delightful, sweet, hallongrottor cookies!

the other day, i was in a baking mood (as seems to happen frequently when i’m procrastinating…), and i decided to make another swedish treat.  hallongrottor, or raspberry thumbprint cookies as you may know them, are soft, buttery shortbread cookies that have a delicious drop of raspberry jam in their centers.  they are really very quick and easy to make, keep well in a cool place, and definitely satisfy that sweet tooth :)

*swedish lesson!: those silly swedes call our thumbprints “hallongrottor”, which really means “raspberry caves”, after the little well of raspberry preserves in the middle of the cookie.  how sweet!*
here’s what you need for around 30 cookies:
-1 cup of softened butter (room temp if possible)
-2 cups of flour
-2/3 c. of granulated sugar
-1/2 tsp. baking powder
-1 tsp. cinnamon
-1/2 tsp. almond extract (this isn’t traditional, but i love raspberry and almond together!)
-your favorite raspberry preserves
first things first, cream the butter and the sugar in a bowl with a big spoon.  this is why you need room temperature butter– so everything mixes up well.  don’t use melted butter or your dough won’t turn out with the right consistency!  
next, add the almond extract.  as i mentioned above, this is not a traditional ingredient in the dough, but i really do love raspberry and almond together in just about anything!  so this is optional– put it in or leave it out, whichever you choose!
next, prepare the dry ingredients for mixing.  you’ll need two level cups of all purpose flour, 2/3 cups of granulated sugar (as much as 3/4 c. if you like your shortbread really sweet), 1 tsp of cinnamon, and 1/2 tsp. of baking powder.  stir the dry gently in to the butter and sugar until everything comes together in a smooth dough.  throw this in the fridge for half an hour or so, just so the butter can firm up before you start to make the cookies!
after the dough has chilled, take it out of the fridge and split it in half.  take each half of the dough and roll it in to a long log shape, about 1 1/2 inches in diameter, or smaller if you’d like smaller cookies. once your dough is in this form, cut half inch slices and line them up on a baking sheet with some room in between.  check out these cuties:

next comes the fun part: the thumbprint!  i actually use my pointer finger with these cookies because they are a little too small for my thumb.  in any case, push down lightly on the cookie and make a small indentation in the center.  this is where the preserves go :)
last step before baking, the raspberry!  take some of your preserves and stir it around until its a little looser than regular jam.  with a tiny spoon, fill the “caves” you made in the dough.  
finally– the oven!  bake at 350 for about 12 minutes, making sure to keep a close eye on the cookies.  they are full of buttery goodness, so they have a tendency to burn if you’re not careful!  let them cool completely before you enjoy them (i knowwww, its such a hardship!) and store the leftovers… on the off chance that there are any :)
enjoy your little raspberry caves!

easter dinner at the ivy inn! jealous?

i was fortunate enough to enjoy my easter dinner at The Ivy Inn in Charlottesville yesterday.  we had spectacular weather: blue skies, a little bit of a breeze, and a toasty temperature (too hot for me, but still nice).  the restaurant is a little converted house off of ivy road and had beautiful gardens and prime picture-taking spots.

as for the food?  well it was divine.  we started out with some mediocre amuse bouche (so i didn’t bother taking pictures), but the rest of the meal was so delicious.

it was a set easter menu that provided a few choices for the appetizer and the entree, with a salad course in between.  i chose the asparagus soup with lump crab meat, a sprinkle of bacon, and chervil.  it was silky smooth, smoky from the bacon (which i don’t generally care for at all, but it was just perfect in this context!), and the chervil was a bright note at the end.

Asparagus Soup
the next course was the salad course.  it was fresh greens with paper thin radishes and cucumbers, in a light basil vinaigrette.  it was served with two pieces of bread: one was a rosemary french bread and the other was an almond brioche.  the salad was topped with a huge slice of parmigiano cheese and fresh cracks of black pepper.  yummm!
Mixed Local Green Salad
now for the main course– and by far my favorite course.  i chose the grilled canadian chinook salmon filet which was delightfully pink in the center and seared with a crispy top.  it was served on top of a bright green pea puree and sauteed spinach.  the show stopper for me were the scalloped potatoes: nearly fifty layers of potatoes cut thinner than a potato chip, with cream and sharp cheese to hold everything together.  the potatoes were on top of a whole grain mustard sauce which was tangy and a perfect complement to the delicate salmon.  i almost licked my plate clean!
Grilled Chinook Salmon and Scalloped Potatoes

dessert was one of the richest things i’ve ever eaten. it was a duo of sweets.  the first was a “torta ciocolatta”, or a really fudgy chocolate cake, with cappucino semi-freddo on top (which is really just soft ice cream), and a caramel and creme creme anglaise.  the second was marinated strawberries in an almond cookie “bowl”, with a mascarpone zabaglione drizzled over the top.  it was sinful.  (sorry for the poor photos– the light was coming in strangely on the table by the time dessert arrived!)

the whole meal was delightful and a perfect easter treat.  hope you enjoyed your meal as much as i did mine!  a big thanks to the Kijewskis for their generosity and easter cheer :)

top ten favorite foods: pretzel power!

there are really very few foods on this planet that can top pretzels.  they can be small and crunchy right to the center, or big and puffy and soft with just the right crust on the outside.  no matter what, these little salty guys make it on my top ten favorite foods list.  and, knowing my love of food, thats saying a lot!

the other day, when my friend beth asked if i wanted to make soft pretzels (what a silly question to ask me, right?), i nearly jumped out of my skin.  i realized that i had never actually made them before!  i eat them with such frequency, yet they have never come out of my own kitchen.  i was so very excited for this opportunity :)

can you resist these beauties?

they are about the easiest thing to make and here’s what you need:
-1 package of dry active yeast
-1 1/2 tbsp. sugar (to feed the yeast!)
-1 1/2 c. warm water
-1 tbsp. salt
-4-5 cups of flour
-1 egg
-coarse salt

first thing’s first, dissolve the packet of yeast in a big bowl with the 1 1/2 cups of warm water.  like i mentioned in my last post about the kanelbullar, the yeast is ALIVE so make sure not to use hot water or you will kill it!   once dissolved, add the sugar to feed the yeast and stir again.  this is your yeast base!  add the salt and make sure everything is dissolved well in the mixture or your dough may not rise!

next comes the flour.  you can use white flour or a mixture of white and wheat, whichever you prefer.  we had white on hand so that’s what we used!  slowly, about half a cup at a time, stir in the flour to the yeast mixture with a fork.  the fork does two things: doesn’t mash the flour around like a spoon would (making the dough really tough!), but it also fluffs the flour through the wet mixture better than a spoon would.  add enough flour (4 or 5 cups!) until the dough forms a ball like this!  knead the dough for a good 5 minutes until it comes together with no lumps and bumps.

**don’t let this rise!** this is not the time for your dough to rise (quite yet) so work semi-quickly and start to shape your widdle pwetzels. we made 10 big pretzels out of this dough, but you can make them bigger or smaller depending on your needs.  
take a piece of dough and roll/stretch it out in to a long rope.  make this thinner than you think you need to because the dough will rise and expand!
now to twist your pretzel, either 1) go to auntie anne’s pretzel university, or 2) watch this kind of terrible video… and voila!  you’ll get these:
once you twist your pretzels, let them rest under a tea towel for about 20 minutes and they will proof.  the puffed pretzels then get a coat of egg wash (one egg and a little bit of water), and coarse salt right on top!
the little fatties go into the oven at 425 for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the tops are perfectly golden brown and delicious. 
here is the final product!  eat them with yellow mustard and nom to your heart’s content :]  skål!

kanelbullar: swedish cinnamon buns!

for a couple months now, i have been learning swedish, slowly and painstakingly, through books and online resources.  the other day i came across a lesson on food vocabulary (HOORAY!) that was so kindly accompanied by photos of all the food.  i say kindly because it was great to see snapshots of the words i was learning, but it was also incredibly frustrating because i wanted to eat every single swedish food that popped up.  so, i decided that i would embark on a journey of making swedish delights.  the first one that i want to show you is one of my favorite things in the entire world, cinnamon buns (kanelbullar)!

these sweet, yeasty, buttery buns are very traditional in sweden.  its common to eat them while drinking some coffee or tea during a relaxing break in the middle of the day.  this wonderful pastime is called “fika” and i plan on partaking in it daily when i visit stockholm this summer.
these kanelbullar are very different from the pillsbury ones you buy in the pop-tubes.  but, don’t worry, they are a million zillion times better!  it is a bit of a time consuming process to make these beauties because there is a double-rise on the dough, but i assure you that they are worth every second. i’ve adapted this from the Rutiga Kokboken recipe on this website, so i think its pretty darn authentic.
here’s what you’ll need (in american measurements!):
for the dough:
-1 stick of butter, melted
-2 c. whole milk
-2 packets of active-dry yeast
-1 c. sugar
-1 tsp. salt
-1 tsp. cardamom (optional, its expensive!)
-6 or 7 cups flour
for the filling:
-1 stick of room-temp butter
-1/3 c. sugar
-2 tsp. cinnamon
for the tops:
-1 egg
-pearl sugar (or sanding sugar)
we’ll start with the dough, as it needs to proof for about 45 minutes.  first, start by melting one stick of butter into a bowl.  then, add the two cups of whole milk and heat them up together in the microwave until they are warm to the touch, but NOT boiling hot.

next, let’s talk about yeast.  if you don’t work with it often, it can be intimidating, but its really very easy to use.  most american recipes use active-dry yeast, or the stuff you see in the packets of 3 on the baking aisles.  yeast is a leavening agent (aka the thing that makes your bread rise) and its alive!  so the idea with yeast is that you need to dissolve it in warm liquid and feed it with a little bit of sugar, and BAM!  it expands like crazy!

for this dough, you’ll need two packets of dry yeast.  empty the two packets into a large bowl and pour a small amount of the warm milk/butter mixture in to the yeast (enough to cover all the yeast).  at this point, you still need to feed the yeast, so add a tablespoon or so of sugar.  stir all of this together until the yeast is mostly dissolved.  once dissolved, combine the rest of the milk and butter in with the dissolved yeast. this is the base for your dough!  next, we will tackle the dry ingredients.

to your wet mixture, add the cup of sugar, tsp. of salt, and the cardamom.  if you don’t have cardamom on hand, you can substitute cinnamon (like i did!).  once this is all mixed in, start slowly adding 2/3 of the flour a cup at a time.  mix the dough gently with a spoon until it comes together and off the sides of the bowl.  if its really sticky, add more flour until the mixture forms a loose ball. here’s what my dough looked like in stages:
after three cups of flour
after five cups of flour
once your dough is to this stage, cover it with a towel and leave it alone for 45 minutes so it can proof.  it will almost double in size!  while it proofs, its time to make the delicious cinnamon butter! 
its super simple– just take a bowl and smush your room temperature butter with a fork.  then, add the 1/3 c. of sugar and 2 tsp of cinnamon (or more to your taste).  stir it around and toss it in the fridge until your dough is finished proofing so it doesn’t melt any further!
once that pesky 45 minutes is up, take the towel off the dough and check out how much it has risen.  cool, right?  here’s what mine looked like:
take your fist and punch the dough down– it will deflate almost immediately.  dump it out on to a floured surface and knead it for a good five minutes, until it comes together into a smooth dough without any lumps or bumps.  cut the dough in half and roll each half out into a thin, flat rectangle, one at a time.  i used a large baking sheet for my guide.  while you’re rolling the dough out, take the butter and cinnamon spread out of the fridge and let it come back up to room temperature.  
once rolled and flat, spread half of the cinnamon mixture all over the dough.  make sure to spread out to all the edges and corners, too!  start to roll the dough from the top to the bottom.  roll this pretty tight– you’ll want a nice beautiful spiral when you cut the individual cinnamon buns!
take the whole roll and lay it out on a cutting board.  get some pretty muffin papers out and set them on a cookie sheet.  cut the cinnamon buns in to 1 1/2 to 2 inch rounds and place each one in a muffin paper.  each roll should yield about 10 buns, but you can make them bigger or smaller to your liking.  these make good individual sized sweets to eat with a cup of tea or coffee.
for the second proof, throw a towel over each cut cinnamon roll and let them proof again for 20 minutes.  
after the second proof, brush the top of each kanelbulle with egg wash (one egg and a little bit of water or milk), and sprinkle them with pearl sugar or sanding sugar.  this will give them a sweet crust and a golden brown top!  place the buns in the oven (teehee) for 8-10 minutes on 450 F.  but keep an eye on them!  they puff up like crazy and can burn easily.  so just make sure you peek every few minutes!
when they finish baking, you will officially be in heaven.  if the 10 minutes in the weren’t torture enough because of the intoxicating smell, just WAIT until you taste one!  i really have to use a lot of self-control to just eat one of these little cuties.  
i like them just the way they are, but you can whip up an easy icing for the tops if you choose.  just take some powdered sugar, a little bit of your whole milk, and a dash of vanilla and drizzle it on the tops while they are still warm.  
smaklig måltid!  enjoy!