I started this project over a year ago (!) and posted my results on the Cook's Illustrated Bulletin Board. I'll be posting future results on this blog, so wanted to let folks who don't read the CI board to be able to catch up. I'm posting a brief synopsis here, for the full text you'll have to visit thread on the CI bulletin board, here.
Inspired and awed by katiepie's sojourn through The Cake Bible, I have decided to bake my way through Flo Braker's Sweet Miniatures. There are 128 recipes in the book, and I don't know if I have the perseverance to do them all. I have numbered them as they are found in the book, and will be jumping back and forth between them.
Recipe #1: Cameo Shortbreads
This is a pretty standard shortbread recipe, calling for part rice flour and part unbleached AP flour. The rice flour is to aid in the sandy texture. One thing that is aggravating - some of the measurements have weights, but some don't. For instance, the AP flour was in cups and grams (lucky I got that digital scale!), but the rice flour was just in cups. Butter was in tablespoons and grams, and sugar was just in cups. Aaaaarrrrrgggghhhhh.....
The instructions ask you to roll the dough into 3/4 inch diameter logs, chill, and cut on the diagonal. These will be very small cookies indeed. (Duh, like maybe I should have guessed that from the book's title?) The dough came together very easily and seems to have a good texture. It didn't stick at all to the silicone mat I used to roll them out. (I highly recommend a silicone mat for rolling any type of dough.)
I sliced and baked these after letting them rest in the fridge all day. Right out of the oven they weren't that great, but improved substantially upon standing overnight. I thought they were kinda plain, so I sprinkled dried lavender on some before baking. My husband said the lavender flowers looked like rat poop (he is so suave), so on subsequent batches I crushed the flowers first. I really liked them with the lavender. A solid, tasty recipe, but won't knock your socks off.
Recipe #11, Peanut Butter Petal Cookies. I made this because it calls for a cookie press, and I am always on the lookout for a great cookie press recipe. This isn't it. The cookies pressed well enough, but there wasn't much peanut butter flavor. Plus, the cookies were so tender that the petals kept coming apart once baked. These cookies are topped with a drop of chocolate ganache piped into the centers. Or as Flo puts it, "the crisp peanut buttter 'flowers' are dotted with a 'stamen' of dark chocolate ganache." That's not really a stamen, but I won't get into floral reproduction here.
As an aside, I am discovering how hard it is for me to make a recipe exactly as written. I could tell these cookies would be lacking in peanut butter flavor, and I so wanted to change the proportions of ingredients. But I will keep soldiering on, following the recipes slavishly.
On to the Miniature Pastries section (the reason I bought the book in the first place). Recipe #69, Miniature Tartlet Pastry. This is the basis for most of the filled pastries in this section. I am happy to report it is a wonderful recipe! She classifies this as a "sweetened short pastry [rather] than as a cookie." It is buttery, tender yet crisp, and is an easy to handle dough. You can either roll it out or press it into the tartlet pans.
I used the tartlet shells as the base for Recipe #70, Carmel Carmenitas. They are filled with a caramel pecan buttercream, but I thought the recipe was too heavy on the butter. Then again, I'm not a big fan of traditional buttercreams. I made them again, this time reducing the butter by about half, and liked them much, much better. How can you go wrong with caramel and pecans?
I used a different method than she suggests for filling the tartlets. She says to scoop a small amount of buttercream onto a spatula and put it in the shell, using the spatula to shape the buttercream into a mound in the center. Then you are to slope the sides with the spatula and form a "crest at the top." WTF? I just used a large open star tip and piped the buttercream in a swirl. Much less work. Since the recipe makes 36 minis, I think it makes much more sense to do it my way. Of course, I am always right - just ask my husband .
Recipe #46 - Sesame Spice Chips
This recipe is under the "spicy" miniatures section of the cookies. It is a spice cookie that calls for light molasses. I don't buy anything with "light" in the name, so I subbed a bit of corn syrup + regular molasses. I used the variation where cookies are made into small balls, then rolled in sesame seeds. I adore sesame, so these appealed to me. They are quite good, and look pretty with the sesame speckles. The cookies are very thin and have a great texture - a nice crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside. They are going onto the holiday cookie tray for sure.
Lemon Meringue Tartlets - made the lemon meringue tartlets next. There is not enough filling to fill 96 tartlets, unless you want to
give people a dime-sized bit of curd. I use slightly larger tartlets
than she does, but I'll bet this would only fill about 24 of those. And
the curd directions are vague. If you hadn't made lemon curd before, you probably would have ended up with a burned or curdled end product.
I had to vary this recipe a bit (so much for slavishly following it). There is no butter called for in the lemon curd! I just could NOT make a lemon curd without butter. It's a pretty decent curd recipe if you add butter, but otherwise I think it would be a bit thin. I have to confess I made a different meringue as well - I made an Italian meringue because I like them better than standard meringues.
Heavy Cream Flaky Pastry, #98. Given that this recipe only has
one full turn (at least I think that's right - I get confused by what
one turn is...), it was pretty flaky. It was pretty easy to make, just
cut butter into flour, add heavy cream and knead lightly. Do one full
turn and stick into fridge. I used it to make the following two
Miniature Caramel Cream Vol-au-vents, #101. These things are just too pretty. You take the dough, cut out scalloped circles, and indent a circle into the center. Once they bake, you pop out the center part (but not all the way to the bottom), and fill it with a thick caramel sauce. The caramel sauce recipe is good but not standout. It only has corn syrup, sugar and cream - no flavorings at all. I would add vanilla, rum or something to give the caramel a kick. The recipe calls for candied lilacs for garnish, which I skipped since I will never find those around here. These could use a pretty garnish, though - I was thinking smoked salt on the top might be an unexpected but tasty garnish. In the photo below, note how tiny these are. I used a 1 3/4" cutter, exactly what the recipe calls for. When the vol-au-vents shoot up, they shink quite a bit in diameter. These are just about an inch in diameter now. The coin in the photo is a nickel.
Fig Pastry Rolls, #102. Fig Newtons for grownups. These have a flaky crust instead of a cakey one, but still have a sweetened fig filling. The recipe calls for vanilla and lemon juice, and the lemon juice is definitely needed to give it lift. They are quite tasty - my DH loves them. In the background of the photo below is how they look before they are cut. For this recipe I have another gripe about unclear directions. I still am not sure exactly how I was supposed to spread the filling on the dough or how much the dough was supposed to overlap, but I muddled through.
OK, next recipe: #65, Chocolate Pistachio Cigarettes
These were as much of a PIA to make as I thought. The recipe is straightforward, but you are supposed to take 1/2 teaspoons of batter and spread them out into 1 1/2 inch squares, only 4 at a time, on a buttered Teflon baking sheet. Once baked, you roll around a dowel and let cool, then dip into chocolate then pistachios. The nuts are blanched to remove the skins, and then toasted and finely chopped. I ended up modifying the process a bit because otherwise it would take forever to make these.
Verdict? They look pretty cool and my DH likes them, but I will save
them for a special occasion because they are quite labor intensive and
I lost about 1/3 of the cookies to breakage and/or tearing.
I'm beginning to feel like this cookbook would be ideal for someone who didn't have to work, didn't have kids or pets, and had a maid and butler. I don't have the time and energy to do all of these precious little time consuming things. I am never going to be aghast again at the prices of miniature treats, that's for sure.
Recipe #63, White Blossom Circles. These are a chocolate shortbread with a white chocolate ganache used to put "blossoms" on top. Sounds great, doesn't it? They sucked. I actually threw some away because I just couldn't bring myself to eat them. The texture was not sandy like good shortbread, it was grainy. The taste was about as chocolate as a Tootsie Roll, meaning not very.
#22 Pistachio Buttons
These are pistachio "thumbprint" cookies with a white chocolate "butter," sprinkled with chopped pistachios and dried apricots. I liked the sandy texture of these cookies and since I looove pistachios, I really liked the flavor too. In fact, it could have been even more pistachio-y for me. I think for the holiday tray I might use dried cranberries instead of apricots for extra color. They would contrast nicely with the green of the pistachios.
My white chocolate "butter" broke, which has happened to me before in another recipe. I would almost rather just melt white chocolate and use that instead of mixing it with butter. I guess I don't pay enough attention to the white chocolate, which is much more temperature sensitive than dark chocolate.
This recipe is supposed to make 96 cookies but I got 75. I want miniature cookies, not nano-cookies!
Whilst making these cookies, I didn't swear much so they must have been pretty easy. I need to develop a rating system based on cussing so I can remember how easy or difficult a recipe is. This recipe only rated 1 son-of-a-bitch, which means it's pretty easy. The recipe uses the food processor instead of a mixer, and I appreciate that. You don't have to soften the butter so you can put it together quickly.
#55 Double Kisses - Difficulty Rating: 2 SOBs
This is a take on the old Hershey's Kiss cookies. It is a chocolate shortbread wrapped around a Hershey's Kiss. The dough comes together easily but I found it a little dry. It is cocoa, flour, sugar, peanut butter, butter and egg white. There is no salt or vanilla in the recipe and I found it pretty bland as written. You can't really taste the peanut butter. I made a few straight up and then put in a little Kahlua since the dough was really dry and cracking. When I tasted them side-by-side, I preferred the Kahlua version by a slight margin. ;)
The dough is formed into a circle in your palm and then wrapped around a kiss. This is the reason this recipe is rated as 2 SOBs. It wasn't difficult but took quite a long time. The unfortunate part of this recipe is the look of the kisses. They are a chocolate brown lump with a pointed tip. I half expected one of them to wave and say "Hi-dee Ho." For those that don't get that reference, they look like poo. What might look better is to leave out the cocoa for part of the dough and make a marbled effect. Or maybe swirl some colored icing around them.
#5 Drei Augen Difficulty rating: 1 SOB
This recipe is an almond enriched shortbread that is sandwiched together with a bit of red currant jelly. You cut three holes in the top cookie (Drei Augen means three eyes in German) so that the red jelly shows through. The top cookies are sprinkled with powdered sugar before sandwiching and the result is a pretty and quite tasty little cookie. The dough came together easily and rolled well. You chill the rolled dough for a few hours then cut and bake. Next time I will make the top cookies first because the dough started to warm up and made the tiny cutouts want to stick to the waxed paper. Also, the finished cookies are pretty fragile. You can't press the two cookies together, the most you can do is twist them a little to get them to adhere well. Mine took longer to bake than the recipe stated by quite a bit but overall, these are easy, tasty and attractive. I don't think they will make the cookie tray due to their fragility, though.
#24 - Meringue Bubbles Difficulty rating: .5 SOB
These little bites are a chocolate-flecked meringue "kiss" on top of a shortbread round. The shortbread has no flavoring agents, only butter, sugar, salt & flour. It was really bland. It definitely could use a little vanilla. Additionally, Flo has you underbake the shortbread rounds since you will be putting them back in the oven to dry the meringue. The trouble is, you only dry the meringue at 225 degrees, so the shortbread doesn't finish baking. Next time I will bake the shortbread until golden.
The meringue has finely grated chocolate folded in, so it doesn't look very chocolately but definitely tastes it. These things are really cute, but my piping skills need work! Only a few looked like a Hershey's kiss, which is the goal. Most looked more like the Capitol dome.
One last thing: you are supposed to roll the dough out to a six inch circle and cut out the shortbread rounds using the 'large side of a 1/2 inch plain decorating tip (such as Ateco #6).' Why doesn't she just say, 'cut the cookies out with a ___ diameter cutter?' I don't have an Ateco #6 and have no idea what size the non-business end is. Sheesh. Now in the recipe headnote she says it makes 1 1/4 inch cookies. Why not just say that in the directions too? However, there is no way in hell can you roll the dough out to a six inch circle and get 48 1 1/4 inch cookies. Do the math. Area of a circle = pi * radius squared, so .625 *.625 * pi * 48 = 58.875 square inches. 3 * 3 * pi = 28.26 square inches. Maybe she means do 2 6-inch circles. Even that is not enough. I just don't get it.
#65(?)Golden Almond Weave Difficulty rating: .5 SOB
This is a bar cookie, a shortbread crust covered with whole almonds in a honey/sugar syrup cooked to soft ball stage, then baked until the almonds are golden. It's very basic and simple. It is OK but bland. There is no spice or flavoring agent in the sugar syrup. And it doesn't look like a weave either.
Wow, over one year and I've only made 16 recipes? I need to step up the pace in 2008!