smooth crème.
  10. To assemble the cookies, sandwich two meringue cookies with about 2 tablespoons of caramel coffee crème and serve.

Chocolate Raspberry Sandwich Cookies

Today, my little sister is getting married. When I look at her, a beautiful bride getting ready to shine, it stirs all kinds of unexpected emotions in me. I see her, as this tiny little thing my parents brought home from the hospital. Cute smiley girl with blond pigtails I used to pick up from preschool. A toothless first grader who asked me through tears the day of my own wedding as I was leaving the nest: “And when will you come to see us again?”

But time doesn’t stop, and this time, she’s the one leaving. I see how happy she is and the way her new husband looks at her. It’s their beginning. They’re now writing  their own unique story, and I wish them all the happiness in the world. There are thousand things I’d like to tell them, but can’t possibly squeeze into that brief moment when each of the wedding guests wants to shake their hand.

Please remember this day. Sis, remember the man you’re marrying and don’t forget how he made you feel. D, remember how excited you were when you saw her walking down the aisle. Don’t expect him to wear a halo… don’t hope she’ll be an angel. Neither of you will… but as long as you both won’t stop trying, you’ll figure it out. Never take each other for granted, and cherish the little things… because life *is* the little things.

Love one another and you’ll be happy. It’s as simple (and difficult) as that.

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Chocolate Raspberry Sandwich Cookies

(cookie recipe adapted from www.bakerella.com)

 

Chocolate Cookies:
  • 228 g (8 oz.) unsalted butter, softened
  • 150 g (¾ cup) white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 200 g (1 cup) chocolate chips
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 210 g (1 ½ cups) unbleached all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 90 g (¾ cup) unsweetened dark cocoa powder
  • pinch salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
Raspberry Buttercream:
  • ¾ cup fresh raspberries
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 170 g (6 oz.) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon framboise liqueur (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
  • 1 ½ cup powdered sugar
Method:
  1. For the cookies, cream together softened butter, sugar, and vanilla. Add the egg and mix to combine.
  2. Melt the chocolate chips, stir, and let cool slightly. Add the melted chocolate to the butter – sugar mixture.
  3. Mix the dry ingredients, add them to the chocolate – butter mixture and stir just until combined.
  4. Gather the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
  5. Line a big cookie sheet with the parchment paper and set aside.
  6. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into 5 mm (less than 1/4 inch) thickness. Cut out the cookies and transfer them to the prepared cookie sheet. Refrigerate while you preheat the oven to 325 °F (162 °C).
  7. Bake the cookies for about 15 minutes (I baked the smaller ones for 13 minutes, and the bigger ones for 15 minutes.) It is better to underbake them, than to let them go crisp – soft texture works better in ice cream sandwiches. Let the cookies cool on the cookie sheet for couple of minutes, and then transfer them to a cooling rack to cool completely.
  8. Make the Raspberry Buttercream: Blend the raspberries with the granulated sugar in a blender; set aside.
  9. Cream butter with powdered sugar, add vanilla, lemon zest, and framboise. Run the sugar raspberry mixture through a sieve, and with the motor running, gradually add it to the buttercream.
  10. To assemble the cookies: Place about 1 tablespoon of the pink buttercream on the bottom cookie and cover it with the top. Repeat with remaining cookies. Refrigerate until serving.

Coconut Cups with Dark Chocolate Crème

As hard as I try not to think about it, summer is slowly coming to an end. Before we know it, September will roll around and our troubles will march back into the house of torture that is school. On one hand, I have to admit, I’m looking forward to it. Namely, I’m looking forward to a break from the smart-ass comments and eye rolling that flooded into in our house recently. If I had a nickel for every eye roll I’ve got this summer, I’d be on my way to Hawaii right now. I know it’s the age. I know it’ll pass; I’ve done it once before and I’m here to write about it. But gosh darn it, there are moments when I think September can’t be here fast enough!

On the other hand, there are things school will bring I could definitely do without. Having to get up at the ungodly hours of the morning. Driving the offspring to school in the dark still half (or more like three quarters) asleep. School projects, practices, info nights, PTA meetings. Probably more driving and almost certainly more eye rolling, yay. Because I don’t know what I’m talking about, I went to school looooong time ago, I was schooled in a completely different country… and thus – yep, you guessed it –  I don’t know what I’m talking about. But at least the eye rolling won’t be a continual all day thing and it’ll be mostly confined to evening hours. That’s my hope, anyway.

There is one more thing I’m most certainly not looking forward to: It is the phrase “I’m sorry, I forgot, but I need <insert XYZ> for tomorrow.” It is a statement said exclusively at 9pm or later, and actually, scratch that I’m sorry part, because that rarely happens. And now that the darling son remembered, Mother, jump up, perform a miracle and provide what he asked you for! Go to the (now closed) store and get that special scientific calculator he won’t be able to do the math test without, and bake four dozen cookies for his team meet-up next morning!

And since you’re the Mother, exasperated you let out a yell sigh, and then do the impossible and pull that rabbit out of the hat anyway. When I was faced with a task to bake loads of cookies at the shortest notice possible, I’ve always turned to the same tried and true recipe for coconut macaroons. It literally involved only shredded coconut, egg whites, condensed milk, some sugar, and splash of vanilla (if I remembered!), all mixed up in a big bowl. Within half an hour the cookies were on the tray ready to go, and they were aIways a hit.

This time I took the same basic recipe minus the condensed milk and tried to make it into something a little more sophisticated. I molded the coconut mixture into a little cups, and filled them with a simple dark chocolate crème. The soft and smooth chocolate ganache is a great complement to the crispy and chewy coconut, the coconut – egg white mixture holds together well and is easy to work with. The cups can be made ahead and stored for up to one day,  and the ganache is whipped up within minutes. Not a lot more work than the original one-bowl recipe, but the end result is much prettier than the shaggy coconut macaroons I used to make for school. A wonderful little dessert, and now that I think about it, maybe it could serve as an efficient way to stop the know-it-all comments coming out of our kids’ mouths too. But if you find out how to deal with the eye rolling, please let me know. Still have no clue what to do about that.

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Coconut Cups with Dark Chocolate Crème

(inspired by Gale Gand’s Short + Sweet)

Coconut Cups:
  • 396 g (14 oz.) sweetened flaked coconut
  • 3 egg whites (½ cup), beaten
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Dark Chocolate Crème:
  • 450 g (16 oz.) good quality bittersweet dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon Frangelico or Amaretto liqueur, or almond extract (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

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Method:
  1. First, make the coconut cups: Preheat the oven to 350 °F (175°C). Lightly butter mini tartlet molds or mini muffin pan (I used small brioche molds). In a big bowl, combine all the ingredients, making sure all the coconut shreds are thoroughly moistened with the egg white.
  2. With your fingers, press 1 – 3 tablespoons of coconut mixture on the bottom and up the sides of your molds of choice. Cover with aluminum foil (the tops brown quickly) and bake 10 – 15 minutes for the mini muffin size, or 20 – 30 minutes for the bigger molds, or until the cups are baked through and golden brown in color. (The bottoms should still look a little undercooked, they will harden as they cool. If you try to bake them till the bottoms are completely cooked, the sides will burn). Let the cups cool completely in the molds and then remove them carefully, running a knife around the edges. Set aside.
  3. For the Dark Chocolate Crème: Place the chopped chocolate into a glass bowl. In a small saucepan, bring the heavy whipping cream and butter to a simmer. Pour the hot cream – butter mixture over the chocolate and let stand for a minute to melt the chocolate. Mix in the liqueur or almond extract. Whisk until the chocolate mixture is smooth and glossy. Let cool slightly.
  4. Pour the warm chocolate into the cups. Let the cups set for at least one hour at a room temperature. Before serving, sprinkle each cup with toasted coconut chips or toasted almonds.
Note:

The leftover chocolate ganache crème can be refrigerated/frozen for later use.

Easter Egg Cookies with Boozy Vanilla Buttercream

Slovak Easter traditions are abundant, varied, and… weird. As many other cultures around the world, we decorate eggs, bake traditional sweets, and feast on ham. Bring it on, there’s nothing wrong with stuffing your face in the name of tradition, right? The custom I’ll let you in on, though, takes place on Monday after Easter, when the actual Easter holiday technically ended. It’s widespread all around Slovakia and for someone who didn’t grow up in Slovak culture may seem rather odd at best, and bordering on abuse at worst. On Monday morning Slovak men go from door to door visiting their favorite girls and women, and they don’t come empty-handed. No, no. Visiting somebody empty-handed would be rude, and all the Slovak men know that. So they have a hand-woven willow whip in one hand, and a bucket of icy-cold water in the other, and cheerfully knock on the door. When the poor female lets them in, they whip her and drench her in water. The rationale behind it is that by doing so, the girl would keep her health, beauty, and vitality for the entire next year. In exchange for the cold bath and the privilege of being whipped, the girl gives her manly visitors a decorated egg, and ties a colorful ribbon around their whip. As a bonus, the men almost always get a bite to eat and a shot of spirits as well. And off they go, because another girl from across the street is already waiting – schizophrenically hoping they’d stop by so she’d have something to brag about the next day, and praying their water won’t be so horribly cold as she remembers it from last year.

Easter cookies big pic

Easter whips and water have deep roots in Slovak culture. In the past, young men from Slovak villages used to throw the girls into a nearby creek, or pour water pulled from a well on them. The whipping, pretty eggs, and ribbons were a constant, as was the alcohol. The modern Easter traditions are somewhat different, maybe because majority of folks live in cities nowadays, and they don’t have a water stream running through their living room (and if they do, they have a bigger problem than thinking about bathing young girls in it!). The men still come, but instead of buckets maybe carry only a big glass of water, and their whipping is more moderate as well – at least in the early morning, when they haven’t had too many shots to drink. As the morning progresses, they become a lot less sober and a lot more insistent in their whipping.  They want their favorite girls to be gorgeous and healthy, after all!

I have to say I don’t remember this Easter tradition with great fondness, and am now the only female in our family of four. So even though keeping traditions from back home is very important to me, I’ve decided I’m pretty and healthy enough and don’t need any Easter help from my men in this regard. Given the male – female ratio in our household I think that was a smart decision on my part. I stick to what I enjoy the best – I cook, decorate some blown-out eggs, and most of all, I bake. Everybody’s happy, nobody gets beaten, and in the evening I take a nice hot bath on my own.

Happy Easter, everybody. May we all be healthy and happy for the entire next year!

Easter whip

Easter Egg Cookies with Boozy Vanilla Buttercream

Linzer cookies:
  • 300 g (10.5 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temeperature
  • 500 g (17.5 oz.) all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 120 g ( 4 oz.) powdered sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
Vanilla Buttercream:
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 150 g (5 oz.) powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 200 g (7 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ tablespoons rum
Easter sheep
Method:
  1. To make the cookies: Cream the butter with sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla, egg yolks, and lemon zest. Lastly, mix in the flour and combine until the dough forms a ball. Chill the dough, wrapped, for at least an hour, so it is easier to handle.
  2. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to less than ¼ inch (6mm) thickness. With a rectangular cookie cutter with scalloped edge, cut out the cookies, and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Chill the cookies on the baking sheets for about 20 minutes, and then cut out the smaller egg shape from half of them.
  3. Bake the cookies at 350 °F (175 °C) for about 10 minutes, until light brown around the edges. Let them cool on the baking sheet for a while, and then transfer them to a cooling rack to cool completely.
  4. To make the vanilla buttercream: In a water bath, whisk the egg yolks with powdered sugar until the mixture begins to thicken. Add vanilla and cornstarch, and continue to whisk until the crème is thick. Set aside and let cool.
  5. Cream the butter, gradually add vanilla and rum. Add the cooled egg yolk crème, one tablespoon at a time, and combine.
  6. To assemble the cookies: Spread 1 tablespoon of frosting on the flat side of each solid cookie. Dust the cut-out cookies with powdered sugar and press them onto the filling.
  7. Chill for about 30 minutes to firm up the filling, and then decorate the cookies with melted chocolate and/or sprinkles if desired.

(makes about 20 – 25 sandwich cookies)

Easter cookie detail